Every Wednesday and Friday
This may be the first time in a Jackson Film that I literally don’t have a clue what I’m looking at . A figure clad in black, with one of the pointy Roller Blade hoods dances in front of a yellow tent. No, not a tent, a teepee; complete with Native American drawings on the sides. he’s got a purple cape on and a bow in one hand and dances in a manner that, given the context, feels like a medicine man dancing to bring rain or end a curse.
We go to quick cuts. Flashes of images. A plastic smiley face. A robotic Groucho Marx (We’ll see more of him later – this prop actually gets his own credit at the end . Another static puppet- a classic Jackson flourish). An attractive young African American woman comes in, addressing a penitent monk named Cruisader Blade .
“My name is sister Valjean. I was sent here by the cosmic order of Roller Blade to help”
Oh my God. This is another Roller Blade movie isn’t it? And not just a Roller Blade movie, it’s a Black Roller Blade movie. It’s unclear exactly when this was filmed, definitely sometime around 1999. It’s likely it was around the same time as Legend of the Dead Boyz, since it shares much of the same cast. Cruisader Blade is John Duvernay, a holdover from Deadboyz in his only other film role. I recognize the Blade sisters we are about to meet as the Church ladies from that film
Sister Valjean hands Cruisader Blade her sword, and removes her hood, then begins to dance. Like the Roller Blader, It all has the feel of a medicine man’s rain dance. The man in the monks robe looks on, a large gun by his side.
We flash back to the figure at the tent – I’m wondering is this is a god of some sort. It’s never quite spelled out, though she’ll be out there fighting on Roller Blades later on, like one of the Roller Blade Warrior nuns from the previous films. They were never masked like this though. There’s no clear name in the credits, so we’ll refer to her as the Roller Blader.
Cruisader Blade is transformed in his mind – a smiley face bandana and John Lennon sunglasses, a black coat over a purple shirt and he dances with the Roller Blader as bogos play in the distance.
In another place, a couple embraces under a strobe light, traveling through time in a magical teepee. This is the Pharaoh – the villain of the piece (at least that’s how they talk about him) Their destination, is Los Angeles. The Pharaoh is played by Jimmy Jean-Louis, one of the more accomplished actors of the piece. You may have seen his ripped physique is films like Hollywood Homicide, Monster In Law and Tears of the Sun. Most recently he’s done several episodes of Arrow, as well as a bunch of other TV, but when this movie was shot, his filmography consisted mostly of a handfull of Emanuelle movies. He’d also play the Pharaoh in the unreleased “Blade Sisters”.
We cut away.
“Baby Blade sent you here to save our new order – the cosmic order of the Roller Blade from the evil Pharaoh”
Cruisader Blade prays in the presence of a child an several young women in cloaks. They are the Blade sisters. They draw their power from the kids, baby blade and bo blade.
“I don’t want to fight a Pharaoh,” one protests. “I don’t have any powers!”
Cruisader Blade tells her she has cat senses, and the sisters have their will. This particular sister is not from their world, and all she wants to do is go home. She scoffs as the others pray.
“You must go on a journey through this land.” He warns them, reassuring the sisters that if they get in trouble, he’ll send Baby Blade to help. He then gives a very familiar warning;
“You will meet angels and you will meet demons. But beware, sometimes, they are one in the same.”
For the first time in any of Jackson’s films, I actually hear someone, the scoffer girl, question this philosophy.
“And how are we supposed to be able to tell the diffrence?”
From the inside he replies. – the positive energy.
“May the happy face bring the power and focus to all of us”
We cut to a sillouette of the Blade sisters and Baby Blade as they head into the wastes around L.A. We get quick cuts of the Pharaoh and his woman from the teepee (along with some stage directions that didn’t get muted out) looking out towards the camera, similar to the guardian angels in Legend of the Dead Boyz. Elsewhere, the Roller Blader plots and Cruisader Blade contemplates. Both stare at a roatating disco light.
Arriving at a roadside, the Balde sisters thumb a ride into the city. They are trying to get to the sanctuary where they will perform a ritual. We know all of this because the Blade Sister Mystic chatters on incessantly to the poor schulb who had the bad luck to pick them up.
Cruisader Blade watches them on the rotating disco lightball he referred to as his “crystal ball”. The metal Groucho Marx doll sits next to him. The Blade sisters’ car rolls through the night city and we flash back to more dancing in front of the yellow teepee. The disjointed nature of the scenes provides interesting imagery but makes the story hard to follow.
Suddenly we cut to a fight in an abandoned parking lot. Bandanna and the faceless Roller Blader with her katana leap into action. One of the attackers jumps on a motorcycle and jets, the Roller Blader pursues him on her roller blades. Or perhaps it’s the other way around, In a narrow alleyway, the luchadore masked cyclists traps the Roller Blader and they fight. She knocks him down and we cut back to the swirling (not a) crystal ball. More quick cuts under bongo music as bandana hypnotizes one of the attackers. The motorcycle returns and she jumps on the back, escaping just as the Roller Blader arrives with her sword. We cut to a sword fight – a blade sister versus a man in a gold mask. He kicks and presses the attack, pinning her to a chain link fence, the sword edge at her throat. Bandanna appears from behind and with a touch, Gold mask falls. The Roller Blader skates in circles around him, kicking him down as he ties to get to his feet. He reaches for his sword, but the Roller Blader seizes it. Suddenly a Ninja runs up! He kicks the Roller Blader down and runs off with Gold Mask on his shoulders. Bandana comes an heals the Roller Blader, and they head out to go stare at the (not a) crystal ball.
In the wilderness the ninja swings his sword as the Pharaoh and his consort from the teepee look on and kiss. (I can see a sliver of white skin that ninja by the way, it’s a safe bet that it’s Scott Shaw under that plague mask, doing the sword work). He starts to fight another black suited man in the same mask. It’s impossible to tell which is which (unless its a metaphor for fighting with yourself). We cut to another part of the wilderness as the Blade sisters wander. They find the sanctuary where they will preform the ceremony that will protect them. It’s still in the distance tough. They hope to reach it by nightfall and get to hiking. The rough terrain makes it hard in those high heels.
More ninja fights and bongos as the Blade Sisters draw closer and the Pharaoh watchs on.
By a brook, a lone swordswoman sits. This is the lost Blade Sister, Toledo Blade. She is stalked by an orange ninja in a luchador mask and his dark companion in the plague mask. He gets up and starts to wander through the brush, searching for her horse as the guardians look on. Toledo Blade pushes RoboMarx – (Actually the false prophet Elija who has led Sister Toledo astray – no, really) in a high tech shopping cart by a polluted river.
Meanwhile the other Blade sisters are captured by a laughing maniac in a top hat and his ninja sidekick – the Crow Ninjas! The Blade Sister Mystic arrives to save them, but ends up as just another prisoner. In the cell, the Blade sisters bicker. We get some exposition that the skeptical sister apparently summoned the there blade sisters when she was on her computer searching for a cure to Y2k. It’s all beside the point. They need to find Toledo. The Blade sisters won’t have true power until all three are reunited.
Toledo for her part, is searching for her sisters as well, even as she runs into the french speaking Pharaoh . He asks her to come with him.
“Do you really think I could come with you? You stole the only thing that matter to me! The only man I ever loved…you took his life!”
She continues to wander, trying to figure out who summoned her, and what this Y2K thing is (Considering this didn’t get released until 2008, all the Y2K references not only date it, but now feel quite ridiculous). If she could just contact the mystic,it’d all make sense. Meanwhile the sisters are tied up because one tried to escape between scenes (we don’t see it, we just hear about it) Now they are hoping that Toledo will rescue them.
The Crow ninjas come to harass them when suddenly Toledo arrives out of nowhere, in all her violent spandex glory. She lays a beatdown on the ninjas and frees the sisters.
“We can work it out but you’re going to follow me” Toledo declares.
Baby Blade watches the (not a) crystal ball. the Pharaoh and his woman hold each other in the teepee. Smoke rises behind them, engulfing them.
It ends with familiar images. The Roller Blader dancing in front to the teepee, the blade sisters in prayer.
This is one of my more artsy passes, but the slightly punk nature of the 90’s vertigo series lends itself to it nicely I think.
The Rock ‘n Roll Cops is confusing right from the word go because there’s a bunch of different versions of it. At least three, as well as a whole different movie by the same name. Actually both names.
Confused yet? You see it starts with Jackson, for whatever reason, not getting the footage into Scott Shaw’s hands… I’d better let Shaw explain.
“Though Don and I talked about the film over the next few years, as I never had the footage, there was nothing I could do to make it become a film.
In 2002, I was teaching a class at U.C.L.A, The Art of Independent Filmmaking, and I got to be friends with one of my students, Rich Magram. A great guy, we decided to make a film together.
For that film, what I hoped to embrace was that same feeling of the TV show, Cops that I hoped to capture with the original Rock ‘n Roll Cops. I wanted it to be in your face cinematography. As I believed I would never possess the footage for the original Rock ‘n Roll Cops, I titled this new film, Rock n’ Roll Cops. We shot it very documentary style like I had hoped to do with the original film. Filmed and edited, it was then released.
Very soon after this, in 2003, Don became very ill and asked me to take him to the hospital. His time was almost up. Knowing this, and knowing that I was the only one who would keep his filmmaking legacy alive, he made sure that his wife gave me all of the footage to all of his and our movies. There were literally hundreds of hours of uncut footage. Immediately, I located the Rock ‘n Roll Cops footage and began editing the movie. But, Don passed away before I could finish.”
That explains the two different films, but with the rise of DVD Shaw began looking at those old VHS editions and decided it was time to retitle and release the two films in the proper order. Rock n Roll Cops became Hollywood P.D. Undercover and Rock n’ Roll Cops 2: The Adventure Begins, became The Rock n’ Roll Cops.
On top of that, there’s also a “lite” version, with less nudity and cut down a bit. That’s the version that was on Prime to rent. Of course, IMDB lists them as their original titles which only confuse things further. So for the record, we’re talking about the movie IMDB lists as “Rock n’ Roll Cops 2: The Adventure Begins” (Which is actually the first film that is currently in release as “Rock n” Roll Cops”). If you’re confused, look to make sure Donald G. Jackson is in the cast.
That’s right. I said “cast”. Not “director”.
“Due to Don’s feelings about financing the films of other people, it came as kind of a shock to me when he told me he wanted to do my film, The Rock n’ Roll Cops. I had previously told him about my idea for the film and he brought it up one day when we were having lunch out of nowhere. We certainly had co-directed several films together, but when he asked me to solo direct this film with him shooting it, I was very surprised. Though knowing Don as I did, I knew it was not going to be as simple as all that. ”
Shaw was correct. Don’s behavior on Rock n’ Roll Cops was far more abnormal than usual, exaggerating his worse traits.
“It was during this period that I really began to witness a shift in Don. Anger could be seen brewing in his eyes. ”
It began benignly enough. Jackson started playing games with people. Even his investors.
“one of the high-end money people came over to our production offices to discuss possibly financing a film. At that time, Don was very interested in getting the bumpers of his ’62 Plymouth Belvedere powder coated. Instead of even talking to the guy he let him sit there as he made phone call after phone call discussing the powder coating process.”
But soon, those eccentricities would coalesce into angry outbursts and a tendency to ride his crew extremely hard. While the crew was shooting the opening scenes of Rock ‘n Roll Cops with the vampire in the armorer’s shop Jackson kept on one particular PA. While prepping him as an extra for a scene, Jackson ended up frustrating the PA so much that the man ripped off the armor the crew was dressing him in and stormed off the set topless. Unfortunately, he stormed off in the wrong direction and ended up In the back of the show where there was no exit. An hour later, he ended up stomping through the middle of production, still shirtless, as he exited into the winter night.
Robert Z’Dar spent a harrowing night on the wrong side of Jackson’s anger as they shot scenes at a large parking complex. It was well past midnight and they had completed their shoot at that location and Jackson was hungry, so the group of them ran over to the nearby Denny’s. He was feeling bad about how much he’d been berating Z’Dar and offered to buy dinner. Z’Dar said he just wanted some fries. Jackson waved a waiter over and declared “Give him three plates of fries!”. He then proceeded to order a grilled cheese sandwich for himself. When the food arrived, Jackson discovered a tomato on his sandwich. He seized the plate and flung it across the room.
Then there was the night they were shooting at Jay Burgers. This was a public burger stand (it’s gone now), on the wrong side of the tracks, over in East Hollywood. A lot of gangbangers hung out there. It wasn’t turf though. Most of the gangsters in this situation were willing to ignore you as long as you didn’t come at them. There was what Shaw describes as a young gangbanger with a couple of friends hanging out at the burger joint. Don began hassling them, as he shot. He screamed at them to shut the fuck up and get the fuck out of the shot. The gangstas rose from their seats with hands reaching for their guns. Don had started packing recently (due to threats on his life) but didn’t have his weapon on him that night and stopped production to apologize. He offered a handshake. The gangsters just stared at him and then went back to their business. Everyone let loose a sigh of relief.
For some of the final scenes shot on the film, veteran actor William Smith was scheduled to film at a local hotel. He arrived with his girlfriend, (who would later become his wife) and it set Jackson off. He insisted that she had to leave. Bill goes into the bedroom of the suite, where Don was getting the camera ready, and put him in a chokehold. The girlfriend stayed, hanging out in the hotel bar.
Somehow, the film got made. So, what did it end up looking like?
I kind of dig the opening shot of a vampire coming at the neck of what looks like a Barbarian Queen. It takes place at the shop where Jackson and Shaw had gotten armor for other films like Big Sister 2000 (Julie Strain wears this very set on the cover). Scott Shaw shows up with his partner as the rock ‘n’ roll cops from the boogie-woogie division (Yes, that’s actually how they identify themselves).
“We are here to investigate the decapitation”
“Who was decapitated?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
They’re also looking for the man who makes the “D cappuccino”.
“Did you see any strange people coming to the shop – besides yourself?”
“There was a tall oriental fella…”
“Did he talk like this? Hang chang toy!” (David Heavener would be crucified for that stereotypical imitation today)
They take a knife from the shop (as evidence I suppose) and the vampire gets back to business. If this is what I’m in for, I’m not sure what to think – I’m really digging the puns though. We’ll get more of them as the movie goes on, but not as many as I like.
Outside, a ponytail kid attempts to steal Bonzirelli’s car. Scott Shaw leaps on top of the car in slow motion (The car itself is driving at a crawl, that’s the reason for the slow motion) and rolls off. He jumps into his Porsche and screams off in the hot pursuit as the opening credits roll.
While I’ve been critical in the past of Jackson’s ability to film exciting action sequences, the car chase is actually pretty competently filmed with good coverage and interesting angles. That shouldn’t come as such a surprise, Shaw recalls Jackson doing more than thirty takes on it. Indeed, it goes on so long, that the day stretches to night. You’ll see the sky going from daytime on the outside of the cars to night time during the interior shots of the drivers.
Scott Shaw’s character of Jake Blade (yeah, I can’t take that name seriously either. I suppose it’s better than his partner “Bonzarelli”. Nevertheless, we’ll just keep referring to him as Scott Shaw, shall we? ) grabs the thief, beat him up and toss him into a swimming pool. Afterward, Shaw’s lieutenant comes to chew him out for his excessive use of force.
“You’re a little wet behind the collar, huh?”
“Well, it is raining!”
The rain wasn’t planned, by the way. It just happened to be raining when they were setting up the scene so Shaw and Jackson decided to use it. Shaw got so soaked he had to stop at a department store for dry clothes before heading out to the next location. It’s interesting to notice that Shaw is wearing a “Guns of El Chupacabra” hat. The detective’s partner will later on complain about the hat and make him take it off… It’s the weirdest thing.
Jackson himself shows up as the Commissioner of police consulting with Shaw at a hamburger joint. It’s not just an assignment, its also a shakedown. Shaw tells him he picked up his last prescription, and Jackson complains he is in a lot of pain. This is eerie to me because at this point, Jackson’s leukemia was in its more advanced stages. Medication had destroyed the cartilage in his hip, causing him to walk with the cane we see in the film. He was on a lot of Vicodin, and indeed in a lot of pain and Shaw was actually doing just the sort of thing, getting prescriptions and things for him. I’m unnerved that they decided to use Jackson’s real-life suffering and immortalize it in the film.
Jackson gives Shaw an assignment, and he asks what’s in it for him (I’m getting some deja vu back to Guns of El Chupacabra). Jackson says he’ll give him the world, and then actually holds up an inflatable globe. Jackson also threatens him that if he fails, he’ll do this to his head -then crashes the inflatable globe.
Shaw and his partner pick up a couple of hookers in a limo and question them. Back at the vampire’s weapons shop, he and his Barbarian Queen are getting a little busy. We get another quick insert of Julie strain in chains on the couch under heavy-metal posters. These are the kinds of scenes that were trimmed for the “Lite” edition, cutting out nudity to make this a little more acceptable for release on certain platforms like Amazon Prime and Jackson’s backroom screenings at home over in Michigan.
Back to the cops harassing a Russian pimp.
They deliver a beat down on the pimp to get some information, then head out for burgers at a greasy self-serve place. They talk about girls, vegan food and the fact that Shaw needs a haircut.
“I got a haircut, it grew back.”
Their meal is broken up by a stool pigeon butting in. He tries to shake them down for a payoff.
“Maybe give me a couple hundred bucks…”
Shaw grabs him and slams him down onto the table
“Yeah, I’ll give you a hundred bucks and then I’ll kill you afterward!”
There is a third character in this scene too! A boom mike keeps dropping in the frame and is impossible to miss, that is if you’re not distracted by Jackson’s frequent reflection in the store window behind the actors.
The police chief catches up with them to complain again about them using excessive force on their witnesses. “I want to see some changes, and I want to see them on my desk tomorrow morning!”
The cops go and find someone else to harass, Bobby the Monk who they pull out of his car. He tells them that Robbie is hiding out of the seasons. Turns out, Robbie is a girl, and we find her swimming in a pool (fun fact, It’s the pool at Kevin Eastman and Julie Strain’s house. And the same one Shaw tossed the car thief into at the beginning of the film)They question her, searching for the name of Mr Big.
“Listen toots! We can do this easier we can do this hard!”
After they get the name, the picture shifts to widescreen for a couple minutes (So I guess we’re doing this the hard way) before we suddenly transition to a complete non-sequitur with the cops and one of their friends sitting watching a stripper by the pool. I’m not even sure what’s going on there… It’s actually a relief when we cut to the parking lot at night with a Corvette pulling up to the German pimp again. The pimp claims he’s gone straight and insists now that he only sells watches.
“Oh! A Jeweler?”
“No, I’m Catholic!”
The German is delivered another beat down with Shaw showing off his roundhouse skills, then the pair head off in search of a pizza with vegetarian anchovies. Jackson pulls up behind them shaking them down for drugs again. They don’t have any.
“I have some cashews here sir,” Banzirelli offers. “They won’t ease the pain but they’ll make you fat….” That satisfies Jackson who wants them to contact him the next time they make a bust and score some speed or something. He’s going to need some.
The Rock n’ Roll Cops go out and find Charlie, the car thief from the beginning of the film. It’s time for another beat down.
“Didn’t that king fu shit it go out in the 80s?” Charlie protests. It’s enough for him to remember the general location of Mr. Big.
The investigation’s taken too long though. Bonzerelli has been up for four days straight and is starting to hallucinate as they drive in the car. Shaw himself has a devastating secret – he’s already in business with Mr. Rinaldi (I think he is anyhow. Nothing ever comes of it and by the end of the film, Jackson and Shaw seem to have forgotten about this altogether). He heads over to see him for advice as his partner is wheeled through the dimly lit hallways of a mental hospital by two nurses. If the scene looks familiar, it should. It was filmed at Los Angeles Union Station, the same place Jackson filmed several of the monastery scenes in The Roller Blade Seven.
Jackson comes back and introduces Shaw to his new partner, a stunning blonde named Kelly, just before shaking him down for some prescription drugs.
“You’re not as cute as my last partner but you deafly better kisser…”
“I’m definitely cuter than your last partner!”
She takes to the excessive force right away, knocking down still pigeon Bobby before they even exit the stairwell. While Shaw and his new partner are beating up witnesses, Jackson is confronting Ranalli. meanwhile, Robert sirdar tries to seduce Shaw new partner…
“What a nice girl like you doing with a cop like Jake? “
“He’s a rock ‘n’ roll cop! Like me! “
Z’Dar is undaunted and offers to take her to the movies – a double feature with “The Roller Blade Seven” and “Hell Comes to Frogtown 2”!
After a brief monologue from Mr. Big Rinaldi, we cut to Shaw playing some guitar and shredding against a police “do not cross the line”… I guess this is where he gets the name rock ‘n’ roll cop from. Elsewhere, his new partner Kelly has been captured and tied to a chair as a weirdo in a D.A.R.E. (to keep kids off drugs) shirt and rollerblades in circles around her occasionally beating the poor woman with a short whip or riding crop.
Shaw and his old partner come to rescue her in the weirdest, most anticlimactic rescue I’ve ever seen. Bonzarelli explains that he spent four months in the nuthouse. Much more time must have passed than it appears. Shaw must’ve been playing guitar all that time.
The rollerblader comes out to attack Bonzirelli, and we actually get a bit of a scuffle here. The camera zooms in and out to add an additional sense of movement, occasionally missing shots but generally capturing the feel of the fight. Elsewhere, Bobby the Monk is setting up an ambush with his Uzi and executes rollerblade boy.
The cops pull up to the stakeout Rinaldi’s hotel room. Bonzerelli pulls out his phone to talk to the police chief while Shaw gets busy with Kelly in the back seat. Up in the hotel room, Jackson does his best to intimidate Ranaldi by repeatedly removing his glasses and staring long and hard at him.
Shaw and Kelly wait out in the lobby of the hotel where Shaw discovers Kelly has been infiltrating Ranaldi‘s organization for a while, starting at a strip club. They flirt and Shaw wonders what happened between her and the dark. The elevator ride ends with a contrived looking kiss. We shift to Rinaldi’s hotel room where Kelly is schmoozing with him over drinks. It doesn’t work, Rinaldi spots her as a cop, whips out his gun and executes her. Shaw is right behind her, with a bullet for Ranaldi as well.
We find ourself back in Shaw’s Porsche as the sun sets into night and the film fades out to black
“Don and I always felt we made two masterpieces as a team: The Roller Blade Seven and Guns of El Chupacabra. But, I would add The Rock n’ Roll Cops to that list. Even though it was a crazy, mind-bending experience due to the behavior of Don it, none-the-less, is a true embodiment of Zen Filmmaking.”
Shaw’s idea was to film it handheld, with an almost shaky-cam look; similar to shows like COPS.
“For the camera, we used the then, just on the market, Sony VX1000, Mini DV Camcorder. For the sound, we used a Sennheiser ME66 Microphone, predominately on a pistol grip, plus clip-on lavaliere microphones for many of the dialogue scenes.”
The format was suddenly becoming popular. At one point Shaw and Jackson ran out of the mini DV tapes this camera used and ended up driving all over Hollywood to find more stock. Every store had been bought out by another production team shooting at the same time.
The different format wouldn’t keep Jackson from obsessing over shots. Despite using the handheld camera, he would repeat shots, again and again, fine tuning until he got exactly the shot he was looking for. This, combined with using Jackson’s stock pool of players is why, in many ways, this still looks very like A Jackson film (and therefore merits coverage here), rather than a Scott Shaw Zen production.
Every Wednesday and Friday
It’s amazing how much this really FEELS like a Donald G. Jackson film. The improv, the crimped corners on the lens, the locations and the mild premise. It’s always weird to see a found footage film in the days before Blair Witch. They existed certainly, Cannibal Holocaust immediately comes to mind. But there’s a commitment to the casually shot found footage here than was present in Holocaust.
It’s interesting to note that this is billed as a Scott Shaw production. Shaw’s contribution is mostly in releasing the film (and thus trying to profit off it. Good job, you did get my $2.12 from Amazon prime rentals). He may have had a hand in some of the cutting of this VHS shot movie, but for this is really Donald Jackson’s show. It’s a lost film, shot in 1986, abandoned and then unearthed towards the end of Jackson’s life. Still, even though it was released in 2007, it’s definitely early (and therefore better) Jackson.
This psudeo-documentary starts off with a woman pleading with the camera for whomever is watching the video to help her find her lost daughter. It fades out and then switches to a girl in a towel “Susan” who is arguing with the camera operator “Jeff Nixon”. Jeff is a newspaper reporter, and she doesn’t want to help with whatever project he is on. Jeff for this part, is certain it’s his big opportunity to be rich and famous. Susan dosen’t care. She’s late to an audition and is mad.
Gunmen emerge from a car outside and try and break their way into the house. Susan and Jeff escape out to the garage in a cherry red classic Plymouth. Jerry suggests that these are government agents but they didn’t want to be seen shooting people on camera. (which is also a convenient excuse considering the production didn’t have any live ammo and didn’t want to draw attention to themselves by firing guns in the middle of Hollywood). He keeps the camera on the agents as they trail the car, which does nothing to improve Susan’s mood.
Jeff, still on scene, tell Susan a story about how he was at the park taking photos… The photos came out black, and it caught the attention of the agents who must’ve followed him there. Susan looks at him exasperated
“I don’t understand anything that’s going on!”. Join the club Susan, join the club.
They stop for fast food, giving the agents chance to catch up. They flee again in a scene that might be full of tension if it weren’t one continuous static shot. The car next arrives at a parking lot elevated above the street. It’s a great shot, with the fisheye lens now permanently affixed and beautiful lens flares that once again are messed up by losing the corners of the screen as well as sudden audio problems (The film is in a single channel – for instance if you are listening on headphones, you’ll only hear from one side).
The sound mix comes and goes, but we finally get a look at Jeff Hutchinson in the reflection of the shop door. The agents catch up with Jeff and Susan on an escalator and they’re forced to make a run for it. They find a fire escape and ascend to the roof of the building, with the camera firmly aimed at Susan’s tuchas. Presumably they shake off the agents before they return to the car. Their new destination is Rodriguez Rocks where Jeff had his UFO encounter. Jeff uses the rocks as a backdrop for his report, telling the audience that they’ve been pursued by gunman shooting at them trying to suppress the truth about UFOs.
“Um, no one actually shot at us.”
“They tried too! This has got to be exciting or it won’t make the news!”
Jeff and Susan explore the scenic locale, passing by a cave entrance that Jeff uses to deliver a tense report about his hidden evidence. He rolled back some rocks and digs in the dirt angrily searching then running off to another section of cable where he claims to have hidden a n alien artifact – a silver cylinder. It’s not there – the cylinder has obviously been removed. They rush off back to the car to hunt down more evidence. Susan is obviously humoring him at this point. There is a quick cameo from Roller Blade, as one of Jackson’s nuns skates passed the car across the crosswalk.
“What planet do you think she’s from? Hehe!”
They head out to find Jeff’s cameraman Sam – he always hangs out at the beach. The camera is just along for the ride, Jeff letting his arm hang down naturally (Messing again with the sound) and not even going to the viewfinder until we hit the waters edge. He hands it over to Susan and then inserts himself in the frame, trying to conversed with two beach goers. The man is Jed’s photographer, Sam. inside Sam’s home they have an impromptu conference, and Sam denies even being out with Jeff the previous night much less taking or having any photographs. Susan just sits in the corner and videotapes it all. It’s ironic watching Sam accuse Jeff of being high… Sam acts pretty intoxicated himself. Either way, it’s the first real taste of paranoia inserted.
Sam kicks Jeff and Sarah out when he realizes Jeff is recording the entire encounter. Back in the car, Jeff obsesses about the missing artifact, growing more and more agitated. Susan strips down to her bikini top while seductively eating a popsicle while Jeff Rambles about time traveling UFOs and conspiracies.
“Nothing about this is logical!” Susan says, and again, I can’t help but agree.
They head to Jeff’s office to retrieve his notes. They pull up to a beautiful Hollywood building, only to descend into the basement backdoor. In Jeff’s office he finds all his stuff has been cleared away. His editor Stu (who bears an uncanny resemblance to J. Jonah Jameson) demands to know where Jeff has been for the last three days (apparently he’s been missing, though that’s the first we’ve heard about it). The argument devolves into a fight with Susan cold cocking the editor as he chokes Jeff out and they’re back on the run.
They head back to Rodriguez rocks to try and find a witness, Delmore Osborne – the one who originally tipped Jeff off. He interviews Osborne, and discovers the UFO came back, suggesting the artifact Jeff is searching for was retrieved by the extra terrestrials. They climb the hill to search for the UFO landing site when suddenly…..CLIMAX!
There is almost a Blair witch meets the X-Files feel to the film. The whole lone investigator (reporter) with the camera heading out to look for something mysterious while battling the conspiracy. It could have worked with better sound mix and some pacing to add to the tension. It might also have benefited from a narration or wraparound sequence to explain what is happening (again, like Cannibal Holocaust did). It’s a fun ride, but an unpolished one.
Every Wednesday and Friday
Every Wednesday and Friday
Toad Warrior is the third entry in the Frogtown series. It comes at a time when Jackson had fully embraced the zen film making model and was almost exclusively using his cast of stock players. As such, it feels less like a Frogtown movie and more like a late career Jackson film. Not only is Jackson using his Maximo T Bird pseudonym, but he is crediting himself as the writer of the “scream play”
I fear for this film…
Once again, Max Hell retains the name but is a completely different character. This time played by Scott Shaw, he’s a sword wielding lone warrior, very reminiscent of Shaw’s Hawk from “The Roller Blade Seven”.
The film opens with as Max Hell sails over the desert in a parasail plane, over the heads of two Frog people before exiting the vehicle, samurai sword in hand. The toad people are obviously guys in leftover masks from the other films. There’s no attempt to even hid it. We see pink, human legs protruding from shorts, and Caucasian hands. It doesn’t help that these were among the last scenes to be shot, when the project was already running out of steam.
Shaw rescues a busty blonde, and the two leap into a passing pick up truck to try and escape, but one of the frogs gets in the bed and Shaw has to bear knuckle it out with him!
At this point I’m already checking my watch. 80 minutes, I think I can handle that.
Joe Estevez is a mob boss or loan shark of some sort who appears to be trying to extort one of the frog people. The frog boss hires Max Hell to go take Joe out. I Gotta admit, the banter between Shaw and Humphrey Bullfrog is a little fun – it almost feels like there may have been a partial script for this film despite being billed as a Zen film. Fun fact, Humphrey Bullfrog is working out of Donald Jackson’s actual studio office.
Mr. Big’s ninja henchmen kidnap the beautiful blonde scientist who is the only one who can transform frog DNA into human, and Shaw is off to rescue her.
This film actually seems to be very self-aware, and playing a lot of things for laughs… Part of me wants to make fun of the lounge singer girl crooning her rendition of “my kind of frog “, but it’s actually tradition at this point and it’s actually better than the bizarre musical numbers that showed up in the previous film. The fact that this movie seems to understand it’s kind of a joke makes it an easier pill to swallow somehow. This one takes place after the “frog was “ when the scientist unleashed the green plague and humanity.
It’s also notable that Scott Shaw delivers his dialogue far more convincingly here – it appears he’s actually got some acting chops that are properly showcased. It also actually ends up being a much better showcase for Scott Shaw’s martial arts skills than the Roller Blade films were.
The production quality however has sunk down into that $30,000 level that Jackson was making films for the time, and it really shows. It affects this film more than the reduced budget would with the Roller Blade movies. Those things NEVER had any money behind them so we were used to it. But Frogtown, particularly the first one was a reasonably high budget production at about eleven million dollars. For it to sink down to $30,000 really shows. Toad Warrior ends up feeling more like a fan film then a professional production, with things like a shot on Jackson’s favorite overpass above the busy 170 freeway. The cars showing up in the background undermines the whole post apocalyptic world schtick. There are sets that are basically been built out of curtains, loud background noise and incomplete costumes. All hallmarks of Jackson’s late career work. The main things that give this any sort of credibility are the masks, and yet those seem to still have been left over from previous films. Did I mention there is another hand puppet on this one? The Roller Gator from Jackson’s kiddie flick of the same name gets a cameo in a scene where Conrad Brooks (still a swamp farmer) attempts to nap. Sure there are b-lister stars in the movie, but even my 10-year-old daughter managed that for her backyard zombie films!
There is a story in here somewhere, but it gets lost as people meander around and we end up with a lot of disconnected fight scenes and bits of random exposition that don’t really move the story forward.
It’s important to note that IMDB lists a fourth movie in this series. “Max Hell : Frog Warrior” is not really a sequel. Like “Legend of the Roller Blade Seven” or “Hawk : Warrior of the Wheel Zone” Max Hell is actually a re-edit of Toad Warrior. Toad Warrior never had a proper release in the US, only playing theaters in Japan, Malaysia, and the Philippines, and for good reason. Neither Shaw or Jackson were happy with the final cut.
“I don’t know if it was the lack of technology at the time, laziness, or just the fact that the editor was more locked into a sense of Traditional Filmmaking than Zen Filmmaking but he and Don really missed the mark on the original edit of Toad Warrior.” Shaw recalls.
“He didn’t like the edit either. He asked me if I wanted to redo it. But, there wasn’t time. To me, the edited film kind of felt like they were just filling in the required eighty-two minutes that it takes to make a movie viable for international sales.” The film was for technically for sale, but not being pushed. Jackson and Shaw were only looking for theatrical deals, which they found in the East.The result was “Post the 1996 AFM Don and I buried the film. We planned to reedit it but we were busy and we never got around to it.”
Somehow, a distribution company managed to turn up a beta master of the film, and dumped it onto a compilation DVD with several other movies. Shaw and Jackson had never wanted this version of the film released in the West. To add insult to injury many of the titles and screen credits of this version were incorrect. An entire stretch of film (the section in the truck and lab) had the audio track missing. By this time, Jackson had lost his battle with cancer so Shaw, now the sole copyright holder chased them down. Due to copyright infringements, this DVD was eventually removed from the market without the need for a lawsuit, but the damage was done. The film was out there.
It was time for Shaw to release his own edit. “What else could I do? I don’t like the cut. Don didn’t like the cut. But to kept that unauthorized version from being the only version of Toad Warrior out there I had to release the authorized version.” Shaw would lengthen certain scenes shorten others. The lab scene was jettisoned, and the entire thing was shortened. It’s interesting to look at both movies side by side, but they both boil down to essentially the same film – the one Jackson and Shaw attempted to bury in the days before internet. Perhaps best to leave it buried.
It’s been years since I saw it… I caught it when it was originally in the theater, and just wasn’t impressed. It’s not that it was terrible, it’s just that it wasn’t great. I do think that it suffers from the whole “doing a girl version of this film”, conceit that was already getting played out when this premiered. But I think there’s more to it than just that.
I enjoy a lot of the supporting characters. Awkwafina is actually fairly good here. It shows that she’s best when you give her a script. In her own show, she pushes the obnoxiousness so far that she becomes unlikable. This script knows exactly what to do with her, and rains her in just enough that it’s quirky without going over the edge to ugly.
I’m a huge fan of Rihanna in this film. She comes off real harsh at first, and then you just fall in love with her. This woman is channeling the style and bohemian grace of Lisa Bonet, and by the end of the film she was very possibly my favorite character. Likewise, Helen Bonham Carter has A fun quirky role here that she actually gets to sink her teeth into. I love that they’re acknowledging age, but still giving her so much vitality. The 80s Madonna look that she’s got going on just adds to everything in her performance, and she knows when to be attentive, want to be awkward, and want to run with the scene. It’s a brilliant performance, and great to see her outside of Tim Burton‘s world.
For my money though, one of the most interesting transformations here is Anne Hathaway. I’ve enjoyed Hathaway in a lot of her roles growing up, all the way back to the Princess Diaries. At times she gets too much credit, and at other times not enough. It’s been a weird career, and someone really needs to feed the poor girl a sandwich. In between movies she frequently seems very pale into thin. Watching her in this self-centered, almost oblivious role is interesting. It almost feels like this is the culmination of her character from the Devil wears Prada. As if this is who she could’ve ultimately become had she stayed in Miranda Priestly‘s thrall, and it’s a fascinating mixture of high society with touches of girl Next door frankness. It’s a genuinely good role for Hathaway, and one of the better things that I’ve seen her do since the Devil wears Prada.
On the other hand we have Mindy Kaling and Sarah Paulson who are both really just doing their thing, blandly through the whole film. They’re good actresses, but they both feel like they’re not sure why they’re here. They each have one moment, one purpose, and then sleepwalk through the rest of the film.
They’re not the only ones sleepwalking, Sandra Bullock also doesn’t quite seem to understand how to play a role like this. She’s the lead, she’s the star, but at the same time she’s playing a bit of a villain. Bullock is excellent at what she does, but what she does is the relatable female lead… And this is more of an aloof role where she doesn’t seem entirely comfortable. As a result, she wanders through the movie, aimless and unsure.
The core of the Ocean films, has always been the easy back-and-forth between George Clooney and Brad Pitt. They try and replicate this with Bullock and Cate Blanchett, but Bullocks not sure what to do here, and Blanchett is simply not up for the task. She’s tough as nails and hard as diamond, with a handsome beauty that seems out of place in this role. The two are never convincing in the buddy comedy trope and every time that they’re on screen together, I find myself waiting for something else to happen… Eager to get to the next scene.
The disappointing thing here, is that this is a good idea. It’s a good concept with an A-list cast, but at the same time it’s trying very hard to be in Ocean’s Eleven movie. I think that ultimately does it a disservice. I love that they address why they’re creating a team of female con artists… “Men get noticed, and women don’t.” Whether you agree with that statement or not, with that one line I am ready to buy into the conceit and I am totally on board. It makes sense and it liberates it from the unintentionally sexist attempts at predominantly female casts like Ghostbusters or Supergirl. Nevertheless, shoehorning this in with clumsy cameos by Elliott Gould’s Reuben and Shabo Qin’s Yen feels almost as forced as the scenes taking place at Danny Oceans grave. It also kicks the story off with a real drag, knowing that Ocean is dead… and so is the series. After all, these sort of sidequels never have a chance to become franchises themselves… especially when they’re as gimmicky as this. No, I think Ocean’s Eight would’ve been better served as an original story. And that’s really why it fails to satisfy for me.
On the other hand, it’s certainly better than ocean’s 12!
Skeksis is very confused…..
Every Wednesday and Friday
Charles Craig from Night of the Living Dead guest stars!
Every Wednesday and Friday
Return to Frogtown begins in a darkened hall where the frog leader declares it time to rise up and throw off the yoke of slavery! Basically the first few moments are to let you know straight off just how over to top this movie is going to be. It goes even further than the first film and that’s no small feat.
The frogs look good as ever, and I wonder if Jackson made off with some of the masks that Steve Wang had crafted for the last film (Things do go missing from studios from time to time after all). The credits on the other hand, look cheap and shortly we find ourselves in a marble yard that may be the same one he filmed “The Roller Blade Seven” in one year prior. The toad warriors are hunting as a torn old flag flutters overhead. It doesn’t look as if the lips can move on these frog masks being used for the long outdoor shot (There’s a hero mask for indoor close ups with some very basic up and down movement on the bottom lip, but that’ll be it). Not a big surprise. Indie film making usually involves a slashed budget and Jackson is back to his old tricks, overdubbing the whole thing with hollow, tinny sounding looping. He’s chosen appropriate voices, deep and menacing, but the poor dubbing throws the whole feel of the film off – especially when you’re outside. Inside we can forgive a little echoey sound but outside with no lips moving and poor looping… Well that’s classic Donald G Jackson. Still, Robert Z’Dar, Lou Ferigno and even Brion James all show up in the credits which leaves me feeling hopeful.
Then the rocket man appears in the sky, and I’m pretty sure I know exactly what kind of film I’m in for. It’s Ferigno playing ranger John Jones (named after a different green guy than the one he normally plays) and now he’s trapped behind enemy lines.
Robert Z’Dar, One of the futuristic Texas Rocket Rangers (who dress like the Rocketeer only with the helmet on backwards) is assigned to go fly in and find him. Apparently he’s playing Roddy Piper’s character in this installment, I am somewhat mystified as to why they didn’t just create a new protagonist. There is no resemblance between the two incarnations of the character, physical, behavioral or otherwise. Z’Dar is given free reign to do his own thing. He’s accompanied by Denice Duff playing Dr. Spangle. Again, we have a character with the same name from the first film, but who has no actual resemblance to the previous outing. Spangle was blonde, smart and all business in the first one. In this film she’s a spunky brunette sidekick and I think I actually like her better. (To be fair though, that could be just my affection for Duff coming through from her time in Full Moon’s Subspecies series….)
In the meantime back at Frogtown, the toads interrogate Ferigno to discover the secrets of the rocket pack. It almost feels like Jackson is creating a serial here, He’s obviously influenced by the old Commander Cody episodes and stuff this film full of monsters, jet packs and cool vehicles – gun cars and dune buggies.
Frogtown in this installment is an old western ghost town rather than the industrial hellscape of the previous film. That stupid sign is upfront again too, “If you lived here you be home by now”. Jackson seems to have as much of an obsession with this gag as he does with samurai swords. The stock background along with the expressionless masks, limited jaw movement, and hand puppet mutant (and what’s with Jackson’s fixation on puppet nookie anyhow?) give the film a distinctly power rangers sort of feel. This thing is practically a cartoon.
Ferigno is still being interrogated and drugged, but now we see he is slowly being turned into a mutant as well by mad scientist Brion James in the single most uncharacteristic role I’ve ever seen him in. It’s a bizarre. He’s a poindexter type of character, with frizzy hair so wild that it would shame Larry fine.
In the meantime, because this is the 90’s and we’re still recovering from Vanilla Ice’s “Turtle Rap” in the second Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film on year prior, Donald Jackson felt it was very important to include a nightclub scene that featured a four-minute long original song sung by a band completely comprised mainly of mutant frog people and their slave girl dancers..
The Texas Rocket Rangers are captured, but still determined to break Ferigno out. Lou for his part, is looking greener every minute and I’m afraid he’ll hulk out at any moment! I mean that as a joke, but to be fair, Ferigno does bust them out of their prison cell by literally ripping the bars out of the window.
Shotguns in hand, they attempt their escape with the mad scientist and his formula to turn people into frogs. Only Z’Dar is able to slip away, with the help of the hand puppet. He almost makes it, long enough to Don his rocket pack. Suddenly, before he can tak off, he’s surrounded by frogs.
The frog master find the humans guilty of crimes against frog kind (Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say). Seconds before they’re executed, another Texas Rocket Ranger sweeps in and rescues everyone, blasting the frogs back and freeing Sam Hell up to shotgun everything in sight. This begs the question why they didn’t just swoop in like this this in the first place, (but that’s okay. The film still clocks in at under 90 minutes) Even the turtle head with the gatling gun is no match for our rocketeer wannabes and their hand puppet.
The frog man says “I’ll be back “more frequently than Arnold Schwarzenegger.
We find ourselves in a climactic battle of katana versus katana in a smoky room and we get a somewhat surprising twist with the frog master just before everything blows up.
It’s goofy dumb fun, and a little more unintentionally campy then the original film, but still passable. I’d probably be upset if I paid money to watch it, that wouldn’t necessarily turn it off if it were on cable. The Asylum has done far worse.