Monday, March 10, 2014
From space to the Chicago gridiron to the disease-of-the-week sickbed. The early Caan saga continues...
I'd never seen this made-for-TV movie--one for which earned Caan an Emmy nomination--and was expecting a based-on-a-true-story sports hero schmaltzfest. Surprise of surprises, Brian's Song was actually an enjoyable (and very short!) flick and not quite as manipulative as you might think. Caan plays white running back Brian Piccolo (with Southernish accent) to Billy Dee Williams' Gale Sayers (sans Lando Calrissian moustache). The two share a playful rivalry (lots of pranks involving mashed potatoes, joshing usage of the N-word), a budding friendship which serves them well first when Sayers becomes injured and later when Piccolo develops a tumor on his lung.
For its time (and for a TV movie), Brian's Song is surprisingly progressive about race. And when Caan comes down with the Big C, neither he nor the director veer too heavily into heartstrings tugging mode. That said, Caan's deathbed scene definitely warrants a few Terms of Endearment-worthy tears.
Side Note: Is it just me, or has Jimmy the Gent made himself a nice little career out of playing the sick and injured? For a "man of action" actor, some of his biggest roles see him confined to a bed for a good portion of the film...Brian's Song, The Killer Elite and, of course, Misery, let's not forget. What is it about James Caan that makes us enjoy seeing him suffer so? Feel free to discuss...
You don't usually think of Robert Altman in space. You probably don't think of the Caan Man up there either. Both their talents, it seems, are better suited for solid ground. We all know that in space no one can hear you scream, but if you're just kibitzing with Houston on comms does your dialogue overlap?
Not so much in this early Altman/Caan collaboration, a relatively slow-moving race to space drama. It seems those damned Russians have jumped the gun and launched a civilian up to the moon. And it's up to James Caan and NASA to put their training into overdrive, try and plant the stars and stripes first. For civilian Caan, that means stealing the primo spot out from under first-in-line and more qualified military man Robert Duvall, who grumbles and protests but eventually trains him. Their testy relationship is the best thing about Countdown, a low-key precursor to later better fraternal fireworks in The Godfather and The Killer Elite.
Neither Altman or Caan have quite hit their '70s mojo in this film. And you can almost feel them both bucking at the edges of their formula thriller frame. It gets better once Caan gets up in the moon's orbit--not nail-biting by Gravity standards, obviously--but the Caan Man begins to sweat a lot and makes a few "maverick" choices that at least spice things up, giving you a hint of things to come in both men's later careers.
Incidentally, what's up with the Russians constantly screwing us satellite-wise? In this movie, their preceding mission compromises a docking station and puts Caan in a life or death situation. Then 45 years later in Gravity you've got one of their satellites breaking apart, flinging space detritus at Bullock and Clooney for the rest of the movie. Putin may be making a mess in Crimea, but there's no doubt he's been getting all his space parts made in Bangladesh.
Sunday, March 02, 2014
Don't be fooled by the karate gi above. I promise I'm done with kung fu (and GIF-making, for the most part). This is not March-al Arts. Or a month devoted to Wes Anderson flicks. No, this month is all about The Caan Man, aka Shoulders, aka "The Jewish Cowboy," aka Jimmy the Gent, aka Killer Caan, aka James Caan.
But you probably know him best as Sonny from The Godfather. Or Mr. Henry (above) if you're a millennial. Frank from Thief if you're into Michael Mann. Or Freebie if you're into the '70s deep cuts. You may also know him as the guy who lived at the Playboy Mansion for a while (and often roller disco'ed there). But that's a long story. Let's not get into that right now.
Jimmy Caan is one of those no-bullshit, man's man actors. Born in the Bronx, raised in Sunnyside. Automatically a "made" guy just by being in The Godfather, even though has no (official) mob affiliation. Whatever he's in, he oozes tough guy authenticity. I recently streamed his perpetually on-edge performance in The Gambler for a second time (he was apparently mid-cocaine addiction during filming) and realized, "Hey, you know what...I've got a good number of unseen Jimmy Caan flicks in the old DVD stockpile. Let's give the Caan Man his own month."
Most of films are lesser-know titles from his fertile late '60s to early '80s period. But I may squeeze in a few old faves, time permitting. And, once again, I'll endeavor to keep the write-ups brief. According to his Wikipedia page, Caan keeps it simple when appraising his own past films, assigning them a number grade (a holdover from the Playboy days, perhaps?). That and the thumbs-up, thumbs-down or star rating approach are something I usually shy away from...but, hey, maybe I'll take a cue from the JC, rate a few of these flicks from one to ten.
OK, I can't resist...just one more GIF. Let the Caan games begin...
Friday, February 28, 2014
ENTER THE NINJA (1981) - Menahem Golan,
REVENGE OF THE NINJA (1983) & NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (1984) - Sam Firstenberg
"Not an ordinary man, sir...a ninja!"
I promised you ninjas. And I deliver ninjas. Last minute, sure...but in triplicate!
This highly entertaining, loosely connected Cannon Films ninja trilogy (ninjalogy?) will supply everything you crave in an '80s martial arts picture showcasing those practitioners of feudal Japanese assassination arts. Katanas and hidden knives. Throwing stars galore. Assorted spikes, discs, darts, blowguns, smoke bombs, masks, classic shinobi outerwear both in summer white and traditional ninja black. When shopping for ninjutsu, you really need look no further than these three films.
The first one, Enter the Ninja, stars old grindhouse reliable Franco Nero as a "white ninja" (both in dress and racial profile) schooled in the sacred arts. He gets involved in some kind of oil-based land grab, protecting an old Angolan War buddy in the Philippines while sleeping with his wife (Susan George from Straw Dogs). Nero isn't the most stellar martial artist, and the flick runs a little slow in the middle stretch. But the end showdown with the head baddie (see above) is hilarious, and the fight with his old ninja school rival (Sho Kosugi) even better. This being the '80s and Cannon Films, the fact that Nero beheads Kosugi in the final scene doesn't preclude Kosugi from showing up in the next two films.
And that's where this trilogy gets REALLY fun...
"It's little Kane. He broke one of the dolls
and the heroin spilled out."
Revenge of the Ninja is definitely the pick of this litter. Think of it as The Empire Strikes Back of ninja movies. That ugly-beautiful, so goofy it's transcendent, redheaded, black-hooded stepchild of a film. Sho Kosugi plays a ninja (a different one) whose entire family is slaughtered (quite gruesomely, even little kids) in Japan. So he decides to hang up his sword and move to SoCal (actually Salt Lake City), open an art gallery and live a peaceful life with his six-year-old, Kane. Take a wild guess how long that dusty katana stays in its sheath.
Car chases, heroin smuggling in Japanese dolls, lots and lots of asskicking ensues. As do playground fights with a street gang that looks like The Village People. A fight between his ninja-in-training son and gang of pee-wee bullies. A dojo fight between Sho's son and his hot blonde girlfriend. And, of course, the final ten-minute Ninja vs. Ninja showdown.
Also, someone actually utters the line: "That goddamn sonofabitch ninja!" Sound a little nutzoid? You obviously haven't seen Ninja III: The Domination then...
"There's nothing out of the ordinary about you
except your extra sensory perception and
preoccupation with Japanese culture."
No, your eyes don't deceive. You just saw a ninja kill a man by blowing a dart into the barrel of his gun. For that is how Ninja III: The Domination rolls. The third in the trilogy basically says "Fuck all logic and/or physics...let's just have good time." And that it is. As if the opening ninja attack on a golf course wasn't clue enough.
While not quite as enjoyable as Revenge, Ninja III is definitely the most "1980s" of the three. In a nutshell, an aerobics instructor (see what I mean?) becomes possessed by the spirit of a ninja (Kosugi again) and starts going on weird, out of body killing sprees. It's like the writers/director said, "Let's just throw everything that's popular right now in a bag and shake it up...then add ninjas." There's elements of The Exorcist, Poltergeist, Perfect (that aerobics killer movie with Jamie Lee Curtis). Tons of synth-pop ballads, hot tub murders, a make-out session involving V-8 Juice poured onto breasts. And the lead actress has a cop boyfriend who looks like Anthony Weiner but with a lot more back and shoulder hair.
Ninjas, ninjas! Get your ninjas right here!
OK, that's enough GIFs and ninja-fu for the month. I'm kinda GIF'ed out, actually. Time to move on to March. And spring, hopefully.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
"I should have studied kung fu instead of ethics.
What use is that?"
That's right...the Wu-Tang movie. Long overdue. Now I know what all the fuss (and samples) are about.
You could lop off the first and last half hour of this and still have a perfect kung fu flick. Two words..."training sequences" (i.e., the other 35 chambers, i.e., the middle hour of the film). These are hands-down the best I've ever seen. And, yes, I'm including The Karate Kid.
But why listen to me? Let the guy who directed Rock and Roll High School fill you in.
"You two together will be two parts of a whole. You will
complement each other. None of your enemies will ever beat you."
complement each other. None of your enemies will ever beat you."
Possibly the least ADA-compliant movie of all time. Still, the moves these two guys can do...AMAZING!!!
Sunday, February 23, 2014
Hot Lady: "You must know kung fu."
Bruce: "Yeah, I stepped in it once."
Lines like that had me rolling on the shag carpet when I was a young'un. Now, not so much.
This movie used to play on early-cable HBO every other day, when it had all of ten movies in its library to rotate (Under the Rainbow and Clash of the Titans being two others). An '80s Bruceploitation comedy that cashed in on the Bruce Lee/kung fu craze of the late '70s with an endless barrage of sight gags and one-liners targeting every Asian stereotype in the book. Karate, kimchee, sushi, samurais, nunchaku used as chopsticks...didn't matter the country of origin. Anything "Asian" got the yuk-yuk treatment. Also, a lot of cocaine humor I probably didn't get the first time around.
Chalk this one up to pure nostalgia viewing. Now I can finally toss my copy in the bin.
Friday, February 21, 2014
"It's a new type of sterilizer that can kill human sperms totally.
That formula's priceless. Can you imagine it in the wrong hands?"
Come for the kung fu. Stay for the nude tennis scene.
Found this golden nugget of grindhouse Bruceploitation on the reverse side of my Weng Weng copy. A Chinese CIA agent who looks vaguely like Bruce Lee (and shares his name, minus one letter) teams up with a ladies' man operative with a Magnum P.I. moustache (and, likely, his fair share of STDs) to track down a "priceless" stolen formula...basically, the 1970s equivalent of Nonoxynol-9. Throw in a ton of bra-less babes, assorted thugs, neo-Nazis, not to mention the Viet Cong (huh? they're still around in 1980?), and you have yourself a movie.
I don't know about Bruce Le being a better martial artist (or director) than the real Bruce Lee. But, rest assured, he is definitely the bigger horndog of the two. Just press play below to see (pardon the ad, couldn't avoid it)...
Thursday, February 20, 2014
"The way of the monkey is to play the fool. Unmask his ego,
and you expose the coward...disguised as a monkey."
Say huh? It may have been a boon to Bruce Lee's career/legacy that this dream project, a Zen-infused martial arts-fantasy (one he concocted with his students James Coburn and Stirling Silliphant, no less), was never realized until after his death. Were he to see the finished product, I'm sure he'd be doing roundhouse kicks in his grave.
David Carradine subs for the deceased Lee (as he did in the Kung Fu TV series) and in four different roles...the Blind Man, the Monkey Man, Death and Chang-Sha. That quadruple threat, along with a supremely goofy storyline (something about a magic book and a guy named Seitan or Zetan), numerous koans to spout and a "silent" flute to play is a lot of burden for Carradine to shoulder. But the multi-tasking Carradine's not the problem here. The problem is the lead...Jeff Cooper as "Cord" (see below)...who spends most of the movie moping around in a loincloth with a David Coverdale haircut and generally looking like a stunt double who just walked off the set of Beastmaster 2.
Not that I'm complaining. It's good for more than a few low-rent laughs...his complete lack of martial arts and/or acting skills. And the scene where he visits "The Man in Oil" (Eli Wallach!) in the desert to discuss the evil temptations of male genitalia (Wallach has been sitting in hot oil for years in order to dissolve his burdensome wang) had me cackling out loud, likely waking up the neighbors.
Should you not have time for this mystical kung fu meshugas in full (or wang dissolution in general), maybe sample the "monkey fight" below. It should be enough to give you the idea, whet your whistle. Silent flute pun regrettably intended.