The Interrupters (2011)

interrupters_xlgStarring Tio Hardiman, Ameena Matthews, Toya Batey, Cobe Williams, Gary Slutkin, Earl Sawyer, Bud Oliver, Kenneth Oliver, Caprysha Anderson

Directed by Steve James

Expectations: High.


It’s hard to know quite what to say about The Interrupters because the power of the work being done by the people documented in the film is so important, dangerous and intense that anything I could come up with could never encapsulate it or even come close to being worthy of it. These people are true, unsung American heroes, fighting the wars waged on the streets with non-violence. They were all kids on the wrong path earlier in life, and their experiences shaped them into the people that they are today. They may have stolen, or sold drugs, or even murdered someone, but now they’re doing everything in their power to curb the rampant youth violence plaguing the streets of Chicago.

The Interrupters is about the relentless gun violence in Chicago, and a group called CeaseFire who employs “violence interrupters,” people who attack the problem on a one-on-one basis. They attempt to break through to people by connecting on a personal level, hoping to save lives and make their city a better place in the process. This is obviously hard work; Chicago is a city of 2.7 million people, and it would be easy for anyone to become overwhelmed by the feeling of helplessness in the face of such rampant crime. But these interrupters continue their work, undeterred, making a difference on the ground level. It takes a special person to stand up against such a seemingly insurmountable force and dare to push back against it, and the CeaseFire group should serve as a model to the entire country.

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Weekend at Bernie’s II (1993)

Starring Andrew McCarthy, Jonathan Silverman, Terry Kiser, Troy Byer Bailey, Barry Bostwick, Tom Wright, Steve James, Novella Nelson

Directed by Robert Klane

Expectations: Seen it before, but I don’t remember anything about this one. Bernie’s a stiff from moment one, so this should be non-stop corpse-draggin’ fun, right?

On the general scale:

On the “People Pretending a Corpse is Still Alive” scale:

[Editor’s Note: One quick thing before I kick this one off: there will be massive spoilers. I’m just not able to do it justice without performing the full autopsy on Bernie’s rotting corpse. So be warned!]

In yesterday’s review of Weekend at Bernie’s, I called it a singular and unique film. The same can be said of Weekend at Bernie’s II, as it goes in a completely different direction than its predecessor while still exploring plot lines introduced in the original. After a strange animated intro sequence that plays up the kid-friendly aspects of this tale of the not-so-recently deceased Bernie, the film begins in the coroner’s office. Bernie has been turned in and locked away, and our heroes can finally get on with their lives without Bernie always hanging around. Wait, what? How are we supposed to have all the wild fun of the original now? I was hoping for a film filled with dead Bernie, but apparently that wasn’t meant to be. That being said, when Weekend at Bernie’s II is funny, it’s incredibly absurd and in certain cases it even rivals the original. The only problem is that these moments are so few and far between that most of the film is spent yawning and wishing Bernie would enter frame.

Before I go any further I have to make note of the film’s rating, as it is baffling me. I generally don’t pay attention to these things, but for whatever reason I had noticed that the original was PG-13, and the sequel was only PG. I thought, “Damn, so it’s gonna be tamer and more kid-friendly, huh?” I resigned myself to it, but to my surprise this is most likely the first and last PG movie to feature a main character yelling “Blow me!” to one of his co-workers, quick frontal female nudity and other assorted adult situations. If this came out at PG nowadays, the conservative Christian groups would tear down the local AMC, with burning effigies of Bernie littering the sidewalk.

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Mini-Review: American Ninja (1985)

Starring Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, Judie Aronson, Guich Koock, John Fujioka, Don Stewart, John LaMotta, Tadashi Yamashita, Phil Brock

Directed by Sam Firstenberg

Expectations: I can’t imagine I’ll do anything but enjoy this.

On the general scale:

On the B-Movie scale:

American Ninja is not a great movie, but damn if it isn’t fantastic! Another shining example of the line between trash and art, American Ninja manages to contain some of the laziest writing I’ve seen in a while (OK, not that long) AND some of the best action sequences in recent memory. Modern directors would do themselves a favor to sit down with American Ninja and examine its finer points.

Joe is an amnesiac Army solider who happens to possess some serious ninjutsu skill. He doesn’t remember how he acquired these talents, but he sure knows how to put them into action. In the opening scene Filipino guerrillas disrupt a convoy and when Joe decides to play hero, a shitload of ninjas jump out of the trees and slaughter the rest of the Army crew before giving chase. This sets into motion a cat and mouse game where an evil plantation owner and his personal ninja army set out to kill the American interloper, the… wait for it… American Ninja!

Yes, this story could only be taken seriously in the 1980s, but it’s incidental to the action. Anything that allows ninja night raids on prison rooftops and scenes featuring hundreds of ninjas training in multi-colored jumpsuits on jungle gyms is OK in my book. The action is the star and the film is at its best when the dialogue drops out and the sharp action begins. The prison break scene is an especially juicy highlight, with excellent editing punctuating the clever moves of the ninja and his prey. Michael Dudikoff holds down the movie pretty well with his passable second-tier martial arts and Steve James is fucking awesome as his Army buddy. I look forward to seeing James in more movies and I thoroughly hope he figures prominently in the sequels because I just couldn’t get enough of the guy.

American Ninja also reminds me what action films of today are missing. Simple slow-motion sequences of trucks blasting through vendor carts are relics of the past, something the younger generation may never fully experience. It also brought my mind to other moments in film history, unaided by the computer, that would never be done similarly in modern times. Scenes such as the boat sequence of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when the giant propeller rips apart the boat Indy fights on. Can you imagine the bullshit visuals that would typify a scene like that today? Someone has to stand up to motherfucking Skynet and make a goddamned action movie again! Are you with me?

Thanks American Ninja, I needed that.

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