Game of Death (1978)

What Must Be Done is Being Done.

When I reviewed Fist of Fury, my coworker friend Markle felt it was necessary to come to the defense of his fellow Asian Bruce Lee and request a movie that he felt would redeem the man.  He requested today’s movie and I pretty much forgot about it.  But today I had been looking for something that I could watch in my living room so that I could watch the movie while using my stationary bike to increase my sexy and hopefully make Markle leave his lady to get a little piece of the Robert, but I had no movies from Netflix in, and I haven’t seen anything on RedBox I wanted to watch in some time now.  I instead decided to browse through my Netflix instant queue to see if there was any talent within, and I found the movie Markle had requested.  So I decided to review Game of Death, originally written by Bruce Lee, but rewritten by Jan Spears, directed by Robert Clouse with the action choreographed by Sammo Hung, and starring Bruce Lee, Kim Tai-jong, Yuen Biao, Dean Jagger, Gig Young, Colleen Camp, Mel Novak, James Tien, Robert Wall, Dan Inosanto, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Chuck Norris, and Sammo Hung.

A criminal syndicate, run by Dr. Land (Dean Jagger), is trying to pressure a martial arts movie star named Billy Lo (Bruce Lee, Kim Tai-jong, or Yuen Biao depending on when you’re looking) into signing a contract with them.  Both Billy and his fiancée Ann Morris (Colleen Camp) refuse, so the pressure is amped up, getting them attacked numerous times.  It reaches its peak when Land’s assassin, Stick (Mel Novak), sneaks onto the set of Billy’s latest film and replaces a blank with a real bullet, hitting Billy in the face.  Working with a reporter friend named Jim Marshall (Gig Young) and the doctor, Billy fakes his death so that he can take the fight to Dr. Land and take them by surprise.

What in the hell is wrong with Markle?  This movie sucked.  But the reason this movie sucked was not because of Bruce Lee.  It was because of the lack of Bruce Lee.  Bruce Lee actually died during the production of this movie, but the director wasn’t about to let that little hiccup slow him down.  He decided to use the 11 minutes that Bruce had filmed of the movie – along with scenes from his other movies and body doubles – to make Bruce appear in the movie anyway.  They seemingly had to hastily rewrite the intended story in order to make it work and explain why you couldn’t often see Bruce Lee’s character, and the story shows it.  But the story itself isn’t really all that bad for a martial arts movie; it was just hard to figure that out when I kept getting distracted by how badly Bruce was substituted.  We’ll get to that in the next paragraph.  I feel like the movie might not have been that bad if someone could go back in and use the technology of today to put Bruce into the whole movie, young Jeff Bridges style.  It’s fairly typical stuff for a martial arts movie.  The bad guy does something to the main character that pisses him off, and he fixes everything with the power of his fists.  Before he’s figured that part out, he wastes a pretty good amount of time going around talking to people about what he should do in this situation.  I too feel that the first places I go when I have a problem are a reporter and a Kabuki actor.  I also thought it was a strange bit of horrible coincidence that a large part of the movie revolves around shooting blanks at Billy but them actually killing him because that same thing would lead to the death of Bruce’s son later on.  But I wasn’t really worried when Billy got shot in the movie.  They had plenty of backup Billy’s apparently, and it would just be an excuse to wrap his face up for a large portion of the movie.  The ending of the movie was also really lackluster.  The bad guy dies.  ALL WRAPPED UP!  Let’s go home, gentlemen.  Good work!

Obviously, the look was my biggest issue with the movie.  More specifically, the shitty way that they patched in Bruce Lee when he wasn’t actually there.  It was always obvious and usually distracting.  If you’d like the best example of how bad it was, it would have to be the part where they literally taped a cardboard cutout of Bruce Lee’s face on a mirror over the face of the substitute.  That is not a joke.  They also were big fans of using their actor and cutting away to a picture of Bruce Lee’s eyes, or his scene from one of his other movies.  He has an entire fight with Chuck Norris in the movie that was just clips from Way of the Dragon.  I guess Chuck Norris is so powerful that he roundhouse kicked that movie and it ended up in this movie.  They also used a lot of stand in work, but they were both obviously not Bruce Lee, and that’s saying a lot since my racism makes me think they all look the same.  I’m pretty sure Markle and my friend TimKim stood in for Bruce Lee at one point in this movie.  The fights involving the non-Bruce people were not that spectacular, but the fights where Bruce Lee was actually there were good.  The bulk of it is in the last 20 minutes of the movie, which is also the only parts of the movie that I would say are worth watching.  Thankfully, you can skip right there with Netflix and get everything you need out of the movie.  Horribly, I was not afforded that luxury.  But the last 20 minutes is good times, while actually not being much more than a series of Bruce Lee fights back to back.  The first one starts as a fight where Bruce puts a Charles Manson style X on the forehead of his enemy with a jade fishing pole, then a standard fight, and the boss battle with a giant black man.

I can’t really say anything about Bruce Lee’s performance in this movie.  He didn’t offer one.  The only scenes he’s in are fights at the end of the movie.  The stand in people are wooden and unconvincing, and the people that dubbed his voice made Bruce Lee’s trademark “WAAAAAAAH”’s in battle sound really goofy.  Dean Jagger was actually an interesting character to me.  I liked that he was a mob boss but didn’t choose to take the standard intimidating guy performance.  He actually seemed likeable.  And it was also nice that he never really discussed their crimes openly with his associates, as if there was a chance he was being recorded at all times.  I actually liked Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in this movie.  But he also didn’t really speak.  He was just a gigantic black guy fighting tiny Asian people.  I think it should also serve as a lesson that you should never teach giant black guys martial arts.  They would be too powerful!  It’s bad enough that tiny Asian people can use them against us!  The guy Bruce fought right before him caused me to laugh out loud too because, when they met, he obviously said something, but they muted him.  So he just stands there for about 10 seconds moving his mouth in silence before they start to throw down.

Aside from the last 20 minutes of the movie, Game of Death is a total failure in filmmaking.  The story was pretty basic.  At least I think it was, as I was too distracted through the entire movie with the horrible way they tried to have Bruce Lee in this movie when he wasn’t there.  The fights that they have that Bruce had already recorded were good, but the rest were just bad.  Personally, I think this movie should have died when Bruce did.  There was nothing in the bulk of this movie worth seeing for anything other than an instruction in what not to do.  I recommend the last 20 minutes of this movie for viewing, and the rest of the movie for burning.  Game of Death gets “A venereal disease.  Often terminal” out of “You lose, Carl Miller!”

Let’s get these reviews more attention, people.  Post reviews on your webpages, tell your friends, do some of them crazy Pinterest nonsense.  Whatever you can do to help my reviews get more attention would be greatly appreciated.  You can also add me on FaceBook and Twitter.  Don’t forget to leave me some comments.  Your opinions and constructive criticisms are always appreciated.

Airplane! (1980)

Joey, Do You Like Movies About Gladiators?

Day two of my contest brings us to the comedy genre.  Yesterday’s review of the Rundown turned out to be fairly controversial, especially amongst the people who lost it.  They named numerous movies that even I would call “better” movies, but that’s not what this contest is about.  It’s about my favorite movie, whether you agree with it or not.  That being said, I feel like today’s comedy doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for argument.  Everyone that I know that has seen this movie at least likes it, and the American Film Institute (last I checked) had this movie rated as the 10th best comedy of all time.  Even though this movie is before my time, I was able to see it when I was young and I’ve loved it ever since.  My favorite comedy of all time is Airplane!, written and directed by David and Jerry Zucker, and Jim Abrahams, and starring Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Frank Ashmore, Lorna Patterson, Stephen Stucker, Jonathan Banks, Barbara Billingsley, and Otto.

Ted Striker (Robert Hays) rushes to the airport to try to patch things up with his girlfriend Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty) who has left him because his residual trauma from being in a war has led to him being unable to hold a job or show any ambition.  Elaine is a stewardess and has to leave before reconciliation can be reached, so Ted gets a smoking ticket for the flight to try to get another chance to talk to her.  On the flight, all of the passengers and crew members that had fish for dinner fall ill, including the pilot Captain Oveur (Peter Graves), the copilot Roger Murdock (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), and the navigator Victor Basta (Frank Ashmore).  With the plane being controlled only by the autopilot (Otto), Dr. Barry Rumack (Leslie Nielsen) works with Elaine and Randy (Lorna Patterson) to try to find someone on the flight with any experience flying.  It turns out Ted is the only one, but can he overcome his drinking problem and post-traumatic stress disorder to safely land the plane?

I love the tits right off of this movie.  This is the finest example of a comedy movie I was able to think of.  It is literally overflowing with jokes.  The story of the movie is fine enough, but it’s really just a placeholder to keep people’s attention.  And you have to pay attention because the jokes are everywhere and not all of them are going to be pointed out to you.  Sometimes you’ll have to be looking at the background to see small jokes, like spank magazines as a section on a magazine rack.  I can’t say that I really laugh while watching this movie anymore, but that’s mainly just because I can probably say each joke before they get to them after how many times I’ve seen this.  I still laughed when the little girl said that she takes her coffee black, like she takes her men.  It also cracked me up when Oveur was saying a string of things that bordered on inappropriate to young Joey in the cockpit.  And having all of the passengers on the plane lining up to beat the piss out of a lady is still funny to me.  So basically, I like it when women and children are abused and/or traumatized.  That’s hilarious to me.

The story is secondary to my enjoyment of this movie.  It’s mainly the jokes.  To talk about the jokes and how effective they are, I decided to break them into a few categories.  The first is my favorite: the wordplay.  They constantly take common sayings and take them literally to comedic effect.  Some of the best ones include when the lady was asking Ted if he was nervous because it was his first time on a plane and he responded with, “No, I’ve been nervous lots of times,” when anyone says, “What is it?” and they misinterpret it by describing what a cockpit is, and Ted’s “drinking problem” is that he misses his mouth.  The most famous wordplay joke is one that I still quote to this day: the “don’t call me Shirley” joke.  This is probably one of the most quotable movies as well, so I hope that more people watch it so that they can start quoting this instead of quoting the far inferior comedies that I hear people constantly quote.  Some of the jokes are straight up racist, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think they’re funny.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  These are things like the two black guys that only speak in “jive”, the fact that the Molumbos are instantly good at basketball, and the Air Israel plane looking like a Hasidic Jew.  There are a couple of jokes that are a little easy, like the old lady that describes how pretty Elaine is by getting a little too descriptive about her body and the old white lady that speaks fluent jive, but they are still solid.  I also think there’s a pretty good amount of jokes in this movie that may be lost on a younger audience.  There are some that even I don’t get and may have to wait until a future, more educated with random trivia-infused viewing.  The Saturday Night Fever scene is probably lost on young folks, and even I don’t really know who Ethel Merman is.  The whole “Jim never has a second cup of coffee at home” joke is based on a commercial that I’ve never seen, but I at least know about it.  I could equate it to the other classic “ancient Chinese secret” commercial.  Also, I wouldn’t be too shocked if younger people don’t know who Gerald Ford is, but that’s less youth and more stupidity.  I would certainly hope that everyone would get the Jaws parody that opens the movie, but since I saw Jaws late in life, I couldn’t blame them.

The performances in this movie are what really sell it.  Obviously, as this movie is a comedy, the jokes are what is really important, but the fact that all of the actors play almost every moment completely seriously sells the jokes that much more.  They play it like they’re in a serious drama – or at least a bad soap opera – the entire time, which makes the ridiculous things that are going on around them – or even coming out of their mouths – that much sweeter.  Almost everyone works for me in this movie, but most of them don’t work in a way that caused me to have a comment about them.  I really liked Lloyd Bridges in this movie, especially the parts about his steadily increasing drug problem that he picked a bad time to quit.  My favorite character was strangely one that had absolutely nothing to do with the plot of the movie: Stephen Stucker as Johnny.  He was in the background of almost every scene in the tower and would only participate to run in and say some crazy non sequitur and run off.  And Leon is getting LAAAAARGER!  I love that fuckin’ guy.  Julie Hagerty didn’t do very much that was funny, but her quiet, meek little voice made some things extra funny, like when Leslie Nielsen asked her if she could handle some bad news and she meekly responded, “No,” before he started to tell her the bad news.  And, speaking of Leslie Nielsen, he’s amazing in this and almost everything and I fucking miss that guy.  RIP Leslie Nielsen.  The only negative part of this movie is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  He was definitely not interested in participating in this movie, but they had some jokes to make that required him to be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, so they had to just deal with it.

Even though it’s getting on in years, Airplane! is still my favorite comedy.  The story is fine, but what really sells it is how densely packed the movie is with comedy, and how the performances perform it like a drama.  I can’t imagine anyone not liking this movie, but I can imagine not wanting to hang out with someone who didn’t.  I definitely recommend this movie.  Airplane! gets “Oh, it’s a big pretty white plane with red stripes, curtains in the windows and wheels and it looks like a big Tylenol” out of “Flying a plane is no different than riding a bicycle, just a lot harder to put baseball cards in the spokes.”

Congratulations goes to Chris who not only managed to guess this movie, but managed to guess it without naming every other movie in the genre first.

Let’s get these reviews more attention, people.  Post reviews on your webpages, tell your friends, do some of them crazy Pinterest nonsense.  Whatever you can do to help my reviews get more attention would be greatly appreciated.  You can also add me on FaceBook (Robert T. Bicket) and Twitter (iSizzle).  Don’t forget to leave me some comments.  Your opinions and constructive criticisms are always appreciated.