Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Is Gymkata stupid? YES.
Is Gymkata awesome? YES.

It is the action film that continuously asks, “How can we recreate “Enter the Dragon” for the tail end of the Cold War, using a gymnast as America’s secret weapon?” It also asks many other important questions, such as, “How do Kurt Thomas’s white pants stay so clean through so many battles to the death?” and “Can Kurt Thomas pull his white pants up any higher?” But most importantly, the age-old question: “Why, in the middle of a medieval hellhole town serving as an insane asylum for psychotic freaks so violent that none should still be standing, is there a crude-looking but otherwise REGULATION POMMEL HORSE?”

I first discovered Gymkata over a decade ago, on late-night TV, starting in the middle of the movie. This is the optimal viewing experience. Seen this way, the plot of the movie sloughs away, leaving the essential core: “A gymnastic, shorter version of MacGyver fights his way out of some kind of violent land of pure sadism. Surreal combat just won’t stop.”

Seen in its entirety, the movie drips with Hollywood clichés and cumbersome set-ups, not to mention the cheapest of twists. Our hero, Jonathan, must find his missing father, plus secure American military advantage in the sicko Islamoid (very ahead of its time in a Fox-News kind of portrayal of a backward nightmare Eurasian province) nation of Parmistan. Why the name reminiscent of an Italian cheese? You decide. For some fucking reason, this country makes all of its major political decisions based on “The Game,” a to-the-death footrace where a bunch of guys from different countries try to kill each other while a lot of low-skill ninjas also try to end their lives. If our man wins, America gets to put a Star Wars missile defense system there, or some shit. So, Gymkata kind of encapsulates the worldview of Ronald Reagan.

Parmistan is ruled by a nonsensical king who not only controls “The Game,” but also:
--resembles an offspring of Mark Twain and Joseph Stalin
--has a kung-fu badass daughter who looks Thai or Philippina, and is totally on our side
--is beloved by his people
--speaks perfect English and may not even be from his own country
--employs a military strongman who rides horses shirtless, spins and throws those 3-pronged knives that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Raphael uses, and lusts after the king’s daughter, AND commands the military (10 guys on horseback) in defiance of the king
--seems to run a nation of about 500 people

This film excels mainly at nonsense and offhanded cruelty. Our hero keeps it pretty clean, but even he succumbs once or twice to casual killing when killing is the name of the game. Highlights include: training montage where Jonathan learns to trust no one, and to anticipate silent attacks, culminating in the ability to walk up stairs on his hands; love triangle betwixt Jonathan, the princess, and the king’s chief guard; asshole international strength champion named “Thorg” who ignores our hero’s compliments, kicks our hero when he falls, then is killed by hogs and peasants with pitchforks; fights where gymnastic flips make even a glancing blow DEVASTATING; goddamn low-rent ninjas.

Where Gymkata really shines, however, is in its City of the Damned sequence. It shamelessly exploits actors with Down Syndrome and deformities to portray a place of psychotic inhumanity, but it also has a few genuinely bizarre, somewhat disturbing scenes:
--a priest in robes turns away, showing bare ass through backless garment
--a guy with a mask on the back of his head enters eerie combat after pretending to be a dummy
--a guy with a sickle chops off his own hand, apparently out of frustration for having missed his first swing at our hero
--stray dogs lapping at puddles of blood

The horror is constantly tamped down, however, by the onslaught of inescapably lighthearted gymnastic leaping, and of course the appearance of that universal symbol of hope and modernity, the pommel horse.

Finally, reaching his limits of endurance, Jonathan is pulled from the frying pan of dementia by none other than his long-missing father! They embrace, then a fucking ninja shoots Dad in the back with an arrow. He dies right away, gasping to his son, “Win!” Jonathan is juiced to the finish by this emotional imperative. He whips the remaining requisite asses, and luckily the princess beats a lot of ninjas down some stairs. One assumes that they will get to ride horses together, and hopefully get the hell out of Parmistan.

Addendum: On viewing a recent episode of "Globe Trekker," which explored Armenia, I was struck by the many parallels to Gymkata. I'm not kidding. If you watch Gymkata and think, "Man, I'd like to experience such a fearsomely backward land," consider a trip to Armenia.

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Miss Robin Crusoe

"Miss Robin Crusoe," a TCM obscurity. 1954, in Pathecolor. I recorded this because I'd never heard of it. Luckily, it turns out to be gruesome, with a chance of race and gender perplexity. My favorite forecast!
Miss Robin Crusoe (Miss Kitty from "Gunsmoke") is on a ship disguised as a cabin boy. The ship founders in a storm. She washes up on an island (portrayed by Rancho Palos Verdes, a jungle set, and stock footage) with a creepy sailor, who immediately tries to rape her, so she has to throw him off a cliff.
She builds a tree house and befriends a monkey. She then bathes naked, so the monkey covers its eyes, because monkeys, as is well known, cannot bear to gaze upon the undraped female form.
Now headshrinking cannibals come, with two trussed up women on poles as sacrifices. They turn one woman upside down, bend over two trees, tie them to her feet, then let go the trees, so that she is torn in half right down the middle (off camera). While they are amusing themselves in this wise, Robin rescues the other woman, brings her back to the treehouse, and names her Friday (This is the wonderful Rosalind Hayes, a pinup girl who went on to appear in six episodes of Amos 'n Andy before disappearing from view.).
The savages then attack the treehouse. Robin shoots some, and Friday runs several through with spears, and they are discouraged. Friday offers herself to Robin as a slave. Robin progressively suggests that they be "companions" and "sisters."
The sororal companions are interrupted by more trouble in paradise! Another ship founders in a storm. The movie repeats the earlier shot of a ship foundering in a storm. The shot is probably from some other movie, anyway. George Nader washes ashore in tight blue shorts, so Robin ties him up and tells him she's the Captain and he better be obedient. Friday gets jealous and tries to stab him in the throat.
Later Robin and George Nader make out on the beach. Friday caresses Robin while she sleeps. The savages come back, with the renewed ambition of ripping Friday in half. Eventually everyone escapes the island. We don't find out how Friday adapts to England under Charles II.
Closing words: "God's world is wide and free and fair. There is no island of despair." "Miss Robin Crusoe" was awesome enough to redeem this difficult day. Thank you. TCM!

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Buddha and Bachelor Pad

Atheists and Christians, Buddhists and Jain,

Gather y'all and hear a story of human triumph! Lo it was not written, but unfolded in its own space with the pressure of gravity, like a lotus.

In the land of spray tans and whores, where the champagne is on tap and the bunk-beds are stacked, a game that honors God's creation has emerged. It goes by the name of Bachelor Pad.

Holy shit, did you guys see what Nick did?

I'll try to be clear and direct for those unfamiliar with the show. 'Isn't that the show with all the whores,' you ask? Yes. Yes, it is.

Everyone gets drunk and has sex and fights and schemes for money and the whole time you're watching you're saying to yourself, 'Wow, what it wrong with me? Something must be wrong with me that I'm watching this show,' but you watch and you watch and you hope that you can find a way to justify it.

Well, I've found the righteous path.

For years, (has it been on like three years, yet?) I've been waiting for this stupid show to live up to some imagined potential. Finally, it paid off.

Nick, the quiet guy, did the shitty thing and won all the money at the expense of his partner. His partner, Rachel Trueheart (I can't even make that name up), who never wanted to be his partner, was devastated because she missed out on the money and didn't have the courage to try to screw him over.

In Bachelor Pad, if you are the final "couple" you can vote one of three ways: 1. Vote to Share. If you and your partner vote to Share, you each win $125,000. 2. If one partner votes to Share and the other votes to Keep, the Keeper gets $250,000, and the Sharererer gets zip. 3. If you both vote to Keep, all the losers not slick enough to ascend the greased up Slip N Slide get the loot.

Nick said Keep. She said Share. He wins the whole burrito.

It was truly fantastic. I'll tell you why (because I feel your glare) -- he owned it. He stood up and clapped for himself while the audience and contestants held mouths agape.

Neither partner really liked each other, but the gracious deal, and the safe deal, was to share all the same. He knew it, everybody knew it, and he gave her assurances that he would share. Then, he pressed the Me button.

Nick seemed to understand the sad truth about this Bachelor Pad game from God: It is a horrible game to begin with! No one deserves to win! Even the biggest turd, Kalon, -- OMG, he called Emily's daughter baggage -- understood that. The premise of these one-winner reality shows like Survivor, Big Brother or Top Midget (this is my idea -- contact me for funding options), is I matter and you don't; It's a big game of King of the Hill. It's the same with sports. It's the same with capitalism. It's the same with everything, and the reason we're all going to hell.

'Isn't that the show with the whores?' Yes, yes, but...

Bachelor Pad is a constructed environment. It's a safe tent in the desert where none who enter are innocent. Don't you get it? Can you see what I see?

The glory of Buddha is found in the middle path! The glory of Christ lies on the cross! The atheist likes carrot cake. I lost where I was going, but if we are honest with ourselves, we know the 010101 pattern in life is a give-take thing. Self v. the Whole. Desire leads to dakka, compassion to peace, yadda, yadda -- most translate Dakka as suffering, but it is something more subtle.

Do I have to spell it out? What's best for the whole  -- and the whore, by the way -- is to have some room to be selfish. Not a crap-ton, but a reasonable amount. In daily life, that may mean a beer after your gig at the donut shop. On Bachelor Pad, it means Keep. Thanks for being awesome, Nick.


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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I Still Want a Woola

What went wrong? After "John Carter of Mars" went into production, Disney released "Mars Needs Moms" to a resounding lack of business, and began to fear that Mars had no commercial potential. They did some marketing research and discovered that women will not see movies set on Mars (I don't know how the fair sex feels about Venus, or Uranus), so "John Carter of Mars" is a title to alienate half of your potential audience right off the bat. Hence, the name change to "John Carter," or, "Some Guy of Somewhere: The Movie." Couldn't they have kept the original title "A Princess of Mars" and hoped that the girliness of "Princess" would cancel out the previously unrecognized by astronomy gynorepellant properties of the red planet? After all that, the director demanded total control over the advertising, and seems to have been misguided in this sphere.

And it's a good movie! It doesn't always have the narrative clarity and light touch one might expect from Pixar people. Still, a solid pulp adventure. I don't understand the gleefully vituperative reception. I feel sorry for the poor shaggy thing.

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Conan The Barbarian (2011)

On a quest to enjoy the new Conan, follow these simple commands.

1. Don't pay full price.
2. Disable your inner Ebert.
3. Embrace gore and glorious tits.

After hearing nothing good about this movie, and seeing its 19% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I decided it would be a foolish waste of 90 minutes and three dollars. Well, that's what movies are for, right? When you're foolish.

If you can get through the first ten minutes, you're on the road to payoff. The main hurdles are Ron Perlman looking like Harry (and the Hendersons) of the Hill People, and a young Conan reminiscent of Ernie Reyes Jr, in martial precociousness if not in looks. It's actually not bad, mostly. Conan gets his lessons in patient pugilism and ice-capades. The bad guys are ridiculously, inhumanly bad and monstrous, which seems to justify their many spurting demises. Sometimes Ron Perlman seems much too wise for someone so visually smelly, but then, they do live in a wintry land that perhaps suppresses overwhelming body odor.

Other dumb things include:
Two or three big moments of REACH TO THE HEAVENS AND CRY VENGEANCE, Rose McGowan's witchy, bulbous forehead, and that old-but-tough guy from Avatar and Terra Nova. I mean, is he the ONLY old-but-tough guy available? I guess he'll do.

On the plus side:
A tribute to blacksmithing, a very pretty main girl, oddly helpful pirates, Conan volunteering for prison, winning the loyalty of a little guy, toe-curling torture revenge, cool backdrops, intimidating kung-fu gravel zombies.

Things to ponder:
The bad guy has a gross mask. First it is made of metal, with a flimsy broken piece that makes you think, "even if he glues it back, it will break again during any rigorous activity." Then he gets the piece back, which makes the whole thing turn fleshy and grip his face. Kind of sick, like a facehugger in Aliens.

The big penultimate fight with the flailing Cthulu octopus is visual spaghetti. I lost my bearings, and so did the film editor. Chaos slathered in CGI tentacles.

Considering the source material, a showcasing of worship-worthy tits is more obligatory than gratuitous, so don't beat yourself up about it. Actually, I don't know the source material, aside from the Frank Frazetta covers, always dripping with heroic flesh.

Jason Momoa (this Conan), who also plays Khal Drogo in A Game of Thrones, apparently has certain requirements for his services, much like Van Halen's legendary color-sorted M&Ms.
1- Executions by molten metal.
2- Pale, virginal leading ladies.
3- Glimpses of slave girls with the most spectacular racks in the realm. Breasts that break wills and wear down rewind buttons.

Despite their commonalities, these projects are not equal. If you consume only one fantasy epic this year, let it be Game of Thrones.

Overall, there's fun to be had here. Go in with low expectations and you might be pleased. Jason Momoa makes a more wily and rootin-tootin Conan than Arnold did, though both have their charms. The old version was more bleak, with greater attention to metaphysics. This one has more enjoyable scenery, jauntier travels in a richer world-scape, and of course, bloodier tits.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Fury of "Latin Dragon"

she's as pretty as she is well mannered

The CW served up another 2 hours of awesome crap last weekend. Gary Busey leads a no-star cast, but if you watch, you will recognize several people enough to go, “THAT guy!”

for instance, this guy

Super-tatted Latino gangbangers and their super-slut stereotype ho-bags rob and destroy a market owned by one “that guy,” the Asian laundry man from Seinfeld. Then they unsportingly kill this old guy from a building marked “KARATE SCHOOL.” For some reason they seem to know a bunch of kickboxing or something even though they obviously rely on guns. The top bastard kicks the karate teacher off a high staircase into a pool, which ends his life. I think he also shot him, but for some reason the kicking was emphasized more. All in all, they screwed the pooch, because Latin Dragon disapproves of killing his old sensei.

Unfortunately for Latin Dragon, Gary Busey is behind it all. Ruining lives is his business and business is booming. He even has a scale model of his his big dream development, which he lords over like a bastard son of Mike Brady and The Kingpin.

The leading man does pretty good martial arts but his face is almost comedically emotionless. He is like a stuntman who demanded a leading role and surprisingly got it, then found his niche in being stony-faced.

Opening Title: The word “LATIN” comes swelling out of a wall of stone masonry. Then the word “Dragon” comes blazing under it in a script of red fire! These heavyhanded fonts prime even whitey’s senses for action. No fuddy-dutty typography here, old son.

Latin Dragon and his muy caliente girlfriend go out to eat at a nice Mexican place. Right in the middle of a calm—even boring— discussion, this big Thor-like wrestler motherfucker strides in wearing very tight jeans. He pushes Latin Dragon beyond the limits of his cool by delivering some lines like “I hear you beaners like your tacos real hot!” Then he dumps hot sauce on their food and says something about illegal wetbacks taking American jobs. I think he says “beaners” TWICE. So they fight, which is the best part. But that’s not saying much. The Thor guy has to be beaten up two times in a row, because he’s full of meaty menace.

For some reason, the bad guys are into all the classic mistakes of the gloating villain: Lorenzo Lamas thinks he has corrupted Latin Dragon’s cop brother, so he commands him to shoot the chained-up Dragon. But the brother waffles, demands to “do it his way,” then unchains his brother and points his gun suspensefully. Then, Dios Mio, he has a flashback to playing guns with his brother in their childhood. So his brotherly love wins out, and he tries to shoot Lorenzo and Thor. But it’s a trick! His gun is empty and they shoot him. BUT, that gives Latin Dragon the moment he needs to unspool a lightning round of tight-jean kicks on his oppressors. Thus, they are finished, the crooked pricks!

Meanwhile, Gary Busey has been trying to force the hot chica to sign a bill of sale in the privacy of his car. For some reason, even though murder and such do not bother him, he will not attempt forgery--he needs that real signature from Latin Dragon’s lady. He gives her the pen. She gives him the pen back--jammed all the way through his hand--Ha! Sweet justice. Then I think she ran away.

Finally, Gary Busey’s last stand. He points a gun at our hero, but one more twist--it’s out of bullets! They are in a train station, so Latin Dragon does a flying jump of about 20 feet and kicks Busey out the door, onto the tracks at the instant a train roars by. Busey=obliterated. So they all go to church to pray for their neighborhood, but Latin Dragon goes to the pier to straddle his motorcycle in the tightness of his pants.

Points scored for pretty good fights (not by Hong Kong standards, but better than, say, Walker Texas Ranger), Gary Busey, dumbness, and considerable hotness of leading lady. I give Latin Dragon 6.5 out of 10 spicy peppers.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

The Viking Sagas

I re-watched this movie and took notes for this review, then lost the notes. My wife said yesterday--"you mean we watched that movie a second time for nothing!?" So in the interest of imbuing life's suffering with meaning (and from memory), I give you: "Viking Sagas" starring Ralf Moeller.

Click here for trailer on You Tube.

First thing I noticed during the credits was lots of Scandinavian sounding names--good sign, right? Guess not. The main problem with this movie is the lead actor-- he's a German body builder who makes Schwarzenegger look like a true thespian. His range goes from stony-faced (used most of the time) to stony-faced with buggy eyes (used for killing people and having sex). He's a lumbering hulk. The story goes that he's the son of a warrior chief who didn't want him to be a warrior, so never trained him to fight (so how he got to be twice as beefy as all the other warriors?) Any way, the bad guys kill the father--who buys Ralf some time by disemboweling himself and then wrapping his intestines around a giant standing stone. This is by far the best scene in the movie. So Ralf escapes and goes to find The Best Warrior Ever to train him up so he can avenge his Fadder. When he finds him, he's like a paunchy middle aged Oak Ridge Boy with a mullet and a leather headband, and Ralf gets to deliver this classic line: "My Fadder wrapped his guts around a stone so I could find you." Well, they chuck the old spear around a while until Ralf can catch it in mid-air and whip it around and throw it back, then he's ready to go save the princess, defeat the bad guys, etc.

Other weird things about this movie: all the Vikings wear kilts (?), and the sound track is mainly didgeridoo. Oh, and they ride these tiny Icelandic ponies around, which is probably historically accurate, but looks silly as hell.

The landscape, which is Iceland, is actually really pretty, and I'll admit to enjoying the surreal spectacle of this muscle-bound beefcake bouncing along the barren countryside on his pony, holding his feet out so they don't drag the ground, while the didgeridoo warbles--but even that wasn't enough to make this worth watching, twice.

Do yourself a favor and watch "Arn the Knight Templar" twice instead.