May 28th, 2008

CORIOLANUS: HERO WITHOUT A COUNTRY (1964) ½ *

During the Roman Empire, the haves (patricians) frown down upon the have-nots (plebeians) and continually scheme to oppress them.  A brave warrior named Coriolanus (Gordon Scott) comes to the plebs’s aid, but once he joins the Roman Senate, he begins to be corrupted by the wily patricians.

 

Okay, so you know you’re in trouble when your hero has the word “anus” in his name.  In fact, I believe that the word “Coriol” is Roman for boring, so if you put the two together, you get one boring ass movie. 

 

Seriously, this one is a snoozer.  Even the presence of Scott, who had played every fictional hero from Tarzan to Hercules, can’t help this flick.  The film is filled with a lot of Roman Empire C-SPAN non-sense, a historical version of those Toughman competitions you always see on ESPN at four in the morning, and lots of stock footage from other (more expensive) movies.  The costumes and sets are well done but the pacing is slower than a constipated turtle.  The action scenes aren’t BAD, but they are far and few between and it’s definitely not worth sitting through all the turgid political posturing that runs rampant throughout the flick just to enjoy a few measly sword and sandal fight scenes.

 

Best line:  “We will not be bullied by your eloquence!” 

 

AKA:  Thunder of Battle.

THREE OUTLAW SAMURAI (1964) **

A badass samurai (Tetsuro Tamba from You Only Live Twice) stumbles upon three clueless outlaws who have kidnapped their crooked magistrate’s young daughter.  At first, he doesn’t want anything to do with them, but eventually he advises the hopelessly out of their league warriors to help them get their ransom and aids them in fending off the corrupt magistrate and his army of soldiers.

 

Like most samurai epics, this flick is rife with characters with mixed loyalties and staunch codes of honor, but it suffers from some lackadaisical pacing and one too many subplots.  While no one will mistake this flick as a classic of the genre, it certainly has it’s merits, chief among them is the excellent performance by Tamba.  He exudes a cool, menacing quality and really commands your attention whenever he’s on screen. 

 

Tamba’s memorably aloof performance aside, there isn’t really a lot here to make Three Outlaw Samurai stick out from the rest of the pack.  After a strong start, the plot starts to get hopelessly bogged down about halfway through, and even Tamba seems lost as the film lumbers toward it’s conclusion.  The samurai duels are brief, but there are enough of them to go around to make this worth a look if you are a die hard 60’s samurai movie fan. 

 

Director Hideo Gosha did Sword of the Beast next.

DADDY’S GIRL (1996) **

Martin Kitrosser, the man who wrote Friday the 13th Parts 3 and 5 stepped behind the camera for this standard issue 90’s revamp of The Bad Seed. 

 

William (House) Katt adopts a ginger haired kid named Jodi (Gabrielle Boni) who looks like a psychotic version of Wendy Thomas, minus the pigtails.  Katt is completely snowballed into thinking his daughter is a normal kid, but it’s pretty obvious to the audience right from the get-go that she’s a stone cold killer who will deep six anyone who tries to keep her and her daddy apart.  

 

When Jodi’s principal wants to expel her, she kills her by dropping a bookshelf on her.  When Jodi’s forced to go to her mean old grandma’s house, she tosses her down the stairs.  (“Wow, most accidents really do happen at home!”)  When Jodi’s best friend’s mother starts saying her parents should get a divorce, she whacks her across the skull with a fire poker.  When mommy finds out that her daughter is a psycho, Jodi throws her off a balcony.  (“Daddy and I can get along just fine without you!”)  When a kindly social worker (Whip Hubley from Species) tries to take Jodi away from her dad, she conks him over the head with a meat tenderizer.  (“You’re dead meat!”)

 

Kitrosser handles the proceedings in a workmanlike manner and keeps things moving at a steady pace, but the kills are all bloodless and the whole thing is a tad innocuous.  Given the fact that I’m a huge Greatest American Hero fan, I probably had a higher tolerance for these kinds of shenanigans than most viewers will.  Although Katt’s character was so clueless that it was almost comical, I still enjoyed him quite a bit in this and Boni was pretty great as the demented kiddie.  The irritating dream sequences don’t help things much, but this low budget potboiler is just as good (or bad, depending on your point of view) as the much higher profiled The Good Son. 

 

Kitrosser is also Quentin Tarantino’s script supervisor for all his films. 

LIONHEART (1991) ** ½

 

Jean-Claude Van Damme stars as a foreign legionnaire whose brother gets turned into a human Molotov cocktail by some unruly customers.  Van Damme goes AWOL and walks the entire length of the Sahara Desert and swims the entire length of the Atlantic Ocean in order to come to America to see him.  Once in the USA, he doesn’t have a quarter to call the hospital, so he participates in an underground kickboxing competition just to earn enough change to make a phone call. 

 

That’s the kind of devotion you just don’t see in families nowadays. 

 

Anyway, the underground kickboxing tournaments are all ran by “The Lady”, a classy broad who wears about 8 pounds of Vidal Sassoon in her hair and dresses like a high price call girl.  She christens Van Damme “Lionheart” and pretty quickly he starts mopping the floor with greasy punks left and right in order to fund his cross-country road trip to see his brother. 

 

When he finally gets around to the hospital, it turns out that his brother is compost.  Since his brother left his family with a stack of unpaid medical bills, Lionheart decides to kickbox for money in lieu of Medicare.  First up, Lionheart battles a kilt wearing dude in a parking garage, then a hillbilly in a handball court, followed by a kickboxer in a nearly empty swimming pool and finally he goes against a ponytailed Samoan named Attila under a circus tent. 

 

At 105 minutes, the film is probably about 20 minutes longer than it really needed to be (the subplot with the Foreign Legion goons trying to kidnap Van Damme should’ve been scrapped).  The bloated middle section of the movie where Van Damme just kinda shuffles along aimlessly moping about the death of his brother while wearing extremely high wasted pants played a little too much like a Lifetime for Men Movie of the Week for me, but whenever JCVD was karate kicking punks, it was damn good times. 

 

Despite it’s numerous flaws (the tender ending where Van Damme is reunited with his family after only being away from them for two whole minutes while triumphant music plays in the background is one of the cheesiest things you’ll ever see in a movie, period), Lionheart has a little something for everybody.  For the guys, there is plenty of kickboxing action, a knife into the hand, lots of people getting hit square in the nuts and a record number of people being thrown through candy glass windows.  For the ladies, there’s an extended sequence where Van Damme endlessly shovels coal without the benefit of a shirt.  And the finale where JCVD rallies himself from a having a bloody wound under his ribcage to winning the big match makes this The Natural of kickboxing movies.

 

It’s no Bloodsport, but as second tier Van Damme flicks go, it’s not bad at all. 

 

Brian (Cobra) Thompson and Lisa (Ghoulies) Pelikan co-star and future direct to video superstars Billy Blanks and Jeff Speakman also have small roles.  Director Sheldon Lettich also directed JCVD in Double Impact, The Order and Hard Corps.  Van Damme later wound up in the Foreign Legion in Legionnaire. 

 

AKA:  AWOL.  AKA:  Wrong Bet.