Film Review: They Call Me Bruce? (1982)

Also known as: A Fistful of Chopsticks (working title)
Release Date: November 12th, 1982
Directed by: Elliott Hong
Written by: David B. Randolph
Music by: Tommy Vig
Cast: Johnny Yune, Margaux Hemingway, Pam Huntington, Ralph Mauro

Gold Pine Productions, 87 Minutes

Review:

“I am a sex object. I always ask women for sex, and they object.” – Bruce

I remember Joe Bob Briggs talking about this movie in one of his …Goes to the Drive-In books. I’ve never seen it but it was always in the back of my mind as something worth checking out because Joe Bob liked it.

Well, I actually didn’t expect that I’d like it as much as I did and it’s a movie that I wish I would’ve known about as a kid because I really would’ve dug it.

The film is full of goofy, absurdist humor and it’s almost slapstick at times. It follows a Korean guy that sucks at martial arts and is pretty much a coward. He idolizes Bruce Lee though, so he tries to follow in the man’s heroic footsteps. The mob bosses he works for also refer to him as “Bruce” due to his “resemblance” to Bruce Lee.

The film stars Johnny Yune and this is the only film I’ve seen him in. He’s actually damn good and carries the film on his own, even though there’s a little bit of help from Margaux Hemingway.

Yune’s charm is pretty infectious though and you can tell that he was enjoying making the film and had no qualms about playing a cowardly but lovable fool.

While the film’s script isn’t one of a high standard, even for ’80s comedies, it still features a good character arc that sees this loser evolve into something closer to what he envisions for himself.

It’s not a memorable film but it is a unique one in that I haven’t really seen anything else like it.

So I guess I should now track down its sequel, which I didn’t know existed until after I watched this film and started reading up on it and Yune.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: its sequel, as well as other martial arts comedies.

Comic Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Vol. 8: Northampton

Published: June 17th, 2014
Written by: Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz
Art by: Sophie Campbell
Based on: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird

IDW Publishing, 105 Pages

Review:

After the first seven volumes in this series, the team needed a breather and some time to reflect on where they’ve come. This was that break, which was fine and, as a reader, allowed me to kick back and read as these characters developed more and dealt with some emotional baggage that needed to be processed.

That’s not to say that there isn’t action here, there certainly is. But for the most part, it takes a bit of a backseat to the characters working through their issues and moving forward in what feels like a new era in the larger TMNT saga.

The story takes place in farm country, as April, Casey and the Turtles take a vacation from their crazy, dangerous lives in New York City. This also gets into more backstory regarding the experiments that led to the creation of the mutants and the sort of business that drives Baxter Stockman’s company. We also see Alopex, a villain thus far, try to turn over a new leaf and repent for her previous sins against the heroes.

I guess the biggest thing here, though, is seeing Leonardo work through his demons, as he’s just recently broke the spell of control that Shredder and the Foot Clan had over him.

This chapter in the saga came with a new artist. At first, I wasn’t feeling it but I quickly got passed it and it worked for me. It just has a different look than the volumes that came out before this one but after it initially being a distraction, it sort of smoothed out as I kept reading.

Overall, this is probably the slowest volume of the lot, so far, but it didn’t feel like filler and the breather felt necessary. Plus, these collections only cover four issues and you can read them very quickly.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the rest of IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles run.

Video Game Review: Kung Fu (NES)

Kung Fu was one of the first Nintendo games that I owned. My cousin had the system about six months before I did but when I got mine later that year at Christmas, this was one of the games that “Santa” dropped off with it.

loved this fucking game and used to play it for hours, even though you can actually beat it in like ten minutes. I didn’t care about how repetitive it was and how basic as fuck the level design was, it was just a badass game with a badass dude throwing lightning fast kicks and unimpressive punches. Just use the kicks, man!

I also noticed, as a kid, that this was a lot like the plot to Bruce Lee’s Game of Death, where the hero has to fight through five levels of a pagoda, facing a tough boss on each level. I’m pretty sure this took its inspiration from that film’s general premise but it also adds in lots of baddies and unique bosses that weren’t trying to emulate the character from the Lee film.

For the time, the mechanics of this game were superb. While you can get overwhelmed by enemies if you aren’t precise, most mistakes are due to human error and not the game being a piece of shit.

There’s not a lot of strategy to this game. Just kick and don’t get hit. When you fight the bosses, sweeping the leg works for most of them. Just unload lightning fast leg sweeps and be done with them.

While this is one of the best side scrolling beat’em ups from the earliest days of the original Nintendo, it did get overshadowed by games like Double Dragon. 

Still, this is one smooth game that packs a punch and is still fun to blast through every now and again.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other side scrolling beat’em action games for the original Nintendo.

Film Review: Kill or Be Killed (1976)

Also known as: Karate Olympia (South African English title), Karate Killer (original US release)
Release Date: June 17th, 1976 (South Africa)
Directed by: Ivan Hall
Written by: C.F. Beyers-Boshoff
Cast: James Ryan, Charlotte Michelle, Nroman Coombes, Raymond Ho-Tong, Danie DuPlessis, Stan Schmidt

Kavalier Films, Film Ventures International, 90 Minutes

Review:

When I watched and reviewed this film’s sequel, I didn’t know that this one existed. I guess it kind of flew under my radar for years.

Overall, it’s probably a better movie than its sequel but I’d say that it’s less enjoyable, as the sequel was more bonkers than this one and it was just much more over the top.

That’s not to say that this one also isn’t a bit crazy.

The story is about a Nazi general that felt embarrassed when his fighting team lost in the Olympics way back in the day because Miyagi, the leader of the Japanese team, paid off the judges with diamonds. Now, years later, the general trains and holds tournaments in a fortress in the desert.

This brings in James Ryan, as Steve – the same character he plays in the sequel, who is essentially a badass karate fighter that is forced to fight in the Nazi dude’s tournament. This movie is basically a ’90s fighting game with a Nazi twist to it.

Steve and his girlfriend want to escape the Nazi fortress but they run into problems along the way but end up getting assistance from other fighters and a midget that is sympathetic to them, even though he is the henchman of the Nazi general.

See, this movie is pretty nuts.

Anyway, it’s fairly enjoyable for what it is and I loved the locations where this movie was shot. South Africa is pretty beautiful and it provided some spectacular landscapes that made this low budget action flick seem like a much bigger production.

I thought the tournament fights and general action sequences were well done and even though this doesn’t hold a candle to the best action films Cannon made in the ’80s, it really channels the same sort of energy and vibe. It’s almost like this is a proto-Cannon film.

Overall, most people would probably serve themselves best by skipping this movie. But for those of us who enjoy martial arts schlock from outside of the US, this is worth checking out.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: its sequel, Kill and Kill Again.

Film Review: Mad Monkey Kung Fu (1979)

Also known as: Mad Monkey (Germany)
Release Date: October 5th, 1979 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Lau Kar-leung
Written by: Ni Kuang
Music by: Eddie Wang
Cast: Hsiao Ho, Lau Kar-leung, Lo Lieh, Kara Hui, Ching Chu

Shaw Brothers, 116 Minutes

Review:

This was one of my favorite kung fu movies that used to pop up on cable when I was a kid. I’d watch it every time I came across it and my cousins and I would often times try to replicate what we saw in the film.

It’s also one of the pictures that led to us actually taking up martial arts. We wanted to be as cool as the heroes in this film, as well as the heroes in other innovative martial arts flicks like it. Then as the ’80s rolled on, we got more into ninja shit but it all really started with the clever and amusing Shaw Brothers films like this gem.

Watching it now, it all sort of came back to me. Honestly, I barely remembered the movie and a lot of the kung fu pictures of that era sort of blended together in my head. But certain scenes and sequences just triggered that nostalgia bug in my brain.

For what this is, it has aged really well and the film has this cool, youthful energy about it that makes it a lot of fun to watch, even as an adult with back problems that can’t do 1/10th of the martial arts that he thought he could do well as a kid.

As much as I enjoy Lo Lieh’s work, I actually forgot he was in this. It was cool seeing him get to ham it up while also being a total badass.

This is one of those kung fu classics that is really the perfect type of late ’70s/early ’80s drive-in action movie. It’s got just about everything you’d want in a Shaw Brothers film and just a wee bit more.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Shaw Brothers kung fu flicks.

Video Game Review: Double Dragon III: The Rosetta Stone (Arcade)

Double Dragon III: The Rosetta Stone is the only Double Dragon game that I didn’t play in the arcade and I only had the original Nintendo version to recount from memory.

This differs from the Nintendo version, which had an alternate start to the game and also felt like a wonky rebuild of the two games that came before it. It was also hard as fuck when compared to the other two games and it wasn’t fun to play.

At least with the arcade version, you can just pop in more quarters and keep playing without having to start over. Playing this now on a RetroPie, you have all the quarters you want and don’t have to worry about forking over all your allowance and weekly lunch money.

Like its predecessors, this is a side scrolling beat’em up action game. In this chapter of the series, however, you travel the world hunting for MacGuffins.

Apart from that, the game is really just a rehash of the ones before it. Where the second game altered its mechanics in a fairly shitty way, this game at least tried to make them more like the original. Still, they don’t seem to work quite as well but I think that’s due to this game’s reworking of its weapons system.

As opposed to beating someone’s ass and taking their weapon, you now accrue a sort of currency that allows you to purchase items (and I believe upgrades). The in-game system was a bit of a clusterfuck, so I just ignored it and just kept kicking baddies in the chin.

This isn’t great but it is better than the second game. In the end, though, nothing from the franchise tops the first, original Double Dragon arcade game.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Double Dragon games, as well as other side scrolling beat’em ups from the era.

Film Review: Batman Begins (2005)

Also known as: Batman 5 (working title), Batman: Intimidation (script title), The Intimidation Game (fake working title)
Release Date: May 31st, 2005 (Tokyo premiere)
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer
Based on: characters by DC Comics
Music by: Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard
Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Ken Watanabe, Mark Boone Junior, Jack Gleeson

DC Comics, Syncopy, Warner Bros., 140 Minutes

Review:

“But I know the rage that drives you. That impossible anger strangling the grief, until the memory of your loved one is just… poison in your veins. And one day, you catch yourself wishing the person you loved had never existed, so you would be spared your pain.” – Henri Ducard

When this first came out on DVD, I watched it almost weekly for a few years. I loved this film and to me, at least at the time, it was the greatest Batman film ever made. Hell, before the DVD release, I think I saw this at least three times in the theater.

I would end up liking The Dark Knight even more but the Nolan trilogy started with this film and it was a great introduction to his more serious and realistic Batman film series.

In retrospect now, I like the 1989 Batman slightly better but it’s magic was undone by the later films that followed and even though it took eight years, Batman Begins was the cinematic reboot that we needed after the Schumacher Batman pictures.

This film is so good, as are the ones that follow, that I’ve kind of accepted that no one will ever make a Batman film series as great. Frankly, these are the best films that Christopher Nolan has made and while the first film in a trilogy can often times feel like a practice run, this one is fairly close to perfect.

My only real gripe about it is that the pacing feels a bit disjointed at times. But there is also a lot of story and a lot of characters to balance here. I think that Nolan got much better with that in the next film. These aren’t things that break the film in any way but if I can’t give this a perfect score, I feel that I should explain why.

This is still energetic and every scene feels necessary. But it also feels like so much was wedged into it that it could’ve actually benefited from an extra 20-30 minutes. And that’s not something I’m usually a fan of, as I love 90 minute running times and this picture is already well over two hours. But when a film is this good, I never seem to mind that it requires more of my time.

Nolan got the best possible performances out of all of the actors involved and everyone in this is absolutely perfect. This was well cast and even Katie Holmes, who was replaced in the sequel, pulled off the best performance of her career. Normally, I wouldn’t put her at the same level as everyone else in this movie but she held her own and I was disappointed that she was recast in The Dark Knight.

In closing, this is a stellar motion picture where everything just works in the right way from the direction, cinematography, acting, the musical score by Hans Zimmer and the great character development.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in The Dark Knight Trilogy.

Documentary Review: Henchman: The Al Leong Story (2018)

Release Date: December 15th, 2018
Directed by: Vito Trabucco 
Music by: DJ Disco T.
Cast: Al Leong, John Carpenter, Jeff Imada, Dave Callaham, James Lew

Yinzer Enterprises, 110 Minutes

Review:

Growing up in the ’80s, I saw Al Leong everywhere. I didn’t know who he was; all I knew was that he’s a really unique looking dude that would show up as a henchman to the villain in just about every iconic ’80s action flick.

As I got older, I learned more about him but still, most people just saw him as that dude that popped up all over the place, who eventually got killed after doing some badass shit.

So I’m glad that this documentary was made, as the guy deserves to be showcased and to have his story told to all the fans who have appreciated him over the last four decades.

Leong’s story is much deeper and richer than I had expected and it was fantastic getting to hear him talk about his life in his own words.

We also get to see his colleagues discuss him and his career. It’s really cool seeing John Carpenter talk about Leong and why he used him in his films so often.

Overall, this isn’t a great documentary but it will satisfy fans of the guy’s work or just those who remember seeing him everywhere.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about character actors and filmmaking in the ’80s.

Comic Review: Cobra Kai: Johnny’s Story

Published: July 8th, 2020
Written by: Denton J. Tipton
Art by: Kagan McLeod
Based on: characters by Robert Mark Kamen

IDW Publishing, 100 Pages

Review:

I’ve gotta say, this was better than I expected it to be. However, the fourth and final issue was a bit underwhelming.

This basically tells the story of the first Karate Kid movie from the perspective of Johnny. It shows scenes we all know but with Johnny as the main character, filling in the plot with new scenes that show how he feels about Daniel swooping in and winning over Alli, as well as his home life and a bit of his childhood drama.

We also get to see more of how John Kreese came into Johnny’s life and how his toxic influence led to Johnny making some bad decisions.

In the end, we also see Kreese walking off in disgust after Johnny loses to Daniel.

The problem with this is that it can’t stand on its own and it relies on you having seen The Karate Kid. Being that it also features Johnny talking to his students from Cobra Kai, you probably need to watch that show in order to get the full context of events.

I wasn’t a fan of the art and it felt sort of rushed and half-assed. But the story more than makes up for it and once you’re reading it, the art doesn’t matter as much. It’s not bad art, it’s just not great.

I’m not sure if there are more Cobra Kai comics planned but I’d probably read them.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: the Cobra Kai television series, as well as the original Karate Kid trilogy of films.

Comic Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Vol. 6 & 7: City Fall

Published: November 20th, 2013
Written by: Kevin B. Eastman, Tom Waltz
Art by: Kevin B. Eastman, Mateus Santolouco
Based on: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird

IDW Publishing, 208 Pages

Review:

Man, this was fucking good!

In fact, I’d say that this was the best story arc I’ve read out of all the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics I’ve picked up over the years. I even like it better than all the stories in all the other forms of media where the Turtles appear. This beats out all the films, as well as the cartoon episodes I’ve seen from various different series.

This is the culmination of all the build up from the five previous volumes in the IDW comics run. It’s a story where the stakes are extremely high and it does a lot to change the lives of most of the core characters.

The most interesting thing, here, is the Foot Clan’s abduction of Leonardo, which leads to him being brainwashed and turned into an evil pawn of Shredder. We end up with the three remaining good turtles having to push forward without their leader in an effort to bring him back to the light without hurting or maiming him.

There is a lot of emotional stuff in this story arc, which takes up two volumes. But it’s not just emotions with the Turtles, we also get a lot of stuff with Casey Jones and his shitty father, as well as his childhood friend trying to find her place in the world. Additionally, April O’Neil starts to realize things about herself and her feelings for Casey. Beyond that, there’s a lot of character development with Shredder’s granddaughter, as she doesn’t trust Leonardo and also wants to prove herself to her evil grandfather.

Some other characters from earlier volumes also make their return and some allegiances are formed with certain enemies. Plus, we also get the debut of Bebop & Rocksteady.

This was fantastic from top to bottom. It was a perfect balance between character development and action packed storytelling. It was also a stupendous payoff for those who have made it thus far into the series. I’m assuming that what lies ahead will also be pretty great.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the rest of IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles run.