Cinemax Friday: Sworn to Justice (1997, directed by Paul Maslak)

Janna (Cynthia Rothrock) is a psychologist who is also a martial arts expert.  One night, she comes home to discover that her sister and her nephew have been murdered and that the killers are still in the house!  Though Janna manages to fight off the attackers, she also gets a nasty bump to the head.  Weeks later, after she’s gotten out of the hospital and she’s ready to get back to work, she discovers that she now has ESP!

All Janna has to do is touch someone or hold something in her hand and she has visions of the past and sometimes the present.  (She has those special ESP powers that do whatever needs to be done at the moment.)  When she finds her sister’s brooch, she flashes back to the night of the attack and sees the faces of the men who attacked her sister.  Using her newfound power, Janna sets out to get revenge.

But even as she tracks down the thugs who killed her sister, Janna still does not know the identity of the person who ordered the hit.  She just knows that he’s known as “The Man.”  Could he have something to do with the arrogant cop killer (Brad Dourif!) for whom Janna is serving as an expert defense witness?  Or could The Man by the publisher (Kurt McKinny) with whom Janna is having a steamy affair?  (This was a late night Cinemax film, after all.)  Or could it be the detective (Tony Lo Bianco) who is supposed to be investigating her sister’s death?

As far as Cynthia Rothrock martial arts films are concerned, Sworn to Justice is pretty good.  Rothrock was not only a force to be reckoned with in fight scenes but, as this film shows, she was a likable actress, too.  For the most part, she’s able to hold her own even when acting opposite seasoned scene stealers like Brad Dourif, Tony Lo Bianco, Mako, and even Walter Koenig, who plays Janna’s mentor with an outrageous German accent.  While the film’s fight scenes are just as good as you would expect from a Cynthia Rothrock fick, the ESP twist adds just the right amount of weirdness to keep Sworn to Justice from coming across as just another low-budget martial arts film.  The film doesn’t take itself too seriously.  Even while she’s getting revenge for their deaths, Janna never seems to be that broken up over the deaths of her sister and her nephew.  At worse, she’s seems to be annoyed by the inconvenience of it all.  It’s just something else that she has to find the time to deal with.

There are a few scenes that are so darkly lit that it’s almost impossible to see what’s happening but then there are other scenes, like the one where Janna shows off her favorite martial arts moves to her new boyfriend, that work surprisingly well.  This is a 90s production all the way, which means a saxophone-scored sex scenes and synthesizer-scored action scenes.  Sworn to Justice is a good Cynthia Rothrock film, even if most audiences will end up figuring out the identity of The Man long before she does.


18 Days of Paranoia #7: Cuban Rebel Girls (dir by Barry Mahon)

In the 1959 film, Cuban Rebel Girls, Errol Flynn (playing himself) flies down to Cuba.  The time is shortly before the Cuban Revolution.  (From a cinematic point of view, Flynn is in Havana at the same time as Hyman Roth and Michael and Fredo Corleone in The Godfather, Part II.)  Flynn has been hired by the Hearst newspaper syndicate to go down to Cuba and do a report on Fidel Castro.  Flynn narrates the film and tells us that he was very sympathetic to Castro and his cause….


Well, maybe not.  If you actually go back and read contemporary reports about the Cuban Revolution, you’ll see that a lot of Americans had a romanticized view of Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries.  Everyone seemed to agree that the president of Cuba, Batista, was a dictator and he needed to be forced out of power.  Castro, himself, didn’t fully and openly declare himself to be a hardline communist until after he had already taken over Cuba.  In Cuban Rebel Girls, someone mentions that Fidel was “always looking out for the little guy” and that’s the attitude that this film takes.  At the time the film was made, it can legitimately be said that Flynn had no way of knowing that Fidel Castro would eventually reveal himself to be despotic dictator.  (For more infuriating, to me, are the people who have continued to defend the Castros up until this day.)

Fidel Castro, himself, doesn’t actually appear until the very end of Cuban Rebel Girls and, even then, it’s just newsreel footage of him riding a tank through Havana.  (Che Guevara does not show up at all.  He may have been busy shopping for berets, I don’t know.)  That said, the film was actually shot in Cuba and it does feature footage of Errol Flynn meeting actual Cuban rebels.  This was also Errol Flynn’s last film and, for the most part, he looks terrible.  Though the film’s poster may feature a suave-looking Errol Flynn holding a gun, the film actually features a noticeably overweight and often out-of-breath Errol Flynn who really doesn’t do much other than sit around and listen to other people talk.

(That said, Flynn’s voice over narration does have the occasional moment of charm.  When he meets one of the rebel girls of the title and he kisses her hand, he jokes that he was relieved to see that he hadn’t totally lost “the Flynn touch.”  Flynn delivers the line with just enough self-depreciation that it’s charming rather than creepy.)

The majority of the film doesn’t actually involve Flynn.  Instead, it involves two girls from New York — Beverly (Beverly Aadland) and Jacqueline Dominguez (Jackie Jackler) — who want to help out the revolution.  Jacqueline is from Cuba, went to high school with Fidel, and her brother is currently a part of the revolution.  Beverly, meanwhile, is convinced that she’ll find the man that she loves in jungles of Cuba.  Beverly explains that she doesn’t know much about Castro or Batista.  That’s for others to worry about!  Jacqueline assures her that, even in high school, “the big jerk” was always looking out for people.

Anyway, Beverly and Jacqueline raise some money from their friends and then decide to smuggle it into Cuba so that the guerrillas can use it to buy weapons.  What follows is a lot of intrigue and sneaking around as Beverly and Jackie try to avoid Batista’s secret police and help out the guerrillas.  And, of course, when I say “a lot,” what I actually mean is “next to none.”  For two people who don’t really come across as being particularly smart, Jacqueline and Beverly certainly don’t have much trouble sneaking around Cuba.

(That said, there are enough references to Batista’s secret police to justify reviewing the film as a part of the 18 Days of Paranoia.  Take my word for it.  Or watch the movie on YouTube, where it’s available under the name Assault of the Rebel Girls.)

Anyway, this is a weird movie, along with also being a really cheap movie.  Beverly Aadland was apparently Errol Flynn’s protegee.  She also wasn’t a very good actress.  (Jackie Jackler does a little bit better in the acting department, though not by much.)  That said, as a film partially shot in Cuba during the days leading up to the revolution, this is an interesting historical document.  And, for some people, just the fact that it’s a pro-Castro film from Errol Flynn (!) will be enough to justify sitting through it.

(Seriously, a celebrity defending a communist?  That’s like a major news outlet or a bunch of basketball players going out of their way to defend the Chinese government.  It just doesn’t make sense….)

Other Entries In The 18 Days Of Paranoia:

  1. The Flight That Disappeared
  2. The Humanity Bureau
  3. The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover
  4. The Falcon and the Snowman
  5. New World Order
  6. Scandal Sheet

What Lisa Watched Last Night #209: Revenge For Daddy (dir by Tom Shell)

Last night, I watched the latest Lifetime premiere, Revenge for Daddy!

Why Was I Watching It?

Well, first off, you may not have heard but the entire world is kind of shut down right now so basically, watching TV is about as wild as my Thursday night is going to get….

Then again, I would have watched it even if we weren’t on lockdown.  It’s a new Lifetime movie and you know that I love those!  I especially love Lifetime movies that have words like “Fatal,” “Wrong,” or “Revenge” in the title.  Those are usually the best.

What Was It About?

It’s been a tough year for Lisa (Sarah Butler).  Her father died under mysterious circumstances.  Her boyfriend, Bobby (Charlie Gorilla), got drunk and slept with one her co-workers, Bethany (Eva Hamilton), leaving Lisa suddenly single.  Her mother (Joely Fisher) keeps pressuring her to start dating again.  Finally, just to keep her mom happy, Lisa photoshops herself into a picture with a handsome man on a dating site.  All she wants to do is send it to her mom so her mom will get off her back.  Instead, it leads to the man in the picture, Michael (Clayton James), tracking her down.  Soon, Lisa and Michael are dating for real!

But can Michael be trusted?  It turns out that Michael has a somewhat shady past which includes at least one mysterious death.  Michael says he’s innocent but when one of Lisa’s co-workers shows up dead (and, even worse, when it appears that someone is trying to frame Lisa for the murder), Lisa starts to have her doubts….

What Worked?

This one was fun.  I mean, let’s be honest.  When it comes to most Lifetime melodramas, you’re not exactly looking for a realistic examination of all the world’s troubles.  You’re looking for twists and turns and melodrama, preferably taking place in a nice house where everyone is either handsome or pretty and everyone wears nice clothes.  Revenge For Daddy delivered all of that with the style.

The cast was uniformly good and the film actually did a pretty good job of keeping you guessing as to whether or not Michael was who he said he was.  The film even managed to work in a few moments of intentional humor in the middle of all the drama and the mystery.  All in all, this was one an enjoyable and entertaining Lifetime film.

I really liked the office where Lisa and her friends worked.  It was nicely designed and, even more importantly, it didn’t seem like anyone really had to do much work.  It seems like it would be a fun place from which to collect a paycheck.

What Didn’t Work?

It all worked!  To repeat, this was an enjoyable and entertaining Lifetime film.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

The main character was named Lisa!  You don’t get much more like me than that.

Lessons Learned

There were definitely lessons learned but I can’t really share them without spoiling the film’s ending.  So, you’ll have to watch and learn for yourself!

4 Shots From 4 Spike Lee Films: Summer of Sam, 25th Hour, Oldboy, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today is Spike Lee’s 63rd birthday and you know what the means.  It’s time that we honor one of American cinema’s greatest provocateurs with….

4 Shots From 4 Films

Summer of Sam (1999, dir by Spike Lee)

25th Hour (2002, dir by Spike Lee)

Oldboy (2013, dir by Spike Lee)

Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014, dir by Spike Lee)

Music Video Of The Day: Immigrant Song by Dread Zeppelin (1989, directed by ????)

I don’t know about you but I’m in the mood for a reggae-flavored cover of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, hopefully one that’s performed by a 300-pound Elvis impersonator.

Fortunately, when you get those type of cravings, you can turn to Dread Zeppelin.  Dread Zeppelin is certainly not the only band to cover Led Zeppelin but they are probably the best known.  Actually, it’s somewhat unfair to describe Dread Zeppelin as being only a Led Zeppelin cover band.  They’ve actually covered a wide variety of artists and I believe they’ve released some original material as well.  They even did a disco record at one point.

Dread Zeppelin is one of those bands where members come and go.  As of this writing, the band is still recording and touring but bassist Gary Putnam is the only member who has appeared on every recording and taking part in every tour.