Cannon Films: An Era of Schlock

If you lived through the late 70’s and 80’s, or were born during that time, you’ve seen this logo.  The Cannon Film Group is the brainchild of two Israeli immigrants named Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan.  They came to this country with the dream of making movies.  For a time, they did.  Were they any good at it?  Not particularly, but that didn’t stop them from writing and producing film after film after film.  They acted on pretty much every idea that came into their heads, with some ideas being pretty good, and others not so much.  The real problem was that they really didn’t understand that it costs money to make a quality film.  Even during the 80s, it generally cost around 30-50 million dollars to make a good movie.  That’s no small chunk of change during that time.  Golan’s mentality at the time was that he could make 30 films for 30 million dollars.

I watched a documentary last night called: Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films!  This was an extraordinary documentary and very entertaining.  It details the rise and fall of the Cannon Film Group, and has interviews with a number of filmmakers and actors such as Dolph Lundgren, Michael Dudikoff and Catherine Mary Stuart.  They tried to invite the two producers, but they had their own documentary.  Basically, no punches were pulled.  A lot of these people really came down on how bad their movies were and some of their careers just didn’t take off.  Some actors ended up doing well because of Canon, namely Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme.  It’s amazing at how influential and unique the Cannon Film Group was.  They changed the face of film-making.  Yeah, they produced a lot of schlock, but they also didn’t shy away from controversial material.  The action genre today, wouldn’t be what it is without the Cannon Film Group, to be honest.  A lot of my favorite action movies today, were definitely influenced in some way by Golan and Globus.  Movies like Olympus Has FallenThe Expendables, Ninja and Showdown in Little Tokyo owe a great deal to Cannon.

Some of my favorite action films of all time happen to be Cannon films.  Masters of the Universe, The Delta Force, Bloodsport, Enter The Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, and Cyborg were all produced by Cannon, and while they weren’t good films, they were among the most memorable.  Why?  They managed to accomplish a great deal with an incredible small budget.  Cannon was the king of small-budget schlock.  It really was.  Yeah, they’re not good movies, but I can’t hate them, because I had so much fun.  If Golan and Globus had spent extra money on their films, I think they would have had a few major hits.  As it is, the hits that they do have are sleeper hits, which came out of nowhere like Breakin’.  That film was a reaction to a new style of dancing that was becoming popular during 1984:  Breakdancing.  The sequel, however, turned the name Electric Boogaloo into a joke.  Any time a bad movie sequel gets released, somebody somewhere attaches the name Electric Boogaloo to it.  This is why.

Because Golan and Globus were producing movies so quickly and the movies failing financially, their debts quickly added up.  Yet, that didn’t stop them from producing movies until they got to a point where they couldn’t finish their movies, because they didn’t have the money to do it.  The banks and the SEC(Securities and Exchange Commission)went after Cannon for their unpaid debts.  Towards the end of the 1980s, the Cannon Film Group collapsed, and ceased to exist.  Golan and Globus split up and went their separate ways.  While some people’s careers took a major hit, a lot of them managed to come out of it.  At the end of the day, Golan and Globus were just two dreamers who wanted to make movies, and that’s exactly what they did.  How many people can say that they lived their dreams?  The legacy of the Cannon Film Group goes back decades and was as influential as it was controversial.  If you really want a good look into Cannon Films and the stuff that they produced, you should check out the documentary: Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films!  It holds nothing back, really.  There will always be a special place in my heart for the schlock that the Cannon Film Group produced.  What can I say?  It was awesomely bizarre.

Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice

Released: March 25, 2016

Director: Zack Snyder

Rated PG-13

Run Time: 151 Minutes

Distributor: Warner Bros

Ben Affleck: Bruce Wayne/Batman
Henry Cavill: Clark Kent/Superman
Jesse Eisenberg: Lex Luthor
Amy Adams: Lois Lane
Diane Lane: Martha Kent
Jeremy Irons: Alfred
Holly Hunter: Senator Finch
Gal Gadot: Diana Prince/Wonder Woman
Laurence Fishburne: Perry White

In case anyone hasn’t noticed, comic book movies are a thing in today’s cinema.  While there have been comic book movies in the past such as Superman: The Movie, which was released in 1978, they really didn’t get noticed much until Bryan Singer’s X-Men came along back in 2000.  That movie re-ignited the entire comic-book movie sub-genre.  X-Men proved that we can have a truly compelling story with compelling characters based on comics.  There has been a major influx of comic book movies over the past 20 years.  Marvel has been pumping out multiple movies a year since Iron Man in 2008.  Here’s the thing:  Most of them have been really good.  There have been a few bumps in the road along the way, but it’s turned into a very successful genre of film.  DC Comics and Warner Bros tried to capitalize on the new age of comic book movies with Superman Returns back in 2006, but the reaction was…meh.  It was Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy that pushed them in the right direction.  We finally come to Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Opening during the battle between Superman and Zod from Man of Steel, the film follows the destruction of Metropolis through the eyes of Bruce Wayne, who is trying to get his people out of harm’s way.  After saving the life of a security guard and a little girl, Wayne ultimately blames the city’s destruction on Superman.  18 Months later, Lois Lane is interviewing a rebel general when mercenaries attack the terrorists and leave when Superman shows up.  In Gotham City, a couple of cops discover a room with women who were about to be trafficked when they say that Batman saved them.  Finding the trafficker with a brand on his chest, one of the cops sees Batman and opens fire.  Both Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne are eventually invited to Lex Luthor’s mansion for a dedication ceremony of some sort.  Lex Luthor, however, has plans to ruin Superman’s reputation and end his life.  When Batman V. Superman was released last Friday, the film got slammed by critics for having way too much going on in the film.  While I’m usually good at following plot threads, there really WAS too much going on.  There were too many sub plots that didn’t really go anywhere meaningful.  They also brought in elements from different comic book stories such as Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and The Death and Life of Superman.  I know exactly where they are going with the Justice League movies, but this was NOT the best way to start off this particular trilogy.  This is a follow-up to Man of Steel, but it is NOT Man of Steel 2.

On the surface, it seems like the story is focused on Superman, and for the most part, it is.  Here’s the thing:  The film is essentially from Batman’s perspective.  Why?  He gets more screen-time than Superman, and the character of Bruce Wayne is fleshed out a bit more.  He’s older, he’s more experienced, and he’s less likely to show mercy to certain kinds of criminals.  What made him this way?  We see a lot of little elements in Bruce Wayne’s cave that serve to illuminate his cynicism.  He’s lost friends and allies to the criminal element in Gotham City, and he’s not going to take it anymore.  Superman is basically being held accountable for his role in the destruction of Metropolis and all the events that he’s been a part of since that battle.  Batman V. Superman is a hodge-podge of story elements that just don’t fully gel in the long run.  Yeah, we get a lot of cool ideas and great visual effects, but the narrative of the film is a train-wreck.  This is an issue that some Marvel films have had in the past:  Too much going on to fit into the run time.  The inclusion of Doomsday was and I think still is a bad idea.  Why?  Because it feels like they just threw him into the mix for Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman to fight.  It feels forced, and the creature’s design is an absolute disaster.  This is Doomsday:

This is not:

As you can see, Batman V. Superman has some serious problems.  But it’s not all doom-and-gloom.  Let’s get into the stuff that works.  Ben Affleck is absolutely fantastic as Bruce Wayne AND Batman.  He can pull of the charming playboy billionaire as well as The Bat.  In fact, Affleck’s Batman is the best I’ve seen since Michael Keaton.  He is truly intimidating and scary as Batman.  He’s also very brutal as he uses guns and kills people.  If Affleck’s Batman had any moral qualms about killing people, he abandoned that a long time ago, and genuinely makes for a more compelling character.  Henry Cavill is still really good as Superman.  He’s gotten more comfortable in the role, and there’s actually some internal conflict with the character.  Amy Adams is still good as Lois Lane.  One point of contention that a lot of people had with the film was Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor.  Initially, I was VERY skeptical, but having seen the film for a second time, I’m actually somewhat on board with it.  Another issue was with Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.  For the amount of screen time that she has, she is amazing.  I would never have picked Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, because she doesn’t really have the body for the character, but she really gives it her all.  When she showed up all decked out in her outfit, the entire theater cheered.  She was great.  I’m really looking forward to her stand-alone film next year, I think it could be really great.  We also get cameos from Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg as well.  I’m not sold into how that worked out, but I’m really curious as to how these guys factor into the next movie.

The action in the film is awesome.  The opening action sequence takes place during the final battle of Man of Steel, but from a different perspective, and it’s intense.  Bruce Wayne hops into a car and chases through the city while explosions are going and buildings are falling down.  It’s nuts.  I loved it.  When Batman gets into the Batmobile and chases people around, that’s also pretty exciting.  This thing is a combination of the tumbler from The Dark Knight Trilogy and the vehicle from Tim Burton’s films.  He crashes through buildings, ships and lands on top of cars.  It’s pretty fun.  I will say this for Zack Snyder, he knows how to do action.  A lot of people were rightfully anticipating the big dust-up between Batman and Superman.  It does not disappoint.  It.  Is. Awesome.  It’s brutal, too.  In fact, the entire last half of the movie is great as far as action goes.  Yeah, I don’t like the design of Doomsday, but that particular fight is spectacular, nonetheless.  As an action movie, Batman V. Superman is pretty damn good.  The music by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL is disappointing however.  It utilizes some of the themes from the far superior soundtrack to Man of Steel, but there’s no real identifying theme here.

Does Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice deserve all the abject hatred that it’s been getting?  No.  Not really.  But are some of the complaints about the film legitimate?  Sure.  Doomsday was shoehorned in, a lot of the story threads really go nowhere, and Wonder Woman didn’t really need to be here.  It’s just filled to the brim with story but the run time doesn’t really allow for those threads to be explored, and I’m hoping that the Director’s Cut of the film will flesh those out.  The Director’s Cut of the film is supposed to be about 3 hours long, so I’m really curious to see what was cut out.  As a result of the film being overstuffed with tons of cool elements, the narrative takes a major nose-dive and ends up not really being memorable.  I think the film will be vindicated in time when watched as part of the Justice League movies, but right now, it’s a hot mess.  I recommend you see it in theaters at least once.  It’s a big movie and deserves that at least.  My final verdict for the film is a 7.5/10.  It’s a real mixed bag, and that’s unfortunate.  I’m hoping that Justice League will be handled a bit better.

Showdown In Little Tokyo

Released: August 1991

Director: Mark Lester

Rated R

Run Time: 78 Minutes

Distributor: Warner Bros

Dolph Lundgren: Sgt. Chris Kenner
Brandon Lee: Johnny Murata
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa: Yoshida
Tia Carrere: Minako Okeya
Toshishiro Obata: Sato

I WAS going to review Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, but I want to see that one again just to be sure that I saw it correctly.  Instead I’m going to review an older action movie from the early 90s: Showdown In Little Tokyo.  During the 80s and 90s, there was a plethora of action films.  Some good, some bad, but there were a lot of them.  Most of them had one thing in common at least:  Simplicity.  What I mean by simplicity, is that there wasn’t really anything complicated story-wise.  It was all straight-forward shoot-em-up, beat-em-up and blow-em-up.  Yeah, you had to have some kind of plot to drive the movie forward, but nobody really needed super-extravagant plots with elaborate twists and plot threads that came out of nowhere and WENT nowhere.  There is beauty in that kind of simplicity.  It’s really apparent in Showdown In Little Tokyo.

The film opens with Sgt. Chris Kenner crashing an illegal fight competition only to be interrupted by Yakuza thugs.  After escaping, he’s assigned Johnny Murata as his new partner and they attempt to take down the leader of the drug trade lead by Yakuza leader, Yoshida.  See that?  That’s simple.  That’s not complicated.  That’s all you really need to know about the story.  That’s IT.  The characters are a little deeper, but not really by a whole lot.  See, Kenner was raised in Japan, so he studied the martial arts and the way of the samurai, so he has intimate of how Little Tokyo is run.  He witnessed his parents murder by Yoshida, so he has a vendetta against the Yakuza.  Again, deeper but simple.  Murata is of Japanese descent, but doesn’t know a whole lot about his cultural upbringing.  So, he’s a bit of a valley guy and smart-ass to boot.  Yoshida, the head of the Yakuza, is planning to distribute his drugs along with Japanese imported beer across the country.  Are we seeing a pattern yet?  It pretty much goes from Point A to Point B, with very little slow-down.  What slowdown there is basically allows Kenner to rescue and bang Minako.  Showdown In Little Tokyo follows the “Three B’s Of Action Movies” rule: Bullets, beer, and boobs.  Not very tactful, I know, but that’s what it is.

Is Showdown In Little Tokyo a great movie?  No, but is a good one.  There are several reasons why this movie works:  1. Dolph Lundgren and Brandon Lee.  The dynamics and the chemistry between these guys is absolutely phenomenal.  They’re basically jabbing at each other and getting in each other’s way until the decide to work together.  There’s a lot of one-liners and humor to be found here, and these guys pull it off immensely.  On top of that, these guys are top-notch martial artists.  Brandon Lee had the benefit of being Bruce Lee’s son, so the martial arts was a part of his life.  Dolph Lundgren studied different martial arts when he was a kid and eventually became a 3rd degree black belt in Kyokushin Karate.  He’s definitely got moves.  They’ve got the physicality down.  2.  Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa.  All heroes need great villains to fight and Yoshida is definitely a scumbag.  Tagawa, who would go on to play Shang Tsung in the video-game adaptation of Mortal Kombat in 1995, almost steals the show entirely as Yoshida.  The great thing about Yoshida, is that he’s not really an idiot.  He’s a smart villain, he knows his business and he knows to handle himself.  Again, he’s not for world domination or manipulating our heroes.  He’s there to make money. 3. The cinematography.  This is an incredibly well-shot and well-structured film.  This was 1991, so the whole “shaky-cam” technique didn’t really exist yet(damn you, Paul Greengrass!).  You can see the fights that are happening as well as some of the scenery and the city backdrops.

The action is great.  We’ve got great fight scenes from both Lee and Lundgren, who were both in their prime.  The gun fights are also spectacular.  We’ve got explosions and sword fighting.  What’s not to like?  As I said before, the camera-work is excellent.  It’s all steady-cam and keeps a proper distance so we can see what’s happening.  I think a lot of modern action flicks need to take a breath and take a look to the past to see how things were done.  Take the run time for example: 78 minutes long.  That’s all you need for a movie like this.  You don’t have time for all the unnecessary plot devices and exposition bullshit and that’s a good thing.  I really don’t mind when a movie builds up to an action-packed finale.  Some days I prefer the build-up.  But there are some days that I just need that shot of adrenaline that keeps me going for an hour and a half, and Showdown In Little Tokyo provides that.  If there’s really a downside to the film is that Tia Carrere is essentially a damsel in distress.  A GORGEOUS damsel, but a damsel nonetheless.

Watching Showdown In Little Tokyo now reminds of what could’ve been if Brandon Lee hadn’t died during the making of The Crow.  Had he not died, I think he and Dolph Lundgren would’ve made several more movies together.  That’s how great the chemistry between the two of them was.  It just breaks my heart that Lee never got the chance to do it again.  Overall, I think Showdown In Little Tokyo is a solid little action movie that reminds us of how simplicity in an action movie can be a great thing.  My final score is an enthusiastic 9.5/10.   I love, and I think I’m going to watch it again.  Don’t worry, my review of Batman V. Superman is still coming, but not just yet.

The Best Composers: Randy Edelman

Continuing with the theme of film composers, I picked Randy Edelman as my next topic.  Born in New Jersey, Randy Edelman has some of the most memorable film scores under his belt.  While the films in question may not necessarily be the highest quality, there is no doubt in my mind that the music he wrote for some of these films are the finest that I’ve ever heard.  His big break came in 1989 when he composed the music for Ghostbusters II.  Nothing particularly memorable, but it was a Ghostbusters film.  This man has nearly a 100 titles to his name as a composer, but some of his most memorable themes and compositions would show up during the 90s.

The Last Of The Mohicans

I’m kind of cheating on this one as it was a collaboration between Randy Edelman and fellow composer Trevor Jones.  The resulting film was an absolute masterpiece featuring Daniel Day-Lewis in one of his most memorable roles.  The film was incredibly well-constructed, acted and had some of the most riveting sequences in any film up to that point.  It’s incredibly rare for a film’s soundtrack to be as memorable if not more so than the film it accompanies.  The Last of the Mohicans is one of the greatest soundtracks in film history.  It has a very grand and epic that also brings a certain emotional and foreboding weight to the whole affair.  The use of string instruments is astonishing, especially during the last battle.  In a word, it’s poetic.  If you have not seen The Last of the Mohicans, I suggest you see it now.  It’s brilliant.

Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story

With The Last of the Mohicans, Randy Edelman proved that he is a force to be reckoned with in terms of film music.  He does it again with the main theme from Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story.  The film is a biopic loosely based on Bruce Lee’s life.  A good chunk of it is fictionalized, but it still ended up being a pretty good movie.  The theme became so popular it was used in multiple film trailers during the 90s.  It starts off with a simple piano solo and than flourishes into a grander and emotional piece that I feel is really appropriate for Bruce Lee.  While I don’t think Lee would have approved of the movie, I think he would have liked the music composed by Randy Edelman.  It’s an uplifting and amazing theme for one of the most influential people in film history.  The film is definitely worth a watch.


Mr. Edelman hits it out of the park yet again with Dragonheart.  It has a very soulful and emotional theme that is not only epic, but very playful at times.  Personally, I loved the film itself with Sean Connery’s Draco stealing the show at every turn.  It was an old-fashioned adventure film with great visual effects that ended up being really fun, and yet emotionally engaging at the same time.  The film’s music reflects this in almost every single way.  This was also a soundtrack that used for movie trailers, because it was so memorable.  Even if you haven’t seen the film, you’ve heard the music, and that is how powerful a movie’s soundtrack can and should be.  While the main theme would be used for the direct-to-video sequels, it still manages to impress 20 years later.  I think Randy Edelman should be really proud of this particular film’s soundtrack.

Randy Edelman would later go on to score movies such as Shanghai Noon, xXx, and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.  Unfortunately, as the 90s came to a close, Randy Edelman’s work became less and less memorable as time went on.  It’s a shame, because he’s extremely talented.  His work during the 90s has yet to be matched by anyone.  As it stands, the man has had a fantastic career and shows no signs of slowing down.  I just wish he would come up with another memorable theme.  Well, that wraps up my second post on The Best Composers for the day and I will be back with another one quite soon.  Stay tuned.