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Monthly Archives: June 2010

They Call Me Bruce? is a product of its times not unlike any of the [insert inappropriately used adjective] Movie series of today are. That is to say that while it may be filled with consistent pop culture name dropping it certainly never hits the rock bottom, churn-it-out laziness of those movies. References fly so dated that only a few of my age and I’m certain none younger would get them, from a Linda-Carter-era Wonder Woman quick change gag to Toyota commercial jingles. But they are jokes, not just pointing at something and leaving that to be the funny. Coming at Zucker Brothers speed hurts them none either.

The film is guilty of laziness to be sure. The Italian mobsters are as stereotyped as you’ll ever see, as is star Johnny Yune’s Chinese immigrant cook and grandfather characters. It’s all winking fun, though, not to be taken seriously. Yune’s adeptness at understated reactions and physical comedy keep things moving at an amiable pace through each set piece, especially once it becomes a road movie. Here they meet even more stereotypes, such as the roadhouse rednecks intent on fighting him, while Yune and his driver attempt to deliver “special Chinese flour” for his mobster bosses.

Yune also has frequent delusions of his own martial arts prowess, owing to resembling Bruce Lee, that lead into elaborate dream sequences. Stage fight training from, seemingly, the stunt coordinators of Dolemite and other Rudy Ray Moore classics punctuates these scenes. Lots of slow kicking and punching, as well as the ever present leg sweep, make it into the fights. Most of this is left to unnamed characters, though, with Yune only popping in for fantasy moments.

The road trip leads inevitably to New York City for the silly conclusion of Yune’s search for his grandfather’s “special lady,” which was too corny for words to describe. But, for what it was, They Call Me Bruce? is an entertaining enough film that accomplishes its own low end goals. 2 ½ stars

I’m going to go ahead and spoil some of Sex Machine for you because I doubt many will actually see it, but know in advance that some spoilers will be dropped here. Sex Machine is a very independent film. Shot on low quality video and featuring absolutely terrible sound (I had to crank the volume all the way to make out the dialogue), I found the movie to be amateurish on almost every level. While it may not have been a quality film, that’s not to say that I found it in no way enjoyable.

If anything Sex Machine suffers from a reach beyond its grasp. The movie almost looks like a calling card, a note of what the filmmakers could do with a proper budget and newer video equipment, at least. While presenting a number of hand-to-hand combat scenes there was clearly no money for a fight choreographer. Everyone moves slowly and looks pretty bad at it. The Foley work during the fights sounds bad too, with canned overly loud noises that sound the way the Batman TV series onomatopoeia looked.

The dialogue is pretty wonky but the delivery doesn’t help it much. A lot of the acting falls into the hammy range and the rest of it into flat. The script goes a little bit out of bounds by adding an ancient Nazi scientist but I can’t fault them for that one. Nazis just always work as villains, and everyone likes to see a good war criminal get his. The ideas behind the script- SPOILERS here- organ farming, genetic experimenting and good old-fashioned Frankenstein science- make the movie interesting even where it’s not particularly good. The most interesting part of it is Frank’s arms, both grafted onto his body with comically overlarge scar tissue. One of them features extensive tattoos, including the inexplicable title of the film, a grand misstep in gaining the film some attention. The other one is black, which was pretty clever and a striking image. The black hand is the only one that knows how to fight, though, so it takes some getting his ass (very slowly) handed to him before Super Fist takes over and beats ass back. I enjoyed this quirk. It gave the sense of a cartoonish superpower, though, and your mileage may vary.

Sex Machine Frank spends roughly 90% of the movie in Unknown Soldier-style facial bandages even though he’s trying to keep a low profile. No one takes much notice despite his appearing this way quite publicly. It makes for another striking visual, though, so I let that illogic slide. You have to suspend some disbelief, after all. There’s a standard lost-love plot to contend with and his friends aren’t much use. The villains never even strike through them, though, until the last few minutes. Seemed pretty obvious to me but maybe I’m wilier than ancient Nazis.

I feel like with a little professional gloss in the writing and acting departments, and some proper stunt work, Sex Machine could have turned into a sleeper hit. It has a lot of interesting concepts and eccentricities, but fails to properly exploit them in favor of a Memento-like search for the past and a love story that is frankly disinteresting and trite. Maybe director Christopher Sharpe will manage to remarket his concept sometime, because reanimated strippers. Yes, I said reanimated strippers. 2 ½ stars

In semi-reality show Invasion Iowa, William Shatner and a group of faux filmmakers do just that: invade a small town (population just over 900) in Iowa under the pretense of making a film. The movie they pretend to make is a mishmash of other better sci-fi pictures (the opening is from The Terminator, for example) done in the sloppiest, cheesiest way possible. Watching them make the film is actually pretty fun. Local residents of Riverside, Iowa partially make up the cast and crew, along with actors playing the parts of Shatner’s much derided body double, a hard-assed producer, his kooky spiritual advisor and a ditzy blond starlet. Basically, no Hollywood cliché is left unused.

The producers chose Riverside, Iowa for an interesting reason. The town petitioned to be, and became, the fictional hometown of Capt. James T. Kirk of Star Trek. They even built a bronze memorial to him. So, in a way, these people had this coming. Shatner and company, though they may heap abuse on their own actors, treat the townspeople with care and don’t subject them to any real humiliation. They take care not to embarrass anyone beyond the “gotcha” nature of pretending to make what would have been the worst film of all time in front of them.

The thing is, though, if you’ve spent any time in the Midwest (I grew up in Indiana) you would already know to expect the benign reactions to all of the craziness the show heaps upon them. When Desi Lydic’s “starlet” shares her children’s book about a penguin who has her wings enlarged by a plastic surgeon to “fill out her sweater” and all she receives are nods and murmurs. Mostly they are nice but dull and the crew is forced to ramp up their antics to add any entertainment value to the series.

Where the series threw me off was the revelation scene, where they let the remainder of the town in on the joke. Some savvy locals who were close to the truth were fired by the producers and brought back to gloat in this section. The “admiration” of the locals quickly shifts to overbearing, false pretension, babying those who were actually relieved that they were not involved in the making of what they thought was a garbage film. Shatner hands out checks like medals at the Special Olympics to soothe any hurt feelings, though no one displays any. The whole segment is so phony and self-satisfied that it ruined most of the series for me in retrospect. 2 stars for a series that could have been enjoyable if it didn’t take its own ludicrous concept so seriously.