Friday, May 6, 2011

Buddha Man Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach

Hold everything! The golden movie critic is dropping in on Miami Beach for an all new review (or two)!

Two for two, pleasing for me, pleasing for you.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage  (Universal Marion Corporation, 1970)  Sam (Tony Musante - TV's Toma), an American writer on an extended sabbatical to Italy, is nearing the end of his time in Rome and preparing to head back to the States. Then, one night on the way back to his loft he sees a murder attempt in an art gallery he's passing - the wife of the owner of the gallery; a sinister man in a raincoat and black leather gloves - but Sam ends up powerless to do anything - locked in between a double set of glass doors while trying to go in to help. The injured woman survives, but the man in the raincoat makes his escape. The police say that she is the first surviving victim of a notorious serial killer. The police detective in charge of the case gloms onto Sam's passport, preventing him from leaving the country. But as their investigation runs into dead end after dead end, Sam, with nothing else to do, decides to investigate on his own, turning up several clues - painting a big target on his own back, and that of his girlfriend (Suzy Kendall - Darker Than Amber) as the crazed killer keeps on claiming victims. Will they be able to stay alive long enough to solve the mystery?

Sam always picked the wrong time to show off his mime routine.
Dario Argento's first film as writer and director is a stylish thriller (of course) that got him pegged as "The Next Hitchcock," which is kind of funny, because at that time we weren't done with the first one - who still had a couple of flicks (one a classic - Frenzy) left in him. But, the Master was quoted after seeing this film as saying "that Italian fellow is starting to make me nervous," which they used in the American trailer. And while it is a clever and confident flick, it's missing a little of the sturm und drang Argento would bring to his later movies - the graphic violence, the psychosexual kinks of the killer (and the hero), the almost unbearable suspense of some of the stalking sequences - this is kind of 'Argento Lite.' Don't get me wrong - this is required viewing - you always need to see how an artist like Argento has grown by checking out his first - but he really hit his stride for me with Profondo Rosso (Deep Red). In the meantime, get to watching this one!

Challenge of the Tiger  (Dragon Film Company, 1981)  Bruce Le, whose stage name might have been chosen to make viewers think he was someone else, stars in and directs this chopsocky epic. Le (Salt, Pepper, and Soy Sauce) and Richard Harrison (Terminal Force) star as two guys. Someone has a "formula." Other people want it. Some villains attack Le, who fends them off with his kung fu; he then runs over and breaks up Harrison's topless tennis game with several young women to enlist his help. After that they walk around various parts of Hong Kong getting attacked every few minutes. Eventually everyone in the cast kicks someone. And that's pretty much it. Definitely no plot getting in the way of the story here.

"If I'm not supposed to grab you like this, why are there handles here?"

The dubbing, usually atrocious in these movies is actually somehow worse here, as no one seems to be moving their mouths for the words not to match to. One very fun scene has Le and Harrison following the bad guys to some kind of convention hall, where tons of people stare at the camera as they are forced into being extras, and Le takes a moment to talk to Jack Klugman and Jane Seymour (?!?), and although we can't hear the conversations, it's obvious neither know who Le is or that he is shanghaiing them into his movie. Cinema gold! Another great scene pits Le against a bull for some meaty martial arts. Who wins? Well, at the end of the fight one of the two gets briefly represented by a little graphic of a cartoon that shows the skull cracking into pieces, and that's no bull! Er...well, I mean, yes, it is the bull...oh, you know what I mean!

Roger Moore-ish
Richard Harrison
Other than that, this is pretty standard issue kung fu nonsense, but it moves along pretty well, Le and Harrison have some chemistry together despite the dubbing, Le has entertainingly bad hair (a huge mop that makes him look like an angry housewife in some shots), and Harrison really looks like a mustached early 80's Roger Moore in any shot wider than a closeup. You can also spot Brad Harris (Kong Island) and Bolo Yeung (Enter the Dragon) in there somewhere. For these reasons alone I had a good time with this, if that sounds good to you give this one a try!  

With two positives behind us, let us part before we run into a negative. And always remember - twos are powerful - even Bela Lugosi only played Dracula twice on film.

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