A Movie A Day #132: American Ninja (1985, directed by Sam Firstenberg)

Hell yeah!

From Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan, the duo who were responsible for producing the coolest films of the 1980s, comes American Ninja!

Private Joe Armstrong (Michael Dudikoff) is the newest arrival on an American army base in the Philippines.  A former member of a street gang, he has been forced to enlist in the army in order to keep himself out of jail.  Because he keeps to himself, the other soldiers do not like him.  Colonel Hickock (Guich Kook) is angry that his daughter, Patricia (Judie Aronson), likes Joe and conspires to have Joe court martialed.  Joe’s only friend is Corporal Jackson (Steve James), who starts out as an enemy but changes his ways after Joe shows off some sweet martial arts moves.  Because Joe is an amnesiac, he does not know where or why he learned how to fight.  He just knows that he can.

It’s good that he can because the local black marketer, Ortega (Don Stewart) has hired the legendary Black Star ninjas to help him steal supplies from the base.  Ortega has even allowed the ninjas to set up a training camp in his back yard.  When Joe prevents the ninjas from kidnapping Patricia, the ninjas swear revenge.

As if there could possibly be any doubt, American Ninja was made and distributed by Cannon Films.  It is about as pure an example of the Cannon aesthetic as anyone could hope to find.  Find a star — in this case, Michael Dudikoff — who was credible without being expensive.  Give him a love interest who was easy on the eyes and who could get held hostage during the film’s climax.  Toss in slow motion stunt work, big explosions, and Steve James.  Come up with a title that would appeal to both NASCAR-loving patriots and drive-in movie fans.  End result: American Ninja!

As a film, American Ninja get the job done and then some.  The fights are well-choreographed and the movie does not allow things like character development or subtext to get in the way of showcasing plenty of ninja action.  There are enough weird details, especially after Joe dons the black pajamas of the American Ninja, to keep the move interesting.  At one point, a ninja literally vanishes and what’s cool is that no one acts surprised when it happens.  Long before Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, American Ninja showed that there’s nothing a ninja can’t do!

One final note: Keep an eye out for my favorite scene, in which a slow-moving jeep bumps into a tree and explodes with all the force of a planet that’s just been zapped by the Death Star.

The Legend of BILLY JACK Continues! (National Student film Co 1971, re-released by Warner Brothers 1973)

cracked rear viewer

When last we saw Billy Jack, he was dismantling a brood of outlaw bikers in BORN LOSERS . This time around, he’s taking on a whole town’s worth of rednecks as Tom Laughlin’s half-breed ex-Green Beret returns in BILLY JACK, the wildly popular film that combines action with social commentary, and helped kick off the martial arts craze of the 70’s.

BILLY JACK almost never saw the light of day, as Laughlin’s financing was shut off by American-International Pictures. 20th Century-Fox then picked it up, but didn’t think it deserved to be released, so Laughlin went the indie route, under the banner of National Student Film Co. in 1971. Poor distribution and poor reviews caused the film to tank, but the good folks at Warner Brothers saw something in it, and gave it a national release two years later. Young audiences of the day flocked to it in droves, cheering as Billy Jack…

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Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: The Other Mother (dir by Sean Olson)

(Once again, I am attempting to clean out my DVR!  I recorded The Other Mother off of Lifetime on April 22nd, 2017.)

Divorce is never easy.  This is something that we all know.  A once loving couple splits up and suddenly, they are forced to figure out what type of relationship, if any, they will now have.  It’s even more difficult for the children, who often find themselves torn between two households, all the while wondering if they’re somehow responsible.  Believe me, speaking as a child of divorce, it’s never easy even if it’s often for the best.

That said, you know what I bet would make a divorce even more difficult?  When your ex-husband impulsively marries a woman who is young enough to be his daughter and then sits by while his new wife not only turns your daughter against you but also frames you so that everyone thinks you’re a totally irresponsible, abusive alcoholic.

That, of course, is exactly what happens in The Other Mother.  The title character is Tiffany (Kimberly Crossman), who is pretty, confident, fun, and a little bit psycho.  When she marries Mitch (Tyler Christopher), she immediately sets about to manipulate his teenager daughter, Brooke (Kennedy Tucker), into rejecting her biological mother, and Mitch’s ex-wife, Jackie (Annie Wersching).

It’s really not that hard because 1) Tiffany is close to Brooke’s own age and 2) Jackie is massively overprotective and strict.  Of course, Brooke has struggled to deal with the divorce.  Jackie worries that Brooke might act out or that she might even hurt herself.  Last year, Jackie caught Brooke drinking and she still hasn’t let it go.

Tiffany, at least at first, appears to take a much more laissez faire approach to life.  At dinner, she asks Brooke if she wants anything to drink.  At Brooke’s birthday party, Tiffany gives her a car and Jackie throws a fit.  When Tiffany picks up Brooke from school, they go to the mall and Tiffany shows Brooke how to pick up boys.  Brooke would much rather hang out with her stepmom and who can blame her?  Tiffany’s fun and lets her do almost anything.

Of course, Tiffany also has a long and sordid history, one that is only Google search away.  And Tiffany is willing to do anything to get Jackie out of the picture.  If that means getting Jackie drunk and then pretending that Jackie attacked her, so be it.  If that means telling lies and hacking phones in order to make it appear as if Jackie has rejected her daughter, well, that’s what you have to do.

The Other Mother is a good example of a Lifetime film designed to tap into a fear that’s probably a pretty common one among middle-aged divorcees, the fear of no longer being the fun parent but instead being viewed as the enemy.  This film provides comfort by suggesting that the new fun mom is actually not that much fun and that she’s probably crazy as well.  Beyond bitter divorcees, anyone who has ever been made to feel inadequate by an ex’s new girlfriend will be able to relate to this film.

If you’re into Lifetime films, you’ll probably enjoy The Other Mother.  If nothing else, Kimberly Crossman does a really good job playing the cheerfully psychotic Tiffany.  The movie may not hold many surprises but I definitely had fun watching it.


Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: Girl Followed (dir by Tom Shell)

(Once again, I am trying to clean out my DVR.  I recorded Girl Followed off of the Lifetime Movie Network on April 2nd, 2017.)

Poor Regan (Emma Fuhrmann)!  She’s 14 years old and all she wants is to be as popular as her older sister, Taylor (Gianna LaPera), and her best friend, Sabine (Olivia Nikkanen), and for Austin (Jake Elliott) to like her.  Taylor and Sabine managed to get boyfriends by sending them sexy pics so why can’t she do the same thing?  Everyone else skips school, so why can’t she?  Everyone else shoplifts so why is it such a big deal when she does it?  As Regan points out, her parents (Heather McComb and Joey Lawrence) expect her to be so perfect that they always overreact to the least little mistake.

Of course, they would really freak out if they found out about Regan’s now boyfriend.  Nate (Travis Caldwell) is handsome, charming, and he drives a really nice car.  Even better, at least from my perspective, his parents own a really big house.  (If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you are undoubtedly aware of how much I love the big houses that always show up in Lifetime movies.)  Of course, there are some problems.  For one thing, Nate is 22 years old.  Nate has a tendency to be a little bit controlling.  Nate works with Regan’s mother, at a clinic.  (Hey, at least he’s in the medical field!  Who doesn’t want to marry a doctor?)

Oh — and Nate’s also batshit insane.  How insane is Nate?  He’s insane enough to hack into Regan’s phone and send risqué pictures of her to everyone who works with her dad.  He’s also insane enough to replace a patient’s chart, all in an attempt to make Regan’s mother look dangerously incompetent.  And, of course, there’s the whole kidnapping thing.  Nate has a sordid and dangerous history that Regan knows nothing about.

Girl Followed may sound like a typical Lifetime stalking film and, in many ways, it is.  However, Girl Followed also has a surprisingly insightful and intelligent script.  If anything, Nate and his issues are red herrings in the overall scheme of the film.  Girl Followed is more concerned with Regan and her struggle to estabblish her identity in an increasingly complex world.  Anyone who has ever been insecure or felt lost will be able to relate to what Regan’s going through and Emma Fuhrmann gives an excellent and empathetic performance in the role.  She is especially strong in the scenes where she tentatively opens up to her therapist, admitting that — on a scale of one to ten — she considers herself to be a “two.”

Of course, I related to the character because, when I was her age, I used to act out in the exact same way.  This movie features one of the most realistic shoplifting scenes that I’ve ever seen.  When her mom steps up and declares that her daughter is not a shoplifter and shames anyone who would suggest otherwise, I cringed a little and not just because I knew that Regan actually was a shoplifter.  It was a moment to which I could relate. Suddenly, I was fourteen years old again.

Girl Followed is definitely a better than average Lifetime film so keep an eye out for it.

A Richard Mansfield Double Feature : “The Demonic Tapes”

Trash Film Guru

Sufficiently convinced that I had a solid handle handle on the oeuvre of no-budget UK filmmaker Richard Mansfield thanks to his decidedly lackluster 2014 effort The Mothman Curse, I nonetheless decided that my constitution was probably resolute enough to handle at least one more product of his imagination, so a mere 24 (or so) hours later, I logged onto Amazon Prime and, noticing that his latest, 2017’s The Demonic Tapes (also, it would seem, streaming in some markets under the title of Fright Christmas — though at least, as of yet, not available on Blu-ray or DVD with either name attached to it) was right near the top of the “recently added” horror queue, rather reluctantly pressed that little “play” arrow and hoped for the best. Or at least for better.

The story in this lean (as in 71 minutes) number, reportedly made for the princely sum of…

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Music Video Of The Day: Midnight Madness by The Chemical Brothers (2008, directed by Dom & Nic)

Did you know that apparently there are goblins living in London trash bins and that these goblins just love to dance?  Well, if you’ve watched the video for The Chemical Brothers’s Midnight Madness, you do!

I have to admit that I was disappointed to learn that this video did not feature an actual goblin.  Instead, it’s just a man in a goblin costume.  (Oh well.  I guess real goblins are camera shy.)  When we first see the goblin, he’s played by Daniel Ilabaca.  When the goblin starts dancing on stage, he’s played by the Algerian dancer Lilou, a member of Pockemon Crew. Speaking for myself, regardless of who is playing him from scene-to-scene, I just love how happy the goblin is.

This video was directed by Dom & Nic, who have been directing music videos since the early 90s.