Thursday, June 8, 2023

Junesploitation 2023 Day 8: Cannon!


  1. DEATH WISH 4: THE CRACKDOWN (1987, dir. J. Lee Thompson) – There was only one choice for today. Being a big fan of the first two Cannon sequels, it was time to finally watch the final one. (I know there was a fifth film made, but Cannon no longer existed by then.) Death Wish 4 is a ludicrous delight. The cartoonish violence of Death Wish 3 carries over into 4 as well as some of the story elements. The film made me laugh more than I expected. Director Thompson keeps the pace moving along quickly while Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) ruthlessly destroys Los Angeles drug rings.

  2. Death Ride to Osaka / Girls of the White Orchid (1983)

    This is totally kind of a cheat. I’ve watched nearly every Cannon movie. All 162 Golan and Globus Cannon movies. The 35 post-Menahem Ovidio G. Assonitis, Yoram Globus and Christopher Pearce-led Cannon. Yeah, I’m missing eight of the movies that exist between the Dewey-Friedland and Golan and Globus Cannon, but I’ve seen all 56 of the original Cannon-released films (Take Her By Surprise through The Swap), the eight initial movies Golan and Globus brought to Cannon (American Raspberry, American Nitro, Operation Thunderbolt, Gas Pump Girls, Incoming Freshmen, Savage Weekend, Going Steady and The Magician of Lublin) and the 39 movies Menahem released as 21st Century.

    But there’s always more Cannon.

    There were more than forty movies released on video in the Pathé era.

    Sixty-nine movies not produced by Cannon but that were theatrically distributed by them (like Contamination, Highlander and, yes, When Father Was Away on Business).

    Twenty-three Pathé era theatrical releases.

    And two hundred and fifty plus movies that Cannon released on their various home video labels like Cannon / MGM/UA Home Video, HBO/Cannon Video, Cannon Video, Cannon / Guild Home Video, Cannon / Rank Video, Cannon Screen Entertainment Limited, Cannon Classics, Cannon / Warner Home Video, Cannon/VMP, Cannon Screen Entertainment, Scotia/Cannon, Cannon International, Cannon/ ECV, Cannon / Showtime, Cannon / United Film, Cannon / Isabod, Cannon / Mayco and so many more.

    That’s where Girls of the White Orchid AKA Death Ride to Osaka comes in.

    This was based on a report by ABC’s 20/20 about women who go to Japan to work as entertainers but end up becoming sex workers for the Yakuza. NBC wanted producer Leonard Hill to use Melinda Culea from The A-Team but he wanted Jennifer Jason Leigh. He did use two actors who were currently on NBC shows, Ann Jillian (who was on Jennifer Slept Here at the time this was made) and Thomas Byrd (who was on the show Boone).

    Director Jonathan Kaplan started his directing career making New World movies like Night Call Nurses and The Student Nurses and ended up making more socially acceptable stuff like The Accused. This would be in the middle of all that and unites the exploitation and the art and makes a TV movie out of it.

    Jennifer Jason Lee is Carol Heath, a waitress who has come to Japan to be a new wave singer and, well, you can imagine how that worked out. Ann Jillian plays Marilyn, who made the same journey years ago and stuck around, and Carolyn Seymour plays the woman who runs the hostess bar, Madame Mori. Yes, this is pretty much a Mr. Mom reunion with those two actresses. Plus, Mako and Soon-Tek Oh show up. They take Carol’s passport, the U.S. embassy refuses to help and perhaps only her American ex-boyfriend Don (Thomas Byrd) can save her.

    Brad Fieder did a pretty fun synth score for this and wow, Steve Miller’s “Abracadabra”” pops up and you forget this was a TV movie. You know, unless you watched the international cut of this which has a few moments of nudity and sex. The Tubi edition has them, as does the Fun City Editions Primetime Panic box set.

    If you want any of my numerous Cannon Letterboxd lists and the links to my reviews, just ask!

  3. Going a bit against the grain and watching Hansel and Gretel with David Warner and Cloris Leachma as The Witch. Despite owning several, the only Cannon Fairy Tale I can recall seeing is Puss in Boots. Wish me luck.

    1. I never knew there were any fairy tale films made by Cannon. Though the company is best known for low-budget crazy action films, there was a diversity to their productions. I considered Runaway Train for a watch today, definitely not a crazy action film. Barfly is also high on my watch list.

  4. L.A. Takedown (1989, dir. Michael Mann)

    Heat before Heat! A TV movie that tells the same story, only stripped down. This essentially served as a trial run for Michael Mann leading up to Heat. As a huge fan of Heat this was pretty wild to watch. ~70% of the dialogue is identical, and many shots and sequences are staged the same way. Also there was a reference to the events of Heat 2 that wasn't even in Heat! My head almost exploded. Heat is a far superior film in every way, but that doesn't mean this isn't a great TV movie and well worth watching. Fun Fact: Xander Berkeley is the only actor to appear in both films. He plays Ralph in Heat and plays Waingro in L.A. Takedown. Highly recommended.

  5. AMERICAN NINJA (1985)
    dir. Sam Firstenberg

    I was kinda hoping Joe wasn’t going to say anything at all throughout the whole movie.

    The Patricia Hickock character was bananas and I love that Judie Aronson went for it 100%.

    But my biggest takeaway is that I need to see more Steve James movies.

  6. New-to-me: HERCULES (1983)
    Did you ever have a movie you assumed you had seen, only to realize you never did? That's this one for me. The filmmakers take the Hercules story and give it the STAR WARS treatment. The Greek myths have never been so space-y! Lou Ferrigno certainly has the physique, but the real star is Sybil Danning hamming it up big-time in her few scenes as some sort of evil queen. This is the corniest of cornball sci-fi/fantasy, but perfect if cornball is what you're in the mood for.

    Old fave: LIFEFORCE (1985)
    Although I didn't see this until recent years, I definitely remember the ad campaign from '85. The commercials showed a giant globe approaching the Earth. Then the globe blinks (!) as we realize it's an impossibly huge eyeball. Terrifying! The actual movie has sexy space vampires instead of planet-sized eyeballs, so it's all good. That said, how many more viewings will it take before I'm finally able to figure out the plot? The movie is hugely entertaining and totally recommended, but I must admit it baffles me.

  7. The Wicked Lady (1983, dir. Michael Winner)

    In 17th century England, Barbara (Faye Dunaway) is invited to her cousin's wedding to Sir Ralph. But the manipulative Barbara swoops in, seduces the nobleman and becomes the bride in her cousin's stead. For a while she takes to her new high society life like a duck to water, but quickly bores of it and seeking new thrills, becomes a masked highway robber.

    It's surprisingly lavish (by Cannon's standards), they clearly put some money behind the sets and costumes. There's a curious mix of tones happening here, like none of the actors knows exactly what kind of movie they're supposed to be in. Some of them seem to think it's a serious period drama (Dunaway chief among them), while others are having a lot more fun with the silly, melodramatic script. Depending on your mood, this will either exasperate or fascinate you. I had a lot of fun with it.

    And Winner being Winner, of course there's tits on screen every five minutes. He sets the mood early, with the "directed by Michael Winner" credit appearing over a shot of a naked woman running straight at the camera, and the whip fight that strips Marina Sirtis topless is pure Winner sleaze.

    Revenge of the Ninja (1983, dir. Sam Firstenberg)

    Shô Kosugi plays an expert ninja who moves to America with his son (played by Kosugi's real son Kane) after the rest of their family are killed by rival ninjas. Trying to lead a quiet life, he unwittingly gets embroiled in a drug smuggling plot, and has to bust out his dormant ninja moves to get out.

    Since my first pick wasn't what you'd call typical for Cannon, I wanted something that was pure Cannon, and this is definitely that. Plenty of bloody, silly, glorious ninja action, bad acting, and a simple plot whose only function is to hang the action scenes together. Cannon company man Firstenberg knows his way around an action movie.

  8. Cobra (1986)

    First time viewing. This movie is absolutely glorious and features some of the most unintentionally hilarious dialogue I've ever heard. At the beginning of the film, there is a single minute which contains: 1. a character uttering the line "Call the cobra," followed by 2. the main character arriving in a car with the license plate "AWSOM 50," who then 3. appears chewing on a wooden matchstick. Stallone's idea of character development here is simply wearing sunglasses, but the movie is worth watching for the car chase sequence alone. No notes, five stars.

  9. The Apple (1980)

    A glittery, dystopian musical set in the distant future of the year 1994, about a consumerist society controlled by a diabolic music producer who incidentally is the literal devil, because the whole thing is also a big Christian allegory about mankind succumbing to temptation and finding salvation through the power of togetherness and hippy clothes. Catherine Mary Stewart plays the Eve character who decides to bite the titular apple of fame and fortune but soon sees the error of her ways. The songs come hard and fast (almost one after another) and they’re uniformly cheesy in the best way, the cast gamely jumps headfirst into the silliness, and everyone looks great in the goofy, space-disco costumes and makeup. I don’t know what else to say, except that I love June.

    1. Love The Apple-- it's the Topps! Best worst musical ever (I haven't seen Cats yet).

  10. Alien from L.A. - 1988, dir. Albert Pyun

    After skimming the list of Cannon movies looking for something I haven’t seen, I settled on this one because it was also an apocalyptic Albert Pyun joint and Vinegar Syndrome recently put it out. How bad could it be? Well, not bad exactly, but def not good. It’s a weird fairy tale about a nerdy we blanket Cali girl (supermodel Kathy Ireland wearing glasses and affecting an annoyingly squeaky voice) who journeys to Africa in search of her archeologist father. Of course she immediately falls down a tunnel into the hollow earth where Atlantis conveniently settled millions of years prior and has since turned into a muddy Mad Max wasteland. If I didn’t know any better, I def would’ve said they just reused all the sets from ‘Super Mario Bros.’ and just covered them in more gak and neon.

    Written by (sisters?) Judith and Sandra Berg (both using pseudonyms as well), this film came a decade after their 1978 ‘Election’-esque teen comedy debut ‘Almost Summer’ starring Bruno Kirby, Lee Purcell, and Tim Matheson (which probably would’ve been an interesting Teenagers! Day pick). After this, they worked in horror/sci-fi for a while, also writing Pyun’s ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’ (was AfL.A. a warm up?), the ‘War of the Worlds’ and ’Swamp Thing’ TV shows, and then nothing until they jumped into the world of Hallmark Christmas/Wedding movies in 2015. ‘Alien from L.A.’ is a rare example of when the meta irony is actually funnier than the in-text jokes but despite Ireland going deep underground, the story itself remains incredibly on the surface. It also commits the double sin of presenting a literal supermodel, frumped into nerdity, only to be un-frumped by the end as well as her being a confidence and self-respect-free church mouse who realizes she doesn’t need her shitty boyfriend, only to find her self-worth granted after finding a new cute Morlock boy. Considering how cleverly the writers comment on other tropes, it’s disappointing that the film still trips and falls right into these two gaping chasms.

    Besides Ireland (who’s excellently playing the lead with a huge spoonful of self-awareness), the film also stars Thom Matthews (‘Return of the Living Dead’, ‘F13th VI: Jason Lives’, ‘Nemesis’), Linda Kerridge (‘Fade to Black’, ‘Surf II’, ‘Vicious Lips’) and Deep Roy (everything). The production design is pretty nuts considering what average Cannon budgets were but it does all blend together in a mud factory way quite often. Not the most raucous or audacious film in Pyun or Cannon’s library, but enjoyable enough to pass the time.

  11. Invaders From Mars (1986) dir. Tobe Hooper

    My usual go to's for Cannon had been Lifeforce, Texas Chainsaw 2 or something Chuck Norris, but this year I decided to go to a Hooper blindspot of mine and finally give Invaders From Mars a first time watch. Tobe Hooper takes the 1950's B movie and makes an even B'er movie. It's got a real campy charm with obvious rubbery aliens, hammy dialogue and soundstage sets which make it very fun and endearing.

    David Irving

    Started off Cannon day with a fairytale. Not to be confused with the horror Rumpelstiltskin that would be released 8 years later, this is the musical version straight from Golan and Globus. The musicals numbers usually only work when Amy Irving sings them and the lyrics and very direct and plot driven. When some of the characters got to be too sing-talky, it did get grating, even for an ex theatre kid, such as myself. Not to mention the inclusion of the telephone game into the plot, an early improve exercise. The actual musical numbers did get me bopping like Cabby from Escape from NY bops to the theme to American Bandstand. My only disappointment is that they didn't bust out some Blood, Sweat and Tears when they were spinning the straw into gold.

    Aside from Amy, as the miller's wife, Rumpelstiltskin (Billy Barty from Masters of the Universe) and the silly gold drunk King and meddling squinty-eyed Queen (Clive Revill and Priscilla Pointer, both of C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud) each made the proceedings more enjoyable. The King delivers a very giddy song about greed that would make Scrooge McDuck proud. Billy must've had a blast and does a decent job of scenery chewing as the impossibly name imp, each time he appears; his scenes inside his inner sanctum, as he's leering secretly off in the distance and his demise (plus the accompanying Cannon-y special effects), especially, make this movie fun enough.
    The rest of the cast was forgettable, when you remember the talking bird better than any other character not mentioned above, you have an issue but as Cannon fantasy fodder geared towards kids, this wasn't a bad end product.
    I also got to Under The Brooklyn Bridge but haven't gotten to the review and starting Cobra too!

  13. Midnight Ride (1990 Dir. 1990)
    When Salvina Gersak leaves her cop husband(Michael Dudikoff) in the middle of the night she breaks the cardinal rule of driving alone and picks up a hitchhiker played by Mark Hamill unbeknownst to her he is a killer. Half of the film is Michael Dudikoff chasing his wife down to keep her from leaving him. Actions that include stealing and wrecking a patrol car. The other half is Hamill and Gersak on the road together as she finds out that he is a killer and tries to get away.
    The highlight of the film is Hamill as he just plays the role at 100 from start to finish. Another peak is a scene where Dudikoff is strapped to the hood of a car Hamill is driving and and Hamill tortures him by threatening to run into the back of a gas truck. Dudikoff does his thing and is as good as usual. Gersak is just kind of there though and you can't help but think a better actress could have done a lot more with the role.
    Lower tier Cannon for sure but Hamill and a couple of good action scene makes it worth watching.

  14. Started out the day with my first viewing of Rappin', but one Cannon is never enough, so I rewatched Masters of the Universe and now I'm rewatching The Apple. Was hoping to rewatch Breakin' 2, but I don't think I'll have time today.

  15. Savage Weekend (1978)

    This is an unusual mishmash of hixploitation, relationship drama, and slasher flick, and its a combo that ultimately doesn't gel, but there's enough uncomfortable sexual tension, gratuitous nudity, and just general oddness to keep it (barely) compellingly adequate to get to the conclusion. Notable performances by David Gale (Reanimator, The Brain) and William Sanderson (Fight for Your Life, Blade Runner) were highlights.

  16. RUMPELSTILTSKIN (1987, d. David Irving)
    First-time watch on MGM DVD, 5/10.
    I'd like to think that had I seen this when it was new & I was 8, I would've been into it. However, "Faerie Tale Theatre" would've potentially spoiled me by then, so who knows. I neither love nor loathe this offering from the Mighty Cannon. I did find more interest looking over Amy Irving's relationships, both romantic & familial. No doubt the tidbits I gleaned from the dependably factual IMDb trivia section are true. And if so, it seems Amy Irving played the baby in a stage production of this story at 9 months. So there's that. I bought this DVD at Dollar Tree on one of the occasions that my DVDs rung up at fifty cents apiece instead of $1.25 each.

  17. American Ninja (1985)

    First time watch, and this flick's just a bundle of fun. The one thing I couldn't figure out... why is Señor Ortega so extremely French?

  18. Lifeforce

    I needed a good one today.

  19. The Delta Force (1986)

    I dont think I can really count this one though since I stopped halfway through, I never usually do this, but boy was this boring. Maybe it got better, if so, thats on me. But its just so very cliché in every way. Thats it for cannon day I guess.

    1. If you didn't see Chuck Norris riding a motorcycle that shoots rockets, then you stopped too soon. :-P

    2. I guess Ill have to try again. That does sound pretty fun.