Friday, February 27, 2009

White Dog

Sam Fuller was a genius of trash. Not in the same way John Waters is, but no one made trashy movies into art like Sam. Pickup on South Street- a mouthy woman in a junk shop defiantly talking trash to the mob even as she knows they're gonna rub her out. The Naked Kiss- a hooker beating a john to death with her shoe. The Big Red One- Lee Marvin lamenting a testicle lost to a land mine with a grunt of "that's why God gave you two."

Hey hey mamma gonna make you move... oh wait, that's Black Dog

His last hurrah was 1982's White Dog, a movie considered so racially offensive that it didn't get a theatrical release in the States. Like the similarly shocking Over the Edge (full review), HBO gladly showed it, and it played overseas. But until Criterion released it, it was difficult to find. I decided to revisit this movie because it's the first Black History month under a black President, and we're still working out race relations in this country. If you think we're past that, take a peek at this cartoon from the New York Post. But enough politics- is this a trashy movie or not?
Starring Kristy McNipples

Of course it is. Sam Fuller can't help himself- he imbues every movie with a gritty noir sensibility that makes him the Weegee of celluloid. He looks at people and places no one else wants to. And White Dog is no exception. Based on a true story of Jean Seberg and her husband's adoption of an abandoned German shepherd, it stars Kirsty McNichol (The Pirate Movie, The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia) as a young actress named Julie, who hits a white dog with her Mustang one night in the Hollywood hills. She takes the dog home and nurses him back to health; he's very protective of her, and one night saves her from an intruder. Okay, from a rapist. That does make it seem like an exploitation film now, but in the early '80s we were still reeling from the crime waves of the '70s. So she keeps the dog, who's playful enough.
One day Julie takes him to the set, and he attacks a black actress she's performing with. Everyone wonders what could have "set him off," as he's so friendly otherwise. Her boyfriend is afraid of him, and one night he comes home, after breaking through the fence, smeared in blood. Julie knows something is wrong, and after stopping by the pound- where she accidentally sees a dog getting gassed- she approaches an animal trainer named Carruthers (Burl Ives) to see if he can help. It's there that she realizes the nature of the dog's violence, for his partner Keys (Paul Winfield- Conrack, Mars Attacks!) is black and gets attacked immediately. He says the dog is a "white dog"- an attack dog trained to kill black people- but he wants to see if he can cure it.
The trainers tell a sad tale of an attack dog gone bad who turned on his owner after rehabilitation, and Keys takes the case because he wants to see if he can undo the damage. His performance is the centerpiece of the film, and its moral center. He tells Julie how a white dog gets made- maybe the owner paid a black guy who needed money to abuse it as a puppy. He's no Dog Whisperer, but he takes the dog in and tries several experiments. He's the only one allowed to feed him. And he wears a shark suit of sorts, so the dog will think attacking black skin is useless. Let's just say that the movie is an allegory about deeply ingrained, generational racism, and not a dog training tract.
The dog escapes over the fence one night, and when Keys tracks it down, he finds a mauled black man in a local church. Fuller and Winfield's talents are evident in the discovery scene, where everything is told through reaction shots, and Keys' guilt, horror and sadness all play across his face. Another powerful scene comes late in the film when Julie is approached by the dog's previous owner. A sweet old man and his two granddaughters appear at her gate. She confronts him, and tells him they cured his dog. And beseeches his grandchildren to not listen to a word he says. The film is quite blunt and does have the feel of an exploitation film, but the question it asks at its core is important: Can a racist be cured, or is racism just an outlet of a deeper need to hate?
The face of evil

Keys' experiment does not go well. In the end, he cures the dog from attacking black people, but he turns on Burl Ives's character- who looks a lot like the dog's previous owner. The pendulum has swung too far. The hate is what has to be cured, and the target is often one of convenience. The film does have a low budget TV feel, but I wouldn't call it an After School Special. It's much too dark and cynical for that. Fuller's last stand is a bit of a relic, but its one I'm glad resurfaced. White Dog is a movie with a bad reputation that came out during a bad time- the Atlanta child murders. According to Wikipedia, the NAACP protested it before filming even began. It turned out that many of the murders were not a product of racism, but a serial killer. So once again hate was misdirected, and the killer escaped justice for a long time, because he was assumed to be white.
I'd give that dog some holly jolly euthanasia!
Beers Required to Enjoy: 2
Could it be remade today? no fucking way
Quotability Rating: nil
Cheese Factor: You gotta love Kristy's outfit in the first scene
High Points: Paul Winfield and Burl Ives
Low Point: The dog takes out a garbage truck. Damn that's a mean dog.
Gratuitous Boobies: Kristy McNipples through her tank top

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Inglorious Bastards

I saw this back in the early '80s and loved it. It had everything a growing boy needed- Nazi killin', explosions, corny humor and gratuitous nudity. In the wake of Tarantino's similarly named WW2 epic being released this summer, I decided to revisit this gritty classic where Bo Svenson and Fred Williamson star as soldiers escaping court martial, who end up taking out an armored train carrying a new V2 rocket.

You'll never catch Tom Hanks doing that!

This is something we've rarely seen since Saving Private Ryan came on the scene- a World War 2 movie meant to be brash, unadulterated fun. Now they all need to be gritty and heroic, and while I love Band of Brothers as much as anybody, sometimes you need a movie about Bastards who accidentally kill a commando squad of American infiltrators, and redeem themselves by taking their place and completing their mission. It's The Dirty Dozen, but we get to see their crimes.
What does inglorious mean anyway? Is it like in-famous in Three Amigos!? Does it mean really glorious? No, it means disgraceful. It's a real exploitation title, because they're really not that bad. There's a thief and a forger who looks so much like a biker from central casting that it's hard to remember this is supposed to be the '40s, and a smooth talker named Tony who's so obviously dubbed Italian-style that he seems even creepier when he rides the black guy with racist cracks. That's Fred Canfield (Fred Williamson, Black Caesar) the tough-as-nails bad-ass of the group, and they're led by rogue pilot Bob Yeager (Bo Svenson, Walking Tall Part 2), who's in trouble for flying to see his girlfriend in between sorties. They even have a token German who's tired of seeing Hitler destroy his country, who vows to lead them to the Swiss border.
Happiness is a warm gun

Fred Williamson and Bo Svenson make the picture- Fred is a born action star, and when he grabs his tommygun while saying "didya miss me baby?" we know all we need to know. He killed a racist officer in a fight and is sent to be hanged, but he loves killing Nazis so much that they'd be better off dropping him on Berlin like a black atomic bomb. Bo Svenson is pure cool in his aviator jacket and shades, lazing around when he's not being a natural leader for a bunch of wild cards. We've got the star of what's arguably the least exploitive blaxploitation film- Larry Cohen's Black Caesar, which is essentially American Gangster- and the guy who replaced Joe Don Baker as Sheriff Buford Pusser.
Camelot! It's only a model. Ssh!

The action is 70s-fake with bodies flying like ragdolls, bright red blood, and bursts of machine gun fire knocking Nazis down like bowling pins, but it's still a blast, even when you can tell the castle is a matte painting. I was hoping they look at it and say "behold, Castle Wolfenstein!" and mutter "it's only a model." The mattes actually look pretty good, and when a German supply column gets totaled by bombers, seeing the destruction stretch into the distance is sobering, even after seeing Fred mow down Nazis by the score. But there's humor, too. They wander into a stream where German W.A.C.'s are bathing, and manage a brief idyllic interlude until Fred wanders in. It still manages a coarseness similar to The Big Red One, one of my favorite war films.

*** NSFW pic of Germanic boobies and burp guns shortly hereafter ***

Naked women firing submachineguns - who could ask for more?

They mow down Wehrmacht so casually that when they realize they killed a commando squad of Americans in German uniforms, they just pretend to be them. When they meet up with the French Resistance, the American officer waiting for the squad realizes he can either work with them, or scrap his mission- so makes them redeem themselves by participating in a risky scheme to steal an armored train carrying secret V2 rocket technology into Allied territory. The finale combines Von Ryan's Express with the brutal body count of The Dirty Dozen and Where Eagles Dare, as they work to re-route the train, infiltrate it, and kill every Nazi S.O.B. that gets in their way. As a fan of the Castle Wolfenstein games, it felt as close to a B.J. Blazkowicz movie as we'll get any time soon.
The Inglorious Bastards is great fun, well-paced but terribly unrealistic- not that you'll care. If you plan on seeing Tarantino's movie in August, you owe it to yourself to see this one first. Bo Svenson is rumored to have a cameo; not sure about Williamson, who was in From Dusk Till Dawn. Hopefully there'll be a place for both of them.
If you don't like Fred Williamson you are a godless commie heathen.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Urban Lobster Shack

A lobster roll is simplicity- lobster, mayonnaise, roll. A New England classic, it's beginning to be appreciated elsewhere. If you spice it up or add fancy ingredients, you ruin the delicate lobster, but I'm sure we'll be seeing them with bacon or foie gras at some point. Where to get one in New York? Well, near Battery Park and the Financial District on Stone Street, I know just the place- the Urban Lobster Shack. No seats, just a walk-up window serving a short menu of lobster roll, crab roll or tuna roll, clam chowder or bisques, some chips, and a few bottled drinks. For $15 I got a lobster roll, New England clam chowder and a drink. Hard to beat!
This little unassuming storefront caught my eye as I walked past Nebraska steakhouse- a classic joint that makes kick-ass chili from filet mignon tips- looking for someplace other than my usual haunts in the area. Not far from The Burger Shoppe, they challenge the shoppe's recession special with their own $15 lunch. And depending on the mood you're in, it's definitely worth a try. The lobster roll was delicious- the buttery roll cradling a generous portion of fresh, delicate lobster tossed with creamy mayo. Their clam-crammed chowder was creamy and rich, and every spoonful had tasty bits of clam. The roll comes with a teensy dab of coleslaw, that would be my only improvement. The roll isn't gigantic, but with soup it is more than enough for lunch.

After reading their website, I found that the Shack is a downtown lunch location, and they have a larger restaurant in the East Village with a bigger menu. Definitely worth a try if you want New England style seafood- I'll be heading there soon.

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"Kin I git another peek?"

Unfairly maligned revisionist Western about a pair of gunmen who clean up Western towns- Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen. They've been working together so long that they;'re closer than fellow soldiers in a long war. They get hired to bring law to a frontier town where Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) and his men have had their way for too long. Ed's damn quick with a gun, and Viggo lugs around an 8-gauge shotgun that looks like two lengths of sewer pipe over his shoulder, capable of peppering entire gangs with buckshot with one pull of the trigger.
It shoots through little houses on the prairie.

Things get complicated when a Renee Zellweger, "a woman who ain't married or a whore," comes to town. Ed falls for her hard, and is quite innocent in the ways of women. And as a woman in the wild west, she has a way of "always landing on her feet." It's not as straightforward as 3:10 to Yuma, nor as contemplative as The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, but somewhere in-between. I enjoyed the characters and the story, and while the end seems a bit rushed, it works. If you're expecting a simple shoot-out movie, you may be angry at Zellweger's intrusion, but she's much of the point of the tale- just listen when she's dismissed from the "man talk" and performs scales on her piano. Passive-aggressive much? We also get a fine bit part by Lance Henriksen as another hired gun. If you like modern westerns, this is a good one, based on a Robert "Spenser" Parker novel.
8 out of 12 gauges

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


As far as ghetto urban legend movies go, this is creepier than The People Under the Stairs, but not quite as memorable. The character of Candyman1 is excellent, and Tony Todd plays the legendary ghoul of Cabrini-Green with gusto. But the story meanders too much, and gets much too hackneyed for such an original premise.
Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen, Highlander 2: The Quickening, Sideways) is studying urban legends and wants to outdo the tenured profs at the U. She teams up with Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons, Silence of the Lambs, Hard Target) to seek out the origins of the darkest legend only spoken of in whispers, that of the Candyman2. Sort of an amalgam of "Bloody Mary" and ghost stories of escaped slaves, saying his name 5 times in front of a mirror will apparently summon him. He was the son of a slave who fell in love with a plantation owner's daughter, and when whitey gets wind of it, they hack his hand off, jam a hook into the meaty stump, and then strip him naked and smash a beehive on his gonads. Ow.
His ashes were spread over the land that would be the home of the infamous Cabrini-Green housing projects in Chicago, lorded over by gangs so powerful that the film-makers let them be extras in exchange for protection. As Helen delves into the evidence of the legend which include recent brutal murders and mutilations- a boy castrated in a restroom, a babysitter and child disemboweled- she explores the spooky underbelly of the projects, finding things that any urban explorer would jizz in their pants over. The best is when she finds a sub-basement, and emerges through a hole in the wall, around which Candyman's3 face is painted on the other side.
Helen meets few people who are friendly to her- most outsiders come to the projects to gawk or brave the dangers, or as misguided do-gooders. She meets a young mother who sneers, and tells her not everyone here is a gangbanger or a drug addict, and most just want to be left alone to live in whatever dignity they can scrounge. She learns that people believe in the legend, and but are understandably quiet about it. You don't talk much about a guy who comes to kill you if you say his name 5 times. Helen makes the mistake of saying his name in front of a mirror as a lark, and getting his notice.
Shortly after, Helen is approached by a strange man in a long pimp coat in the parking deck, with a deep and alluring voice. Who could that be? He speaks of her as if they are destined to be together, and after she faints, the body count starts to rise. This is where the movie falters, by becoming a slasher film. Helen awakes next to mutilated bodies, and we know she didn't kill them because we saw Candyman4 do it; it would be better if we weren't sure. She gets committed to a mental institution, and her husband Trevor (Xander Berkeley, T2, "24") decides to get a newer model instead of trying to help. Soon Helen realizes that her only hope is to fight back, but how do you fight a monster?
The ending is ultimately unsatisfying, with little resolution- there is some interesting conjecture that legends only live because we believe, but that goes nowhere. In the end, the C-man is defeated too easily, and we get a new monster a little too reminiscent of Fredwina Krueger to take his place. The premise is a great one, but in the end they don't do a lot with it. Philip Glass was brought on board to score it, but withheld the rights when he saw they'd changed it to a slasher film. I think he made the right choice. This could have been a lot better, and it's a shame, because Tony Todd's performance is unforgettable, and iconic.

He's a real son of a bee! hyuk, hyuk.

Whew, I reviewed it and only said it 4 times! Oh wait, does the post title count? Shit.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Big Bald Black Dudes I admire- 2009 update

As you know (or you should) every Black History Month, I take a moment to reflect on the Big Bald Black Dudes I admire. Perhaps it was growing up in the '70s with Gordon on Sesame Street, or my favorite movies including The Thing with Keith David, but big bald black dudes are just the baddest asses in cinema, in my not so humble opinion.

Last year I dubbed Keith David, Ving Rhames, Scatman Crothers, Delroy Lindo, Michael Clarke Duncan, and Tommy "Tiny" Lister Jr. in my annual post, where I also made the audacious claim that Stephen King has never met a black person, so this year I came up with a few new nominees for the halls of badassery.

1. Bill Duke
Best known as Mac from Predator, Bill's been a bad-ass for ages. I first remember him as a bad guy in Commando, where he tells Matrix he's a Green Beret. Unfortunately, John Matrix eats Green Berets for breakfast and shits toy soldiers, so he gets impaled on a table leg. But not before he trashes the hotel room with Arnie in such a brutal fashion that Rae Dawn Chong is made to exclaim, "you guys eat too much red meat!"

Of course, there's no such thing as too much red meat, and Bill Duke can probably eat the ass off a brontosaur and ask for seconds. Even though the Predator freaks him out so bad that he sings "Long Tall Sally" in a falsetto, Mac is one of the classic movie bad-asses. My cousin Lou Taylor Pucci got the honor of starring with him in a movie called The Go-Getter, and for that I'm more envious than when he got to touch Kelli Garner's tit in Thumbsucker. Bill Duke's given us memorable performances in Menace II Society "you know you done fucked up right?" and The Limey, and I'm hoping someday he'll get to play a frog.

2. Charles Dutton
Best known as the star of "Roc" in the early '90s, Charles Dutton has clobbered xenomorphs in Alien3, and gigantic mutant flying cockroaches in Mimic. He's one of the few redeemable qualities of the "scripted by comittee" shitfest that is the second Alien sequel, that even David Fincher could barely save. Seeing him swing Sigurney Weaver around by the neck, you wonder why they bother trying to trap the alien, when it's obvious that Dutton could just grab it by it's li'l mouth and force it to perform oral sex on him, after which it would just kill itself in shame.

3. Samuel L. (the L. stands for le motherfuckin') Jackson
Last time I disqualified Mr. Jackson because his best bad-ass role- Jules from Pulp Fiction - was performed with the assistance of hair. However, since then Sam has been shorn, and given us the baddest, baldest motherfuckin' Jedi (despite the festive purple lightsaber), a bald Son of Shaft, a bald Nick Fury, and a mostly bald bad-ass bluesman in Black Snake Moan. So I'm going to induct him into the Big Bald Black Men Hall of Fame. He's earned his due.

4. Isaac Hayes
(pre-Adventure Club)
Before he got suckered into thinking our souls were H-bombed in volcanoes billions of years ago, Isaac Hayes was a groundbreaking musician and one of the biggest bald black bad-asses around. to mourn the passing of his reason that happened so many years prior to his death, I would like to posthumously induct him in. The evidence: The Duke of New York, A number One, from Escape from New York. He gave super bad-ass Snake Plissken a run for his money, and that's saying a lot. He was also the star of Truck Turner. This was after writing the amazing score to Shaft and composing great soul albums like Hot Buttered Soul and Black Moses. He also served as Chef for many years before his handlers got to him, obviously in a time of weakness, since he passed on not long after. We forgive you Isaac. Rest in peace.

Note: Tony "Candyman" Todd
Last year I got flack for not including Tony Todd. Well, I finally watched Candyman, and I will concur that Tony Todd is a fucking bad-ass. However, it must be noted that he is not bald. He would be even more bad-ass if he'd been bald, with some crazy facial hair, maybe shaped like a hook. Todd's also been in the Final Destination movies, Platoon, and The Crow, so he's a shoo-in for badassery. If only he'd take a Wahl clipper and polish up his noggin, he could join the club.

That's all until next year, where it will get even harder to find nominees for this post. I might even have to include Elmo:

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Oscars 2009

The big surprise was I forgot that Hugh Jackman can sing- he was "The Boy from Oz" after all. The opening number with its Be Kind Rewind style sets and snappy lyrics was more fun than most of what followed. The choices were pretty expected, but they surprised me with some of their choices this year, but not always in a good way. I did like the "former-winner" round table method of introducing the best performance categories. That was an inspired choice. The tip-tap-typing for the screenwriting categories? Not so much.

Best Supporting Actress, Penelope Cruz. I like her too, but I didn't think that movie really showcased her talents or made her very memorable. I was quite surprised they didn't pick Viola Davis, who was amazing in a short amount of time.

No surprise on Animated Feature or Heath Ledger; those picks were in a long time ago. Same with Man on Wire for documentary- why not a feelgood movie, instead of reminding us about Katrina or Abu Ghraib? To be fair, Man on Wire is very compelling. Plus, Philip Petit balanced the Oscar on his chin, that was sort of cool. He's still infectiously cheerful 35 years after wowing the world by performing his amazing stunt.

As for Best Visual Effects, I had a feeling Benjamin Button would sweep them up. I was hoping Iron Man might get it, as the visuals were pretty impressive there. Sound Editing for Dark Knight was nice, I thought Slumdog might grab it- it got Sound Mixing instead, and I must say for a drama it had an impressive and creative mix. Then again, those are the Oscars no one cares about.

I was very glad Danny Boyle got Best Director. I think Fincher will earn one eventually, but Benjamin Button was not the movie for it. If he has to wait to make his Departed 30 years from now, so be it. As for Kate Winslet, she was the best part of a clumsily constructed movie, and did a great job with a complex character. She deserved recognition, and while Anne Hathaway may have done a fantastic job, hopefully she'll have more chances to earn an award.

I was also surprised that Sean Penn got it for Milk- it was a great performance, but I guess I was hoping Mickey Rourke would get the nod. I guess he's got to be satisfied with a nomination, maybe they thought he was just playing himself? At least it gave Penn a chance to mention the shame of Prop 8, and give Mickey some kudos for clawing his way back up from self-destruction.

And no surprise, Slumdog Millionaire grabbed the gold. It was an old basic story, told fresh, in a refreshing way. It reminded me of The Life and Times of Colonel Blimp, a Pressburger & Powell epic that told its story through flashbacks, but Danny Boyle and company made it a thrilling and emotional ride. I'm glad it won, but I wish The Wrestler and The Dark Knight got more recognition.

Frozen River

Desperation is not a place, but a long journey. So often we look at those in worse situations than us and say "pull yourself up by your bootstraps," when unlike us they weren't born into a pair of nice boots and no one ever taught them how to tie their shoes, much less balance a checkbook. In Frozen River, we meet Ray Eddie (Melissa Leo, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada) on a very bad day. Her husband is gone, probably off to a casino; her kids are hungry, and their new house (a double-wide, naturally) can't be delivered because hubby ran off with the cash. The bootstraps have long since been worn to shreds.
But she tries anyway. We see her waking up to begin her day with her sons- the young Ricky and the older T.J.- and the opening shot is on her weathered face, and her tattooed, lean body as he pulls on a sweater. The lines on her face show the hard road she's been on, and it's impossible to tell her age, but I'd lean to the younger side. She's had it rough, living in upstate New York near the Canadian border, next to the Mohawk Reservation. She works retail, and they live in a beat-up single-wide trailer, with nothing but "popcorn and Tang" to eat. But they have a big TV, so you get an idea of her missing husband's priorities.

She goes looking for him at the casino on the Res, where she finds his abandoned car- while she's there, a Mohawk woman hops in his car and takes off. She follows her to her even more meager home- a tiny trailer in the woods, and bangs on her door. When she won't come out, Ray takes out a purse gun and shoots a hole in her trailer. She's got issues of her own. She gets her keys back, but can't take two cars back... long story short, she needs the woman inside's help. Lila (Misty Upham) is in the midst of her own personal tragedy, and wanted the car to make money smuggling illegals across the frozen river from Canada to the States, all on Mohawk territory where it's tough for the cops to intervene. And when Ray sees how easily she can solve her monetary woes, they strike a wary partnership.
Lila teaches Ray about the business- they shuttle Chinese illegals, who pay snakeheads to smuggle them in. The debt is upwards of forty thousand, and they work years to pay it off. "They pay forty thousand dollars? To come here?" What's unspoken is that while Ray and Lila are struggling, others have it so bad they'd enslave themselves to have a chance at their shitty situation. Ray just wants enough cash to get the doublewide, which Ricky asked Santa Claus for. At home, T.J. does his best to raise his brother, but has a disturbing habit of playing with the blowtorch his Dad gave him, and we keep waiting for Ray to come home to cinders and corpses.

Courtney Hunt's film doesn't give us predictable outcomes. Lila has bad eyes and can't afford glasses; her money gets dropped off anonymously to her sister-in-law, who takes care of Lila's year-old son. Her husband died in a smuggling run when he broke through the ice; we keep waiting to see it happen again. Like Hitchcock, she knows that the ticking bomb under the table is much more effective than the explosion. We see the shady edges of society that fuel the smuggling operation- a strip club run by the ever-slimy Mark Boone Junior (Batman Begins, 30 Days of Night).
Ray and Lila shuttle a Pakistani couple over the ice, and they have a duffel bag that Ray is suspicious of. She tosses it on the ice, not wanting to be responsible if they're terrorists, but that sets a whole sequence of events in motion, and it doesn't end like you expect. The one predictable occurrence is that Ray wants to do one last run to pay off the trailer, and pushes her luck. But once again, the story doesn't end where you expect. There is a strong emotional payoff, tempered by the bond between the two struggling women.

As excellent as Melissa Leo's Oscar-nominated performance is, the script is even better. It is also nominated, and up against Milk, WALL-E, In Bruges, and Happy-Go-Lucky it has some stiff competition. It's a worthy opponent in its own right, and while I'd love to see Bruges or Lucky get a nod, I can't see the Academy ignoring two excellent movies that touch on illegal immigration- this and The Visitor- this year. Frozen River and Visitor, with more money and big names, would be sitting where Frost/Nixon and The Reader are in the Best Picture category. In my mind they're more deserving.

5 dead snakeheads out of 5

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Last Dragon

Am I the baddest mofo low down around this town?
Sho 'Nuff!

Back in 1985, Sho 'Nuff was the undisputed Shogun of Harlem. He strutted the length of 125th street with his football shoulder pad armor, afro samurai topknot, kimono and Converse and no one would stand up to him. He talked so loud in the movie theater that other black folks complained. That was all before Bruce Leroy found the glow, and whupped his ass. Grab your popcorn and chopsticks, and let Berry Gordy and I regale you with the tale of The Last Dragon.

I'd kill for those glasses

We meet "Bruce" Leroy Green when he's at his master's dojo- at a highrise with a view of the Empire State Building. He's deep into a training montage where he's chopping and catching arrows out of the air, and other kung fu moves technically referred to as "bad ass shit." His master- named Master- says he can no longer train him. He must find a new Master. Bruce Leroy is confused, as kung fu training is his life. And all Master gives him as a clue is a fortune cookie. Only once he finds his new master can he attain "the glow," the ultimate discipline.
That was easier than catching flies with chopsticks

So Bruce takes in a movie at the local theater, when Sho 'Nuff, the Shogun of Harlem barges in with his entourage. He's come to challenge Bruce Leroy, the legend, known to catch bullets in his teeth. Like I mentioned, Sho 'Nuff talks so loud during The Chinese Connection that the theater erupts in a spontaneous uprising against him, and he whups everyone's ever-lovin' ass. My favorite is when a homeboy kicks him, and he catches the leg, twists his ankle, and yells "You'll never use this foot again!!" before BITING IT. That's a bad-ass mofo, when he'll bite your damn feet out of pure rage.
Am I the baddest foot-biter in the room?

But his challenge to Leroy goes unanswered; he just ducks under his Chinese straw hat, eating his popcorn with chopsticks, and walks out on the arms of the seats with the grace only a true kung fu master could possess.
Before he learned kung fu he ate popcorn with a fork

Now cut to the annoying part of the story- since Berry Gordy produced this, we get inundated with music by DeBarge and Vanity, in the second storyline involving mobster and music producer Eddie Arkadian and his goofy girlfriend Angela, who looks like Cyndi Lauper gone to seed. Eddie wants superstar Laura Charles (Vanity, Action Jackson) under his wing, and won't take no for an answer. Her buddy J.J.- played by William H. Macy in one of his earliest screen roles, dressed like a transvestite in a Patrick Nagel print- tries to warn her, but Eddie is relentless. He's even got some sort of sharkmonster in a tank, to feed his enemies.
Exactly how gay does this make me look?

Bruce saves Laura when Eddie's goons try to kidnap her, kicking all sorts of goombah butt across their limousines. Remember when all we needed for bad guys was some Italians from central casting and a limo? It even worked for Dirty Harry. Despite his shy and proper ways, Laura is charmed by Leroy, and you just know she'll be making some "Rhythm of the Night" in his dojo after the end credits.
Would you like to give you the "after" glow?

For the final showdown, Leroy dons ninja gear to infiltrate Arkadian's lair, where he must fight all sorts of goons, including a white Mr. T Santa Claus, and of course- Sho 'Nuff! Watching them fight in an abandoned chain and cistern factory while The Glow ricochets off their fists is a true sight to behold, and one of the most memorable cheese fights of the '80s. Bruce Leroy is played by real martial arts instructor Taimak, and the late Julius Carry played the unforgettable Sho 'Nuff. It's a damn shame he can't cameo in the tentative remake, where it looks like Samuel L. Jackson may be taking his place.
Santa T angry!

The Last Dragon is a one of a kind '80s cheesefest capitalizing on the wake of The Karate Kid. It's campy and silly, but always good fun. If you love old kung fu movies, or better yet corny pastiches like Big Trouble in Little China, this is the Harlem edition. If you can stand the music, it's a blast. Remember Rockwell, the "Somebody's Watchin' Meeeee" guy? He does a few songs, if you wonder where he disappeared to.
Let your Soul... Glow...
Beers Required to Enjoy: 1
Could it be remade today? It is, sadly.
Quotability Rating: High, sho 'nuff!
Cheese Factor: nacho cheese eaten with chopsticks
High Points: Sho 'Nuff! and the battles
Low Point: Eddie Arkadian is really annoying
Gratuitous Boobies: nope, but Angelina really has "headlights"
are my high beams on?

disclaimers of legal bull shitte

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