A Movie A Day #246: Bloodsport (1988, directed by Newt Arnold)


Bloodsport is one of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s earliest films and it is Damme good!

Forgive the terrible opening line but that is how they actually used to advertise Jean-Claude Van Damme films.  Everything was either Damme exciting or Damme amazing or Damme spectacular.  Though it was made by Cannon and had a much lower budget than the films Van Damme made during his 90s heyday, Bloodsport is still a Damme quintessential Van Damme movie.

Bloodsport claims that the story it tells is true.  Frank Dux (Van Damme) is a U.S. Army captain who goes AWOL so he can compete in Kumite, an illegal martial arts tournament that is held in Hong Kong.  Kumite is the only martial arts tournament where it is legal to kill your opponent.  Chong Li (Bolo Yeung) became champion by killing anyone who lasts more than a minute with him.  At first, no one believes that an American like Frank Dux has a chance of winning the Kumite.  What they do not know is that Frank was trained by the legendary Senzo Tanaka.  Frank is not just competing for personal glory.  He is also competing in honor of Tanaka’s dead son.

Bloodsport is both Van Damme and Cannon Films at their best.  Shot on location in Hong Kong, Bloodsport not only features Van Damme doing his thing but also gives him a memorable sidekick, Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb), who talks like a professional wrestler and gets all of the best lines.  When Ray and Frank first meet, they bond over a video game that appears to be an extremely early version of Street Fighter.  Also keep an eye out for Forest Whitaker (!), playing one of the CID officers who is assigned to track down Frank and arrest him for desertion.

Like any good Van Damme film, Bloodsport lives and dies on the strength of its fights and it does not skimp on the blood, the chokeholds, or the high kicks.  Bolo Yeung is a great opponent for Van Damme but everyone know better than to try to beat Jean-Claude Van Damme.  When it comes to fighting Van Damme, Duke put it best:

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A Movie A Day #211: Deja Vu (1985, directed by Anthony B. Richmond)


Damn, son.  I’ve seen some bad movies before but Deja Vu is something else altogether.

Around the mid-80s, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus decided to prove that Cannon Films was capable of doing more than making movies about Chuck Norris refighting the war in Vietnam.  Golan and Globus had already made money, now they wanted respect.  Teaming up with respected directors (Robert Altman directed an adaptation of Sam Shepard’s Fool For Love for them) and casting actors who had slightly more range than Chuck Norris or Reb Brown, Cannon tried to go the prestige route.  Some of the Cannon’s quality movies actually were good movies.  The same year that Deja Vu came out, Cannon’s Runaway Train scored several Oscar nominations.  However, Deja Vu is a far more representative example of a Cannon prestige film.  It may have had higher production values than Missing in Action but it was still a Golan/Globus production through and through.

Nigel Terry (best known for playing King Arthur in John Boorman’s Excalibur) plays Michael, a screenwriter who views a documentary about a famous and tragic ballerina and is shocked to discover that she looks just like his actress fiancée.  (Both roles are played by Jaclyn Smith.)  Michael is even more shocked when it turns out that he looks exactly like the ballerina’s husband.  Convinced that his girlfriend is the reincarnation of the ballerina, Michael researches her life and murder.  Meanwhile, his fiancée starts to act strangely.

Deja Vu starts out a merely mediocre, slowly paced and miscast.  (There is no chemistry whatsoever between Nigel Terry and Jaclyn Smith.)  But then Shelley Winters shows up, playing a Russian psychic named Olga Nabokova. As soon as Winters started to deliver her lines in one of the least convincing Russian accents that I have ever heard, Deja Vu made the leap from being merely bad to being a cinematic trainwreck.  While Terry and Smith sleepwalk through their roles, Winters and, later, Claire Bloom (cast as the ballerina’s mother) chew up every piece of scenery that they can get their hands on.  Though the plot may be so predictable that it will cause viewers to have deja vu of their own, it must be said that, eventually, Deja Vu becomes so bad and misjudged that it is impossible to look away.  Golan and Globus may have had Oscars in their eyes when they decided to produce this prestige pic but instead, they won the laughter of anyone who comes across it on TV.

 

A Movie A Day #209: Assassination (1987, directed by Peter R. Hunt)


Charles Bronson, man.

Long before Clint Eastwood starred in In The Line of Fire, Charles Bronson played an over the hill secret service agent in Assassination.  Having just returned to active service after a six month leave of absence, Jay Killian (Charles Bronson), thinks that he is going to be assigned back to the presidential detail.  Instead, he is given the job that no one wants.  Jay is assigned to protect the first lady, Lara Craig (Jill Ireland, Bronson’s real-life wife).

Lara is a handful.  Every one tells Killian that she is “even worse than Nancy.”  (This running joke probably played better in 1987.  If Assassination had been released ten years later, Lara would have been described as being “even worse than Hillary.”)  Lara does not like being told what she can and cannot do. When she refuses to follow Killian’s orders not to ride in a convertible, she ends up getting a black eye when a motorcycle crashes and Killian instinctively throws her to the floor.  Lara may not like Killian but when, she is targeted by a notorious terrorist (Erik Stern), she will have to learn to trust him.  Her life depends on it, especially when it becomes clear that the order to have her killed is coming from inside the White House.  It turns out that the President has been impotent for years.  That may not have troubled Lara before but now Killian is showing her that a real man looks like Charles Bronson.  A divorced president will never be reelected.  A widowed president, on the other hand…

Assassination was one of the last films that Bronson made for Cannon.  It’s never as wild as Murphy’s Law, Kinjite, or many of Bronson’s other Cannon films but it is always interesting to watch Bronson acting opposite of Ireland.  Bronson famously did not get along with many people but he loved Ireland and that was something that always came through in the 15 movies that they made together.  Whenever Bronson and Ireland acted opposite each other, Bronson actually seemed to be enjoying himself.  And while it may be subdued when compared to his other Cannon films, Assassination provides just enough scenes of Bronson being Bronson.

Who other than Bronson could tell his much younger girlfriend that, because of her, he might “die of terminal orgasm?”

Who other than Bronson could drive around a motorcycle with machine gun turrets and execute a jump that would put his old co-star Steve McQueen to shame?

Who other than Bronson could use a bazooka to kill one man and then smile about it?

Charles Bronson, man.  No offense to Bruce Willis, who will be trying to step into Bronson’s gigantic shoes with the upcoming Death Wish remake, but nobody did it better than Bronson.

 

A Movie A Day #196: Mercenary Fighters (1988, directed by Riki Shelach Nissimoff)


Everyone’s favorite hippie action hero, Peter Fonda, plays Virelli, a long-haired Vietnam vet turned mercenary who is hired by a corrupt African general (Robert Doqui) to protect the construction of a dam that will result in the flooding of a native village.  Got all that?  Though Fonda is top-billed, he is not the star of the film.  The star is Reb Brown, who plays T.J. Christian.  T.J. starts out as a member of Fonda’s team but then he falls in love with a nurse (Joanna Weinberg) and he switches sides.  The villagers need someone to lead their revolution and all it takes is hearing Reb Brown do one of his trademarks power yells to know that he’s the man for the job.  Reb Brown was famous for yelling whenever he did anything and he yells a lot in Mercenary Fighters, even more than he yelled in Space Mutiny.

Mercenary Fighters is a typical Cannon film from the late 80s.  Like many of Cannon’s mercenary movies, it was covertly filmed in South Africa, at a time when apartheid was still being enforced and Nelson Mandela was still sitting in a prison cell.  (Cannon was not the only film company to secretly make movies in South Africa during the Apartheid Era.  They were just the most blatant about it.)  Richard Kiel apparently turned down Peter Fonda’s role.  It’s hard to imagine Kiel in the role but perhaps that’s because Virelli is a quintessential Peter Fonda-in-the-80s role.   Fonda glides through the film, delivering his lines like a California surfer who just smoked the kine bud.  The presence of Ron “Superfly” O’Neal and James “son of Robert” Mitchum serves to elevate the film’s cool factor while Robert Doqui brings some “I’ve worked with both Robert Altman and Paul Verhoeven” credibility to his one-note role.  Mercenary Fighters is good for anyone who is into either mindless Cannon action movies or Reb Brown yelling while shit blows up behind him.

Movie A Day #178: Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (1989, directed by J. Lee Thompson)


This is the one where Charles Bronson sodomizes a guy with a dildo.

Don’t worry, though.  Bronson does it off-screen and the guy was abusing Nicole Eggert so he had it coming.

In Kinjite, Bronson plays Lt. Crowe, a tough LAPD vice cop who hates two groups of people: pedophiles (which is cool, who doesn’t hate them?) and the Japanese (which is not cool).  Not only does Crowe sodomize a pervert but he also forces a pimp to eat a gold watch and later, with the help of his partner, he holds another man over the edge of a balcony, just to have that man accidentally slip out of his shoes and plunge to his death.  Finally, Crowe tosses a convict into a prison cell, where another prisoner (played by Danny Trejo, in what may have been his film debut) announces that he’s “got something big and long for you.”  Crowe chuckles, “That’s justice” and then walks away.

Danny Trejo in Kinjite

Of the many strange films that Bronson made for Cannon Films, Kinjite may be the strangest.  The main plot involves Crowe searching for and rescuing the kidnapped daughter of a Japanese businessman (James Pax).  Before his daughter was kidnapped, the businessman groped Crowe’s fifteen year-old daughter on a city bus.  The entire movie seems to be building up to the moment that Crowe, who is portrayed as being overprotective of his daughter, discovers what the businessman did but that moment never comes.  There are numerous scenes of the businessman in Japan but they do not have anything to do with the rest of the plot.  Strangely, neither Crowe’s daughter nor his wife (played by Peggy Lipton) are ever menaced by the bad guys.  What type of Charles Bronson movie is this?

In Bronson’s defense, he was 71 year-old when he made this movie and, off screen, his wife Jill Ireland was battling the cancer that would eventually take her life.  Bronson can be excused for not appearing to be overly invested in Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects.  (Since Kinjite means Forbidden Subjects in Japanese, the actual title of this movie is Forbidden Subjects: Forbidden Subjects.)  No one appears to have made much of an effort on Kinjite, though Bronson’s stunt double gets a good work out.  Kinjite is full of scenes where Bronson throws a punch in close-up but his first in never actually shown connecting with anyone.  Most of the action scenes are clumsily filmed so that Crowe keeps his back to the camera.   All Kinjite needs is a supporting turn from Troy McClure and a cameo from McGarnagle and it would be perfect viewing for The Simpsons.

Kinjite would be the final film that Bronson made for Cannon Films.  It would also be the last Bronson film to be directed by J. Lee Thompson.  After Kinjite, Bronson appeared in two more feature films: Sean Penn’s The Indian Runner (which, if not for Penn’s pretentious direction, could have launched Bronson on a second career as a first-rate character actor) and a final Death Wish film.  Bronson returned to television, appearing in three made-for-TV movies before retiring in 1999.  Bronson died in 2003 but, as long as there are people who enjoy a good action movie, he will never be forgotten.

This scene is not from Kinjite but it’s still pretty fucking cool.

A Movie A Day #177: Murphy’s Law (1986, directed by J. Lee Thompson)


What is Murphy’s Law?

Let’s ask LAPD Detective Jack Murphy.

“Don’t fuck with Jack Murphy.”

Normally, having a law named after you would be pretty cool but it appears that this is just a law that Jack came up with himself.  Having to come up with your own law is kind of like having to come up with your own nickname.  Dude, it’s just lame.  Since Jack Murphy is played Charles Bronson, we can cut him some slack.

Murphy’s Law was one of the many film that, towards the end of his career, Bronson made for Cannon Films.  He played a detective in almost all of them.  Jack Murphy is Dirty Harry without the fashion sense.  He is also an alcoholic who cannot get over his ex-wife (Angel Tompkins) and her decision to become a stripper.  Not only has Murphy managed to piss off his superiors with his bad attitude but the mob is out to get him.  Everyone has forgotten Murphy’s Law.  Everyone is fucking with Jack Murphy.

Jack’s main problem, though, is Joan Freeman (Carrie Snodgress).  Years ago, Murphy sent Joan to prison for murder but, because it’s California and Jerry Brown appointed all of the judges, Joan gets out after just a few years.  Joan starts to systematically murder everyone that Murphy knows, framing Murphy for the murders.  Murphy’s arrested by his fellow cops, all of whom need a refresher on Murphy’s Law.  Though handcuffed to a young thief (Kathleen Wilhoite), Murphy escapes from jail and set off to remind everyone why you don’t fuck with Jack Murphy.

Murphy’s Law is a typical Cannon Bronson film: low-budget, ludicrously violent, borderline incoherent, so reactionary than it makes the Dirty Harry films look liberal, and, if you’re a fan of Charles Bronson, wildly entertaining.  Bronson was 65 years old when he played Jack Murphy so he cannot be blamed for letting his stunt double do most of the work in this movie.  What’s interesting is that, for once, Bronson is not the one doing most of the killing.  Instead, it is Carrie Snodgress, in the role of Joan Freeman, who gets to murder nearly the entire cast.  There is nothing subtle about Snodgress’s demonic performance, which makes it perfect for a Cannon-era Bronson film.  In fact, Carrie Snodgress gives one of the best villainous performances in the entire Bronson filmography.  There is never any doubt that Snodgress is capable of killing even the mighty Charles Bronson, which makes Murphy’s Law a little more suspenseful than most of the movies that Bronson made in the 80s.

Whatever else can be said about Murphy’s Law, it does feature one of Bronson’s best one liners.  When Joan threatens to send him to Hell, Murphy replies, without missing a beat, “Ladies first.”  Only Bronson could make a line like that sound cool.  That’s Bronson’s Law.

A Movie A Day #137: Braddock: Missing in Action III (1988, directed by Aaron Norris)


Chuck Fucking Norris, dude.  Chuck Norris is so cool that continuity bends to his will and thanks him for the opportunity.

Need proof?

Just watch Braddock: Missing in Action III.

The third Missing in Action film starts in 1975, with the fall of Saigon.  The communists are taking over.  The Americans are fleeing Vietnam.  Colonel James Braddock (Chuck FUCKING Norris) is determined to bring his Vietnamese wife to America with him but, when she loses her papers and is not allowed to make her way to the American embassy, Braddock believes that she had been killed. (Keep an eye out for Keith David as the Embassy guard.  Only Chuck Norris could overshadow Keith David in a movie.)  Heartbroken, Braddock returns to the United States.

Every fan of the Missing in Action franchise knows better.  We all know that Chuck was in a POW camp when Saigon fell.  In Missing in Action 2, he and his fellow prisoners did not even know if the war had ended.  Also, Chuck mentioned having a wife waiting for him back in the United States.  What gives?

I can think of only two possible explanations.

Either Chuck Norris and Cannon Films did not care about continuity

or

Chuck Norris is so cool that, in order to prevent his collected coolness from knocking the Earth off of its axis, the U.S. Army split Chuck’s coolness in half by creating a clone.  One clone spent ten years in a POW camp.  The other clone escaped during the Fall of Saigon but had to leave behind his wife.

Thirteen years later and back in the U.S., Chuck is contacted by Reverend Polanski (Yehuda Efroni), who tells him that his wife is still alive in Vietnam and that he has a 12 year-old son.  Chuck’s boss at the CIA tells him that, under no circumstances, is Chuck to go to Vietnam.

Anyone who thinks they can tell Chuck Norris what do is a fool.

Chuck goes to Vietnam and is reunited with his wife and son.  Unfortunately, when Chuck tries to get his new family out of the country, they are captured by sadistic General Quoc (Aki Aleong).  Again, Braddock must escape from a Vietnamese prison camp.

Braddock: Missing in Action III was co-written by Chuck Norris and it was directed by his brother, Aaron.  It’s a Norris production all the way, which means a lot of heroic shots of Chuck and a lot of bad guys wondering why Chuck is so much better than them.

Braddock was released four years after the first Missing in Action but, more importantly, it was released two years after Oliver Stone’s Platoon changed the way that movies dealt with the war in Vietnam.  By the time that Braddock came out, films in which lone American refought and single-handedly won the war were no longer in fashion.  Braddock was a flop at the box office and it ended the franchise.  However, continuity errors aside, Braddock is actually the best of the Missing in Action films.  It features Chuck’s best performance in the series and Chuck searching for his wife and child gives Braddock more emotional weight than the first two Missing in Action films. Maybe Chuck should have co-written and selected the director for all of the films he made for Cannon.

Chuck Norris, dude.

Chuck Fucking Norris.