Film Review: Shootfighter: Fight to the Death (1993)

Also known as: Shootfighter (unofficial shorter title)
Release Date: May 5th, 1993
Directed by: Patrick Alan
Written by: Judd B. Lynn, Larry Feliz Jr., Pete Shaner
Music by: Joel Goldsmith
Cast: Bolo Yeung, Maryam d’Abo, James Pax, William Zabka, Michael Bernardo, Martin Kove, Edward Albert

ANA Productions, 100 Minutes

Review:

As a pretty hardcore Karate Kid fan, it’s probably kind of nuts that I hadn’t seen this film until now. Reason being, for those unaware, is that it reunites the two antagonists from that film (and the Cobra Kai television series) by featuring both William Zabka and Martin Kove.

This also stars martial arts legend and intimidating badass, Bolo Yeung. And what’s really interesting about Bolo’s role in this, is that he is a good guy! He’s actually the sensei of the two young guys that enter a martial arts tournament put on by a madman criminal.

In a way, it’s also strange seeing Zabka play a good guy, as he became famous playing bullies in ’80s teen movies.

This movie came out during the height of fighting games in video arcades across the world. It was also the height of low budget, usually straight-to-VHS martial arts flicks. So the story isn’t too dissimilar from that of a classic fighting game. In fact, the two heroes feel like they’re loosely based on and inspired by Ryu and Ken from the Street Fighter video game series.

I like the heroes here, though. They have a good chemistry and camaraderie and I actually like cheering for Zabka, even though I was always pro-Cobra Kai anyway… sorry, LaRusso.

I don’t usually watch these type of movies and expect to be impressed by them. I tend to like them quite a bit, regardless. However, I was impressed by the action and fight choreography in this. While it’s not the most exceptional martial arts action you’ll ever see, it was on par with the best action coming out of low budget US martial arts flicks from this era.

Also, the tone and style of the film is really good and it feels like a fighting game come to life. I wish my fourteen year-old self would’ve rented this back in 1993 because he would’ve probably loved it and watched it as often as he watched early Van Damme movies, as well as the American Ninja series.

I dug this, a lot. I’m also glad that there’s a sequel because I plan on checking it out in about a week, as I work through my queue.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: its sequel, as well as other early-to-mid-’90s martial arts flicks.

Film Review: Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019)

Also known as: Untitled #9, #9 (working titles)
Release Date: May 21st, 2019 (Cannes)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Music by: various
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Al Pacino, Julia Butters, Mike Moh, Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Samantha Robinson, Rafal Zawierucha, Damon Herriman, Lena Dunham, Maya Hawke, Harley Quinn Smith, Danielle Harris, Scoot McNairy, Clifton Collins Jr., Dreama Walker, Clu Gulager, Martin Kove, Rebecca Gayheart, Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell, Michael Madsen, James Remar, Toni Basil, Quentin Tarantino (voice), Vincent Laresca, Lew Temple, James Marsden (extended release), Walton Goggins (voice, extended release)

Visiona Romantica, Heyday Films, Bona Fide Group, Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures, 161 Minutes

Review:

“When you come to the end of the line, with a buddy who is more than a brother and a little less than a wife, getting blind drunk together is really the only way to say farewell.” – Narrator

It’s probably no secret that I really loved Quentin Tarantino’s earlier films.

However, his more recent stuff hasn’t quite hit the mark for me in the same way. I think a lot of that has to do with his reliance on his dialogue and his films coming across as a handful (or less) of long conversations with a bit of cool shit sprinkled in and an overabundance of ultraviolence that isn’t as effective as it once was and often times feels out of place and jarring.

That being said, I really fucking dug Once Upon a Time In Hollywood.

It’s not a picture without its flaws but it’s well constructed, well written and perfectly paced, which isn’t something I can say for the rest of Tarantino’s more modern pictures.

I haven’t liked a Tarantino movie this much since the Kill Bill films.

I’m not sure what changed in the way that he paces and constructs his movies but this plays much more like Pulp Fiction or Jackie Brown and that’s a very, very good thing.

A lot of credit has to go to the massive cast, all of whom felt perfect in their roles. It was really cool to see Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt play best buds and sort of go on this adventure together. Their characters were an homage to Burt Reynolds and his stuntman, Hal Needham, who were really close and had a tight bond for years.

DiCaprio’s character was also based off of all the television western actors who were once big stars but never seemed to be able to move on to bigger projects and sort of got typecast and brushed aside.

The third main character in the film is Margot Robbie, who plays a fictionalized version of Sharon Tate, the most famous victim in the Charles Manson murders.

However, like Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, this film doesn’t follow history’s path and it carves out its own unique story. But I’ve always really loved alternative history takes in fiction. Hell, The Man In the High Castle by Philip K. Dick is one of my all-time favorite novels. I still haven’t watched the television show, though.

Anyway, the film does run long but it’s not as exhausting as The Hateful Eight. We’re not trapped in one room for three hours, here. Instead, we get to explore old-timey Hollywood in an era where it was leaving its glamorous age behind and moving into the darker, grittier, post-Code era.

There are some scenes, while pretty cool, that probably didn’t need to be in the film and don’t serve much purpose other than amusing the director.

One such scene is the fight between Bruce Lee and Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it but it didn’t serve the story other than to show how cool and tough Booth was but by this point in the movie, we already knew that. It was also a way for Tarantino to wedge in a few more cameos, in this case: Zoe Bell and Kurt Russell, two of his faves.

The sequence that really cemented this film as being pretty solid was the one that took place at the ranch. Here, Brad Pitt’s Booth discovers that an old friend’s ranch has become infested with cultish hippies, who the audience comes to learn are associated with Charles Manson. It’s an absolutely chilling sequence that builds up suspense in a way that I haven’t seen Tarantino do since the opening scene of Inglourious Basterds, a decade prior.

The climax of the film is also well constructed and pretty fucking intense. This is the part of the film where history is altered and we get to see some epic Tarantino-styled justice befall the force of evil that has been brooding over the story for over two hours.

I probably should have seen this in the theater and I believe that it’s the only Tarantino picture that I haven’t seen on the big screen. However, his two previous films exhausted me and I assumed that this would do the same. But I’m glad to say that this seems like a return to form and I hope this momentum carries over into his future projects.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other more modern Tarantino films.

Film Review: Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)

Also known as: Rambo II (unofficial title), Rambo (shortened title)
Release Date: May 22nd, 1985
Directed by: George P. Cosmatos
Written by: Sylvester Stallone, James Cameron, Kevin Jarre
Based on: characters by David Morrell
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Charles Napier, Steven Berkoff, Julia Nickson, Martin Kove, George Cheung, Voyo Goric

Estudios Churubusco Azteca S.A., Anabasis N.V., TriStar Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Pressure? Let me just say that Rambo is the best combat vet I’ve ever seen. A pure fighting machine with only a desire to win a war that someone else lost. And if winning means he has to die, he’ll die. No fear, no regrets. And one more thing: what you choose to call hell, he calls home.” – Trautman

The first Rambo movie, First Blood, is and will always be the best of the Rambo films. Frankly, it’s really hard to top but this one does comes pretty close while being a very different kind of movie.

At their core, both films are action flicks with a one man army fighting for survival against man, the wild and every other dangerous thing that arises.

However, the first picture was more about making a statement regarding the treatment of Vietnam veterans returning from war to a home that didn’t want them while this film was much more about balls out action and fun.

That’s not to say that this chapter in the franchise doesn’t have a message, it does. It sees John Rambo return to Vietnam in an effort to rescue some of the P.O.W.s that were left behind by their own government. The film critiques the U.S. government’s handling of the P.O.W. situation and shows that the government wasn’t actually too keen on getting them out. Rambo is essentially set up to fail but he blasts his way through the dangerous jungle, falls in love, loses love, rescues some soldiers, kills several evil men and then exposes his own government for spitting in the faces of the men that lost their lives and sanity for a government that abandoned them.

There are actually a lot of similarities between this movie and Chuck Norris’ Missing In Action film series. As much as I love those movies, this just feels like a better, more polished version of what those movies were. That being said, Missing In Action was actually rushed out and released in 1984 to avoid a lawsuit, as it was based off of a story treatment that James Cameron wrote for this film.

Out of all the Rambo films, this one features my favorite cast. Alongside Stallone, Crenna gets a bigger role here and then you’ve got the great Martin Kove, who I wish had a bit more screen time, Charles Napier, Steven Berkoff and Julia Nickson, who I will always remember most for her part in this film and how it inspired and gave hope to John Rambo that there could be life beyond war. Additionally, Voyo Goric is in this and while his name might not be known to most people, he was in several action flicks of the time and always played a good, intimidating and convincing heavy.

As an adult, I know and recognize that First Blood is better. However, as a kid, this was my Rambo film, as it was so over the top and action heavy that it made my young mind explode with excitement and wonder. It felt like a G.I. Joe character come to life and it was just violent and cool in a way that makes it a near perfect ’80s action picture. It feels like a Cannon Films movie with a bigger budget and a bigger star. Granted, it could’ve used a few ninjas.

One thing that makes this picture work so well is the pacing. For example, I love Rambo III but it isn’t as good as this one because it has a slow pace that hinders it. I’ll talk about that more when I review it. The pacing here though is perfect, the film keeps moving forward, a lot happens but you don’t get stuck in a spot of fixated on some plot point. Rambo blasts or punches something just about every five minutes.

Some may accuse this of being a mindless action movie, it’s not. It has a message and a point to make but it also doesn’t let that message get in the way of what’s most important: action, muscles, bullets, explosions and heavy machinery.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Rambo movies, as well as other ’80s and early ’90s Stallone movies.

Film Review: The Last House On the Left (1972)

Also known as: Bad Company, Grim Company, Krug & Company, Night of Vengeance, Sex Crime of the Century (working titles)
Release Date: August 30th, 1972
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Wes Craven
Music by: David Alexander Hess
Cast: Sandra Peabody, Lucy Grantham, David A. Hess, Fred Lincoln, Jeramie Rain, Marc Sheffler, Martin Kove

Sean S. Cunningham Films, The Night Co., Hallmark Releasing, 84 Minutes, 64 Minutes (heavily cut), 91 Minutes (original cut), 82 Minutes (R rated cut)

Review:

“How’d we get into the sex-crime business anyway? My brother Saul, a plumber, makes twice as much money as I do and gets three weeks vacation, too.” – Fred “Weasel” Podowski

I’ve never liked this film. To be honest, I’m not a huge Wes Craven fan, even though A Nightmare On Elm Street is one of my favorite horror films of all-time. Outside of the Nightmare series, Craven just hasn’t resonated with me.

This isn’t a good film but hardcore exploitation and grindhouse fans like to convince people that this is some sort of masterpiece. While I don’t mind gore and horrible things and I actually like grindhouse movies, I’ve never been a fan of gore for the sake of gore or shock just to shock. These are cheap parlor tricks and without substance surrounding them to give them purpose or more meaning, these tricks really don’t mean anything.

The Last House On the Left is a rather pointless film that just uses its time to try to disgust you for no other reason than it came out in a time where filmmakers could really do anything that they wanted and young filmmakers, especially, had to push the bar as high as they could just to get noticed. But when everyone is doing the same thing, you’ve got to push the bar so high that the average person on the ground will never see it.

The film is comprised of two halves, which completely ignores a three act structure but hey, Wes Craven is the king or something.

The first half is a long drawn out torture and rape sequence that takes up more than half of the film. The second half is the parents of one of the victims getting revenge on the psychos. Somehow, these parents turn psycho themselves, instead of just calling the cops when these evil people are actually just squatting in their house.

Nothing in this film makes much sense. It’s supposed to freak you out by showing people just being psychotic for no other reason than psychos gonna psycho.

The acting is terrible, the camera work is worse than terrible and the film’s music almost made me go psycho.

Some people think that this is a classic. It’s far from a classic. It’s gratuitous and even then, I’ve seen much worse in that department. Most of all, the film is really fucking slow and boring. Maybe it was effective in 1972 but considering it only appealed to an audience of miscreants jacking off in rundown Times Square porno and grindhouse theaters, this probably was just a regular Tuesday for them.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: Other exploitation films of the era with a high emphasis on gore and horror: I Spit On Your Grave, Cannibal Holocaust, The Hills Have Eyes, Cannibal Ferox.

TV Review: Cobra Kai (2018- )

Original Run: April, 2018 (Tribeca Film Festival) – current
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: characters created by Robert Mark Kamen
Music by: Leo Birenberg, Zach Robinson
Cast: William Zabka, Ralph Macchio, Mary Mouser, Courtney Henggeler, Xolo Mariduena, Tanner Buchanan, Jacob Bertrand, Randee Heller, Peyton List, Martin Kove, Ed Asner

Hurwitz & Schlossberg Productions, Overbrook Entertainment, Sony Pictures Television, YouTube Red, 10 Episodes (so far), 30 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I went to the theatrical premiere of this streaming television series. The premiere consisted of just the first two episodes, so that is all I have to go on for this review. I’ll probably update this and adjust the rating after I’ve seen the completion of the first season.

For those that don’t know, this series takes place now, in 2018. It follows Johnny Lawrence, the main bad guy from the original Karate Kid movie. He’s having a hard time in his fifties and really has nothing going right in his life. He runs into Daniel Larusso a.k.a. Daniel-san and the encounter inspires Johnny to reform the Cobra Kai, because he yearns for his glory days in a typical “peaked in high school” sort of way.

What makes this really damn cool and the only reason why this should have been made, is that it brings back both William Zabka and Ralph Macchio as Johnny and Daniel. And man, it was really cool seeing them on the screen together, once again.

I love the tone of this series. It is true to the tone of the original movies but is very different in that it is about those teenagers, thirty-four years later, as adults with adult problems and an event that changed both of them permanently, giving them different trajectories through life.

The show sort of does a bit of role reversal, as Johnny is teaching the young weak teen that is constantly bullied. In fact, Johnny kicks the crap out of the bullies in the same way Miyagi did in the original film where Johnny was one of those original bullies. But Johnny’s methods and agenda are very different than Miyagi’s. At least he’s not a psycho like John Kreese, the original Cobra Kai leader.

I really dig how this show examines these characters and their lives. Daniel has basically become the rich family dad living in the Hills, which is in stark contrast to where he was as a poor teenager trying to hook up with the rich girl. Johnny has gone from the top stud in high school to utter poverty.

This show works and it works well. I had some high expectations for this after I saw the first trailer but those expectations have been surpassed, at least with this small sample size. We’ll see how it goes as the show marches on.

For now, I’m definitely a fan of Cobra Kai and it may just make me subscribe to YouTube Red, at least just to watch this until the season one finale.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: The original Karate Kid trilogy of movies, obviously.

Film Review: Death Race 2000 (1975)

Also known as: Frankensteins Todesrennen (Austria)
Release Date: April 27th, 1975
Directed by: Paul Bartel
Written by: Robert Thom, Charles Griffith
Based on: The Racer by Ib Melchior
Music by: Paul Chihara
Cast: David Carradine, Simone Griffeth, Sylvester Stallone, Sand McCallum, Louisa Moritz, Don Steele, Mary Woronov, Roberta Collins, Martin Kove, Joyce Jameson, Paul Bartel, Leslie McRae

New World Pictures, 80 Minutes

Review:

“As the cars roar into Pennsylvania, the cradle of liberty, it seems apparent that our citizens are staying off the streets, which may make scoring particularly difficult, even with this year’s rule changes. To recap those revisions: women are still worth 10 points more than men in all age brackets, but teenagers now rack up 40 points, and toddlers under 12 now rate a big 70 points. The big score: anyone, any sex, over 75 years old has been upped to 100 points.” – Harold

When Roger Corman stepped away from directing to start New World Pictures, it really opened the door for young filmmakers to usher in a new era of outside-the-box indie pictures. Paul Bartel was one of the premier guys to come out of the Corman camp and while he made a few really good films, none of them had as big of an impact on me as the super stylish and insane Death Race 2000.

The film is about a transcontinental race from New York City to Los Angeles, a race where the drivers earn points for killing human targets. The more offensive the target, the higher the points. So babies and old people are prime meat for the sadistic drivers and their high octane killing machines.

The movie takes place in a not-too-distant future where society has kind of evolved similar to those more modern Purge movies. America is a fascist state and this grand motor race is patriotic. Those who die, as victims of the drivers, are considered heroes and their sacrifices usually come with rewards for their loved ones.

Within this severely screwed up America is a group of rebels who are trying to end the race and overthrow the sick and twisted president in an effort to reestablish an America that is closer to what the Founding Fathers fought for. There is a lot of political and social commentary sprinkled in throughout the film and it almost exists as a response to the American government’s expansion into the world and its quest for occupation and control. It makes sense that this was made at the tail end of the Vietnam War.

The film stars David Carradine as Frankenstein, the most elite of all the racers. He is a literal living legend but he has his own ideas on the race and his government’s politics, which play out subtly as the film progresses, leading to a big rebellious crescendo at the end.

The rest of the cast is rounded out by a very young Sylvester Stallone, who was a year away from Rocky fame, as well as Paul Bartel’s favorite collaborator, Mary Woronov. We also get Roberta Collins, who spent a large part of her career in exploitation films, a young Martin Kove, a decade before becoming the iconic John Kreese from The Karate Kid films, Joyce Jameson, who was a part of a lot of Corman’s ’60s horror productions, Don Steele, a charismatic and over the top shock jock from the ’70s, as well as two beautiful ladies: Simone Griffeth and Louisa Moritz, both of whom play navigators to the two top drivers. Paul Bartel even has a small cameo as Frankenstein’s doctor when the iconic racer is first introduced in the film.

One thing that makes this picture work so well, is that it is a tongue in cheek critique on the government and society but it doesn’t beat you over the head because of how ridiculous and stylized everything in the film is. Every character is more or less a caricature, every car has some sort of bizarre and hokey gimmick and things are so over the top and goofy that you don’t find yourself buried in serious subject matter. And maybe the political statements are sort of lost in this circus of a film but the sentiment seems pretty clear, even if it’s not fine tuned enough to be specific.

Bartel would follow this up with another action car picture for Roger Corman called Cannonball. That one also starred David Carradine and is enjoyable but it doesn’t stick out in quite the same way Death Race 2000 does.

This would also spawn a horrible remake that had even worse sequels. Eventually, a true sequel to this was made called Death Race 2050. I haven’t seen that one yet but I plan to give it a watch in the very near future.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Any Paul Bartel directed film but most notable Cannonball!

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.

Rating: 9/10

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.

Rating: 8.25/10

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?

Rating: 6/10

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!