25 April 2011

Ring of Steel

United States – 1994
Director – David Frost
MCA/Universal Home Video, 1994, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 34 minutes

While competing in a regional fight for a spot on the Olympic fencing team, Alex kills his opponent in a freakish slow-motion accident. As a crimson dollop of gore slides down his foil, one can almost physically feel the yoke of guilt dropping like a widow's veil upon Alex’s frail conscience. His trainer, fearing for his own career refuses to associate with him anymore and Alex, in his poet shirt and buccaneer mullet is cut adrift to drown his sorrows in reasonably priced imported beer. What is a babyfaced former shoo-in for the Olympic fencing team to do when it seems as though no one cares about him and the things he wants? Why not resort to that time honored male tradition of using a woman to make yourself feel better? Just as the six-pack is starting to dull his aching self-pity, Elena appears to forward the plot a little more. She fences too, that is after all how Alex met her, but that’s not what girls are for in dude movies. Instrumental value refers to much more than the frantic thrusting of your bendy wire sword. After physically comforting Alex, she disappears again for the bulk of the film as the hostage and bargaining chip of Joe Don Baker who lurches onto the screen like a sack of microwaved hamburger with teeth.

Y’see, Joe Don is also something of an outcast, you would be too if you were an obese bi-polar gerbil, but he at least is aware of his position in the social hierarchy. Joe Don, who remains nameless throughout the film, runs a skeezy nightclub called the Ring of Steel where yuppies come and twitch to 90’s club music and, if they buy enough coke, go downstairs watch Renaissance Fair nerds fight each other to the death in an old industrial holding tank. With Elena as collateral, Joe Don ostensibly forces Alex to fight, but with all the unused plotholes lying around he doesn’t seem in too much hurry to escape. Actually, he looks like he’s having a pretty good time, as long as he continues to be showered with the affection of the crowd. It isn’t until he has to confront the big bully Jack, Joe Don’s ugly and stupid house champion that Alex get’s squeamish. When the bigger, meaner, uglier nerd comes and stomps all over your paper crown, it’s not so much fun anymore.

Ring of Steel is the quintessential nerdsploitation film. Nerds are an easily exploited demographic, their ostracism often further distorting already blunted social skills, but I understand the sad desperation, the need for recognition and acceptance that breeds a blind optimism in nerds like Alex. “Someday,” his tender heart cries out, “they’ll all realize that fencing is really cool and then, on that glorious day I’ll be a star and everyone will like me.” While most nerd-centric cinema openly mocks, or commiserates with nerds, Ring of Steel is completely oblivious to its own tragic humor. In effect it is narcissistically self unaware, missing of the ironic-forest for the ego-trees. But I’m not complaining, watching mulleted men in tights squabble and fight each other is a chilling, entertaining reminder of public school days when the not-so-reviled kids would attack and denigrate those few outcasts even lower than themselves like wounded dogs fighting for the last tattered scrap of dignity. Stuck between these two demographics, who can blame nerds like Alex (writer/star Robert Chapin) when they seek an escape in fantasy.

Thanks to Action Packed Cinema for the trailer.

22 April 2011

The Return of Gumby

The Return of Gumby
United States - 1956
Director - Art Clokey
F.H.E., 1987, VHS
Run Time - 50 minutes

  • Witty Witch
  • Hot Rod Granny
  • In a Fix
  • King for a Day
  • The Groobee
  • Gopher Trouble
  • Rain for a Roo
  • Chicken Feed
  • The Zoops

    21 April 2011

    Battle Angel

    Japan - 1993
    Director - Hiroshi Fukutomi
    ADV Films, 1996, VHS
    Run Time -1 hour, 10 minutes

    I read a fair amount of comics, but rarely manga. However, I am a fan of the dark science fiction and like its predecessor AkiraBattle Angel Alita is set in a violent dystopian future. I'm very picky, but this is one of the best. This anime, which is good but not as good as the source, covers portions of the first two volumes of the manga written and illustrated by Yukito Kishiro who won the Japanese Illustrator of the Year award at the age of 17.

    19 April 2011

    Robo Formers - Star of Fear

    Star of Fear: Imagination
    Japan/United States - 1975-6/198?
    FB Productions, 198?, VHS
    Run Time - 1 hour

    Thanks to Shelby Cobras over at Illogical Contraption for hooking me up with this old tape.

    18 April 2011

    Dino Riders

    The Dino Riders Adventure
    United States - 1987
    Tyco, 1987, VHS
    Run Time - 27 minutes including Tyco commercials!

    Thus begins VHS animation week!

    15 April 2011

    11 April 2011


    Here, sit on this milk-crate and look mad, we'll Photoshop the car in later.

    United States - 1997
    Director - Steve Wang
    A-Pix Entertainment, 1998, VHS
    Run Time - 1 hour, 39 minutes

    Historically, by dint of preference I haven’t exposed myself to very many action films outside of classic Chinese kung-fu, but if the junk turning up in my in-box is any indication, that all seems to be changing, I'm learning to enjoy the absurdity of it all. Here in Drive Mark Dacascos (Brotherhood of the Wolf) plays Toby Wong, a Chinese national on the run in the U.S. from the Chinese mafia who are trying to prevent him from revealing the techno-secret of his super robot-heart to a rival corporation. Even if a bit silly, the story seems intriguing, even suspenseful at first. That is, until you remember halfway through the film that you’re an whiny leftist and something about this movie seems a little uncool man. That’s when you realize that Wong is just selling stolen military technology (likely funded with government grants paid for by taxpayers) to a rival corporation. The promise of money that Wong has been offered for delivery of said robo-heart represents not some high-minded reward for social justice rendered, but only a fraction of potential government contract money to produce legions of super warriors to oppress third world nations for access to the raw materials and cheap labor required to manufacture robo-heart components. Or, the reward money might be an easy excuse for writing another character into the script.

    Enter Malik (Kadeem Hardison), an innocent bystander Wong picks up on the run. I initially thought that Malik’s predictable stereotyped clowning was there to relieve Dacascos’ wooden acting and complete the buddy-cop act (cleverly disguised as buddy-fugitives.) But wait, ridiculous and mostly unused robo-heart angle aside (oh yeah, that) the dialogue throughout is actually quite snappy and amusing and in the final scene Dacascos belts out a karaoke song revealing that even the golem can muster a sense of absurdist humor. Channeling Axel Foley, Malik’s two-dimensionality is just an inexplicable and practically criminal laziness on the part of the writer and director whom, judging by the relative quality of the rest of the film, are clearly capable of better. One can only assume that this perplexing and disappointing cultural-spectre must serve to add something “familiar” or “relatable”. Maybe the old eye-popping, shuckin-n-jivin’ coon act is meant to help us “suspend disbelief.” Brittany Murphy appears as a deranged/strung-out hotel receptionist who repeatedly throws herself at Malik. But don’t worry, the Hollywood taboo against sullying white female purity with black male sex will not be broken in Drive. Malik may act stupid, but he isn’t. Sometimes even if you’re the most capable actor, with the best lines in the film, you still play along to get along.

    I would like to think that a director’s cut version of the film which runs at least 15 minutes longer is better. And despite my waning aversion to macho violence outside of a dojo, yes, more of Dacascos awesome quadruple-discipline martial arts skills would be great. From what I’ve seen in Drive this guy doesn’t get the recognition or roles he deserves, and neither does Kadeem Hardison. Let’s hope that that changes without more of the same tired old song and dance.

    04 April 2011

    Night Visitor

    United States - 1989
    Director - Rupert Hitzig
    MGM/UA Home Video, 1990, VHS
    Run Time - 1 hour, 34 minutes

    This awkward combination of high school sex comedy and occult horror has possibly the worst theme song in recent memory. I’m sure it would be in close competition with any number of other themes if I actually did a masochistic side-by-side comparison, but right now it is sufficiently grating enough to warrant the two opening sentences of this review.

    The plot itself concerns dweeby high-school senior Billy Colton, a kid with a well known tendency to fabricate stories. So well known that when his new neighbor Lisa (Shannon Tweed in her first entirely clothed role to my memory) turns out to be a hooker, his friends don’t believe him. Nor do the cops believe Billy when the following night he witnesses his history teacher Mr. Willard sacrificing her while dressed in Satanic vestments. But the story is not really about murder or Satanism, as the paucity and silliness of both elements illustrates. There is something beyond simple age which makes us adults, a social threshold we must cross before being accepted into the adult world, and the sinister and mysterious ritual central to this and other similar films, represents the final hurdle of childhood, the secret taboo of mature sexuality.

    Stop, you're busted!
    Billy is just on the cusp of becoming a man, and with his graduation imminent adulthood is staring him tantalizingly in the face. But something is missing. He watches through a telescope as Lisa entertains another client, looks up to where she seems to know that he is observing, and winks knowingly, beckoning, challenging, offering that final hurdle. The next night he climbs onto Lisa’s roof to watch through a window as she entertains another client. It is at this point that before Billy sees anything, Mr. Willard catches him. Thus cut short of something he doesn't quite understand, Billy spends the remainder of the film running around trying to get the cops (Richard Roundtree) his friends, or anyone else to elucidate what he saw, but in the end of course, he has to discover it on his own.

    Most importantly this involves Mr. Willard’s capture and pending sacrifice of Billy’s best friend Kelly (Theresa Van Der Woude) the prevention of which proves to be that final step propelling Billy into adulthood. Throughout the movie he has shown, though not confessed, a romantic interest in Kelly, and being of course the only “virgin” among Willard’s victims, she is the only woman who can really be “saved”. Having achieved this, Billy is now a man and the final few minutes of this awkwardly executed high-school-sex-“comedy”/horror flick can be padded with scenes of the freshly minted adult couple frolicking in public, no longer intimidated by that last taboo.

     Oh no, her shoes are off. Does that mean she's "done it"?