Film Review: Rage of Honor (1987)

Release Date: February 27th, 1987
Directed by: Gordon Hessler
Written by: Robert Short, Wallace C. Bennett
Music by: Stelvio Cipriani
Cast: Sho Kosugi, Lewis Van Bergen, Robin Evans, Richard Wiley, Ulises Dumont, Gerry Gibson

Transworld Entertainment, 98 Minutes

Review:

When I was a kid, I thought Sho Kosugi was the baddest man alive. Maybe he was but I’ve never seen him take a punch from Mike Tyson. Regardless, he was the quintessential ninja actor of the 1980s, which is a big friggin’ deal as ninjas are friggin’ the best thing ever and the 1980s was like the friggin’ best decade ever!

Granted, I was eight when this movie showed up on video store shelves and I didn’t have the life experience to recognize true greatness. Then again, maybe life hadn’t shat on my chest yet so I wasn’t a pissy overly critical film viewer.

This is not Sho Kosugi’s best film but it is still a damn good time and he is the star of it and it is a good compliment to his other starring pictures, Revenge of the Ninja and Pray For Death.

Unlike those two other movies, this one doesn’t have any of his kids in it, which is kind of a disappointment. Kosugi’s sons were fun to watch and having a kid in those films made my mum think that these uber violent ninja epics were family friendly.

The action is pretty great but when a Kosugi movie is choreographed by Kosugi, you get to see the master himself, as he intends to be seen, as the baddest ninja actor of all-time.

The film also reunites him with director Gordon Hessler. The two worked together on Pray For Death. Their styles mesh well together and if Kosugi isn’t working with Sam Firstenberg, I’d rather him work with Hessler.

Rage of Honor is a fun time if you are a fan of 80s ninja action, which you should be.

TV Review: Kamen Rider Black RX (1988)

Also known as: Masked Rider Black RX
Original Run: October 23rd, 1988 – September 24th, 1989 (Japan)
Created by: Shotaro Ishinomori
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Eiji Kawamura
Cast: Tetsuo Kurata, Jun Koyamaki, Rikiya Koyama

Ishimori Pro, Toei Company, 47 Episodes, 25 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Kamen Rider Black RX is only the third Kamen Rider series that I have seen in its entirety, after Kamen Rider V3 and Kamen Rider Black. This series is a direct sequel to Kamen Rider Black and features the same hero, although he is defeated early only to be reborn as RX.

This series is very consistent with its predecessor, which was fantastic. However, it actually ups the ante towards the end, as in the last few episodes, all the previous versions of Kamen Rider show up to offer their assistance. It was the first Kamen Rider story to feature all the Riders since the 1984 TV film Birth of the 10th! Kamen Riders All Together!!

Having defeated Gorgom in the previous series, our hero Kohtaro is now a helicopter pilot and lives with the family who owns that business. The new villain group are aliens that call themselves the Crisis Empire. They plan to take over Earth, killing all the humans because humans don’t respect the Earth. It is a simple story line that has been used in tokusatsu (and sci-fi, in general) since the beginning of the genre.

Kohtaro doesn’t just become RX, he also takes on the guise of a few other Riders with specific powers. Bio-Rider, for instance, can shrink down in a similar fashion to Marvel’s Ant-Man. Also, he has his talking motorcycle and a sweet car that looks an awful lot like Frankenstein’s car from Death Race 2000.

The action is solid, the stories are good and this series has some pretty neat looking monsters. Nine television series into this franchise and the minds behind Kamen Rider still prove that they are creative and have some fresh ideas.

The version of the show I have is a bit tough to watch, at times. This was never released commercially in the United States with proper subtitles or dubbing. That is kind of unfortunate, as the show was re-edited into a U.S. show called Masked Rider. This was done in the same way that Super Sentai shows were being re-edited into the Power Rangers franchise. In fact, this show was made to be a spin off of Power Rangers in the U.S.

The reason the version I have is tough to watch is because the DVD set is from Malaysia. Just imagine a Japanese show translated into English by Malaysians. Yeah, a lot of things get lost in translation or are very confusing. Also, character names are not consistent. In fact, RX was called “Superman Black RX” and Rider Man from Kamen Rider V3 was “Black Superman”. The subtitles also constantly warned of Earth being taken over by “queer devildom”, whatever the shit that means. Also, some of the characters had Chinese names instead of Japanese names. But this is what happens when you get DVDs of shows you like from Malaysian sellers on eBay.

Malaysian weirdness aside, it really didn’t ruin the show. Its quality shined through and Kamen Rider Black RX was pretty close to perfect for a tokusatsu show.

TV Review: The Defenders (2017- )

Original Run: August 18th, 2017 – current
Created by: Douglas Petrie, Marco Ramirez
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Defenders by Roy Thomas, Daredevil by Stan Lee, Bill Everett, Jessica Jones by Brian Michael Bendis, Luke Cage by Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, Roy Thomas, John Romita Sr., Iron Fist by Roy Thomas, Gil Kane
Music by: John Paesano
Cast: Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Finn Jones, Eka Darville, Elden Henson, Jessica Henwick, Simone Missick, Ramón Rodríguez, Rachael Taylor, Deborah Ann Woll, Élodie Yung, Rosario Dawson, Scott Glenn, Sigourney Weaver

ABC Studios, Marvel, Goddard Textiles, Nine and a Half Fingers, Inc., Netflix, 8 Episodes (so far), 44-55 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

The Defenders is finally here. After years of development and four shows with a total of five full seasons before it, we now have the big team up miniseries for all of Netflix’s flagship Marvel heroes. But no Punisher. Boo on that!

While all the other shows have seasons of thirteen episodes, this miniseries only has eight, which kind of sucks. Reason being, everything in the second half of the series feels incredibly rushed. You see, these people don’t all meet until the third episode and then they spend the fourth episode talking about what they should do and aren’t really a team until the fifth and then its just a race to the finish. The pacing is just off and only being eight episodes hurts the overall narrative and quality of the show. I’m also not sure if this is just a one off or if they will team up again and again like the Avengers. Really, I’d rather they just have their own shows and occasionally crossover. Or better yet, a Heroes For Hire show would be absolute tits.

All the important players are here and it is actually quite cool seeing them come together but it also felt anticlimactic. It kind of suffers the same fate as the Avengers movies, in that there are so many people vying for a presence that it just becomes a bit of a mess. However, the giant ensemble is handled much better here than the Avengers team up films.

Also, the four styles of each hero’s shows blends really well together here. Especially in the early episodes where they are still working solo and the show edits between all their stories as they eventually converge. I actually liked these episodes the best, even though it had everyone still in their own smaller universes.

This show has some “shocking” twists and turns in it but none of them are all that shocking and the major one I really had to roll my eyes at. The plot was often times nonsensical and a mess. And ultimately, I really only cared about Jessica Jones’ role in this, as she showed just how much cooler she is than these other heroes.

Sure, I like the other heroes but on the flip side, I’m sick of The Hand, at this point, and they are the big bad evil once again. They are just a poor rehash of the League of Assassins (or Shadows) that has been a mainstay in Batman and Green Arrow stories forever. I know that The Hand has major ties to Daredevil and Iron Fist comics but I was never a big fan of their stories in the comics either. They’re just boring generic ninjas that aren’t associated with someone as cool as Ra’s al Ghul.

Additionally, the ending was awful. It was derivative comic book shit. It was a cheap attempt at trying to add weight to a situation when everyone knows that they won’t have the balls to actually follow through on it. It was an awful superhero cliche regurgitated for the umpteenth time.

Still, I did like The Defenders, overall. It could have been much better, should have been longer and maybe should have actually shown the Kingpin at his most villainous. But the Kingpin wasn’t in this, which was a massive missed opportunity to finally bring Vincent D’Onofrio’s criminal mastermind to the heights he deserves.

Also, on a side note: in just about every episode of every Netflix Marvel show, someone explains what’s happening and then someone else then says something like, “That’s crazy, you sound like an insane person!” Really? Because at this point, these characters live in a world where the Avengers exist, aliens have invaded New York City through a giant wormhole in the sky, evil robots have lifted a small European country into the atmosphere and then dropped it, Asgardian gods and dark elves randomly show up to do worldwide mystical shit, Doctor Strange and all that bizarreness should be fresh in everyone’s minds and the whole world knows about Inhumans and lives in fear of them. But yeah, a simple gang of ninjas and a living dead ex-girlfriend is insane.

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.

TV Review: Iron Fist (2017- )

Original Run: March 17th, 2017 – current
Created by: Scott Buck
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Iron Fist by Roy Thomas, Gil Kane
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.

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.