Mini-Review: Fela Kuti: Music is the Weapon (1982)

Fela Kuti: Music is the Weapon [Musique au poing] (1982)

Starring Fela Kuti

Directed by Jean-Jacques Flori & Stéphane Tchalgadjieff

Expectations: Very High. I love Fela Kuti.


Fela Kuti is one of my favorite musical artists. He created the Afrobeat genre and sound together with his band the Africa ’70 (and later the Egypt ’80). He seems to have entered more of the mainstream consciousness with the recent success of the Broadway musical Fela!, but the real heart of his music lies in Nigeria and the political struggles he faced there.

This film features a couple of live performances from Fela and the band, none of them full songs, but enough to allow you to get a sense of his personal style on-stage. The film also covers a history of Fela and his music, covering his trip to America where he met Black Panthers who inspired him to become more political in his own country. The problem is, if you know much of anything about Fela and his music, this documentary doesn’t offer much that you haven’t already heard. It’s not that big of a problem though, as any Fela fan will enjoy the live performances and the extensive interviews with Fela himself.

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Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Starring Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickens, James Earl Jones

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Expectations: High. I adore Kubrick and I’d only seen this once before.


Stanley Kubrick is one of my favorite directors, but this film has always been something of an enigma to me. I only saw it once, about 10 years ago or so, and at the time I enjoyed it but I just didn’t think it was as amazing as everyone else seemed to think it was. It had been built up as one of the great screen comedies, but for me it didn’t deliver at that level. I got the satire, but it’s more of a slight smile throughout kind of movie, instead of a raucous laughter kind of movie. I was really into Billy Wilder comedies at the time so I guess subconsciously I went in expecting something in that vein. This time around, obviously, I knew what I was getting myself into. That helped quite a bit and my second viewing of Dr. Strangelove was a much more pleasant experience.

The plot follows three separate but connected stories. There’s the story of Gen. Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) who orders his planes to commence “Wing Attack Plan R.” There’s also the story of the B-52 Bomber crew on their run towards their target inside Communist Russia. Finally, we have the War Room, where the President and many top advisors, including Gen. Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) argue the fate of the world. The plots are skillfully intertwined and perfectly play off of one another. Sterling Hayden is fantastic and reminds me a lot of Clint Eastwood in this cigar-chompin’ role. I’ve always felt that he is one of the great actors that doesn’t get enough credit these days and his performance in Dr. Strangelove is one of his best.

Continue reading Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) →

Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)

Starring Cary Elwes, Richard Lewis, Roger Rees, Amy Yasbeck, Avery Schreiber, Dave Chappelle, Tracey Ullman

Directed by Mel Brooks

Expectations: Moderate. I love Mel Brooks but his later period stuff generally leaves me a bit wanting.


I wanted to like this movie, I really did. I decided to watch it because I have no interest in the new Ridley Scott/Russell Crowe version, but I thought it might be fun to get on the Robin Hood train anyway. At a base level I did like it, but that just isn’t enough these days. I didn’t expect this to be anything great, but my past experience with Mel Brooks left open the door of hope and I took the plunge.

If you’ve seen any other filmed version of Robin Hood you know the basic story here. Specifically, if you’ve seen Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves you know pretty much the exact story. I happen to have seen that film dozens of times while I was growing up so I know it well. I recently re-watched it about a year ago, so it’s still fresh in my mind. That film didn’t hold up very well, and neither does the parody version. There’s definitely some great jokes here, but for every one of those, there’s five okay jokes to go with it. You’re left with a film that starts out pretty good, but never rises above the source material.

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Uncle Jasper reviews: Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger (1976)

Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger [天皇巨星] (1976)
AKA Bruce Lee – The Star of All Stars, Find Bruce Lee!

Starring Bruce Li, Chang Yi, Ma Chi Chiang, Lu Chi, Tsao Shao Jung, Kang Kam

Directed By Lee Tso-Nam


Of all the Bruceploitation films, I don’t think any makes a more audacious attempt to validate itself than Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger. The film opens up with Tiger (Bruce Li) visiting Bruce Lee on the set of his latest film. Lee seems very troubled by strange phone calls he has been receiving recently and names Tiger his successor in case anything is to happen to him. So there you have it, Bruce Li hand picked by the little dragon himself. It’s a pretty shameless act of self-promotion, but it’s fun as hell to watch Bruce Li and Bruce Lee (also played by Li… confused yet?) having a conversation across the screen from each other.

In any case, Bruce Lee dies the next day and we are treated to stock footage of his funeral. Tiger meanwhile is back in his homeland of Singapore honoring the life of his idol when he suddenly has an epiphany and quickly dismisses anything as boring as a cerebral edema as being the cause of his hero’s death. He takes it upon himself to investigate further and is swept into a ridiculously sensationalized conspiracy involving triads and drugs.

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Shaolin Intruders (1983)

Shaolin Intruders [三闯少林] (1983)
AKA Battle for Shaolin

Starring Yee Tung-Sing (Derek Yee), Jason Pai Piao, Liu Yu-Po, Phillip Ko, Chan Shen, Ku Feng, Lee Hoi Sang

Directed by Tang Chia

Expectations: High. Love Shaw Bros. films and this came highly recommended.


I watched this movie because my friend and colleague, Uncle Jasper, recommended this as a Shaw Brothers movie that featured some of the best fight choreography he had ever seen. As a huge fan of such things, I had to see for myself what he spoke of. Uncle Jasper was not pulling a fast one. This is hands-down, one of the best Shaw Brothers movies I’ve ever seen.

Directed by Tang Chia, longtime fight choreographer at Shaw Bros., the film exudes kung-fu energy. The opening titles run over a group of Shaolin monks going through their training exercises. There is a fight scene towards the end of the opening credits where all the monks use wooden benches as their weapons. It was so well choreographed and exciting to watch, a fantastic fight sequence, and we’re still in the opening credits! Director Tang Chia was fight choreographer on countless other Shaw pictures. His credits list goes on for days, culminating in his three directorial efforts: Shaolin Prince, Shaolin Intruders, and Opium and the Kung-Fu Master. If the other two are anything close to the awesomeness that is Shaolin Intruders, then they are also among the best the Shaw Studio has to offer.

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Broken Embraces (2009)

Broken Embraces [Los abrazos rotos] (2009)

Starring Penélope Cruz, Blanca Portillo, Lluís Homar, Lola Dueñas, Ángela Molina, Rossy de Palma

Directed by Pedro Almodóvar

Expectations: Very high.


Pedro Almodovar is quickly becoming one of my favorite writer/directors. This is the third film I’ve seen from him and he continues to amaze me. There is a power in his words and images that is hard to find in modern cinema. The story of Broken Embraces deals primarily with a retired film director (Lluís Homar) who has gone blind. The film also flashes back 14 years to the character of Lena (Penelope Cruz), a secretary for a wealthy businessman who aspires to be an actress. The film unfolds at a slow but interesting pace, gradually intertwining the two stories with skill.

The acting all around is excellent with Penelope Cruz and Lluís Homar leading the charge. The characters they play feel like real people, full of emotions and desire. The film jumps around in time a lot, but thanks to the wonderful performances this is never a problem. The acting reflects the subtle passage of time and you can quickly grasp where the character is at the current moment in relation to what you know of the character prior. This kind of free time structure can so easily work against a film, but Almodovar plays it with skill and it helps him tell a more interesting story.

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Uncle Jasper reviews: Bruce Lee’s Deadly Kung Fu (1976)

[Author’s note: This review is intended to kick off a two-week series showcasing the highs and lows of Bruceploitation, the wild and often tasteless deluge of films that came out after the unexpected death of Bruce Lee. These films featured Bruce lookalikes in films that ranged from half-assed remakes & inaccurate bio-pics to the just plain bizarre. When a screen legend dies at the top of his game the natural tendency is to rush in and fill that void. Enter the Dragon was about to hit theaters worldwide, Bruce Lee Mania was still in full swing, and nobody was willing to accept that the Little Dragon would no longer be around to make films. The Hong Kong movie industry, who was no stranger to milking proven box office success until it was withered and dry, hired dozens of Bruce lee imitators to star in films with amusingly deceptive sounding titles like New Game of Death and Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger.

The resulting films are often quickly dismissed by kung-fu film aficionados as cheap, crass, and shameless… and well, they are. But let’s accept that and give these films a second shot. It’s time to taste our blood, thumb our noses and take a closer look at the wacky world of Bruce Lee exploitation cinema.]


Bruce Lee’s Deadly Kung Fu [詠春截拳](1976)
AKA The Story of the Dragon; Bruce Lee’s Secret; Bruce Li’s Jeet Kune Do; A Dragon Story; He’s a Legend, He’s a Hero; Master of Jeet Kun Do; Bruce Lee: A Dragon Story

Starring Bruce Li, Jimmy Lee Fong, Carter Wong, Hwang Jang Lee, Roy Horan, Paul Wei Ping-Ao

Directed By Chan Wa & William Cheung Kei


When it comes to Bruce Lee imitators, Bruce Li set the standard. He was among the very first out the gate after the Death of Bruce Lee, and with good reason. He pretty much nailed all of Lee’s mannerisms and put them on display just enough as not to overdo it. While most Lee imitator’s mimicry bordered on tactless parody, Bruce Li was actually very believable, masterful even, in his portrayals of Lee.

Li, whose real name was Ho Chung-Tao, was busy working as a stuntman in his native Taiwan, trying to break into the film industry with no success. It was only after the death of Bruce Lee, that producers in Hong Kong took notice of his resemblance and virtually launched him to superstardom overnight. Ironically, Li’s claim to fame would haunt him for most of his career. In later interviews he expressed some pretty heavy resentment towards a film industry that pigeonholed him into living in the shadow of Lee, never really allowing him to distance himself from the role. (Which is a very valid argument, Bruce Li was a pretty accomplished martial artist in his own right.) He ended up retiring from acting altogether after the death of his wife in the early ’80s.

Continue reading Uncle Jasper reviews: Bruce Lee’s Deadly Kung Fu (1976) →

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