Friday, March 29, 2019

Worth Mentioning - The Light I Never Knowed

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.

One of River Phoenix's best films, some more Van Damme, and a bit of Michael J. Fox.


Even though Dogfight is, according to the poster, "a love story", I was hesitant to watch it because the set-up for it the story is awful. River Phoenix stars as Eddie Birdlace, a young Marine who is preparing to ship out to Okinawa - but on the night before he leaves the country, he chooses to participate in a "dogfight" with his fellow Marines. This is a party where all of the attending Marines chip in some cash, then seek out the least attractive women they can find and ask them to go to the party with them. They have to treat this like a real date, they have to be polite to the women, but the entire time they're at the party a panel of judges will be rating the attractiveness of the females there. The Marine with the least attractive date wins some of the money that was pitched in (after a chunk has been taken out to pay for the venue and drinks). That sort of scenario could have made for a very mean movie, and the one thing that gave me hope for this one was the fact that it was directed by a woman, Nancy Savoca. So there was less chance that the film would be on the side of the guys degrading the women.

The story is based on screenwriter Bob Comfort's own experiences being in the Marines and participating in dogfight parties, but thankfully Comfort doesn't glorify what the guys in his story are doing, and centers it on one, Eddie Birdlace, who dedicates his night to trying to give his date a nice time after humiliating her.

Eddie's date is Rose (Lili Taylor), a young woman who may not look like a model but she's nice and has a good heart. She doesn't deserve to be taken to a dogfight, and Eddie quickly realizes he's doing wrong by taking her there. He has participated in dogfights before, but Rose makes him grow a conscience and regret his actions.

Beyond the set-up and the dogfight, this actually does become a rather sweet movie as we watch the developing bond between meek, folk music loving Rose and Eddie, a young man with a bad temper and something to prove. Their personalities don't quite mesh and they don't always get along - Rose has a very funny response to Eddie's excessive vulgarity during a restaurant scene - but there is something between them.

Making the film even more interesting is the fact that it's set on the night of November 21, 1963... and the viewer knows that the world the characters are living in is going to be changing in the next 24 hours, as JFK was assassinated on the 22nd. Although Eddie is going to Okinawa, he really wants to be part of the "advisor" situation in Vietnam. Which we know is going to become something much worse than the quick and simple training job he expects it to be.

Blog contributor Priscilla and I had a marathon of every film River Phoenix made during his career, and when we got to Dogfight I started it reluctantly. As the end credits began to roll I was glad I had watched it. Its existence had passed me be for almost thirty years, which is a shame because it deserves to be more popular than it is. I feel it's one of the best movies Phoenix was in, and it's a great addition to Taylor's filmography as well.


Released just months after Bloodsport II, the third film in the Bloodsport franchise takes the same "story time" approach to laying out its events as the second film did. Like Bloodsport II had Master Sun (James Hong) telling that tale to young martial arts students at some point in the future, Bloodsport III has returning main character Alex Cardo (Daniel Bernhardt) telling this story to his 10-year-old son after the kid has gotten in trouble for fighting. The bulk of the film takes place sometime before Alex's son was born, but still "several years" after Alex won the Kumite fighting tournament in part 2.

Alex was a thief when we met him in Bloodsport II, but when we catch up with him in the pre-son days of Bloodsport III he's a successful gambler who does a favor for a casino owner - a favor that involves beating up thieves, as he retrieves a stash of diamonds that were stolen from the wealthy Jacques Duvalier (John Rhys-Davies). Duvalier is planning to start up his own Kumite and wants Alex to fight in it, so when Alex refuses to participate Duvalier decides to give him some incentive. He has Alex's mentor Master Sun killed with a phone bomb. So that's why Master Sun isn't telling the story this time.

Alex sets out on a mission of vengeance, which brings his budding romance with Duvalier's lounge singer daughter Crystal (Amber Van Lent) to a screeching halt. Thanks to Master Sun, Alex has the powerful ability of the Iron Hand, which causes his hand to not only radiate a vibration that is not only good for delivering powerful punches but can also heal wounds and spark campfires...  I'm astounded that something like that got worked into sequels to Bloodsport. Regardless, the Iron Hand isn't going to be enough this time around. Alex needs some more training. So he seeks out the help of official Kumite judge Macado (Master Hee Il Cho, dubbed by Gerald Okamura) and we get the required training montages as Alex goes on "a journey of the soul as well as the body". A journey that involves doing Van Damme splits, taming a cobra, and having Macado shoot arrows at him until he learns to catch them out of the air, even while blindfolded. While he's hanging out with Macado, he nearly gets a replacement love interest when the judge's niece Shari (Uni Park) throws herself at him. But he's not into her in that way. You don't often see that from an action hero.

The movie is more than halfway over before Duvalier's Kumite begins, but the good news is that the rest of the movie consists of one fight after another as Alex battles his way to the final confrontation with a fighter called The Beast, played by the 6'8" Nicholas R. Oleson, who sadly passed away of a heart attack at the age of 31 right after this movie hit home video. Duvalier has rigged the Kumite so The Beast will win it, but Alex has other plans.

Directed by Bloodsport II director Alan Mehrez and written by James Williams, who got his sole credit on this movie, Bloodsport III gets off to a rough start. I really wasn't enjoying it for the first third, but it turns around at about the 30 minute point when Alex arrives at the home of Judge Macado. The training sequence is fun and a bit reminiscent of training seen in the film Jean-Claude Van Damme made right after the first Bloodsport, Kickboxer. Then we get to the Kumite, and that's always a good time. So in the end, I was left feeling that Bloodsport III provided a better viewing experience than Bloodsport II  had overall. I was rewarded for getting through that first 30 minutes.


After making back-to-back nonsense with Double Team and Knock Off, Legionnaire feels like Jean-Claude Van Damme attempting to get his career back on track. The screenplay was written by his BloodsportLionheart, and Double Impact collaborator Sheldon Lettich (with Rebecca Morrison), and director Peter MacDonald turned that script into a serious, well-made, dramatic film.

A period piece set in 1925, the film is a story about soldiers serving in the French Foreign Legion, which is a subject Lettich had been wanting to make a movie about for several years. At one point he had even written a French Foreign Legion script, that one set in modern day, for for Sylvester Stallone, but that version didn't go anywhere.

Van Damme plays boxer Alain Lefevre, who has to go on the run when he makes a deal with mobster Lucien Galgani (Jim Carter) that he'll take a dive in his latest fight, then wins the fight instead. Like Bruce Willis in Pulp Fiction. Lefevre also has a romantic history with the mobster's moll Katrina (Ana Sofrenovic) and was planning on running away with her, plus he kills Galgani's brother in self-defense, so yeah, Galgani really wants him dead.

While on the run, Lefevre joins the French Foreign Legion, which had no way to run background checks at the time and was known for taking in disreputable people at the time. In fact, a text crawl at the head of the film says French Foreign Legion soldiers were considered "the scum of the earth" at this time, even though they would fight until "the last man standing".

The rest of the film follows Lefevre's experience in the Legion as he has to trek into the Moroccan desert, where he participates in the French intervention in the Rif War that was being waged between Spain and the Berber tribes of Morocco in the 1920s. Lefevre even has direct interaction with an actual historical figure during these battles. At the same time, he has to fend off attempts on his life by men sent by Galgani.

Legionnaire was a step up for Van Damme at the time, and I found it to be an interesting look at a time and place in history that I had no idea about. I was clueless about the Rif War before this movie... and still mostly am, but now at least I know it happened and know some details about it. It's a shame that this film didn't make it into theatres, as it was more deserving of that sort of release than Van Damme's previous two movies. But it didn't, and while Van Damme has gotten a theatrical release here and there since 1998, this is the point where his career moved primarily into the direct-to-video world.


Director John Badham's action-comedy "buddy cop" (sort of) movie The Hard Way is one I watched one time when it was first released on home video back in 1991, then never watched again until 2019, but over that time I remembered it being a pretty good movie. Revisiting it now, I still enjoyed it, while finding it to be kind of awkward. I can see why it wasn't a box office success. Scripted by Daniel Pyne and Lem Dobbs from a story Dobbs crafted with Michael Kozoll, the film sets up a humorous scenario and then doesn't deliver on it the way most audience members were likely expecting it to.

Michael J. Fox plays Nick Lang, an incredibly successful Hollywood star who wants to branch out of the family friendly adventure movie stuff he has been doing (a faux trailer for one of his projects looks a lot like an Indiana Jones movie) and start doing something more serious and challenging. He has his eyes on a script about a hard-edged cop, and to get into the role he wants to ride along with a real hard-edged cop he saw bleeding and talking tough on the news: Lieutenant John Moss (James Woods) of the NYPD.

This might lead you believe that the movie is going to be about the comedic interaction between a rogue cop and a prissy movie star, but Nick really isn't that prissy. He's a little overly enthusiastic about what he's doing, but he respects police officers and is serious about having real experiences on the street to study for the part he's hoping to get. So when Moss displays a deep hatred for Nick, it makes him come off as a total douchebag. A tagline for the film describes Moss as "New York's angriest cop", and that's for sure. This guy is in a perpetual rage, and it's not so fun to watch him bitch about and pick on someone for no reason... and he goes way too far in his efforts to ditch Nick.

The concept could be described as "Dirty Harry gets partnered with a Hollywood actor", but while I'm sure Harry wouldn't be very pleased about the situation I also don't think he would try to get rid of him by staging a scenario that leaves the actor thinking he has killed an innocent person. The fact that Nick does the right thing when he has this on his conscience drags Moss through the mud even further.

Nick even tries to help Moss with the relationship he's pursuing with Susan (Annabella Sciorra), single mother to a young girl played by Christina Ricci. His time would be better spent trying to encourage Susan to stay away from Moss.

Despite not liking the Moss character this time around, I did still find The Hard Way to be a fun watch, as it has some laughs, some good action scenes, and Fox was great as Nick. Some of the biggest action comes when Moss is facing off with a serial killer called The Party Crasher, an exuberant maniac played by a platinum-haired Stephen Lang, who is best known these days for being the very intimidating Blind Man in Don't Breathe. The Party Crasher was another element of the film that was darker and more serious than I expected, but the action he brought to the film was appreciated.

Maybe I won't let twenty-eight years pass before the next time I watch The Hard Way.

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