Film Review: The Last Dragon (1985)

Also known as: Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon
Release Date: March 22nd, 1985
Directed by: Michael Schultz
Written by: Louis Venosta
Music by: Bruce Miller, Misha Segal
Cast: Taimak, Julius J. Carry III, Chris Murney, Leo O’Brien, Faith Prince, Glen Eaton, Vanity, Mike Starr, Ernie Reyes Jr., Keshia Knight Pulliam, Jim Moody, Esther Marrow, Chazz Palminteri, William H. Macy, Carl Anthony Payne II, Ron Van Clief (uncredited)

Motown Productions, TriStar Pictures, 107 Minutes


“I’m gonna get you, Leroy, because I am the Shogun! I will not rest until everybody knows the Shogun is the master!” – Sho’nuff

The Last Dragon is a weird enigma and frankly, there is nothing else quite like it.

The story is about a boy named Leroy and how he becomes a kung fu master. His friends and students call him Bruce Leroy and there is a good amount of old Bruce Lee movie footage thrown into the picture for good measure. Between this and No Retreat, No Surrender, Bruceploitation was still alive and well more than a decade after the man’s death.

Leroy draws the ire of an evil kung fu badass named Sho’Nuff, who is played by the immensely awesome Julius Carry, who I would become a lifelong fan of after his role on the underappreciated television series, Brisco County, Jr. In fact, regardless of Carry being the badass bad guy, I love this movie mostly because of him and the very young Ernie Reyes Jr.

The two main stars of the picture are Taimak as Bruce Leroy and the ’80s pop star Vanity as Laura, who was essentially like an old school MTV VJ. You also get small roles from William H. Macy, Chazz Palminteri, Mike Starr and two of The Cosby Show‘s kids: Keshia Knight Pulliam and Carl Anthony Payne II. Legit martial arts star Ron Van Clief handled the fight choreography and had a small uncredited role.

While this isn’t a musical, it is a film that is very music heavy. One of the villains is an evil music producer that wants his girlfriend to become a massive star. In fact, I thought her song was pretty good within the context of the movie but Vanity seemed to be completely disinterested in it, which made the villain lash out and become even more villainous. Honestly, the bad song wasn’t really that different than most of the mid-’80s pop that fills the movie. Had she just played the music video, she could have saved herself and her friends a lot of stress.

The thing that makes The Last Dragon so unique is that it is a weird mix of kung fu, ’80s music, teen comedy and is a visual explosion of over the top ’80s style. The film almost feels like a fantasy that takes place in a world similar to ours but much cooler, where everything is accented by neon lights and chrome.

The Last Dragon is a pretty cool experience but it feels pretty dated. It probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea in the modern era but for fans of ’80s cheese, it’s a nice cornucopia of ’80s style, music and humor. Plus, it is just a cool movie that’s a whole lot of fun.

Film Review: The Original ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Film Series (1990-2007)

*written in 2014.

With the upcoming release of the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film, which is a reboot, I wanted to revisit the original film series. I hadn’t seen these movies since the 90s and I hadn’t seen the 2007 CGI sequel at all. I remember really liking the first two and finding the third one to be pretty boring. Maybe it was because it was missing their main antagonist, Shredder. Regardless of all that, here’s what I felt about these films now.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990):

Release Date: March 30th, 1990
Directed by: Steve Barron
Written by: Todd W. Langen, Bobby Herbeck
Based on: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird
Music by: John Du Prez
Cast: Judith Hoag, Elias Koteas, Robbie Rist, Brian Tochi, Corey Feldman, Kevin Clash, Sam Rockwell

Golden Harvest, Limelight Entertainment, 888 Productions, Mirage Enterprises, Northshore Investments, New Line Cinema, 93 Minutes


“Damn.” – Raphael

This first film in the series was the best of the original trilogy. It was gritty, it was fun, it was action packed and it embodied everything that made the TMNT franchise unique and awesome. Seeing this in the theater as a 5th grader, blew my damn mind.

The turtle costumes were phenomenal, the facial animatronics were outstanding and the range of movement the martial artists had inside the suits was uncanny. The acting in this film, considering what it is, wasn’t bad. Elias Koteas as Casey Jones and Judith Hoag as April O’Neil were both really good. I cared about their characters and even their romance.

My favorite part in the whole film though, had to be Shredder. For a live-action movie based on a comic book, especially for the era, he looked fantastic and menacing. I can’t even imagine a better looking Shredder in a real world sense.

Splinter was also pretty great and Kevin Clash (most famous for playing Sesame Street‘s Elmo) provided him with a good voice that gave a sense of authority and respect to a character that is really just an animatronic rat.

The movie never stops once it gets going. It actually flies by pretty quickly and is well-paced. Props to the writers who made a really good script and to the director, who orchestrated how it all went down.

Look for a very young Sam Rockwell playing a thug in a few scenes.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991):

Release Date: March 22nd, 1991
Directed by: Michael Pressman
Written by: Todd W. Langen
Based on: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird
Music by: John Du Prez
Cast: Paige Turco, David Warner, Ernie Reyes Jr., Kevin Nash, Vanilla Ice, Robbie Rist, Brian Tochi, Kevin Clash, Frank Welker

Golden Harvest, Mirage Enterprises, Northshore Investments, New Line Cinema, 88 Minutes


“Go, ninja! Go, ninja! Go!” – Vanilla Ice

It didn’t take long for Golden Harvest and New Line Cinema to pop out a sequel. This movie came out less than a year before its predecessor. While it still turned out pretty well, you can feel that it is lacking in quality from the first film and that they didn’t prepare for it as well.

Also, the turtles use their weapons a lot less than the first movie because busybody assholes thought that the darker and more violent tone of the previous film was too much for kids to handle. The lack of darker tone, hurt this movie.

Unfortunately, neither Judith Hoag or Elias Koteas returned for this film. I’m not sure why but due to the film being rushed out, one could assume that it had to do with scheduling conflicts. The April O’Neil character is still in the film but was recast with Paige Turco.

I do still like this movie but I miss the atmosphere of the first one. These aren’t films that you should take too seriously, but this one got a bit too campy and the script just wasn’t as good.

The edition of David Warner to the cast, an actor I have always enjoyed, as well as Ernie Reyes Jr., who is still the best kid martial artist I have ever seen, was a treat. Vanilla Ice also shows up to give us the greatest ninja-themed rap song of all-time.

Shredder was better looking in this film, as they retrofitted his helmet and made the sharp edges on it look like bad ass buzzsaw blades. However, when he became Super Shredder, he was just ridiculous and completely pointless as he killed himself in about ten seconds. Although it was cool that wrestling legend Kevin Nash was the guy in the Super Shredder suit.

The evil mutants that they made to combat the Turtles, were horrible. They should’ve done what kids were familiar with and gave us the famous Turtle villains Bebop and Rocksteady. Instead, we got Tokka and Rahzar. Stupid names for stupid characters.

All bullshit aside, I still really enjoy this film for what it is but it lacks in a lot of areas compared to the first.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993):

Release Date: March 19th, 1993
Directed by: Stuart Gillard
Written by: Stuart Gillard
Based on: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird
Music by: John Du Prez
Cast: Paige Turco, Elias Koteas, Vivian Wu, Sab Shimono, Stuart Wilson, Brian Tochi, Robbie Rist, Corey Feldman

Golden Harvest, Clearwater Holdings, New Line Cinema, 96 Minutes


“I think I swallowed a frog. I hope it wasn’t an ancestor.” – Donatello

Some people call this film Turtles In Time but that was the name of a TMNT video game. This film plot-wise, is completely unrelated to that game but they do share a time travel element.

I remember watching this just once as a kid and that was on video, as I didn’t even bother to see it in the theater. I just found the idea of the Turtles traveling back to feudal Japan to not be a story worthy enough to carry a film. It seemed like a bad one-off episode of the cartoon and at least those episodes are just twenty minutes.

Watching it now, over twenty years later, I still don’t like the film. It is boring, soulless and flat. There is really nothing interesting or redeeming about the film. Elias Koteas shows back up, after skipping out on the second film, but he is essentially wasted.

The villain is some evil British guy who comes off like an unfunny poor man’s version of Rik Mayall. Had he actually been played by Rik Mayall and humorously, the film may have been a tad bit better. But even Rik Mayall couldn’t have saved it.

The Turtles were also redesigned for this movie and they look like shit. They added a bunch of spots to them, gave them bigger eyes that looked incredibly fake and their animatronics were clunky at best.

After all that time to heal and accept this for what it is, I still hate this film.

TMNT (2007):

Release Date: March 17th, 2007 (Grauman’s Chinese Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Kevin Munroe
Written by: Kevin Munroe
Based on: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird
Music by: Klaus Badelt
Cast: Chris Evans, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mako, Kevin Smith, Patrick Stewart, Ziyi Zhang, Laurence Fishburne

Imagi Animation Studios, Warner Bros., 87 Minutes


“Duuuude.” – Michelangelo

This film is considered the fourth in the series and takes place quite some time after the others. It is also the first (and only) to be CGI instead of live-action.

This movie is pretty good. There is a lot story-wise that makes this one the best written of the series. There is a whole subplot about Raphael being a masked vigilante hero on a motorcycle, which would be great as its own standalone movie.

Also, Casey Jones is back in a much more expanded role, as he teams up with Raphael on their vigilante adventures. Although I wish Elias Koteas would’ve voiced Casey Jones, Chris Evans did a solid job.

There is another cool subplot about Leonardo living and training in solitude in Central America, which added a lot of depth to his character and his struggle as a leader.

As for the CGI, it was very well done. It wasn’t Pixar or DreamWorks level but it held its own and it was fluid and worked great with the action sequences of the film. The only thing that seemed off was that the voices were different. For instance, Splinter seemed like an entirely different character and this kind of gets in the way of consistency with the live action films. However, the Laurence Fishburne narration was fantastic.

Having now watched the original trilogy again and this film, I’d rank this as second behind the original.

Film Review: Red Sonja (1985)

Release Date: July, 3rd 1985
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Clive Exton, George MacDonald Fraser
Based on: Red Sonya by Robert E. Howard, Red Sonja by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Brigitte Nielsen, Sandahl Bergman, Paul Smith, Ronald Lacey, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ernie Reyes Jr., Pat Roach

Dino De Laurentiis Company, MGM/UA Entertainment Company, 89 Minutes


Arnold Schwarzenegger once referred to this film as the worst of his career. He’s wrong. In fact, I can name many of his films that are worse than this picture and if you don’t think that Jingle All the Way isn’t a complete abomination, than you have no taste.

Is this as good as Schwarzenegger’s Conan the Barbarian? Well, no. It is, however, better than the lackluster Conan the Destroyer.

Red Sonja introduced the world to the talent of Brigitte Nielsen. Now that isn’t too exciting but she had a very short run of appearances in mid-80s action films. She went on to be featured in Rocky IV, Beverly Hills Cop II and the often panned Cobra. I like friggin’ love Cobra.

This film also featured little martial arts bad ass Ernie Reyes Jr. who is most famous for playing Keno in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, as well as starring in Surf Ninjas and having smaller roles in Rush Hour 2, The Rundown and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Ronald Lacey, who most famously played the evil Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark, shows up to play the evil queen’s top henchman. The evil queen is played by Sandahl Bergman, who was Conan’s love interest in Conan the Barbarian.

The cast was good enough, the film was straightforward and most importantly, it was action-packed. This film follows the well-established sword and sorcery genre pretty solidly. It felt like an extension of the Conan world and its mythos, which was already well-known at the time this came out.

Red Sonja is often times trashed. I don’t see why though. People don’t watch these movies for acting prowess or to be pristine works of art. Films like these are made to be fun escapism and this one does a great job of that. It runs short at around 90 minutes and that is the perfect amount of time to jump in, like a few characters and enjoy the sweet battles and even sweeter decapitations. Yes, this film has some sweet decapitations.

The effects are decent for the mid-80s and the sets are pretty well-made. Also, they somehow got the legendary Ennio Morricone to score this picture. There really isn’t a lot to dislike about Red Sonja unless you go into it expecting The Return of the King.

Is this movie a great fantasy epic? Not really. What it is though, is a shit load of fun. And it has sweet decapitations. And Arnold.