A Movie A Day #331: The Soldier (1982, directed by James Glickenhaus)


The Soldier is really only remembered for one scene.  The Soldier (Ken Wahl) is being chased, on skis, across the Austrian Alps by two KGB agents, who are also on skis.  The Soldier is in Austria to track down a KGB agent named Dracha (Klaus Kinski, who only has a few minutes of screen time and who is rumored to have turned down a role in Raiders of the Lost Ark so he could appear in this movie).  The Russians want the Soldier dead because they’re evil commies.  While being chased, the Soldier goes over a ski slope and, while in the air, executes a perfect 360° turn while firing a machine gun at the men behind him.  It’s pretty fucking cool.

The Soldier, who name is never revealed, works for the CIA.  He leads a team of special agents.  None of them get a name either, though one of them is played by the great Steve James.  When a shipment of Plutonium is hijacked so that it can be used it to contaminate half of the world’s supply of oil, The Soldier is assigned to figure out who is behind it.  Because terrorists are demanding that Israel withdraw from the West Bank, Mossad assigns an agent (Alberta Watson) to help out The Soldier.  She gets a name, Susan Goodman.  She sleeps with The Soldier because, she puts it, the world is about to end anyway.

The Soldier was obviously meant to be an American James Bond but Ken Wahl did not really have the screen charisma necessary to launch a franchise.  He is convincing in the action scenes but when he has to deliver his lines, he is as stiff as a board.  Fortunately, the majority of the movie is made up of action scenes.  From the minute this briskly paced movie starts, people are either getting shot or blown up.  Imagine a James Bond film where, instead of tricking the bad guys into explaining their plan, Bond just shot anyone who looked at him funny.  That’s The Soldier, a film that is mindless but entertaining.

Ken Wahl may have been stiff and Klaus Kinski may have been wasted but there are still some interesting faces in the cast.  Keep an eye out for William Prince as the President, Ron Harper as the director of the CIA, Zeljko Ivanek as a bombmaker, Jeffrey Jones as the assistant U.S. Secretary of Defense, and George Straight performing in a redneck bar.  Best of all, one of the Soldier’s men is played by Steve James, who will be recognized by any Cannon Films aficionado.

Surprisingly, The Solider is not a Cannon film.  It certainly feels like one.

Advertisements

What Lisa Watched Last Night #170: Drink Slay Love (dir by Vanessa Parise)


Last night, I watched a new Lifetime film, Drink Slay Love!

Why Was I Watching It?

Because it was on Lifetime, of course!

Plus, it was a Canadian film about vampires.  I love Canada and I love vampires!  Ever since that episode of Degrassi where Emma got a “social disease” while playing Mina in a school production of Dracula, Canada and vampires have mixed well.

(Now, I should admit, that, while watching Drink Slay Love, I was also watching a film called The Dead Don’t Die on YouTube.  I’m a big believer in multitasking.)

What Was It About?

Pearl (Cierra Ramirez) has a life that most of us can only have erotically-themed nightmares about.  She’s a sixteen year-old vampire princess.  She’s headstrong.  She’s a little bit bratty.  She’s convinced that nothing can hurt her.  Even after she’s the victim of an attempted staking, she still insists on going out in the middle of the night by herself.  On the plus side, Pearl doesn’t attack animals.  She only attacks humans, especially Brad, the poor guy who works at a 24 hour ice cream parlor and who never remembers Pearl’s nightly visits, in which she always gets a scoop of mint ice cream and a pint of blood.

However, everything changes when it’s discovered that Pearl is immune to sunlight!  She is a rare vampire who can actually walk around in the daylight.  This leads to her parents getting the brilliant idea of sending Pearl to high school.  There’s a big feast coming up and apparently, teenage blood is in high demand.  However, once Pearl arrives at the school, she starts to make friends, almost despite herself.  She starts to do the type of things that teenagers in Lifetime movies always do.  How can she set her new friends up to be the main course?

Of course, some of her new friends have secrets of their own.  You know how that goes…

What Worked?

This was a nice change of pace for Lifetime.  After endless movies about obsessive stalkers and stolen babies and bad celebrity lookalikes, it was nice to see something different on Lifetime.  I’m going to guess that Drink Slay Love was made with October in mind and really, this is a good movie for people who want celebrate Halloween without getting traumatized.  It’s not particularly scary but it’s got vampires and it’s enjoyably silly.

Cierra Ramirez did a good job as Pearl.  Pearl is a very sardonic vampire, which is the best type of vampire to be.  Ramirez delivered her sarcastic dialogue with just the right amount of bite.  (Heh heh, see what I did there?)

If the director’s name seems familiar, that’s because Vanessa Parise has directed several Lifetime movies.  She does a good job with Drink Slay Love, keeping the story moving at a good pace and getting good performances from the entire cast.

What Did Not Work?

To be honest, I liked the whole film.  Even the occasionally sketchy CGI added to the film’s charm.

“Oh my God!  Just like me moments!”

I related to Pearl.  Well, I didn’t necessarily relate to the blood sucking.  But I was really sarcastic when I was sixteen, too.  Plus, I always used to dress in black and then dare anyone to make a comment about it… (Actually, not that much has changed since then…)

Lessons Learned

Canada and Vampires are a good combination!

A Movie A Day #228: Johnny Be Good (1988, directed by Bud Smith)


Johnny Walker (Anthony Michael Hall) may be the best high school quarterback in the country but he has a difficult choice to make.  He promised his girlfriend, Georgia (Uma Thurman), that he would go to the local state college with her but every other university in the country wants him.  (Even legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell calls Johnny and advises him to go to an Ivy League college.)  As Johnny tours universities across the country, he faces every temptation.  By the time he makes his decision, will Johnny still be good?

The main problem with Johnny Be Good can be found in the first sentence of the above synopsis.  Anthony Michael Hall plays the best high school quarterback in the country.  By taking on the role of Johnny Walker, Hall was obviously attempting to prove that he was capable of more than just playing nerds for John Hughes.  But Hall is never convincing as a quarterback, much less the best in the country.  Though he bulked up for the role, it is impossible to imagine Hall in a huddle, coming up with the big play that wins the game.  It’s easier to imagine Johnny getting shoved in a locker and left there until the school year ends.  Hall seems to be lost in the role and the movie never seems to be sure who Johnny Walker is supposed to be.  (Two years later, Hall would again play a jock and give a far better performance in Edward Scissorhands.)

As for the rest of the cast, Robert Downey, Jr., who plays Johnny’s teammate and best friend, is even less convincing as a football player than Hall.  In the 1980s, Downey could play a quirky sidekick in his sleep but not a wide receiver.  Paul Gleason also shows up in the movie, basically playing the same role that he played in The Breakfast Club.  Uma Thurman is sweet and pretty in her film debut but it’s a nothing role.  Fans of Cannon Picture will want to keep an eye out for Steve James, in a small role as a coach.

Poorly written and slackly directed with few laughs, Johnny Be Good fails to take its own advice.

A Movie A Day #134: America Ninja 3: Blood Hunt (1989, directed by Cedric Sundstrom)


Is an American Ninja film still an American Ninja film if it doesn’t feature the American Ninja?

That is the question posed by American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt.  Michael Dudikoff, who played Joe Armstrong in the first two films, is nowhere to be found.  Instead, he has been replaced by Doug Bradley.  Fortunately, the movie does not try to pass Bradley off as being Joe Armstrong.  Instead, he is a new character, CIA agent Sean Davidson.  Sean’s father was a martial arts champion who was killed by gangster while Sean watched.  Sean later went to Japan where he was trained in the ways of the ninja.  Sean is an American ninja, even if he’s not the American Ninja.

He also happens to be best friends with Jackson (Steve James), who previously appeared in the first two films and who never comments on the coincidence of having two best friends who both happen to be American ninjas.  Jackson, along with sidekick Dexter (Evan J. Klisser) and lady ninja Chan Lee (Michele B. Chan), team up with Sean after Sean’s sensei is kidnapped by a terrorist known as The Cobra (Marjoe Gortner).  The Cobra, who has a team of his own ninjas, has developed a poison that he wants to test on Sean.

The plot makes as much sense as the previous two American Ninja films and, somehow, everyone forgets about finding the sensei before the movie ends.  As an actor, Doug Bradley is no Michael Dudikoff (which is saying something) but he’s good in the fight scenes and that is the only thing that really matters.  The whole film is nearly worth it just to see former child evangelist Marjoe Gortner in the role of The Cobra.  Dudikoff is missed but at least his absence meant that Steve James got to do more in American Ninja 3 than he did in the first two films.  Sadly, just three years after this film’s release, James died as the result of pancreatic cancer.  He was 41 years old.

A Movie A Day #133: American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987, directed by Sam Firstenberg)


Duuuuuuuuude!  The American Ninja is back!

In this sequel to the first American Ninja, ninja Joe (Michael Dudikoff) and sidekick Jackson (Steve James) are now Army Rangers.  They have been assigned to provide security at an embassy on a small Caribbean island.  At first, it seems like an easy gig but then Joe discovers that a large number of Marines have recently vanished.  According to the only witness, they were abducted by men dressed in black.  Joe and Jackson know what that means!

The Marines are being set up by a traitor in their own ranks, Tommy Taylor (played by Miguel Ferrer look-alike Jonathan Pienaar).  Taylor is being blackmailed by a master criminal known as, I kid you not, Leo the Lion (Gary Conway, who also co-wrote the script).  Leo is brainwashing the Marines, shooting them up with all sorts of drugs and transforming them into zombie-style ninjas.

Doing away with any pretense towards reality, American Ninja 2 is pure comic book action.  A bad guy even says, “It’s the American Ninja!” when he sees Joe.  It’s a strange film.  On the one hand, it is full of goofy humor and it even has a streetwise kid sidekick, all things that would indicate that it was made to appeal to kids.  On the other hand, the first cut was reportedly so violent that it got a dreaded X-rating.  The final version still has enough impalings, decapitations, and throwing stars to the head to earn its R.

With its combination of nonstop action and Steve James one-liners, American Ninja 2 is both a worthy sequel and a worthy addition to the Cannon library.  Still, it bothers me that at least a few of the ninjans that Joe and Jackson killed were probably just brainwashed Marines.  That amounts to a lot of innocent victims being killed by our heroes.

The life of an American ninja is never an easy one.

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.

AMV of the Day: Dazzling Inferno (Little Witch Academia)


The latest “AMV of the Day” is about this cute, little anime called Little Witch Academia that first began as a short anime film then a sequel that was much longer.

“Dazzling Inferno” combines sequences from both the Little Witch Academia films with the song “Warrior” by Steve James (feat. LIGHTS). It focuses very much so on the character of Akko who (unlike Harry Potter) stumbles, mistakes her way through magical adventures in the titular academy and despite her failings never faltering in her joy at being a witch-in-training.

There’s now an anime series currently airing in Japan that continues that adventures of Akko and her misfits friends and schoolmates. What better way to whet one’s appetite for the series than an anime music video that highlights a major theme in the anime.

Anime: Little Witch Academia

Song: “Warrior” (feat. LIGHTS) by Steve James

Creator: Radical Yue

Past AMVs of the Day