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:

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.

Film Review: Good Guys Wear Black (1978)

Release Date: June 21st, 1978
Directed by: Ted Post
Written by: Joseph Fraley, Bruce Cohn, Mark Medoff
Music by: Craig Safan
Cast: Chuck Norris, Anne Archer, Soon-Tek Oh, Dana Andrews, James Franciscus, Lloyd Haynes, Jim Backus

American Cinema Releasing, 96 Minutes

Review:

Good Guys Wear Black is one of Chuck Norris’ early films, coming out in the heyday when he was rising to fame in the action movie genre. This was just his second starring vehicle but it helped propel him forward.

The first act of this film was actually my favorite, as it sees a bad ass military squad dressed in black and led by Chuck Norris, raiding the compound of some scumbags. Initially, I thought this was what the film was about and I was enjoying it.

Then the film switched gears. It turned into a conspiracy movie, where members of Norris’ crew were getting killed off and Norris was a target himself.

The film was gritty and embodied the true essence of a late 70s action movie. However, it was broken up by a lot of filler and would’ve benefited from a bit more balls-to-the-wall ass kickery.

The weakest part of the film was the climax, instead of Chuck Norris throwing fists, feet and cracking skulls, he killed the main antagonist in the dumbest and least Chuck Norris way possible – ramping a car into a river, causing the bad guy to drown or whatever.

This film isn’t a complete waste of time, and style-wise it is interesting. The problem with it, is for a film with the title Good Guys Wear Black and starring Chuck Norris, it is like a neutered watered down version of what one should expect from the guy who has been the king of bad ass Internet memes.

Film Review: The Super Inframan (1975)

Also known as: Chinese Superman (China)
Release Date: August 1st, 1975
Directed by: Hua Shan
Written by: Ni Kuang
Music by: Frankie Chan
Cast: Danny Lee, Wang Hsieh, Terry Lau, Yuan Man-tzu, Bruce Le, Kong Yeung, Dana Shum, Lin Wen-wei, Lu Sheng, Fanny Leung

Shaw Brothers Studio, 84 Minutes

Review:

Tokusatsu doesn’t just have to be a Japanese thing, as the Chinese proved with The Super Inframan, known in China as Chinese Superman.

This film sees a guy from a defense force take up the mantle of a new superhero named Inframan after major cities are destroyed by Demon Princess Elzebub (a.k.a. Princess Dragonmon), who was awoken from a 10 million year sleep. The setup is similar to a typical Ultraman series. It also has elements similar to the Kamen Rider and Super Sentai shows.

What you have here is an indestructible hero that fights monsters of human size, giant size and of various styles. We’ve got tokusatsu, kaiju, kung fu and crazy characters.

Demon Princess Elzebub is particularly unique in that her costume, color scheme and throne room seem to suggest that she was the inspiration for the supervillain Serpentor from the 80s G.I. Joe cartoon, comics and toy line. She also inspired certain traits in Kinga Forester, the villain of the newly revived Mystery Science Theater 3000. Elzebub’s henchmen, the Skeleton Ghosts, most certainly were the template for Kinga Forester’s Skeleton Crew a.k.a. the Boneheads.

The Super Inframan also has historical significance. To start, it is the first superhero film to ever be produced by a Hong Kong studio. In this case, Shaw Brothers, who are known for making some of the greatest kung fu classics of all-time. Also, it was the first film to be promoted using a hot air balloon over Hong Kong. Additionally, it is the first film where Shaw Brothers used storyboards.

As a film, Super Inframan is pretty impressive. Regardless of the production limitations, it is a slick and good looking movie. Sure, the monsters are hokey and the costumes bizarre and goofy but the production value looks a step above similar properties from its era.

The film also stars Danny Lee before he became a Hong Kong megastar. Bruce Le (yes, “Le” with one “e”) is in this. He would become one of the most used actors during the Brucesploitation craze.

The Super Inframan is a much better movie than I thought it would be. I’ve been a big tokusatsu and kaiju fan my entire life but this motion picture has eluded me until recently.

Film Review: American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987)

Release Date: May 1st, 1987
Directed by: Sam Firstenberg
Written by: James Booth, Gary Conway
Music by: George S. Clinton
Cast: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, Larry Poindexter, Gary Conway

Cannon Films, 90 Minutes

Review:

When I reviewed the first American Ninja I said that the films got worse and worse. I was wrong on one account, this film. Truth be told, while I watch the original every couple of years, I haven’t seen this one since I was a teenager. Back then, I didn’t like it as much as the first. Now, I think it is pretty equal, if not slightly better than the original. Things do go downhill after this one though.

The plot is a little wacky but the action and the setting are much better than the first picture. The story sees our heroes Joe Armstrong (Michael Dudikoff) and Curtis Jackson (Steve James) arrive on a Caribbean island (actually filmed in South Africa) to investigate why some Marines have gone missing. As the film progresses and ninjas keep trying to capture Armstrong and Jackson, we learn that some villain is making mindless super soldier ninjas out of the elite soldiers he captures. The end goal is to sell super ninja armies to other villains with large bank accounts. So we get a big finale of Armstrong and Jackson against an army of super ninjas.

Compared to the first film, Dudikoff is much better on screen in the action sequences. James also puts down the big machine gun and fights ninjas with a couple machetes. The film has a lot more hand-to-hand combat and the skills of the actors and the stunt work is just more refined and fluid in this movie. The main evil ninja isn’t as cool as the Black Star Ninja from the first movie but he’s still a solid baddie.

Unfortunately, Dudikoff left this series after this film except for a fairly brief appearance in the fourth film. This was also the last time we got to see the duo of Dudikoff and James on screen together, following the original American Ninja and Avenging Force, which came out between the two Ninja movies.

American Ninja 2: The Confrontation is a good sequel to the original. The series tanks after this installment but at least we got two good chapters before the breakup of Dudikoff and James and the introduction to David Bradley, who took over the series in American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt.

TV Review: Ultraman Mebius (2006-2007)

Original Run: April 8th, 2006 – March 31st, 2007 (Japan)
Created by: Tsuburaya Productions
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Toshihiko Sahashi, Toru Fuyuki
Cast: Shunji Igarashi, Masaki Nishina, Ai Saikawa, Daisuke Watanabe, Kenta Uchino, Misato Hirata, Minoru Tanaka

Tsuburaya Productions, 50 Episodes, 24 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Ultraman Mebius is one of my all-time favorite Ultraman series. It is also the one modern series that really reinvigorated my love of the franchise.

The great thing about this show is that it is truly a throwback to the old classic series from the Shōwa Era. This Ultraman looks a lot like the original with a few modern style flourishes added into the suit. It also featured a lot of classic monsters and revisited some classic concepts like using the ally capsule monsters to help in battle. Plus, I am a huge fan of the good kaiju Miclas and he has a big presence in the show.

Additionally, the cast was fantastic. Everyone fit their part and added a lot of character diversity to the group as far as contrasting personalities. Everyone just meshed so well and they all looked like they were having the time of their life making this series, which transcends the viewing experience and rubs off on the viewer.

The really cool thing about Ultraman Mebius is that it is the first show since Ultraman 80 to exist in the Shōwa Era universe. It is an actual continuation of those shows where the shows between 80 and Mebius kind of exist on their own in parallel universes without direct ties to the earlier series.

The cool thing about this existing in the Shōwa Era franchise, is that it opened the door for all the mega team-ups that would come later, featuring several Ultra Brothers fighting alongside each other. It also paved the way for lots of theatrical releases.

Ultraman Mebius is a fan favorite Ultraman series and it deserves its recognition. It took a formula that was getting stale and re-energized it for a new generation while earning the respect and admiration from the older generations who grew up loving these shows.

 

Film Review: Pray For Death (1985)

Release Date: August 9th, 1985
Directed by: Gordon Hessler
Written by: James Booth
Music by: Thomas Chase
Cast: Sho Kosugi, Norman Burton, James Booth, Kane Kosugi, Donna Kei Benz, Michael Constantine

Transworld Entertainment, 92 Minutes

Review:

After three awesome ninja movies for Cannon Films, quintessential 80s ninja action star Sho Kosugi took his talents to Transworld Entertainment to make Pray For Death. This, more than his other Cannon films, felt like a true spiritual sequel to Revenge of the Ninja, Kosugi’s greatest movie. This is a pretty close second to that film but doesn’t quite measure up to it.

The story actually isn’t even that different from Revenge of the Ninja. In this movie, Kosugi moves his family to America to start a new life away from his ninja past. The family opens their own business, a restaurant. They quickly have a beef with some mobsters. One of Kosugi’s kids (played by his real life kids) is kidnapped. Then his wife and one of his kids is rundown by mobsters in a car. His wife is then murdered in the hospital. Kosugi finally straps on his ninja gear and goes Ginsu City all over Houston, Texas.

While the Texas setting didn’t give us a cowboys versus ninjas scenario like one would hope, it still gave us a sole bad ass ninja against a bunch of evil mobsters. Although, there is that amazing scene where Kosugi literally flips over some hillbilly gangsters in a beat up pickup truck. That should have been nominated for the Brass Balls Stunt of the Year Award in 1985 but I just made that award up and I didn’t have the money to make my own trophies in 1985 because I was six. But maybe I’ll make it and mail it to Kosugi now.

Pray For Death is not the epic ninja masterpiece that Revenge of the Ninja is but it is pretty close. It doesn’t have as much action as Revenge but it is heavier on the drama and family elements of the story. Also, it doesn’t have the insane and lengthy ninja battle that capped off Revenge. Regardless, it is still one of the greatest cut’em up ninja flicks of the 1980s. Plus, any film that makes Kosugi the focal point, benefits greatly. Enter The Ninja and Ninja III: The Domination lacked when compared to Revenge and this film, simply because Kosugi wasn’t the main character and just more of a glorified cameo.

I love Pray For Death. For a film that wasn’t made by Cannon, it certainly feels like it was.

Film Review: No Retreat, No Surrender (1986)

Release Date: May 2nd, 1986
Directed by: Corey Yuen
Written by: Keith W. Strandberg
Music by: Paul Gilreath
Cast: Kurt McKinney, J.W. Fails, Ron Pohnel, Kathie Sileno, Peter “Sugarfoot” Cunningham, Kent Lipham, Jean-Claude Van Damme

Balcor Film Investors, Seasonal Films, New World Pictures, 84 Minutes

Review:

For some reason, I liked this as a kid. I mean, I had a pretty strong cinematic palate, even as a child, but I must have been cracked out on Jolt Cola and Smarties candies because this thing stinks to holy hell.

Sure, Jean-Claude Van Damme is in it but this is a few years before the classics Bloodsport and Kickboxer. Also, he is barely in it. He is in the opening brawl and then doesn’t reappear again until the very end where he takes on all the top fighters in Seattle because Manhattan karate is better even though he is a commie Soviet hired by evil Manhattan businessmen trying to conquer America’s dojos for some bizarre ass reason.

That was a run-on sentence but this is a run-on movie where a bunch of concepts get thrown around for no apparent reason and are supposed to be some sort of coherent story. But let’s talk about that.

Essentially, this film is a mashup of The Karate KidRocky IV and The Last Dragon. All good movies on their own but not when you stuff them into an 84 minute package with even more shit thrown on top of it.

In regards to The Karate Kid portion of the film, we follow a teenage boy, who gets beat up a lot, mostly by bullies of a martial arts school. He has to train and get tough to show those guys, especially the one who has his eyes on the same girl the hero has his eyes on. Except the jerk in this movie isn’t as cool as William Zabka’s Johnny. The bullies also aren’t as cool as the Cobra Kai. One of them is this fat guy that smears food all over himself every time he is on screen. It’s pretty gross, actually.

From Rocky IV it steals the evil commie Soviet bad guy. While Jean-Claude Van Damme would prove his superiority over Dolph Lundgren years later in Universal Soldier, it is pretty clear that Lundgren’s Ivan Drago is a much better villain than Van Damme’s Ivan Kraschinsky. But at least they are both jacked up and oiled up Soviet monsters named Ivan.

What it takes from The Last Dragon is the most blasphemous thing I’ve seen in a movie in quite some time. They take the hero’s love of Bruce Lee and give it to the audience in the most disrespectful way possible. Not only do they film scenes at the legendary martial arts superstar’s grave, they also have some actor appear as Bruce Lee’s ghost to train our hero. So we basically have an American Brucesploitation film of the worst kind.

Also, the hero kid claims he knows everything there is to know about Lee yet he calls him “sensei”. Lee was a “sifu”. “Sensei” is Japanese, “sifu” is Chinese. But then again, the hero is a karate master that is being taught by the ghost of the creator of Jeet Kune Do. Anyone who actually knows anything about martial arts will probably find this confusing. Also, from a competitive standpoint, everyone is doing kickboxing. Granted, karate moves are used in kickboxing but the style allows for a broader range of attacks.

The film also has a lot of homoerotic moments. In fact, this may have more gay innuendo than A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. That is a hard movie to top in that regard but just watch the relationship between our hero and his bestie R.J., especially the workout montage. To be clear, I don’t see this as a negative, I think it’s awesome in the same way I think the gayness of Freddy’s Revenge is awesome.

Other than the fabulous gay innuendo, No Retreat, No Surrender is really a pile of crap. I should definitely run it through the Cinespiria Shitometer. Aha! The results state that No Retreat, No Surrender is a Type 5 stool, which is defined as “Soft blobs with clear-cut edges (passed easily).” Well, if you say so, machine! It didn’t pass that easily but maybe it did have a clearer path due to being worn down by the movie’s gayness.