February 11th, 2008

THE APPLE (1980) NO STARS

For anyone who thought that Xanadu was an understated masterpiece of restrained emotion.  For anyone who thought that Can’t Stop the Music was a touching portrait of wonderment and beauty.  For anyone who thought The Wall made sense.  I give you The Apple. 

 

Of all the mind numbing, inexplicable, ridiculous musicals made in the late 70’s and the early 80’s, The Apple is the bottom of the barrel.  Imagine if a homosexual hairdresser from Helsinki ate a bunch of rhinestones and vomited them into a couple reels of celluloid.  Or maybe if Elton John autoerotically strangled himself with a feather boa and filmed the final images that went through his brain before he died.  Or how about if Freddy Mercury ate 1000 tabs of acid and put his fever dream freak out on the big screen.  That might give you some idea of how incredibly gay this movie is. 

 

Let’s talk gay for a second.  Remember the scenes of Al Pacino in the S & M leather bar in Cruising?  That will seem like John Wayne in McClintock once you witness this movie. 

 

Seriously, this movie is gay. 

 

And I’m not just saying that because it features a musical number that takes place completely inside the confines of a transsexual orgy.  I mean this movie is GAY. 

 

(Just so the PC Police don’t get me, when I say that this movie is gay, I mean it in every form of the word.  1.  Homosexual.  2.  Slang for extremely weak.  3.  Happy.  Okay, except definition 3.)

 

The plot has Catherine Mary Stewart (long before she was in Night of the Comet) and her clueless boyfriend trying to get a recording contract for BIM Records.  Of course the devilish agent signs only her to a contract and turns her into an overnight sensation while her wimpy boyfriend joins a clan of hippies who believe in peace.  Now see the movie is called The Apple because in one of the film’s increasing non-heterosexual dance numbers, Mary takes a bite of the titular fruit a la the Garden of Eden and loses her musical innocence.  In the end, God himself puts a stop to all the legwarmer, crimped hair, gay S & M, transsexual, rejects from Fame, rejects from Hair, rejects from Tommy, rejects from Buck Rodgers shenanigans and everyone follows his Holy Cadillac to Heaven.  It’s a shame he didn’t show up 85 minutes sooner and saved us a lot of time. 

 

The sad thing is that for a movie that has all the testosterone of Paul Lynde, it was directed by a man who has done so much for Manly Men the world round.  Of course I’m talking about Menahem Golan.  The man who founded Cannon Pictures, produced 700 Charles Bronson movies, and taught us all the meaning of the word Breakin.’ The man who directed such classics as Enter the Ninja, The Delta Force and Over the Top was also responsible for this limp wristed LSD nightmare.  Had Charles Bronson, Chuck Norris or Sly Stallone ever knew that Golan directed this flick, I’m sure none of them would’ve ever been associated with Golan for directing this shit-heap. 

 

The Apple will make you doubt your sanity more in one minute than Glen or Glenda did in it’s entire running time, so I guess that’s worth something.  It’s the Citizen Kane of bad movie musicals. 

 

AKA:  Star Rock.

CALL HIM MR. SHATTER (1975) *

 

Stuart Whitman stars as a kung fu expert named Shatter (sorry make that MR. Shatter) who wastes a couple of African dudes with a gun disguised as a camera before heading off to Hong Kong where he has to kung fu half the Oriental population.  The British Government AND the Mob both want him dead for the whole Nikon assassination thing, but lucky for him; he’s in possession of some secret documents they both want and is able to bargain for his life.  When he isn’t chop sueying Asians that is.   

 

This was the second and final co-production between British horror maestros Hammer Studios and the Hong Kong action kings The Shaw Brothers.  Their first collaboration was the classic The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula, but Call Him Mr. Shatter is nowhere in the same league as that immortal flick.  Instead of being a fun melding of two great genres, this movie is more or less a tired, run of the mill action flick.  On paper, this might have looked good, but the problem is that neither Hammer nor Shaw Brothers really knew how to make an American style action film.   

 

The disjointed feeling of the film could be attributed to it’s tumultuous behind the scenes dealings.  The original director, Monte (Cockfighter) Hellman started production and was quickly replaced by producer Michael Carreras.  The results are muddled to say to least. 

 

Not to mention the film’s biggest stumbling block:  Stuart Whitman. 

 

You know, when you think of a tough talking kung fu action hero, you don’t immediately think Stuart Whitman.  He isn’t necessarily bad in the title role (anyone who’s seen Shadows in an Empty Room knows he can kick ass); it’s just that you’ll have a hard time swallowing him as a black belt in karate.  Actually his sidekick, Ti (A Better Tomorrow) Lung gets to do most of the kung fu, while Whitman kinda just chills out. 

 

Another beef I had with this movie is that it seems more like a lame travelogue instead of a full fledged action flick.  (Okay we get it; you’re in Hong Kong already!)  While the kung fu scenes are plentiful, they don’t exactly pop off the screen.  In fact, they seriously lack any purpose other than to keep you dozing off in between the boring parts, of which there are plenty of.  The film also features some of the worst stunt work you’re likely to see in a major motion picture.  My favorite moment comes when Lung kicks two guys out the window and their obvious stunt dummies are so light that they can’t even crash through the atrium below.   

 

The film DOES have a terrific theme song that features lots of wocka-wocka guitar rhythms and echo-y vocals (“Shatter-atter-atter…!”), but unfortunately we only hear it over the opening and end credits.   

 

It also features a solid supporting cast in the form of Peter Cushing (in his last film for Hammer) and Anton Diffring, but they aren’t particularly given much to do.  At least Cushing gets the best line of the movie:  “The Africans aren’t too keen about someone killing their brothers.”

 

AKA:  Shatter.

THE BRAVE LION (1977) * ½

 

Before the Hong Kong master of action John Woo directed his seminal classics, A Better Tomorrow, The Killer and Hard Boiled, he lensed this turgid melodrama parading around as a kung fu flick. 

 

The plot has two Japanese soldiers set for execution who get a second chance by their government and are assigned to oversee a Chinese prisoner of war camp during the Second World War.  Of course, these guys don’t have the best people skills and continually beat and torture the prisoners.  This eventually leads to an uprising and the duo are unceremoniously killed off by the angry prisoners. 

 

From looking at this movie, there are no indications that Woo would later go on to be one of the greatest directors of the action genre.  There’s none of his signature slow motion or over-emphasized male bonding between the stars (mostly because both actors aren’t very good) and even though there are quite a number of kung fu scenes, they’re staged quite lethargically and are instantly forgettable.  Despite a good set-up, none of the characters are remotely sympathetic, which in turn makes this something of a chore to get through.    

 

The dialogue is (SURPRISE!) horrendously dubbed, but there are no memorably bad lines to be heard.  At least you’ll get a laugh out of the idiotic music.  At one point we hear the familiar strains of the Shaft theme over a fight scene!  Hilarious. 

 

Luckily for moviegoers, Woo developed a lot of visual pizzazz and quickly stopped making turkeys like this one.  (It’s even worse than most of his Hollywood output.)  If you really want to see a great Woo war movie, check out Heroes Shed No Tears instead. 

THE SNAKE, THE TIGER, THE CRANE (1980) **

 

The spunky one-armed Princess Champagne (Nancy Yen) goes around the countryside kicking the ass of any man who doesn’t treat her with the utmost respect.  She hires a free spirited warrior to avenge her father’s death in exchange for a night in the sack with her.  When he gets killed off before taking her up on the offer, she joins up with another hot chick in hopes of getting revenge, but she too ends up dead.  With no one to help her accomplish her goal, Champagne ends up hiding out in a small town by pretending to be the deranged village idiot.  Pretty soon, a butcher who is also the leader of the resistance (Carter Wong from Kung Fu Arts) takes pity on her and decides to marry her.  When his assassination attempt on the Emperor goes awry, she steps in to save his bacon.   

 

This flick is more or less a variation on the old one armed swordsman theme, except the person in question is a SWORDSWOMAN.  This feminist twist separates The Snake, The Tiger, The Crane from the rest of the pack, but doesn’t necessarily make it better.  There is one great scene where Champagne’s gal pal chops her own arm off to make the Emperor think she’s the princess though.  Unfortunately, things get extremely sappy once Wong enters the picture but at least he gets some funny dialogue like “I am a butcher, no one will marry me because of all the blood!”

 

Although the film gets a little bogged down at times and is hampered by an especially weak ending, it’s buoyed by an engaging performance by Yen.  The film is punctuated with energetic swordfight scenes (the best one features the ever popular jumping on a sword routine) that employ a lot of reverse camera trickery (like people jumping onto high ledges when they’re clearly jumping OFF high ledges, just in reverse motion) and although it features nothing you ain’t seen before, it’s still moderately entertaining.     

 

And what would a review of a kung fu flick be without mentioning the badly dubbed dialogue?  How about “Play some music!  I feel like listening!”  Or “I don’t like for a man to know my name just before I kill him!  It’s so unfair!”  But it’s Yen who got to spout my favorite line:  “Your mother is a dog and your father is a pig.  That’s why you’re ugly.  Do you understand me?”

 

AKA:  Emperor of Shaolin Kung Fu. 

BLACK FIST (1975) ***

Take one scoop of Rocky, one dollop of Death Wish and puree with Grade A blaxploitation, and you got the recipe for Black Fist.  Imagine Penitentiary without the Penitentiary and you might have some idea of what to expect. 

 

Leroy Fisk (Richard Lawson) gets a job as an underground streetfighter for a bunch of white gangsters led by Logan (Robert Burr) in order to support his pregnant wife.  His first fight is up on a roof (which technically makes it a roof fight and not a streetfight, but oh well), and even though he loses, the gangsters still decide to sign him up.  Whitey quickly gets him a trainer to work on his streetfighting skills which leads to a lot of Rocky inspired training montages.  Leroy then mops the floor (make that the street) with a martial artist, beats down a burly dude in a lumberyard, and gets into various other tussles.    

 

Leroy enjoys the fast cash his day job affords him and is able to buy a new wardrobe for him and his mistress.  When Leroy starts rolling in the dough, a crooked cop named Heineken (Dabney Coleman!!!) leans on Leroy and blackmails him for a percentage of his earnings. 

 

Then Leroy’s manager comes into possession of a black book that contains the syndicate’s shady dealings and Logan has him killed.  Leroy gets pissed and gets out of the streetfighting life to open up his own nightclub.  But Logan messes up opening night by car bombing Leroy’s pregnant wife to death and that makes Leroy REAL MAD. 

 

You can probably guess what happens next:  Leroy grows his beard out Uncle Remus style and kills lots and lots of white guys.  To show that Leroy isn’t completely racist, he even roughs up some minority types that get in his way too.  

 

Black Fist is a lean, mean and gritty blaxploitation actioner that’s helped enormously by it’s stellar cast.  Fisk is pretty good, but Coleman steals the movie as the slimy Heinie.  Phillip Michael (Miami Vice) Thomas overacts outrageously in not one but TWO roles, but is quite entertaining and familiar faces like H.B. (Foxy Brown) Haggerty and Nicolas (Don’t Answer the Phone) Worth appear as streetfighters. 

 

The fight scenes are brief, but there’s a rawness about them that adds to their effectiveness.  As great as they are though, it’s the scene where Leroy blows up a honky at a drive-in that is pure blaxploitation poetry.  The scene where Coleman gets frozen alive in a meat locker is pretty classic too.  Oh yeah and the last minute mess-with-your-head freak out scene is the best of it’s kind since Disco Godfather.  The editing is awful but it doesn’t interfere with the action too much. 

 

Dabney gets some quality lines like, “I’m no peckerwood!” and “If I was a sour mother fuck, I’d turn you in!”, but the top dialogue is reserved for my man Richard Lawson who says, “I’m going to rearrange your plumbing so you piss out your mouth!”

 

AKA:  Homeboy.  AKA:  The Black Streetfighter.