Friday, October 1, 2010

The Guy in the Third Row Is Apparently a Filthy Liar...or, LIKE A BOSS

It's that time again folks.

In a further attempt to prove I'm not out to deceive you guys yet again for
my own sick amusement, we're back with another visit to the Third Row (...much
later than I had previously promised. Sorry. We're still working all the bugs
out of the system, as it were...and by that, I mean the guy in this row is
working on getting his arse back into a regular pattern for your

Also, so that I can't be seen as going back on my word, and thus holding
myself open to false advertising charges, we bring you the third of four
installments from this February's theme of Blaxploitation History Month.

The good news (or bad, depending how you feel about it) is that, as of last
week, we've spent all the time there is to spend cinematically at Falconhurst.
I'll give anyone masochistic enough to pine for more adventures of the Maxwell
clan and the slaves they...somehow I don't think 'love' is the right word
here...a chance to say their goodbyes.

...OK, that's long enough.

For those who are still longing for a cinematically altered blast from the
past, worry not. We're still going back to another time this week, albeit of a
different sort than the last two pre-Civil War shenanigans.

That's right, this week, we travel back in time slightly less we
review Fred Williamson's 1975 adventure into the old west, Boss Nigger.

(Yeah...they really couldn't get away with a title like that now. When I
first learned about this film, I did a doubletake on hearing its title. On
seeing the trailer, I knew I had to watch this and review it.)

Now, on starting this film, it looks like it could theoretically be any least, as far as the first characters we see go. Right off the bat,
we're introduced to a group of stereotypical western bandits whose behavior
tells you two things immediately:
1) These guys aren't gonna be worth much to the plot
2) They probably won't be around for long.

Point two is confirmed with a vengeance fairly quickly as the group are
ambushed and shot by a pair of gunmen...largely without a fight...barring one
fellow who at least gets the dignity of dying with a few last words

...I only said the movie gave him the dignity for it...I never said he used
it properly.

Anyway, in the aftermath, the identities of these mysterious gunslingers are
revealed to be the heroes of our movie, the bounty hunter Boss Nigger and his
partner/sidekick Amos (played by Fred Williamson and D'Urville Martin

Now, before we continue, I'd like to take a moment to say something for this
opening. To anyone who doesn't know what to expect from this movie (and with a
title and pitch like this, you've only got yourself to blame) this opening
actually pulls a pretty good fast one. The way Boss and Amos are first
introduced, you get no indication of either of them as far as race. All shots
are from the shoulders down, and they're wearing gloves. It's only when Amos
starts talking after all the shooting dies down that we finally see the two and
the reveal is made.

Boss and Amos have found the next few pages for the script
in this guy's jacket.
Film's back on, guys!

Again, doesn't work too well unless you have no idea what the movie's about,
but still kind of a nice touch.

Anyway...while searching the bodies and checking IDs for wanted bounties,
they stumble across an interesting find: one of the bandits has a note on them
talking about one Jed Clayton, a bounty they've been after, and his holing up in
a small town nearby. As is often the case when these things are introduced at
the start of a film, the two decide this town is their next stop.

What follows is an opening that does one thing blaxploitation films often
excel at...providing the hero with a theme song that can be best summed up in
the word 'badass.' This is one of those songs which can get stuck in your
head... ... ...and then leave you hoping you don't inadvertently start singing
it in public places if you value NOT getting your ass kicked in so hard your
teeth go flying.

In fact, here's the opening credits sequence for your enjoyment. Cause every
good earworm knows how to spread itself

After that 70s-vintage "They'll Never Play This On The Radio Again" moment of
catchiness, we resume the movie. Boss and Amos's trip is largely pretty
uneventful (mostly covered via the opening montage. Hey, not gonna complain,
while these two are pretty entertaining so far, just riding through the desert
can only entertain for just so long.) It's as they close in on city limits that
things rev up again and we're introduced to the third member of their travelling
group. En route to town, Boss and Amos come across a black family being ambushed
by another group of Clayton's archetypical goons (I will give them this much.
These guys can kind of aim at so far as they actually kill
someone...of course, as far as the stormtrooper syndrome rule goes, sadly, the
dead man wasn't exactly considered crucial enough to the lot to be immune to
their firing wildly.) Boss and Amos intervene and drive them off...well...more
to the point, they mainly kill them...but hey...they're in a blaxploitation
western as minions to the film's main villain. In both of those genres, that
marks them for death right away anyway. Venn-Diagram the two and the fact Boss
and Amos have to shoot them speaks highly for their survivability. In the
aftermath, of this, the two are introduced to the lone survivor of the ambush,
Clara Mae (played by Carmen Hayworth.)

Clara Mae
(...capped from later in the film, I promise. She is NOT this happy when her
parents get whacked!)

She points them in the direction of town and even goes in with them. What
follows is an interesting variation on the classic 'stranger rides into town.'
To this town's credit, they handle it better than, say, Rock Ridge in the movie
Blazing Saddles. the same token, I'm a bit surprised with how well they
handle it. I mean, we're talking about an old west town here...two black guys
come riding in with a dead white guy in tow behind them. Traditionally, this
would be a Gary Larson-esque 'Trouble Brewing' moment. In this film, however, it
largely just merits a lot of rather neutral stares (although this scene does
introduce probably one of the better townsfolk in the film, but we'll come back
to him.)

Our heroes arrive to a tumult of...



...pretty blank stares all around, really.

Anyway, after the walk o' blank stares, we get introduced to another great
western subversion, as well as a great moment for D'Urville Martin to shine in
his role as the sidekick and comedic relief. Let's put it this way...

When confronted with the classic 'local woman harassed by thugs' in this genre
do you

a) Give them a stern talking-to
b) Lay them out in one punch each, after which you yell at them about treating
women with respect
c) Draw a gun on them, make them apologize to the woman, then order them to take
off down the street, holding hands and skipping?

There's the right way, the wrong way, and the Amos way.
Which technically is neither right or wrong...but it's damn fun.

In case it's not obvious from the description (and the fact it's just that
much more amusing an option) this movie has Amos pick choice C. This is where I
have to take a moment to comment D'Urvile Martin, as he plays the scene (as well
as subsequent humorous bits) with just the right amount of smug to make the
character likable, rather than annoying (cause let's be honest, playing that
kind of confident...a little goes a long way.)

Anyway, Boss and Amos, learning the town has no sheriff, decide that, until
Jed is flushed out, the right thing to do would be to take up the office.
They're certainly qualified, but this winds up frankly shaking up the town's
mayor (played by R.G. Armstrong) who fears the repercussions the town will be
subject to if Jed finds out law and order has been reinstated where he has once
been allowed to run free. Fortunately for Boss and Amos, the mayor himself is
largely pretty powerless anyway, and instead simply hopes when Jed and his boys
deal with the new sheriff, he can wash his hands of the matter and save his own

Welcome to town, boys.
In your new role as law enforcement, we're pleased to present you your own
corrupt, self-serving government weasel to hinder your progress.

Be careful with it, you only get one.

Suffice it to say, with this minimal opposition, Boss and Amos quickly take
to their new jobs, establishing a state that the movie's taglines sum up best
as: "white man's man's law!" The results of which, actually, really
help the town (OK...a couple of them are really, just Boss and Amos messing with
the townsfolk (such as Amos explaining the act of calling the new sheriff a
nigger is punishable by a fine of $20 or two days in jail) but really, it helps
establish the fact they're approaching the job with just enough seriousness that
they don't plan to let the townspeople give them grief over their race... ...and
if they can do a little good-natured fundraising in the process, why not?)

It really is a traditional system of order, really.
The Good Boss giveth

and the Good Boss taketh away
(...OK, so it's Amos doing it here, but it's all the same system.)

Of course, to their credit, not all the townspeople have it in for him.
Despite the rather passive-aggressive duplicity of the mayor and the largely
interchangeable nature of most of the residents, Boss and Amos still find a few
allies along the way. These ranging anywhere from the well-meaning, if somewhat
misinformed Miss Pruitt (played by Barbara Lee), to the local physician (Don
Barry), who shares the mayor's fear of repercussions, but still has enough guts
to do the right thing in a pinch, and the local blacksmith (played by Ben
Zeller) who comes to Boss's aid a few times in the movie... ... ...and
curiously, never says a single word. At all.

Despite that, he's still probably the coolest of the townsfolk.

These people, as well as the nearby local Mexicans all, to some degree or
other, learn to welcome Boss's application of a spurred boot to the proverbial
ass of evil in their town. Of course, as with any western, this charming
'getting to know you' period of shaking down minor goons eventually comes to an
end when Jed and his boys decide to turn up the heat.

Actually, the Mexicans get along great with him.
Part of why their part of town looks like a much nicer area to hang out in...
even with the poverty and Clayton's boys' shenanigans.

I could take you through the rest blow for blow...but I'm gonna have to back
off since, among other reasons

1) It's a habit I'm trying to break myself of. It makes these reviews overly
2) It spoils things for, in some cases, I realize that's no loss, but
in a case like this, we come to point 3
3) This film's actually pretty good...and I'd rather not take away all reasons
for seeing it...granted, in a perfect world, even a blow-for-blow would leave
you wanting to see it, but I don't want to take the fun from ya.

Anyway, as I'd stated just now, overall, this film was a pleasant surprise.
After I came down from the initial reaction that can be best summed up as: "Holy
shit...they seriously made this?" and gave the film a watch, I was treated to a
film that was actually a pretty entertaining ride.

In evaluating it, one of the first things to keep in mind: this film actually
marks the writing debut for Williamson. To his credit, it's a pretty good debut
piece. A bit rocky at points (while much of the humor is pretty sharp, there's
still one or two lines that are likely to induce a few groans...most infamously,
one 'gem' from Miss Pruitt with regards to Boss and Clara Mae) but largely a
pretty solid effort. Probably one of the nicest touches about this is realizing
that a lot of this film is, in a way, Williamson riffing on his own work to this
point (really, the film is as much a parody of the classic 'badass vigilante who
cleans up a crooked town' element of blaxploitation as it is the classic 'man
with no name' tales of the western genre.) Looking at it again, gotta say...the
two genres actually work quite well together (...once you get used to some of
the minor anachronisms like the earlier mentioned arrival into town.)

About the only other complaint I have with the script really lies in the
ending ( I now figure out how to best explain without blowing anything.)
Now, much of the ending's pretty enjoyable, don't get me wrong. Things build to
a great showdown between Boss and Clayton's gang. The problem is, the movie also
brings in a twist near the end that feels like it was meant to build up to
something more than it does within the context of the film. It's set up, and the
dramatic twist is put into place, but it largely seems to go unacknowledged by
those who should be effected by it the most. Though it is indeed cited in the
ever classic "This is for..." final confrontation, it otherwise seems to be
forgotten. In the end, it is brought back, but feels rather subdued after
everything that's happened. I realize this may be because such response would
likely seem out of place for a stoic hero like Boss, but all the same, it almost
feels like the element was either forgotten, or pared down during editing.
(...and I'm trying my damnedest not to blow what it is, which is why I'm
refraining from being cheeky about this kind of dangling plot thread.)

Anyway...from there, the acting is mostly pretty good. Williamson again
proves why he's a bankable lead, this time poking fun at his own sort of
archetype, and giving us a great character in the process. D'Urville Martin,
likewise, turns in a great job as Amos, being the one person in this kind of
parody who seems to be in on the joke, and is living it up. Carmen Hayworth
shows a decent range as Carla Mae (which, given the general roles for women in
westerns, is still worth something. To this end, there's actually a great bit of
back and forth humor in one scene involving her and Martin attempting to
discreetly knock out a guard.)

One of the things gotta love about Williamson.
He can make fun of himself, and still be badass about it.

The rest of the cast kind of run from doing pretty well to the classic
henchmen who tend to fluctuate between functional and ridiculous...but then,
that's kind of the idea behind how they work anyways. Most of the townsfolk
really tend to be either overly panicky or stoic folk (which, again, kind of
works for the genre.) Of these three, the only ones worth noting for anything
would be William Smith as Clayton, who manages to be the classic big bad without
falling quite into the same 'Yosemite Sam' style pit as most of his army of
expendables, Leigh's turn as Miss Pruitt which is mostly pretty good (about the
only thing I can hold against her is one particular monologue in the'll know it when you hear it...during the scene, she gains all the
emotion and passion of an old elementary school educational film strip
recording,) and finally R.G. Armstrong as the town's cowardly and self-serving
mayor, who manages to almost seem pitiable at least until you
realize how far he's willing to go to protect his own hide, and suddenly he's
the perfect scumbag.

Miss Pruitt during aforementioned monologue

...I know Boss, it's hard enough just hearing it in the audience...
I can only imagine dealing with it in person.

With a fairly solid cast and a nicely done first-time script, director Jack
Arnold has some good materials on his hands for this. While I'm not sure if I
can say the film he gives us with them is anything award-winning, I do have to's actually a pretty damn fun film. Despite the general 'ruthless
bastard' tact I've employed on some films to this point in these articles, I can
honestly say with a straight face this time, this could be worth your time as a
legitimately good film (as opposed to that 'horrible accident happens to a
clown' style of so bad it's funny of many of our previous offerings.) I won't
say it'll change your life, touch your soul, or any such stuff the professionals
get hefty checks to say (...if I'm supposed to be getting paid for these, I'm
missing the well as a hefty buttload of financial incentive to dole
out the ol' purple prose) but at the same time, it's a pretty damn fun take on
both the blaxploitation genre as well as the western.

As a heads-up for anyone whom I hopefully might have managed to actually sell
on checking this out - Remember that earlier comment about how a film with this
name would never fly nowadays? It's true. If you want to find this on DVD,
you're probably not likely to find it under its original name. It DID get a DVD
release, but with the shortened title of 'Boss.'

Now that you've been tipped off, I would again like to apologize for this
review being late (...I'm getting it all out of my system, I swear to God.)

Please do remember to come back to the Third Row next weekend, when we
(finally) finish up the backlog of Blaxploitation History Month with the 1972
Jim Brown classic Slaughter. After which, I promise some good/bad horror
offerings just in time for October.



...and I promised myself, beyond the title of this article, I wouldn't make
any more reference to the famous (or infamous, depending who you ask) song by
The Lonely Island...

...but...what the Hell...








Until next week, folks

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Less Than Triumphant Return To the Third Row or White Folks Say the Darnedest Things

Well, it comes to the weekend, and once again, from a bizarre blend of masochism, car crash, or maybe just pity, you've all made it back to the Third Row.

I suppose I should account for the fact that I seem to have vanished for several months (the popular bullshit line being that I'm getting this all out of my system early on. ...I'm willing to believe it if you are, guys.)

Really, just been a lot going on with life in general...lucky for you, that's not why you come here, so I won't bore you with that.

Rest assured that, while it's now September, I do plan to continue the rest of the run lined up for Blaxploitation History month (especially since, after this one, we've got a couple of gems lined up, including one from Fred Williamson.)

So please, bear with as we try to get this burning wreck back on the tracks to continue entertaining, informing, or just mildly antagonizing you all.

Now then...
This week, the guy you normally find sitting here has learned very, very valuable lesson...

...never promise you guys a review on a film until I've actually seen it before hand and can actively confirm you have it in good order.

I've learned that the hard way this time...curiously only partially due to the movie itself, and in larger part due to a combination of problematic copy of the movie giving me far more grief than it had any right to and the fact I was feeling just the right blend of creativity and sloth to hold this up.

With that, as you can guess, we come to this week's review. After the delightful antebellum adventures last time in Mandingo, I decided to be a completionist, and, in the interests of the theme of the (sadly now over) month, promise a look at this film's lesser known, 1976 sequel, Drum.

I figured, after the well-intentioned, if somewhat misfired efforts of Fleischer's earlier film, this wouldn't be too bad. Wouldn't be great, but it certainly couldn't be any stranger than my first trip to Falconhurst and the insanity that occurs with the Maxwell clan therein.

...and, to my surprise, I think I could say I was rewarded for my efforts. Whether this reward is a grand payoff, or one of those crappy prizes at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box that makes you remember when they used to have good toys...well...we'll get to that.

Now, on watching the opening sequence for this movie, I find myself of two
schools of thought:
1) Well, between the opening song and the wood-cuttings and general slavery-era art used in the opening sequence, one gets the impression they're going to be addressing the matter of slavery here a bit more seriously than its predecessor did. Could it be the packaging lied to me? (actually, the packaging wasn't technically deceptive...but with a tagline like "The White Men Wanted A Stud To Breed Slaves. The White Women Wanted Much More." I can't be blamed for being a LITTLE leery here.)

2) I'm noticing quite a few cast members from the first film came back for this movie... ... different roles (especially since, of the returning cast, at least one had their character die before.) I'm kind of reminded of the old racist concept that people believed all blacks looked alike. Either the casting director seemed to feel this while recasting black actors and actresses from the first film, or these people signed on for contracts and directors didn't want them to go to waste.

Anyways, from here, we have a prologue explaining the origins of our film's title character, Drum (Ken Norton returning to, once again, take one for the cinematic team.)

Seems, 20 years before this film took place, in one of the slave ports of Cuba, a slaveowner's mistress, Mariana, had an affair with one of her slaves, a former king in his own land named Tambura. He got executed for his offense, and she chose to leave with her mulatto offspring (guess who?) Drum becomes the adopted child of Rachel, Mariana's personal servant, and the two come to the pre-Civil War south, a land of peace, tolerance and...

Now, I'm gonna say off the bat, this prologue feels like, in its original source, it may have amounted to more. As far as the film's concerned, however, it's largely pretty forgotten after this scene (barring its referencing in a later quasi-incestuous moment we'll get back to.)

After this prologue, we move forward 20 years. Mariana has now settled into a promising new life in America. Yessir, nothing says 'land of opportunity' like running your own bordello! ...what? You were expecting to hear she went on to aid the underground railroad? After the last movie, we all know they weren't gonna go that route here.

Remember a time when prostitution was a respectable business and
whorehouses rivaled respectable hotels for decor?
Honestly, I think this one may even elude Pepperidge Farm.

It's also as they set the scene we're reintroduced to a familiar face from the first film...

that's right kids, Hammond's back! Granted this isn't really grounds to cheer in the first part cause last we saw the guy wasn't really anything to be happy with...and one part because, while they got several actors from the original back to play new roles in this, it seems they couldn't get one of the one actors whose character survived to return. What Perry King was doing at this point, I honestly don't his place, relatively veteran actor Warren Oates is taking on the role. This time Hammond is older and...well...I'm not sure we can say wiser just yet. So far it seems like he's being played less like King's earlier depiction, more like James Mason's role from the first movie.

...yep, expect more charming racism and lines that will make you stop and go "Did he REALLY just say that?", folks.

But, we're getting off-track...back to the house of ill repute! Over the course of this scene, we're slowly introduced to much of the rest of our key players...among them:

Drum himself. That's right kids, Ken Norton's back for one more trip to the plantation. All things considered though, despite this film's lesser known status, he does seem to get a better deal from it. The script lets him act more, kick more asses, and there seems to be less awkward groping...but we'll get back to THAT later.

De Marigny, as played by John Colicos. This was kind of a hard blow for my younger inner nerd to deal with. My memories of Colicos primarily come from his role as the villainous Baltar on Battlestar Galactica. Seeing him playing a rather flamboyant and lecherous aristocrat with a bad French accent was, as inner child moments go, like having your inner child rush to check out the Christmas tree on the 25th, only to get suckerpunched by Santa Claus and told he left you nothing outside of that five upside the head.

That said, about the best way I can sum up DeMarigny's role in this movie is that he is the bad thing that happens to debatably good people. Every time this guy shows up, things go to Hell in record time.

Blaise. A former slave of DeMarigny's, played by Yaphet Kotto (whom many might remember from such better remembered films as Alien and The Star Chamber.) His first appearance here is...well, simply put, Ken Norton kicks his ass... ...then befriends him. I'd like to say this is the start of a beautiful friendship...and I would...but then I'd be lying to all of you. While I do enjoy deceiving you kids for my own laughs, I have my limits. Rather, Kotto seems to be playing a variation on the role Richard Ward played in the first film - he acts as the more cynical slave who's had a harder life and seen the darker side of white folks that Norton's character has been (relatively) spared. As a result, he acts as a sort of racial conscience and counterpoint to Norton. Unlike last time, however, the gap is wider, and, as in all sequels, the more extreme is the way to go here...but, no getting ahead of ourselves.

Anyway...along with the aforementioned Hammond and Mariana to round out our key players (as well as a few side characters we'll discuss in a bit) we begin the story. Whereas last time we started semi-serious and started easing our way into the craziness one step at a time. Here, we get thrown into the deep end of the pool with cinderblocks taped to our legs and told "SWIM, MAGGOT!"

It seems De Marigny, everyone's favorite antebellum Caligula, has arranged for another exhilarating round of slave fight club in Marianna's back yard. Unfortunately, it seems one of the contenders was a no show.

Never one to be deterred (and thanks to the fact he's already spent screentime ogling him with ever so creepy intent) De Marigny hatches on a brilliant idea: send Drum into the ring! Of course, he's careful to take into consideration the feels of Marianna...he offers up a good deal of threats to get her approval first...

One begrudging consent later and...

I had to promise myself I wouldn't repeat the Mortal Kombat joke from the
last entry...
so, in the interests of other played out death match jokes:

Drum's first fight goes...well...let's just say he doesn't exactly start out fact, he gets trashed pretty hard his first time out (much to the borderline ridiculous taunts by Colicos. See the "White People Say the Darnedest Things" reel at the end of this.) Eventually, he begins to start fighting back, and even manages to secure a victory.

After persuading De Marigny to spare Blaise's life (well...that and his ol' cotton fields, if you take my meaning,) Drum is given an offer for another reward. As he is a lover as well as a fighter, Drum asks for a woman. The scene's where some of that ol' Mandingo charm comes back. These scenes actually carry themselves pretty well...until the white folk start talking. The scene where Drum is looking over possible candidates for a woman becomes REALLY hard to take seriously thanks to Colico's commentary. The sad part is, it's not even as much what's said, since I'm sure the right actor could have captured the dehumanizing element well with that's...well, again it's that accent. It's like the Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau voice...only it's not played for comedy!

Anyways, after this madcap pimping session comes to its end, Drum has made his choice in Calinda (as played by fellow Mandingo alumnus Brenda Sykes.) The two have a 'getting to know you' session that, to their credit, could have been really laughable with other actors. They actually carry the scene pretty well...and it looks like this may be a sign things are improving.

...and then he's back.

As though we needed confirmation, it seems DeMarigny has had an ulterior motive in getting on Drum's good side. Remember when I said we had less awkward groping on Ken Norton's part? This was one of the two parts where it still comes up. Luckily for us, Calinda decides to act on our behalfs and tries to interrupt this creepy, accented molestation attempt. When DeMarigny gets rough with her, Drum decides to act on the other part of the audience's behalf and gives him a much deserved smack in the mouth.

But alas, it's not enough to fix that blasted accent!

Slighted, DeMarigny vows a painful, if vague, revenge, and storms out. In this setting, that could run anywhere from a drawn out, Shakespearean revenge that seeks to destroy everything and everyone Drum's ever cared about...or, it may just mean he's gonna send an angry mob to try and take Drum out.

But before we find out his sinister, elaborately planned scheme, we cut to another scene set to move the story forward: Hammond, it seems, has been making a deal with Marianna. After two wives, Hammond's decided he wants to settle down again... ...with a whore.

His words, not mine. He makes it quite clear he doesn't want a wife (it seems, besides Blanche from the first film, his second left, he's still got a soft spot for the wenches.) With this in mind, Marianna has someone lined up for him: Augusta Chavet (as played by Fiona Lewis. It's worth noting she's not actually a seems alongside being a pimp, Marianna's been dabbling in matchmaking.)

Back to the secretive and dangerous world of slave fight club, we see the big reveal of DeMarigny's machinations. It seems his brilliant idea of swift and savage vengeance is to send some goons by and have Drum fight another of DeMarigny's slaves...except this guy's using a knife.

It almost feels like a bad video game now:
You beat the first boss, next one comes at you with something bigger.
By the end of this, Drum's gonna have to fight a slave in either a tank or a
giant robot,
Depending what the budget allows for...

Things don't go as planned for either side...DeMarigny's goons get the crap
kicked out of them, and it's here that Drum's adoptive mother, Rachel, is

A moment of silence.
She was only in this film briefly, but she touched all of our lives with her
role as human shield
and sometime lesbian lover to Marianna,
a role that allowed us to look at this film and think "Wow...this has

Fearing for the life of her son, and having already paired Hammond off with his 'whore,' Marianna gets a brilliant idea: she makes an extra deal to send Drum and Blaise to go with Maxwell's party back to the wonderful land of Falconhurst!

It'll be the Emerald City...only with less munchkins and more
...that seems to be the end of a lot of comparisons here.

Remember that quasi-incestuous moment I was talking about before?
Marianna says her goodbyes to her son...all the while noting how much he looks
like his father.
...this wouldn't be as awkward had she not had him take off his shirt before she
pointed this out...

Surprisingly, however, on getting to Falconhurst, the insanity actually seems to step down this time. Whether it's from the lack of James Mason peppering the walls with colorful drawling epithets, or just someone actually trying to make a good film, it's a welcome change.
...although I do admit, I missed some of the insanity.

...and it's because I thought that that the movie decided to throw one more joker into the hat (and after the number thrown in so far, I'm starting to wonder what the Hell the actual composition of this deck is...)

It seems, with the second wife, Hammond had a daughter, young and hormonal Sophie Maxwell (as played by Rainbeaux Smith.)

The sociopathic spirit of Hammond's first wife lives on in this precocious young lady...who makes it a point to prove workplace sexual harassment knows no boundaries of age, race, or gender!

I guess they figured if the work staff aren't getting paid,
it technically didn't qualify as standard issue sexual harassment.

In fact, it's thanks to her that we see a rift form between Drum and Blaise in their attitudes on white people. For the most part, these scenes at least try for seriousness...but, in a rare turn of events, this is one time where the script seems out to cut the black actors in on the craziness as well (again, Norton and Kotto largely do pretty well for the material there dealt here...but Goddamn, it's hard to keep a straight face seeing Norton seriously ask Kotto "Did you let her touch your snake?")

These rather cheeky elements of workplace harassment begin setting the stage for what will be, if nothing else, a bit more of a grounded finale than the last film...but, we'll get to that in just a bit.

As conflict rages between the two former friends, we also learn there's troubles for the whities as well (as always...this pleases me, if only cause their drama tends to be the stuff of comedy gold compared to the slaves.)

Alongside Hammond trying to keep his sex offender daughter under control (as we see, she has a regular habit of groping slaves' crotches) he also has to deal with the fact his 'whore' is actually a wife (literally. She didn't sign on for this...)

...under the circumstances though, she's a real trooper here...
You'll see more of that in a bit...

This plot strand goes through several bizarre points, including a pep talk between Augusta and one of Hammond's wenches, several arguments where Oates gets to give us more of that ol' time Southern Charm (two conversations of which are sampled in the earlier mentioned 'White Folks Say the Darnedest Things' montage below,) one of which culminates in probably one of the single greatest argument killers I've ever heard...said argument also leads to them patching things up...I guess it's a touching turn of events...seeing a wife who pretended to be a whore and a cantankerously racist old slave breeder overcome their differences and find love together...
...say now, there's a pitch for a romantic comedy I can guarantee you the studios aren't sizing up yet.

Meanwhile, in the midst of all this, Sophie's actions also come to a head when Hammond gets wind of what's going on (...somewhat...another for the clip reel) and, having already had issues with Blaise over fighting earlier on, decides he's become too unruly to keep around, and intends to sell him at the upcoming dinner party (it DOES stand to make an interesting icebreaker.)

Once again, while I'm tempted to explain the finale, I feel like I should leave you guys some mystery (I already skimmed enough here to try and avoid just spoiling the whole ride.)

The things I WILL say:

-We get another for the '...oh WOW' white people file care of a ruthless, and
rather stereotypical slave trader played by Royal Dano.

I never thought I'd see the day a movie had a Southern character named
Zeke...that they were actually serious about...

-Things between Drum and Blaise finally come to a head (in a BIG way)
-DeMarigny comes back, and once again shits things up (and, once again, Drum acts on the audiences behalf with regards to him...this is a part that's as much 'Holy shit' as it is 'Thank GOD!')
-Hammond proves he may not be a complete asshole afterall.'s still a majority of him, but it's not the full deal.

Overall, I have to say, this film kind of surprised me. After the first 20 minutes, I found myself expecting the worst from this. I mean, we start off with slave fights, assorted sexual antics, and one of the worst French accents I've ever heard in a serious role.

Granted, I had the expectation bar a bit low anyways. So part of me figured we were in for another "laugh your ass off, then feel guilty for doing so" experience like Mandingo was. To my surprise, while we got a lot of rather ridiculous moments of bad acting and writing, they didn't seem to dominate the film as heavily as they did in Mandingo. I think a large part of this is the fact the looniness seems to favor the white characters in these films...and with the blacks getting much more time and focus this time around...well...

(On this note, a fun fact for anyone who this inspires to find this movie - Among the other side characters in this, keep an eye out for the slave Regine at Falconhurst. It's a young Pam Grier in a role I imagine she probably doesn't have many people bring up nowadays.)

That's her. See? Again, I sometimes tell the truth,
just to confuse you guys when I AM lying.

So, in some regards, this film exceeded my expectations, if only by virtue of a low hurdle to top. I can't say I'd call it a great film by any stretch (in fact, while I respect the serious elements of
the film for what they're aiming for, they kind of left me missing the craziness) it still actually managed to, once I finally got the blasted disc fixed, be worth the time spent watching it.

...and, as I'd mentioned earlier, and cause I didn't get the chance to properly focus on some of the craziness earlier on, I'm pleased to give you a sampling of the peppered in bits of insanity in a little presentation I like to call 'White People Say the Darnedest Things'

It was this or a Warren Oates tribute set to Cotton-Eye Joe

...yeah, even I felt that'd be a little much.

That concludes this week's WAY too Goddamn late installment from The Third Row.

Please join us next week (and I promise, it WILL actually be next week) when we view a Fred Williamson classic whose title further reminds why they just don't make 'em like they used to.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Third Row - Just Campy Enough to Laugh At, Just Serious Enough to Feel Bad For it Afterward

Well folks, it's...a bit later than the weekend this time, actually. But,
once again, you've found your way to a seat here in the Third Row.

Before we start this week's feature, you're going to be subjected to a
rambling, and a bit of a preamble for this month.

First off, earlier this week, I finally caught up with the rest of much of
the proverbial free world and saw James Cameron's much-vaunted Avatar.

Will this one upset the earlier established top 5? Eh...

Don't get me wrong, it certainly wasn't a bad film overall. Was worth seeing
and all, especially in theaters, where it's prettymuch made for the suitable

At the same time though, outside of the technology breakthrough, there wasn't
much else that gave me any strong sense I was seeing film history happening
(again, I'll acknowledge the tech will probably make a big splash on the map,
but I don't imagine the story or world-building has gone above or beyond far
enough to really embed themselves in the pop culture.)

The story's largely pretty good, but at the same time, it's something that's
been done repeatedly in both science fiction as well as fiction as general
(hence all the joke comparisons to Dances With Wolves, Pocahontas, and Ferngully.)
Even as far as how it executes said story, it doesn't really do anything
particularly striking beyond its visuals.

Curiously, and this was the big sticking point for me, Cameron's apparent
love for the Na'vi REALLY paints the story as one-sided.

We're given a story where humanity is seen as constantly lacking and has
absolutely nothing really going for it, while the Na'vi are treated as living
perfect lives on a planet that the movie treats as a sort of Eden compared to
Earth (...once you get past the fact that, unless you can hook into these things
like a biological CPU, the entire planet will try to kill you...might I suggest
making your summer home investment some real estate on Arrakis? Much lower
chance of being ripped apart by the local wildlife and the neighbors have higher
odds of asking questions before they stick ya.)

So yes...outside of irritation at the largely one-sided (moreso than most
fiction in these cases tends to be) depiction of two cultures, the film itself
is still a generally pretty solid popcorn movie.

...that said...I grow a bit concerned by its awards prospects at this point.

It's already taken Best Drama at the Golden Globes, to a wave of many
concerned voices, and is currently in the running for Best Picture at the Oscars
(although with the net expanded to include 10 nominees, that's not quite AS
impressive as it used to be. Some eyebrows DO still go up for James Cameron
getting a Best Director nom.)

Now, I don't begrudge James his success, really. More power to him that the
film's doing well. I guess, old man as this is gonna make me sound, I grow
concerned about the kind of message this film taking best picture is gonna send
in the industry. Generally even some of the praising reviews will acknowledge
story to be this film's shortcoming. It is, in general, a technology testbed
which has a decent sci-fi story attached. So if it gets declared the best movie
of the year, what does that say for the industry? Technology is what matters?
Style over substance, as it were?

Again, perhaps I'm looking at this wrong...but under the circumstances, even
if that's not the message that the Academy intends to send, I still have a bad
feeling that, if this comes to pass, that WILL be the message studio execs glean
from the win. As a result, the industry will be inundated with movies trying
their damnedest to embrace the new technology (Hell, this is even happening now,
complete with talks of trying to refit some upcoming releases to match the
system) with concerns of storytelling and general film quality taking a backseat
to visual hook.


...ANYWAY, that ends my old man gibberings for today.

Now then...I'd like to address something which I'm sure faithful readers
(...all two of you) have noticed.

The Third Row has been strangely empty the last two weeks.

There is a good reason for this...two, actually. First, the talkative little
asshole who sits here had some business to finish in his own life outside of the
row, and had to tend to that.

Second, we received a call from the Board of Health. Seems the Grand Guignol
that was the Geist double-feature left a LOT of blood, and a few organs in the
seats when we discussed those. Unfortunately, some of them got leave that kind of stuff long enough, we've got a health

We apologize for the fact the last two weeks, the Third Row was cut off by
emergency tape, and plan to do our best to make it up to you. Of course, how we
propose to do this is through a gesture that will have many of you either
groaning or curse my name.

That's right kids, it's a theme month!

Admittedly, I'm trying to avoid making these happen too often (mostly cause
then I'm kind of forced to pick something in that theme for a whole month) but
every so often, I feel inclined to pick up on a particular genre.

February is especially helpful for this, given it's a short month anyways.

Plus, February gives us a great chance to play with great genre of
yesteryear...a genre that's remembered in equal parts for its memorable
characters and styles, its often catchy soundtracks, and its themes that could
run anywhere from delightfully cheezy to sometimes quite empowering.

So, in one of the few times I will ever use the word 'pleased' with regards
to the idea of theme months...

I'm pleased (and in light of this week's feature, a little bit ashamed) to
declare February Blaxploitation History Month here on The Third Row.

For each weekend in February, we'll be looking at films from this now sadly
oft overlooked genre. These will run anywhere from the greats that people still
look back on as general classics, to a couple of films that...well, let's just
say time hasn't really done them any favors...happens with all genres.

Maybe, if this reviewer can actually get the chance, we might even cover a
rather surprising title which has managed to help give the genre a new spark of
life last year.

In the meantime, I'll stop rambling and we'll begin this month
with...probably one of the more awkward titles of the time period (admittedly,
this one's VERY debatable in its blaxploitation status. Its sequel seems to be
marketed as such, but this one's...up for some question. I tell you guys what
though. In light of this one's questionable state, I'll even throw on another at
the start of March...partially cause I could get to enjoying these.)

Anyways, we start off with this rather dubious piece from the 1970s: a time
period where, surprising as it is to believe, filmmakers really COULD get away
with a lot (and if you don't believe me, look back at such classics as Blazing
Saddles, A Clockwork Orange, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show and ask yourself
if they'd fly in regular theaters nowadays.)

Today's film is a touching tale of the friendship between two men in a time
of hate. A friendship that transcends many boundaries: race, class, one friend
owning the other like property, said first friend putting second friend to work
on his land, said first friend entering second friend into a secret underground
fight club against other slaves, said second friend being hit on by first
friend's wife, which then leads to first friend trying to boil second friend ali--OK,
MAYBE their friendship hits a wall there.

Anyways, we'll be discussing all of this, and James Mason in probably one of
the most awkward roles of his career this weekend as we review the infamous

The plot for the film is...kind of an odd mix of points, really. It seems
torn between two particular plot strains. The first of these concerns the
assorted trials and tribulations (to put them mildly) of the Maxwells, an
affluent Southern family. Most notably, of son Hammond (played by Perry King,
some time before his apparent exile to the realm of made for TV cinema.) The
other plot line, and the one that the film's title is in reference to, is about
the character of Mede (played in a debut role by Ken Norton.) Mede, short for
Ganymede, is the newest slave bought by the Maxwell family. Well intentioned,
but naive, Mede finds himself in an increasingly more conflicted role as he
becomes friends, after a fashion, with young Hammond, while being repeated
conflicted by what he sees with regards to his role as a black man in this

Ken Norton's debut moment...
bad news Ken, the whities are only gonna get stranger from here. That almost makes it sound good, doesn't it? At times, it actually
does have potential to be a good movie. Then we come back to the Maxwell
family...whose lives are like a bizarre form of soap opera with an added element
of inbreeding.

Let me see if I can untangle all the threads of THAT mess for you. It makes
Mede's inner conflict feel pretty straightforward.

For starters, we have Hammond. From the start, we see he's a bit mixed about
how to feel about the slaves...he still defers to them, but at the same time, he
isn't as flip with abusing them as, say, his cousin Charlie (whose idea of
foreplay with a 'wench' consists of flogging her with a belt...and this is only
the first half-hour. Buckle in kids, it's gonna be a long 2 hours. On the
plus side, you won't be seeing Charlie for a whole lot of them. Thank
heaven for small favors, eh?)

In fact, as the story goes on, Hammond actually seems to develop a rapport
with several of these slaves that he is expected to treat as property...he
genuinely cares about Mede as a friend for a time, and even seems to show more
love for one of the wenches (their words, not mine, I swear!) named Ellen more
than he does for his wife, Blanche (played by Susan George, whose director
guidance seems to consist of "I need more psychotic bitch!")

Speaking of whom, Blanche's story arc is... ...something of a curious one. It
seems she and Hammond are, indeed cousins. Which makes their marriage, while
fitting in context, a bit awkward for us. They seem to be off to a pleasant
start at first, and in the beginning, they both come across as nice enough
people. Until they actually get married and consummate their love. Hammond, it
seems, is fine with marrying his cousin, but has a hang up over the prospect
that someone else has had first go at her. This becomes something of a minor
plotline in its own right (one that ends rather awkwardly when its revealed who
her first was in a bit of a shock moment that's all but forgotten after the

It really says something about this culture that it's the fact she lost her
virginity that Hammond gets so hung up on...
nevermind the fact that it was to her brother.

Then we have dear old patriarch Warren. Oh my, where to begin here. I'd like
to start by saying, it breaks my brain to realize this is James Mason in this
role. Not cause it's particularly amazing acting mind you, actually, it's
probably a low point for him. It's more realizing that the man I associate as
the classy devil of such films as Disney's '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' and
Paul Newman's 'The Verdict' is the cantankerous southern stereotype letting the
racial slurs fly like they're going out of style. That's...kind of his schtick
in this, really. He occasionally acts as a sort of half-assed father to Hammond,
and the rest of the time is just a total shit to the black characters in the

That said, I'd like to make a shout out for the young boy who plays the slave
who Warren uses to cure his rheumatism. This has to be one of the most bizarre
roles someone could get in a film, but the fact the kid went through it means he
deserves some respect for this.

"'You'll get to be in a big movie.' they said. 'You'll get to work with big
stars.' they said.

This agency's dead to me!"

Anyways, Mede's path crosses with the Maxwells roughly a half-hour into the
film when he's bought at an auction. Once again, I'd like to take a moment to
give a shout of respect, this time to Ken Norton. When your big screen debut
starts with being brought out in a pair of shorts and having an older German
woman stick her hand down the front of your pants, this is the least of what
you've earned for sticking it out.

His initial encounters are among some of the better parts of the movie. He's
doing allright, but there are several moments that make him question just how
much he might be compromising himself as a black man by becoming friendly with
his owners (many of these coming care of one of the other slaves, the older,
more cynical, Agamemnon, played by Richard Ward.) Things only make a turn one
day when Mede gets into a fight with another slave.

(and anyone who finds themselves humming the theme, you're a horrible person,
just like me.)

Suffice it to say, this catches the attention of not only the Maxwells, but
also another slave owner, who finds Mede to be one bad mother--OK, I'll refrain
from the bad Shaft joke here...I swear.

Anyways, he informs the Maxwells of a specialized sort of fight club that
goes on where slaveowners send their slaves against one another in hand to hand

So we're all clear on the rules here...
First person to bring up the rules of fight club gets a lynchin'!

Anyway, as it wouldn't do at all for him to get eliminated halfway through
the movie, Mede does well in his fight. In fact, he completely, literally, kills
his opponent. More importantly, as this fight goes down, we see one of those
rare cases of the white people in this movie actually having decent development.
While Warren still remains ever the racist bastard we all know and... ...
...accept?... Hammond shows visible concern for Mede's welfare in the fight,
even telling them to call off the fight when things aren't looking so good for
the guy.

But that's not the end of the violence, kids!

While Mede's off kicking ass in the Dixieland kumite, back at home, Blanche
is...well...let's be perfectly honest, Blanche is going a wee bit nutters. You
see, unable to properly reconcile with the fact he wasn't the first person she
ever slept with, Hammond hasn't been on the best of terms with Blanche. In fact,
he's actually, in turn, been on much more amicable terms with Ellen, whose
currently carrying his baby (you can hear the soap opera music already.) Of
course, this isn't exactly a deep kept secret. As a result, Blanche takes out
her own hostilities on poor Ellen.

Screaming curses and beating a pregnant woman...
Now why Hammond wouldn't want this, I have absolutely NO idea, do you?

Flash forward to the next day as the team returns with an injured, but
triumphant, Mede. Hammond is looking forward to seeing both his wife and his
lover and has brought gifts back for the both of them...this is the moment where
he learns the hard way that, just cause society isn't gonna tell him 'no'
doesn't necessarily mean it's a good idea to try and balance multiple women at
once...doubly so when one is about as mentally balanced as a half-played game of

To Blanche's surprise, she's the one that gets chewed out for savagely
beating a pregnant woman...oh, the injustice of it all!

Anyways, Warren has a profound heart-to-heart with both his daughter in law
and his own son. His stance is quite clear: he's not sure what went on, but
Goddamit, he wants a grandson to carry on the legacy!

This is...probably one of the best and worst moments of the entire movie,
really, and one of the culminations of the 'yes, this IS James Mason' moments in
his little pep talk with Blanche. I was tempted to just put up the entire
conversation, but as I'm sure you're all busier than I (depressing as that is to
admit) I've boiled it down to probably one of the finest gems of the scene.

That's the one thing I always love about James Mason...everything he does
just oozes class!

In the aftermath of the charming 'Father Knows Best' moment, Hammond tries
his own hand at smoothing things over by giving his wife her present of rubies.

It's kind of like one of those DeBeers ads...
except I don't think those include a prologue with the woman savagely beating
the husband's mistress.

It's now a bit later and things are all sunshine and lollipops again...
...and slaves...almost forgot the slaves.

Hammond's away on some business transferring some of the slaves (as well as
promising Ellen he has no intention of selling off their child. It's...I suppose
it could be seen as one of those moments that makes you go 'awwww'...after
which, you stop and go '...wait a second.')

While he's away, Blanche returns to sociopath mode with a vengeance. Feeling
unfulfilled by her own husband, she decides to beat him at his own game by
sleeping with Mede herself.

'But wait a minute' you stop to wonder 'Mede respects Hammond, why would he
do that?'

Well, that's a very good question, dear reader! One even Mede seems to wonder
about...but that's why Blanche has her sociopath mode. After some good natured
blackmail (no pun intended...I swear to God, Jesus, and all 12 apostles!) she's
managed to get Mede to hit the sheets with her. From the look on her face, she
seems to be enjoying it. I'd like to believe he at least is as well, but we
never really get to see his face...more often, the camera seems focused on
Blanche's own 'kind of somewhere between ecstasy and insanity' face.

Mede looking guilty.
I can't say I blame him...sleeping with the boss's wife is one thing...
but when said wife is prone to violent outbursts and sociopathic behavior...poor
guy can't catch a break, can he?

Anyways, jump ahead around nine months or so ( can see where this is
headed already, I'm sure.)

Blanche is in labor and everyone's awaiting the bouncing new heir of the
Maxwell estate...oh, are they in for a surprise. Sure enough, the child that
comes out is a healthy, lively little mulatto.

Unfortunately, the kid makes the mistake of arriving just as the film
completely goes to Hell.

Luckily, he's not in long (I won't go into details so as to leave you all
SOME reason to see this) and all of Hammond's seemingly human behavior flies
right out the window. For a man who has, throughout this movie, shown varying
degrees of compassion to the slaves, and even friendship to Mede, his reversal
into full blown racist jerk feels like someone just flipped a switch. It's a
development that, honestly, feels like it could have actually been a good
element in the script with more lead in to it (especially given the fact that
this twist is supposed to help remind Mede that, in the end, he's still going to
only be treated as just another slave.) Instead, it just feels like they
realized they were running out of time and needed to speed the film to wrap
things up.

Which, of course, seems to also explain the finale that, honestly, has to be
seen to be truly believed. Without trying to cheapen it with descriptions, let's
just say it involves a giant pot of boiling water, a pitchfork, a rifle, and
Agamemnon getting to do something that this reviewer was kind of waiting to see
happen for the entire movie.

OK, THAT we can show you.

Partially because James Mason deserves some sort of prize for the best/worst
last words ever.

The moral of this scene, well, there's a lot one could plumb from this entire
bizarre finale, but this last part is best summed up with 'When confronted with
a clearly distraught man with a gun, racially baiting him is probably NOT a good

Honestly, the more I look at this film, the more it really DOES feel like two
different films. Like stated above, the film seems to alternate between Mede's
own moments of questioning his role in this society as a black man. These scenes
are, perhaps nothing award winning, but actually relatively well written, and
sport some good acting (mostly pertaining to Ken Norton and Richard Ward, the
latter acting as a sort of racial Jiminy Cricket to Norton. Not to be taken as a
slam, actually, Ward is one of the people who actually carries his role pretty
well, especially considering how often he kind of gets run over by other

The plots involving the Maxwells however...while I realize elements of their
lives are certainly things that are considered commonplace in the time period,
the fact is, between some of the dialogue (such as the above linked conversation
between James Mason and Susan George), the acting (...again, see above) and some
rather clumsy jumps in the screenplay resulting in certain characters'
evolutions feeling like they just woke up one day and went "You know...maybe
I'll try being a complete nut-job for a while...just to see what it's like!" all
conspire to REALLY undermine the movie. In fact, there's parts of the Maxwell
clan's saga that feel like they're bordering on camp, which just winds up making
it harder to take the scenes involving Mede and the other slaves seriously, much
as I honestly want to.

All things considered, this was a bit of an awkward start for this
theme...and one that I can't help but wonder about the production history of,
the more I look at it. For a source material adapted from both a novel and a
play, this movie feels strangely like it's fumbling for plot. I'm not sure if
that's from having too much to work with, or just gross departure from the text.

Granted, maybe I'm being a bit hard on this film, given there's a likelihood
this just hasn't aged as well as it probably could have. By the same token,
however, there may be a reason this one hasn't endured nearly as well as say,

In any event, it seems there WAS enough material and demand for a sequel
film... which, if you can believe it, we'll be covering for next week.

If you stuck with us through this bizarre journey into southern comfort,
please join us this coming weekend when we look at the lesser-known sequel,

...hopefully, it'll be a bit easier to take seriously

...and, ah what the Hell...once more, James Mason reminds you what not to do
when faced with a man with a gun

...really, this moment kind of speaks for itself

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Third Row - On Second Thought Ohata, Maybe You Should Let Cronenberg Handle the Intellectual Gore

Well readers (...all...two...maybe three of you? I can't tell, I
think there's someone hiding over there...) welcome back to the Third Row once

As some of you may have been aware...and likely not that broken up over...last
week we kind of welched out on our initial promise to give you the blood-soaked
sequel to M.D. Geist - DEATH FORCE.

Well, I did some conferring with the lawyers and it appears as though, flimsy as
it is, a blog entry DOES constitute a binding legal contract. I come before you once again, offering you all the old Gallagher-esque
protective tarp as we prepare to once again waltz into the bloodsoaked world of
director Koichi Ohata.

Now, for those of you who either never saw the first part, or who just can't be
frankly arsed to go back and read the first review (hey, I don't blame ya...)
we've been benevolent enough to bring you up to speed quickly (...but first, a
bang-up opening sequence in which a bunch of random survivors are savagely
murdered by killer machines...that apparently eat humans, and Geist arrives and
kills the machines... ...after everyone else is dead.)

...I'm not exactly seeing the logic in a doomsday weapon that runs on machines
hunting and eating humans. Wouldn't it be more efficient to just use that tank
that clearly has enough firepower to level humans in an instant?

...oh, who am I kidding? We already set the rule in part 1 that militaries in
this universe get their kills graded for style over efficiency.

OK, back to the story!

Here to explain the situation is a man who we chained to the front of a tank:

A man we chained to the front of a tank, ladies and gentlemen...

He'll be here all week, whether he wants to be or not.

Now then, with that, you just about know the score.

At the end of the last part,everyone's favorite murderous psychotic, the titular
Most Dangerous soldier, Geist, completely screwed the planet Jerra.

It's some time later and, as we can see, he's clearly not regretting his
decision. Quite the opposite. In fact, if anything, Geist seems to have become
even more of an asshole in this new Hell on Earth, using people as bait so he
can wage war against the vicious human hunting machines of the DEATH FORCE
( his credit, he DOES thank them for being such good sports...that's gotta
count for something, right? Right?)

Our 'hero' play in the ashes of the world he flushed in the
first one for the sheer Hell of it.
You can just hear the triumphant fanfare as he walks off to right the wrongs and
slaughter the innocent!

We're next treated to an opening montage and narrative crawl that explains what
we were already prettymuch able to gather. The machines of the DEATH FORCE now
rule the planet are any and all remaining humans are just waiting to be hunted
and eaten.

...yessir, it's a pretty hard knock life.

Anyways...from here, we cut to another group of survivors. No sense getting
attached since we all know where they're headed. All that really separates this
group from the last are two things:

1) Well I'll be damned, there ARE children on Jerra afterall

2) Vaiya's back...and wow...actually dressed this time.

Don't ask how she survived, they're never gonna explain.
But, for your entertainment, she WILL go insane at least three times before this
is over!

Seems they're part of a group of survivors that have taken to
scavenging in cities for supplies.

As they search, an old man talks about a last stronghold of survivors out there
that can fight back against the machines...everyone blows him off, which means
you KNOW it's gonna be foreshadowing.

As is the luck of the normal folk of Jerra, they're found by more machines and
slaughter commences in fairly short order.

Something about a robot piloting a machine that just feels pretty redundant
right here.
The more I look at it, the armies of Jerra put NO thought into this ultimate
weapon and just sort of pulled a bunch of ideas from a hat.

Just when things look darkest, and almost everyone except for Vaiya and the kid
are now dog food.

Look! Up in the sky!

It's a bird!

It's a plane!



Anyways, we find out their savior is Krauser, a strangely blue-skinned man who
is also part of the M.D. line of soldiers. It seems he's running the base of
survivors. They've managed to actually develop a passable living condition
(although they seem to be somewhere between a military force and a cult...the
latter only added to by Krauser's armor bleeding religious symbolism out every

We learn that the main reason they've been able to survive is thanks to a device

effectively, cloaks the presence of humans to the DEATH FORCE.

Krauser without his armor. This Smurfs remake's already off to a bad start.
...what? Somehow, an Avatar joke felt too easy.

Naturally, we quickly learn the reason Krauser was also in the MDS program. He's
a short-tempered, violent nut with a god complex. In short, he's Geist with an
ego in place of his bloodlust.

With the mention of Geist himself, the story begins to get disjointed again.
We're treated to an odd series of moments of people recalling Geist (first Vaiya,
who starts losing it as she remembers him more, and then the base's scientist,
Dr. Breston, who created the old Cap'n Killforfun.)

Working under Krauser's nose, Breston enlists Eagle, an earlier prototype cyborg,
to go outside of the base and bring him Geist. Why he wants the murderous
psychopath never quite seems clear.

Eagle. For a cast aside bastard child of technology, he may be the most
sympathetic being in this story. me. In this, that says a lot.

Rather than bother with a drawn out hunt, we just cut straight to Geist and
Eagle throwing down. All the while cut with scenes confirming to Krauser that
Geist still lives. As Geist takes Eagle to the cleaners, Krauser finds out about
Breston's plans, whilst flexing his own ego, and the sutures in Breston's skull.

So...amidst all the war and Hell, Eagle apparently finds Geist in one of the
only jungles left on a planet where everything else looks like either The Road
Warrior or Tattooine.

On the one hand, Eagle succeeds. On the other, he's intercepted by Krauser's
men, who trash him and take Geist back to the home base. As is customary when
traveling with Geist, things go bad quickly, and a DEATH FORCE robot slaughters
the guards, only to be stopped by Geist.

Back at base, Breston decides, once again, he's going to defy Krauser's orders
and keep Mr. "I Kill for Fun and I've Already Slaughtered the Planet" alive. |


Because he finds Geist more interesting than Krauser as far as a weapon.

...why do these guys never learn?

Rather than labor things down with exposition, Ohata just cuts straight to the
inevitable so we can get right back to the violence. Geist somehow escapes and
begins, yet again, killing everything in his path.

While it's hard to hear, if you listen carefully in this scene, you can pick
up a heartfelt monologue from Geist about why he fights as he chews on this
man's trachea.

Said rampage is, by this point, fairly standard. Geist butchers
everything that crosses his path. It's entertaining at first, but let's face it,
after a while, it just lacks the zing.

Realizing we might be getting bored with the one-sided slaughter, Krauser goes
down to face Geist himself. It turns into a battle of Geist's bloodthirst
against Krauser's ego... ...again.

On the plus side, we FINALLY get a break in Vaiya's plotline.

She finally remembers Geist...

...oh does she ever...

she immediately calls for Krauser to kill him.

With his followers cheering him, Krauser beats the piss out of Geist. Despite
his assertions, however, he hasn't killed him (something only confirmed by Vaiya,
who's now declared quite insane.)

Krauser, meanwhile, now conspires with survivors from the army to finally put a
stop to the DEATH FORCE with a plan that's...well...for the military minds of
this universe, it's amost too easy:

lure all the machines into one city and then nuke them.

Seriously? Wouldn't this have been the smarter move for their doomsday
weapons in the first place?
I mean, if you're gonna wipe out all life on the planet, might as well go all in
or not bother.

...of course, because this WOULD be too easy, it's revealed the bomb itself
requires several pieces which need to be set off manually.

Honestly...there's just no sense of efficiency with these people.

Anyways, just to further make this plan more complicated, Eagle decides he's
gonna help our favorite murderous slaughter factory. Seems years of working for
normal people has made him bitter and downright vengeful (...actually, in this
universe, I can't blame him. Hell, he's the one person in this futuristic
abbatoir whose mindset actually feels relatable.)

Kids, take the next bus out of state, Daddy's back and he found the gun

Sure enough, Geist arrives in the middle of the bomb setting, and now he wants a

Much like the last film, this is the token 'Everyone else gets savagely
murdered' sequence.

Of course, to make it more interesting, Geist is now using one of the lures to
lead the DEATH FORCE out of the city and towards Krauser's base.

You know how it long as it's breathing, Geist can't let it go.

No sense doing a blow-for-blow on what follows since we all know where it's

Shit goes down in almost every possible fashion. Vaiya, once again, manages to
survive (you were doing well for a while Eagle, then you went and spared
her...well...I suppose one mistake's fine.)

As everyone gets killed, Geist and Krauser wail on one another. As Krauser
prepares to strike the final blow, his followers all flock to him, as he's
undone by a dramatic twist that's as fittingly ironic as it is hilarious. Krauser's aim is that bad, or that kid could REALLY jump, but he
to somehow manage to catch the kid in the chest at THAT height is a Hell of a

What's sad is...that's prettymuch the ending for this. Krauser's base burns,
Krauser himself is

killed, and we see a few of the stray survivors, including Vaiya and Eagle.

Roll credits.

Inevitable sting image to suggest there's hope for a sequel (even though we know
that's not gonna happen now.)

You know...on rewatching this, I have to say...honestly, this wasn't as amusing
as I initially remember.

Don't get me wrong, it has some great 'so bad, it's funny' moments (see above.)

At the same time though, there's a lot less of that 'fast and loose' feeling
that made the first one feel like such a comedically fun action send-up (even if
it wasn't meant to be.)

To his credit, Ohata HAS gotten visibly better at trying to convey a message
this time around.

...unfortunately, many of his old flaws still dog him after the years between
the two installments. The narration is still disjointed and has many awkward
time skips in its rush to get to the next action sequence. The cast are still
largely just talking heads to die painfully, except this time we're given even
LESS reason to care about most of them.

Now, as said, this time around, Ohata is a bit more on-point with trying to make
a message. Krauser and his whole army of followers are a pretty strong jab at
religion. Unfortunately, thanks to all the other shortcomings of the production,
the message comes across as very hollow.

It's not preachy, I'll give it that, but it feels out of place here. This mostly
comes from the fact that, like the first movie's message, it is all too
regularly forgotten under the

trappings of the next wave of blood and guts.

I said it last time, I'll say it again. On the one hand, I want to commend Ohata
for trying to make some science fiction with a brain. Unfortunately, he's still
a very visually minded director, and as a result, any message he wants to try
and convey here is all but guaranteed to be lost in the sound, the fury, and the

...especially the blood.

DEATH FORCE isn't without its upsides at least.

Thanks to the extra funding provided by US Manga Corps (who, for the record,
have recently gone under, which, sorry to say, eliminates any chance for another
sequel) the animation looks considerably better than the first part.

Most of the time, anyways (there's still a few sequences, such as Krauser's
questioning Vaiya about where she's seen the MDS dogtags before, where the
animators cut some corners, resulting in the whole scene being done in sort of
time lapse still frames and voice over.)

Also, in this case, I'd say watch either language. The dub is still pretty bad,
but without the already over the top nature the first one had, the generally bad
performances don't seem to add quite as much to the effect. So really, this
one's up to your own judgement.

Really, if you enjoyed the carnage from the first movie...and, let's face it, if
you bought this, you probably got the second part anyways since they're on the
same disc. It's worth watching this.

It's nowhere near as entertaining and its message while more clear spoken feels
less like it belongs, but it still has some nice bits of sick humor peppered
throughout (all unintentionally), and at only around 45 minutes, you could do a
lot worse things to yourself.

Well, that concludes this week's edition of the third row.

You guys tread carefully on the way out while I mop up the blood.

See you again next week when we run with a relatively less violent title (I
know, I know...where's the fun in that?

Humor me here.)

M.D. Geist will be back in Thunderball... ...OK, probably not.