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Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance (1972)

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I often complain about a lot of comic book movies being all origin story and exhibition with a bad guy in there somewhere that doesn't really figure into the action too much.  If he does, it's not until the end and it's brief.  Then there is the big bad guy, hovering about, but there is never a real fight with him; instead we have to go off on another story after every time he shows up to spout some exposition but not contribute anything more than that.    The reason I bring this up is, although they are called manga to distinguish the stories from American comic books, manga are still comic books.  While Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance is not about a superhero the story still follows the same basic line, and it is based on a character created for a manga series.  The series is a classic in the chanbara (or swordfighting) genre of Japanese movies, and from what I understand the sequels largely excel in telling better stories, but this first entry is severely hampered

Martial Arts of Shaolin (1986)

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Jet Li became a huge international star in the 1990s, largely due to the Once Upon a Time in China series.  But, like many of his contemporaries in Hong Kong cinema, he started off with the Shaw Brothers.  He had been studying martial arts since he was a child so it's not a surprise that the studio decided to give him a starring vehicle early on.  It's also not a surprise that the studio decided to throw a sizeable budget at the film as well. Martial Arts of Shaolin gathered more than 300 martial artists from around China to participate in the movie and it is rather a beautiful spectacle.  Jet Li does what he does, Chenghui Yu makes a good villain and there is plenty of wonderfully choreographed fighting among some of the most beautiful landscape on Earth.  It definitely has everything needed for a movie to showcase the studio's new young rising star.  Everything, that is, except a little more than the merest hint of a plot. Zhi Ming (Li) is a monk at the Northern Shaolin T

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

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A quirk of warp technology combined with using a star for gravity assist was established early on in the first season of Star Trek as a way of traveling back in time.  Although other methods popped up here and there - dimensional doorways and large-scale machinery used to open such - the series came up with a somewhat scientifically plausible way for the Enterprise to head back to the "modern" day whenever the budget began to run dry.  It was also much more of a believable method than the Earths with parallel evolution (right down to the same plate tectonics) that popped up every now and then. The truth was some of those time travel stories were the best episodes.  "City on the Edge of Tomorrow" is one of the standout episodes from the entire series and even the episode with Gary Seven is quite a lot of fun.  The penultimate episode of the the Original Series involves an entire society that has shipped itself back in time to avoid dying in a supernova, and it is a m

13 Assassins (2010)

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13 Assassins may have a title reminiscent of The Seven Samurai but, although the story does contain the spirit of Akira Kurosawa, it is not Takashi Miike's attempt to imitate the most famous Japanese director of all time.  Instead, this movie is a remake of a film of the title from 1963 that was directed by Eiichi Kudo, just heavily updated for the modern age by Miike.   It is 1845 and the various clans are at peace.  That is threatened by the actions of Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki), the adopted brother of the current shogun.  Naritsugu enjoys torturing and raping for fun, believing all others, including his trusted samurai adviser Hanbei (Masachika Ichimura), are less than him.  Sir Doi (Mikijiro Hira), the adviser to the Shogun, secretly hires Hanbei's former classmate Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho) to gather a team to assassinate Naritsugu before he secures a place in the shogun's government and thus threatens the fragile peace.  13 Assassins, though it may appear to have so

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

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For mainstream audiences this is probably going to be one of the most recognizable Shaw Brothers martial arts films.  If not the movie, then the title would be, as it was rephrased as Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), a classic hip-hop album by the Wu-Tang Clan, replete with quotes from the English dub of this film.  It should come as no surprise due to the heavy influence martial arts films had on the Black community in the 1970s, and Shaw Brothers turned them out like no one else. This was also one of the best movies to come out of that studio, directed by Chia-Liang Liu and featuring an epic plot and colorful sets.  It's unfortunate that it originally hit the United States under such a generic title as Master Killer, when The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is a title that contains a sense of mystery and adventure.  It also better sums up this film as it contains themes such as developing self-control, doing one's duty to society as well as the need for institutions to change with th

Gymkata (1985)

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Director Robert Clouse definitely has a unique distinction.  He was responsible for directing Enter the Dragon , the last movie Bruce Lee completed before his death and also one of the best martial arts films ever made.  He also was responsible for this movie, which often turns up on lists of the worst movies ever made.  Not just martial arts movies, but movies in general.  To be honest the closest thing he directed that was even near the level of Enter the Dragon was its intended follow-up, Game of Death , which down the road was finished with body doubles of Bruce Lee. Personally, I have always wondered how much of these movies Clouse did direct because, without Lee, his attempts at making other films (like Black Belt Jones ) featured rather clumsy fight choreography and a directing style that could generously be called competent.    That generosity barely extends with Gymkata.  Jonathan Cabot (Kurt Thomas) is recruited by a government agent to go to the country of Parmistan.  The U.

Saw II (2005)

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The first Saw was made largely to get James Wan and Leigh Whannell's feet in the door in Hollywood.  Just out of film school, they figured out how to make a horror film with limited budget and limited locations and, through connections, got a few named stars to be in it.  At the time they thought it would do the box office of most horror films, which means turning a profit but not not turning them into instant millionaires. Saw , however, proceeded to do just that.  The quality of the movie, and the word of mouth it generated, resulted in unforeseen worldwide box office returns.  As usual when this happens the next question that came up was what to do next.  Since it was made to be a standalone film, with a big reveal at the end and everything wrapped up for the characters involved, there had never been any thought on making this into a franchise. Luckily for Lionsgate and Twisted Pictures there was Darren Lynn Bousman.  He had been trying to get a script he wrote made into a movi