Cyber Monday: Project Shadowchaser Trilogy

Frank Zagarino dies hard!

Cinemasochism: Black Mangue (2008)

Braindead zombies from Brazil!

The Gweilo Dojo: Furious (1984)

Simon Rhee's bizarre kung fu epic!

Adrenaline Shot: Fire, Ice and Dynamite (1990)

Willy Bogner and Roger Moore stuntfest!

Sci-Fried Theater: Dead Mountaineer's Hotel (1979)

Surreal Russian neo-noir detective epic!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Fangs for Nothing: RIGOR MORTIS (2013)

After the Chinese takeover of Hong Kong in 1997, the world expected rioting in the streets, martial law and red tanks rolling over every civil liberty in sight. Actors and artists fled to the US as fast as their visas would carry them. People who were celebrated filmmakers in Hong Kong like Ronny Yu and John Woo brought their illustrious careers to the US and promptly were absorbed by the Hollywood Collective, draining their talent away like a bad night in Transylvania. The forecast was bleak.

As it turned out China’s love of the yuan superseded their love of oppression and not much changed in Hong Kong. Maybe a few more palms had to be greased, but it was pretty much business as usual. The only thing is that in spite of the movie industry staying “free” (ie still run by the triad), for some reason the movies no longer had the spark of life that had made them so appealing in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Because of this mundane slew of generic product, several fair-weather film fans (such as myself) abandoned the Hong Kong film in search of greener pastures. I think the final nail in the coffin for me was Tsui Hark’s soulless, sappy remake of his own classic ZU WARRIORS (1983/2001). The removal of action and crazy practical make up effects was substituted with a saccharine love story that never got any deeper than Ekin Chang striking poses and flying around some primitive CG sky-scapes. This painful experience led me to swear off HK movies, in particular those of Tsui Hark. Yet somehow, 13 years later, I’ve been drawn back in. Not exactly jumping in with both feet, but definitely jumping in.

After seeing  no less than three recent Tsui Hark movies that I actually enjoyed, in addition to the excellent grumpy old martial arts men pic GALLANTS (2010), I felt confident enough to move on to the big buzz horror film RIGOR MORTIS (2013) from neophyte producer-director Juno Mak.

A has-been actor (Chin Siu-ho playing Chin Siu-ho) who has lost his family and whose career has taken a nose-dive from the glory days of HK cinema, finds himself destitute and alone. Forced by necessity to take up residence in a public housing apartment complex, Chin decides that the only thing to do is to take his own life. Before succeeding in hanging himself, his neighbor and cook at the building’s dilapidated dining center, Yao (Anthony Chan, permanently dressed in bathrobe, boxers and wifebeater) comes to the rescue. His rescue comes exactly as the evil ghosts of a pair of twin sisters enter his body. Fortunately the local priest of black magic, Gao (Fat Chung), also steps in to remove the evil spirits and lock them up in an armoire. Of course this isn't going to hold them long.

According to the aging residents, a man was tutoring a pair of twins in that very apartment when he brutally rapes one, causing the other to stab him to death with a pair of scissors. Both sisters commit suicide, and naturally they still haunt the building. Most modern horror films would be content to stop there, but this is just the beginning. The ghostly horrors lead to the death of old man Tung (Richard Ng). Distraught by his death and having nightmares that Tung will return, Auntie Mui (Nina Paw) stitches him up and entrusts Gao to enact the rituals that will prevent this. Of course, things quickly get ugly with some character twists that are unexpected to say the least.

Giving  a great cast of veteran actors eccentric roles to sink their teeth in to, Juno Mak creates a dead-serious homage to MR. VAMPIRE (1983), ditching the slapstick comedy in favor of heavy gothic atmosphere. The apartment building is as grey and bleak as the sky with sets that look like they have genuinely been lived in for decades. Walls are smudged and dirty and clutter is everywhere. The residents have accepted their lot, eating glutinous rice every day in order to stave off the spirits, evil and otherwise. In a great moment in the beginning of the film Yao insists on taking a bowl of rice to a neighbor. When he is informed that she has been dead for years, he exclaims “she still has to eat!” After setting down the rice bowl in front of her door, he exhales smoke from his cigarette and you can see the faint shape of a woman. It’s a very effective scene and makes it clear that the superstitions of undeath, that the aging community accepts as a way of life, are real. In another scene Yau waxes philosophical about the ghosts in his apartment: “I have stayed here for decades, but they have been here for more than a century. I’ll probably be staying here when I die too. It makes sense to develop a good relationship beforehand.” Hard to argue that point.

Brother Yao, as it turns out, hails from a long line of vampire hunters. For centuries his family has fought the undead, but these days there isn’t much call for that sort of thing, as he says “What do vampire hunters do when there are no more vampires? They cook.” This is the closest that this film comes to comedy, a little dry humor in an otherwise utterly serious film with pitch-perfect performances. Much like 2010s GALLANTS took great pride in bringing aging stars back to life, so here does Mak. Yet instead of having them play comedy, he gives them meaty roles to sink their teeth into (sorry, had to go there). The scene where Auntie Mui is carrying on a conversation with the deceased Uncle Tung before breaking down into tears is surprisingly moving in this day and age of incredibly superficial melodrama.

In addition to the positive buzz, this film has also gotten a lot of flak from the message board types who claim that the film is “slow and boring”. I guess you could say that. The film is not about speed. It deliberately builds up characters and allows the atmosphere to ooze so thick it makes pea soup green with envy. Another criticism was “not scary”. This true too, but then again, I’m not 12. The big, in-your-face horror moments are mostly saved for the last act, but that’s not what this film is about. It’s not about having things jump up in your face and roar every 10 minutes. If you are looking for a movie in which a bunch of youngsters have a car break down and decide to throw a party in a haunted apartment complex where they will tediously scream, run, make pop-culture references and get picked off one by one, this will definitely not be your cup of verbena.

The film boasts an incredible attention to detail, stylish cinematography, and it is unusual for a horror film these days to approach its subject matter without condescension or pretentiousness. Though all is not grimly perfect however. Screenwriters Philip Yung and Leung Lai-yin work some fairly well-worn themes that are saved by superb visuals and great performances, but worse than that, they opt for an ending that will probably frustrate most viewers. That said, this is a film that really caught me off guard with its old fashioned approach to horror and is definitely one of the best things I’ve seen out of Hong Kong in a long time.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Newsploitation: 40th Box Office Birthday for Burt

Today’s box office birthday is one of our favorites here at Video Junkie as THE LONGEST YARD (1974) starring Burt Reynolds came out forty years ago on August 21, 1974.  As a kid this was one of the first Burt flicks I saw and it proved to be the perfect thing to convert me into a lifelong (abusive) relationship as a Burt fan.  The film literally had it all as it delivers a perfect mix of action, comedy, drama, and football!

Opening with the downward spiral of former football quarterback Paul “Wrecking” Crewe (Reynolds), the film tells the story of how Crewe is sent up the river to do some hard time and earns the ire of the prison warden (Eddie Albert) when the former standout refuses to play on the football team filled with guards.  Crewe eventually gets the bright idea to put together a ragtag team of inmates in order to face the guards in a practice game and then gets an even brighter idea of deciding they are going to beat the sadistic guards at their own game.

Producer Albert S. Ruddy initially announced the idea for THE LONGEST YARD in March 1972. Two months later, Ruddy stated in Variety that they were offering the lead role of Paul Crewe to two actors: Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds. Eastwood seems a logical pick since he was just coming off the biggest hit of his career in DIRTY HARRY (1971).  The choice of Reynolds was a bit more outside-of-the-box as he wasn’t as established at the box office (although he had had some success on TV for over a decade, including a stint on GUNSMOKE and, more recently, the detective series DAN AUGUST).  All that would change in July 1972 when DELIVERANCE (1972) became a big hit for Warner Bros., ending up the fifth highest grossing film of the year.  It also didn’t hurt that Burt had ladies’ tongues collectively wagging nationwide as he also did his legendary nude centerfold for Cosmopolitan that year.  Reynolds committed to starring in THE LONGEST YARD in March 1973; his big screen presence was further solidified that year with the release of SHAMUS in January and WHITE LIGHTNING in August, just a few weeks before he began filming YARD in Georgia.

Looking back on it now, Reynolds is seemingly the only actor who could have played this lead role.  Having played football in high school and at Florida State University in the 1950s, Reynolds had dreams of a professional career, but they were cut short due to a car accident.  The filmmakers wisely surrounded Reynolds with great character actors and pro-football players (Ruddy mentioned possibly casting Joe Namath in a supporting role in 1972).  The end result is not only entertaining teams of both oddball heroes and downright scary villains, but a formula that proved to be a success with audiences when the film was released. According to Variety, the film began its theatrical engagement with a world premiere at the Loew’s State I in New York City on August 21, 1974.  It was an immediate success at the box office as the film unseated DEATH WISH (1974) in the number one spot and stayed there for two weeks before being bumped by CHINATOWN (1974). Jesus, ‘twas a good time to be a movie fan.  THE LONGEST YARD stuck around well into 1975, eventually earning just over $43 million domestically.  It was the ninth highest grossing film at the box office.  The film even got four Golden Globe nominations (Best Film – Comedy/Musical, Best Actor [Reynolds], Best Supporting Actor [Albert], Best Newcomer [James Hampton]) and it won the Best Film award.  Over time the film became celebrated as both a football and prison classic, so much so that we eventually got not one but two remakes in the new century.  The less said about those, the better but Reynolds did return for the Adam Sandler remake (my fingers burn just typing that) released in 2005.

In what would be a pattern through his career, Reynolds followed this newfound silver screen success with a series of moderate successes (W.W. AND THE DIXIE DANCE KINGS [1975], HUSTLE [1975], GATOR [1976]) before reentering the box office top ten mantle with SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT (1977), the second biggest hit of its release year behind some film called STAR WARS.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Newsploitation: RAW FORCE Remaster!

We don't usually pimp DVDs and Blu-Rays on this site as for one, we want to be able to speak without bias, and for the other we have spent so many years watching multi-gen VHS copies of rare movies that we are after content first. That is not to say that we don't appreciate having some of our favorites given the white-glove treatment and restored to their original aspect ratios and image quality.

Case in point, one of our all-time favorites RAW FORCE (1982) has been remastered and is forthcoming from Vinegar Syndrome. Here is the post and some amazing screen shots from their Facebook page:

Just finished the grueling color-grading of RAW FORCE! There's over 1,500 shots in the film -- each with a different color setting. To put that in perspective, Tobalina films are usually under 200 shots...

Here's some fresh frame grabs to celebrate!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Newsploitation: Box Office Debauchery

“Dad? What's a hard-on?”

One of the great things about being a life-long film fanatic is the fine art of the revisit. A 20-year-gap between film viewings allows for a heck of a lot of life experience that can permit you to see a film and its themes on a whole new level (hello, Clive Barker’s HELLRAISER [1987]).  It can also allow for you to look at something with “adult eyes” and think, “How the hell did my parents let me see that as a kid?” The poster boy for such an experience seems to be the sleazy Clint Eastwood cop thriller TIGHTROPE, which opened thirty years ago today on August 17, 1984.

This past spring a TIGHTROPE resurgence sprung up between my video watching friends. Perhaps we unconsciously knew the thirtieth anniversary was soon upon us, but a collective revisit was upon us and we all came back with the same reaction – “what…the…hell!?”  I missed this one in theaters (my parents had taken me to see SUDDEN IMPACT [1983]) and I’m eternally thankful for that.  Watching the opening of BASIC INSTINCT (1992) with my dad theatrically was hard…er, uncomfortable enough when I was seventeen.  I couldn’t imagine Eastwood’s film about a serial killer stalking the sex professionals used by a kinky cop would have gone over when I was ten.  It would have been as awkward as when Eastwood’s onscreen daughter asks him the line of dialogue that opens this write up.

For people to better understand the cinematic curveball that is TIGHTROPE, you should understand this came out when Eastwood was one of the hottest box office draws.  His boxing/orangutan flicks (EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE [1978] and ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN [1980]) were top ten grossers in their respective release years and Eastwood just experienced his biggest Dirty Harry success with SUDDEN IMPACT (1983). To know TIGHTROPE came out just nine months after Eastwood had the entire U.S. (including President Reagan) saying, “Go ahead, make my day” is freakin’ astonishing. Imagine George Clooney following up GRAVITY (2013) with sleazy T&A thriller where a woman holds a vibrator to his crotch.  Wait, did THE MONUMENTS MEN (2014) have a scene like that in it?

To be fair, Eastwood and writer-director Richard Tuggle had finished TIGHTROPE before SUDDEN IMPACT had even come out.  Tuggle, who had previously written the Eastwood hit ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (1979), got a copyright on his TIGHTROPE script in March 1983 and filming began on October 17, 1983 in New Orleans, Louisiana and wrapped up on December 2, 1983, a week before Dirty Harry was back blowing away punks on the big screen.  Still, it is an odd choice for Eastwood to make, but not so much when you realize how much he said he didn’t want to get typecast in the Harry Callahan role.  Want to make the audience revert their expectations? Show yourself covered in baby oil and handcuffed to a head board.  Our pal Mark Tinta also put forth that this film could also be seen as Eastwood’s capturing a mid-life crisis on film.  Fifty-four at the time of filming, Eastwood’s family life was in shambles at the time (he was still married but had been living with Sandra Locke for almost a decade; his wife finally filed divorce in May 1984) and the image of Eastwood as a family man, single father detective with a dark side is certainly compelling evidence for that case.  Heck, he even cast one of his real life daughters to play his onscreen daughter.

Is this outtake from the TIGHTROPE 
poster shoot telling us something?

Regardless of family and sexual politics, audiences were still looking for that Eastwood fix and were receptive to the film.  It opened in first place that weekend with a haul of $9,156,545 from 1,535 screens.  It easily beat back that weekend’s new competition as THE WOMAN IN RED, SHEENA, and DREAMSCAPE all didn’t crack the top five.  Despite its sleazier tone, TIGHTROPE stayed in the top spot for a month and eventually earned a domestic total of $48,143,579.  That is almost $2 million more than Eastwood’s FIREFOX (1982) from a few years previous, showing audiences preferred watching Eastwood screwing than being screwed by Eastwood.

Friday, August 15, 2014

An Accute Case of Sequilitis: TEKKEN 2: KAZUYA'S REVENGE (2014)

Once upon a time in a land far, far away someone decided to adapt these newfangled video games to the magic of the silver screen. At the time, video games weren’t exactly story driven and the most popular of these were simply things like a yellow pie shape eating dots in a maze or a slightly obsessed Italian plumber navigating an under-construction building while avoiding a never ending supply of barrels that were left at the top along with a very angry gorilla. If you were going to adapt them, you were going to have to fill in more holes than “Load Runner”.

Modern video games make things a bit easier by providing back-stories, but any time a movie is adapted from a book, a game, a cartoon, whatever, there are going to be changes, it’s a fact inherent of the medium. Even if you do something incredibly faithfully (say, 2009s WATCHMEN or 2012s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS), there will be those that are furious that one little detail has been slightly altered. Don’t be that guy.

That said I have a confession to make. I’m not a fan of the “Tekken” games. I know there are legions of them and I know they are vociferous. Understand I don’t hate them, I just never could get into them. Because of this I’m going to leave the ranting about the differences between the movies and the games to the people who sit around on message boards trying to pick fights with anyone who dares to have a slightly different viewpoint.

TEKKEN (2009) served as the first live-action version of the game. Directed by veteran genre director Dwight H. Little, it envisioned the King of the Iron Fist tournament to be an underground bloodsport in the year 2039. Taking place within the walled city-corporation of Tekken, it is overseen by the fascist Heihachi Mishima (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). Within the walls of Tekken City, corporations and the wealthy lived in luxury while outside the walls, the lower classes live in filthy, abject poverty. Mishima’s death squads would frequently kill civilians for apparently no reason whatsoever, instigating riots and unrest. In one of these situations slum-dweller Jin Kazama (Jon Foo) sees his mother killed and sets out for revenge by entering the tournament as a way to get close enough to Mishima to kill him. Even though I am not much of a fan of the game, I've played it enough to know that they at least got the look of the characters right. Even SUPER MARIO BROTHERS (1993) managed to screw that up somehow.

Badly scripted and terribly acted with “futuristic” clich├ęs flying fast and furious, Little at least made the fight scenes interesting. Not exactly great, but better than the average DTV fodder. Pilloried by fans of the games and completely dismissed by everyone else, we flash forward five years and suddenly have a sequel. Well, actually, a prequel. I know the title is TEKKEN 2, but it’s a prequel. Not that it matters in the least.

Set in an unidentified time frame that we know is prior to the original only because the marketing says so, a man suffering from amnesia (Kane Kosugi) wakes up in a hotel room in the slums with a Tekken death squad running up the stairs. After fighting off the troopers, he is knocked cold by a hot brunette in a pleather outfit. Waking up, once again, the man finds himself tied up in the courtyard of a man called The Minister (Rade Serbedzija). The Minister alleges to preach the word of god and dubs our amnesiac “K” (since he is the 16th recruit). 

After telling K that there is a bomb implanted in his chest and demonstrating its cranial combustion ability on a guy he didn’t like, he tells K “By the sweat of your brow shall you labor until you return to the ground.” To which K replies “You crazy!” If K didn’t state the very obvious, he would have no dialogue whatsoever. 

What this all boils down to is the fact that The Minister is going to use him as one of his hitmen. His stable of killers take out the people that The Minister is paid to hit. Though he doesn't do children. No children! Well, unless the price is right (not that this movie dares to show him having kids killed). His current top killers include a woman dressed up as a school girl (Charlotte Kirk), who sucks a lollypop and uses her feminine wiles to lure men to their deaths, which of course we have never, ever seen before. Apparently this heinous cliche is not even related to the game in any way. Seriously, I wish "Sukeban Deka" had never been made.

The Minister keeps K locked up in a cage until he has proven that he can, I guess, stumble blindly into places where people are going to fight him. One such place has been cleverly decorated to appear like a very small warehouse lined with steel barrels. Presumably these are intended to be settings from the video games, but they get absolutely no set-up and while I realize this is supposed to be a slum, the sets are impoverished at best. Since K has no memory, we get no backstory and little dialogue. What dialogue we do get is so inept that it borders on legendary. A character called The Janitor (Sahajak Boonthanakit) is introduced specifically so that he can give his backstory to break the monotony and have exchanges with K, such as this one:
K: “What is this place?”
Janitor: “To some it is home, to others it’s a prison.”
Thank you for that enlightening pearl of wisdom.

Also to fill in the void, we have The Minsiter rambling incoherently over a PA system saying that people should kill each other in order to “stop the violence”. I’m not sure if this is supposed to be part of his nutty character, or whether it is just an indication that the script was scratched out on the back of a cocktail napkin the day before shooting. To give context to this monologue, we get a few random scenes of people in the compound killing other people. Why? To stop the violence, of course. Did someone really get paid to write this?

In addition to the fact that K has nothing to say and his expression never changes, every scene is weighed down by somber music and slow motion walking, looking and standing, desperately trying to give the film a serious and emotional tone that would be utterly laughable if it wasn’t so dull. The only emotion wrenched out of the audience is due to the fact that they are bored to tears.

K kills a couple guys in a PG-13 kind of way and is allowed to have an apartment with a hot neighbor who he saves from some British bullies. See? Just because he murders people, he ain’t a bad guy! Conveniently she also works at a clinic which qualifies her to remove explosive implants. Finally we get some flashbacks of K in a chair with bandages around his head and Mishima (who they couldn’t even bother to make up to look like Tagawa’s character in the first film) berating him for being weak. Oh, and we also get flashbacks to the scenes we just saw! The most cruel of blatantly obvious padding ploys. This movie is slower than a short bus with two flat tires and a broken axle. It literally takes 70 minutes to get anywhere near something that resembles a “plot”.

You’d think that at least the fights and assassination scenes would be a break from the monotony but writer Nicole Jones-Dion (also responsible for the previous year’s DTV turkey DRACULA: THE DARK PRINCE) insists on making it as lethargic as possible. In one sequence K is required to kill the owner of a “gentleman’s club” in which girls in bikinis do not strip, but stand around looking as if they are waiting for some stage direction. K doesn’t even bother to try to look like a club-goer, staring in every direction to find the owner, who spots him immediately and sends his bodyguards after him. Ok, I hear you say, this should make for the time honored bar-fight scene in which many liquor bottles will be put to death. Sucker! Nope, we cut to K breaking the owner’s neck while the bodyguards look at the ceiling in bewilderment.

Director Wych Kaosayananda's dubious claim to fame is having made the big budget trainwreck BALLISTIC: EKS VS SEVER (2002), which was made for $70 million and returned $7 thousand on its opening weekend. It took him ten years to get someone to bankroll another film which turned out to be another disasaster and yet somehow he managed to land this job. Clearly the producers didn't care about anything in this movie other than the title. If you are looking for the epitome of "shameless cash grab" this is it.

Even worse, when there is a fight scene, they are brief and badly shot. Kaosayananda's is one of those directors that feels that if the camera is not moving he is not doing his job. The only time it is still is during “dramatic” scenes in which people walk determinedly in slow motion. In Parma, Italy, the thought is that anyone can make prosciutto by burying it in salt. It takes a real craftsman to cure the leg with a small amount of salt. In other words, have the good sense to allow the ingredients to do their job, don’t go overboard like a clumsy oaf. During the brief bits of action, Kaosayananda loves to assemble over-edited close ups of hands and feet, and do shots that start at the feet and quickly pan up to the faces during the fight. This results in a hodge-podge mess that does a disservice to the talented martial artists that he hired to do the fights in the first place.

Kane Kosugi may not be in any danger of being winning an Olivier Award, but since the writer has no idea what to do for a plot and uses the conceit of amnesia as an excuse to not have one at all, this means that Kosugi must be stonefaced through the entire film up until the final couple of minutes where he actually gets angry because he finds out why he has amnesia. Not that it really matters then, because there is no resolution due to the fact that it is a prequel! Instead of a showdown with a boss character at the end with an opening for the sequel/original movie, he simply fights a couple of random dudes who walk in from off screen! That said it is the best fight scene in the movie, but I think it's apparent that none of the fights had much time to choreograph and reherse, as we have seen much better out of Kosugi in NINJA II (2013).

Not content to tarnish the Kosugi name, Kaosayananda has Gary Daniels pop in for a completely pointless bit part as Bryan Fury, one of The Minister’s escapees. I get that he is supposed to be foreshadowing his part in the original film, but they can’t even be bothered to get him into make-up and costume! It looks like he was on his way to the grocery store and stopped by to shoot a few scenes. As if that wasn't bad enough he is saddled with dialogue that does neither him or the audience any favors. When telling K that he escaped from The Minister, he says "Trust me. I'm your only friend. And I'm not your friend." Huh? Who thought that looked good on paper?

The original title for the film was TEKKEN: A MAN CALLED X, which should give you a clue as to the mess that the movie is since throughout the majority of the movie he is a man called “K”. TEKKEN 2 desperately wants to be UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING (2012) and is not even close. Not even in the same ballpark, not even in the same league, not even in the same sport. I could completely forgive the total lack of production values (oooh, another fight on a patch of asphalt!) and the clueless, meandering script if they had shot some good fight scenes. That’s all I ask. I’m easy, I don’t care if you don’t actually have any real connection to the game, just don’t waste Kosugi and Daniels. That’s it. Instead we get what is without question going to be the most tedious action movie of the year. Ok, maybe that’s not true. I did see the life-draining Renny Harlin SOV actioner 12 ROUNDS (2009) this year, but then again you can’t really say John Cena was wasted in it.

Sadly Kosugi and Daniels’ next film will be in Kaosayananda’s latest (technically his previous), ZERO TOLERANCE, which started life as a film titled ANGEL. The film was released only in Vietnam in 2012 and has subsequently been in another post production after getting a major overhaul with Scott Adkins being involved in the reshoots. Even though heavy re-edits and re-shoots are usually the kiss of death, I figured with Kosugi, Daniels and Adkins in the ranks, it couldn’t be all bad. After seeing this sloppy, half-assed mess, I can't imagine what sort of disaster ZERO TOLERANCE will turn out to be. I may have to hand that one over to Will to review. I don't think I can bear to see the dream team of Kosugi, Daniels and Adkins ruined by this man. Besides, misery loves company.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Newsploitation: Trailers, Trailers, Trailers!

One thing Tom and I love doing via email is sending each other trailers for upcoming flicks that look promising.  So why not share that with the world?  Below are just a few of the things we've ogled lately and are flicks we're looking forward to.


If you hear a loud scream emanating from the end of the San Jose, California area, don't worry.  It is just Tom getting to watch this latest Kamen Rider throwdown.  Easily our most anticipated film of this summer, it is an all out war (taisen) between the old school and new school Kamen Rider character.  In our best Kamen Rider Wizard voice, "Yes...puh-lease!"


Oddly enough, it was watching this trailer for the new Kikaider film that got Tom and I back in touch with our old pal Kamen Rider and things haven't been the same since May. This remake/reboot looks slick as hell and got us promptly excited.  Word of a U.S. release is even better.


We're big fans of Michael Jai White and it is a crying shame he is still being relegated to low budget flicks.  In our mind, he should be headlining a $200 million dollar Marvel movie like BLACK PANTHER.  Alas, Hollywood is stuck in its ways so we end up with White in FALCON RISING.  Like his earlier BLOOD AND BONE (2009), this looks to have White seeking revenge while busting heads.  It is due out in September.


NINJA II: SHADOW OF A TEAR (2013) not only served as a great vehicle for Scott Adkins, it established Kane Kosugi (yes, son of '80s ninja legend Sho) as a bonafide action star in his own right.  His next vehicle is a TEKKEN prequel titled TEKKEN 2.  You got that?  Gaming fans have been bashing the hell out of this trailer, but if it delivers in the fight department, I'll be happy.  This came out on DVD this past week and is directed by Wych Kaosayananda (aka KAOS), who did the poorly received BALLISTIC: ECKS VS. SEVER (2002).

EDIT: Just give us good fights and we'll be happy.  Ah, so naive.  Turns out TEKKEN 2 is a steaming pile of celluloid and you can read Tom's review at this link to learn about the pain.


Speaking of KAOS, the director lives up to his name with his other project, ZERO TOLERANCE.  This began life as a film called ANGELS (2012) starring Dustin Nguyen and Gary Daniels.  Subsequent re-shoots have added the aforementioned Kosugi and Scott Adkins into the mix.  I'm sure this movie will be totally coherent (end sarcasm).  The first trailer is interesting, I guess.


When it was announced that Don "The Dragon" Wilson was going to be making a comeback of sorts, I kinda cringed.  I mean, we love Don here, but we didn't want to see him embarrass himself like the old retired fighter who comes back for one more fight.  Thankfully, this action flick lensed in Thailand looks to deliver the goods with lead Matt Mullins doing some impressive work.  Bonus points for Cynthia Rothrock!


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Gweilo Dojo: SAKURA KILLERS (1987)

One of the great things about being a two-man operation here at Video Junkie is that we can cover twice as much ground in the seemingly endless cinematic wasteland. And, since we are mere mortals, we both always end up surprising each other with our discoveries.  For example, Tom sends me SAKURA KILLERS, a 1980s ninja movie starring Chuck Conners.  Let me repeat that – starts Garret Morris screaming – a 1980s ninja movie starring Chuck Conners!  How could I have never seen it?  And how much is this going to rule?

The film opens with a group of ninjas assaulting a corporate building.  Showing off all their tricks, they make it to the main guy’s office to steal a video.  Cut to an isolated ranch where The Colonel (Conners) is practicing his golf game while his assistant Karen (Cara Casey) gets her aerobics freak on.  For some odd reason, ninjas show up and the Colonel – he is never given a name – blasts them with a shotgun he keeps in his golf bag.  Back inside, Karen talks about her super duper computer system which prompts the Colonel to bemoan technology.  This dude is old school.  But the system appears to be working as it tells them about the videotape being stolen.  What was on the tape?  Some kind of stuff scientists were doing, which causes the Colonel to exclaim that “maybe they shouldn’t ask so many questions!” Damn, this guy is really old school!  And let's not forget this isn’t just any videotape…it is a Beta tape!  Are we sure these are ninjas and not VJ friend and Beta fiend Jon Stone?

Anyway, our duo decides the recovery of this videotape is a job for top men and they first recruit Dennis (George Nicholas).  This is done by having Karen run next to him on the beach.  Dennis is sent to the hotbed of ninja activity. Japan? No, Taiwan! The plan is for him to start a boxing club (?) and eventually team up with old friend Sonny (Mike Kelly). I know all this because a clumsily inserted voiceover by Conners explains it all. Sonny tells Dennis (and the audience, finally!) that the videotape contains some information about genetic splicing.  They figure the best way to break the case wide open is to hit a Japanese restaurant and start asking questions.  Dumbasses!  Afterward, they are promptly attacked by ninjas.  Damn, never mind, these guys know their shit when it comes to flushing out ninjas.  Note to self – don’t eat at Japanese restaurants or at least ask ninja-related questions there.

Dennis figures they might need some help and they visit his old friend Manji (Manji Otsuki) at a Japanese teahouse. She introduces the guys to her uncle, who promptly begins training them in the art of ninjutsu.  The biggest challenge is being able to run fast enough that a straw hat will stick to your chest without you holding onto it. Apparently they master all of the ninja techniques in one quick training montage and even get garish ninja outfits.  All of this training prepares them for action and Dennis comes up with an amazing plan – let’s go back to the same restaurant we got attacked at and harass the hostess Yukiko!  Brilliant! But, unfortunately, she isn’t there but Manji is sharp enough to get her home address. Damn, these guys are good. Sonny goes to talk to her, but gets bonked on the head.  Damn, these guys suck.  We then hilariously cut back to the Colonel (riding on a tractor!), who gets updated on the events by Karen.  She says they found the girl and the Colonel says, “What girl?” He then says, “Is she the same girl who works at that restaurant by the water?”  Wow.  Godfrey Ho shakes his head at this lousy exposition.  Anyway, they locate Yukiko (at the restaurant by the water, duh!) and get her to reveal location of the ninja headquarters (by Dennis yelling at Yukiko).  Our heroes arrive just in the nick of time as the evil Russians are copying the formula.  And I literally mean copying the formula as they are only allowed to view the video and not copy it.

Damn, this movie is a riot from start to finish.  Any film that opens with Chuck Conners in a Brooklyn Dodgers jacket blowing away ninjas with a shotgun at a ranch during daylight is awesome in my book.  Conners might be top billed but he probably only did a day or so of work on this picture.  The filmmakers make sure to insert a scene with him every 15 minutes or so.  It is also hilarious how he looks exactly like a Sleestak from the LAND OF THE LOST TV series with his glasses on:

The Taiwan stuff takes up a majority of the footage and it is a blast.  Nicholas and Kelly might be the most mismatched couple of heroes (the back story is Dennis was a cop who arrested and befriended Sonny) to try and locate the tape held by ninjas.  Yeah, a white muscle head and skinny black guy. They surely will blend right in.  Not that I mind such plot machinations as these kinds of flicks are all about the great bizarre bits and fights.  I cracked up when a ninja spy is sitting in the lobby of a hotel reading Omni or the ninja boss being shown getting his hair done.  Films like this and NINJA TURF (1985) are the reason I love continuing to search for new flicks to view.  They may not be good, but they are a blast.