Wednesday, August 26, 2015


Cult films are a different breed unto themselves. Sometimes they can be artistic films, sometimes truly horrible films and other times movies that are enough of both of those items as to be something different. Such is the case with THE LAST DRAGON. Released in 1985 the movie did fair at the box office but nothing outstanding. And yet it has a certain charm to it, a fun feel and has drawn the interest of fans for all of those 30 years.

Two stories mingle into one in the film. The main story takes place in New York City and involves Leroy Green (Tiamak), a young martial arts student who has reached the pinnacle he can with his current teacher. That master tells him that to achieve the status of the last dragon he must go on a quest and presents him with a medallion and a name, Sum Dum Goy. Leroy sets out to find his new master and to achieve “the glow”, the highest achievement one can attain.

At the same time pop star Laura Charles (Vanity) is hosting a musical show called Seventh Heaven where she features new music videos. Kids dance to the music on stage and she sings on occasion. Arcade game hotshot Eddie Arkadian (Christopher Murney) is dead set on his talentless girlfriend Angela’s (Faith Prince) video showing there and is willing to do anything to make it happen, including abducting Laura. Of course the paths these two stories on cross when Leroy prevents the kidnapping of Laura.

An interest sparks between the two with the flirtatious Laura offering all smiles and Leroy fumbling along not having a clue how to behave. His life has been spent in dojos. Dealing with women is something he has no clue how to handle. And yet having caught the eye of the attractive Laura has come easily enough to him.

The back and forth between the two stories moves on as Arkadian finally does kidnap Laura. Leroy comes to her rescue taking out Arkadian’s men with ease but incurring his wrath at the same time. Arkadian sets out to hire the most vicious thugs he can round up, all with the intent of taking out Leroy. Among those he hires is Sho’nuff (Julius Carry), the self-proclaimed “Shogun of Harlem”. Sho’nuff has been doing his best to lure Leroy into a fight to determine who is truly the master martial artist in the neighborhood but Leroy hasn’t risen to the bait. With Laura’s life on the line, he finally must face his fears, fight Sho’nuff and find “the glow”.

The movie plays out like most martial arts movies of the time did, with a nice mix of kung fu combat, romance, comedy and story to make it work. To make it different the movie also tosses in 80’s music, music videos and Soul Train style dance moves. While it may sound like an odd combination it completely works. Perhaps that’s due to the producer of the film, Berry Gordy. Yes THE Berry Gordy of Motown fame. This was his first attempt at a film and it succeeds.

The movie would be easy to dismiss as a pop culture salute with camp influences but the actors involved all play their roles as seriously as possible. That adds to the humor that is seen on screen and trust me, there is plenty to laugh about in this film but not in a bad way. A whole slew of films came out during the eighties that celebrated pop culture of the time, movies like BREAKIN’ or ROLLER BOOGIE, and all have enough charm and fun to them to make them fan favorites. At the same time today’s crowds find them funny and a throwback to those days and have turned most of them into the cult films that at one time drew in large crowds to midnight movies. Now they gather people together to join around the big screen at home smiling through them all.

The extras in this one are slim but there is a nice documentary on the making of the film. It also talks to a fan who brought about a 30th anniversary screening of the film that had fans showing up dressed as the characters and quoting lines from the film. It would have been nice to include footage of that but even hearing about it can bring about a sense of joy this film holds for some.

There may be blockbusters being released this week but for my money this is the one to seek out. If it’s not available for rent then perhaps you might want to pick up a copy. I know I’ll be adding this one to the shelf to take out from time to time. For me it was that much fun.

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There is a genre of movie out there that gets plenty of looks but not always attention. These are the direct to DVD movies that show up in rental stores, online orders and rental boxes across the country. If they receive a box office release it’s such a soft release that most people will never know it happened. Many of these titles deserve to be released that way because they, well, stink.  But there are some that are actually pretty good. They just don’t have enough oomph to draw in big numbers. SKIN TRADE is one of those.

Story wise we’re talking about the buying and selling of human beings, for the most part women, in various countries to be sold to buyers around the world. Here we have two countries involved in trying to put an end to this heinous crime. In Thailand Detective Tony Vitayakul (Tony Jaa) is on the hunt for a group of criminals kidnapping young women for this purpose. At the same time NYC Detective Nick Cassidy (Dolph Lundgren) is doing the same thing. Both are after the same man, a Serbian crime lord named Viktor (Ron Perlman) who runs the enterprise using his family in various locations.

Cassidy gets the drop on Viktor and his youngest son just joining the family business. In a shootout with the police, this son is killed while trying to prove to his father he is worthy of being involved. Viktor escapes and at the end of the day Cassidy goes home to his wife and teenage daughter. As he gets ready for bed he looks out the window and sees Viktor’s men shooting a rocket into his home, killing his wife and wounding him in the process. To make matters worse, Viktor kidnaps his daughter.

Not trusting the FBI who joined this operation and led by Agent Reed (Michael Jai White), Cassidy leaves the hospital and heads to the last known location Viktor was headed, Thailand. Tracking him along the way Reed alerts the authorities there including Tony. Wanted by both groups now, Cassidy tries to escape the airport after landing. A twist sets Tony against Cassidy leading to an impressive chase sequence through the streets and alleys of Thailand and ending in an all-out hand to hand fight sequence between the two.

Eventually the traitor is revealed and Tony and Cassidy begin to work together to take down Viktor and the human trafficking ring. Another top notch martial arts battle between Tony and another actor known for his martial arts skills (see, no spoiler there) is worthy of mention and watching. As the duo prepare to capture Viktor and the rest of his family wheels are set into motion that leave a sequel hanging.

The movie offers some terrific martial arts fighting sequences. While most will recognize Tony Jaa for this reason having starred in the ONG BAK trilogy as well as THE PROTECTOR 1 & 2, many may have forgotten that Lundgren holds a belt in karate. Their fight last long enough to near that of the famous longest fight scene ever between Roddy Piper and Keith David in THEY LIVE but not quite. It is still an impressive sequence.

The story holds up well enough and is actually better than some in this genre. The acting is less wooden than one would expect or that some have unfairly tagged several of these actors with. While their range may not take them into the realm of Shakespeare they do a decent job in their roles in films of this type and in other higher class projects as well. Made well, directed well and delivering the goods fans of action films like this seek, it makes this one of the better movies in the action genre. That makes this movie one worth watching.

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Tom Hardy is becoming a force to be reckoned with. An actor who has found himself in numerous roles that are demanding and always able to meet the challenge, he has yet to break the bonds of stardom for some reason. His is not a name that most will instantly connect with stardom but perhaps his turn as Mad Max this past summer will change all that. Until it happens by all means catch any and every movie he makes to witness a great actor, starting with this newly released movie, CHILD 44.

The movie begins a decade before WWII when a young Ukrainian orphan is adopted by a Russian soldier. Fast forward to WWII as the Russians are set to take down Berlin. Hardy stars as Leo Demidov, that young boy grown and a soldier who is chosen to raise the Russian flag over the city and thus becomes an icon for the heroes of the war. Among his compatriots are his best friend Alexi (Fares Fares) and a soldier named Vasili (Joel Kinnaman) who seems more intent on cringing in fear than doing his duty.

The war ends and Leo becomes a pro-Stalin security officer, tracking down those unfaithful to the country and its leader. Life has treated him well and his notoriety from the picture has helped advance him to this point. He ignores the actual ruling style of those in charge since he’s a part of it. He adores his wife Raisa (Noomi Rapace) but subtle hints from her make you wonder if the feeling is mutual.

Leo’s world is turned upside down when he is presented with his next case and person to investigate. That person is his wife Raisa. As Leo finds himself torn as to what to do another incident crashes down upon him. The son of his best friend and colleague Alexi is found murdered near the train tracks. But murder is something that cannot happen in Russia but only a “capitalist society” and the death is ruled an accident, the murderer not even sought.

When Leo reports that there is nothing to the accusations found against Raisa his world is turned upside down. With Vasili now in charge of the government organization looking into the matter, he strips Leo of his rank, lets the couple pack a few things and sends them to a much smaller town where he will work as an investigator under General Nesterov (Gary Oldman). Gone are the days of parties and social events with the couple now forced to share a flat.  The subtle truth behind what seemed to be a perfect marriage has changed as well with Raisa revealing more about where they really stand than Leo realized.

When the body of a young boy is found near the train tracks of this town, Leo takes an interest. He tells them things about the body that he should not know, but all are memories of the facts of his friend’s son’s death. As he talks with his superior and explains all he knows, the pair decide that this killer must be found, even if it means taking on the propaganda machine of the country. As they prepare to do what they must to find the killer, Vasili continues to haunt Leo’s world and demean him as much as possible. His motivations fall back to Leo and Alexi’s witness to his cowardice all those years ago rather than advancing the party. Will this be enough for him to thwart the investigation into the crimes of a murderer who they find to have had 43 previous victims? And will Leo and Raisa be able to uncover the secrets that protect this killer from justice?

Based on the acclaimed novel by Tom Rob Smith (who went on to write more novels involving these characters) the movie has a sumptuous look to it in set design, countryside and styling that does a painstaking job at recreating the past. As we watched the movie my wife talked about how great the movie looked, something she rarely does. She’s right. It looks great. It looks like a movie that should have been playing for several weeks at the local theater. But for some reason it was rushed to DVD which is a shame. It’s better movie than that and deserved to be noticed.

Hardy does another tremendous job of acting here, presenting a character that is flawed but who discovers who he truly is before the movie finishes. Not only does he find his world turned upside down with all he believed called into question, he rises from the ashes to do the job he seems to have been born to do, to become an actual detective. Rapace matches him scene for scene, offering the troubled woman whose own life changes, rises and falls, with that of her husband. By the film’s end how they came together no longer matters.

What make this movie works so well though is its story. Not just the story but the culmination of the work put in by all to make this story one that involves the viewer to the point you don’t look at the actors as actors but actually begin to think of them as the characters they are so immersed in portraying. Everything from the directing to the craftsmanship behind the scenes works toward the common goal of telling this story. And in the end all viewers benefit from that. This is a movie that never got attention but deserves it. It is one worth renting or adding to your collection.

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