April 24, 2013

Superfights (1995)

SOMETIMES, I WORRY that I won’t see another film worthy of Trashterpiece Theatre. But then along comes a movie like Superfights, and all is right with the world.

“Superfights,” as if I have to tell you, are a type of pro wrestling/martial arts hybrid – “where no one knows the outcome!” the announcer assures us – with Superfighters sporting gimmicky nicknames such as Budokai, Dark Cloud, and Night Stalker. Mega-fan Jack Cody (Brandon Gaines) attends every event, even teaching himself the moves he sees his favorite Superfighters perform. (Conveniently, he works in a warehouse full of mannequins, which he uses as practice dummies.)

After Jack becomes a local celebrity by beating up a trio of would-be muggers, he’s recruited by Superfights president Mr. Sawyer (Keith Vitali) to compete in the ring. Jack trains with Angel (Kelly Gallant), a freakishly muscular female Superfighter who overtly flirts with Jack but may have ulterior motives. Watch in amazement as Angel trains Jack using the latest advancements in 1995 technology, including punching at a stream of light and dodging giant phallic pipes that dart out of the walls.

Oh, I almost forgot: Mr. Sawyer’s Superfights empire might be a front for extortion, drug running, mind control, and murder.

Superfights captures the pure essence of direct-to-video, B-movie action flicks of the mid-‘90s. The B-level acting. The hokey, overly serious training montages. The meathead, be-the-best mentality of the fighters. The gratuitous violence. The melodramatic soundtrack, awash in mid-‘90s synth and squealing guitar riffs. This one’s got it all, set against the martial arts hotbed of…Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

The film also features other ridiculous moments, such as Jack getting attacked by a ninja while jogging in broad daylight – a ninja who, while fleeing, literally tells Jack to “just say no” to the “vitamins” supplied by Angel as part of Jack’s Superfighters regimen.

All that being said, the fight scenes in Superfights are in-sane. Director and fight choreographer Tony Leung gives us dozens of fights featuring rapid-fire exchanges, impressive editing, and over-exaggerated impact with blood, sweat, and spit flying everywhere. It culminates in a multi-fight finale between Cody and Sawyer that’s so amazing, I immediately replayed it once the credits started to roll.

A real-life third-degree black belt, Gaines’ role in Superfights was his first and last in films; he’s now a public speaker, rabbi, and acupuncturist living in California. Gallant, unfortunately, has had her share of run-ins with the law since Superfights, including a wrongful death lawsuit and recent arrests for DUI and probation violation.

Highly entertaining and a candidate for repeat viewing, Superfights delivers the goods in both martial arts action and cheeseballiness – rightfully earning its spot in the Trashterpiece pantheon.

(Bonus: Watch for a brief appearance by wrestling legend Rob Van Dam as a doomed Superfighter. His fight was originally supposed to be much shorter, but the filmmakers were so impressed with his physical abilities that they made his fight longer and took a full day to shoot.)

Is it suitable for your kids?
Violence: The Superfights get increasingly violent, leading to bloodied faces and broken bones. Superfighters beat up citizens and two-bit hoods while collecting “protection” money. Several people are beaten to death, many with blood spurting from their mouths. A man is bloodily decapitated by a ceiling fan.
Sex/Nudity: Angel is seen briefly nude from behind as she enters a shower. Jack and Angel share a kiss wearing nothing but bathrobes. Angel makes several overt advances on Jack, with lots of grabbing and groping. Sawyer and Angel are shown getting dressed post-coitus.
Language: “A**hole,” “bulls**t,” “s**t”
Drugs: Superfighters are shown taking Sawyer’s steroid-laced, mind-controlling “vitamins.” A man snorts cocaine.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
If she’s the kind of person who enjoys B-movies and talking back to the screen, but doesn’t mind some violence and bloodshed thrown in the mix, Superfights could be a great film for you to share. Otherwise, check it out yourself or with some friends.

Experience the awesome Superfights trailer,
then try in vain to fight your urge to see the film:

* Director: Tony Leung
* Screenwriter: Keith W. Strandberg
* Stars: Brandon Gaines, Feihong Yu, Keith Vitali, Kelly Gallant, Chuck Jeffreys, Cliff Lenderman, Brian Ruth, Patrick Lung-Kong, Karen Bill
* MPAA Rating: PG-13

Rent Superfights from Netflix >>

April 20, 2013

Win a Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack of The Guilt Trip and a Deluxe Spa Kit!

You could win a Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack of The Guilt Trip starring Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand, plus a deluxe spa kit.

The Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack comes ready-wrapped and includes a pop-up Mother's Day greeting card with audio message:
click to enlarge

click to enlarge

The spa kit includes: sauna basket, olive & aloe soap, honey & calendula moisturizer, cool mint foot scrub, Whenever shampoo and conditioner, anti-stress shower gel, whitening toothpaste, early-to-bed shower gel, loofa, pumice stone, massaging brush, nail brush, and hair brush.

How to Enter:
  • Comment on this post by April 28, 2013. You must provide a way for me to contact you if you win. For example, your e-mail address must be available on the page/site that's linked to your name ("Bob said...") or include your e-mail or Twitter handle in your comment.
  • I will pick one comment at random and post the winner.
  • Prize is available to U.S. mailing addresses only. (No P.O. Boxes, please.)

Good luck!

April 15, 2013

GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (2012)

I BECAME A FAN OF PRO WRESTLING in late 1984, in the months leading up to the World Wrestling Federation (WWF)’s first WrestleMania. It all started for me with Greg “The Hammer” Valentine defeating Tito Santana for the Intercontinental Championship and tearing Tito’s ACL with the dreaded figure-four leglock. (Don’t worry, fans: Santana regained the title the following summer in a steel cage match.)

While the WWF (now WWE) had its share of cartoonish two-dimensional characters during the ‘80s, it was nothing compared to the first all-women wrestling organization, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW).

From 1986 until its abrupt end in 1990, GLOW’s roster was comprised entirely of “gimmick” wrestlers sporting clichéd ringwear and names like Ninotchka, Hollywood, Babe the Farmer’s Daughter, Matilda the Hun, Tina Ferrari, Dementia, Mt. Fiji, Jailbait, Lightning, Godiva, The Heavy Metal Sisters, and Big Bad Mama. With its weekly TV show from the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, which featured matches as well as skits with punchlines on the level of Laugh-In or Hee Haw, GLOW made the WWF look like Masterpiece Theatre.

The documentary GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling takes a look back at this campy yet groundbreaking organization through interviews with the women who lived it. There are no third-party “experts” or wrestling historians telling the GLOW story; the women speak for themselves, discussing how they each got started, the essence of their characters, and the rigors of training and performing.

The women also talk about dealing with the mental and verbal abuse doled out by mercurial GLOW director/promoter Matt Cimber, who had a Hollywood background (his ex was Jayne Mansfield) and a close friendship with Riviera owner Meshulam Riklis, whose then-wife was actress Pia Zadora (Santa Claus Conquers the Martians). Interestingly, the two male driving forces behind GLOW – Cimber and creator/host Mike McClaine – declined to be interviewed for the film.

What’s also interesting about GLOW: Not a single wrestler badmouths her experience. There’s not an iota of resentment from any of them. These women saw themselves as a very unified group (the term “sisterhood” is used more than once) and they’re enthusiastic to discuss their time with GLOW, whether the memories are good or bad. In fact, any hardship at the hands of their bosses – including Cimber’s frequent jabs at their weight – gets laughed off by those who are retelling it.

Similarly, if you’re looking for an exploitative exposé on ‘80s excess, you won’t find it here. There are no scandals, no tales of debauchery, no drug arrests, no steroid use, no complaints of any of the wrestlers being a “bad worker.” And no one is still trudging around the ring like some decrepit relic a la The Wrestler’s Randy the Ram. (The only sad story is that of Mt. Fiji, who’s interviewed from a hospital bed as she has spent several years in a nursing home.) The film culminates in an emotional GLOW reunion, the only one that’s ever taken place since the organization folded more than 20 years ago.

What ever happened to the women of GLOW is probably not a burning question on people’s minds in 2013. But for fans of ‘80s wrestling like me, it was enjoyable to watch these ladies reminisce fondly about their time in the ring. They were a band of largely inexperienced sisters who created a weekly, successful all-female program in a male-dominated industry. And that, in its purest sense, is something truly gorgeous.


Is it suitable for your kids?
Violence: Wrestling matches featuring the GLOW women “attacking” each other. Gruesome footage is shown of Lightning breaking her arm during a match.
Sex/Nudity: Archive footage is shown of a GLOW wrestler wearing nothing but a towel. Hollywood holds her issue of Playboy, though she covers up the photos of her spread.
Language: A few four-letter words and derogatory terms for women.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
Beneath the glitter and spandex, there are messages about women’s empowerment, unity, and perseverance. Any of these could be a reason for your FilmMother to watch this entertaining documentary with you. (Point of reference: My wife entered the room halfway through GLOW, working on other things. By the end, it had her full attention.)

Whoa, whoa, whoa...I take it back, Itakeitback, ITAKEITBAAAACK!!!

GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling
* Director: Brett Whitcomb
* Screenwriter: Bradford Thomason
* Stars: Lori Palmer (Ninotchka), Jeanne Basone (Hollywood), Ursula Hayden (Babe the Farmer’s Daughter), Dee Booher (Matilda the Hun), Lisa Moretti (Tina Ferrari), Emily Dole (Mt. Fiji), Trish Casella (Jailbait), Cheryl Rusa (Lightning), Dawn Rice (Godiva), Helena Le Count (Daisy), Donna Willinsky (Spike), Sharon Willinsky (Chainsaw), Lynn Braxton (Big Bad Mama), Matt Cimber
* MPAA Rating: N/A

April 2, 2013

A Turtle’s Tale 2: Sammy’s Escape from Paradise (2012)

MY MAIN GRIPE ABOUT 2010's A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures was how such a beautifully animated film could house such a plodding story and minimal character development (not to mention a subtle-as-a-sledgehammer environmental message).

The hope was that director Ben Stassen would beef up his story and its players for A Turtle Tale’s 2: Sammy’s Escape from Paradise, where we’re reunited with an advanced-age Sammy (Johnny Wesley) and his best friend Ray (Thomas Lee), who find themselves trapped by poachers and dumped into The Tank, a lavish underwater restaurant/aquarium. As they try to reunite with their grandkids Ella (Shyloh Oostwald) and Ricky (Carter Hastings), who have followed them to The Tank, Sammy and Ray try to hatch an escape plan to get past Big D (Dennis O’Connor), the tough-talking seahorse who rules the aquarium with an iron fin.

With A Turtle’s Tale 2, Stassen and his team have cut way back on the save-the-earth messaging of the original Turtle’s Tale, but the imbalance between animation and character depth still remains. Once again, the film is beautifully animated, with fluid character movement and sprawling seascapes. Unfortunately, the characters aren’t as engaging, nor is their dialogue.

This one-dimensional approach to the creatures’ personalities isn’t limited to Sammy, Ray, and their grandturtles. The inhabitants of The Tank are also one-note, stock stereotypes – a virtual United Nations of sea life sporting overbearing Spanish, French, and Italian accents, to name a few. And while Big D may be positioned as the big baddie who won’t let Sammy and Ray leave, he’s about as menacing as a tough-talking fish stick from Staten Island.

Save for one inspiring, extended sequence where Ella and Ricky are chased through the aquarium by a pair of barracudas, the action – whether to advance the plot or merely keep your attention – is virtually nil. It probably doesn’t help when your two leads are a pair of old, slow-moving sea turtles who make Finding Nemo’s Crush look like Usain Bolt.

A Turtle’s Tale 2 does feature an enjoyable yet odd use of a classic rock soundtrack, including Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower,” The Champs’ “Tequila,” and the morbid choice of the B-52’s “Rock Lobster” as a restaurant couple crack apart and slurp up a freshly served pair of the song’s titular crustaceans.

Just like its predecessor, A Turtle’s Tale 2 is a disappointing and frustrating experience. Stassen and his obviously talented team of animators and filmmakers have again put immense efforts into creating a visually enthralling world, but little to no effort into the characters who inhabit it. Gorgeous style, very little substance…and another wasted opportunity.

aka Sammy’s Great Escape.

What did FilmBoy and Jack-Jack think?
A Turtle’s Tale 2 was unable to keep their attention. By the halfway point, they were doing other things while the film played in the background. (Truth be told, I was checking the clock by that point, too.) FilmBoy’s official verdict? “It wasn’t the best movie ever. It was okay. It was definitely better than the first one.”

Is it suitable for your kids?
Violence/Scariness: Seagulls try to eat a group of turtle hatchlings as they make a run from the beach to the ocean. A couple of dopey little fish are eaten by a pair of barracudas (one gulp, no blood). Ella and Ricky are in danger of being eaten as they’re chased by the same barracudas.
Rude Humor: Seagulls unleash a barrage of bird droppings on a boat’s crew.
Language: One mention of “idiot.” An eel declares, “You don’t have a friggin’ clue.”
Alcohol: Bartenders at a club in the aquarium mix and serve drinks.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
She may want to watch it based on the setting, premise, and cute box art, but steer her clear. She’ll be bored within the first 30 minutes.

"What a cutie. Shame to eat 'em in just one bite..."

A Turtle’s Tale 2: Sammy’s Escape from Paradise
* Directors: Ben Stassen, Vincent Kesteloot
* Screenwriter: Dominic Paris
* Stars: Johnny Wesley, Thomas Lee, Shyloh Oostwald, Carter Hastings, Dennis O’Connor
* MPAA Rating: N/A

Rent A Turtle’s Tale 2: Sammy’s Escape from Paradise from Netflix >>


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