Film Review: Best of the Best (1989)

Release Date: November 10th, 1989
Directed by: Bob Radler
Written by: Paul Levine, Phillip Rhee
Music by: Paul Gilman
Cast: Eric Roberts, James Earl Jones, Sally Kirkland, Phillip Rhee, John P. Ryan, John Dye, David Agresta, Tom Everett, Louise Fletcher, Simon Rhee, Christopher Penn, James Lew

The Movie Group, SVS Company Inc., Kuys Entertainment, Taurus Entertainment, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Yeah! Drop him like a toilet seat, Tommy!” – Travis Brickley

The late 80s were rife with modestly budgeted martial arts movies. While Stallone and Schwarzenegger owned the action genre at the box office, it was the Van Dammes, Seagals, Dudikoffs and Kosugis that killed it on video store shelves. Best of the Best tried to capitalize off of the martial arts genre and it actually did a pretty fine job.

Phillip Rhee, one of the writers, plays the role of Tommy Lee. While he is not the main character, he does have the most important story, fights in the grand finale and would go on to star in all four pictures in this film series.

The top two stars were Eric Roberts, who has an electric mane in this picture, and James Earl Jones, who played the coach of Team USA. Chris Penn is also in this as one of the American fighters, as is John Dye, who would become most famous for his role on the TV series Touched by an Angel.

Eric Roberts was a pretty solid lead and really believable as his character. He had an intensity and charisma unmatched by many actors in the martial arts genre. He did return for the second film but wasn’t in the third or fourth.

James Earl Jones was great as the coach. This is actually one of my favorite Jones roles, as he nails it every time he is on the screen. His passion as coach came out in every scene and he had an energy and earnestness that couldn’t be ignored. His mission to prepare the American fighters for the fight of their lives was a well-balanced game of tough love and respect. He was like the Vince Lombardi of karate.

The fight choreography was much better than average for this sort of picture. The action felt authentic and real. It was fluid and dynamic unlike the later films in the American Ninja series that seemed to stop caring.

In this film, a team of Americans is selected to go to South Korea to fight their best martial artists. It is mostly a competition for bragging rights but in the end, the film displays an amazing exchange of sportsmanship between the fighters of both proud countries. In fact, if you don’t cry like a little bitch at the end, then you aren’t a real man. Shit still gets me every time when you see these fighters earn each other’s respect.

Best of the Best wasn’t as big of a hit as it should have been in video stores. It was overshadowed by the growing popularity of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal. However, it still did good enough to warrant three sequels.

Film Review: The ‘Police Academy’ Film Series, Part II – The Post-Mahoney Years (1988-1994)

These three films differ from the first four in the series in that they are missing the character of Sgt. Carey Mahoney. Steve Guttenberg left the series and thus, took the main character with him. For the first two films post-Mahoney, we got a new lead actor played by Matt McCoy. Now McCoy is a decent enough actor but he is a straight laced kind of guy and not a great funnyman like Guttenberg.

Some people think the series should have ended with Guttenberg’s exit but then some people thought it should have ended after the first movie. If that were the case, it would have been forgotten and not have become a beloved comedy franchise. Personally, I think it should have ended with the sixth film but I will get into how horrible the seventh and final film is after I discuss the two before it.

Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach (1988):

Release Date: March 18th, 1988
Directed by: Alan Myerson
Written by: Stephen Curwick
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Bubba Smith, David Graf, Michael Winslow, Marion Ramsey, Leslie Easterbrook, George Gaynes, G.W. Bailey, Lance Kinsey, George R. Robertson, Matt McCoy, Janet Jones, Tab Thacker, René Auberjonois

Warner Bros. Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Proctor! Where is Proctor?” – Capt. Thaddeus Harris

This is the first Police Academy film to take our characters out of their familiar setting. Since it is the fifth film, the producers were probably out of ideas and wanted to turn the fifth film’s production into more of a vacation.

Audiences weren’t happy going into a film without Mahoney, as the focal point, but what made all of these films work was the ensemble cast. Now without Mahoney, the spotlight was a little bit brighter on his cast mates. Hightower, Tackleberry, Jones, Hooks, Callahan, Harris, Proctor, Commandant Lassard and House all had more to do in this movie. I like this film because it expands on them and lets them continue on with these great characters.

Sure, the film is a step below the previous ones but it isn’t as bad as critics and IMDb would make you believe. If you are a fan of the series up until this point, you should still like this installment.

The Capt. Harris and Proctor bits in this film are some of the best of the series. The action sequences are also well done, as they take to the Everglades on airboats in an effort to chase down the villain. And the villain, who is played by René Auberjonois, is my favorite bad guy in the film series. It may also be my favorite Auberjonois role after his parts on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Benson.

Police Academy 6: City Under Siege (1989):

Release Date: March 10th, 1989
Directed by: Peter Bonerz
Written by: Stephen Curwick
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Bubba Smith, David Graf, Michael Winslow, Marion Ramsey, Leslie Easterbrook, Bruce Mahler, George Gaynes, G.W. Bailey, Lance Kinsey, George R. Robertson, Matt McCoy, Kenneth Mars, Gerrit Graham

Warner Bros. Pictures, 84 Minutes

Review:

“Oh, crapola!” – Mayor

The sixth film isn’t very good. It has some redeeming things about it, as the cast of familiar characters are there once again, providing the audience with laughs. Watching this though, you could tell that the creative staff were out of material and out of jokes.

This was the first film in the series to play like a whodunit mystery but that felt out of place in a series where the movies were a series of random comedy gags with just a bit of plot sprinkled in to string it all together.

The villains were the cheesiest of the series, the big mystery reveal at the end was awful and the actors didn’t even look like they were having fun anymore and instead realized that if they wanted to keep making a paycheck, they were stuck churning out Police Academy films annually.

When this movie ended, so did the schedule of having a new Police Academy film each spring. In fact, for a long time, I thought this was the end of the series. It should have been. But then five years later, someone thought it’d be a good idea to do a seventh film.

Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow (1994):

Release Date: August 26th, 1994
Directed by: Alan Metter
Written by: Randolph Davis, Michele S. Chodos
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: David Graf, Michael Winslow, Leslie Easterbrook, George Gaynes, G.W. Bailey, Charlie Schlatter, Christopher Lee, Ron Perlman, Claire Forlani

Warner Bros. Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Everything about me… is real.” – Callahan

This film is easily one of the worst movies that I have ever seen. It pains me, considering that it still has some of those characters I love. But at this point, they have become absurd cartoon characters.

The director of this film is an idiot. For whatever reason, he must be really into acrobatics because there was a lot of characters jumping around doing bizarre flips throughout the film. It made no sense and it was, for lack of a better set of words, fucking stupid.

There were also sound effects that didn’t fit and were bizarre as hell.

Additionally, the camera was often times zoomed in way too close to the actors’ faces. It was disorienting and visually annoying.

This film features the talents of the legendary Christopher Lee and the bad ass Ron Perlman. I feel sorry for them for having even been anywhere near this picture. Also, Claire Forlani is in this for some reason.

You would do yourself a huge favor by steering clear of this film at all costs.

Film Review: American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt (1989)

Release Date: February 24th, 1989
Directed by: Cedric Sundstrom
Written by: Gary Conway
Music by: George S. Clinton
Cast: David Bradley, Steve James, Michele Chan, Calvin Jung, Marjoe Gortner

Cannon Films, 89 Minutes

Review:

“But I am glad that I can tell you that there will be no more inefficient hijackings, no more bungled kidnappings or mistimed bombings, because you see now terrorism can be scientifically focused to be totally effective!” – The Cobra

American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt is where this series went into a steep decline. While one and two are far from masterpieces, they are really enjoyable 80s action flicks featuring a gazillion ninjas and the utter coolness that is Michael Dudikoff. Plus they were directed by the greatest ninja movie director of the 1980s, Sam Firstenberg.

Well, Dudikoff and Firstenberg didn’t return for the third chapter in the series. Many people do not know why Dudikoff bowed out and I didn’t for years until researching it recently. Apparently, after the second film was released, Dudikoff got a mountain of shit from the do-gooders in Hollywood because the movie was made in South Africa during Apartheid. Dudikoff only agreed to return briefly in part four, after convincing the producers to film it in Lesotho, that small independent country surrounded by South Africa. I’m not sure if this is why Firstenberg also left but the filmmakers did not even mention shooting location in the credits of American Ninja 3, which was still filmed in South Africa.

In this chapter, we meet Sean Davidson (David Bradley). As a kid, his father was murdered during a robbery at a karate tournament because why wouldn’t a movie like this start out that way? He is then raised by a ninja, because why wouldn’t he be? When Sean gets older, he’s a bad ass ninja and fights in karate tournaments like his dead daddy. At the 1989 Island Games Karate Tournament, Sean meets Curtis Jackson (Steve James) from the first two American Ninja films but unfortunately, this was his last.

Also at the tournament, Sean and Curtis with their annoying friend Dex, discover that something strange is afoot. There is a criminal madman, as there always is at karate tournaments, that is developing some sort of killer virus. While meddling in the bad guy’s affairs, Sean is captured and given the virus. A bunch of ninja fights happen, Sean meditates the virus out of him and the good guys win.

I didn’t spoil the whole movie but there isn’t a whole lot of plot. Just lots of bad fight choreography and other random stunt stuff. And yes, the fight choreography is almost excruciatingly bad. All the scenes where Michele Chan throws down are horribly executed. She looked like a fish out of water and completely awkward.

When Sean and Curtis were fighting, it was mostly okay but there was nothing to really make you pump your fist like when you see Dudikoff in the first film take on the evil Black Star Ninja. Speaking of which, after two good big boss ninjas in the two previous films, this chapter in the series lacked that. The final fight was Sean against the criminal madman, who really wasn’t a fighter. Well, Sean also had to bat away a couple mid-grade ninja henchmen but they aren’t even worthy of being level one bosses in a 80s Data East game.

I don’t hate American Ninja 3 but it does make me weep at the possibility of what could have happened, had Dudikoff and Firstenberg stayed in the series. Don’t get me wrong, David Bradley was not a bad replacement but it was hard to see him achieve his best in a poorly directed, written and choreographed mess like this.

Film Review: Tango & Cash (1989)

Release Date: December 22nd, 1989
Directed by: Andrei Konchalovsky, Peter MacDonald (uncredited), Albert Magnoli (uncredited), Stuart Baird (uncredited)
Written by: Randy Feldman, Jeffrey Boam (rewrites)
Music by: Harold Faltermeyer
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell, Jack Palance, Teri Hatcher, Brion James, Geoffrey Lewis, Eddie Bunker, James Hong, Marc Alaimo, Michael J. Pollard, Robert Z’Dar, Lewis Arquette, Roy Brocksmith, Clint Howard

The Guber-Peters Company, Warner Bros., 101 Minutes

Review:

“Rambo? Rambo’s a pussy.” – Ray Tango

I used to really like Tango & Cash when I was in fifth and sixth grade. I hadn’t really seen it since then. Having seen it now, though, I can state that this movie did not age well. It probably wasn’t very good, even for 1989 standards, but it is incredibly cheesy and hokey but not in any way that is endearing.

Sure, I love Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell but the two of them deserved a better vehicle for a team-up movie. The plot was weak and a big chunk of the movie was spent in prison, where Stallone just escaped from in his previous film, also from 1989, Lock Up. However, Stallone was also entering a bad period for his career, as this film was followed up by Rocky V (most people hate it, I don’t), Oliver and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.

At least we got to see these two in the same film again in 2017 with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, even though they didn’t share any scenes together. But I did find it strange that Russell was not in any Expendables picture.

The film also gives us the legendary Jack Palance, Brion James (a fantastic 80s villain player), James Hong (most beloved as Lo Pan from Big Trouble In Little China, another Kurt Russell film), Marc Alaimo (another great villain character actor and Gul Dukat from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Robert Z’Dar (the Maniac Cop himself), as well as a young Teri Hatcher, the always weird Clint Howard and Michael J. Pollard, a guy I’ve always enjoyed in his small roles.

However, even with all the great people in this film, it is still a total dud. Maybe that has something to do with script rewrites. Maybe it is because this film went through four directors. Yes… four!

Whatever the reasons, Tango & Cash is a film that is much less than the some of its pretty great parts. It is really disappointing, actually. It could have worked, it should have worked but it was a total bust in every way.

Yes, there are some fun moments in the film but nowhere near enough to make this thing worth anyone’s time. It isn’t necessarily horrible but it shows how bad the “buddy cop” formula can be, if everything in the movie misses its mark.

Does it deserve to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer? I’d say that it does but just barely. So what we have here is a Type 1 stool, which is defined as “Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass).”

Film Review: Cyborg (1989)

Release Date: April 7th, 1989
Directed by: Albert Pyun
Written by: Kitty Chalmers, Daniel Hubbard-Smith
Music by: Lalo Schifrin, Kevin Bassinson
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Deborah Richter, Vincent Klyn, Dayle Haddon

Cannon Film Distributors, 82 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll take you to Atlanta, and you’ll give me the cure. And if you don’t, I’ll give you the horror show.” – Fender Tremolo

In the late 1980s, I was a big Jean-Claude Van Damme fan like every red blooded American boy. However, I really hated Cyborg when I saw it and I was endlessly reminded of my dislike for it once it started appearing on cable almost weekly for a span of several years. Out of Van Damme’s early stuff, it just completely missed the mark, even if it did have several cool things that could have made it good.

However, seeing it now, a few decades later, I no longer hate it. In fact, I found most of it to be fairly enjoyable, even if it is incredibly cheesy, full of atrocious acting and looks very dated.

To start, it was put out by Cannon Films, who were responsible for dozens of exciting balls-to-the-wall 80s action flicks. It also starred their new up and coming star, Jean-Claude Van Damme. It had a sci-fi setting and was like an American East Coast Mad Max minus the cool vehicles. This would have been much better with cool vehicles. However, this was a good mixture of good elements to make something great. The film lacks in most regards though and it obviously didn’t have cool cars because it was made for the same cost as a case of discount domestic beer, a couple Koozies and a bag of Ruffles.

Most of the fight choreography is pretty good for what this is. Van Damme has the uncanny ability to throw kicks that don’t just look elegant but seem to look powerful as well. He’s always had a grace with his movements that most likely comes from his dancing background but because of this, he just always looks fantastic when he has to pull off that big roundhouse kick to the face.

Cyborg doesn’t have great cinematography. However, there are a few shots that do look amazing and hold up well today. Most notably, the scene where a thug walks into a dark sewer corridor, looks up, and there is Van Damme, above his head, doing the splits while holding a nasty looking dagger. The lighting, the panning and the overall shot was just beautifully done and certainly stands out among the rather drab cinematography.

One thing that significantly hurts this picture is the music. The score sounds like some toddler slamming away on a small Casio keyboard with his sippy cup. The score is so bad that you never get used to it and it sticks out like a sore thumb through every major action sequence.

Cyborg could have been a much better movie, it had some things that worked, but ultimately it was like it was out to sabotage itself. For some reason, there are two sequels to this, neither of which star Jean-Claude Van Damme. Maybe I will watch them someday if I really want to torture myself.

Documentary Review: Document of the Dead (2012)

Release Date: November 13th, 2012
Directed by: Roy Frumkes
Music by: Rick Ulfik

Synapse Films, 66 Minutes (1979 cut), 85 Minutes (1989 cut), 102 Minutes (2012 cut)

Review:

Document of the Dead is a documentary that has been released at three different times, as it has been updated and expanded throughout the years.

Initially, it was about the making of Goerge A. Romero’s 1978 classic Dawn of the Dead. Since then, it has looked behind the scenes at some of his other films, as well as checked in with the man and those close to him from 1978 up through 2006.

It is a sort of disjointed documentary, as the additions are very apparent in a way that distracts from the narrative. Also, the documentary jumps around a lot. It is entertaining and informative but it is a mess too.

I am reviewing the 2012 version, the final one released, so I can’t really say if the earlier versions, especially the 1979 original version, were more coherent. Anyway, it is the 1979 material that is the most compelling anyway.

Some of the cool things in this are seeing Tom Savini put the makeup on the Dawn of the Dead zombies, as well as his stunt work. Also, just seeing the behind the scenes stuff is cool, especially on an old school movie like this where DVD extras were still twenty years away.

Document of the Dead, while not a great documentary, is still a cool look into the world of Romero from a filmmaking point-of-view. For fans of Romero’s Dead series, it is certainly worth checking out.

Film Review: Young Rebels (1989)

Release Date: November 1989
Directed by: Amir Shervan
Written by: Amir Shervan
Music by: Alan DerMarderosian
Cast: John Greene, Tadashi Yamashita, Robert Z’Dar, Aldo Ray, Joselito Rescober

Rex Films, Cinema Epoch, 93 Minutes

Review:

Amir Shervan created magic, probably unintentionally, when he made Samurai Cop. Another one of his films, Killing American Style, was perfect for all the wrong reasons. As I am working through as much of his filmography as I can, I have gotten to Young Rebels. Unfortunately, it doesn’t live up to the awesomeness of the aforementioned motion pictures.

This doesn’t mean it is bad. Well, it is bad but it is fantastic bad. But not as fantastic bad as the others.

In this movie, a guy owes some mobsters some money. He gets his bad ass brother involved. The deadbeat non-payer gets murdered. Brother then gets really angry and with his friends, decides it’s time to take the mobsters down.

The style and tone of the film is really consistent with Shervan’s Killing American Style. It also features Robert Z’Dar, which is always a plus. Now the movie is humorous but not as much as the later released and way more famous Samurai Cop.

If you are a fan of other Shervan flicks, you will probably enjoy this one enough to give it a watch. It just doesn’t have the magic of the other Shervan pictures I’ve seen before this.

I’m hoping the few that I still have to watch are closer to Killing American Style and Samurai Cop. So far, I’ve been happy with his pictures, even if this one was a bit weak by comparison.

*Unfortunately, there isn’t even a trailer for this online. This is the best I could find to give you a taste of the movie.