Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cannon Films... Meet the Criterion Collection

It occurred to me as I read this month's Criterion announcements, that the inclusion of Godfrey Reggio's POWAQQATSI in a new QATSI trilogy box set marks (and correct me if I'm wrong) the first time there's been a Cannon Films/Criterion Collection crossover.

 I kinda figured a special edition of BARFLY or Cassavetes' LOVE STREAMS would be the first, and I've long given up hope on a Criterion DEATH WISH 3, so... I'll take it!   Now, I've written about the QATSI films before, and they're really something you should all see, but it really warms my heart to see the names "Golan" and "Globus" entering the Criterion canon.

If for whatever reason you don't believe me, may I refer you to this detail from an original POWWAQATSI poster:

"a Golan-Globus production [of] a Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas presentation..."  Nice.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Only now does it occur to me... NEW JACK CITY

Only now does it occur to me...  that Golan or Globus must have given Mario van Peebles a good luck charm for his directorial debut!  

Allow me to explain.  Mario van Peebles was a Cannon Films star in the 80s: see RAPPIN' and EXTERMINATOR 2 if you don't believe me.  His hilarious but earnest endeavors in acting (in all of their Jheri curled glory) helped shape the way that I perceive the 80s, and Cannon films as a whole.  He is a giant.  
Well, following in his father's auteur footsteps, he decided to make a film.  And what a film it was.  Sure, he'd directed some episodes of 21 JUMP STREET and CBS SCHOOLBREAK SPECIAL, but a feature film is a large undertaking for a first timer.  You need talent, faith, and a lot of luck.  More on that in a minute. 
NEW JACK CITY is a spectacular film:  it combines the sleazy ludicrosity of a De Palma actioner (SCARFACE, CARLITO'S WAY, SNAKE EYES) with the blood-spattered NYC grit of Abel Ferrara (KING OF NEW YORK, FEAR CITY) and the dopey do-goodin' panache of a D.A.R.E. public service announcement.  Mario even inserts himself in a supporting role as a Captain America-White Knight cop in a move that smacks of lovable narcissism, like Stallone in anything or Tommy Wiseau in THE ROOM.
Furthermore, the lead is played by Ice-T, himself a Cannon Films veteran (BREAKIN', BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO, the soundtrack to MISSING IN ACTION and RAPPIN').
Anyway, to my point:  midway through the film, all the cops are hanging out at stakeout central, and as Mario strides in, Ice-T is revealed to be playing around with a very distinctive, insane, knife-spiked brass knuckles combo– which I immediately recognized from... COBRA.
I remembered hearing that it was custom-designed for the makers of COBRA (Stallone, Stallone, Stallone, and Golan & Globus) by famed knife maker Herman Schneider, and you can see it's clearly the same knife, as wielded in the photo below by Brian Thompson.
So what's the story?  In a move of good faith, did Golan and/or Globus loan it to van Peebles as a good luck charm?  Or is the story more sordid?  Did Mario and/or Ice-T steal it from the Cannon backlot?  Or is it merely a replica, inserted to pay homage to the glory of Cannon Films?  Perhaps we'll never know for sure.  

Also, while researching this, I discovered that you buy replicas of this Cobra knife wherever fine knife replicas are sold, such as this frightening website called "Knife Depot" who calls it "one of the most unique and dramatic knife designs ever created."  I also learned that there are such things as "renowned knife authors" and plenty of fetishistic descriptions of "point pressure" and "knife heft."  I feel as if I could easily do some frightening and intense dramatic readings of simple product descriptions from any number of these websites.  Whew!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Film Review: KINJITE– FORBIDDEN SUBJECTS (1989, J. Lee Thompson)

Stars: 4.5 of 5.
Running Time: 97 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew:  Charles Bronson.  Perry Lopez (CHINATOWN, KELLY'S HEROES), Peggy Lipton (TWIN PEAKS, THE MOD SQUAD), Juan Fernández (BULLETPROOF, SALVADOR, CROCODILE DUNDEE II), Sy Richardson (REPO MAN, THEY LIVE, SID & NANCY), James Pax ("Lightning" in BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA), Nicole Eggert (BAYWATCH, CHARLES IN CHARGE), Bill McKinney (DELIVERANCE, FIRST BLOOD), and Danny Trejo (DESPERADO, MACHETE).  Executive Produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus.   Music by Greg De Belles (LAMBADA, LONGTIME COMPANION).  Cinematography by Gideon Porath (DEATH WISH 4, AMERICAN NINJA 2). 
Tag-line: "A cop full of hatred can't work by the book."
Best one-liner:  "I'd like to shove this up your ass, but I don't want to dirty my hands!"

What the–

Is that a–

Eat your heart out 50 SHADES OF GREY.  This is 50 SHADES OF BRONSON!!!

The ninth out of nine collaborations between Charles Bronson and director J. Lee Thompson, KINJITE: FORBIDDEN SUBJECTS is looked upon by the consensus as ending this colossal cinematic team's output (DEATH WISH 4, MESSENGER OF DEATHMURPHY'S LAW, THE WHITE BUFFALO, THE EVIL THAT MEN DO, ST. IVES) with a whimper.  I'm here to tell you that, happily, that's not the case.  (And as a side note, I'm kind of impressed that I've now reviewed 7 of the 9– all except CABO BLANCO and 10 TO MIDNIGHT.)

Listen: whaddya want?  Just tell me what you want, and I'll see if we have it.  Try me.  Come on.  You want–


...You're next!

You want high-kickin' senior citizens?

You want Bronson complaining about "sucking hind tit?"

You want Bronson and Perry Lopez (Nicholson's friendly nemesis on the police force in CHINATOWN!) actin' like cop buddies and walking past a poster of Cannon's... SALSA?

You want sleazy Sy Richardson with a deadened gaze and a jangly woman's earring?

You want Bronson going to sporting events with his daughter and

being spied on by child-kidnapping kiddie-peddlin' pimps
as Bronson simultaneously becomes becomes the new 'crush of the moment' for his daughter's best friend?

He is extreme.  What can I say?  Bronson makes quite an impression.
Anyway, we got all this and more forbidden subjects in KINJITE.  But first let's pin this sucker down.  Is it a Public Service Announcement?  A skin flick?  An after-school special?  A gritty revenge movie?  A sitcom pilot?  A Cannon shoot-'em-up?  Is it about race?  Sex?  Culture clash?
The answer to all of these questions of course is... "Yes."

KINJITE: FORBIDDEN SUBJECTS follows a few disparate plot lines which, for the most part, intersect in the most Cannon Film-ish ways possible.  One is the tale of a visiting Japanese businessman played by BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA's "Lightning," James Pax.
 He has two daughters who comment on psycho-sexual cultural divides between Japan and America.

And because he saw somebody get away with it on the subway back in Japan, he decides to try some L.A. bus groping on a gal singing the campfire classic, "P is for Party."

Of course, she turns out to be Bronson's daughter:

Now, before you cry "laughable Japan-sploitation" (which you certainly ought to, at some points), I'd like to submit the idea that Pax delivers the most nuanced, ever-'present' performance in the film.  He is fantastic, at points exuding genuine pathos and vulnerability.  He's kind of too good for this movie, if you catch my meaning.

The next plotline is about those kiddie-peddlin' pimps I alluded to earlier.  They're played by Juan "BULLETPROOF" Fernández and Alex Cox-fixture and cult movie legend, Sy Richardson.  Mostly, they drive around by the bus station, trying to pick up wet-behind-the-ears youngsters

for their booming prostitution ring.  Leave it to Cannon films to tackle teenage hustling and the sex trade with the sheer poetry of "rich asshole bandits."  Also: note denim backpack.

Anyway, these two lowlifes eventually kidnap one of Pax's visiting daughters in a scene which veers wildly back and forth between "genuinely disturbing" and "unintentionally hilarious after-school special" but eventually dips into "coke-and-asscrack-fueled softcore music video" territory.  I'd also like to give special nod to Fernández as "Duke", whose ludicrously hateable pimp-napper reaches fey and comic heights, even for a Cannon film.

This leads us to our main plotline:  BRONSON.  Bronson is a multi-dimensional character.  On the one hand, he's racist toward Asian peoples

even as far west as India (!):

but on the other hand, he's just a beleaguered dad

trying to raise a daughter (along with TWIN PEAKS' Peggy Lipton!) in an increasingly complicated world:

the poor guy even has to contend with studs hangin' out in his basement:

on the other other hand, however, Bronson hates something even more than bus-gropin' Asians and daughter-romancin' studs:  PIMPS!

See, we've come full circle.


It becomes about justice.  It's the only thing Bronson cares about.  I guess that's the only thing that he usually cares about, but here, in his last Cannon hurrah he's prepared to go to extreme lengths to puncture the truth and to penetrate justice.  As to what I'm alluding to, I can show you better than tell you:

For those of you too scared (or scarred!) to finish the clip and for those whose jaws need to be scraped up from the floor with a spatula, that was indeed footage of Bronson seeking revenge against a teen prostitute's john while wielding a dildo and menacingly approaching said john's posterior.

But I think the icing on the cake is truly the fade from the john's screams to Bronson arriving home to the missus and casually announcing, "I don't think I'm going to be able to eat tonight."

And by no means is this the only time that justice involves the jamming of sharp objects into unwilling orifices:

Yes, when Bronson catches up with Fernández's pimp for the first time, he takes the man's expensive wristwatch and, er, well, just see for yourself, in a clip that I have aptly named "Charles Bronson feeds a man a wristwatch faster than he can eat it."

And note that he doesn't "want to dirty my hands," implying that he learned a harsh n' grimy lesson the last time around.

Later, the pursuit of justice involves intimidating a doorman– BY FLINGING A STATUE THROUGH HIS GLASS BOOTH:

and by accidentally (!) flinging Sy Richardson to his death (well, he did kinda deserve it)
which combines Bronson's take-no-prisoners brand of justice with the classic Bronson trope of dummies being flung from great heights.

Regardless, this is all simply a prelude to the veritable orgy of ass-blasting retribution accomplished by Bronson at the hind-end of the film.
Having captured Fernández's pimp for a second time, he dumps him in a federal prison, whereupon he is paraded by gleeful prison guards and run along a gauntlet of possibly the most one-dimensional, hilariously over-the-top prison rapists ever committed to celluloid in a Cannon film or otherwise (including Danny Trejo
who incidentally has "something big and long for you, sweet thing") as Bronson watches with wide-eyed, innocent, old man pleasure, wearing an expression that would certainly befit a grandpa at a pee-wee football game:
You can watch the whole gritty exchange right here and give it the standing ovation that it deserves in the privacy of your own home.

As to those who consider this one of Bronson's worst?  I don't know what to say to you.  I feel as if you don't truly appreciate Bronson's art.   Bronson's sincerity.  Or maybe your buttocks were so tightly and fearfully clenched throughout  that you simply didn't appreciate all the wonderful, spit-take inducing moments and subtle cheez-whiz majesties that awaited you.  A truly astonishing, anally-fixated trashterpiece.  Four-and-a-half-stars.  Just stick 'em wherever.

-Sean Gill