Film Review: Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins (2021)

Also known as: Snake Eyes (informal title)
Release Date: July 21st, 2021 (Indonesia, Iceland, Italy)
Directed by: Robert Schwentke
Written by: Evan Spiliotopoulos, Joe Shrapnel, Anna Waterhouse
Based on: Snake Eyes by Larry Hama; G.I. Joe by Hasbro
Music by: Martin Todsharow
Cast: Henry Golding, Andrew Koji, Úrsula Corberó, Samara Weaving, Haruka Abe, Takehiro Hira, Iko Uwais, Peter Mensah

Skydance Media, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount Pictures, 121 Minutes

Review:

“[deciding to run away from the battle] Oh, fuck this!” – The Baroness

Lens flares are back, baby! And I guess they’re getting really fancy and artistic with them now. So much so, that they’ve become more important than the action and you find yourself looking for them, as opposed to focusing on the fights, that are already obscured by this effect, as well as choppy editing, sloppy choreography and what’s apparently the director not giving a fuck about anything.

Anyway, this was the third attempt at a live-action G.I. Joe movie and it’s also a huge step backwards from Retaliation, which had its problems but was also leaning hard into the right direction. With Retaliation, a follow up never came because Hasbro doesn’t know what the fuck they’re doing with their own properties, anymore. Plus, Paramount has been creatively bankrupt with Hasbro’s properties since they originally acquired them in the mid-’00s.

At least the horrendous G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra kind of resembled G.I. JoeSnake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, on the other hand, is notG.I. Joe movie and the title character is not Snake Eyes.

To start, Snake Eyes is a masked, silent ninja. Emphasis on “silent” and “masked”. He’s also a white, blonde American that got disfigured from an accident while trying to save his brothers-in-arms during an actual war.

In this film, he’s Asian, he never wears a mask and he rarely, if ever, doesn’t shut the fuck up. He also doesn’t go to war. Additionally, they didn’t really cast an action guy and Henry Golding, despite his best efforts and I don’t blame him, completely lacked the energy and charisma needed for the role. And this left me wondering how Ray Park, behind a mask and without any dialogue, was able to bring a character like Snake Eyes to life so greatly in the previous two G.I. Joe movies?

The story was the biggest problem with the film and it’s just a very generic ninja movie that just sprinkles in G.I. Joe references because Hasbro is dumb and Paramount is dumber. In my opinion, the best Snake Eyes (and G.I. Joe) movie is 1985’s American Ninja, which isn’t even related to the franchise at all.

Now the acting was pretty shit, for the most part. The Baroness was especially awful and it kind of pisses me off, as she is one of my favorite characters in the franchise. In fact, I like her more than any of the franchise’s characters that were featured in this film. Also, she never looked like the Baroness. Honestly, she looked like an assistant manager at Wet Seal circa 1998.

I don’t know, man. This movie sucked and it was pretty fucking disappointing when the studio had a movie more than half right, eight years ago, and they never followed it up. Plus, they had Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis for fuck’s sake and an impressive and perfect looking Cobra Commander.

Instead, we got some generic ass ninja television pilot for a CW show that no one wanted.

Rating: 4/10

Film Review: Ninja Academy (1989)

Release Date: August 17th, 1989 (UK, video)
Directed by: Nico Mastorakis
Written by: Jonathan D. Gift
Music by: Jerry Grant
Cast: Will Egan, Gerald Okamura, Kelly Randall

Omega Entertainment, 88 Minutes

Review:

“[his only line, after punching a ninja] That’s one dumb son of a bitch.” – The Mime

This is one of those movies that I used to catch on one of the premium cable channels, late at night, when I was like twelve. I thought it was funny enough to watch multiple times when I was that young but I also loved the Police Academy movies and all the other “Academy” films that came out trying to emulate it’s style and success.

While this isn’t as good as the first four or five Police Academy movies, it is at least better than the worst one.

That being said, this involves two rival ninja schools. One is run by an asshole American and has competent ninjas, the other is run by a virtuous Japanese master and his daughter with a new crew of ninjas that are all fish out of water, tripping over their own feet.

As these things go, the bumbling newbs are a joke but they have to band together and overcome the real challenge that awaits them. Eventually, there is a big ninja academy showdown and the losers have to rise to the occasion and become the winners. We’ve all seen a version of this story a hundred times… or, at least, I have.

Anyway, each of the main characters has some sort of gimmick or personality trait that makes them basic archetypes. There’s the cool guy, the cool girl, the slutty girl, the gun nut, the nerd, a fucking mime and a few others. Man, I loved the fucking ninja mime and the the war veteran, gun nut, who was actually a coward… until he wasn’t.

Overall, this is a bad movie and a dumb movie and the vast majority of modern filmgoers will probably hate it. I don’t… but I also really liked these sort of movies way back and it’s definitely not the worst of them.

Although, the fight choreography is beyond atrocious.

Rating: 4/10

Film Review: Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China (complete title)
Release Date: July 2nd, 1986
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Gary Goldman, David Z. Weinstein, W. D. Richter
Music by: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Cast: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong, Kate Burton, Donald Li, Carter Wong, Peter Kwong, James Pax, Suzee Pai, Chao-Li Chi, Jeff Imada, Al Leong, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, James Lew

TAFT Entertainment Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Sooner or later I rub everybody the wrong way.” – Jack Burton

There are very few films I watched more than Big Trouble In Little China once it was out on VHS and I rented it to dub a copy. New release VHS tapes were like $99 back then and I was still way too young to get a real job.

Anyway, I fucking loved this movie when I was a kid and it was really my introduction to John Carpenter. His films before this one were all hard Rs and things like The Thing and Prince of Darkness would’ve given me nightmares for months. Yeah, I loved horror by this point but Carpenter’s hardest films were still way too hard for my 8 year-old brain.

I really loved this because of Kurt Russell. I can’t say that this was my introduction to him but this is probably the first film that made me know who he was.

Beyond Russell, I just loved the giant martial arts battle in the alley and found myself completely in love with this movie as soon as the three elemental dudes showed up along with the evil wizard Lo Pan. That whole sequence and its special effects blew my mind.

By this point, I’ve seen this movie dozens of times. However, it’s been at least five-to-ten years. I’ve felt the itch to revisit it for awhile now and I had to wedge it into my schedule.

I still love this movie. It’s action packed, has a great adventure, cool fantasy and horror shit, a very charismatic lead and it’s a hell of a lot more fun than anything Hollywood puts out today.

I actually enjoy Kurt Russell’s Jack Burton even more now. I think that’s because he’s heroic as hell but he really is this bumbling idiot that fucks up more than he actually does badass things. As a kid it was all just for a laugh but as an adult, I see that he wants to be that heroic guy but he gets in his own way. However, when it really comes to pulling off the big win, the dude succeeds and wins the day… and the girl. Well, until he gets in his own way again.

All the core characters in this movie are great from the heroes-to-the villains and even those with small one-scene roles are pretty memorable.

Back in the day, I loved all the monsters in this movie and seeing them all these years later, they’ve held up well. While Carpenter was working with a fairly decent budget on this movie, there were still limitations. In spite of that, the practical effects still look superb and the not-so-practical ones still pass the test.

Big Trouble In Little China is a movie that has a little bit of all the things I was into when it came out. While my tastes have evolved, these are still things I enjoy.

There are very few movies that are as fun as this one.

Rating: 8.25/10

Video Game Review: Final Fight (Arcade)

Final Fight is a pretty badass side scrolling beat’em up game from the era where I spent a lot of time in arcades. The era that was probably the peak, as far as arcade games were concerned but then arcades started to fizzle out not too long after.

This game exists in the same universe as the Street Fighter series and a lot of the characters from Final Fight would appear in Street Fighter-related games over the years.

With that, this is an incredibly well-crafted, fluid, fun, smack a bitch kinda game.

Final Fight is just a blast to play and it’s aged really well and is definitely one of the best games of its type. While I enjoy Double Dragon a bit more, Final Fight beats out the vast majority of its competition from the same era.

The characters all look cool as hell, the levels are neat and the overall playing time and pacing of the game is damn near perfect.

This would go on to spawn sequels and to see its characters used, again and again, in other Capcom games from the early ’90s till current day.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other Final Fight games, as well as similar side scrolling beat’em ups like the Double Dragon series, the Streets of Rage series, Crime Fighters, etc.

Video Game Review: Bad Dudes Vs. Dragonninja (Arcade)

I’ve played through and beat the original Nintendo port of this game at least a dozen or so times in the last three decades. However, I haven’t actually played through the superior, smoother arcade version since the late ’80s.

There was actually a Bad Dudes arcade cabinet in a convenient store right next to my cousin’s house when we were kids. We dropped a fuck ton of quarters in that machine.

It’s a game that was just too f’n cool for words when I was a kid. Ninjas were awesome! And here, you play as one of two buff Jean-Claude Van Damme looking dudes and smash color coded ninjas by the dozens.

You also got to do it in greatly designed levels where each had a unique look and vibe about them. The moving semi truck and freight train levels just added an extra dose of badassness to the already badass proceedings.

The arcade version is also the best version. It plays smoother, has better graphics, better sound and just exists on a higher level than the NES version, which was watered down by the limitations of the console.

Bad Dudes is, hands down, one of my all-time favorite beat’em up side scrollers of all-time. Revisiting this version of it just solidified that even more.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s beat’em up games like Double Dragon and its sequels, RenegadeCrime Fighters, Final Fight, River City Ransom, Streets of Rage and its sequels, etc.

Video Game Review: Shinobi (Arcade)

Shinobi was a really cool game when it was released in 1987. Ninjas were at their all-time height of coolness and chucking dozens of stars at gutter punks and gangsters was definitely worth a quarter or seventeen.

I never got very far in the game, though. However, now playing through the thing, I know that I used to get about halfway through it before running out of money or giving up in frustration.

The game has pretty good graphics for the time and the gameplay is really smooth. None of the ports of this game did it any justice on home consoles, honestly. However, the console ports did give you a health bar instead of dying on a single hit.

And that’s my only real gripe about the arcade game, as it’s really hard to get through with one-hit deaths. Furthermore, you get knocked back to a checkpoint upon death, which is how not to do side scrolling beat’em up style games.

I guess I could also point out that the game is fairly short, if you can play through it without getting shellacked. I think that the average person will still get a solid half hour out of it, though, as long as they’re not some superstar that can blaze through it like an actual ninja.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other games under the Shinobi brand, as well as the Ninja Gaiden games.

Video Game Review: Ninja Gaiden (Arcade)

Ninja Gaiden is a franchise that is most known for the trilogy of games that were released on the original Nintendo Entertainment System. In fact, I already reviewed those three games and they are the Ninja Gaiden games I am most familiar with and have spent the most time being frustrated over.

This version of Ninja Gaiden has similarities to the first NES game but it is a different beast altogether. This, being an arcade game, plays much more like what’s typical for that style.

Additionally, the graphics and sound are much better, as is the general mechanics and controls.

Instead of being a simple side scroller where one slash of your sword kills common enemies dead, this plays more like a beat’em up in the same vein as Double Dragon, Final Fight or Streets of Rage.

It’s a pretty well crafted game, I like the platforming in it and the fighting is pretty straightforward. The boss battles also aren’t anywhere near as difficult as they were in the NES games.

However, I do have one gripe and that’s the same gripe I have with several games in this style.

When you die, you go back to a checkpoint, as opposed to respawning on the screen like the better beat’em ups of the era. I always preferred this and I think other players did as well, which is why games like Double Dragon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Final Fight soaked up quarters and this just never got as popular in arcades.

Kids wanted to always feel like they were progressing. Knocking them backwards, again and again, in a tough area just makes them want to play something else they feel like they can beat.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Ninja Gaiden games for the arcade, Nintendo and later consoles.

Film Review: Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)

Release Date: April 8th, 2004 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Music by: RZA, Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Julie Dreyfus, Gordon Liu, Michael Parks, James Parks, Bo Svenson, Samuel L. Jackson, Larry Bishop, Sid Haig, Sonny Chiba

Super Cool ManChu, A Band Apart, Miramax, 137 Minutes

Review:

“Bitch, you don’t have a future.” – The Bride

I dropped my review of Kill Bill: Vol. 1 a week ago but I watched them back-to-back and reviewed them that way, as well. But I like to save my last review on Fridays for bigger, well-known films, so that’s why this one dropped out of sequence.

I wanted to watch these back-to-back primarily to get the full effect of the story. I’ve done that before but it’s been a really long time since I’ve watched these and I wanted to really make a day out of it due to how much I loved them when they were still fairly current films.

As I said at the end of my review for the previous film, it was a near masterpiece but it was also outdone by this movie.

I think the main reason for that, is that this one switches to more of a spaghetti western style than the Yakuza revenge flick the previous movie was. Martial arts are still alive and well in this picture, though, and it gives this a really unique feel. Also, despite the tonal differences in the films, the martial arts aspects still tie them together well and in some regards, this reminds me of the Kung-Fu television series, which oddly enough, also featured David Carradine, this film series’ primary antagonist.

I liked the spaghetti western feel because, well, I’m a big fan of that style. This was also Tarantino’s first attempt at delving into a western aesthetic and he did a tremendous job with it. Sure, this is more of a neo-western, as it is set in modern times but it kind of laid a solid foundation for him to build his skills off of in the genre. Without this, he may not have done Django Unchained or The Hateful Eight. Granted, in my opinion, this film is still superior to both of those.

Another thing that makes this the better half of the series, is that it is the culmination of everything that The Bride has set out to achieve. It’s the finale, the big final fight. But this also doesn’t give you a grand final battle. Instead, it subverts expectations in a beautiful and much more meaningful way. Unlike most modern filmmakers who like to take giant shits on well-established franchises like that never-been-laid fucknut Rian Johnson and that fart sommelier J. J. Abrams.

Anyway, the climax of the film is incredible and it has probably the best acting I’ve ever seen from David Carradine, as well as Uma Thurman. You believe that they have a lot of love between them, as well as a lot of anger and it’s fucking heartbreaking to watch, regardless of how many times you’ve seen it. Adding in the fact that there’s a young child placed between them makes the final showdown emotionally tragic but more complex and serious than it otherwise would’ve been. At this point, this moves beyond just being a simple revenge story, as the hope for a real life emerges at the end of The Bride’s violent journey.

Apart from the finale, the film also subverts expectations well in how Bud dies. He’s someone else on The Bride’s hitlist but he gets the best of The Bride and actually defeats her, quite easily. He underestimates her drive, though, and she goes right back on the hunt while he feels he’s safe from her wrath. However, by the time The Bride reaches him again, there’s a pretty big twist, which pits her against Elle, the second to last name on her list.

The fight between The Bride and Elle in Bud’s mobile home is damn good and it utilizes the cramped environment exceptionally well.

In the end, this is just a great fucking motion picture and one of Tarantino’s best, hands down. It’s my favorite and even though it’s not as talked about, these days, as his other movies, it’s still the best of the lot from where I stand.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Kill Bill films, as well as other movies by Quentin Tarantino, as well as the many films this homages.