Film Review: Fear of a Black Hat (1993)

Also known as: The Trial of N.W.H. (working title)
Release Date: January 24th, 1993 (Sundance)
Directed by: Rusty Cundieff
Written by: Rusty Cundieff
Music by: Jim Manzie, Larry Robinson, N.W.H.
Cast: Rusty Cundieff, Larry B. Scott, Mark Christopher Lawrence, Kasi Lemmons, Faizon Love, Deezer D, Kurt Loder, Lance Crouther, Monique Gabrielle (uncredited)

Incorporated Television Company (ITC), Oakwood Productions, The Samuel Goldwyn Company, 88 Minutes

Review:

“The black man was the first sensitive man, long before Alan Alda.” – Tone Def

Fear of a Black Hat was a pretty critically acclaimed film when it came out but unfortunately, it bombed at the box office. But it also didn’t get into a lot of theaters.

I think part of the problem was that the story was very, very similar to Chris Rock’s CB4. And while CB4 beat Fear of a Black Hat to mainstream theaters, Fear was actually made first and was on the festival circuit when Rock’s comedy film hit cinemas.

Looking at the timeline, it’s actually possible that Chris Rock lifted the idea for his film from this one. But whether or not there was thievery involved or it’s just a crazy coincidence, I enjoy both movies and for very different reasons.

That being said, this is the better film of the two. The humor is smarter, I like the authentic documentary style of this one and this movie had more original music created for it, all of which was pretty fantastic even if this was parody.

It’s written and directed by Rusty Cundieff, who also starred as one of the three rappers in the film. He had success later with Tales From the Hood but he also worked on Chappelle’s Show and acted in the films Hollywood Shuffle and School Daze.

Cundieff is a witty writer though and he also had a knack for picking the right actors to star alongside him. Specifically, the other rappers, played by the underrated Larry B. Scott and Mark Christopher Lawrence. I also really enjoyed Kasi Lemmons as the documentary filmmaker that was chronicling the lives of the main characters.

The story is that this is a documentary about a notorious gangsta rap group that are an obvious parody of N.W.A. The film deconstructs what was the rap industry at the time and it’s honestly, a pretty brilliant critique on it. I feel like this hits more points than CB4, which is more of a standard comedy film. Both movies are fun but this one seems to cover more ground and is written in a way that just seems like it was better thought out. Plus, this feels more genuine and real. And I don’t want to sound like I’m knocking Chris Rock’s CB4, it’s just hard to talk about either film without comparing them and discussing, the strengths and weaknesses between them.

Fear of a Black Hat is certainly much more indie feeling and less polished but that is also why it feels more realistic and better in tune with the industry it was examining.

At the end of the day, if you’re going to watch one of these two films, you might as well check out both.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the film that possibly borrowed a lot from this one: CB4.

Film Review: Iron Eagle (1986)

Release Date: January 17th, 1986
Directed by: Sidney J. Furie
Written by: Kevin Alyn Elders, Sidney J. Furie
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Louis Gossett Jr., Jason Gedrick, David Suchet, Larry B. Scott, Caroline Lagerfelt, Tim Thomerson, Shawnee Smith, Melora Hardin, Lance LeGault, Jerry Levine, Robbie Rist, Michael Bowen

Delphi Films, Falcon’s Flight, TriStar Pictures, 117 Minutes

Review:

“I wonder what a Cessna looks like splattered all over those rocks?” – Packer

This doesn’t survive on nostalgia points for me. Honestly, I didn’t even like this film as a kid. I mean, I enjoyed the last half hour, as that’s where the action comes in but everything leading up to that was really damn boring.

Seeing this now, and it has been at least thirty years, I was surprised that I wasn’t pulled into it a bit more as it features two teen actors from the time that I really liked: Larry B. Scott and Jerry Levine.

But the real problem with this movie is that it’s too damn long. I mean, this is nearly two full hours and only the last half hour is actually somewhat enjoyable. And to be honest, they could’ve lobbed 30 to 40 minutes off of this thing and no one would’ve noticed.

Additionally, even though the actual mission at the end is fairly fun, it’s full of flaws and errors that are distracting.

The main thing that sticks out is the editing. There are multiple moments in the movie where the video loop behind the pilots’ heads resets. So you’re looking at closeups of pilots in the cockpit talking and the background goes from a clouded sky to a quick jump of clear sky.

Plus, there are mistakes in how the action is edited that don’t make sense from a logistic and physics standpoint.

I think the thing that may irritate more than the shoddy editing is the models used for the planes, as every time one explodes, it is obviously a miniature and made of wood. Fighter jets don’t splinter like a balsa wood chair in a Chaplin movie. But I get it, it’s the ’80s, CGI didn’t exist like it does now and the film had a modest budget. But no one could call in a favor to one of the guys that worked on model making for the Star Wars or Star Trek films?

The acting is pretty bad too. And even though Louis Gossett Jr. has shown that he has chops, I think that it is this movie that actually wrecked his career. He went from An Officer and a Gentleman to this? But hey, at least it allowed him to have his own franchise, which he would then have to rely on over the course of three shitty sequels.

Seeing Iron Eagle now, I don’t hate it. It just would have been much better with a lot of stuff left on the cutting room floor and a bit more refinement in the film’s action packed climax.

I’m going to completely ignore the fact that the plot is stupid because this is the ’80s and it was escapism for kids, trying to capitalize off of the popularity of movies like Red Dawn. But in case you don’t know what the plot is, it’s about a decorated Colonel that helps a teenager steal an Air Force fighter plane to attack an enemy country in an effort to save the kid’s dad. Let that marinate for a minute.

So if I ever do watch this again, I’ll just skip to the finale and ignore the plot details.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: probably its subpar sequels and other ’80s and ’90s teens movies that throw kids into war or combat like Red Dawn, The Rescue and Toy Soldiers.

Film Review: Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds In Paradise (1987)

Release Date: July 10th, 1987
Directed by: Joe Roth
Written by: Dan Guntzelman, Steve Marshall
Based on: characters by Tim Metcalfe, Miguel Tejada-Flores, Steve Zacharias, Jeff Buhai
Music by: Mark Mothersbaugh, Gerald V. Casale
Cast: Robert Carradine, Timothy Busfield, Andrew Cassese, Curtis Armstrong, Larry B. Scott, Donald Gibb, James Cromwell, Anthony Edwards, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Bradley Whitford, Ed Lauter, James Hong

Interscope Communications, 20th Century Fox, 89 Minutes

Review:

“There could be a nuclear war; there’d be nothing left but cockroaches and nerds.” – Roger

I wouldn’t say that this is a better movie than its predecessor but for some reason, I enjoy Nerds II more than I enjoy Nerds I. That could also be because of the fact that I was briefly on the set of this film when they were shooting the scenes at the front exterior of the hotel, which was the Embassy Suites in Fort Lauderdale, which wasn’t too far from my father’s house back then.

Another benefit of this movie is that it doesn’t feature any creepy behavior from the nerds. As I discussed in my review of the previous film, Louis raped a girl, filmed and broadcasted an entire girls’ dorm in their private moments and even hid in a girl’s shower to see her naked.

This film was also PG-13 and not R, so that probably had a lot to do with the lack of boobies and rape behavior. But being that this was PG-13 made it just a stoner comedy and not a teen sex comedy. However, by 1987, teen sex comedies had sort of run their course.

The plot for this film isn’t to dissimilar from its predecessor. The nerds have to rise to the challenges put in front of them by the jocks and the cool kids. The Alpha Betas return to be the villains but this is a new group where Ogre is the only returning member from the previous movie. The new group is lead by quintessential ’80s dickhead Bradley Whitford. I call him a “dickhead” but that was what he played a lot back then. He’s grown to become a pretty accomplished actor but I still remember him most fondly for his roles like the one here, Adventures In Babysitting and Billy Madison. He was superb in Get Out and I am really looking forward to seeing him in next year’s Godzilla sequel.

Most of the key nerds return for this film except for Brian Tochi. Also, Anthony Edwards wasn’t a fan of the script and even though he is in this, his role was significantly reduced to being a glorified cameo in a few scenes. Ted McGinley and John Goodman aren’t in this either, which kind of sucked but Whitford really carried the ball and ran with it.

We also get the addition of Courtney Thorne-Smith but she doesn’t have a lot to do other to to pine over Louis but nothing happens between them and Louis is still with Betty, the girl he raped into a relationship in the first movie. Louis and Betty are married by the time Nerds III rolled around.

So the main difference between this movie and Nerds I is that it is set in a “tropical paradise”: Fort Lauderdale. Also, the nerds are holed up in a really shitty hotel that has a boisterous Cuban lady and the legendary James Hong as a sort of zen master for Booger’s gross antics. Also, Ogre becomes a nerd by the end of the film. I actually kind of liked this bit, as Ogre doesn’t really fit in with the jocks, other than being used for his muscle power and intimidation.

Based off of the reviews and ratings I’ve seen for this film, it’s not as beloved as the original. But in all honesty, it’s not that bad if you are a fan of the first one.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: The original Revenge of the Nerds but the sequels after this one get pretty terrible.

Film Review: Revenge of the Nerds (1984)

Release Date: July 20th, 1984 (limited)
Directed by: Jeff Kanew
Written by: Steve Zacharias, Jeff Buhai, Tim Metcalfe, Miguel Tejada-Flores
Music by: Thomas Newman
Cast: Robert Carradine, Anthony Edwards, Ted McGinley, Bernie Casey, Timothy Busfield, Andrew Cassese, Curtis Armstrong, Larry B. Scott, Brian Tochi, Julie Montgomery, Michelle Meyrink, Donald Gibb, James Cromwell, John Goodman, David Wohl

Interscope Communications, 20th Century Fox, 90 Minutes

Review:

“You know, when you were a baby in your crib, your father looked down at you, he had but one hope – ‘Someday, my son will grow to be a man.’ Well look at you now; you just got your asses whipped, by a bunch of goddamn nerds. Nerds! Well, if I was you, I’d do something about it. I would get up and redeem myself in the eyes of my father, my Maker, and my coach!” – Coach Harris

I probably haven’t watched this in ten years and I guess when I was a kid in the ’80s, this was a lot of laughs. It’s still got some funny moments but I’m not as nostalgic about it as I thought I would be. I know that some people consider this a classic ’80s comedy and while I guess it was popular enough and has sustained some of the popularity over the decades since its release, as they tease a remake every few years, it just doesn’t feel like a classic in the same way that GhostbustersPolice AcademyFast Times at Ridgemont High or even Real Genius does.

It is also a teen sex comedy, which were all the rage back then. This one is kind of light on the sex but you do get some solid nudity and sexual tomfoolery. However, some of it seems really weird when you watch it now but I’ll explain that in a minute.

The story is about these nerds that go to college and soon discover that they are nerds because somehow this never came up in their lives before. Sorry, but I find it hard to believe that these 18 year-old young men weren’t made fun of before they arrived at college, especially with how society in this film responds to them. Everyone hates nerds with extreme passion. Not just the jocks, mind you, but everyone.

So the jocks take the nerds dorms after they burn down their own frat house. The nerds try to make do with the situation but everyone rejects them and not just college kids but absolutely every single person they turn to. Even the fraternity they become a member of doesn’t want them and they only get their foot in the door due to a loophole in the fraternity’s own rule book.

Eventually the nerds win everyone over (except the jocks) but the extreme hatred of nerds is so outlandish and ridiculous that even though this is an over the top oddball comedy, none of this is remotely believable.

But the gags and the characters are still good and that’s what makes the film work. I love the ensemble and some of these characters are still great, three decades later. Lewis and Gilbert, the two main nerds are pretty boring but the supporting characters are lovable and fantastic.

Booger, played by the underappreciated Curtis Armstrong, is a rude and crude bastard but he’s hilarious. Timothy Busfield’s Poindexter is a one note character but he constantly hurts himself and screams like a nitwit. Larry B. Scott’s Lamar is a flamboyantly gay nerd and probably the first outlandish gay character I ever saw in a movie. I love Lamar and his friendship with the young Wormser is great, especially the bits where they do aerobics and dance together.

The real show stealers in this are the two main villains, actually. The main jock is played by Ted McGinley and it is the best role he’s done other than playing Jefferson D’Arcy on Married… with Children. You also have John Goodman as the drill sergeant like coach of the jocks. But I also have to point out how much I like Donald Gibb in this, as he plays the jocks’ muscle, a beefy bonehead named Ogre.

Now watching this thirty-plus years later, some parts of this movie are really fucked up. The nerds are actually terrible people and frankly, I kind of wanted the jocks to bash their heads in, even though they were shitheads too.

You see, the nerds invade the girls’ dorm and setup cameras everywhere in an effort to spy on them in their most private moments. This is played up for comedy, as I guess this sort of behavior was okay in the ’80s. Louis even hides in the shower of a girl to surprise her when she’s naked. Seriously, if some dude in a black hoodie was hiding in a girl’s shower in 2018, he’d probably get shot. Well, not on 2018 campuses where people hate guns and need safe spaces. Louis then ups his creep factor when he disguises himself as the girl’s boyfriend and has sex with her. M’kay… is this not rape? But the girl responds by falling in love with him. She probably won’t even care that Louis and his nerd buddies were watching her sleep in her panties for weeks.

Now I’m not really in an uproar about these things because this is a dumb ’80s teen sex comedy but watching those scenes is sort of cringy in 2018. But again, this is supposed to be a funny, stupid movie that plays best when you’re stoned on the couch with your friends spilling cheap beer on room temperature pizza that’s been sitting out for three days since your weekly Atari tournament.

Anyway, this is still a goofy movie that’s good at killing 90 minutes of your time. I don’t like this as much as Weird Science but hey, it’s got more tits in it.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds In Paradise but the sequels after that get pretty terrible.

Film Review: ‘The Karate Kid’ Trilogy (1984-1989)

The Karate Kid made a pretty big cultural impact in 1984. It had two sequels featuring the main cast, as well as a spin-off sequel and a nonsensical remake. It also influenced a ton of 80s kids to take up karate.

Let me address each film individually.

The Karate Kid (1984):

Release Date: June 22nd, 1984
Directed by: John G. Avildsen
Written by: Robert Mark Kamen
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Ralph Macchio, Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, Elisabeth Shue, William Zabka, Martin Kove, Randee Heller, Chad McQueen, Tony O’Dell, Ron Thomas, Rob Garrison, Frances Bay, Peter Jason, Larry B. Scott

Columbia Pictures, 127 Minutes 

karate_kidReview:

The first film is the best overall. I would consider it to be a classic. Sure, it can be 80s cheesy but that is also a lot of the appeal. It still feels pretty realistic and has a grittiness to it.

The film was directed by John G. Avildsen and the score was done by Bill Conti. Both men worked on the original Rocky and there are plenty of similarities between that film and this one. Just make the hero younger and switch out boxing for karate and there you go. But as emotional as Rocky was, The Karate Kid may actually have more depth and character.

Sure, some of my love of this film is due to nostalgia but it still resonates today. The message is timeless. It is about standing up for yourself and not backing down or succumbing to fear. But it also shows how bad kids can be created by the influence of bad adults. It is also about friendship in its purest form, as teenage Daniel and the elderly Miyagi have one of the strongest bonds in motion picture history. There is a lot to take away from this film.

It is shot well, directed well and the music is perfect, whether it is the score or the pop tunes of the time. In fact, some of the epic landscape shots, enhanced by the beautiful score, are majestic. The cinematography was superb.

It also just hits you right in the feels.

The Karate Kid, Part II (1986):

Release Date: June 20th, 1986
Directed by: John G. Avildsen
Written by: Robert Mark Kamen
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Ralph Macchio, Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, Nobu McCarthy, Tamlyn Tomita, Yuji Okumoto, Danny Kamekona, William Zabka, Martin Kove, Chad McQueen, Tony O’Dell

Columbia Pictures, 113 Minutes 

karate_kid_part_iiReview:

This film picks up at the point where the first one ended, which was kind of cool. It then follows Daniel and Miyagi as they travel to Okinawa to see Miyagi’s sick father. While there, a former best-friend turned rival challenges Miyagi and the heroes must face stakes much higher than those of the first film.

This is a beautiful picture. Even though it takes place in Okinawa, it was filmed mostly in Hawaii. But the island village life and the geography are well captured and become characters in the film.

The scenes between Miyagi and his long lost love Yukie are both heartbreaking and heartwarming and really make an impact in this film, more so than the love story between Daniel and his new love interest.

As a kid, I liked this film better than the first but that was due to the exotic feel of it and the fact that Daniel was forced to fight to the death. The threat in this film is just so much more real than the petty squabbles of teenagers from the first movie. But as an adult, I can see that the original is superior.

This film doesn’t get the respect it deserves by critics or IMDb, as it is certainly better than its 5.9 rating.

The Karate Kid, Part III (1989):

Release Date: June 30th, 1989
Directed by: John G. Avildsen
Written by: Robert Mark Kamen
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Ralph Macchio, Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, Robyn Lively, Thomas Ian Griffith, Martin Kove, Sean Kanan, Randee Heller, Frances Bay

Columbia Pictures, 112 Minutes 

karate_kid_part_iiiReview:

While this might be the worst film of the original trilogy, it is still better than the 2010 remake and that 1994 abomination, The Next Karate Kid.

This film sees John Kreese, the leader of the villainous Cobra Kai from the first film, join forces with his war buddy in an effort to get revenge against Daniel and Miyagi. Their plan is to tear apart the bond between Daniel and Miyagi while finding a challenger that can crush Daniel and take his title.

The spirit of the series is still alive in the relationship of Daniel and Miyagi but that is where it ends, really. You still love the characters and it is hard to watch them struggle, as they find themselves at odds with one another for the first time. But this film also has some of the sweetest moments between the two characters, as Daniel sacrifices a lot to help his mentor achieve his dreams.

This is still a movie worth your time, if you like the series. It’s not great but it’s not a total waste either.

Although, I find it hard to believe that the villainous Kreese and Terry Silver just walked away after this film ends. And I have to wonder what’s wrong with Daniel after striking out with three girls in three films. Can we maybe get some sort of follow-up or update?

Maybe I’ll write and direct The Karate Kid, Part VII, disregarding the nonexistent films Part IV, V and VI. In my film, Earth is in a post-apocalyptic state following the Cobra Kai defeating the military might of the world. Daniel awakes from a coma to find out that he was in a plane crash, orchestrated by the Cobra Kai and that Miyagi has died. He discovers that the Cobra Kai took over the world and now he must lead a band of fighters proficient in Okinawan karate. Daniel and his karate army must stop Terry Silver and John Kreese’s fascist Cobra Kai government. Daniel’s advantage is that Silver and Kreese don’t know he survived the plane crash years earlier. But they are about to discover the truth like a crane kick to the face!