Saturday, July 11, 2015

Summer Fest 7 Recap (Day One): Terminator Genisys, Kung Fury, and Revenge of the Ninja

 After seven long years, it was time to have another Summer Fest Field Trip Movie, and while they can't all be The Happening, you have to give an "A" for effort to this year's outing. I have a pain in my brain, and its name is Genisys. I could maybe live with the fact that this mediocre (at best) fifth Terminator film undoes all of the other movies in order to create a dumber multi-verse if it made any sense. Or even just adhered to its own internal logic, such as it is. But no. It doesn't do that. I could tell early that Genisys was already losing the brave souls who joined me when Skynet had a voice announcing that the time machine was activated and to send the T-800 back to 1984. Let's stop right there. Since when does an automated system like Skynet need to tell itself what it's going to do? Oh, it's for the audience members too stupid to keep up with what is obviously going on? Because this is the first Terminator movie they've ever seen? Okay, fine. Believe me, if that bothers you - and it did for at least two people sitting with me - that's nothing compared with what's coming.

 Guess what? I'm guessing you're not going to see Genisys until it's on the Syfy Channel one Saturday afternoon and you're waiting for Sharknado 5 or something like that. I mean, it's pretty obvious nobody is going to see it on the big screen; there were maybe 11 people at a 7:35 showing on a Friday night, and the multiplex had already dumped Terminator Genisys into one of its "crappy" auditoriums. How do I know? Well, you don't usually go to a theater to see widescreen bars at the top and bottom of the screen. But there they were, because Crossroads 20 couldn't be bothered to put it on anything better than a screen matted for 1.85:1. That's how much they cared about Terminator Genisys.

 I could give you a laundry list of things that would make you simultaneously want to watch Genisys and also to run away in horror, but maybe you'll split the difference and pay two dollars for it in a couple weeks. Or watch it for whatever you spend on cable television next year. Honestly, I'd go for the two dollars, because you can be baffled along with the other four or five people who pay to see it. We can start with recreating scenes from The Terminator (specifically the Griffith Park Observatory and Kyle Reese arrivals), but making them way dumber by throwing in an extra Terminator (old Arnold digitally young-ified) who fights an all digital 1984 version (Bodybuilder Brett Azar replaced completely with pixels), or having a T-1000 chase digital actor Jai Courtney (I think he's playing Kyle Reese, but nobody bothered finishing the "acting" job in the computer) until Sarah Connor (also digital actor Emilia Clarke, similarly unfinished) bursts through the department store and shoots guns. So many guns.

 Anyway, The Terminator never happened. T2 never happened. Terminator 3 never happened, and mercifully, Terminator: Salvation probably won't happen. I'm not even clear how Genisys happens, because after old Arnold Terminator who came back in time to 1974 to protect younger Sarah Connor uses a homemade time machine to send Kyle and Sarah to 2017, there's no way they can still have John Connor and he'd be the right age to send Kyle back.... agh. My brain hurts. Hey, remember "Bad Boys," also known as the theme song from COPS? That's in this movie, for a "being arrested montage" which includes the second of three "Arnold tries to smile" jokes from the deleted scenes in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Also Matt Smith (Lost River) has replaced Helena Bonham Carter as the embodiment of Skynet and he turns John Connor (Jason Clarke) into a machine/man/something and then sends it back to 2014 to ensure Skynet will be created with the help of Miles and Danny Dyson, except now it's called Genisys and is an operating system that controls all of our devices. Kyle tells his younger self this because the timeline has been changed and now he has memories of both lives because Nexus point blah blah blah Quantum Magnetics.

 Quantum Magnetics.

 Terminator Genisys is such a stupid movie that I insist you all see it. There are multiple plot holes (like who sent back Pops, er, Guardian... er, forget it, Old Arnold?) that are designed to be addressed by sequels that probably won't be made because that's what happens when you come in 9th on your opening weekend. America has spoken, and it wants Minions. And, uh, they're probably right, but Terminator Genisys was the movie that Summer Fest 7 deserved. I gave it to 'em, and I don't regret it one bit. And look at it this way: if you're Phil Collins, from now on when someone talks about how much they hate Genisys, you can at least be uncertain for a few more seconds...

 Since I'm such a nice guy, when we got back to the Blogorium, I put on Kung Fury. In case you somehow avoided the internet a few weekends ago, it was all the rage on social media and everybody was reposting the link on Twitter and Facebook and, what the hell, let's pretend someone still uses MySpace. Fortunately for me, the masochists who followed me back from Terminator Genisys had somehow missed all of that, and had no idea what Kung Fury was. In truth, explaining what the short film is actually makes it sound worse than the finished product, but I'll do my best.

 Try as I might, there have been very few movies in the "neo-Grindhouse" movement that the Cap'n has actually enjoyed. Planet Terror had a fun John Carpenter vibe, but Hobo with a Shotgun was to relentlessly dour to really enjoy its grimy, 80's inspired aesthetics. Wolfcop pretty much went nowhere, and I've tried to avoid the glut of other, VHS-era inspired independent films because they promise a lot and rarely deliver. All of this is a means of explaining that Kung Fury is one of the rare "inspired by the 80's" concept films that actually does what it sets out to do. It's compact, wildly entertaining, and continually finds ways to surprise you and up the ante. Fest-er's laughed out loud repeatedly by its audacity, even though they'd groaned audibly when I told them about Triceracop before watching it.

 And that's the catch, because yes, there's a Triceratops wearing a police uniform, and of course he has a British accent. He's Kung Fuy (David Sandberg)'s partner, although Kung Fury doesn't want a partner. He works alone, after his original partner was brutally murdered by a kung fu master and then he was struck by lightning and bitten by a cobra at the same time. That's how he became Kung Fury, a cop in Miami, circa 1985. And by that, I mean a few actual sets mixed with liberal usage of green screens, playing in what looks like a grimy ambience of an oft-used VHS tape. Tracking errors are used to mask budget limitations early in the short, when Kung Fury is fighting an out of control arcade box, but everything is so over the top that it's really hard to find fault in the way that Sandberg (who also wrote and directed) presents it.

 Leave it to the Swedes to give us a short film where the hero hacks his way back in time to fight Hitler (The Lonely Island's Jorma Taccone) - pardon me, Kung Fuhrer - but goes too far and ends up in "Viking Times," which means Laser Raptors, Direwolves, and Gatling Guns. I'm not even going to tell you what happens after that, because telling you too much about Kung Fury ruins the fun of discovering just how far down the rabbit hole Sandberg is willing to go. I will take a moment to note my appreciation for Triceracops preferred method of killing Nazis - it only makes sense, in that it doesn't make any more sense than anything else that happens. And, of course, the song that plays over the end credits is performed by David Hasselhoff. It's kind of great, and quite appropriate for Kung Fury. One of our Fest-ers described it as "the best thing to come out of Kickstarter," which is true. As I understand it, the short is Sandberg's "proof of concept" to secure funding for a feature length film, and if he can sustain this level of manic energy for 90 minutes, count me in.

Now, it's a high mountain to climb to top the level of 80's cheese-tastic-ness that was Kung Fury, but I had no doubts that Golan-Globus could deliver the goods with Revenge of the Ninja. Remember, after all, that the 1983 not-exactly-a-sequel to Enter the Ninja is, in many ways, a template for the kind of "that can't happen" action movie Kung Fury is drawing from. We're talking about a film that begins with a ninja attack in progress, one that wipes out Cho (Shô Kosugi)'s entire family - save for his infant son - while he's hanging out with art dealer Braden (Arthur Roberts). They return to his home to find his entire family dead, and Cho - who I swear everyone pronounces his name as "Joe" - takes out the evil ninja clan single-handedly. Okay, I guess Braden shoots one of them. And then, without missing a beat, Braden offers Cho a job in America working at his art galleries.

 (SPOILERS ABOUND) Braden is, of course, evil, and is using Cho to traffic heroin in the dolls he delivers to the galleries. While Revenge of the Ninja never directly addresses this, I think we can all safely assume that Braden arranged for Cho's family to be killed. Again - if at any point any character says this out loud, I missed it. Instead, I just kind of guessed it when someone asked why Cho was a character in this movie at all. That's because, despite the fact that we spend inordinate amounts of time with Shô Kosugi, his son Kane Kosugi, and "Grandmother" (Grace Oshita), they're actually completely superfluous to the plot of the movie. Revenge of the Ninja is, for the most part, about Braden's drug dealing and dispute with the Mafia. Braden is actually also a ninja (with a ridiculous silver mask), and he decides to take out the mob without Cho having anything to do with the story. I mean, at all. For all intents and purposes, the title could refer to Braden taking "revenge" on the Mob for screwing him out of a drug deal.

  Cho eventually finds out about the drugs, which leads to Braden hypnotizing Cathy (Ashley Ferrare) into kidnapping Kane, and thugs try to kill Cho (and fail). Since "only a ninja can kill a ninja" or something ridiculous like that, Cho also has to dress up as a ninja and infiltrate the mob compound after Braden has so they can have the most drawn out fight possible.  Also, I guess he's going to save Kane, but since Kane saves himself (and Cathy, who is inexplicably placed in the worst "death trap" possible - it involves a Jacuzzi) and Cho never even looks for him, let's stick with the fight scene. I mean, you don't hit 80 minutes with the story they've got.

 I mentioned that Revenge of the Ninja isn't really a sequel of Enter the Ninja, and by that I mean it isn't in any way a sequel to Enter the Ninja. It's also not a prequel to Ninja III: The Domination - a previous Fest favorite - but since all three feature Shô Kosugi in some capacity, they form the loosest definition of a "trilogy" you're likely to see. This is the only one to outright star Kosugi (and his son), but Cho is so incidental to the actual story that you'd be forgiven for thinking he's just another supporting character. That said, Revenge of the Ninja has all of your favorite elements of 80s action cinema, including ethnic stereotypes: not even just the odd interpretation of "ninja," but also the Mafia goons and their one hired assassin who is dressed like a Native American and of course uses a Tomahawk. Revenge of the Ninja also features what may be the most uncomfortable fight scene in the history of Summer Fest, when Cathy is sent to kidnap Kane, and we're forced to watch a grown woman fight a six year old boy. It's much more of a back and forth battle than you'd think, but I'm not really sure that benefits anyone.

 After that, we realized we were old and tired and boring, so everybody went home without watching Traxx or Shark Attack 3: Megalodon. Fortunately, there's always tomorrow...

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