‘Panda’: All gut, and glory

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Despite a darker tone, Po’s fists of furry fury are just as engaging in “Kung Fu Panda 2,” a solid product from DreamWorks Animation, which has been milking its cash cow… or ogre, rather, churning out increasingly inferior “Shrek” sequels.

DreamWorks nailed it last year with one of the year’s best animated films, “How to Teain Your Dragon.” But in the sequel department, its subsequent “Shrek” and “Madagascar” films dropped precipitously in quality. Continue reading

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‘Cleveland Steamer:The Movie’

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Dragons, zombie Nazis, faceless robots, orcs, towering samurai, scantily clad babes with guns: “Sucker Punch” is like a byproduct of some of fanboy focus group.

It’s as though director Zack Snyder simply plucked items off the shelves of better films and stuck them in his cart. And his script has all the depth and excitement of a shopping list.

Baby Doll (played by Emily Browning) suffers the loss of her mother, and, in an attempt to free her sister and herself from the grimy hands of her abusive stepfather, she gets shipped to an equally grimy mental institution where, presumably, only hot chicks are kept (Randall McMurphy would have had a field day).While there, she escapes into a fantasy world in which she and the other patients “empower” themselves as slutty dancers on a stage.

But Snyder, who has gained credibility with “300” and “Watchmen,” can’t let it rest there, for that would only give audiences some unholy union of “Burlesque” and “Girl, Interrupted.” So he dog piles on the aforementioned fantasy tangents into which the women retreat while “dancing,” making the whole thing into some mythical quest of epic proportions.

And by “mythical quest” I mean “catastrophic suck-fest.”

I know the whole film exists to satiate the pubescent heterosexual male moviegoers, but I was raised on the same diet of film, videogames and raging hormones, so I’m no stranger to the culture. But “Punch” never fully delivers on any of its tawdry teases, and its rallying cries of girl power are questionable at best.

Ms. Doll is joined by Blondie (played by Vanessa Hudgens), Amber (played by Jamie Chung), and sisters Sweet Pea (played by Abbie Cornish) and Rocket (played by Jena Malone). None of them is really distinguishable from the next, and all are equally expendable, as co-writer Snyder presents them. They must obtain several objects around the asylumn/strip club to enable their escape, all under the guidance of a supposed Zen master (played by Scott Glenn) who posesses all the wisdom of a stale fortune cookie.

Each object carries with it a mission to faraway lands, which just gives Snyder a chance to (over-)use his friend the green screen. None of the lands are terribly engaging, since Snyder is more focued on finding obscure angles at which he can place his camera and provide more slow-motion than a sports highlight reel. And since we know these worlds are only to be occupied for a short period of time, they carry zero opportunity for audience involvement.

In fact, since the whole premise is merely a dream (relax, “Inception” junkies, that film explored the parameters of dreams, not just have characters slip in and out of them), it’s difficult to invest fleeting attention to the action.

“Sucker Punch” is merely a lap dance of a movie, it flirts, teases and promises, only to vanish the moments after it has your money.

Redo or Redon’t: The Green Hornet

‘Ghost Rider,’ come back. All is forgiven. After witnessing the wrong-in-every-imaginable-way “Green Hornet,” the Nicolas Cage superhero stinker deserves to be scraped of the barrel’s bottom to allow room for this boring, repetitive, steaming-turd of a film.

The latest incarnation of ‘Horet’ has a storied past that dates back almost two decades. Rumored involvement in the project included names like George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Nicolas Cage, Greg Kinnear and Jake Gyllenhaal, with Kevin Smith and Stephen Chow (“Kung Fu Hustle”) scheduled to direct. Everything from Jamaican accents and heroes with brain-implanted microchips being controlled by joysticks. Continue reading

‘Lionheart’ with Harrison Page

posterTitle:
Lionheart (1990)
Rated: R
Directed by:
Sheldon Lettich
Written by:
S.N. Warren (story)
Jean Claude Van Damme (screenplay)
Starring:
Jean Claude Van Damme as Leon
Harrison Page as Joshua
Debra Rennard as Cynthia
Lisa Pelikan as Helene
Ashley Johnson as Nicole

 By Count Vardulon

jcvd kickPre-screening memories: I was old enough, when seeing Lionheart for the first time, that I can’t call it one of the most important formative movies of my childhood. True, I wasn’t a fan of martial arts films before seeing it, and afterwards I became something of a devotee of Van Damme’s, but the most vital part of the film for my developing fandom was that it reinforced the lesson, first taught by Tim Curry’s performance in the movie Clue, that following an actor from project to project would

A: Never disappoint, because if nothing else, you at least get to see a performance by someone whose work you enjoy, and

B: could possibly lead to discovering something fantastic.

harrison and jcvdWhich is my circuitous way of saying that my passion for the TV show Sledge Hammer! led directly to my lifelong love of watching people kicking other people in the face. Still inconsolable two full years after Sledge Hammer’s cancellation, seeing Harrison Page show up in television ads for upcoming film ‘Lionheart’ made me determined to see the film, which was rated a forbidding R, ensuring that I wouldn’t make it to the theatres.

When I finally saw the film on video it didn’t disappoint. Not only was Harrison Page fantastic in the film, but the action was unlike anything I’d seen in the Arnold Schwarzenegger movies that dominated my childhood, or even the occasional episode of Kung Fu. After all, who needed a machine gun when you could just spin really fast and crack someone across the jaw with your heel? A lifelong fan of the genre was born, as well as a devotee of Van Damme’s ‘all downhill from here’ ouevre.

jcvd blood

New memories: I’m frankly amazed by how good this movie was. Not having seen it in years, I’d assumed that it was going to be one of those embarrassingly Natsukashi moments (that’s how you use that word, right?) where I’d created an epic action extravaganza in my mind that never actually existed – this was certainly not the case. The action certainly wasn’t up to modern choreographic standards, but everything else about the film was far better than I’d remembered.

That’s right, what impressed me most about the film was that it worked, first and foremost, as a drama. Sounds crazy, right? Van Damme’s a pretty limited actor, especially at this fresh-faced stage of his career, before that personal and professional setbacks that would reduce him to the withered husk of ‘JCVD’, but damn if it doesn’t work in this part, as a simply good, almost naïve man struggling his way through the seamy world of underground fighting. He’s helped on this journey by the even-better-than-I-remembered-it performance of Harrison Page, who provides perhaps the most raw, vulnerable, and downright emotional performance I’ve ever seen in an action film. The way his Joshua starts out sad, defeated and desperate and gradually finds a kind of purpose and nobility in training Leon is a great character arc, and it brings him to a moment, right at the end, which is unlike anything I’ve seen in an American action film.

The other thing that amazed me about the movie (other than the fact that it’s a semi-remake of Midnight Cowboy – Who knew?) was the aspect that likely affected me most as a youngster, and that’s the utter contempt that the film shows for the upper classes who are funding the brutal no-holds-barred fights. If the film’s battles aren’t the most spectacular thing ever, their settings are absolutely stunning, and steeped in subtext. Van Damme’s first professional fight is in a parking garage beneath an office building, literally taking place in the underbelly of New York’s wealth-obsessed establishment. From there the action moves out to LA, but the satirical settings don’t stop – there’s a huge pool in a beachside mansion, a squash court, and a ring constructed from the luxury automobiles of the elite who have come to watch men beat each other nearly to death. This all leads up to the final battle which takes place well within the closed walls of the upper-class, a tennis court around the back of a palatial estate. The entire film works as an attack on the kind of people who commoditize human beings, and if the message gets a little heavy-handed at times (and it does), at least the movie was trying to say something important, unlike just about all of its brethren.

I loved Lionheart as a child. As an adult, crazy as it may seem, I respect it.

Download Natsukashi’s ‘Lionheart’ podcast right here

Or dropkick below and listen on our player

harrisonOur featured guest: Harrison Page

Fascinated by film at an early age, Harrison sought the Hollywood dream after serving in the military.

He began, as most starting in the business do, by snagging small roles on television, film and stage. And looking back, has amassed a resume in an astonishing amount of popular shows, including C.P.O. Sharkey, Webster, Hill Street Blues, Fame, 21 Jump Street, The Wonder Years, Quantum Leap (which earned him an Emmy nod), Melrose Place, Ally McBeal, ER, JAG, and Cold Case, to name but a few.

But it was his role in the cult classic series Sledge Hammer! (yes, the exclamation point was in the title) that cemented him into certified pop culture status. In it, he played Captain Trunk, the Pepto-Bismal-swilling, beleaguered head of a police department featuring the titular vigilante office (played by David Rasche). (Ed. note–  If you are not putting this series on your Netflix queue this very moment, we don’t want to know you.)

Harrison spoke about his time spent on the set with a young Van Damme, his fond memories of Sledge, and the wisdom he’s amassed in his four decades of Hollywood. Thanks, Harrsion, from your pals at Natsukashi.

‘Silent Rage’

Silent Rage (1982)

Rated: R
Director: Michael Miller
Screenplay: Joseph Fraley
Starring: Chuck Norris as Sheriff Dan Stevens
                Steven Furst as Deputy Charlie
                Ron Silver as Dr. Tom Halman
                Toni Kalem as Allison Halem

Tagline: “Science created him, Now Chuck Norris must destroy him.”

By: Rupert Pupkin (as told to Rob Rector)

Pre-screening memories: Before Braddock, before Braddock, before hawking gym equipment, before countless disfiguring facelifts, even before shilling for Mike Huckabee, Chuck Norris was in a Silent Rage!

Hot off of seeing Good Guys Wear Black, a young Rupert Pupkin swore he was born to be a karate man. His aspirations may have superceded his ability, but that failed to stop his desire from trying.

Take, for example, one particular day in grade school when young Rupert decided to test his abilities. He honed in on a pair of metal double doors that would be the inanimate recipient of his as-yet-untested high kick. In all his years, he knew these doors to be open and would swing wide under the pressure of his forceful foot.

As his running start grew to an airborne leap, Rupert extended his legs to blow open these metal barriers and thus demonstrate to the school his agility and perhaps one day follow in the deadly footsteps of his cinematic hero. Sadly, the doors were locked shut, thus ending Rupert’s short-lived dream to be a six-time karate champion like his then idol.

This did not stop him from spending time in the darkened theater with his matinee idol, though. And within months, he was back in the box office, relishing in another roundhouse romp in Silent Rage. But Rage was quite a different beast, he soon realized, and what he thought was to be a 90-minute class in ass kicking actually struck fear in his young heart, perhaps solidifying in his mind that the martial arts was not on the path of his future.

What struck fear into the heart of this young lad, and how has it affected him today?

You can download it here, as well.

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