Film Review: American Samurai (1992)

Release Date: December 22nd, 1992 (Germany)
Directed by: Sam Firstenberg
Written by: John Corcoran
Music by: Craig Stuart Garfinkle, Robbie Patton
Cast: David Bradley, Mark Dacascos

Cannon Films, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Why couldn’t we just be brothers?” – Drew Collins

The poster for American Samurai has the tagline “…Bloodsport with blades”. That is an incredibly accurate description. Although, this pales in comparison to the awesome Bloodsport.

However, many fans of Cannon’s various ninja films see Sam Firstenberg as the premier 80s ninja genre director. Also, Firstenberg left the American Ninja series after part 2 and fans never got to see him work with the second star of that series, David Bradley. This film, however, teams these two guys up and gives you a taste of what American Ninja 3 could have been if Firstenberg stayed on to direct the debuting Bradley.

That being said, this is nowhere near as good as the two Firstenberg American Ninja movies or his two films before that, when he was working with Japanese ninja actor Sho Kosugi. This is better than American Ninja 3 and 4, however. But I would put American Ninja 5, slightly ahead of this.

This film brings back John Fujioka, who was Joe Armstrong’s ninja master in the first American Ninja. Also, it is the first major film role for martial arts bad ass Mark Dacascos. The film actually pits Bradley against Dacascos, who plays his jealous foster brother but legitimate son to his father’s samurai legacy. Dacascos wants to prove to his father that he is superior to his adopted son. He leaves his father and foster brother behind, becomes yakuza and forces his brother to eventually fight to the death in the climax of the movie.

American Samurai actually plays like a live-action version of an arcade fighting game from the early 90s. It predates the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat movies but definitely takes its inspiration from those franchises and the Jean-Claude Van Damme movies BloodsportLionheart and Kickboxer.

Filmed in Turkey, you don’t get to see too much of the geography, as most of this takes place indoors and on confined sets. The arena is pretty drab but then so are the fighters that populate it. You didn’t have a cast of cool and unique fighters like you saw in Bloodsport or Lionheart.

American Samurai is entertaining enough if you are into 80s and 90s martial arts pictures. It certainly isn’t exceptional in any way but David Bradley gets to work with a better director and it opened some doors for Mark Dacascos.

Film Review: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Release Date: July 7th, 1977 (London premiere)
Directed by: Lewis Gilbert
Written by: Christopher Wood, Richard Maibaum
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: Marvin Hamlisch
Cast: Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, Curd Jürgens, Richard Kiel, Caroline Munro, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell

Eon Productions, United Artists, 125 Minutes

Review:

“Mmm, maybe I misjudged Stromberg. Any man who drinks Dom Perignon ’52 can’t be all bad.” – James Bond

It has been a really long time since I’ve seen this particular James Bond movie, which is why I wanted to pop it into the DVD player. My memories of it weren’t spectacular but I really enjoyed it this time around and I now rank it really high in the Roger Moore era.

But what’s not to like?

You have Roger Moore, who is Roger friggin’ Moore. Then you have Barbara Bach as the female Soviet equivalent to Bond. This film also introduces Jaws, played by my favorite giant (after Peter Mayhew), Richard Kiel. Plus Curd Jürgens’ Karl Stromberg is one of the best non-SPECTRE villains in the entire Bond franchise. And I certainly can’t forget the apple of my eye, Caroline Munro.

One thing that also makes this entry into the massive Bond franchise so great is the locations. I loved all the stuff that was filmed in Egypt. The scene with Bond and Amasova tracking Jaws through the giant pillars is one of the best sequences in the entire film series. Also, the scene during the pyramid light show has some of the coolest shots and cinematography in the franchise.

Additionally, the set of Stromberg’s underwater fortress was well built and designed. The place looked sinister as hell and had a very brooding vibe, as it sprouted from the ocean surface.

This film, looking at it now, features the best tandem of Bond girls, in my opinion. Bach is perfect in her role as Major Anya Amasova a.k.a. Agent XXX. She owned the part and was much more than just a pretty face needing to be rescued. Of course, she did need to be rescued in the end. Caroline Munro, who is incredibly stunning, looked like she was having a blast as the helicopter pilot trying to kill Bond and Amasova. She had the right mix of sexual allure and sadism. I just wish she had more time to shine in the picture.

The fights between Bond and Jaws were well executed and the fisticuffs played out well. I was glad that they created Jaws as this unstoppable character that survives the craziest situations only to stand and fight, again and again. I was really glad to see him return for this film’s direct sequel Moonraker.

My memories of this movie weren’t great but this is one of the Bond films I have seen the least. I’m glad that my memory was wrong and that I got to see this in a different light. Or maybe I’ve been watching so much crap lately, that anything with a semblance of quality would’ve made me happy.

TV Review: Iron Fist (2017- )

Original Run: March 17th, 2017 – current
Created by: Scott Buck
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Trevor Morris
Cast: Finn Jones, Jessica Henwick, Tom Pelphrey, Jessica Stroup, Ramón Rodríguez, Sacha Dhawan, Rosario Dawson, David Wenham, Carrie-Anne Moss

ABC Studios, Marvel, Devilina Productions, Netflix, 13 Episodes (so far), 50-61 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Iron Fist is, unfortunately, the first of the Marvel Netflix shows to be a bit of a disappointment. It is even more disappointing in that this was the show I was most anticipating, as I’ve loved reading Iron Fist comics for years. He is a unique but very cool character, especially in his legendary team ups with Luke Cage.

All is not lost, however, as the show still has some promise and could go to some great places. The first season is just bogged down by origin story crap and a lot of corporate drama that kind of distracts from the story more than it helps it or drives it. A lot of it is just uninteresting but I hope all that stuff is now out of the way to make room for the future.

Also, Danny Ran a.k.a. Iron Fist being like a fish out of water really got old pretty quickly. He had to adjust to life in the modern world after being stuck in Mystical Ninja Land since he was a boy. Captain America, a guy thawed out 80 years into the future seemed to adjust to modern life a lot quicker than Iron Fist, who returned to a world with just an iPod only four models old.

The show also features the evil ninja clan The Hand quite a lot. Frankly, I was kind of over them by the end of the second season of Daredevil. I get that Danny Rand has ties to them but they didn’t need to be such a huge focal point and something fresher and unique would have been much better. I really don’t care about The Hand’s inner politics and how they aren’t all bad.

The villain character played by David Wenham was initially fantastic. I have always liked Wenham as an actor and it was cool seeing him get a little psychotic. Also, it was a neat contrast to him playing Faramir in the Lord of the Rings movies, as Faramir was a man trying to earn the love of a psychotic father and now he is a psychotic father with a son that hungers for his approval. Sadly, the character’s story goes off the rails the longer it stretches on. I obviously don’t blame Denham, as he played it magnificently.

Iron Fist is not necessarily a bad show but it doesn’t live up to what was established with DaredevilJessica Jones and Luke Cage. Nevertheless, I am still excited to see him team up with the rest of these heroes in The Defenders and I still look forward to another season of Iron Fist, where hopefully the origin crap is over and the corporate drama takes a backseat to better stories.

Film Review: The Tale of Zatoichi (1962)

Release Date: April 12th, 1962 (Japan)
Directed by: Kenji Misumi
Written by: Minoru Inuzuka
Based on: The Tale of Zatoichi by Kan Shimozawa
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Masayo Banri, Ryuzo Shimada, Hajime Mitamura, Shigeru Amachi

Daiei Motion Picture Company, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Then why don’t you live a decent life?” – Tane, “It’s like being stuck in a bog; it’s not easy to pull yourself out once you’ve fallen in.” – Zatoichi

The Zatoichi films are movies I have heard about for a really long time thanks to having friends that are big fans of jidaigeki pictures. Unfortunately, I have never seen any of them until now. It is a pretty big injustice that I have to rectify and absolve myself of. But since I have the Criterion Channel, I now have access to twenty-five of these pictures. So why not start with the first?

This film introduces audiences to the character of Zatoichi, a blind masseur and master swordsman. He is hired by a yakuza boss named Sukegoro, who thinks that his skills will come in handy due to an oncoming war with a rival gang led by Shigezo. Shigezo responds by hiring a legendary ronin, Miki Hirate.

The film shows that Zatoichi is very humble and because of this and his low social stature, he is often times underestimated by the men around him. Zatoichi also shows that he uses his handicap to his advantage, as he turns the tables on those trying to take advantage of his blindness.

It is revealed that Zatoichi’s rival Hirate is ill with tuberculosis. This makes Hirate eager to fight Zatoichi because he feels that death at the hands of a great warrior is a better fate than dying of his illness. All the while, Hirate and Zatoichi develop a strong bond and friendship, leading up to their confrontation.

The film’s story plays out really well and it is actually quite stellar and builds up to something great, as you reach the climax. This is of course enhanced by the talent of the main actors and the quality of the film from a technical standpoint.

For 1962, this is one of the best Daiei films I have seen, up to this point. Hell, it is one of the best Daiei films, period. It is also cool seeing that Daiei had this jidaigeki franchise alongside their more famous kaiju pictures, just as their rival studio Toho had Kurosawa’s jidaigeki epics alongside their Godzilla franchise.

I’m not sure how well the quality maintains over the course of this long film series but it was off to a good start with this picture. I can assume it will go the route of James Bond or Godzilla, where quality tends to taper off but you still get an occasional high point, here and there.

20 Animated Properties That Haven’t Gone Live-Action Yet

*written in 2015.

I recently did a list called 20 Comic Book Properties That Haven’t Gone Live-Action Yet (see here). This is a sequel to that.

Considering that Hollywood is out of ideas and they keep resurrecting old stuff from my childhood as live-action blockbuster films, I figured that I would list twenty awesome cartoon or anime properties that they haven’t turned into a live-action spectacle yet.

Now some of these have been in live-action development, whether in film or on television, but for the most part, those that have been in development, have been in a state of limbo for quite some time.

Sure, I’d like to see Hollywood take a crack at some of these depending upon who is involved in them. I’d prefer Michael Bay to stay away, however.

Also, a few of these may have had a live-action version but it is either really obscure, very poorly done, really outdated or for a foreign market.

1. Robotech: The Macross Saga
2. Neon Genesis Evangelion
3. ThunderCats
4. Star Blazers
5. Voltron
6. Space Pirate Captain Harlock
7. Akira
8. Ninja Scroll
9. Johnny Quest
10. SilverHawks
11. Mobile Suit Gundam
12. Dino-Riders
13. Captain N: The Game Master
14. Defenders of the Earth
15. She-Ra: Princess of Power
16. M.A.S.K.
17. Captain Planet
18. Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors
19. Gargoyles
20. Filmation’s Ghostbusters (the one with the Gorilla)

Film Review: Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Release Date: August 13th, 1967
Directed by: Arthur Penn
Written by: David Newman, Robert Benton
Music by: Charles Strouse
Cast: Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Michael J. Pollard, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons, Gene Wilder

Warner Bros., Seven Arts, 111 Minutes

Review:

“This here’s Miss Bonnie Parker. I’m Clyde Barrow. We rob banks.” – Clyde Barrow

For the 50th anniversary of Bonnie and Clyde, Fathom Events put it back on the big screen. I was glad that I got to see it in its original format, fifty years to the exact day it came out.

For those who haven’t seen the film or who don’t know about it, it follows the true story of Bonnie Parker (Dunaway) and Clyde Barrow (Beatty), two young lovers that became famous bank robbers in the Mid-South. It also showcases their gang: their driver C.W. Moss (Pollard), Clyde’s brother (Hackman) and his wife (Parsons), who is actually strung along and wants nothing to do with the crime and violence.

Bonnie and Clyde was an important motion picture in the history of filmmaking. It was actually a trendsetter that changed everything going forward, which makes its 50th anniversary quite significant for all of film history. It was the first picture to truly show violence and to push the bar higher in regards to its sexual content. It also experimented with its style visually and musically.

It is the oldest film I can think of that edits action packed music-filled scenes with cuts back to people talking. In some spots, it plays more like an early MTV music video. This, of course, existed a decade and a half before MTV and the musical choices reflect the 1930s, when this takes place, as opposed to the poppy 1980s new wave sounds. But it is easy to see how Bonnie and Clyde not only influenced movie filmmakers but also music video filmmakers and many other people in pop culture.

While the film was nominated for ten Academy Awards. It won for cinematography, which was quite deserved. Also, Estelle Parsons won for Best Supporting Actress, as Clyde’s sister-in-law Blanche. It was cool seeing Parsons in this, as I really only knew her as Roseanne’s mother on Roseanne, when I was a kid. I always loved her on that show, she was actually one of my favorite characters and seeing her here, much younger but in some respects, the same, was a really cool experience.

This wasn’t the first time I saw Bonnie and Clyde, I first watched it in my early twenties but I hadn’t seen it since then. I was glad I got to revisit it, as it is still a solid film, through and through. It has had a tremendous impact on film, television and music. It would inspire countless films and was a template for the Quentin Tarantino written Natural Born Killers and the Ice Cube and Yo-Yo song “The Bonnie and Clyde Theme”.

Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were magnificent in this. And really, what’s hotter than Faye Dunaway firing a tommy gun?

Also, Michael J. Pollard was dynamite as the bumbling but kindhearted C.W. while Gene Hackman was boisterous and entertaining as Clyde’s crazy ex-con brother. The film is also the debut of Gene Wilder, who comes off like a solid veteran.

Bonnie and Clyde is a classic American film that deserves its recognition. It is also great that such a trendsetting and groundbreaking picture was actually quite good.

Film Review: American Ninja 5 (1993)

Release Date: March 29th, 1993 (Greece)
Directed by: Bobby Jean Leonard
Written by: John Bryant Hedberg, Greg Latter, George Saunders
Music by: Daniel May
Cast: David Bradley, Lee Reyes, Pat Morita, James Lew

Cannon Films, 102 Minutes

Review:

“Whoa!” – Hiro

I am a massive fan of the American Ninja franchise. So it sort of pains me to admit that I actually didn’t even know about this film until it was out for about a decade. There are reasons for this though, so let me explain.

First off, the film does not fit in with the first four movies in the American Ninja series. It is its own separate story and David Bradley plays a completely different character than his more famous Sean Davidson from the two pictures before this one.

Reason being, this was originally developed as a film called American Dragons. Ultimately, instead of piggy backing off of the American Ninja vibe, as Cannon did with American Samurai (also with David Bradley), they just threw up their hands and called this American Ninja 5. Sadly, this could have evolved into its own series had Cannon kept the original title and then didn’t go belly up almost immediately after.

Secondly, this film did not get a theatrical release in the United States, at least that I know of. It came out on video in international markets in 1993 but didn’t actually hit U.S. video store shelves until 1995. And even though I worked in video stores in that era, I never came across it. This may be because of Cannon Films ceasing to exist and their later films lacking real distribution.

This chapter in the series gets an incredibly bad rap. It has a 2.8 on IMDb (that’s out of 10) and no real critics featured on Rotten Tomatoes have even reviewed it or rated it. As a film, all on its own, I think it is better than the two previous American Ninja outings. While the fourth one featured David Bradley and the returning Michael Dudikoff, it completely missed the mark. The third film (and Bradley’s first) was really kind of a dud with really bad fight choreography and lacking a formidable evil ninja.

I think that people dislike this film solely for the reason that it isn’t a part of the universe from the first four movies. I get that. However, as a standalone picture, it is the best ninja movie that Cannon did since American Ninja 2: The Confrontation.

The film features Bradley, who I always think is pretty solid, and adds in Pat Morita (a.k.a. Mr. Miyagi), James Lew and Lee Reyes (the younger brother of Ernie Reyes Jr. and son of Ernie Reyes Sr.). Morita is barely in this movie but it opens up the idea that he could have been bigger going forward, had this turned into its own little series.

The film also looks better than the previous two. It gets out and gets more exotic than just trying to have South Africa and Lesotho stand in geographically for whatever random country the previous three films took place in. This chapter was filmed in Los Angeles, Venezuela and Italy. It was the best looking film since American Ninja 2 and it did a good job utilizing its surroundings.

The action was also better than the other Bradley films and this thing just feels like it is better directed, better acted and better produced.

It still isn’t a good film but it certainly isn’t a horrible one. While the villainous Viper came off as cheesy and hokey, more often than not, his Wolverine-like claw made up for it. I also liked that they got more colorful with the ninjas in this film. We’ve had colorful ninjas throughout the American Ninja series but in this film, they seemed to be utilized more. The film sort of plays like a late 80s/early 90s action video game. It really got me nostalgic and I had to fire up Bad Dudes on my original Nintendo.

I like American Ninja 5. At least, I like it more than 3 and 4. It is hard to top 1 and 2 but this was David Bradley’s best effort. However, like part 4, I was really missing the presence of Steve James. And it would have been cool to have seen Dudikoff thrown back in, even if this wasn’t a real sequel to part 4.