The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Ninja III: The Domination (dir by Sam Firstenberg)


This 1984 film is brilliant.

Basically, it tells the story of Christie Ryder (Lucinda Dickey), who appears to have everything that someone could want out of life.  Not only does she have a really nice place to live but she also repairs phone lines for a living!  (That might not sound glamorous but she lives in California, which means that there’s always a nice view when she’s working.)  She also teaches an aerobics class because this film is from 1984 and, in 1984, everyone taught their own aerobics class.  At least, that’s the impression that I’ve gotten from watching movies of the era.

Christie only has one problem.  She’s been possessed.  She hasn’t been possessed by any ordinary old demon, either.  Instead, she’s been possessed by a dead ninja.  Hanjuro (David Chung) came to America because there were some people on a golf course who needed to be killed.  Unfortunately, no sooner had he killed everyone on the back 9 then he found himself surrounded by cops.  It took a lot of bullets to take down Hanjuro but down he went.  However, his spirit went up and entered Christie’s body.

Now, Christie spends her time teaching aerobics, working on phone lines, and murdering everyone who Hanjuro feels has wrong him.  Hanjuro wants to kill all of the cops who shot him.  Unfortunately, one of those cops, Billy Secord (Jordan Bennett), is now dating Christie.  Once Billy finally figures out why Christie is acting so strangely, he takes her to an exorcist (James Hong) who explains that it’s going to take more than just an ordinary exorcism to defeat the ninja lurking within Christie.  It’s going to require the help of another ninja, the noble Goro Yamada (Sho Kosugi).  It’s time to go to Japan!

I may not be a huge ninja movie fan (unless, of course, they feature Franco Nero) but I have to say that I absolutely loved Ninja III.  That really shouldn’t come as a surprise.  This film is such an utterly weird mishmash of tones and genres that there’s no way that I couldn’t love it.  It starts out as a typical kung fu film, just to suddenly turn into The Exorcist before then becoming Flashdance before returning to being The Exorcist.  Finally, for the last few minutes of the film, it transforms back into a kung fu film.  As I watched the film, I found myself thinking about all of the other films throughout history that could have been livened up by a demonic or spiritual possession subplot.  For that matter, think about how much more crazy The Exorcist would have been if Father Karras and Father Merrin had been Ninja Karras and NInja Merrin.

Anyway, in all seriousness, Ninja III is exactly what an exploitation film should be.  It’s unapologetically strange and over-the-top and it makes absolutely no apologies for being what it is.  It’s a film that says, “I’m here to tell a story about a woman possessed by a dead ninja and if that’s not good enough for you, you need to figure out what’s wrong with your heart.”  Ninja III is brilliant, wonderful, and definitely a film that you must watch this October.  It’s on Prime so go watch it.  Do it now.

A Movie A Day #305: Go Tell The Spartans (1978, directed by Ted Post)


One of the best films ever made about Vietnam is also one of the least known.

Go Tell The Spartans takes place in 1964, during the early days of the Vietnam War.  Though the Americans at home may not know just how hopeless the situation is in South Vietnam, Major Barker (Burt Lancaster, in one of his best performances) does.  Barker is a career military man.  He served in World War II and Korea and now he’s ending his career in Vietnam, taking orders from younger superiors who have no idea what they are talking about.  Barker has been ordered to occupy a deserted village, Muc Wa.  Barker knows that occupying Muc Wa will not make any difference but he is in the army and he follows orders.

Barker sends a small group to Muc Wa.  Led by the incompetent Lt. Hamilton (Joe Unger), the group also includes a drug-addicted medic (Dennis Howard), a sadistic South Vietnamese interrogator (Evan C. Kim) who claims that every civilian that the men meet is actually VC, a sergeant (Jonathan Goldsmith) who is so burned out that he would rather commit suicide than take command, and Cpl. Courcey (Craig Wasson).  Courcey is a college-educated idealist, who joined the army to do the right thing and is now about to discover how complicated that can be in South Vietnam.  At Muc Wa, the soldiers find a cemetery containing the graves of French soldiers who died defending the hamlet during the First Indochina War.  The inscription as the cemetery reads, “Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by, that here, obedient to their laws, we lie.”  

Because the film strives for realism over easy drama, Go Tell The Spartans has never gotten the same attention as some other Vietnam films.  Unlike The Deer Hunter, Platoon, Coming Home, and Born on the 4th of July, Go Tell The Spartans received no Oscar nominations.  It is still a brilliantly acted and powerful anti-war (but never anti-soldier) film.  It starts out as deceptively low-key but the tension quickly builds as the soldier arrive at Muc Wa and discover that their orders are both futile and impossible to carry out.  Vastly outnumbered, the Americans also find themselves dealing with a land and a culture that is so unlike their own that they are often not even sure who they are fighting.  Military discipline, as represented by Lt. Hamilton, is no match for the guerilla tactics of the VC.  By the film’s end, Vietnam is revealed to be a war that not even Burt Lancaster can win.

Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: The Carey Treatment (dir by Blake Edwards)


(Lisa is currently in the process of cleaning out her DVR!  She has got over 170 movies on the DVR to watch and she’s trying to get it done before the start of the new year!  Can she get it done?  Probably not, but she’s going to try!  1972’s The Carey Treatment was recorded off of TCM on July 23rd.)

Dr. Peter Carey (James Coburn) is the epitome of 1970s cool.  He’s got hair long enough to cover the top half of ears.  He’s got a fast car.  He’s got a rebellious attitude and a girlfriend (Jennifer O’Neill) who rarely questions his decisions.  Though you don’t see it in the movie, Dr. Carey probably smokes weed when he’s back at his fashionably decorated apartment.  How do I know this?  Well, he’s played by James Coburn.  Even if some of them are nearly 50 years old, you can still get a contact high from watching any movie featuring James Coburn.

Anyway, what the Hell is The Carey Treatment about?  Dr. Carey has just recently moved to Boston, where he’s taken a job at a stodgy old hospital.  The hospital’s chief doctor, J.D. Randall (Dan O’Herlihy, of Halloween III: Season of The Witch fame), might want Dr. Carey to tone down his free-livin’, free-lovin’ California ways but no one tells Peter Carey what to do.  In fact, the entire city of Boston might be too stodgy and conventional for Dr. Carey.  You see, Dr. Carey not only heals people.  He also beats up people who try to stand in his way.  Peter Carey is a doctor who cares but he’s also a doctor who can kick ass.

And he’s going to have to kick a lot of ass because Dr. Randall’s daughter has just turned up dead.  The police say that she died as the result of a botched abortion and they’ve arrested Carey’s best friend, Dr. David Tao (James Hong).  (The Carey Treatment, it should be noted, was filmed before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion.)  The Boston establishment is determined to use Dr. Tao as a scapegoat but Dr. Carey is convinced that his friend is innocent.  In fact, he doesn’t think that the death was the result of an abortion at all.  Carey sets out to solve the case … HIS WAY!

If it seems like I’m going a little bit overboard with my emphasis on the Dr. Peter Carey character, that’s because this entire movie feels more like a pilot for a weekly Dr. Carey television series as opposed to an actual feature film.  It’s easy to image that each week, James Coburn would drive from hospital to hospital, solving medical mysteries and debating social issues with stuffy members of the Boston establishment.  Henry Mancini would provide the theme music and Don Murray would guest star as Dr. Carey’s brother, a priest who encourages the young men in his parish to burn their draft cards.

It might have eventually become an interesting TV show but it falls pretty flat as a movie.  James Coburn is in nearly every scene, which would usually be a good thing.  But in The Carey Treatment, he gives an incredibly indifferent performance.  He seems to be bored by the whole thing and, as a result, Dr. Peter Carey is less a cool rebel and more of a narcissistic jerk.  The mystery itself is handled rather haphazardly.  On the positive side, Michael Blodgett gives a wonderfully creepy performance as a duplicitous masseur but otherwise, The Carey Treatment is nothing special.

If you want to see a great James Coburn film, track down The President’s Analyst.

A Movie A Day #135: Missing in Action (1984, directed by Joseph Zito)


Chuck Fucking Norris, man.  Is there anything this man can not do?

In Missing in Action, he plays Colonel James Braddock, an army intelligence officer.  For a career military man, his long hair and his beard are definitely against regulations but who is going to tell Chuck Norris to get a haircut?  Ten years ago, Braddock escaped from a POW camp in North Vietnam.  Haunted by nightmares and still convinced that there are American POWs in Vietnam, Braddock is inspired by an episode of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends (I am not joking!) to accompany a U.S. Senator on a fact-finding trip to Ho Chi Minh City.  It’s there that Braddock uncovers evidence that American soldiers are being held prisoner by the evil General Trau (James Hong).  With the government refusing to help him, Braddock is forced to go to Thailand, where he hooks up with an old friend, a former soldier turned black marketeer named Tuck (M.  Emmett Walsh).  Braddock and Tuck head into the jungle, to both rescue the POWs and to remind the world that, no matter what a bunch of pointy-headed lefties might say, Americans never lose a war!

A blatant rip-off of the Rambo films, Missing in Action was one of Cannon Films’ most financially successful movies.  Seen today, Missing in Action is borderline xenophobic and it takes forever for the action to really get started.  I was surprised by the number of scenes that were devoted to Braddock looking for evidence that the POWs were still in Vietnam, as if there was ever any real suspense about what Braddock would find.  (No POWs = no movie.)

On the positive side, once it finally starts, the action is exciting.  Joseph Zito was a veteran genre director and he know how to handle a battle scene.  Unfortunately, in this one, Chuck does most of his fighting with a machine gun instead of his hands.  This is also one of the first movies where Chuck Norris has the full beard going.  The beard serves to distract from what a stiff actor Chuck Norris usually was and it does its job in Missing in Action.  When it comes to picking a Chuck Norris film to watch, it’s a good idea to see how much facial hair will be featured.  If Chuck has a beard, definitely watch.  If Chuck only has a mustache, proceed with caution but, if there’s nothing else to watch, give the movie a chance.  If Chuck is clean-shaven and Bruce Lee is nowhere to be seen, throw the movie back and never speak of it again.

Missing in Action was shot back-to-back with what eventually became known as Missing in Action 2: The Beginning.  Originally, The Beginning was meant to be released first and Missing in Action was intended to be a sequel.  However, once the execs at Cannon saw the footage, they deemed The Beginning to be unreleasable and instead sent Missing in Action out to theaters.  (A movie so bad that even Cannon was hesitant to release it?  It boggles the mind.)  Missing in Action was such a box office success and The Beginning was subsequently released as a prequel.  However, when it comes to Norris/Cannon films, Invasion USA is the one to watch.  That one has a bearded Chuck and Richard Lynch!

Lisa Watches An Oscar Nominee: The Sand Pebbles (dir by Robert Wise)


The_Sand_Pebbles_film_posterAfter watching Witness For The Prosecution, I continued TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar by watching the 1966 Best Picture nominee, The Sand Pebbles.

Considering that The Sand Pebbles is close to four hours long, it’s interesting how little there is to really say about it.  Taking place in 1926, The Sand Pebbles follows the crew of the USS San Pablo, a gunboat that patrols the Yangtze River in China.  The San Pablo is there to protect American business interests, which are in particular danger because China is caught up in a communist revolution.  For the most part, the crew of the San Pablo are portrayed as being lazy and racist.  They have little interest in understanding the culture of the people around them and they use Chinese laborer to do the work on the boat.

When Jake Holman (Steve McQueen) is transferred to the San Pablo, he upsets his fellow crewmen by insisting on working in the ship’s engine room himself, the fear being that if Holman is willing to work then the rest of them will be expected to work as well.  The ship’s commander, Lt. Collins (Richard Crenna), views Holman as being a threat to morale and starts to make plans to get Holman off of his boat.  But, first, the boat is going to have to get out of China…

The Sand Pebbles is an episodic film and some of those episodes are more interesting than others.  Typically, an episode will start out positively and then end with some sudden tragedy.  For instance, Holman trains one laborer (Mako) to be a boxer and then watches as he beats the most racist crewman on the ship.  However, just a few minutes later, the laborer is captured and savagely tortured by the communists and Holman is forced to perform a mercy killing.

In another subplot, Holman’s only friend, Frenchy (Richard Attenborough), marries a local prostitute (Emmanuelle Arsan, who would later write an autobiography that would serve as the basis for a very different type of film).  However, in order to see his wife, Frenchy has to continually swim to shore in the middle of the night.  Frenchy soon develops pneumonia and dies while his wife is dragged off and apparently executed.

And finally, Holman strikes up a romance with Shirley Eckert (Candice Bergen), an innocent missionary.  However, when her arrogant and naive boss, Jameson (Larry Gates), refuses to leave the country despite the revolution, the San Pablo is ordered to rescue them.  This, of course, leads to a final battle with the communists which leaves a good deal of the cast dead.

As I watched The Sand Pebbles, my main impression was that it was an extremely long movie.  The film’s climatic battle was exciting and Steve McQueen (not to be confused with the director of 12 Years A Slave and Shame) gave a good performance but otherwise, the film often seemed to drag.  While the movie’s theme of Americans struggling (and failing) to understand another country’s culture had a definite resonance, The Sand Pebbles did not seem to be quite sure what it truly wanted to say about it.

Let’s face it — over 500 films have been nominated for best picture.  And, while a good deal of them hold up surprisingly well and are still entertaining to watch, there’s also a handful like The Sand Pebbles, ambitious films that never quite reached their potential but were probably nominated because they seemed like the type of epic film that should be nominated.  Many of these films were nominated and a few even won.

However, in the case of The Sand Pebbles, a nomination would have to be enough.  That year, the Oscar for Best Picture was won by A Man For All Seasons.

Guilty Pleasure No. 6: The Golden Child


TheGoldenChild

During the 80’s there were three names who earned the title of megastars. There was Sylvester Stallone with his Rocky and Rambo films. There was also Arnold Schwarzenneger who was pretty much the biggest action star of the decade. Then there’s Eddie Murphy who pretty much redefined the role of comedic action star. Yes, Murphy was an action star in his own right.

Once Murphy made a huge hit with the odd couple action comedy 48 Hours he began making one action comedy after the next. They all made money and to certain degree they were actually pretty good. There was one Murphy action comedy vehicle that was initially well-received by many when it came out in December of 1986, but has since seen a revisionist take from those who originally hyped up the film. I’m talking about The Golden Child.

Many who seem to have enjoyed and loved this film when it first came out has since backtracked to calling it one of the worst films of the 80’s. A film that indulges the ego of it’s star. While I agree with everything people have said about this film with each passing year I still can’t keep myself from enjoying it whenever it comes on cable (been awhile since it has). It was a fun flick when I first saw it as a 13 year-old and it continues to be fun.

Yes, it hasn’t aged well, but I think how it encompasses the kitchy-style of the 80’s not to mention the egocentricity of Murphy at the height of his stardom makes this one of my guilty pleasures. It even has a much y ounger, but still badass, Tywin Lannister playing the role of the main villain Sardo Numpsa aka Brother Numpsy.

Review: Kung Fu Panda 2 (dir. by Jennifer Yuh Nelson)


In 2008, Dreamworks Animation released what many had thought was one of their animated films. Some even went so far as to consider it on the same level as many of the Pixar animated offerings. This was high praise indeed and the praises from critics was awarded by public acclaim as Kung Fu Panda became an instant classic for Dreamworks Animation. It wasn’t a huge surprise that a sequel was quickly greenlit by the studio and now three years has passed and that sequel has finally come out. Kung Fu Panda 2 does one of those rare feats in film-making where it surpasses it’s original predecessor in all things. This was a sequel that was able to take what made the first one so fun and thrilling and build on it without losing the charm that made it so beloved in the first place.

Kung Fu Panda 2 brings back the Dragon Warrior Po (Jack Black returning in the role of the big fat panda) as he continues to live his dream of having become the Dragon Warrior and fighting evil, bandits and criminals with his fellow kung fu masters, the Furious Five. Instead of the film highlighting Po’s size as a detriment and keeping him a buffoonish character like in the beginning of the first film this sequel actually makes him an equal of his heroes, if not, surpassing them. This is a refreshing change since the writers could’ve easily banked on Po as a character who bungled and stumbled his way through most of the film.

This film was a continuation of Po’s journey as a hero which the first film was just the first step. Despite being a kung fu master in his own right his culture becomes threatened by a villain even more devious than the first film’s Tai Lung. Lord Shen (voiced by Gary Oldman) is the mad peacock heir to Gongmen City who has found an ultimate weapon through fireworks that he plans to defeat kung fu and conquer all of China. Kung fu is everything to Po and he journeys with the Furious Five to confront Lord Shen and stop his plans before it’s too late.

It’s during this journey that Po learns more about his true past and where he truly comes from. The sequences where Po’s adopted goose father tells of Po’s past was some of the best animations Dreamworks has done and I’d say surpasses some of Pixar’s own work. After seeing this film I’m sure many kids and some adults would want themselves their very own baby panda. Who would’ve thought that baby pandas sounded like human babies when they cried. It’s knowing his past that Po must now learn to find his inner peace if he’s to ever go beyond just being a kung fu master.

Kung Fu Panda 2 was actually quite a dark film in places as themes of genocide, destructive march of technology against nature, difficulties of adopted children finding their true origins and many others. That’s not to say that this sequel wasn’t fun to watch. The action took the kung fu fight scenes from the first film to a whole new level, but without turning it into all flash and no substance. It’s during some of the thrilling fight sequences that we see Po truly become part of the Furious Five and even affection from some of it’s members. It would be interesting to see how a third film would explore the growing relationship between Po and certain striped-feline.

The story gets a much needed infusion of creative help from one Guillermo Del Toro who served as creative producer. His inclusion in the film’s development was probably why the film had a much darker and serious tone in addition to the charm it continued from the first film. If there was anyone in Hollywood who knows how to further develop a character through a Campbellian hero’s journey then it’s Del Toro. If Dreamworks Animation is able to keep Del Toro on hand to further treat their other projects then it will be quite a coup for the studio.

The animation in this film is a step above the first film and anything Dreamworks Animation has ever done. With each passing year and release it looks like Dreamworks Animation has been able to come to the same level of animated work Pixar has set with their own projects. While I’m sure there’s no animosity between animators fo the two houses there probably is some sort of friendly rivalry which helps push both studios to improve on their animation work. All this means is that the public wins out in the end as we’re treated to better animated features from both Dreamworks and Pixar. It’s a good thing that Dreamworks Animation has also improved their storytelling with each new film that they’re not being called the weaker films when compared to Pixar’s latest.

In the end, Kung Fu Panda 2 more than lives up to it’s predecessor and actually surpasses it in every way. This sequel’s animation and use of stereoscopic 3D was some of the best in CG animation to date. It had a story that continued to explore and build the characters from the first film that they’ve gone beyond simple, basic animated characters but fully realized and complex individuals. Even the ending scene in the film which definitely sets-up a third film doesn’t seem tacked on but looks like something that would further continue Po’s hero’s journey. Sequels and milking of a franchise usually don’t sit well with serious film fans, but this franchise seems to be doing it correctly and using each new film to further an epic tale. Here’s to hoping we see Po and his Furious Five friends back for more in the coming years.

Kung Fu Panda 2 (Super Bowl TV Spot)


Here’s another tv spot to air during Super Bowl XLV and this time around it’s the one for the upcoming sequel to Dreamworks Animations very popular and successful Kung Fu Panda.

This one using that Queen arena anthem chant from “We Will Rock You”. The 30-second ty spot shows more action with the requisite panda shenanigans from Jack Black’s character.

Kung Fu Panda 2 is one sequel I’m definitely hyped to see as the first film I ended up watching over and over and over and over and over again. The film comes out on May 26, 2011.

Kung Fu Panda 2: The Kaboom of Doom teaser trailer


One of my favorite films of 2008 was an animated film and it wasn’t from Pixar. I’m talking about the Dreamworks Animation release for the summer of the year that was awesome in its very awesomeness. The film I talk of is Kung Fu Panda. It was a film that was fun and more than just a bit inspiring for its message of persevering through obstacles and doubts to achieve one’s dream. That was what I got out if it anyway in addition to what the little ones got which was THE big, fat panda (voiced by the panda-looking one himself Jack Black) doing kung fu in all its awesomeness and bodacity.

It will take another three years before such awesomeness and bodacity returns to the silver screen and in awesome and bodacious 3D. This summer of 2011 will see the return of the Dragon Warrior himself, Po as he must confront a new danger in the form of Gary Oldman voicing some perpetuator of evilness and douchebaggery on the simple talking animals peasants.

Now, time for some kung fu staring contest!