How does 'Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon' play for a first-time viewer in 2015?
Credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

How does 'Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon' play for a first-time viewer in 2015?

While I'd argue I have a fairly deep knowledge of '80s films, having survived the era the first time through, it seems I somehow missed "The Last Dragon," directed by Michael Schultz.

Schultz works non-stop in television these days, and I'd wager that most of the people watching his episodes of "Arrow" or "Hart of Dixie" or "Black-ish" or "Chuck" or "The Mysteries Of Laura" have no idea this is the same guy who made movies like "Car Wash," "Cooley High," "Greased Lightning," "Bustin' Loose," or "Scavenger Hunt." He was one of the few directors to work with Richard Pryor repeatedly, which automatically makes him somewhat of a superhero.

It's always strange when you watch a movie for the first time removed completely from the context in which it premiered, especially one that provokes such an enthusiastic cult response from so many people when you mention it. A mere reference to the film on Twitter got dozens of replies from people who were outraged that I didn't know the film intimately already. I can see now why it has a cult following, and considering how lily white many of the films that teens went crazy for in the '80s were, it's nice to see one that exists in a world where there are very few white faces of any kind, except as ridiculous stereotypical bad guys.

Taimak stars as "Bruce" Leroy Green, a martial-arts-movie-crazy kid growing up in Harlem, and he is a block of wood. I think that's the nice way of saying it. In the scenes where he has dramatic or comedic material to play, he's almost mesmerizingly dull. But when he's turned loose as a martial artist, he comes to life, and he's fun to watch. Therein lies the secret of "The Last Dragon." It is frequently awful in several key ways, but it is also almost entirely fun, and that's what ultimately matters with this one.

Acting-wise, Taimak is well-matched with Vanity, but here's where I question my total lack of memory about this movie. I was, like most dudes my age, head-over-heels in lust with Vanity. Vanity 6 was sold using teenage boners as currency, and I paid as much as anyone. I remember when Prince made "Purple Rain" and the rumor was that the film was about her and that she was supposed to be in it, but when she wouldn't do it, he intentionally went out looking for someone to look just like her. I can't imagine that I didn't go see this if only to see Vanity onscreen. At 15, I was not above seeing a movie simply because of a shameless crush. She has a musical number in this film that looks like it was choreographed by someone in the grips of crippling diarrhea, and the song itself it almost like a dare to see if they can make you push fast-forward. Considering this was actually titled "Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon," the majority of the soundtrack is a cheerful nightmare. Maybe it was the omnipresence of "Rhythm of the Night" on MTV that made me feel like I had seen the movie.

Julius Carry is an instantly recognizable face to anyone who was watching film and TV in the '70s and '80s, and he is one of the primary reasons to see the film. He plays Sho'nuff, the Shogun of Harlem, leader of a martial-arts gang, and he's the one who spends most of the movie antagonizing Leroy. Christopher Murney is a particularly unctuous little rich white asshole, and Faith Prince does surprisingly nuanced work in a role that could have been a complete waste with a less-crafty comic actress. It's because of performances like theirs that the film has such a particular sense of humor. It's hammy and silly, and I'm amazed Leo O'Brien didn't go on to a bigger career. He plays Leroy's little brother Ritchie. and he's one of those 13-going-on-50 characters, all wise-ass attitude, and he plays things big and broad just like Mike Starr, who went on to make about 1000 more movies. Starr knows what he's playing, and he cranks it all the way up. Leroy's students, including Glen Eaton and Ernie Reyes Jr., are all charming and having way too much fun. And the way the film uses the footage from the various Bruce Lee films is really fun to watch as a primer for why he's great, something my kids have been asking about lately.

Watching the film, I did find myself enjoying each big sequence more than the one before, and Schultz taps into something that I'm not sure I've really seen many films get right, the way exploitation movies and Chinese martial-arts films influenced young black culture in New York, where those grindhouses were frequently places to hang out and soak it all up. It almost plays like this should be the origin story of the Wu-Tang Clan. "Then, after they all beat the hell out of each other Bruce Lee-style, they started a gigantic rap collective to spread the gospel of The Glow."

The Sony Home Entertainment release comes with a Blu-ray and a digital copy, and it looks like the studio has done excellent work with the best elements they could find. "The Last Dragon" looks about as good as anyone could hope for on this 30th anniversary edition. There's a director's commentary, a trailer, and a short feature about the film, and I'm actually going to make the time to go back and play that commentary. I want to hear Schultz talk about his earlier work, and if someone could get him to do commentaries for all of his Pryor films, I'd watch everyone one of those as well. Man, what I wouldn't give for a "Which Way Is Up?" commentary.

I have a feeling my own boys will get a kick out of this, and while I can't exactly say I think it's a great movie, I can see why the people who love it reeeeeeeeally love it. The film's got a sincere energy that is impossible to resist.

"The Last Dragon" 30th Anniversary Edition is available now. If you don't have it yet, considering using the Amazon link below or the Film Nerd 2.0 Amazon Store. All proceeds go to the nascent Film Nerd 2.0 War Chest.

Read Full Post
Why did the decidedly un-scary 'Area 51' terrify Paramount so much?
Credit: Paramount Insurge/Blumhouse Tilt

Why did the decidedly un-scary 'Area 51' terrify Paramount so much?

It wouldn't have taken this long to plan an actual break-in to Area 51

Paramount InSurge quietly dumped Oren Peli's "Area 51" onto Netflix this week, an ignoble end for a film that was apparently in production for the better part of a decade, and having finally seen it, my biggest question is this: why did Paramount bother with such a tortured post-production on such a slight and forgettable misfire?

Oren Peli's "Paranormal Activity" is one of the genuine miracles of recent indie cinema, a micro-budget horror film that not only spawned a hundred lesser rip-offs but helped turn Jason Blum into the only producer still apparently making horror films in all of Hollywood. While a series of "Paranormal Activity" sequels managed to do a solid job of building a mythology out of the fairly slight original film, with a series of different directors rotating through, Peli moved on to his next project and started production on the film in 2009.

Read Full Post
Will The Force really 'Awaken' for Disney at tonight's midnight sales events?
Credit: LEGO/Lucasfilm

Will The Force really 'Awaken' for Disney at tonight's midnight sales events?

Today's the real beginning of the real test of the international power of the 'Star Wars' brand

It has begun.

Now is the moment when it goes from the hype of the hypothetical to the actual quantifiable event. Is "Star Wars" worth the $4 billion that Disney paid for it, and will "The Force Awakens" truly return the series to its place at the top of the pop culture pyramid?

We won't really know those answers until December 18th, when the film arrives in theaters, but tonight at midnight, in time zone after time zone around the world, the first real test begins. That's right… Force Friday is here.

There's no way I'm going anywhere near a store tonight. I was there in 1999 when they did this, and I think a small part of my innocence died watching grown men elbow children out of the way to buy Jar Jar Binks figures for a movie none of them had seen yet. This time, there's a nostalgia factor built in that should have people in an even bigger frenzy, as well as brand new characters and creatures that are already driving fans insane.

Read Full Post
Vincent Cassel set to battle Matt Damon as Paul Greengrass returns to 'Bourne'
Credit: Fox Searchlight

Vincent Cassel set to battle Matt Damon as Paul Greengrass returns to 'Bourne'

This is one of next summer's most exciting prospects

One of the things that distinguishes the Jason Bourne films from the much lighter tone of the James Bond movies is the way the Bourne films seem grounded in the politics of the real world, something the Bond films studiously avoid.

After all, it's more fun to watch a movie about a super-spy fighting a bald evil genius with a volcano lair and an army of henchmen than it is to watch an indictment of the modern surveillance state. But "fun" isn't necessarily what Paul Greengrass has been chasing in the "Bourne" films he's made, and with the newest addition to the series starting to pick up steam, I couldn't be happier. With Greengrass onboard to direct again, I think it's safe to say the film is good hands. Greengrass is co-writing it with Christopher Rouse, and little by little, they are putting together one hell of a cast.

Read Full Post
What happens when you put three different Hannibal Lecters in one scene?
Credit: NBC/Universal/DEG

What happens when you put three different Hannibal Lecters in one scene?

Michael Mann, Brett Ratner, and Bryan Fuller all took their shot at the same material

Thomas Harris has gotten more mileage out of his various novels about Hannibal Lecter than I'll wager he ever expected, and like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did with Sherlock Holmes, I'm guessing Harris has a complicated relationship with his most iconic and memorable creation.

I was introduced to Lecter in Michael Mann's "Manhunter," and I immediately went out and found the Thomas Harris novel "Red Dragon" and read that, and it was clear to me immediately that Harris had found the perfect way to examine and comment on the way our pop culture is fascinated by human monsters. The movie wasn't a hit, but one of the advantages to working in a movie theater as a teenager was that I got to see things on the bigscreen for free as many times as I could sneak in during their run. I saw "Manhunter" four or five times, and then watched chunks of it while working. I saw the ending at least two dozen times. Minimum.

Read Full Post
Did Michael Winterbottom find the best possible Roger Ebert for his new biopic?
Credit: HBO/Roger Ebert/FX

Did Michael Winterbottom find the best possible Roger Ebert for his new biopic?

This sounds like one of next year's most interesting casts

It is clear that since his passing, Roger Ebert has been revered, and I certainly agree with that as an overall sentiment. But I spent enough time with Roger to see a glimpse or two of that rowdy playful side that was an equally important part of his personality. He was, after all, the screenwriter of "Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls," and he was famous for his friendship with Russ Meyer.

For those of you who were born in an era where you can simply download any extreme perversion you want in HD at any time, day or night, with your phone, you may not fully appreciate or understand what was special about the work that Meyer did as a director. He was a man with a very particular appetite, and it is distinctly possible he gave an entire generation of young men a rabid breast fetish.

Read Full Post
Before Caitlyn: Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander as a transgender couple in 'Danish Girl'
Credit: Focus Features

Before Caitlyn: Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander as a transgender couple in 'Danish Girl'

Eddie Redmayne's bound to be back in the Oscar race for this one

Tom Hooper's "The Danish Girl" may the most Oscar-baity Oscar-bait ever to bait the Oscar.

Then again, it might also be good. It's certainly a captivating story, the true-life tale of Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener, and director Tom Hooper's got himself a hell of a cast with Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander playing the couple who found themselves grappling with a relationship that helped break new ground for people around the world who felt that they were born wearing the wrong skin.

Read Full Post
A personal remembrance of the influential career of the great Wes Craven
Credit: The Weinstein Company/Dimension Films

A personal remembrance of the influential career of the great Wes Craven

We reflect on the overall impact of one of the genre's giants

When it comes to Wes Craven, I hardly know where to start to memorialize him. This one hurts. While I would not say we were close in any way, we were friendly, and I'd spent enough time with him that when we would run into each other, he always seemed to light up. I'm sure that was something that he did with many people. Everyone I know who knew him has stories about his incredibly kindness. I remember one afternoon in particular spent at his home talking to him about possible projects, and honestly, it didn't matter to me if we ended up getting a film set up or not. It was just the chance to sit and talk about horror with him that was the thrill.

Read Full Post
Brit Marling's got a gun on this exclusive 'The Keeping Room' poster
Credit: Drafthouse Films

Brit Marling's got a gun on this exclusive 'The Keeping Room' poster

The gender-busting Western riff hits theater next month

Could we be seeing a quiet resurgence of the Western?

During the Comic-Con presentation for "The Hateful Eight," Quentin Tarantino talked about being a Western director, and said that he doesn't feel like he's earned the right to call himself that until and unless he makes a third Western. The idea that we could see three Westerns inside of a decade, much less from one filmmaker, feels sort of groundbreaking considering how many times the genre has been pronounced dead over the years.

What's really exciting is seeing that there are big studio Westerns being made as well as small indie Westerns, and once again, as in the heyday of the genre, any numbers of stories are being told. The Western is the American mythic form, a type of storytelling that allows us to tell big moral stories against this remarkable backdrop. And it sounds like "The Keeping Room" is about as stark and brutal as the era itself:

Read Full Post
Why am I not as excited about 'Star Wars' now as I was in 1999?
Credit: Lucasfilm Ltd.

Why am I not as excited about 'Star Wars' now as I was in 1999?

Dear god... am I dead inside? Or is something else at work here?

One of the memories that I treasure most from 1998 came when I was driving from LA to Palo Alto with my friend Pete. I had a copy of "The Beginning" with me, the script by George Lucas, and he had a CD player loaded up with the soundtracks for the first three films. I read the script aloud while he drove, and by the time we got to his family's house for Thanksgiving, we were both convinced that we were going to get an amazing gift in movie theaters in May of 1999.

History has proven the two of us to be a wee bit overenthusiastic. While I am not a rabid prequel-hater the way many people are (watching the films with my kids radically changed my opinions on them and their place in the overall saga), I think there is something magical about the original three that only becomes more clear with time and distance. It's not as simple as saying "practical effects!" over and over the way some fans seem to think it is, and if you want to really appreciate just how barely the original films worked, you just need to read the amazing behind-the-scenes books that J.W. Rinzler wrote about each of them. I just recently finished reading the Kindle versions of each, completely with audio and video clips a-plenty, and they are astonishing. More than anything, they reminded me of all the ways the "Star Wars" films originally inspired my love of the craft of filmmaking, and fantastic filmmaking in particular.

Read Full Post
Prev Page 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 434 435