Friday, July 6, 2012

Worth Mentioning - Hell Hath No Fury Like...

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Robot Ninja threatens to kick Cody's ass while Jay hangs out in the kitchen.


Early last year, I wrote about the six movies that J.R. Bookwalter and his company Tempe produced for distribution by Cinema Home Video in 1991 - 1992. Made for a total of $15,000, the six movies were shot over seven months and most of them didn't turn out as well as those involved might have hoped. Bookwalter himself dubbed them "the six pack", saying that you'd need to drink a six pack of beer to get through them.

The six pack wasn't Bookwalter's first deal with Cinema Home Video. That came a couple years earlier, when Bookwalter had a budget of $15,000 to make just one movie. A movie called Robot Ninja.

As bad as the six pack is considered to be, Bookwalter and most of his cohorts believe that Robot Ninja is the worst project they were ever involved with. Bookwalter produced the movie Skinned Alive (1990), a movie which I love, but writer/director Jon Killough hates it and would like to see it blasted into space. While discussing that fact on the audio commentary, makeup artist David Lange says that "if Robot Ninja can exist in this world", Skinned Alive is just fine. There are negative mentions like that scattered through the special features of several Tempe DVDs.

Despite the negativity, I wanted to see it. Bookwalter directed it. I had to see it. Its title was Robot Ninja. I needed to see it. Unfortunately, in addition to being Bookwalter's "worst film", it's also pretty much his "lost film". He's never gotten around to releasing it on DVD. Aside from expensive copies of the VHS and a rare German DVD, it's impossible to find. You basically have to be desperate to see it to do so, it's not something you can just stumble across. After years of waiting, I was desperate.

Robot Ninja isn't exactly the sci-fi action flick that you might expect from the title. It's sort of a precursor to Kick Ass, in that it's a story about an average guy who gets the bright idea to become a superhero, and it doesn't go smoothly for him. The movie was made during the time when hype was building for the release of the Batman film directed by Tim Burton, and Bookwalter's idea was to make his character "the anti-Batman", someone who was a loser in their regular life and a failure as a hero.

The lead character is comic book writer/artist Leonard Miller (Michael Todd), who has had some success with his violent, black & white indie comic Robot Ninja and is not happy that his publisher at Amsco Comics has licensed the property out to be turned into a campy network television show that draws comparisons to the 1960s Batman TV series. There's also shades of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles there, since when this movie was being made, that violent, black & white indie comic had recently been developed into a kids' cartoon show.

Miller lives in Ridgway, Ohio - which doesn't really exist, but there is a Ridgeway, Ohio, population: 344 - where a gang of youths led by Gody Sanchez (Maria Markovic) have set out on a rampage of robbery, rape, and murder. One of these baddies is named Buddy Revelle, presumably a reference to the Three O'Clock High touch freak.

A brutal encounter with Gody's gang not only gives Miller ideas for his comic book, it also leads to him deciding to become his own character. With the royalties from the TV show, Miller is able to hire his inventor pal Dr. Hubert Goodknight (Bogdan Pecic) to build him a real, operable Robot Ninja suit.

Amped up, popping pills to stay awake, Miller hits the streets. With his armored, clawed suit, he feels invincible, and believes that he can help the police bring the gang to justice. Who better for the job?

There has to be many better candidates, because Miller's lack of fighting skill makes him, as Bookwalter intended, a failure as a superhero. Sure, he's able to thin the ranks of the villains, but he's not very good at saving people. A young kid dies under his watch, which was a point of contention between Bookwalter and the folks he was making the movie for. He was told, "We don't kill kids at Cinema Home Video," to which he replied, "But this is Tempe, and we kill everybody." There may be some compromise in the fact that the kid appears to die just from being slapped.

For the first forty minutes, the movie is a fun watch. Then, on his second night out as Robot Ninja, Miller is nearly beaten to death. As he slowly succumbs to his wounds and starts having demonic hallucinations, the last half hour becomes a bit of a slog to get through and I began to understand why it's not so highly regarded by its makers.


It doesn't totally work, but it does have an interesting premise, one that certainly never would've occurred to me if I had been presented with the title Robot Ninja. There are some nice cameos - Batman's 1960s Robin himself Burt Ward plays Miller's publisher, whose assistant is played by Linnea Quigley, and Intruder/Hostel III's Scott Spiegel hams it up in an appearance as comic book artist Marty Coleslaw. The movie has its own charm, and I'm glad I've finally seen it. (Bonus points for Miller having a Friday the 13th Part III poster on his wall.)

I'm still waiting for Bookwalter to release it on DVD himself, and would still buy that as soon as it became available. In a recent interview conducted by Doctor Enrico Palazzo (which was a great source of information for this write-up), Bookwalter said he had been planning to assemble a two-disc special edition in 2007, but that idea fell apart when the DVD market bottomed out. It sounds like we may never get the release that he had in mind then, but I cling to hope.

Jay's mention:

KITCHEN NIGHTMARES (UK and American versions) 2004-????

Starring Gordan Ramsay

Having never ventured into the world of the celebrity chief before, I have finally succumbed to the powers of Gordan Ramsay and Kitchen Nightmares.

Ramsay, who also heads the show Hell's Kitchen, is a famous chef and all I knew of him was that he was very popular and was very mean to contestants on Hell's Kitchen, because I had seen a few episodes back in 2007. For whatever reason, I started watching Kitchen Nightmares, and fell in love with it.

Nightmares is based around Gordan Ramsay going to failing restaurants in order to get them back on track. I started out with the UK version and have now moved on to watching some of the American version, and must say I prefer the UK version, and it's not even close. There's something much more realistic and personal about the UK episodes, even though the American show seems to stress the dynamics between the (mostly) family-run businesses Ramsay tries to improve. Ramsay narrates the UK version himself and so far it seems they spend much more time actually showing what he wants to do to improve the business and showing him working with the owner and head chef.

The show is sometimes very depressing, as we see how terrible these restaurants are and how clueless just about everyone involved acts. Ramsay cusses like a sailor on the UK version, and is quite hilarious. He's much more of a jolly man than I had expected, sometimes dancing and prancing around, and while I can bet he's egotistical, I really enjoy watching him and he seems to truly want to help these people get their restaurants turned around. The UK version also features Ramsay talking about the situation while changing into a shirt to start the day in just about every episode. He must be really proud of his physical condition because this is one ongoing theme that I quickly picked up on.

The shows usually display Ramsay trying the food and talking about how terrible it is before he meets with the head chef. In one episode, where Ramsay visits a soul food shack in Brighton, he's actually really pleased with the food and can't say enough good things about it. This is one of my favorite episodes, and is a great example of how much better the UK show is than the American. The restaurant he visits isn't a complete disaster, but just needs some guidance, and for someone to connect with the head chef. It's a very personal and touching episode, as you see how closely connected everyone at the restaurant is and how much time Ramsay puts in with them.

The show can get repetitive, but I've blown through a good bit on Netflix just because I enjoy Ramsay's personality and I think it's a neat concept. If you haven't seen it, start with the UK version on Netflix.

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