Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Sean Gill's "Pistachio Butter," "Pulse," and "Dominus Vobiscum" in Gravel: A Literary Journal

My latest (short) short stories are entitled "Pistachio Butter" (a tale of Bohemian food preparation), "Pulse" (a troubling reverie), and "Dominus Vobiscum" (a churchly inquiry) and they may be read online here in Gravel: A Literary Journal.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Film Review: BLOODSPORT III (1996, Alan Mehrez)

Stars: 3.5 of 5.
Running Time: 91 minutes.
Tag-line: "Beyond honor there is a fight for justice and the truth..."
Notable Cast or Crew: Daniel Bernhardt (BLOODSPORT 2, JOHN WICK), John Rhys-Davies (RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, KING SOLOMON'S MINES), Amber Van Lent (LYING EYES, BAYWATCH), Uni Park (TEK WAR, DIRTY WORK), Master Hee Il Cho (BLOODSPORT 2, BEST OF THE BEST), James Hong (BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, NINJA III: THE DOMINATION), Pat Morita (THE KARATE KID, BAYWATCH).  Produced and directed by Alan Mehrez (BLOODSPORT 2, CYBORG 3: THE RECYCLER). 
Best One-liner:  "You're ten years old now, Jason––I think it's time you learned the real meaning about martial arts... and about me.  Have you ever heard about a championship called a Kumite?"

Two down-on-their-luck cineastes in a familiar, darkened alleyway:

"All good things must come to an end.  Even good things that come in 3's."
–"Oh, thank God.  Haven't you inflicted enough suffering?  First, it was undead bird attacks in ZOMBI 3, then Ambrose Bierce fan-fic in FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 3, then poor man's Paul Walker in TOKYO DRIFT, waterski carnage in JAWS 3-D, V8 foreplay in NINJA III, and werewolf nuns in HOWLING III.  And, that's not even counting the time you made me watch Stallone play a hippie in SPY KIDS 3-D, or when you forced me to read the entire novelization of HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH!"
"I won't have you speaking ill of HALLOWEEN III on my watch.  But, regardless, I have brought you a gift.  Don't you think it's a lovely day for a... Kumite?"
–"Oh, no. Not the third BLOODSPORT.  It has a reputation."
"Trust me, a wise man once said, 'nothing with a Kumite in it can be all bad.'  You can print that in the paper."
–"I must be going."
"Aw, come on, remember how much you loved BLOODSPORT 2: THE NEXT KUMITE?"
–"I guess it was pretty good."
"You're goddamned right it was good.  And BLOODSPORT III naturally brings back part 2's Jean-Faux Van Damme: Swiss martial artist Daniel Bernhardt, whom actual Van Damme cherry-picked as his replacement after they met on a photo shoot for Versace jeans."
–"It's not Versace, it's Ver-sayce."
"Oh, hush.  So the film begins with a montage of scenes from BLOODSPORT 2's Kumite, probably to pad the run-time.  Then, Daniel Bernhardt (as Kumite champion Alex Cardo) wakes up from the flashback––which was actually a sweaty Kumite nightmare."

–"'Kumite Nightmare' would be a good name for a band."
"We then sweep into a frame story.  Remember, how BLOODSPORT 2 had that wraparound with James Hong telling the tale of Alex Cardo to his kiddie dojo?  Well, this continues that tradition, only now it's even more PRINCESS BRIDE, with Bernhardt telling the story of the movie to his ten-year old son.  According to the IMDb trivia section, the age of Bernhardt's son would place this frame story in 2007."
–"I don't care."
"Hey, remember when JCVD dressed up as a street clown to save a bunch of Dickensian urchins in THE QUEST?  Like his illustrious forbear, Jean-Faux Van Bernhardt really cares about the kids, delivering pathos-filled expressions of concern.  (Did I mention that I'm starting to like Jean-Faux Van Bernhardt almost as much as the real JCVD?) And so begins one of the greatest father-son conversations of all time:

"You're ten years old now, Jason––I think it's time you learned the real meaning about martial arts... and about me.  Have you ever heard about a championship called a Kumite?"
It's one of those universal rites of fatherhood; you know, you gotta to tell your kid about the birds n' the bees, about the concept of death, about that time you won two Kumites...  Honestly, though, he should probably be a little more concerned about that George Jetson blow-up doll in the background."
–"Yikes."
"So we travel back eleven years to Bernhardt looking spiffy in a white tux, like James Bond.

He fights some generic ninja dudes in a casino, and it's like they're lifted from a typical Cannon actioner, or the film-within-a-film at the end of PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE.  Dudes in the background randomly shout things like 'That guy's LETHAL!' and there's a MacGuffin of some kind that's not actually important and here the movie spins its wheels for a bit.  Jean-Faux Van Bernhardt becomes involved with a shady businessman played by John Rhys-Davies..."

 –"Aw, man.  Poor guy."
"Hey, dude's gotta eat.  Jean-Faux Van Bernhardt starts dating Rhys-Davies' daughter (Amber Van Lent), who curdles our collective blood during an excruciatingly atonal song 'sesh where she tries to do her best Julee Cruise-in-TWIN PEAKS impersonation,

Note blue dress and red velvet curtain.

but why they thought letting her sing on camera was a good idea is anybody's guess.  It's genuinely and splendidly terrible."
–"You're not really doing a good job of selling me on this movie, are you?"
"Oh, just you wait.  There's a nice bit when Bernhardt and Rhys-Davies admire a truly terrible painting
There's no 'subtitle' for BLOODSPORT III.  Might I submit, for your consideration, BLOODSPORT III: TUXEDO JUNCTION?

and Rhys-Davies says, 'Have you ever seen a painting this exquisite?'

I can't even tell what it's a painting of––a jar of eyeballs?  Baby heads?  Pickled lemons?  Peaches?"
–"Hot damn!"
"Then Rhys-Davies starts tossing around all this talk about a new Kumite, and therefore lines like "I am sponsoring a new Kumite" and "I see you're going into business with my father––something to do with a... Kumite?" are spoken.  I approve of this.  For reasons that aren't properly telegraphed, they bring back Bernhardt's old master James Hong
Good to see you, Mr. Hong.  I last glimpsed your stern visage in NINJA III: THE DOMINATION.

just to kill him off five minutes later with an exploding telephone planted by evil John Rhys-Davies.  Never mind that this negates the frame story of BLOODSPORT 2 where an elderly Hong reminisced about his life.  Thirsting for revenge, Bernhardt looks up Pat Morita (also briefly reprising his BLOODSPORT 2 role)
 
Morita: 'Thank God I'm only on set for two hours.'

who sends him to train with a new Kumite master, Master Hee Il Cho.  And so Jean-Faux Van Bernhardt embarks on an epic training montage that seems culled almost exactly from another JCVD film: KICKBOXER.
Workin' on the ol' leg extension...

...for the big payoff: the splits!

Naturally this is replete with HELLRAISER-style torture and balanced with TOP GUN-ish homoerotica:

And finally, like Christopher Cross, he learns how to 'charm that snake.'  Unlike JCVD, who simply punches them, Bernhardt waves his hands around and mesmerizes the little fellow.
–"Wow.  'Indiana Jones' much?"
"Definitely.  In fact, this whole movie feels a little 'Indiana Jones' to me, between John Rhys-Davies, the Sri Lankan locales (as in TEMPLE OF DOOM), the elephant rides, the white tuxedos, the snake stuff, et cetera."
–"Would you say, 'INDIANA BERNHARDT AND THE TEMPLE OF KOOM... ITAY?'"
"No.  I would not say that.  So finally we get to the main event.  Rhys-Davies has bet his entire fortune on the big bad fighter named 'Beast,' who kinda looks like a poor man's Mayor Mike Haggar (from FINAL FIGHT).
 
Mayor Mike Haggar...

...and his low rent counterpart, sans bitchin' one-strapped overall, but with the same forest green pants!

Rhys-Davies has also done his damnedest to keep Bernhardt out of the Kumite, an endeavor at which, naturally, he does not succeed."
–"Lay down some Kumite highlights for me."
"Most of the fighters have splendid names, like 'Camacho Supe,' 'Bruce Burly,' 'Chai' (like the tea, I guess), 'JJ Tucker,' and 'Sparx.'  I could go on.  I will go on.

That fight there involves 'Stellio,' which is pronounced like 'Steel-Leo.'
 
This one features freakin' 'MAX OMEGA.'  Whoever was naming these background fighters deserves a raise."
–"Those are pretty good.  You're beginning to pique my interest."
"Yeah.  And speaking of Max Omega, he's played by kickboxer Chad Stahelski, who is a returning fighter––he played 'clown makeup guy' in BLOODSPORT 2, who is totally the same character––he just switched favorite bands from KISS to Cinderella:
 
Max Omega in BLOODSPORT 2...

...and BLOODSPORT III.

There's also a fighter who's allowed to use a whip for some reason
and then there's my personal favorite, the aforementioned 'Stellio.'  Played by UFC fighter Erik Paulson, Stellio kinda dresses in an unlikely fusion between 'Burning Man refugee' and 'roadie for Lynyrd Skynyrd.' 
His acting choices are brilliantly inconsistent (though the blame probably lies with the editor)––for instance, after winning a fight against a throwaway character, he stares down Bernhardt, points at him, and screams, 'YOU'RE DEAD!!!'  

The next time we see him, he's sitting next to Bernhardt in the Kumite waiting area and he throws him a head nod, as if to say, 'Nice job, bro.  We should hang out sometime.'

This is demonstrably fantastic.  Also, later he bites Bernhardt's calves."

–"That's cool."
"I really stand by the Kumite scenes in this movie.  The sound effects are ludicrously goopy––each punch and kick sounds like heads are being squished and hearts are being ripped out of bodies.  And the whole thing is scored by what amounts to a hilariously 'action-y,' ersatz version of Hendrix's 'Foxy Lady.'  Also, despite the nonstop kick-blasting action of the Kumite, the filmmakers felt the need to stick with their frame story, so occasionally we cut to Bernhardt & son on a camping trip and the son will say something like 'Wow, were you scared?' and Bernhardt will say 'No,' and then we cut back to the Kumite."
–"I appreciate that."
"Oh, yeah–––and during one of the frame story cutaways, we learn that Bernhardt's mastery of the 'Iron Hand' technique allows him to light fires with the force of his mind. 
This magical ability is conspicuously not used at the Kumite.  If he could, why didn't he go all 'CARRIE' on their asses?"
–"Oh man, I would totally watch a movie that was like a Kumite of Stephen King characters.  Jack Torrance with his axe, Annie Wilkes with her sledgehammer, Carrie shooting fire..."
"Cujo, the Chattery Teeth, Pennywise, Randall Flagg... Yeah, I could see that working.  I'm going to file the copyright on that right away.  We can call it a 'King-itay.'  
–"Sure."
"Annnyway, we get to see a Double-Split Slap-Battle:
If you can't appreciate the exquisite poetry of a Double-Split Slap-Battle, then there's truly nothing I can do for you.  You are lost. Awash.  Forever at sea, unmoored.  You will never know true joy."
–"No, I'm on board for that."
"Good.  So the Kumite ends up going pretty much how you would expect, and Jean-Faux Van Bernhardt gets to do his best JCVD crazyface while drooling blood,
 
and he's good at it, too.  This is authentic, JCVD-approved crazyface.  Finally, at the end they replay that glorious 'Rhythm of the Kumite' song that closed out BLOODSPORT 2.  And that's all she wrote."
–"I might actually have to watch this."
"I tentatively recommend.  While it commits the unforgivable mistake of not bringing back 'Jackson' (Donald Gibb) as they did in BLOODSPORT 2 (what, was he busy or something?), at the end of the day BLOODSPORT III possesses a fair number of remarkable and spit-take-inducing moments, and some of the best-ever character names of third-string Kumite competitors. I give it three and a half stars."
–"That seems like a lot."
"It's really not. And I eagerly await viewing the next installment (BLOODSPORT 4: THE DARK KUMITE), which has a batshit reputation, seems to steal liberally from DEATH WARRANT, and indeed looks completely bananas."

–Sean Gill

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

RIP, James Horner

From discordant saxophone and wild steel drum action in COMMANDO to the quoting of Rachmaninoff (!) in THE WRATH OF KHAN; from the soaring heights of THE ROCKETEER to the labyrinthine depths of ALIENS––James Horner composed some of the most iconic scores of my childhood and beyond.  I've written of his films on a few occasions (COMMANDO, 48 HRS., PROJECT X, TITANIC, STAR TREK III), though not nearly enough.  Suffice it to say, he'll be dearly missed.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Only now does it occur to me... HACKERS

Only now does it occur to me...  that Fisher Stevens once made the most 90s entrance possible.




PS––the "Good Things Come in 3's" series is not yet done––I plan to send it out with a bang sometime next week.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Only now does it occur to me... HOWLING III: THE MARSUPIALS

Only now does it occur to me... that I would ever know the glory that is "werewolf nuns."
It's short-lived, but probably the standout image from HOWLING III: THE MARSUPIALS.  (I always assumed that if I saw such a thing, it'd be in a Ken Russell film.)

In any event, HOWLING III: THE MARSUPIALS is a primo grade slab of Ozploitation––a genre well-documented by the film NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD––and is a balls-to-the-wall, fun-time horror flick that essentially has nothing to do with THE HOWLING series as a whole (but does that matter?).

Naturally, Australian werewolves have evolved a little bit differently, and we're treated to some hideous marsupial action:

complete with pouches and orifices, the likes of which would make David Cronenberg proud.

The proceedings become sort of meta when a female werewolf is cast as an actress in a werewolf movie:

"SHAPE SHIFTERS PART VIII"

which is being directed by a poor man's Hitchcock (Australian character actor Frank Thring)

and there's plenty of fun, film-within-a-film commentary to be had.  There's not a great deal to report otherwise...  though I must say that there's a nice 1980s Sydney-in-summer vibe, appealingly photographed by Louis Irving (WATER RATS, COMMUNION),

and a bunch of knock-off Human League and ersatz a-ha songs from little-known synthpop bands with spectacular names like "Burt Reynolds Chest" and "Vitamin Z."

I also have to mention that there's a magnificent plot point involving a werewolf town named "Flow"––"Wolf" backwards!––which seems to have been an inspiration on glorious rip-off artist Claudio Fragasso, who put the brilliant town of "Nilbog––it's goblin backwards!" in his masterpiece TROLL 2.  Carry on.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Film Review: NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (1984, Sam Firstenberg)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 92 minutes.
Tag-line: "He's the ultimate killer, she's the perfect weapon."
Notable Cast or Crew: Sho Kosugi (9 DEATHS OF THE NINJA, REVENGE OF THE NINJA, ENTER THE NINJA), Lucinda Dickey (BREAKIN', BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO), James Hong (BLADE RUNNER, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA), David Chung (REPO MAN, MISSING IN ACTION 2: THE BEGINNING), Earl W. Smith (THE VILLAIN, DEATH VALLEY).  Produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus.  Written by James R. Silke (KING SOLOMON'S MINES, REVENGE OF THE NINJA).  Directed by Sam Firstenberg (AMERICAN NINJA, AMERICAN NINJA 2: THE CONFRONTATION).
Best One-liner: "I don't use soft drinks!"

NINJA III: THE DOMINATION is many things to many people, but above all, I have concluded that NINJA III: THE DOMINATION is a panacea for the soul.  It is a thing to be ingested––a glowing, Cannon-logo-shaped pill.

This time around, the logo shimmers and then launches itself into the depths of space-time.  That's an actual star-field.  I can't remember that ever having happened before.

Ostensibly the third film in a series (whose previous offerings included ENTER THE NINJA and REVENGE OF THE NINJA), the only unifying element among the three is the aforementioned Cannon Films logo and the inimitable presence of martial arts hero Sho Kosugi (as a different character in each film).

The best way to describe NINJA III: THE DOMINATION is as an untamable amalgamation of REVENGE OF THE NINJA, THE EXORCIST, BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO, JASON GOES TO HELL, POLTERGEIST, PERFECT, DEATH WISH 3, and a commercial for V8 Juice.

Already, I can sense you're having difficulty wrapping your head around this magical ninja elixir, so allow me to describe the premise in greater detail:

There is a secret ninja cave underneath an Arizona golf course.

"No smoking in the ninja cave."

An evil, eye-liner-wearing ninja uses this as his base of operations for golf course-ninja attacks.  He pops out on the sixteenth hole and crushes a golf ball with his bare hands, just to let everybody know he's not messing around.


This website has always been an authority on brutal ball squeezing.

He goes on a murderous rampage, killing the country club's security team and this sweater-luvin' preppy:

who is later referred to as "a prominent scientist."  Okay.  This leads to a massive police response

In these films, it's always generic "POLICE" forces who don't answer to any particular jurisdiction––they only show up when the crimes are ninja-related.

and a manhunt, so as a riposte the evil ninja sends a bunch of cops, DUKES OF HAZZARD-style, right into the water hazards.

Perhaps a missed opportunity for a "mulligan" related one-liner.

He takes out a helicopter with the cold-blooded deftness of Jaws the Shark:

and I daresay nearly succeeds in killing every cop in Arizona
before succumbing to his own injuries after an extended, slo-mo BONNIE AND CLYDE-style bloodbath.  So now the evil ninja is dead.  ...Or is he?

Cut to:  Lucinda Dickey––alluring, breakout star of BREAKIN' and BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO.  She's listening to knock-off Pat Benatar and repairing a power line.   

She works full-time for the city as a line installer, but she also works part-time as an aerobics instructor:

Needless to say, she's an industrious young woman.  Anyway, she climbs down and finds herself face-to-face with a ninja.  Yes––the same wounded, evil ninja as before: the cops did not do their due diligence re: confirming the deadness of the evil ninja corpse.  After a supernatural eye-lock, the ninja imbues her with his consciousness––using the power of his magic ninja sword––before he dies "kind of for real this time."


Lucinda Dickey: now adding "part-time evil ninja" to the the resume.

If this feels like a lot of exposition,  I might remind you that we're only thirteen minutes into the film.

While filing her statement at the police station, she meets flirtatious, candy-snackin' cop Billy Second  (Jordan Bennett):

He offers her lukewarm, half-drank Coke as a come-on, to which she responds with the classic line: "I don't use soft drinks."

This is the sort of Cannon greatness we've been led to expect from  Mssrs. Golan and Globus, and it's beautifully rendered.  On the whole, this might be the most "Cannon" Cannon Film ever made.  It truly has it all.  Speaking of which––

"Make it burn!"

Aerobicise nearly turns to aerobicide when Lucinda Dickey is jumped in the alley during her post-workout cooldown by a gang of DEATH WISH 3-style, racially integrated rapists

who, inexplicably, decide to make their move in front of a crowd of forty people, including the off-duty cop Billy Second who does not interfere.  Luckily, Lucinda Dickey kicks them in the dick (and does her own stunts) using jazzercise and gymnastic moves. 

Eventually, among the halls of history and in the annals of English language, "Lucinda Dickey kicks them in the dick" will receive its proper due as a quintessential turn of phrase.

One of the miscreants ends up sailing through the air into a dumpster; others are comically knocked out by an oversized metal pole.  NINJA III, ladies and gentlemen.

For some reason, she still ends up going out on a date with Billy the Cop, despite the fact that he didn't help defend her against the rapists, and he furthermore insinuates that she might get charged with assault for kicking their asses.

One thing leads to another, as they do, and she ends up seducing him at her apartment by pouring V8 Juice all over her body in perhaps the least sexy seduction since the "Beguiling Corn Maneuver" from TROLL 2:


I can't decide whether this is:
A. The worst advertisement for V8 Juice ever committed to film
B. An ill-advised homage to the FLASHDANCE "bucket of water" scene, or
C. An earnest attempt to merge food and lovemaking that's a little more IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES than 9 1/2 WEEKS.

In any event, it is humorous and macabre in equal measure, and indeed demonstrates the veracity of her previous statement: "I don't use soft drinks."

Shortly thereafter, she wanders into her ninja-haunted closet and has an encounter with the floating magic ninja sword


in a sequence designed to remind us about the ninja possession plotline.  Apparently, she is not yet "fully possessed," however, as soon enough she has an experience that defies worldly explanation.  In her apartment, Lucinda has a full, arcade-sized machine for "BOUNCER," a rarely-seen TAPPER-style bar game.

In the witching hour, the BOUNCER machine comes alive with supernatural chittering
and blasts fog-machine fog.

It proceeds to shoot a Pink Floyd laser-lite-show directly at her face

and therefore completes the ninja possession.  I don't fully understand this, and I don't think we're meant to.  It marks the only time (as far as I know) in film history that an undead ninja has completed the demonic possession of an aerobics instructor by commandeering the prototype of an unreleased arcade game and using it to shoot fog and lasers at her face.  If you don't believe me, you can see it all here for yourself:

Now she is "full ninja" and no longer in control of her actions.  It took three possessions (the eye-lock, the floating sword, and the arcade lasers) for it to "take," I suppose.  She begins killing the evil ninja's enemies, and in case there was any doubt, she squeezes a billiard ball to death with her hands.

A missed opportunity for a one-liner like, "I'm calling it––your face in the corner pocket!"

She has no memory of these episodes but Billy becomes convinced that something weird is going on, insisting (no joke) that they might be about to enlist the help of "an officer from the Asiatic division." There's a wonderful moment when a medical professional says, via stilted line delivery:

"Dr. Bowen, the psychiatrist you saw, says there's nothing out of the ordinary aside from your excellent extra-sensory perception and your preoccupation with Japanese culture." 

Er...whaat?!  Though it explains a lot that, in the NINJA III universe, ESP is a standard, naturally-occurring phenomenon.

Also, Sho Kosugi shows up–– he has a score to settle with the evil ninja.  He wears an eyepatch with a suspicious hole in it.

It's almost as if Sho Kosugi didn't want to film an entire ninja movie with compromised depth perception.  (So why didn't they just lose the eyepatch?)

Also, just like in Sho Kosugi movies REVENGE OF THE NINJA and BLIND FURY, there is a ninja attack in a hot tub.  Three films officially makes it a ninja film "trope."
So Lucinda traipses into the jacuzzi and murders some guy and two Miller High Life-swilling floozies with a poisoned pearl ring.


Not really a reason for this.  Ninja hot tub, everybody.

Several events occur after the ninja hot tub, including but not limited to:

BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA's James Hong, wearing a repulsive fake wart and performing a ninja exorcism:


"This beats the ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW."  ––an actual line of dialogue

A glowing, possessed ninja closet blowing unearthly winds and spouting hell-fog, just as in the denouement of POLTERGEIST:



Sho Kosugi spouting the classic line, "Only a ninja can kill a ninja" and kickin' butt while wearing a futuristic sweater that looks like the PAC MAN screen––only without Pac Man, the ghosts, or the pellets:

The reveal that there exists a Ninja Academy, in the middle of nowhere, somewhere outside of Phoenix:

Now accepting applications

The evil ninja's soul escaping Lucinda Dickey and becoming a spirit of pure evil-ninja-energy:

In case you ever needed a visual reference for "pure evil-ninja-energy."

And the evil ninja becoming a full-on zombie ninja and battling Sho Kosugi.  This leads directly to the conclusion of the film which is ridiculous even by Cannon Film's lofty standards. The defeated zombie ninja spins like a top, faster and faster and faster,





drilling himself into the mantle of the earth, where he, quite literally, transforms into an earthquake.


I'm speechless, too, Sho.

In conclusion, I can now say I have witnessed a ninja exorcism.  Pass the V8.  Five stars.