Kill or Be Killed (1977, directed by Ivan Hall)

Martial artist Steve Hunt (James Ryan) is offered a spot in a martial arts tournament that is to be held at a castle in the desert.  Steve accepts but, once he reaches the castle, he thinks that something is off about the tournament’s sponsor, the German Baron von Rudloff (Norman Coombes).  Could it be because the Baron wears a swastika armband, travels in a limousine the flies a Nazi flag, and spends his spare time talking about how much he misses Hitler?

Braon von Rudloff is a former Nazi general who is still bitter that his marital arts team was defeated by Japan’s team at the 1936 Summer Olympics. The tournament was just a ruse to recruit a new martial arts team that will take part in a do-over competition against the team led by Rudloff’s rival, Miyagi (Raymond Ho-Tong).  Steve doesn’t want any part of that so, with the help of a former circus dwarf named Cico (Dani DuPlessis), Steven escape from the castle with his girlfriend, Olga (Charlotte Michelle).  They return to Steve’s home in South Africa.  The Baron sends his main henchman, Ruell (Ed Kannemeyer), to bring Olga back to him.  After Olga is kidnapped, Steve joins Miyagi’s team and returns to the castle.

The best thing about this South African film is that there is rarely a moment when a fight is not breaking out.  Steve and Ruell will fight at the drop of a hat.  My favorite part of the movie is when Steve is trying to find a loophole in a contract that the Baron made him sign and Ruell grabs a torch and sets the contract on fire.  Steve grabs another torch and the two of them spend several minutes swinging torches at each other.  Later, Ruell and his friends turn on Chico for some reason and it turns out that Chico is just as good a fighter as anyone else in the movie.  The plot is just an excuse for one fight after another but the fight choreography is pretty exciting and always entertaining to watch.  Almost everyone in the cast was a real-life martial artist and it shows.  The story is nothing special and it’s hard to have sympathy for Miyagi after it’s revealed that the Baron isn’t lying about Miyagi bribing the judges in 1936 but fight scenes make up for all of that.

Kill or Be Killed was a surprise success when it was shown in the United States.  It was followed by a sequel, Kill and Kill Again, which I’ll review tomorrow.

Retro Television Review: Fantasy Island 2.21 “Yesterday’s Love/Fountain of Youth”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Tuesdays, I will be reviewing the original Fantasy Island, which ran on ABC from 1977 to 1986.  The entire show is currently streaming on Tubi!

Smiles, everyone, smiles!  It’s time to take a trip to Fantasy Island!

Episode 2.21 “Yesterday’s Love/Fountain of Youth”

(Dir by George McCowan, originally aired on March 17th, 1979)

Tattoo has the hiccups so Mr. Roarke pops a brown paper bag beside his head and scares the Hell out of him. Tattoo loses his hiccups and Roarke get the joy of tormenting his assistant.

As for the fantasies, they both involve youth and aging.

Charles (Craig Stevens) and Peggy Atwood (Eleanor Parker) met in 1944, when he was in the Navy and she was a member of the USO.  Now, over thirty-years later, Charles wants to open a bait shop and Peggy wants to get a divorce.  Their children pay for Charles and Peggy to take a trip to Fantasy Island, where Mr. Roarke has recreated the period in which they first met.  He’s also invited all of their old friends to come celebrate Peggy and Charles’s anniversary.  Unfortunately, one of those friends is the totally arrogant Brick Howard (Guy Madison), to whom Peggy was engaged before meeting Charles.  It quickly becomes apparent that Brick wants a second chance and that, unlike Charles, Brick has bigger plans than spending his retirement selling fishing bait.

Will Peggy leave her husband for Brick Howard?  Or will she decide that running a bait shop sounds like a great way to spend her twilight years?  You’ll have to watch the show to find out …. or you can read the next paragraph.

Of course, Peggy stays with Charles!  It wouldn’t be Fantasy Island if the ending wasn’t a happy one.  Add to that, when has anyone named Brick Howard not turned out to be a cad?  As you can guess, this fantasy was a bit predictable but the cast of veteran actors were all likable and they gave it their all.  This fantasy was simple but pleasant.

As for the other fantasy, world-famous explorer Jeff Bailey (Dennis Cole) needs money so Mr. Roarke arranges for him to be hired by aging millionaire J.J. Pettigrew (Lew Ayres).  J.J. has heard rumors that the fabled Fountain of Youth can be found on an island near Fantasy Island.  He offers to pay Bailey a million dollars if he can find it.  Of course, Bailey does find the Fountain but he also discovers that the Fountain is guarded by a fierce tribe of headhunters.  The headhunters have no intention of allowing anyone else to have any of the water’s fountain.  The headhunters may be intimidating but they also believe that a polaroid camera can steal their soul.  Bailey threatens to take all of their pictures at one point and tells them that J.J. possesses “white man magic.”  Seen today, it’s a bit awkward to watch.  To be honest, I imagine it was a bit awkward in 1979 as well.

Using his canteen, Bailey steals some of the water from the fountain but, while he and his girlfriend (Mary Louise Weller) are fleeing the natives, he loses the canteen.  J.J. has a heart attack and appears to be dead but, at the end of the episode, Roarke announces that J.J. is expected to survive and he’s written Bailey a check for a million dollars.  Bailey found the fountain and that was their agreement.  So, I guess that all worked out.

Overall, this episode was uneven.  The anniversary story was sweet but predictable.  The headhunter story was sometimes cingey but still enjoyably campy.  This was pretty much a standard episode of Fantasy Island.  Still, I can’t help but wonder why J.J. didn’t just buy an eternal youth fantasy instead of hiring Bailey to search for the fountain.  I guess that question is destined to be forever unanswered.

Next week’s episode is all about comedians and prisoners!


Film Review: Champions (dir by Bobby Farrelly)

In Champions, Woody Harrelson plays Marcus Marakovich.

Marcus is a basketball coach.  He believes that he has the talent and the ability to be a coach in the NBA and he’ll tell that to anyone who will listen.  Unfortunately, Marcus also has a reputation for being self-destructive and temperamental.  He has sabotaged his career with too many public fights.  As his friend and fellow coach Phil (Ernie Hudson) tells him, Marcus knows everything about basketball but he doesn’t know how to connect with the players.  Marcus is so concerned with winning that he never gets to know the people that are playing for him.

Of course, Marcus has more problems than just his inability to connect with players.  An on-court brawl leads to Marcus losing his assistant coaching job.  A drunk driving incident leads to Marcus landing in jail.  Phil bails him out but Marcus will still have to do community service to avoid serving time.  Marcus is assigned to spend the next 90 days coaching The Friends, a basketball team made up of players who have learning disabilities.  Though at first reluctant, Marcus doesn’t want to go to prison and, after a rough start, he and the Friends start to bond.  Marcus becomes a better coach and the Friends become a better team and soon, it looks like they might even be playing in the North American Special Olympics Finals in Winnipeg.  Along the way, Marcus also falls for Alex (Kaitlin Olson), the sister of one of his players.

Champions is a heartfelt film that suffers from the fact that there’s really not a single surprising moment to be found within it.  As soon as Woody Harrelson shows up as a hard-drinking and cynical basketball coach who is looking for one more chance to make it to the NBA, most members of the audience will know exactly what to expect.  It’s not a shock that he eventually bonds with his players.  It’s not a shock that he falls in love with Alex nor that he eventually calls Alex out for using her brother’s needs as an excuse to not get close to anyone.  It’s not even a surprise when Cheech Marin shows up as the cheerful manager of the rec center where the Friends practice.  And it’s certainly not a surprise that Marcus’s work with the Friends leads to him getting an offer from an NBA team, an offer that might not be as altruistic as Marcus wants to believe.  (The team is mired in a scandal and feels that hiring Marcus would bring them some good publicity.)  Marcus is faced with a big decision and the choice that he makes won’t surprise anyone.  At one point, Marcus specifically mentions the film Hoosiers, as if the simple act of acknowledging the fact that Champions isn’t exactly breaking new ground will somehow make up for the film’s predictability.

That doesn’t mean that Champions isn’t a likable film, of course.  It’s a crowd pleaser.  The actors playing the Friends actually are all learning disabled and the film portrays them all as individuals with their own unique personalities and abilities.  It’s hard not to get excited for them when they succeed on the court and the film refuses to use any of their disabilities for cheap laughs.  The film’s heart is in the right place and there’s always something to be said for that.  But, as I watched Champions, I became very much aware that this was a film that I wanted to like more than I actually did.  It was hard for me not to compare Woody Harrelson’s well-meaning but self-destructive coach to the similar character than Ben Affleck played in The Way BackThe Way Back worked because it took a familiar character type but then allowed that character and the story to go in an unexpected direction.  Watching Champions, it was hard for me to not wish that the film had been willing to take a few more risks.

Music Video of the Day: Faster Kill Pussycat by Paul Oakenfold and Brittany Murphy (2006, dir by Jake Nava)

This song, of course, features vocals from the much-missed Brittany Murphy.  The music video was shot on the roof of a parking garage in downtown Los Angeles.