Film Review: Showdown In Little Tokyo (1991)

Also known as: Sgt. K (script title), Yakuza (working title)
Release Date: August 23rd, 1991
Directed by: Mark L. Lester
Written by: Stephen Glantz, Caliope Brattlestreet
Music by: David Michael Frank
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Brandon Lee, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Tia Carrere, Professor Toru Tanaka, Al Leong

Little Tokyo Productions, Original Pictures, Warner Bros., 79 Minutes

Review:

“Listen, will you do this right? Clean? Like a cop in the 20th century, not some samurai warrior? We’re gonna nail this guy. And when we get done… we’re gonna go eat fish off those naked chicks!” – Johnny Murata

This is one of those movies that came out when I was middle school age and I didn’t know about it because it never came to my local theater. But once I caught wind of it on video, I would rent it almost bi-weekly for about a year.

First of all, this features Dolph Lundgren and Brandon Lee, as buddy cops out to stop the Yakuza in Los Angeles. Plus, the Yakuza in the film were led by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa!

So this was like Ivan Drago teaming up with the Crow to kill Shang Tsung!

Plus, this had Tia Carrere in it and I was crushing hard on her back then. And what made this especially awesome was the nude scenes. Sure, I now realize that she had a nude body double due to how those moments were shot but when I was a kid, as far as I knew, I got to see one of my dream girls naked.

This is pure late ’80s/early ’80s toxic masculinity at its absolute finest. This is a balls out, violence festival with solid humor, hot chicks, martial arts and explosions. What more could a middle school boy want in 1991? And frankly, what more could a grown ass man want in 2019? Just because a bunch of crazy busybodies frown upon escapism like this in modern entertainment, doesn’t mean that I have to change to appease people that I don’t even want to talk to.

One thing that I always loved about this film is how the white guy is completely immersed and influenced by Japanese culture while the Asian guy is pretty much just some dude from the Valley. Granted, the Asian dude from the Valley knows a good amount of martial arts.

Additionally, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa was dynamite as the Yakuza boss that the good guys had to squash. Tagawa just has that look that makes him feel like a genuine evil bastard. He spends a great deal of his most badass moments, shirtless, showing off his Yakuza tattoos. He just feels like the final boss of a side scrolling beat’em up arcade game from the same era.

I love this damn movie. For what it is, it’s pretty close to perfect. Lundgren and Lee both have charm, solid charisma and it sucks that Lee died because I could’ve watched countless sequels to this movie. But then again, Hollywood rarely gives us sequels to movies like this unless they were Cannon Films properties.

That being said, this is probably the most Cannon film that wasn’t actually made by The Cannon Group.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Commando, Rapid Fire, Black Rain, Tango & Cash and Dark Angel.

Film Review: Boyz N the Hood (1991)

Release Date: May 13th, 1991 (Cannes)
Directed by: John Singleton
Written by: John Singleton
Music by: Stanley Clarke
Cast: Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding Jr., Morris Chestnut, Larry Fishburne, Angela Bassett, Nia Long, Tyra Ferrell, Redge Green, Dedrick D. Gobert, Regina King, Jessie Lawrence Ferguson, Whitman Mayo

Columbia Pictures, 112 Minutes

Review:

“Why is it that there is a gun shop on almost every corner in this community?” – Furious Styles, “Why?” – The Old Man, “I’ll tell you why. For the same reason that there is a liquor store on almost every corner in the black community. Why? They want us to kill ourselves.” – Furious Styles

Boyz N The Hood was a movie that had a pretty big impact on me in my middle school years. I was going into 7th grade when it came out but by the time it hit video, I rented it a lot.

What lured me into it was the edge the film had with Ice Cube in it, a rapper I listened to almost daily back then. But beyond that, I was pulled into John Singleton’s unique knack for storytelling. While this is well acted, a lot of the story and emotion comes through in more of a visual way.

Unlike many of the “gangsta” films that came out after and were inspired by this and Marion Van Peebles’ New Jack City, this one is truly a masterpiece on just about every level. And, once seeing this, it is easy to understand how this film gave birth to a new genre in the early ’90s.

To start, the acting by just about everyone in this picture is superb. The main cast delivers their performances with passion and gusto.

I love how in your face Ice Cube can be but there is a subtle gentleness under the surface that really comes out in his final scene, which is still maybe the best he’s ever been onscreen.

Cuba Gooding Jr. gave a somewhat understated performance that worked really well for his character and when the point comes in the movie for him to show real emotion, it has an impact that might have been lacking without his cool and chill demeanor leading up to it.

I also like Morris Chestnut, who is mostly just a regular guy here. He’s got issues but he’s a guy with a bright future, which makes his fate in the film extremely tough to process no matter how many times you’ve seen this play out.

The real scene stealer is Laurence Fishburne and while that shouldn’t be surprising, this was pretty early in his career and even though he’d been in many films before this, it is his role here that put his career path on a strong upward trajectory.

It’s also worth pointing out how beautiful and perfect Stanley Clarke’s score is. The music conveys real emotion and it grounds the drama in a way that the mostly hip-hop soundtrack can’t on its own. There is a great balance between hip-hop, soul and the score itself. However, in contrast to what became typical of this style of film after Boyz N the Hood, this doesn’t use a ton of rap music. It’s there where it needs to be but this wasn’t a movie that was trying to sell soundtrack tie-ins like everything that copied it. And it’s not that that’s a bad thing and I didn’t even notice it back in the day but seeing this film now, it was kind of refreshing knowing that the filmmaker relied heavily on his composer to assist with the tone and the movement of the plot. Side note: Stanley Clarke’s first score was Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, which got him an Emmy nomination.

This is a heavy and emotional film; it works because it feels genuine and real. It has aged tremendously well and is kind of timeless, even if it is set in a specific era that comes with its own stylistic and cultural tropes.

Singleton, with Boyz N the Hood, crafted a perfect motion picture that deserves to be called a masterpiece and is still above all the films that came along and tried to emulate it. Not bad for a first time director.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Menace II SocietySouth CentralColors, Baby Boy, Higher Learning and Poetic Justice.

Film Review: Alligator II: The Mutation (1991)

Also known as: Alligator 2 (UK video title)
Release Date: March 28th, 1991
Directed by: Jon Hess
Written by: Curt Allen
Music by: Jack K. Tillar
Cast: Joseph Bologna, Woody Brown, Harlan Arnold, Nicolas Cowan, Brock Peters, Dee Wallace

Golden Hawk Entertainment, 92 Minutes

Review:

“It was about the size of an Eldorado.” – J.J. Hodges

Man, did this film miss the fucking mark.

How hard is it to make a movie about a killer alligator? Also, by 1991, there were enough killer animal movies to look at and see what works and what doesn’t. Frankly, nothing in this film works. Hell, I don’t even think the actors were working.

The film stars Joseph Bologna, who should have changed his stage name to Joey Bologney. We also get to see Brock Peters in this, who I always enjoyed in Star Trek films, but here he looks like he misses his Starfleet friends. Horror queen Dee Wallace is also in the picture but I think she was just scooping up paychecks by this point. Although, in all seriousness, it is always a delight to see Dee Wallace because she can brighten up the worst movies.

The first Alligator was a badass, fun, killer animal movie. It had great moments with the gator going banana sandwich on people too dumb or too slow to get out of its way. There are so many cool scenes in the original film that one would think that a sequel would try to top them all. But this dud of a motion picture fails… miserably.

Nothing exciting happens over the course of this entire film. Even the gator effects are shit and pale in comparison to some of the coolest gator spots from the previous outing.

I was bored watching this and to be honest, I had some high hopes for it, as I enjoy the first flick and I vaguely remembered enjoying this one as a kid. But maybe I only saw the first one and thought that I saw both of these.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: I guess, Alligator but by comparison it makes that movie look like Jaws.

Film Review: Career Opportunities (1991)

Also known as: One Wild Night (working title)
Release Date: March 29th, 1991
Directed by: Bryan Gordon
Written by: John Hughes
Music by: Thomas Newman
Cast: Frank Whaley, Jennifer Connelly, Dermot Mulroney, Kieran Mulroney, Barry Corbin, William Forsythe, John Candy (uncredited)

Hughes Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“[to himself] She’s so beautiful. And I’m the town liar.” – Jim Dodge

This film probably gets a worse rap than it should. If you are comparing it to John Hughes’ top films, yeah, it falls short. But it is still a fun and amusing coming of age comedy that still has the John Hughes spirit worked into its script.

Maybe some of the problems with this is that Hughes didn’t direct the movie and that it rehashed a lot of ideas that he already addressed in better ways with previous films like The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles but those ideas are still worth exploring in a fresher way with characters that are a bit older.

I liked Frank Whaley and I know that even he had reservations about his own performance and being cast in the role but I think he did a good job and he was certainly likable in this, despite being the “town liar”. Really, he’s just a chronic embellisher and storyteller.

Jennifer Connelly also did a good job and her performance and line delivery were actually better than what the script called for. But I think the thing that worked well for this picture was that she had really good, natural chemistry with Whaley.

I also liked all the smaller characters in the film like the cameos by John Candy and William Forsythe, as well as the scenes with the always entertaining Barry Corbin. Dermot and Kieran Mulroney were also enjoyable as the bumbling bandits that come in at the end of the film.

If I’m being honest, some of my love for this movie could be due to nostalgia. As a kid, this movie was cool because what kid didn’t want to be locked in a Target all night with the entire store as a playground? Plus, I was crushing hard on Jennifer Connelly and frankly, that’s a crush that never really died, as she still catches my attention in almost every film she’s in.

For the time, the soundtrack is also solid. It features a lot of pop hits but it’s that weird era where music was transitioning from the ’80s into the ’90s and being middle school age when this movie came out, meant that a lot of the music worked for me and the time.

While I wouldn’t put this in the upper echelon of Hughes’ work, it’s still a fun, energetic and entertaining movie. Hughes actually requested to have his name taken off of the film, as he didn’t like the finished product, but I still think this is a better picture than most people give it credit for.

Career Opportunities achieved what it set out to do. It was made to be a lighthearted coming of age comedy that served as escapism for an hour and a half. Okay, maybe it fell just slight of that running time but it was good escapism for a twelve year-old in 1991. And I still revisit it every half decade or so.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other coming of age John Hughes comedies: Ferris Bueller’s Day OffWeird ScienceSixteen CandlesThe Breakfast ClubPretty In PinkSome Kind of Wonderful, etc.

Film Review: Beastmaster II: Through the Portal of Time (1991)

Release Date: June 8th, 1991 (Japan)
Directed by: Sylvio Tabet
Written by: Jim Wynorski, R.J. Robertson, Sylvio Tabet, Ken Hauser, Doug Miles
Based on: The Beast Master by Andre Norton, characters by Don Coscarelli, Paul Pepperman
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Marc Singer, Kari Wuhrer, Sarah Douglas, Wings Hauser, James Avery, Robert Z’Dar, Michael Berryman

Les Films 21, Republic Pictures, New Line Cinema, 107 Minutes

Review:

“He who defies Arklon, shall be destroyed… by Arklon!” – Arklon

This is such a shitty movie but it is a wonderfully entertaining shitty movie.

Where the original Beastmaster is truly a sword and sorcery classic, this film is pretty much just a “fish out of water” comedy with some sword and sorcery elements.

I’m not sure what the filmmakers were thinking with this. It wasn’t like they rushed out a sloppy sequel because this came nine years after the original. But it is very cheaply made and it completely lacks the superior craftsmanship of the previous film’s director, Don Coscarelli.

What saves this film, at least in my eyes, is the over the top performances of its cast. Marc Singer is dry when compared to his cast mates but he’s still enjoyable as Dar and I’ll always be a fan of his version of the character.

However, Singer is pretty much overshadowed by the energetic cuteness of Kari Wuhrer in one of her earliest film performances. He’s also usurped by the charismatic Wings Hauser, as his evil brother Arklon. Plus, you have Sarah Douglas as a sorceress and she’s always fantastic. But the real scene stealer is James Avery, who isn’t in this as much as the other actors but you’re always locked on him when we walks on screen. Avery is used as comedic relief and he’s a master of that but I can’t discount the fact that this entire movie really is comedy.

This lacks the edge and darkness of its predecessor and if I’m being honest, I would have preferred a proper sequel. However, I still like this strange movie for all of its batshittery. It’s a very smudged up gem but it’s still a gem. But you also have to be the right sort of film fan for this movie to click for you. The average person isn’t going to find much value in the picture and that’s fine. All this shit is subjective, anyway.

Beastmaster II already had its work cut out for it, as the first film casts a big shadow. But all things considered, this is bizarre and unique enough to justify its existence and at least it wasn’t just a rehash of the previous movie.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other sword and sorcery movies of the time, most notably the Conan films. It’s also fun to watch with the other films within its own series.

TV Review: The Comic Book Greats: Episode 4 – Overkill with Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld (1991)

Released: 1991
Created by: Stan Lee
Directed by: Rick Stawinski
Music by: Rick Stawinski, Rob Stawinski
Cast: Stan Lee (host), Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld

Excelsior Productions, Stabur Home Video, 26 Minutes

Review:

Revisiting this video series from my childhood has been a lot of fun. In fact, this episode is a real highlight in this series, even if it only clocks in at a scant 26 minutes. But unlike me in the early ’90s, you don’t need to spend half of your allowance on this episode just to see it, as these are all streaming on YouTube for free… assuming they don’t get pulled down, at some point.

The first two episodes in this series were interviews with comic book legends Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld, this brings both of them back in an effort to create a new character, as dictated to them by Stan Lee.

What’s funny about this, is that this character named Overkill eventually showed up under the name Overt-Kill in Todd McFarlane’s Spawn about a year later. I’m assuming the name alteration, change of color scheme and some artistic tweaking saved McFarlane and Liefeld from any legal shenanigans, as Stan Lee did come up with the name and had some other creative input.

Anyway, this was really fun to watch, especially for me, as I was an aspiring comic book artist the first time I saw this. Todd, Rob and Stan talked through the process and I learned a lot from their insight here and I think any aspiring comic book artist would find this just as useful as I did back in 1991.

This is just a really engaging and fun video series. I’m still glad that Stan Lee did this way back in the day and even if it feels dated, the knowledge gained from these episodes isn’t.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other episodes in The Comic Book Greats video series.

TV Review: The Comic Book Greats: Episode 3 – Spotlight on Sergio Aragonés (1991)

Released: 1991
Created by: Stan Lee
Directed by: Rick Stawinski
Music by: Rick Stawinski, Rob Stawinski
Cast: Stan Lee (host), Sergio Aragonés

Excelsior Productions, Stabur Home Video, 51 Minutes

Review:

This is one of The Comic Book Greats videos that I didn’t own. When I was twelve, I didn’t know much about Sergio Aragonés. However, as I got older and learned who he was, I found out that I had enjoyed his work from Mad Magazine and his long running Marvel comic book series, Groo the Wanderer.

So this was the first time that I checked out this episode. I’m glad I did, though, as Aragonés was very personable and you could see that he and Stan lee were very fond of each other.

Aragonés is more of a cartoonist than the typical comic book artist of the time. He talks about his style and how life led him down the path that saw him eventually work for Mad and Marvel.

He also talked about growing up and moving from Spain to France to Mexico and then the United States. Stan joked around about how many languages Aragonés knew and how he can be difficult to understand in all of them. They exchanged some fun old school ribbing.

The highlight of the Aragonés interview is when Sergio went to the drawing table and created several pieces with almost lightning fast speed.

This was a fun installment and I enjoyed it more than I expected. Aragonés is a unique talent, skilled in his style and it was cool seeing someone outside of the more popular Marvel creators or better known legends get his own episode in this series.

But as Stan Lee said in the beginning, Sergio Aragonés is the guy he really wanted to interview for this series.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other episodes in The Comic Book Greats video series.