Film Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Release Date: July 29th, 2014 (Mexico City premiere)
Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman
Written by: Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec, Evan Daugherty
Based on: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, Pete Ploszek, Alan Ritchson, Whoopi Goldberg

Nickelodeon Movies, Platinum Dunes, Gama Entertainment, Mednick Productions, Heavy Metal, Paramount Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“So, they’re heroes in a half shell?” – Vernon Fenwick

*Written in 2014.

Okay, what the hell was that?

I just got out of the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and I left confused and annoyed. I anticipated it not being on the level I had hoped, as Michael Bay produced it and he’s been making a ton of money bastardizing and destroying the Transformers franchise, but I thought that this having a different director than Bay himself, may have turned out to be a secret blessing. Well, it wasn’t.

First of all, I don’t like the Turtle designs. Yes, everyone has bitched that they are too big and bulky. Well, people are right on that one. Also, their faces are odd. This doesn’t even compare though to how awful Master Splinter looked. His design was just wrong. His gi was Pittsburgh Steelers colors and not the traditional red that it has always been. But then again, even that wasn’t the tip of the iceberg.

The absolute worst character design in this film was Shredder. He looked like a Michael Bay Decepticon covered in way too many big knives and pretty much just resembled a really bad Rob Liefeld character from the early ’90s. Oh yeah, he was also just some scarred up Japanese guy in a robotic power suit. Shredder is a fucking ninja in a samurai outfit with awesome yet simple blades on his fist and shoulders. He’s not a hard character to do right. Hell, just look at the 1990 live action film, Shredder was perfect in that. Perfect!

Actually, the 1990 film is still the live action TMNT bible because this film just blew massive chunks all over everything.

Now don’t even get me started on how awful the Turtles new origin story was. It was garbage and a slap in the face of how awesome their beginnings were in the comics and the original live action film.

The evil plot in the movie was also laughable as hell. So, the evil corporate scientist douche is going to poison New York City with a special concoction he made only to make billions of dollars by offering up the cure for it a month later. How does he plan to secretly poison the city? By spraying it out of the radio tower on top of the giant skyscraper that has his own name on it. Yeah, smart plan science douche.

The Foot Clan also sucked. Their design had nothing to do with the Foot Clan that anyone would remember from any previous incarnation of this franchise. There was some kung fu Asian chick that led them but she was useless and uninteresting.

I should mention the few positives. I liked the Turtle characters. They got their personalities right and their relationship felt genuine. Their voices were a bit off but there were much bigger issues throughout the movie. Also, Will Arnett was good, Megan Fox was pretty tolerable and Whoopi Goldberg owned the small part she had. William Fichtner was good as the villain who wasn’t Shredder, even though his plan was complete ass.

Well, the film came and I finally saw it and being that I didn’t expect much, I’m not all that heartbroken. There is disappointment but Guardians of the Galaxy is still in the theater, so I can go see that a few more times.

Film Review: Invasion U.S.A. (1985)

Also known as: Invasion (working title)
Release Date: September 25th, 1985
Directed by: Joseph Zito
Written by: James Bruner, Chuck Norris, Aaron Norris
Music by: Jay Chattaway
Cast: Chuck Norris, Richard Lynch, Melissa Prophet, Billy Drago

Cannon Films, 107 Minutes

Review:

“If you come back in, I’ll hit you with so many rights you’ll be begging for a left.” – Matt Hunter

Cannon Films were synonymous with super violent action films. Invasion U.S.A. may feel like the most Cannon film ever. Well, at least in regards to the amount of bullets and carnage that fills up the screen in its 107 minute running time. But even with Chuck Norris, there isn’t enough to make this film anywhere near as epic as it should be but that’s due to some slower moments, which I’ll discuss below.

The film is similar to Red Dawn, except it stars the ginger martial arts king and not a group of bratty kids trying to avenge their town and wrestle away communist control.

Essentially, the title says it all. America is invaded and since this came out in the ’80s, when Cold War fear was still a thing, we see our city streets being overtaken by communist scum. Well, the film mostly takes place in and around Miami. Norris plays Matt Hunter, a generic badass American action name straight out of the ’80s. Hunter is a denim clad, sleeveless ruffian that lives in the Everglades, drives an airboat and never runs out of ammo or guns to fill with ammo. He’s like a living, breathing cheat code in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

The problem with this movie isn’t the ultraviolence because that shit is the most amazing thing about this picture, the problem is that when there isn’t ultraviolence, the film is a real bore. The action heavy scenes are really awesome to watch but the filler is terrible. I don’t care about these characters enough that I need to see them developed. I know who the evil one is, I know who the hero is, so just give them guns and let them shoot at each other until Miami is Swiss cheese. What’s with all the talking and driving around making tough guy faces? Grab a gun, stick a grenade up a dude’s ass and kill everything that moves.

Why this needs a running time longer than 80 minutes is beyond my level of comprehension. I guess Chuck Norris contributed to the writing and wanted to add some plot to this thing but Mr. Norris needs to stick to filling communists with bullets and sharp objects and leave the writing to more capable people who don’t care about their characters and just want to murder them as violently as possible for their art.

Still, the action and ultraviolence makes this a damn fun time. But that’s all this is, a quick watch with a lot of cool manly shit where you should probably fast-forward through those pointless talkie bits.

On a side note, I just picked up this film’s soundtrack on vinyl in pretty pristine condition.

Film Review: The Replacement Killers (1998)

Release Date: February 6th, 1998
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Written by: Ken Sanzel
Music by: Harry Gregson-Williams
Cast: Chow Yun-fat, Mira Sorvino, Michael Rooker, Jürgen Prochnow, Danny Trejo, Clifton Collins Jr.

Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, WCG Entertainment Productions, Columbia Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“Hostage etiquette: kidnapper pays the incidentals.” – Meg Coburn

I haven’t seen this since it was in theaters twenty years ago. I liked it back in the day, especially because it gave American audiences a look at the great Chow Yun-fat, a guy I loved in several Hong Kong gangster films. Plus, back in the late ’90s, I was crushing hard on Mira Sorvino. I probably still am, truth be told.

This is a pretty fast paced film with a fairly short running time. But that’s good, as it doesn’t really let up once it gets going, which is almost immediately.

The story follows John Lee, a hitman hired by a Chinese mob boss to kill the young child of a police officer who killed the boss’ criminal son. Lee has the young kid in his crosshairs but decides not to murder the child. In doing so, he is marked by the mob boss for betrayal all while replacement killers are hired to kill Lee and finish his mission. Fearing for his own family’s safety, Lee goes to Meg, a master at forging passports. All Lee wants is to get back to China to protect his loved ones. While at Meg’s place, he gets her caught up in his drama and she is then pulled along for the ride. They have to try and survive and also do everything they can to prevent the cop’s kid from being killed.

This film was made early in Antoine Fuqua’s career. He did a good job with it, as it matches the tone and intensity of a lot of those Hong Kong gangster films that Chow was in, especially the ones directed by John Woo.

In addition to Chow Yun-fat and Mira Sorvino, we are also treated to the talents of Michael Rooker, who excels in action movies. Rooker plays the cop and the father of the kid who is the mob boss’ target. While he gives the heroes some difficulty, initially, he changes his tune when he realizes their situation and sees them risk their lives for his kid.

This isn’t close to being the best Chow Yun-fat movie out there but it is still pretty damn enjoyable and a great English language vehicle to help make the guy a household name in the English speaking markets.

Film Review: Marked For Death (1990)

Also known as: Screwface (working title)
Release Date: October 5th, 1990
Directed by: Dwight H. Little
Written by: Michael Grais, Mark Victor
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cast: Steven Seagal, Joanna Pacula, Keith David, Danny Trejo, Danielle Harris, Kevin Dunn

Steamroller Productions, 20th Century Fox, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Look upon this madman! Him dead and him don’t even know it!” – Screwface

I’ll be honest, I was never really a Steven Seagal fan. I didn’t dislike him, however. But when I was younger, I was more into Jean-Claude Van Damme because BloodsportKickboxer and Lionheart were just better pictures than anything Seagal put out. However, I did remember liking the one where he fought evil voodoo Jamaicans. So I figured that I would revisit it, all these years later.

Marked For Death isn’t a good movie but it is a passable 1990ish action film. It’s high octane, balls to the wall and well, it features awesome evil voodoo Jamiacans. It also features one of my favorite badasses, not Seagal but Keith David, who will always have a special place in my heart for They Live and The Thing.

The film also features a young Danielle Harris, a still unknown Danny Trejo and a small part by a guy who is in a ton of movies I love, Kevin Dunn.

The story sees a DEA agent come to the realization that he has become just as bad as the criminals he tries to bring down. He quits his job and returns home to decompress. However, his town is overrun by Jamaican drug dealers. Seagal then gets caught up in it and makes it his personal mission to act as a rogue agent and take these bad guys down.

The leader of the baddies is a scary looking voodoo practitioner named Screwface. The guy is legit scary and one of the coolest action movie villains of the era.

There’s guns, explosions, voodoo and all sorts of sinister voodoo trickery. The last act of the film sees Seagal and Keith David track Screwface back to Jamaica for a final showdown. But we get two final showdowns because of some of that sinister voodoo trickery.

Marked For Death is certainly watchable and I’ll be honest, it’s kind of fun. This is the best of the early Seagal movies, as far as I remember, but I’ll probably rework my way through them, as it’s been awhile since I’ve indulged in Mr. Seagal’s flicks.

Film Review: Kung Fu Zombie (1981)

Also known as: Wu long tian shi zhao ji gui (original Chinese title), Zombie 9 (Turkmenistan)
Release Date: October 1st, 1981 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Hwa I Hung
Written by: Hwa I Hung
Cast: Billy Chong, Chan Lau, Chang Tao, Cheng Ka Ying, Kwon Young Moon, Pak Sha Lik, Shum Yan Chi

The Eternal Film Company, 96 Minutes

Review:

I kind of just randomly came across this title while looking for kung fu movies with a horror flair to them. Granted, it does have both martial arts fighting and a horror element but it was just really baffling to watch and made little to no sense.

Granted, the problems with the version of this film that I saw could be due to bad dubbing on the part of the English speakers who translated this picture. Still, the movie is so bizarre and weird that it is mostly a distraction. Keep in mind that I’m a guy that usually looks for the bizarre and relishes in it, especially in movies.

None of what was in this picture really resonated with me, though. The make up and special effects were exceptionally bad. Even though this obviously had very little in the terms of a budget, I’ve seen better effects work in films that have had even less than what this film had to work with. Practical effects in the ’80s were truly an art form and true effects masters could actually make chicken salad with chicken shit. Although in this film, they just squeezed as much shit out of the chickens as possible and then just tossed it around the set recklessly.

I guess the fight choreography is okay but honestly, it still felt half assed. Billy Chong is an accomplished martial arts actor and even though he gave it his best with the material, as it was given, this still felt severely beneath his level of talent.

This is an incredibly cheap looking movie that barely tries to do anything with its interesting premise. I was pretty let down and know that I will never have the urge to want to revisit this.

All things considered, Kung Fu Zombie has to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 1 Stool: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass).”

Film Review: The Black Dragon’s Revenge (1975)

Also known as: Long zheng hu dou jing wu hun (original Mandarin title), The Death of Bruce Lee (US dubbed version), The Black Dragon Revenges the Death of Bruce Lee (UK)
Release Date: November, 1975 (US)
Directed by: Chin-Ku Lu (credited as Tommy Loo Chung)
Written by: Norbert Albertson Jr.
Cast: Ron Van Clief, Charles Bonet, Phillip Ko

Yangtze Productions, Howard Mahler Films, 90 Minutes

Review:

Ron Van Clief was a legit martial arts badass that decided to become an action star during the height of kung fu and blaxploitation movies. Unfortunately, he lacks the charisma and charm of Jim Kelly, who was the true champion of black martial artists in this era. Van Clief’s moves are impressive and his skills would translate into being a fight choreographer on 1985’s cult classic The Last Dragon, as well as doing stunts in other pictures.

The film taps into one of the many strange conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Bruce Lee. Here, it is believed that Lee was murdered by greedy film producers. Really, this is just one of dozens of cheap attempts to capitalize on Lee’s popularity, just after his death.

The film starts off being a slight bit interesting but it doesn’t have a lot of steam to begin with and we are just treated to lots of fights. While the choreography and action are decent, this feels more like a cinematic display of martial arts skills, as opposed to feeling like a real movie. Even though I love kung fu flicks, this gets monotonous and boring pretty quickly.

The Black Dragon’s Revenge is also hindered by the quality of the prints available. They haven’t held up well and frankly, I guess it is what it is because no one will probably spend the money on preserving this long lost dud of a blaxploitation/Bruceploitation hybrid.

I have no real choice other than to run this through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 7 Stool: Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely liquid.” I guess the trusty Shitometer felt the need to be harsher than I was.

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

Review:

“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.