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.

Film Review: The Big Sick (2017)

Release Date: January 20th, 2017 (Sundance)
Directed by: Michael Showalter
Written by: Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani
Music by: Michael Andrews
Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Adeel Akhtar, Anupam Kher

FilmNation Entertainment, Apatow Productions, Amazon Studios, Lionsgate, 124 Minutes

Review:

I really wanted to see this film a lot sooner but I had to travel for work over the last month and then I had to catch all the movies that were coming out, as it was summer. I finally got to a week where I had a nice break in the schedule, so that I could check this out instead of dreck like The Dark Tower and Valerian.

I first discovered Kumail Nanjiani when he popped up as a waiter in an episode of Portlandia. Ever since then, I’ve been a fan of the guy. Whether seeing him in HBO’s Silicon Valley or Comedy Central’s The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail or hell… an Old Navy commercial, I am always entertained.

The Big Sick, while still a comedy, is the most serious thing I have seen Kumail Nanjiani do. That being said, he was pretty damn amazing in it. Granted, he was really playing himself and the story was about his real life situation with the woman who would eventually become his wife. There was more drama here though than a standard romantic comedy and everyone held their own.

The movie’s plot is about Kumail and Emily falling in love and the challenges that arise with Kumail being from a family of Pakistani immigrants who have very strict rules that they must adhere to. Things get disastrous for the couple but ultimately, Emily gets really sick, is put into a medically induced coma and Kumail, along with her parents, never leaves her side. All the while, Kumail is trying to make it in stand-up comedy and develops a great bond with Emily’s parents. When Emily finally awakes, she is still in the same mental place she was in when her and Kumail were on the outs.

The film is written by Kumail and his wife, Emily V. Gordon. However, Emily does not play herself. Instead, she is played by the super talented and charming Zoe Kazan. Her parents were played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter. Both of them were beyond stellar and Romano was especially great. He got to expand beyond his typical comedic forte as he played a guy who tries to be funny but isn’t. Romano also has some of the best dramatic scenes in the film, which was cool to see. Weirdly, I was never a big fan of Everybody Loves Raymond but I always liked the man behind it.

Well acted, with a cast that has amazing chemistry, The Big Sick is an entertaining and moving picture. It is also quite sweet and heartwarming. I went into this knowing it had a happy ending but that didn’t detract from the emotional weight of the story. Everything about it felt genuine and real. This was something that truly came from the writers’ hearts and experiences and it was cool seeing at least one of them get to also star in it.

As much as I already liked Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick takes him to a whole new level. While he has already broken into Hollywood, this was a giant leap forward and I hope it opens even more doors for him.

Film Review: Streets of Fire (1984)

Release Date: June 1st, 1984
Directed by: Walter Hill
Written by: Walter Hill, Larry Gross
Music by: Ry Cooder
Cast: Michael Paré, Diane Lane, Rick Moranis, Amy Madigan, Willem Dafoe, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, E.G. Daily, Richard Lawson, Bill Paxton, Lee Ving, Stoney Jackson, Robert Townsend, Grand Bush, Mykelti Williamson, Ed Begley Jr., John Dennis Johnston, Lynne Thigpen

Universal Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Well, it looks like I finally found someone who likes to play as rough as I do.” – Raven Shaddock

I have always looked at 1984’s Streets of Fire as a sort of spiritual successor to 1979’s The Warriors. They share the same director, some of the same themes, some of the same acting talent and take place in a vivid and surreal fantasy version of urban America.

While music often times drove the narrative and the action of The Warriors it takes over Streets of Fire and propels this picture forward as a perfect balance between the action and musical genres. Granted, this isn’t a traditional musical, it is mostly a string of live performances setting the tone, as the action flows around it. It is a movie full of energy and it is incredibly kinetic.

The film also has a neo-noir look, which was becoming popular in the 80s thanks to films like Blade Runner and slew of independent movies employing the visual style. While made in the 80s, the picture mostly looks like an homage to the 1950s and the rockabilly scene of that decade. The movie is a hybrid of 1950s and 1980s culture but the 50s were on a comeback in the 80s and this film really embraces that.

Streets of Fire also crosses over into the biker gang genre of film and Willem Dafoe’s Raven Shaddock seems to channel his character Vance from his debut film The Loveless, a biker gang picture that was also Kathryn Bigelow’s directorial debut.

The film also stars Michael Paré, Diane Lane, Rick Moranis and Amy Madigan.

Paré was a good hero and it is unfortunate that he didn’t do a whole lot after this movie. His acting was a bit better than average, at this point in his career, but he had a presence and just epitomized cool. Diane Lane was beautiful and did great with the musical numbers, even if it wasn’t her voice. Rick Moranis was incredibly unlikable but even then, who doesn’t like Moranis? This film was Amy Madigan’s coolest role and second only to her part in Field of Dreams. I wish she would have got more roles like her character McCoy.

There are a lot of cameos by up and coming actors, as well as Walter Hill regulars. We get to see a young Bill Paxton, as well as Ed Begley Jr., Deborah Van Valkenburgh, Lynne Thigpen, Lee Ving of the punk band Fear, as well as small roles played by Stoney Jackson and Robert Townsend, who were members of the band The Sorels.

For the most part, the acting is not exceptional and the script is often times cheesy and bare bones but for this picture, it works. This is exactly what it markets itself as, “A rock & roll fable.”

The film is exciting and fast paced and never has much downtime. Sure, the plot might not be as developed as many would like but this isn’t that sort of movie. It is a roller coaster ride of bad ass tunes and bad ass characters where two manly men duel in a fairly original fashion. Plus, Dafoe’s presence adds so much to the picture, despite his lack of experience when this was made.

Streets of Fire was a true throwback when it came out and it still fits that mold, over thirty years after its release. It doesn’t need to be set in a defined space and time. It is imaginative and well executed and it has gone on to become a cult favorite among film aficionados.

Film Review: Destino (2003)

Release Date: June 2nd, 2003 (Annecy Animation Film Festival), originally began production in 1945
Directed by: Dominique Monféry
Written by: Salvador Dali, John Hench, Donald W. Ernst
Music by: Armando Dominiguez, Michael Starobin, Dora Luz

Walt Disney, 7 Minutes

Review:

In 1945, Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali and American animator Walt Disney started work on this collaborative effort. While it didn’t actually come out until 2003, 58 years since the project began, it is a perfect marriage of the two artists’ styles. Taking the surrealist style of Dali and bringing it to life via Disney animation.

From 1945 and into 1946, Dali and Disney studio artist John Hench worked together on storyboarding the project. Due to financial woes during the World War II era, Disney had to halt production. Hench put together a seventeen second animation test in an attempt to keep the company happy and on board with the project but it was put on hiatus for decades.

Roy E. Disney, Walt’s nephew, rediscovered the project in 1999 while he was working on Disney’s Fantasia 2000. He decided to resurrect the amazing collaboration and Walt Disney Studios worked on it until it was finally completed.

Twenty-five Disney animators fleshed out the project based off of Dali and Hench’s storyboards and notes. They also got help from Hench himself and delved into the journals of Dali’s wife, Gala Dali.

The final production uses the original Hench animation while the newly animated parts are a combination of traditional hand drawn animation and some computer animation. It all comes together beautifully, however, and is consistent with the originally conceived style.

The short film follows the story of the god Chronos and his love of a mortal woman. The woman dances through surreal imagery in the style of Dali’s paintings. All of this is brought further to life by the musical score of Mexican composer Armando Dominiguez and the vocals of Dora Luz.

If you are a fan of Dali and classic Disney animation, there is nothing not to like here. It blends the two styles together magnificently along with the fabulous score.

The public and critical consensus was very positive for the film and it even received an Academy Award nomination in 2004 for Best Animated Short Film.

 

Film Review: City Lights (1931)

Release Date: January 30th, 1931
Directed by: Charlie Chaplin
Written by: Charlie Chaplin
Music by: Charlie Chaplin, Jose Padilla
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Florence Lee, Harry Myers, Henry Bergman, Albert Austin

United Artists, 87 Minutes

Review:

“You can see now?” – The Tramp, “Yes, I can see now.” – A Blind Girl

Many consider this to be Charlie Chaplin’s magnum opus. Some even consider this to be the greatest American film ever made. Having finally seen it, I find it hard to argue against either of those claims. Granted, it isn’t my favorite American film ever made, but it is in the upper echelon and deservedly so.

When this film came out in 1931, Hollywood had embraced sound. The silent era was quickly dwindling away but Chaplin stuck to the cinematic style that made him famous, keeping this a silent picture despite the film industry’s technological shift and the public’s demand for “talkie” pictures.

Charlie Chaplin, alongside his leading lady Virginia Cherrill, proved that you didn’t need sound to tell a compelling story and that they could convey immense emotion through their acting.

In fact, the final scene of the film is considered one of the best acted scenes in the history of film. In 1949, critic James Agee called it the “greatest single piece of acting ever committed to celluloid.” Not a bad outcome, especially considering the rocky behind the scenes relationship of Chaplin and Cherrill.

In the story, Chaplin returns as the Tramp character. He falls in love with a blind flower girl (Cherrill) and also befriends a rich drunk (Myers), who he saves from suicide. Over the course of the film, he tries to win over the flower girl and when he discovers her financial woes, does whatever he can to try and help, displaying the selflessness of his character.

At one point, the Tramp goes as far as competing in a boxing match to try and get enough money to pay the girl’s rent so that she and her grandmother won’t be evicted. Even though he finds himself in over his head in many situations, this is the sweetest that the Tramp character has ever been.

Ultimately, he goes to jail but not after he gives enough money to the girl to not only pay her rent but to afford her the expensive surgery she needs to get her vision back. After he gets out of jail, months later, we are treated to one of the best endings in the history of cinema.

City Lights is so superbly acted that there really isn’t anything else like it, especially considering that it was a silent picture that came out after its era. It is a perfect balance of the type of humor you’d expect from Chaplin while being a real romantic drama that packs a lot of emotional weight.

It was also the first film scored by Chaplin and the music is pretty close to perfect, especially the flower girl’s theme that was composed by Jose Padilla (he actually successfully sued Chaplin for not being given credit for his contribution).

City Lights is a phenomenal work of art that was directed by, starred and composed by one man, a true auteur of his and any era.

 

Film Review: In the Mood for Love (2000)

Release Date: Septmeber 29th, 2000
Directed by: Wong Kar-wai
Written by: Wong Kar-wai
Music by: Michael Galasso, Shigeru Umebayashi
Cast: Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung

Block 2 Pictures, Jet Tone Production, Paradis Films, Universal Pictures, 98 Minutes

Review:

“Feelings can creep up just like that. I thought I was in control.” – Chow Mo-wan

Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love is a film that is beloved by many, especially those in the film industry. While I had heard people talk about it for the last decade or so, I didn’t experience it until I was taking a course on the history of Hong Kong cinema.

While it doesn’t resonate with me in the same way as many critics and filmmakers, it was a visual treat and stupendously acted by Hong Kong greats Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung. I certainly can’t deny that this is a marvelous film, even if it isn’t my personal cup of tea. And frankly, the cinematography and the acting, kept me completely engaged for the duration of the film.

The story takes place in Hong Kong in 1962. It starts as two different couples are moving into the same building on the same day. Not soon after, we find out that the husband of one couple is cheating with the wife of another couple. The story doesn’t follow them, however. Instead, it follows the spouses who are being cheated on. They become dear friends and a strong bond develops without them crossing the line of infidelity. Eventually, their feelings develop into more of a romantic attraction but those feelings cannot be explored.

In the Mood for Love is a sad movie but it is also a movie about hope. It analyzes the emotions of these characters at a really intimate level and everything is just tastefully and respectfully handled, as the characters who are the victims of infidelity, don’t go the route of their spouses.

The story is pretty fresh and thus, quite interesting. It is hard taking this ride with the characters, as you develop a deep connection to both of them.

The real highlight of the motion picture, however, is its overall tone. From the cinematography, the lighting and the music used to bring 1962 Hong Kong to life, in a colorful and vivid manner, everything is just alluring and majestic. The film feels almost like a historical fantasy world even though the emotion and tragedy of the characters keeps you firmly rooted in reality.

In the Mood for Love is an exceptional picture and has gone on to influence other filmmakers from a narrative and visual standpoint. It is considered a true classic by many but Wong Kar-wai sort of has a knack for making high quality works of motion art.

 

Film Review: Drunken Angel (1948)

Release Date: April 27th, 1948 (Japan)
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
Written by: Akira Kurosawa, Keinosuke Uegusa
Music by: Ryoichi Hattori, Fumio Hayasaka
Cast: Takashi Shimura, Toshiro Mifune, Reisaburo Yamamoto, Noriko Sengoku

Toho Co. Ltd., 98 Minutes

Review:

“He tormented you, made you sick, and then deserted you like a puppy. And you still wag your tail and follow him.” – Dr. Sanada

Drunken Angel is just the seventh film directed by Akira Kurosawa. While that would be a lengthy career for any director, this was really the beginning of his long and storied journey of cinematic creation. He had 23 more films after this and many of them are considered the best ever made.

Probably the most notable thing about this picture is that it was the first of sixteen collaborations between Kurosawa and his favorite lead actor, Toshiro Mifune. Kurosawa and Mifune would go on to make Seven SamuraiYojmboRashomonThrone of BloodThe Hidden FortressRed BeardSanjuro and several other films considered to be true classics. In fact, their director-actor relationship was one of the longest running and greatest in motion picture history.

This picture also teams up Kurosawa with another one of his favorite actors, Takashi Shimura. In this film, Shimura plays a cranky drunk doctor while Mifune plays a young Yakuza gangster that the doctor treats for a bullet wound. The doctor then diagnoses the young man with tuberculosis and insists that he quit his drinking and wild lifestyle, to which the youngster refuses. The two develop a shaky but strong bond and as the story progresses, their worlds collide in unforeseen ways. Mainly, the doctor’s assistant has ties to an evil and strong Yakuza boss that is moving into the area to take it back from Mifune’s character.

The film is considered to be Kurosawa’s breakout film and for good reason. It uses a lot of the themes that became synonymous with Kurosawa’s work and it utilized them better than anything before it. This was his most fine tuned picture when it came out and really opened up doors for him on an international stage. Without this picture, we might not have gotten his masterpieces.

Drunken Angel is the first post-World War II Yakuza picture but it doesn’t reflect a lot of the common tropes that would come to define that genre of Japanese film. In fact, Drunken Angel, in style and tone, is much more in tune with the American film noir pictures of its era. It also shows an American influence on the Japanese culture after the war, especially in regards to the youth culture through their hair styles, style of dress and the blazing jazz performance in the middle of the movie.

Akira Kurosawa made a damn fine picture for 1948. His work also helped to put Toho on the map before they really started hitting it big with the Godzilla pictures that would start the following decade. For a film that is nearly seventy years-old, it is still effective and hits the right notes.