Film Review: Master Ninja II (1984)

Also known as: The Master (as a TV series), The Ninja Master (original VHS movie release)
Release Date: 1984 (the original run of the TV series)
Directed by: various
Written by: Tom Sawyer, Michael Sloan, Susan Woollen
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Timothy Van Patten, Sho Kosugi, George Lazenby, Crystal Bernard

Michael Sloan Productions, Viacom, CBS, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Sorry, I’m not allowed to serve you.” – nervous waitress

Well, Mystery Science Theater 3000 couldn’t just give us one Master Ninja, they had to give us two. They were actually going to do a third one in a later season but it got cut from the production schedule.

Like the previous “film” in this series, this is just two television episodes of the short-lived show The Master, edited together into feature length and sold as a movie.

As these things go, it is horribly paced and doesn’t work all that well. In fact, this has poorer execution than the first chapter in the series.

I think the first film worked better because it was the start of the series and it helped setup everything. It was a jumbled mess of a thing but it seemed more coherent than this one and it also had Demi Moore in it, just before she reached superstardom.

This one has Crystal Bernard and even adds George Lazenby, a former James Bond, to the mix but it’s pretty uninteresting and very mundane.

The high point of the film is the big action climax at the end but that’s still pretty damn mediocre. This show did pull off some solid stunts though, so there’s that. But when your big action sequence is punctuated by a van smashing through a dainty gate in slow motion, you might need to go back to the drawing board and up the octane.

The Master isn’t a great show but it plays better as single episodes, as opposed to trying to convince audiences with short attention spans that these are actual movies.

But hey, There’s some motocross in this one!

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: Master Ninja I and The Master TV series.

Film Review: Easy Rider (1969)

Also known as: The Loners (working title), Sem Destino (Brazil)
Release Date: May 12th, 1969 (Cannes)
Directed by: Dennis Hopper
Written by: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Terry Southern
Music by: The Band, The Byrds, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Roger McGuinn, Steppenwolf
Cast: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, Toni Basil, Bridget Fonda (uncredited)

Raybert Productions, Pando Company, Columbia Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“[giving Capt America some LSD] When you get to the right place, with the right people, quarter this. You know, this could be the right place. The time’s running out.” – Stranger on the Highway

In an effort to rectify the injustice of not seeing every American classic ever made, I watched Easy Rider. I know, I know… there are countless American classics, at this point, but there are many I haven’t seen, this being one of them. Every year since film was invented there have been at least a handful of great pictures, if not more. So I don’t think anyone, other than Roger Ebert, has seen them all.

I’m not quite sure why I haven’t seen Easy Rider until now. I’ve known about it pretty much my entire life but it’s never really been something I felt like buying and it hasn’t really streamed anywhere until it popped up on FilmStruck. But having seen other classic biker films, I wanted to check this out before it was cycled out of streaming circulation.

I’ve been a massive fan of Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson for decades. Seeing the three of them come together for this motion picture, which forever altered filmmaking, was quite a treat.

However, even though this is credited as being a movie that changed everything going forward, it wasn’t the first of its kind. Peter Fonda starred in two films, which were produced by B-movie king Roger Corman. Those films were The Wild Angels and The Trip. Both dealt with the two main things that are intertwined in this film, biker culture and hallucinogenic drugs.

Now Easy Rider is superior to its two predecessors but I don’t think that this movie could have existed without Roger Corman having the foresight to make those other counterculture pictures and paving the way for Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda to write, direct and star in this movie.

The film is a reflection of the time it was in. A time where America was in a state of flux: politically, socially, culturally and artistically. The film really carries a sense of aimlessness and hopelessness with it. It’s a clash of cultures, ideas and displays an American spirit that is tired, lost and without direction or any real inspiration. This is the artistic antithesis of American Exceptionalism.

Now I don’t agree with it but within the context of its time and setting, I understand the sentiment. Frankly, I don’t know where my head would be at in 1969, but I know I’d share some of the same feelings and emotions, especially in regards to the political landscape and the emotional exhaustion caused by the Vietnam War.

I really liked this movie, though. It was magnificently shot. All the scenes of these guys riding cross country were nothing less than beautiful and majestic. I can see why this made people want to sort of adopt the free spirited biker culture into their lives.

And that’s the thing, this film does a fine job romanticizing the freedom of the road but it also shows the side effects of that lifestyle with a heavy handed fist to the head.

My only real issue with the film is the ending. I understand why they did this to end the movie but ultimately, it felt pointless and a bit nonsensical. It came off as edgy just to be edgy. These guys could have met a similar fate without it being some random ass situation that was just thrown in to shock people. For me, it kind of cheapened the overall film. I felt that Hopper was leading towards some sort of larger message but the movie kind of just shits on your emotions and spirit and then just says, “Fuck you!”

Easy Rider is a depressing film. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good or worth your time. It’s a solid piece of filmmaking with a few hiccups I wasn’t too keen on but those hiccups didn’t really detract from the overall sentiment of the picture.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: A couple earlier films that lead to this one even being possible: The Wild Angels and The Trip. Both of those also star Peter Fonda.

TV Review: Sons of Anarchy (2008-2014)

Also known as: Forever Sam Crow (working title)
Original Run: September 3rd, 2008-December 9th, 2014
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Bob Thiele, Dave Kushner, Curtis Stigers
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, Mark Boone Junior, Kim Coates, Tommy Flanagan, Johnny Lewis, Maggie Siff, Ron Perlman, Ryan Hurst, William Lucking, Theo Rossi, Dayton Callie, Jimmy Smits, Drea De Matteo, David Labrava, Niko Nicotera, Glenn Plummer, Taryn Manning, Ally Walker, Mitch Pileggi, Kenneth Choi, Kurt Sutter, Titus Welliver, Walton Goggins, Henry Rollins, Hal Holbrook, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Marilyn Manson, Kim Dickens, Chuck Zito, Ray McKinnon

Linson The Company, Sutter Ink, Fox 21, FX, 92 Episodes, 41-81 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2015.

This is one of those reviews that will probably turn a lot of my friends against me. I care not. I must tell it like it is from my point-of-view.

Sons of Anarchy is a show that I have developed a like/hate relationship with. I don’t say “love” because I’m not that enthralled with the positive aspects of it. It does however, have some positives amidst a sea of negatives. And I guess that makes me go against the popular opinion, as nearly everyone that I have talked to, has loved this show.

But I guess this isn’t a show for me. Where I expected something more like The Sopranos on motorcycles, this was more like a mindless action flick full of an overabundance of violence, bad CGI, bad acting, bad writing, bad music and really stupid and unlikable characters. Sons of Anarchy is geared more towards the male millennial crowd than it is for people who want good and groundbreaking television or at the very least, some sort of coherent plot.

This show is a mess. It is a moderately enjoyable mess at times but it is a show that constantly tries too hard and falls short. Yes, there are shocking and intense moments but they lose their meaning and significance almost immediately. For one, it is hard to care about any of these horrible characters. Also, with the show trying to constantly outdo itself and escalating further and further from episode to episode, things eventually get so over the top that it becomes unintentionally ludicrous.

The premise of the show also changes as it goes on and it loses sight of itself just a few seasons in. Maybe this is intentional but it really just feels like the weight of this ratings beast forced the showrunners to make quick, big decisions, which may have increased ratings further but sacrificed whatever integrity and soul the show may have had early on.

For instance, the show’s main drive in the beginning is the main character Jax’s obsession with his dead father’s writings. The writings talked about what the motorcycle club was supposed to be, how it got away from itself and how butt hurt Jax’s dad was about it. Jax then makes it his mission to right the wrongs and make the motorcycle club respectable. Maybe he would’ve been more inspired and followed through had he actually read more than two paragraphs of his father’s writings at a time. Maybe Jax has a bad attention span. Maybe that is why he couldn’t follow through because he got distracted by doing really stupid shit every episode.

In any event, the show evolves away from the club’s redemption through Jax’s leadership and instead shows the club fall on hard times and then even harder times. It just gets worse and worse, Jax stops reading his dad’s journals and pretty much turns into the asshole his stepfather Clay is. He actually turns out worse than Clay by the end of it all.

I could write a book about how much of an idiot Jax is but I’m not going to waste my time. I could also write a book about how much of an idiot his mother Gemma is.

All the characters really suck and all of them, for the most part, are stupid morons. They are the dumbest criminals I’ve ever seen. Darkwing Duck had smarter bad guys than the members of the Sons of Anarchy.

As far as likable characters, there are really only five. There is Wayne, who is on a tragic journey that ultimately ends up sucking really bad for him. Also, he had terminal cancer “eating away” at him in season one but somehow survived seven seasons. There is Jax’s ex-heroin addict wife who goes on to redeem herself and she’s about the only character you are happy for in the end. Then we have Nero, the pimp and tragic lover of Gemma. I really liked Nero but Jimmy Smits is awesome in every role. There’s Piney, who saw the bullshit for what it was and tried to hold everyone accountable. Since he was the voice of reason in a sea of shitty people, he was killed off. This brings me to my favorite character: Juice.

Juice is most likely the most tragic character in television history. Juice was a positive on this show even though his end was horrible. You couldn’t not like Juice and feel for him every step of the way. He truly cared about the club and doing the right thing but continually got fucked (literally) and lost his life and stature because the people he invested his love and loyalty in were pieces of garbage. Juice’s journey is one of the redeeming factors of this show. I don’t like how it ended but this show is one big tragedy.

In regards to the show’s music, it is terrible. The main theme is awful but somehow was nominated for an Emmy by some tone deaf Hollywood types. The songs throughout the show are even worse. More often than not, we are treated to some poor slowed down roots rock cover song of a known pop hit. It always feels bizarre, out of place and makes the show come off as generic and cheesy. At least once per season, we get some crappy song sung by Katey Sagal, who probably shouldn’t sing but is most likely encouraged by her husband, who is the show’s creator. That’s probably also why she was cast as Gemma. Lastly, the music selections are almost racist. When the biker gang fights another biker gang there is rock music. When they fight Mexicans: Spanish language gangsta rap. When they fight blacks: generic crappy English language gangsta rap. Asians: make sure to add in some Asian stringed instruments and gongs in over the soundtrack. Irish: Celtic shit. Persians: grab the sitar – hey wait, that’s Hindi you racist bastards! It’s sad and predictable and becomes a distraction.

This show was not The Sopranos on motorcycles, it was a Shakespearean tragedy on motorcycles. Which is perfectly fine. The problem is that the execution was shit and it tried to convince the viewer that it was clever while beating you over the head with its Shakespeareanism. After the tragic, pointless and retarded ending of the show, it even gives the viewer a Shakespeare quote before rolling its final credits. I’m sure dumb ass college students for years to come will write papers about how fantastic this modern Shakespearean saga is after just skimming over the Cliff Notes of Shakespeare’s work to make them feel the connection.

I don’t hate this show, even though it probably comes across like that. I had a hard time getting through segments of it but I enjoyed it enough to finish it. Granted, the ending was one of the worst in television history but really crappy endings to long-running shows is the trend lately. And maybe that ending just enhanced whatever bitterness I’m feeling.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: The SopranosBreaking BadFear the Walking Dead and Justified but these are all better shows. Well, maybe not Justified, I’ll post my review for that soon.

Film Review: The Wild One (1953)

Also known as: Hot Blood, The Cyclists’ Raid (both working titles)
Release Date: December 25th, 1953 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: László Benedek
Written by: John Paxton, Ben Maddow
Based on: The Cyclists’ Raid by Frank Rooney
Music by: Leith Stevens
Cast: Marlon Brando, Mary Murphy, Robert Keith, Lee Marvin

Columbia Pictures, 79 Minutes

Review:

“I love you, Johnny. I’ve been looking in every ditch from Fresno to here hoping you was dead.” – Chino

I have never seen The Wild One, which is probably a crime, but I am a fan of biker movies, especially those of the ’60s and ’70s and this was sort of a template that many of them built off of. Granted, this isn’t as hard or edgy as the pictures that would try to emulate it but it also didn’t need to be. This was sort of a sweet story, if you look beyond the rough exterior and get right down to the human emotion.

Marlon Brando was exceptional in this, even if he wasn’t quite up to the levels of talent he would reach. His scenes with Mary Murphy were what carried the picture. However, I also enjoyed him playing off of Lee Marvin, who made a good villain, even if Brando was very far from being any sort of hero in this.

There is nothing exceptional about this motion picture, though. It is certainly heralded for all the right reasons and deserves to be held in high regard for being a trendsetter in its genre but biker movies after this would definitely find ways to push the envelope more. And this is damn good but it doesn’t present you with stellar acting or cinematography and the direction is pretty standard. It’s just really a cool movie with a cool leading man and examines a part of society that Hollywood shied away from until this made bikers a bit more mainstream. But the Hollywood of this era still had to be wholesome due to the morality code imposed on its filmmakers.

This is really just a drama film that happens to have a mean biker as its main character. In a lot of ways, this is a real character study, as it examines Brando’s Johnny much deeper than what is on his surface. The film humanizes him but it also doesn’t try to turn him into an easily reformed goody two-shoes. The hard nosed cop cuts him a break and is a bit taken back by Johnny’s apparent lack of gratitude but at his core, Johnny doesn’t know how to express his thanks. It really isn’t something he’s ever really experienced before this moment, as he is a guy that has been beaten down by life and has adopted a tough persona to shield him from real world emotions and genuine human connection.

This film wasn’t really what I expected it to be. I thought it would be an examination of counterculture but in that light ’50s Hollywood way before artists behind the camera could actually let loose and challenge their audience. Instead, this is a film that has biker culture in it but it moves most of its focus towards Johnny and the apple of his eye, the lovely Kathie.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The LovelessRebel Without A CauseEasy Rider and The Wild Angels.

Film Review: The Loveless (1981)

Also known as: Breakdwon (Locarno festival title), Black Leather (Sweden), U.S. 17 (working title)
Release Date: August 7th, 1981 (Locarno Film Festival)
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow, Monty Montgomery
Written by: Kathryn Bigelow, Monty Montgomery
Music by: Robert Gordon
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Robert Gordon, Marin Kanter, Danny Rosen, J. Don Ferguson

Pioneer Films, Atlantic Releasing, 85 Minutes

Review:

“You never can tell on a day like this – things could be goin’ jake one minute, then, presto – before you know it, you’re history.” – Vance (narration)

Man, oh, man… what a cool movie.

I can’t believe that I have waited this long to actually watch The Loveless, as it is Willem Dafoe’s first film, as well as the directorial debut of Kathryn Bigelow (alongside Monty Montgomery, who has done some really cool shit as well).

The film is essentially a character study of two people: Vance, a motorcycle riding ex-con, and Telena, a young girl from a very small town who has a horrible, abusive father. Things change for both Vance and Telena when they come in contact with one another and two people who feel like standard archetypes, evolve into very human and complex characters.

I guess what really made this film work is the subtlety of the storytelling. It didn’t need to spell everything out for you. It just played out and the emotions of the characters were pretty clear. Sadly, the film leaves you with an incredibly tragic ending but despite Vance appearing like a real shithead, you felt for him. You also really feel for Telena and her fate is a real punch to the gut.

In its simplest form, this is a movie about an ex-con biker gang that rolls into a small town, pisses off the townsfolk but refuses to budge or put up with their Podunk bullshit.

Dafoe’s Vance is a well layered character who you feel has something of real significance to offer the world but he is a victim of his own flaws that is uncompromising to his detriment.

His gang is mostly made up of actual shitheads but I liked Robert Gordon’s character and it was cool seeing him in this, as he’s a musician I have listened to for quite some time and he actually provided the music for this film.

If you are a fan of rockabilly music and the style, you’ll probably really enjoy this movie. It has a sort of punk edge to it, even though it takes place a few decades before punk rock was even a thing.

You can see where it was inspired by The Wild One, the classic bike film starring Marlon Brando. Yet this still has its own voice and stands strong on its own.

This picture also flows really well with Streets of Fire, where Dafoe plays another rockabilly biker that is a more despicable character than Vance in this film.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The Wild OneStreets of Fire and Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark.

Film Review: The Wild Rebels (1967)

Also known as: The Angels of Satan (West Germany)
Release Date: September, 1967
Directed by: William Grefe
Written by: William Grefe
Music by: Al Jacobs
Cast: Steve Alaimo, Bobbie Byers, John Vella, Willie Pastrano, Jeff Gillen

Comet, Crown International Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“He’s square baby. Really square. ” – Banjo, “Look, you just keep trying to put that square peg in a round hole and everything’ll be FINE!” – Rod

If a movie is featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, it is pretty much guaranteed to be a total shitfest. There are only a few movies MST3K featured that were probably better than you’d expect but they either featured Godzilla or had something really unique about them. The Wild Rebels isn’t quite at the bottom of the MST3K barrel but that doesn’t mean it isn’t bad.

It is a bad biker picture that came out in an era with a slew of bad biker pictures, many of which were also featured on MST3K. I do like this one, even if I have to be honest and give it a low rating. It is easier to watch than most of the others and maybe I feel a bit of favoritism because it was filmed in South Florida, where I’m from and still live.

But it goes beyond that. In fact, I actually like the big shootout finale in the lighthouse, which I’m pretty sure was filmed at the Cape Florida Lighthouse on Key Biscayne. I used to go there as a kid and never realized that a movie was shot there, albeit a shitty movie. Still that’s pretty cool but locale aside, the scenes that took place there were much better than the scenes in the majority of the other bad biker pictures of the ’60s. Also, the gun store robbery, while hokey as all hell, was still an amusing sequence.

Look, this is not a technical marvel or a film that is well directed, well acted or really boasts any other positives other than a few fun bits. However, even though it is bad, it is still better than it deserves to be, at least in my opinion and I’ve seen a ton of these crappy B-movie biker exploitation films.

Yes, the rating for this movie is low but it was one of only a few films featured on MST3K that I will liberate from the strong clutches of the Cinespiria Shitometer.

Film Review: Psychomania (1973)

Also known as: The Death Wheelers, The Frog, The Living Dead
Release Date: January 5th, 1973 (West Germany)
Directed by: Don Sharp
Written by: Arnaud d’Usseau, Julian Zimet
Music by: John Cameron
Cast: George Sanders, Beryl Reid, Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Roy Holder, Robert Hardy

Benmar Productions, Scotia-Barber, Scotia International, International Film Distributors, 95 Minutes

Review:

“It’s easy to kill live people.” – Jane Pettibone

When I read the premise of this film, I got massively excited. I had to see it! However, watching it was a massive disappointment.

The premise stated that the film was about a small town biker gang called The Living Dead. They are a wild bunch with skull helmets that like to hangout in cemeteries and obsess over dead stuff. The leader kills himself to actually be reborn as “the living dead”. The rest of his crew follow suit and we get an evil biker gang that is seemingly immortal, indestructible and have super strength.

This film could have been something really cool but in the end, it was mostly a bore without any real frights or scares and it was all just really nonsensical and pointless.

The biker leader is the bratty son of some rich psychic lady with ties to some ancient power or something. The biker brat gets some mysterious frog and they are able to harness its mystical powers so that the young man can become a handsome leather clad zombie biker. In fact, when the biker brat emerges from the grave on his motorcycle, he has no dirt on him and his hair looks like some model’s from a 1970s Short & Sassy shampoo commercial.

The movie suffers from the fact that there isn’t a likable person in it. Everyone is actually kind of deplorable. The one character that is supposed to be the innocent girl about to be victimized by the zombie bikers is actually a member of the gang that just doesn’t have any interest in being undead. Still, she is a part of this gang of nincompoops and the audience shouldn’t really give a shit about her.

Our biker zombies never really become zombies anyway. They just look the same but they can easily murder people with their bare hands and Incredible Hulk grip.

This is a dumb and pointless movie and the music throughout it is horrible. I don’t hate it though; it isn’t total shit. It just sort of exists in a weird limbo. It could have been something interesting but it failed to be good and it failed to be bad. Had it been atrociously bad, it could have been somewhat endearing. It was just a boring dud with no style and not a lot of substance.