Left Behind (2014)

PHiJa5lw94DHlk_1_mCashing in on the runaway success of The Leftovers, Left Behind fills in the narrative gap from that series. Whereas The Leftovers covers the tedious goings-on years after a mass disappearance, this film deals with the tedious immediate aftermath. And you know a film is bad when it makes you yearn for the deft writing touch of Damon Lindelof.

This is a straightforward disaster movie, but one with sledgehammer religious overtones. The makers seem to have watched Airplane! and interpreted it not as a disaster movie spoof, but more as a ‘how to’ guide.

Nic Cage plays a pilot with the mandatory Complicated Home Life. Still inexplicably dead sexy to girls despite looking like a melting waxwork of himself from 20 years ago, he’s drifting apart from his bible bashing wife, so he consoles himself by plowing through more air hostesses than Led Zeppelin in the 1970s. Whatever works. He’s even so keen to avoid a family gathering that he leaves his daughter at the airport and makes up a ‘last minute job’ so he can fly to London to see a U2 concert. Now I hate parties as much as the next man but U2? He must be really desperate.

When dealing with big spiritual themes and impending disaster it would be easy to lapse into parody, and this film isn’t going to disappoint. One of the opening scenes sees a woman at the airport pick up a book called ACTS OF GOD and immediately get into a theological debate with Nic’s daughter that even Russell Brand would deem ’a bit 6th form common room’ – ‘If God loves us all so much why doesn’t he STOP these disasters, eh??’ BOOM. Book Cage Jr on Big Questions with Nicky Campbell.

The passengers themselves seem to be flying to an overseas caricature convention because it’s a veritable Noah’s Ark of cinema stereotypes. All human life is here: a Texas oil baron, a needlessly aggressive dwarf, a recovering drug addict and a devout Muslim – yeah, it’s not looking good for you mate. There’s also a blandly hunky and bafflingly well-known news reporter who engages in some tiresome low-level flirting with Nic’s daughter and looks set to be an unwelcome presence throughout the flight. Oh, and Jordin Sparks is onboard too, although when the cabin later depressurises she doesn’t even ask ‘how am I gonna breathe with no aiiiir?’ Seriously. It’s this kind of lazy scriptwriting that’s symptomatic of the film’s malaise as a whole.

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Anyway. We’re not far into the flight when disaster strikes. A brief rumble, the lights flicker, and then suddenly there’s going to be a few in-flight meals going uneaten. Panic, and unintentional hilarity, quickly ensues because the disappeared leave their discarded clothing behind, leaving people sobbing uncontrollably over what look like particularly slapdash Blue Harbour displays – I don’t like belted chinos with deck shoes either but I wouldn’t lose my shit over it. It’s the same back at ground level with random disappearances leaving driverless cars crashing (even a good twenty minutes after it happens) and the streets descending into scenes like Black Friday at Asda. Then it’s terror at 30,000 ft because almost immediately the plane starts exhibiting a whole checklist of Random Technical Problems which means they’re going to have to head back and try to crash land. Half Nic’s family may have gone, and he may be about to plunge to his fiery death, but it looks like that U2 concert is off after all. Every cloud, eh?

We’re a good halfway through the film before anybody stumbles to a conclusion about what may have happened because apparently, despite Nic being married to a batshit Christian fundamentalist, and most of the driverless cars having Jesus fish on the bumper, nobody has ever heard of the Rapture. It’s only when the recovering drug addict recalls something about it from church camp years ago that the pieces fall into place – ‘Tell us more!?’, demand the cabin. ‘Oh, I can’t really remember, because, you know…’ *syringe gesture* she replies. Looks like she picked the wrong day to stop doing smack.

By this point anybody still watching will surely be praying for forgiveness because it’s quite parodically bad, right down to the crudely photoshopped family portrait that makes regular appearances. And the moment where Nic lurches to the truth by flicking through a disappeared flight attendant’s diary and seeing the words BIBLE STUDY in block caps is a hall of fame forehead slapper even by his exalted standards. It’s also so oppressively pro-Christianity that it would turn Richard Dawkins to self harm. So at least it’s got that going for it.

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Cheaply made, poorly scripted, and risible in every respect, it’s another depressing addition to the bulging Shit Nic canon. At one point the (un-raptured) church pastor says of his sermons ‘I knew all the words but I didn’t believe them.’ And so it goes too for the script in another film where Cage is, quite literally in this case, on autopilot.

TL;DR: biblically awful

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Vikingdom (2013)

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There are certain genres where films that do it with a twinkle in their eye and the sense they’re not taking it too seriously will get quite a bad press on release. “Torque” and racing movies, “Super Cyclone” and disaster movies, and along with a hundred other examples we can add “Vikingdom” and historical epics to that list.

“300” casts a long shadow over films with fighting in, to the extent I’m not even sure if people realise they’re ripping it off any more, just that that’s the way it’s done. Dominic Purcell is Eirick, the king of a small country who’s killed in a slow-mo-blood-spurting battle. His voiceover intones “my story starts the day I died” and then flips forward ten years, to where he’s living in a tiny shack in the forest, hunting bears. Turns out that Freya, the Norse goddess of love, so adored Eirick that she brought him back from the dead, and he’s been living a monk-like existence since then. The idea of the “love” for a deity being shown in almost romantic terms is an interesting one, but we don’t have tons of time to dwell on that because Thor is back!

Thor, a villain in this movie, has decided to open the gates of Heaven and Hell, cause havoc, destroy the Christian god and resume his place at the centre of everyone’s worship. Freya’s brother Frey has come to ask Eirick for help – his resurrected status means he can go to Hellheim and back and grab a magic horn. So, he sets off to gather a gang of people to help.

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Here’s where the director’s name might come in handy. Yusry Abd Halim is his name, and he’s Malaysian. Educated partly in the UK, formerly a member of a boy band in his home country, then moved into acting, and now owner of the production company which makes the films he directs. He’s done a superhero comedy, horror and also an East-meets-West historical epic. “Vikingdom” feels more in the tradition of those huge films that have been coming out of the Far East than it does of low-budget Western quest movies, which is definitely how it was sold in the UK. Plus, its slightly dreamy, cartoony backgrounds and special effects definitely set it apart from the mainstream.

A criticism Halim received for his suphero movie “Cicak-Man” is that in the same film, you had people acting entirely seriously and people having a bit of a laugh, resulting in weird tonal shifts. I think the same thing happens here, with Eirick the unsmiling, sober hero, and several of the people round him being slightly less serious- importantly, I think it works though. Craig Fairbrass is fantastic as his sidekick Sven, who plays his entire part as a Cockney hard-man and John Foo is great as Yang, an Oriental slave who they rescue, who happens to be a martial arts super-fighter. There are a couple of magnificent examples of the over-actor’s art on display too, like Conan Stevens as Thor and John Reynolds as the Zombie King, who never met a line they didn’t want to shout with a weird intonation. Add in to this a former “Only Fools And Horses” cast member, and Natassia Malthe forcing her way onto the quest and luckily (for us) forgetting to wear anything remotely protective when going into battle, and you’ve got yourself a decent cast.

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“Vikingdom” isn’t short, either – almost 2 hours – which had me wondering if it was originally intended as a mini-series or something. But there’s no indication that’s the case, and it’s more a matter of, from the cover and advertising, expecting that cheap Asylum / SyFy Channel thing, which this most definitely is not. Also, filmed entirely in Malaysia, which can evidently turn its hand to looking like basically anywhere.

The big thing to say about this is it’s just so much fun! The cast has a great time, it’s lovely to look at and it feels very different to most films of this sort. The comedy tone is handled really well too, and it works because some of the cast play it completely straight (and may not have been aware that others were aiming for laughs). There’s no attempt to match accents, because who cares? It’s not like any of this really happened anyway. The funniest thing associated with this movie is claims from some corners that it’s hate speech towards the Norse people; well, that and when Thor goes to one of his underlings “you lack vision” then pops one of his eyes out of his skull. Yes!

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This is a great movie. A fun, exciting historical romp, with overacting, underacting, crazy special effects and a huge variety of fights.

Rating: thumbs up

Interview with Viktor Johansson

We reviewed Viktor’s film ‘Under Gottsunda’ a couple of weeks ago and were enamoured with what we saw. It made sense to catch up with the man and probe him with a few questions.

‘Under Gottsunda’ shows us an unseen side of Sweden. How important was it to choose the the right location when shooting this film?

 At the time I would bike to nearby Gottsunda everyday to leave my daughter in kindergarten. Once we rode past a burned-out car and my daughter asked, well, if it had crashed. We took a peek inside and there were burned books in the wreck, trying to see what they said. Too see what lies beneath, too actually read the burned book.

Then I saw a petrol can in there. Wow, it struck me. Maybe because I had my own child on the bike, I was blown away, in the heart. The thought of this child who walked around with gasoline container, poured the gasoline and fumbled with his lighter. The gasoline child. It was my child.

And the news and police only reported about the boo-hoo poor little cars that were destroyed, a wave of car fires every summer. But I wanted to write about the children. I saw an iceberg under each burned-out car, and then wrote my novel The dark sport. At the same time I was teaching creative writing at the Gottsunda Stories workshop. ‘Under Gottsunda’ began to take form. Not just taking place in Gottsunda, as a location, but out of Gottsunda itself. Straight outta Gottsunda.

 

The Sociologist within me has always been interested in youth subcultures. I remember being fascinated by the ins and outs, the fashion, the mores, within gang culture particularly mods, rockers and punks. ‘Under Gottsunda’ features a few different youth subcultures. What interesting things did you discover about youth subcultures when researching for this film?

I grew up in the countryside of Sweden, in a village built around a frozen meal factory, one day it smelled of pirogis and one day it smelled of cabbage rolls. All things urban interested me, all the trendy subcultures and styles trickled down to us years later. Like in Gummo where the rural tennis boy has a NKOTB haircut and is the coolest thing in Xenia, Ohio.

I discovered that when you’re unseen by the big society, you might as well be hidden and do all kinds of mysterious things. These Gottsundaites take create their own little society with rituals and legends.

 

I wrote in my review of ‘Under Gottsunda’ how the film took me back to my own youth. How do the characters’ lives compare to your own experiences as a teenager?

The mission with ‘Under Gottsunda’ was understanding the misunderstood youth. Housing project youngsters are basicly seen as foreigners bringing violence to safe Sweden. But I brought some uprising to my safe upbringing. Violence aimed against society, as in Gottsunda.

In Källby I was doing street art as a teenage protest, against a colorless world maybe, once we tried to do a too ambitious stencil and was arrested. There was a big graffiti smash down, against our subculture.

Now I do not mean that everyone in Gottsunda ride police car. But I can understand the feeling that the police is working for the other side.

I hung out with the autonomous left movement and I marched along in anarchist demonstrations, so that’s been my input and understanding of uprising. When you feel that you cannot influence, then you take desperate measures. I did that. Burning a car in Gottsunda has to be seen as a message, it’s a symbolic image, not just a criminal act. In Källby I had my graffiti, in Gottsunda there’s not much graffiti. But I think young people are still trying to send a message to society. Everywhere. I understand Gottsunda with the anti-capitalist ideas of my youth. I tried to channel my radical teenage self. Maybe it doesn’t sound like it, but this is my personal approach.

If all society does for a housing project is put up a huge shopping center, in an area that cannot afford to lifestyle shop, then you create failed consumers (The Sociologist within me is Zygmut Bauman). I also did systemized shoplifting when moving to my own apartment, let me add here in the middle where my parents won’t read.

Then have these outsiders gaze into storefronts, where a perfect life is on display, light-skinned mannequins with whole families and nice clothes. But the locals do not have access, to this life. The failed uprising consumers. In Los Angeles and London we see looting and raiding as part of uprising and rebellion. You have to smash the storefront window to get on the same level as others, to take part of the high standards, shop till you fit in. This is the alienation that the market creates. In Gottsunda, and other places.

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The streotypical idea of Sweden is a nation of blonde blue eyed beautiful people. It’s almost as ridiculous as the outside view of England as a nation of tea drinkers and crumpet eaters who all talk like Dickensian characters. ‘Under Gottsunda’ features characters who are either the children of migrants; or of foreign nationals, like the Macedonian father in your film who has chosen to live in Sweden in search of a better life. Do you think Sweden’s immigrant population is under represented in film and television?

 Yeah, and wrongly represented.

The prejudices of the suburb will even get internalized by those who live there. Media uses them only for reporting about car fires and honor crimes.

When I was street casting, the kids explained that they weren’t involved in the arsons. Every kid I met felt that they had to defend themselves against that image. Arsonists, this was secondary school children.

It really hit me, I realized that the media image must have gotten jammed in their heads. Walking around with the burning cars in their psyche.

 

Under Gottsunda’ looked like it was a film that required quite a bit of editing. It appears like you shot the actors for long periods of time, and just let them be. Is there any footage which you regret not using in the film?

Yeah, editing took like six months, I worked out of a writing scholarship. I’m more established as an author than as a filmmaker.

I shot bits and pieces first, in the beginning it was more documentary style, capturing the true essence of hanging around, wasting your youth I was about to say, but that’s what youth is for, floating around in this limbo, to invent and form your identity you have to be set on part self-destruct, part self-create. I tried not to interfere and just capture this.

Then as the summer was coming to an end I realized I needed some dramatic development, and I wrote these heightened continuations to their lives, making their subcultures into extreme sports with rules and manifestos. Some of the stories were written by the kids themselves, for example the longboarder who’s force-fed his mother’s karma. That’s Sergej’s own novella that he wrote on the Gottsunda Stories workshop. His entire narration is freestyled, it’s comes from his own inner world, just not his biographical circumstances.

Speaking about the editing, I wanted an organic approach, mushrooms popping up, to not trim the shrubbery. I mean everything in this movie can be weeded out. So that vulnerability sets the dogma.

Get it cluttered instead. Let it get tangled. Sprawling maybe. The suburb is a sprawling movement away from the center. In my first poetry collection “Capsules” I wrote a poem from the movie ‘Gummo’, it was sort of a statement of my world, the beauty of the debris blowing in the wind. This debris, the mistakes, the human errors that we are, is what I am looking for. ‘Under Gottsunda’ is intended as a shattered mirror that I pieced together in the editing, to skew facets, a strange cut diamond. There is a new film by Tim Sutton called ‘Memphis’, everyone seems to write that it is entirely composed out of scenes that wouldn’t fit in a strong narrative film, stuff that won’t fit any structure. But it is these scenes, riding your BMX in twilight puddles, humming some song that will be gone forever in the next moment, that I’m looking for. That is life. That makes an awesome movie.

And to answer you on cut scenes, there’s a cut character that I didn’t get to shoot. But he can be hinted in the beginning when the boys scream down the well.

I had an idea for a burnt child, a kid who who played with fire but got burnt so badly that he didn’t dare to go home. Everyone would know that he was an arsonist, a burner of cars. So the kid grew up hidden in the sewer system, under Gottsunda.

It is one of those myths that was created for the overall film mythology, and which is hinted in the final film.

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I was confused a little by the characters who practiced a Martial Arts system which reminded me of a cross between Krav Maga and Wing Chun, what do these characters represent?

 Yes, Krav Maga as well as Systema is a military martial art, so it’s based on realistic combat situations. The martial art of kitchen sink realism. But these kids take it to a spin off level, with dancing and singing about twinkling stars, the dancing comes from the russian Cossacks they say. At times it seems out of control.

Talking about what it represents, systema can be seen as a manifest for the film, realism that spins out of control and becomes extreme, a hightened subculture, that’s what I’m missing in social realist cinema, in Ken Loach and Ulrich Seidl, a world of it’s own within the kitchen sink. What goes down the drain, in the kitchen sink, and mutates in the sewers. Like the Turtles or sewer alligators.

I try to take something real and mundane, and picture the extreme version, what if hanging around the parking lot was an extreme sport, what would that look like. Dancing in parking lot puddles. Screeming down the sewers.

It’s fun with Ninja Turtles how all our culture from above ground are dumped into sewers and becomes subculture. In the new Turtles movie (which isn’t called something cool like The Secret of the Ooze), they have put up a wall in the sewer using old silver cassette players as bricks.

Also about Systema, in ‘Under Gottsunda’ everyone’s talking about the system, I noticed. “Sometimes I feel like the society’s inside of me”, with the rapper Flexx’ words. And Systema, is literarily a system within a larger system. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that young people dressed in military uniforms and wake up a fierce Russian martial art right on the streets of Gottsunda. They are children of their time, their system. The kids themselves wouldn’t like me saying this, but of course you think about the violence on the streets they grew up in.

 

In terms of Swedish TV and film, in the UK only we seem to only receive a steady diet of noirish crime thrillers like ‘Wallender’, ‘The Bridge’ and ‘Crimes of Passion’, and before those Stieg Larsson adaptations; is there anything from Sweden that we should be looking into?

We have this beautiful out door natural light that has shaped amazing films like “Burrowing”, about villa neighbors who escape their mundane indoor lives, and take to the wild. Bathing their babies in the lakes.

It seems the light and the nature draws you into making Malickean movies.

It was very nice when for example a movie like last years “Something must break” goes out in the terrain, the secret wilderness behind the city. Where the suburbs and housing projects end and wilderness takes over.

It has been said about ‘Under Gottsunda’ that it looks lush and organic, it’s set in the green areas, something we don’t visualize with suburbs, in film and hip hop songs it’s all grey concrete. And of course that’s a protest, no one want’s to live like that. But it was a striking contrast to make a Terrence Malick movie where the urban wild roses grew, where the blueberries cracked the asphalt.

 

 

To finish I was wondering if you could you tell me more about your upcoming projects?

My next feature is called ‘Flogsta heaven’. It was an urgent second film that I shot last summer, urgent because I’v now moved from Uppsala, where both Flogsta and Gottsunda is located. It doesn’t add up to the magical format of a trilogy. What do you call two films, a diptych maybe.

‘Flogsta heaven’ is a film about student drop out who give up all things education, and instead they return to being savages, walking backwards, they spend three years to perform a perfect moonwalk instead of becoming a bright future for this country. The motto is daft punk instead of being so accomplished. That is what I wish for the films of Sweden, dafter and punkier.

 

 Here’s the trailer for Victor’s next movie ‘Flogsta heaven’

Mind Storm (1996)

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Ian Ziering has managed to resurrect his career, and will no doubt be starring in a network sitcom or a few big-budget films as soon as the Sharknado series is done. But he never really stopped working, and even when he was in the middle of his decade on “Beverly Hills 90210” he appeared in films during summer hiatus. Fortunately for us, one of them had the same name as the last film I reviewed, and was available for free on Youtube!

Eh, perhaps he should have just gone fishing, or read a few good books, because this really wasn’t worth his time. He’s Darrin, a computer game designer who takes a job with CTC, who might as well have a board outside their offices reading “A Completely Evil Corporation”. They’ve got some business going on where they do subliminal badness with their games, although the subliminal messages just look like what happened to a new computer when it boots up. Just flashing up “ANGIE” and “SEX” is enough to make you want to have sex with Angie, apparently.

So, there’s evil corporate drones, and someone’s offing people by using the computer program to send them individual messages. But here’s the thing – if you know that you make evil subliminal message programs, and you get a mysterious CD in the mail, would you touch it? These people are pretty dumb.

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“MInd Storm” is known under a great variety of names, possibly because its original title, “Subliminal Seduction”, is rubbish. So you’ve got “The Corporation,” and “Roger Corman Presents Flash Frame”, as well as “Mind Storm”.

What you also get is boobs. Ziering is involved in quite a few steamy scenes, involving his wife (Katherine Kelly Lang) and a few of the other corporate ladies. There’s little more erotic than brainwashed sex! Anyway, with this, the Stepford Wives vibe that comes across, and the slow reveal of just what CTC are up to, you’re not left too bored at any moment.

I’m sort of stumped as to what to think of this film. It’s surprisingly tense and decent for what it is, but the computer tech is laughably awful, and although they do a lot of clever shooting to make it look like they’ve got some great sets, that cheap TV movie stank is all over it (this one was made for US channel Showtime).

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Corman is a master of doing a lot with a little, so enjoy the surprisingly clever moments, and wonder if even by picking films virtually at random I’ll ever get away from him and Jim Wynorski (listed here as a production executive). Damn you!

Rating: thumbs down

Mindstorm (2001)

Hey, DVD cover people - you know there are women in this movie, right?

Hey, DVD cover people – you know there are women in this movie, right?

“Hey Mark, we need some page views”.

“Sure, boss! How about I review a virtually forgotten 13 year old ‘Dead Zone’ ripoff?”

“That’s my boy! Here’s another bag of money!”

Should this wander along the schedule for a low-budget TV channel one evening, or be on a market for 50p, then I think you could certainly do worse. It also features two women who really ought to have had much bigger and better careers than they had – Emmanuelle Vaugier, who’s had some recurring TV roles and…actually, forget about her, she’s doing great; plus, Sarah Carter, who…oh it turns out she’s working all the time too. I really ought to pay more attention.

Anyway, there’s a government experiment with psychic kids in 1984, and it’s destroyed by Russians, who presumably want to keep their advantage in the psychic war stakes. It’s never really explained. Of the two main kids, the boy dies in the fire and the girl is rescued by one of the guards, who then raises her as his own. Cut to adulthood, and she’s a private investigator finding missing kids, and she has a friend in the FBI who knows her secret, and helps out on cases.

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There’s a cult run by Eric Roberts, who does make a great cult leader, and the Senator who looks a bit evil is Michael Ironside, who makes a great evil senator. The cast is strong, and the idea is okay, but like I said up top, it’s just like we’ve seen this before.

It looks great, and some of the locations are well chosen (the cult’s base, the tram graveyard) but the other feeling I couldn’t shake was how this felt curiously unfinished. When the last scene rolls around, you’re thinking “okay, here comes the twist, or where they at least explain to each other what’s going on” but no. It’s not like it cut from the film too quickly, either, because the credits rolled…all in all, it’s a curious experience. I wonder if it’s like a double-pilot episode for some TV show that got cancelled, and the last (deleted) scene was the setup for that? I guess we’ll never know.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

American Ninja 5 (1993)

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Well, that was a strange little series.

David Bradley, star of AN 3 and 4, filmed another, unrelated film about a guy and some ninja shenanigans. Cannon, never ones to pass up an opportunity to make a quick buck, renamed it “American Ninja 5” but didn’t do anything a person might expect, like changing the name of the main character or having it make any sense in terms of the four films that preceded it. That’s how we like em at the ISCFC! Anyway, that makes the American Ninja series perhaps the only example of the same film series having two parts that didn’t tie in to the rest, or each other. Congratulations!

Bradley is Joe (a different Joe to the one Dudikoff played in 1, 2 and 4), who’s training at Pat Morita’s gym! Morita, clearly doing this as a favour to someone, pops up at the beginning to ask Joe to look after his great-nephew Hiro, a sullen 13 year old, then sods off til the last two minutes. As well as having this annoying kid in tow, Joe meets a beautiful woman sort of by accident, only she’s the daughter of some scientist who’s being held by an evil crime fellow, and the crime fellow has a super-powerful ninja as his main enforcer…

Fabulous!

Fabulous!

In a bit of a coincidence, Tadashi Yamashita, the guy who played the bad guy from AN1 is here, as Pat Morita’s assistant trainer, but his credit is as himself? It’s a puzzler, as he doesn’t seem to be that famous. To increase your confused frown as the film goes on, Hiro is played by Lee Reyes, a genuine junior karate champion, and he did most of his own choreography. He’s one of those style of characters that films occasionally fall in love with – the extremely annoying precocious pre-teen who can do everything better than the adult cast. The scene where he’s walking through a city somewhere in Venezuela, crying and begging for random strangers to take him to the American embassy, is a low point even for this series. Anyway, clearly Cannon thought he was a star in the making, although they would seem to have been very badly mistaken on that.

David Bradley learned how to act in the intervening years, and is a decently funny, credible actor in this one. He’s no longer got that rabbit-in-the-headlights look when it comes to being the lead guy in a movie; which makes his seeming complete disappearance from cinema in 1997 slightly sadder than it would have been if you’d only seen AN3.

What did we learn with this movie? Well, we learn that baddies sometimes have their offices, complete with computers and all sorts, just in the open air, near the pool of some hotel. We learn that ninja-ism is hereditary, and you just need to unlock the potential with a short montage. We also learn that if you get bored of being the legal guardian of a kid, you can just fob him off at a moment’s notice on one of your work colleagues while you go on holiday. These are some important lessons, I think you’ll agree.

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Although this film was clearly sorry to see us viewers go, feeling like it lasted for 4 hours, this is the end of the series. Cannon Films are now the subject of a couple of different documentaries which I’ll try and review for you soon; and the world is a bit sadder for having fewer racist lunatics making cheap crappy films to fill up video shops.

Rating: thumbs down

American Ninja 4: The Annihilation (1991)

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Ninjas are actually threatening again! From three films where they were basically ignorable cannon fodder, we come to a film where they appear to have skills and use them to kill people. Hey, it’s a big step! And we also have a moderately amusing attempt to crowbar the last film into this series’ “continuity”!

But the one thing these films never forget is to include numerous moments of staggering technical incompetence to give us all a nice laugh. It’s bookended with them – at the beginning, the Vicar performing a wedding is reading his lines off a piece of paper. Wouldn’t he know the words to the wedding ceremony, which given his age he would have performed hundreds of times? And right at the end, a helicopter is blown up and we’re treated to a couple of seconds of the mangled miniature swinging in the breeze on a string. Thanks, Cannon Films!

Sean (David Bradley), who was a pro karate fighter in part 3, is now a CIA agent, and along with his black sidekick (who’s a mostly non-fighting nerd, because Steve James was not hired for this) they’re sent to exotic location X to stop a Muslim fella along with his British “ex-policeman” friend from sending a suitcase nuke to New York. Along the way, he picks up a love interest pretty much by accident (she’s so immediately hot for his bod I wondered if they already knew each other, but no) and then gets captured and chained up by the Sheikh.

Joe Armstrong (Dudikoff, who never bothered getting any better at acting) is now in the Peace Corps, teaching, and is reluctantly brought out of retirement to rescue Sean, the other special forces guys, and basically bring peace and happiness to the world. And thank heavens! His intensity was sorely missed in the last film, as it was in the first 45 minutes of this one. Strangely, the two apparent great friends Joe and Sean share basically no screen time. Did the actors not like each other? Was it some weird money-saving thing from Cannon? Who knows?

This is the sum total of them sharing the same screen

This is the sum total of them sharing the same screen

So, you don’t need much more from me about this one. You ought to expect what you get from the fourth installment of a low-budget series of ninja movies.You will learn that ninjas can dodge bullets but not throwing stars, which seems ass-backwards, that Joe has developed a Vulcan Death Grip, and that at the end, he walks away in a white t-shirt without a single mark on it, in fact, having taken zero damage throughout. Hurrah!

There’s not a lot technically to say about any of these movies. Cannon were experts at low-budget cinema so all the sound and camera angles are competent and completely uninteresting. The special effects are ropey, but very rarely used. Weirdly, these days they seem much higher-budget than they were, due to the use of proper film and lighting.

Now, onto part 5, which I think will also qualify for unquel status, making this a rare example of a franchise having two non-consecutive films which bear zero relation to what’s gone on before.

Rating: thumbs down

American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt (1989)

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When a main actor doesn’t come back for a continuation to their franchise, I always wonder exactly what happened. Did Dudikoff ask for too much money? Unlikely, as he’s back for part 4. Was he busy? I doubt it. My best bet is, Golan went to Globus, “you know, that main actor guy was showing dangerous signs of charisma in the last movie. Let’s replace him with someone even worse” (real, boring answer: Dudikoff didn’t want to film in South Africa due to apartheid. Good work Michael!).

Luckily, some traditions remain. The title is meaningless, and there’s plenty of technical incompetence for everyone to enjoy (a lot of people stare at the camera in this movie). Oh, and that “teach ninja skills to Westerners and die” philosophy has now turned into “literally everyone in the world is a ninja”.

The one unqualified good thing about this movie is the return of Steve James as Jackson, who had the physique, fighting skills and acting ability to anchor this franchise on his own. Aside from Carl Weathers, I can’t think of another black guy who got to star in his own action movies at the time, and it’s a shame, and especially a shame as Cannon Films never had a single black lead in any of their movies (apart from “Crack House”, which isn’t a good example). In this, while he’s got the same name as in the last two, he seems to be a different person; and no mention is made of the fact he used to be in the army or had a best friend who was also a ninja (in fact, no mention of Dudikoff at all) He’s just a guy at a martial arts tournament.

Shalom-yall

Anyway, James has to play second fiddle to David Bradley, the sort of generic action guy who got starring roles in movies thrown at him for a while there. He’s Sean Davidson, a karate champion who’s travelling to…who cares?…for a tournament. Jackson is there too, to take part in the sword portion of the tournament, and the two of them, along with comic relief Dexter, become friends immediately because that’s what you do in these movies.

For a film set at a karate tournament, you don’t really see a lot of it, but what you do see is lots and lots of ninjas, this time led by former child evangelist turned actor Marjoe Gortner (seriously, look his story up, he’s had a pretty weird life) as “The Cobra”. He’s trying to do some genetic experiments, in “we got the script for part 2, changed a few names and the number on the front, and just used it again” fashion; and he infects Sean with some virus or other. Our three heroes have to kick some ass to get the antidote, only it turns out at the end he didn’t need to bother due to NINJA MAGIC

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The message of these films is, anyone who’s reasonably fit will be able to beat the snot out of any 5 ninja, really easily. Their training must be in something non fight related, because they’re complete cannon fodder here, not putting as much as a scratch on any of the main actors. Plus, the training Sean receives as the hands of his adoptive Japanese father is more karate than it is anything ninja-related – and how many ninja decide to supplement their day job with being a pro karate fighter? You see, these are the questions that you will find yourself asking during the course of this fine and exciting movie.

Most of the boring final fight sequence I spent wondering if this qualifies as an “unquel”. Despite a returning actor, and a similar generic action movie plot, there’s really nothing which ties this to the previous movies in the series, which were about a guy in the Army doing ninja things. I think it probably does.

And that’s how exciting this film was!

Rating: thumbs down

PS- Review site Dorkshelf did a whole article about this movie and the downfall of Cannon Studios which you should read – http://dorkshelf.com/2014/02/24/unsung-anniversaries-3-american-ninja-3-blood-hunt/

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