June 12th, 2014

BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY: FINAL EPISODE (1974) **

While Hirono (Bunta Sugawara) wastes away in a prison cell, his yakuza gang legitimizes itself by becoming a political corporation. Naturally, bruised egos and oversized ambitions cause in-fighting and eventually assassination within the organization. When Hirono finally emerges from jail, the yakuza try to muscle him out of his position, causing him to fight back.

Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Final Episode starts off in fine fashion. The scenes of the yakuza underbosses jockeying for position within the corporation are fairly involving and for the first act, the film is rather absorbing. But alas, eventually the flick twiddles its thumbs for far too long and director Kinji Fukasaku drops the ball down the homestretch. The flick is especially disappointing once Sugawara is released from prison. Instead of culminating the series with a bang, the film just sort of fizzles out.

Final Episode is also light on the violence we’ve come to expect from the Battles Without Honor and Humanity series. There is one funny bit where a klutzy yakuza member accidentally shoots himself with a spear gun, but for the most part, the assorted gunfights are few and far between. If you are a fan of Bunta Sugawara, you also may be disappointed as his screen time is mostly reserved for the final act.

Overall, this series has had its ups and downs. The first film was by far the best, but the sequels have all had their moments. Although I personally preferred Fukasaku’s Yakuza Graveyard myself, the Battles Without Honor and Humanity series should entertain just about any fan of yakuza cinema.

AKA: The Yakuza Papers Vol. 5: Final Episode.

PART 4-A-PALOOZA

Since I’m working full time now, I don’t really have time to put together a month-long movie-watching palooza or anything. But when faithful reader darksteel6 sent me these three movies, I couldn’t help but do a mini-palooza. What makes these three films special is that they are all Part 4’s of popular franchises that opted not to use “Part 4” in their title. Why? I’m not sure. Nowadays using the old “Colon-Subtitle” trick is an old hat, but these three flicks blazed the trail for future sucky sequels.

IRON EAGLE: ON THE ATTACK (1996) **

Louis Gossett, Jr. stars yet again as “Chappy” Sinclair in the fourth and final entry in the Iron Eagle franchise. This time, Chappy needs some help whipping a bunch of juvenile delinquent cadets into shape. So he calls on his old buddy Doug Masters (Jason Cadieux) to lend him a hand.

Yes, I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to say: “But Mitch, Doug died in Iron Eagle 2.” Well, there’s a convenient little bit in the opening credits where we see Doug parachute behind enemy lines and get captured by Russians. And apparently, sometime in between the last Iron Eagle and this one, he returned home. Are we all caught up now? Good.

Anyway, Doug has sort of a chip on his shoulder. (Being written out of 1 ½ entries of a popular film franchise will do that to you.) He doesn’t want to help Chappy, but only goes along with it because Iron Eagle 1 was such a big hit. During a flight, the cadets stumble upon a plot involving some Air Force pilots smuggling chemical weapons. Chappy does some investigating and winds up captured by the bad guys. It’s then up to Doug and the cadets to rescue him.

Director Sidney J. Furie returns to the series after declining to direct Iron Eagle 3. For my money, 3 was the most fun entry in the franchise because it wasn’t afraid to get a little crazy. Iron Eagle: On the Attack sadly harkens back to the uninspired sameness that hallmarked Part 2.

The scenes of Chappy trying to reach out to the kids are kind of painful to watch. (At times, the flick plays like Top Gun Meets Stand and Deliver.) The action scenes of the cadets having dogfights with the villains are pretty boring too. Gossett does what he can to salvage the movie. He gets some pretty funny lines like, “Being bitter is not a job!” and his performance is easily the best thing Iron Eagle: On the Attack has going for it.

AKA: Iron Eagle 4.

BLOODSPORT: THE DARK KUMITE (1999) **

Daniel Bernhardt is back doing his best Jean Claude Van Damme impression. One night, in some Eastern European city, a chick keeps blabbering on and on about this pen her kid gave her for Christmas. This is an important plot point. Trust me. Two minutes later, some madman jabs it in her neck. (See I told you it was an important plot point.) Of course, Daniel should’ve shot the creep when he had the chance, but he didn’t so the chick died. Now he feels all kinds of guilty about it, so he beats up the dude who did it. As it turns out, Daniel already sent this guy to prison six years ago. How did he escape? Daniel must infiltrate the prison and find out.

The Underground Fighting Circuit in Prison genre is a durable one. Undisputed 3 and Bloodfist 3 are just two great examples of what you can do with the premise. Bloodsport: The Dark Kumite on the other hand is one of the weaker ones out there.

I didn’t see Bloodsport 3, but this fourth entry in the series is pretty darn bad. Usually, when the acting is bad (and trust me, with Bernhardt in the lead, it is) in a Kung Fu flick, it can add to the fun. But when the camerawork gives you a headache, all bets are off.

And the camerawork is pretty much the pits. Someone went zoom crazy on this one. Even the simplest dialogue scenes (and trust me, with dialogue like, “Oh Captain Ahab… you’re going after Moby Dick!”, the dialogue in Bloodsport 4 is pretty simple), the camera zooms all around without rhyme or reason.

There are some fleeting moments of hilarity here that keeps you chuckling. The courtroom scene where Bernhardt is sentenced is particularly quite amusing. The judge overacts more than a third rate jobber on Smackdown. It’s hilarious.

And once the flick moves into the fighting arena, things perk up nicely. Some of the bouts are decent, and Bernhardt’s final showdown with the villain is pretty great (I don’t want to spoil anything, but that pen comes back into play again). The best part of this sequence though is the hilarious opening act involving a court jester and an opera singer. Imagine if Bjork and Pavarotti did a duet together and that should give you some idea of the lunacy involved.

The main screw in the prison gets the best line of the flick when he says, “I will use your prostates as goddamn trampolines!”

AKA: Bloodsport 4.

ANIMAL ATTRACTION: CARNAL DESIRES (2002) **

Mick is a masseur who seduces all his female clients. He wants to open up his own massage parlor and gets a big shot investment banker to finance the venture. Naturally, when the dude finds out that Mick has been banging his daughter, his wife, AND his mistress, things get a little dicey between the two.

Animal Attraction: Carnal Desires may just be the best entry in the series (which is kind of weird since it’s just an unrelated Skinamax movie that was retitled, but oh well). It’s not particularly good by any means, but the plot moves at a steady clip and the sex scenes occur with great frequency. Throughout the 74 minute running time, we get ten sex scenes. There are nine Girl on Guy scenes and one Erotic Massage scene. That works out to be a sex scene every 7 ½ minutes, which is a pretty good average for this sort of thing.

But even though the sex scenes are plentiful, they aren’t exactly steamy or anything. The Girl on Guy scenes suffer from way too much slow motion and get a bit repetitive after a while. The good news is that the Erotic Massage sequence is pretty decent. And that’s mostly because the filmmakers take the time to build up the sexual tension before the scene takes off.

I guess the big problem with the flick is that Mick isn’t a very likeable character. Sure, he gets more tail than a toilet seat, but the way he uses the characters (especially his girlfriend) sort of makes him a creep. Predictably, he learns his lesson at the end, but still.

AKA: Carnal Desires.

GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA (2002) ** ½

The continuity of the new Godzilla flicks has always been a little screwy. This one is no exception. It ignores just about every other Godzilla movie in existence (except the first one that is) in favor of a new storyline. (There are clips from Mothra and War of the Gargantuas though.)

45 years after Godzilla first stomped on Japan; a new Godzilla emerges to wreak havoc on Tokyo. Scientists find the original Godzilla’s bones at the bottom of the ocean and decide to construct a “bio-robot” around the remains to combat the new monster. However, since Mechagodzilla has the spirit of the old Godzilla, it goes nuts and starts destroying Tokyo. It’s then up to the scientists to fix Mechagodzilla so he’ll be ready in time for the rematch.

The opening scenes of Godzilla popping up and scaring reporters and smashing stuff with his tail are pretty fun. However, the human scenes in this one fall a little flat. The plotline about the female pilot trying to prove herself to her squadron is cliché and dull, even by Godzilla movie standards.

But this is to be expected. You don’t watch Godzilla movies for the human drama. You watch it to see men in rubber suits destroy model cities. And in that respect, Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla isn’t too shabby.

The scene where Mechagodzilla goes bonkers and starts laying waste to Tokyo is cool. The part where he walks through a building is particularly badass. And the final showdown between the two titular titans works. There’s a decent amount of monster mashing and the camerawork in this scene is reminiscent of the old Showa era series. Some poor CGI distracts from an otherwise good sequence, but for the most part, it’s a solid capper on the uneven, albeit sporadically entertaining film.

AKA: Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla 2.