Saturday, May 31, 2014

Instant Action: Ninja (2009)

Ninjas with night vision is a pretty terrifying idea!

Written By: Boaz Davidson & Michael Hurst
Directed By: Isaac Florentine

There's some story at play in Ninja, and it's serviceable. That's faint praise, but it's okay for the story in a film that isn't really about a traditional plot based story to be merely okay. There's a good guy, a bad guy, some people who get caught in the middle, an object that is desired, and lots and lots of mayhem ensues. That story provides the framework for Isaac Florentine to film a pretty nifty action film. Ninja is first and foremost an action film, and there's nothing wrong with a well made action film, I'll let you in on that little secret for free.

The action in Ninja deserves to be focused on it because it is, as I said, pretty nifty. I was most impressed with the placement of Mr. Florentine's cameras. He presents a panorama of action with very little camera movement. Essentially he places his cameras in specific places and then allows for the action to come to the cameras. He's not so much interested in following the fray, but filming the fray as it happens. The end result is action that is both expansive and easy to follow. The filming of Ninja leaves the impression that there's more action taking place than meets the eye, if that makes any sense. It's kind of hard to describe, but because of the method Mr. Florentine uses to capture the action of the film there's a fullness to said action. Characters aren't confined to one corner of a room, or one floor of a building, the fight can take place anywhere and move anywhere.

Mr. Florentine is very adept during Ninja at making the action easy to follow. Ninja is not made using the disorienting Chaos Cinema approach to action that I loathe oh so much. No, the action in Ninja is of the sort where I can see a character get grabbed, know that he's near a window and then follow the action as he is thrown from the window and into the path of another oncoming train. Being able to follow the action is such a small thing, but it's very important when it comes to crafting an enjoyable action picture. Mr. Florentine gets it right when it comes to filming action and recognizing that the audience wants to be able to follow what is happening.

This is my first film from Scott Adkins, and I'll have to admit I wasn't super impressed. He was decent as Casey Bowman, but he didn't blow me away. There's a roughness to his style of martial arts that I could see working much better in a more brawling sort of film. He's not bad in Ninja, far from it, but for as much as he has been hyped up to me I'll need to see some better work from him in some other films for that hype to be warranted.

The same is not true of Mika Hijii, who I knew nothing about coming into Ninja and ended up being happily surprised by. She played Namiko quietly throughout, but when an action scene required her to get rough and tumble she more than had the goods. An important moment for me was her fight on the subway. She didn't shrink away like some sort of scared and fragile violet. She did some impressive ass kicking of her own, before succumbing to the simple laws of physics. Which was another aspect of the film I appreciated. I've grown a little tired of the hundred pound woman, or even man, who can take on numerous behemoths at the same time and prevail easily. Sometimes simple body weight and physics dictate that the smaller person is going to lose the fight, regardless of gender. I was happy that Ninja gave Namiko her time to shine, but also kept it real in regards to her size and the result of her fight based on said size.

I'm interested in seeing the rest of the Ninja films, as well as more from Misters Adkins and Florentine, and Hijii-sama. Ninja is the sort of direct to video goodness that is becoming harder and harder to find these days. It brings the action goods in thrilling and industrious ways. There are plenty of action films out there begging for your time. Trust me when I tell you that Ninja is one of the action films worth making the time to see.



Bill Thompson

Episode #289: The Letter Runner

Welcome back for another episode of the GGtMC!!!

This week the Gents cover Letter Never Sent (1959) directed by Mikhail Kalatozov and The Indian Runner (1991) directed by Sean Penn!!! 

Direct download: ggtmc_289.mp3

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Revenge Is My Destiny (1971)

And then there was the time I stabbed myself in the eye.  I was prying the top hinge cap off a refrigerator with a flat screwdriver when the driver slipped off the cap, slid right past my glasses, and jammed straight into my eye.  If you have ever met me, I bet you couldn’t tell which one it is could you?  That’s because I didn’t lose the eye, thankfully; just put a nice ding in it (unlike proto-Snake-Plissken Ross Archer [Christopher Robinson] in Joseph Adler’s Revenge Is My Destiny).  My optometrist gave me eye drops.  Hooray.  

Those who do manual labor on a regular basis can attest to the myriad injuries (minor and not-so-minor) that one can and will incur no matter how careful one is, leaving one with a certain stunned stoicism immediately afterward (“well, that happened”).  The question then becomes, “do I go to the ER for this one?”  My general rule of thumb is, unless I stand to die and/or lose an appendage, that’s not necessary.  Many is the time I’ve had to wrap gashed open knuckles with about a half roll of paper towels and electrical tape to get the wound to seal and prevent me from bleeding out all over a person’s appliance.  The judicious application of hydrogen peroxide and a well-stocked bandage supply carry the rest of the day.  I don’t think this necessarily makes me a hard ass (I think I’m quite the opposite), but maybe it’s somewhat hereditary.  One of my brothers has been known to stitch himself up after rugby injuries and even took a Dremel to his teeth to make them flat across (don’t ask).  Then again, maybe this aversion is all born out of fear.  After all, you know what you have with a limb split open at home.  You never know what the hell will happen to you in a hospital (especially our local one, but that’s a whole other issue).

After having it out with some Viet Cong, Ross is injured by mortar fire and captured (we get to see up to the injury portion in the prologue).  One year later he returns home, a newly-eyepatched man, only to find his wife Angela (Elisa Ingram) gone and go-go dancer Ellie (Patricia Rainier) taking up her space in his houseboat (which is more like just a boat on which Ross happens to live).  Driven by a burning hatred, Ross scours the Florida underbelly and begins to turn up much more than he anticipated.

Like so many movies that came out in the wake of disillusionment that ended the Sixties, Adler’s is also about the damage done by war generally and the atrocities of the Vietnam War specifically.  The VC at the film’s open have no problems shelling peasants, clearly marking them in cinematic terms as bad guys.  However, the tables are turned and evened in short order when Ross drowns an enemy combatant only to discover it was a woman.  For when this film was produced, I’m sure this twist was pretty shocking, and it is certainly emphasized to the audience in the dramatic use of music.  Seconds later, Ross is injured.  He is punished not only for killing a woman (in a time of war, granted) but also for partaking in the war in the first place, and the two together make him worthy of being sanctioned.  

Once back in America Ross is still filled with hate, only now it’s aimed at his wife who, from what we’re told, basically just dropped off the face of the Earth while Ross was in a POW camp (the VC woman is a stand-in for Angela and Ross’s subconscious [and conscious] desire to hurt her).  The loss of his eye is the physical toll of his choices, but the scars of war travel deeper in Ross.  We get the distinct impression he was something of a prick even before Vietnam.  His experiences overseas didn’t change him so much as augment him.  It is the actions he takes pursuing his wife which will determine the arc of his destiny.  These two, in fact, have a strong love/hate relationship, and this is what draws them to each other (“Can I get in touch with you?”  “You’re just begging me to break your neck, aren’t you?”).  This is also why Ross may have a tryst with Ellie, but he can never have a long term relationship with her.  She’s too nice.  There’s nothing about her to hate, so the hate Ross would need in order to love her would never be sustainable.  

The search for Angela is Ross’ search for completion.  They are two halves of a whole, both of which are kind of shitty.  This is highlighted in the beach footage.  Early on, we see Ross in silhouette running into golden surf.  Later, Ross and Angela are shown at a beach from the same angle, only now it is at night.  Later still, Ross and Angela’s story will come full circle, and this will also occur on a moonlit beach.  Water as a rebirth motif is strong in the film.  Ross wants to wash away what he was before he came back from Vietnam (especially the “sin” he committed against the VC woman despite this being something Ross craved at that moment), though it’s pure yearning at this point.  His relationship with Angela is reborn at the ocean.  His fate is resolved at the ocean.  He lives on a boat, and he wants to find himself abroad, wandering the ocean.  Sonny Crockett could probably learn a thing or two from Ross Archer.

All that said, I think the film is mistitled, quite frankly.  Revenge in Revenge Is My Destiny is not focused on strenuously.  If anything, this is a gritty, pulp action story, straight out of a men’s adventure magazine.  There are convolutions on top of convolutions in the plotting.  They do connect up by the end, but the route they take to do so is circuitous.  The script is something to which I think Ellroy, Lansdale, Thompson, or Westlake would be proud to have their name attached.  Oh, it has its share of problems.  There is the facility of low budget filmmaking that spans plot holes for the sake of putting film in the can and footage on the screen, most noticeable in the fact that it feels a lot like two film plots pushed together.  The pacing could be tightened up some.  But there is a charm at work here, and there are some decent action scenes that give a nice dose of value to the production.  Part of me is surprised to not hear this film discussed more among crime and cult movie circles, and that’s a shame because it certainly warrants some attention.  Hopefully this little review will help get it some.  Okay, even I laughed at that one a little bit.

MVT:  The film has an unassuming, forthright attitude which fits it like a new pair of lifting gloves.  This is stripped down, almost raw storytelling which isn’t hurt by its shortcomings; it is enhanced by them, in my opinion.

Make Or Break:  The opening scene in Vietnam is impressive.  It clearly was made on the cheap, but the action has a nice sense of scale, and it is blocked out solidly, so we know what is happening at all times.    Lots of films from this era and of this ilk don’t even give you that much.

Score:  6.75/10                    

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Episode #288: The Town That Evicted A Comet

Welcome back to another episode of the GGtMC!!!

This week our episode is brought to you by the fine folks at and it was Sammy's turn to program the episode. We are reviewing Night of the Comet (1984) directed by Thom Eberhardt, The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) and The Evictors (1979) both directed by Charles B. Pierce!!!

We hope you enjoy the episode and head over to and buy some goodies and tell them the Gents from the GGtMC sent you over!!!

Direct download: ggtmc_288.mp3

Emails to



Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Born Of Fire (1987)

The five of you who regularly read these missives of mine may recall that I’ve mentioned in the past that I play bass (or have; it’s been a while).  I have no aptitude for reading music; I was simply gifted with a reasonably good ear and a knack for mimicry.  Helpful, since I started off playing punk and hardcore music with my first electric bass.  Wait, that’s not entirely true.  I did at one point in time learn to read music.  When I was in grade school, we had a music class (it was pretty much mandatory, but then again, we had small classes), and it all commenced with the flutophone (essentially the red-headed stepchild of the recorder).  Once a week, Mrs. Doyle would come into our classroom, and she would go over scales and songs (she used to say the Bs were flat because she sat on them; har dee har har).  It was fun, as it should be.

Eventually, we all graduated to stringed instruments, and my choice was the double bass.  We would learn a couple of songs for the annual “concert,” and one of them was invariably Hot Cross Buns which would be played in pizzicato.  It should go without saying that the truly unsubtle plinking of sixth-grade fingers on the instruments’ strings was like a concerto in Hell.  Like the music in Jamil Dehlavi’s Born Of Fire but without the practiced musicianship.  Since I didn’t keep up with playing after the classes were discontinued, any skill for reading eventually faded away.  I don’t really mourn this lack of expertise, but every now and again I think maybe I should give proper music training another go.  Just one more in an ever-growing list of woulda, coulda, shouldas in my life.  Onward and upward…

When a truly unusual solar eclipse occurs (a skull passes in front of our lovely Sol) and a volcano thought extinct suddenly erupts, an astronomer (Suzan Crowley, credited only as The Woman) just knows something is up.  So, what would you do?  Well, it doesn’t matter, because she goes to a concert showcasing flautist Paul (Peter Firth), who suddenly has visions of a woman (you’ll never guess who) being attacked by a group of men and hears music that he is not playing.  Stringing together clues about his deceased father’s quest for the Master Musician (Oh-Tee), Paul decides to travel to Turkey and search out the truth.

The film starts with this quote from Celaleddin Rumi: “In the rhythm of music a secret is hidden: If I were to divulge it, it would overturn the world.”  Intriguing stuff.  Music, as a form of expression in the film, is a pathway to the soul and to ultimate power.  But it can be used for good as well as for evil, and at least in some part, the film is about finding one’s voice in this way (which does your soul contain or contain more?).  The Master Musician does not speak a single word; the only noise he makes emanates from his flute (and surely there’s nothing phallic about that).  His music causes chaos and disorder, makes the Earth revolt against itself, calls forth the fire from its inner depths.  Paul’s journey is about discovering the power of the music within himself (“your flute will guide you;” again, nothing phallic to see here) and commanding the Everlasting Note (via circular breathing?  We’re never told).  But it is his search for this inner music that can also kill him if he cannot understand its might.  The Silent One (Nabil Shaban) is a deformed mute.  He is twice cursed, since he is an outcast from his village and, perhaps more importantly, he has no voice or instrument.  In this world, he is utterly powerless.  For him, though, his destiny will be shaped by tragedy and will even cross both value lines.  The Woman is a catalyst for emotion for all the characters, and while she plays an important part in the story, she cannot shape it because she has already been shaped by it.  In effect, she is an instrument as much as the flutes and somewhat passive in the grand scheme of things.

Alongside this element is the allegorical struggle between good and evil, where the Devil (or Iblis) is embodied by the Master Musician and Mankind is embodied by Paul (and his father before him).  It is the playing out of Lucifer’s contempt for men preceding his fall from Heaven.  Since he refused to kneel before men, he was cast out, and the Musician dwells in a deep cavern by an abandoned mosque to symbolize Hell.  When we are first introduced to Paul, it is in a shot that begins on the apse of a church depicting God in Heaven and tilts down to Paul playing his concert.  It associates him with the power of Good while also placing him underneath Heaven; he’s another pawn in the conflict, his significance notwithstanding.  Paul’s apartment is decorated with intricately latticed woodwork like you might find in a church, and he even has a pew in his loft.  The battle is also symbolized in the use of fire and water/ice.  Paul’s father was found burned to death.  The Master Musician commands flames from his eyes, mouth, his flute, and the Earth itself.  The Djinn character is basically a fire elemental distinguished by its burnt flesh and smoking footprints.  Conversely, there is an icefall where a character is killed.  It is also the place which will protect Paul as he grasps for his musical/spiritual mastery.  The waterfalls Paul passes on his journey is considered the graveyard of the Djinn, water conquering fire like scissors beats paper.

While you could pick apart the metaphors in Born Of Fire all day, the film by itself is something of a mess from a storytelling aspect.  The performances are cold, the characters always at a remove.  This does play into the point of the film, but it can make for some hard going.  Further, the editing is unconcerned with any real cohesion.  Paul sees the Djinn on the side of the road, stops, and appears to approach her.  Cut to: Paul arriving at the village.  Later, he plays the Master Musician’s flute, and as we anticipate some sort of climax, the filmmakers again just cut to another scene, behaving as if nothing of any consequence has happened.  There are elisions of time we cannot fully connect, though to some degree it feels as if we are expected to have done.  Even the basic premise is engaged and discarded almost randomly throughout, and this confuses the figurative facets somewhat, since the film appears to make points and then its own counterpoints, sometimes within moments of each other.  In spite of this, I did find myself enjoying the film, though more for its provocation of thought and its stunning cinematography, courtesy of Bruce McGowan, than as an entertaining narrative.

MVT:  When I boil it down, the beauty of the film is truly impressive.  Even when not being used symbolically, the camerawork and compositions are gorgeous and often even breathtaking to behold.  

Make Or Break:  There is a scene at the icefall which involves some profuse bleeding.  It is horrifying and beauteous at the same time, and for me at least, this is the image which will remain stuck in my head from the film most of all.

Score:  6/10