So Bill S. asked if I remember this goo, and I do, I Dippity-do. Specifically, I remember my mother wouldn't let me leave the house without dousing my incipient hippie hair in the stuff in an effort to foil the Counterculture with styling gel. I also remember it became very brittle when it dried, so I usually spent the first ten minutes of Third Grade Home Room tapping the top of my head and listening to my hair go "crunch! crunch! crunch!" like I was walking through snow.
This pink slime isn't as ubiquitous as it once was, although I understand the makers have secured a new lease on life by extruding it into Chicken McNuggets.
Writer-Director Larry Blamire talks about the new featurettes and hilarious short films he made to accompany the Blu-ray release of his cult classic The Lost Skeleton Returns Again. Come for the Behind-the-Scenes gossip, stay to find out who that one guy is in that one thing--you know the one--and learn the secret of why Scott sucks.
MOONDOGGIE: I don't understand all this stuff about global climate change, but after hours of observation, calculation, and experimentation, I have determined that the current axial tilt of the Earth has caused the living room Sun Patch to become narrow and weird and I'M DECLARING AN EMERGENCY!!!
SHADOW: I'm not in favor of this silly 'Beast Blogging' thing, but I'll agree to pose on one condition: that you point out how much my eyes look like David Bowie's in The Man Who Fell to Earth.
Jeff and Scott are joined by the New Movie Crew™ to discuss SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME. Scott has a theory, John & Blanche have gripes, while Jeff has severe intestinal ambivalence, and Mary finds mermaid remains and can't decide whether to call CSI: Atlantis, or Animal Control.
A Filmark production, produced by Tomas Tang, directed by Joe Livingstone
If there's one thing in this life on which you may safely depend, it's that a title like "Robo Vampire" is guaranteed to pique the interest of cine-masochists.
From the outset, the mind is awhirl with possibilities: Is it a futuristic new breed of vampire who preys on robots? (I'm assuming it would be after their sweet, sweet hydraulic fluid.) Or, in line with the trend toward increasing automation, could it be a robot programmed for bloodsucking? Or maybe, like the Verhoeven film that's clearly being ripped off here, what we have is a vampire who for some unfathomable reason gets cyborg-ized.
But, as a smart-guy Britisher might have phrased it, it turns out the answer is not only crappier than I imagine, it's crappier than I can imagine.
The production opens with two camouflage-wearing, assault rifle-toting Anglos prodding a Chinese prisoner through a littered, weed-choked graveyard. More evidence the groundskeepers have been slacking off: Moldering sarcophagi are haphazardly stacked right out there in the open. One of the Anglos pushes a lid back, offering us a glimpse of the occupant, who appears to have been Caribbean jerked prior to interment.
Their prisoner flinches at this grisly sight. The other Anglo tips the lid off another coffin. This deceased must have been quite the cut-up in his day: He had his final resting place tricked out like one of those nut can gags -- except with real snakes.
Anglo #2 trips and falls over backwards in his haste to scramble away from the vipers someone's flinging out of that casket. He bumps against the lid of a third coffin, knocking it ajar -- but he doesn't notice that puff of dark gray vapor from inside. (Always a bad sign, especially if the cadaver's been holding that one in for a while.)
A withered claw of a hand shoots out of the coffin, grabs the guy by the wrist and tries to haul him inside. Anglo #2 quite understandably freaks, giving him that extra spritz of adrenaline needed to tear himself loose from its hideous clutch.
Out from the casket leaps a vampire!
I should pause here to note a few differences between the Occidental nosferatu and the Hong Kong variety: For starters, this one's rigged out like Fu Manchu, which is reasonable enough, I suppose, given the location, if rather retro. Sure, his decomposing face looks like someone mashed a Greek salad in it, but that's not unknown in European vampire flicks, either. (The decomposition, not the mixed-greens-and-olives facial.)
That somersaulting through the air is a trifle unusual, although not for a kung fu actioner. It's a given that pumping the creature full of lead won't stop him. But what's truly special is that when this vampire comes to earth, his preferred mode of locomotion is the bunny-hop.
After lifting Anglo #2 (who probably outweighs his attacker by at least fifty pounds) completely off the ground and crushing his larynx, he drops his prey's still-twitching corpse and bounces after the remaining Anglo, his arms held out in front and hands bent down at the wrists like cute little bunny paws.
While their prisoner wisely takes advantage of this goofy distraction to make tracks, the vampire puts the bite on Camo Guy #1. Really puts the bite on him, as in "rips a big chunk of flesh out of his victim's neck with his teeth". Close-up of a paltry smear of soy sauce on Camo Guy #1's neck. Freeze-frame, with title, as the vampire chews on a ragged hunk of raw yet oddly bloodless meat dangling from its jaws.
You got a little something stuck in your teeth there ...
A tragic end indeed, for the "Orange Duck Dynasty" pilot.
True aficionados of Hong Kong B-movies will instantly recognize what we have here as an example of the reputedly popular "Jiangshi" genre, but honestly, up until this moment I had no idea such a creature existed. (And I've watched a fair amount of Hong Kong B's.) The name literally translates as "stiff corpse", while the hopping is supposed to be explained by rigor mortis.
I'll even go so far as to speculate that a Jiangshi might be fairly creepy, if you encountered one in real life, unexpectedly, in the dark. Perhaps better makeup effects, cinematography and staging could have made the creatures convincingly sinister. For all I know, there might be a Jiangshi movie out there in which they're genuinely terrifying. But hoo dawgies, not this steaming pile.
(Fun fact: The traditional Jiangshi garb featured in this cheesefest is that of a Qing dynasty bureaucrat. The "stiff corpse" doesn't actually drink blood, either, but like the alien vampires in that Tobe Hooper film, they drain your lifeforce. Which suggests this legend's originators had a particular ax to grind when they dreamed this monster up, possibly inspired by an encounter with the 16th Century Chinese equivalent of the DMV.)
To continue: A speedy cruiser boat pulls up to a jetty and disembarks a dozen Chinese men, all lugging plain brown paper-wrapped packages.
Making certain everyone understands these are drug smugglers and not some kindly souls dedicated to satisfying the insatiable demand for sex toys, one of the Anglos overseeing this operation opens a carton, removes a bag of white powder and tastes the contents. Convinced it's the real stuff, he waves the bearers on. A squad of plainclothes and camo-clad Anglo cops swoops down to nab these miscreants. But the cruiser, throttle wide open and charging along at close to five knots, manages to make a clean getaway to the open sea.
Cut to Godfather Sarducci, in a dingy basement garage guarded by heavily-armed Chinese henchmen. His two Anglo lieutenants are visibly relieved when, rather than going all Darth Vader on them for losing that shipment, their capo whines, "We've got to find a way to handle Tom, that goddamned anti-drug agent!"
I'll say this much for the guy: He should get high marks for originality, contract-wise. Your run-of-the-mill movie Mafiosi would likely go for the same old same old -- a bomb in Tom's car, kidnapping the guy and fitting him with a pair of cement overshoes. Or a drive-by hit, with hot lead spraying everywhere and a high bystander body count. But no, Sarducci intends to ask his Taoist sorcerer pal to sic his trained vampires on Tom and his men.
"...So... you gonna be havin' a big PROBLEM with dis...?"
Betcha that god-damned anti-drug agent won't see this one coming! In the meantime, Sarducci concludes they'll need to find a new way to smuggle the heroin.
Clutching another large plain brown paper-wrapped parcel, a Chinese guy hesitantly descends the stairway to a poorly lit and even dingier cellar containing a couple of coffins resting on trestles, and three Jiangshi lined up against a wall. (They must be the new space-saver design.) Strips of paper inscribed with spells to keep the vampires quiet are pasted to the front of their hats.
Anxious delivery guy "Ken" promises he'll build them a new altar, as he throws what I'm guessing is Hell money at the vampires. Loudly surmising they might be hungry, he scatters handfuls of uncooked rice in their general direction. A man dressed in black pajamas and carrying a cooked chicken in a bowl enters the scene just in time to take some rice in the mustache.
He scoffs at his jittery compatriot's antics: "You scare too easy!"
Mustache Guy opens a coffin and adds more packets of white powder to the artistic arrangement already encircling the corpse's head with a heroin halo. He closes the lid, unaware that inside the surprisingly well-lit sarcophagus there's been an ominous transformation of this previously normal-appearing cadaver into another grotty-faced specimen with leathery blue-gray claws for hands.
While he's hiding more packets in the second coffin, 'Stache Guy parks his cigarette on the other casket's lid. His coffin nail disappears -- and in the blink of an eye reappears, stuck in the mouth of a vampire. (Mischievous little buggers, aren't they?) Finished stuffing heroin in with the second corpse, MG then turns back to find his smoke gone.
He rags on Ken, who's been busy lighting a bundle of incense while he thanks the vampires profusely for something or other. (It probably does reek down there, what with these stiffs -- and the corpses must be pretty pungent, too.) "If you wanted a cigarette," demands MG exasperatedly, "why didn't you ask for one?" -- leaving Ken scratching his head.
Ken shrugs, and decides to top up the oil in the lamp suspended above the dormant Jiangshi. 'Stache Guy discovers his chicken is now mysteriously minus a leg and thigh; he's about to accuse Ken of pilfering this, too. But when he sees his coworker standing on a chair to get at that lamp, he warns Ken to be careful: If he starts a fire, that will wake up the vampires.
Neither of these idiots has yet noticed that lit cigarette jutting from the Jiangshi's mouth. Standing on the chair, Ken's crotch just happens to be precisely positioned to get pressed against the cigarette's glowing ember when he leans forward to get at the lamp. Ken tumbles off the chair with a yell, cradling his singed wedding tackle. This was definitely not the day for him to go commando.
That partially-devoured chicken levitates out of its bowl and zooms around the coffins. Lids explode off their caskets amid clouds of smoke. The hitherto resting-in-peace spring from their coffins as Jiangshi, who launch their attack by flinging chunks of cooked chicken with incredible accuracy directly into Ken and 'Stache Guy's gaping mouths, jamming the meat down their adversaries' windpipes.
(Honest: I'm not making any of this up.)
After our wacky supporting characters cough up the chicken chunks, there follows a flurry of semi-intentionally comical kung fu shenanigans as they scrap with the bunny-hopping vampires, until Chinese Groucho arrives to whup some undead ass. Oh, okay, he only spars with them a little, then casually subdues the jumping Jiangshi in mid-rampage by slapping some more of those magic Post-It notes on their hats.
The Godfather's Taoist vampire wrangler samples one of those packets of drugs and instantly deduces the cause of all this commotion: Someone swapped the heroin with rice powder! [cue sad trombone] Well, that certainly explains everything ... If anyone out there is a Jiangshi scholar, perhaps they could fill the rest of us in about WTF just happened.
Godfather Sarducci, with Ken and 'Stache Guy tagging along, meets with the captain of a freighter. The drug kingpin passes along the news that they're going to try another way to hide the contraband, a "variation on the body-smuggling business". The captain doesn't seem enthusiastic about that, but hey, Sarducci's the boss.
Which provides a segue of sorts to a prolonged gross-out interlude in which a scalpel-wielding woman slices open the quivering belly of a freshly-slaughtered bull, stuffs some heroin packets inside the luckless bovine's entrails, then stitches up the gash. (Beef chitlins' -- with a side of smack: So good and so good for you!)
Nighttime: A pair of Sarducci's Anglo henchmen drop by Chinese Groucho's dilapidated temple. He's eager to put one of his pets through its paces for the plainly skeptical wise guys, but first he warns these smirking newcomers to keep quiet, and not show any fear at the vampire's power. As an additional precaution, Groucho hands them wreathes of garlic and a couple of vampire-quelling spell sheets.
The Taoist employs mystic incantations and gestures, pyrotechnics and a feng shui compass with a crazily spinning pointer to roust his vampire out of his comfy casket. The creature begins to stir, but suddenly a brunette swathed in sheer white silk cerements zooms out of the night and interrupts the sorcerous proceedings.
This lady is a ghost. She's righteously cheesed at the necromancer for turning her lover into a "vampire beast", because this will prevent them from being together in the hereafter. Groucho objects: She's from the West and her boyfriend is from the East. (Is he saying their afterlife-styles are incompatible, or is he just bigoted?)
Ghost Lady then gives the audience a quick synopsis of her tragic back story: Despite having christened him with the rather Euro-sounding "Peter", the guy's parents were dead set against his marrying a round-eye. Naturally, the only course open to the lovers was double suicide. (I suppose eloping to Taiwan would have been just too much bother.) At least they could have been with each other in the afterlife, but this meddling Taoist nutball screwed that one up for them, too.
Her only thought now is for revenge! After a bout of mixed magical and martial arts between Chinese Groucho and Ghost Lady, the Taoist is clearly getting the worst of it. He tag-teams with Vampire Peter, calling him out of his coffin to fight his former lover.
"Peter, it's Christine! Don't you recognize me?" she pleads desperately.
But Vampire Peter is in Groucho's thrall, plus for some never-to-be-explained reason he's donned a rubber gorilla mask and a fright wig. Christine has no choice but to grapple with her bunny-hopping erstwhile squeeze in un-deadly combat. This time it's her turn to get smacked down, when Peter employs his supernaturally long tongue to rip her off a second story balcony. (Kinky...) Fortunately, Peter finally recognizes Christine from a birthmark on her exposed thigh -- it may be he has a poor memory for faces.
Groucho isn't pleased when Peter balks at finishing her off -- and just how do you do that to someone who's already a ghost? But his Mafiosi spectators reveal an unexpected soft side: The pudgy one with the undernourished mustache is convinced the two must love each other deeply. Once they're hitched, he's confident they'll follow Groucho's orders. Marrying them ought to be a cinch, he adds, what with the Taoist's magical powers.
Chinese Groucho grudgingly agrees to this happy solution to all their problems, criminal and romantic. He promises he'll start making the preparations for the wedding.
Which is quite a lot to take on, in addition to setting his vampires after Tom and friends. There'll be the guest list and the registry, finding a printer for the invitations, the catering -- a ghost/vampire wedding will doubtless present some unique culinary challenges -- plus the florists, and a thousand other details. At least Groucho already has a spooky run-down temple; he won't need to rent a venue.
Sometime later, the Taoist sorcerer and a couple of henchmen are cruising down a sandy lane by the seaside, in their totally inconspicuous bright red jeep. That goddamned anti-drug agent Tom and three more camo-wearing Anglos block the road. A firefight ensues, with the Taoist going to ground behind some boulders while his bodyguards take ineffectual potshots at the agents. They're soon gunned down, leaving Groucho no resort but to say the secret woid and conjure up his vampires.
First, one of his pasty-faced standard issue Jiangshi appears. It instantly dispatches an anti-drug agent with poisonous gas jets from its robe's voluminous sleeves. If that closeup is any indication, by giving the agent a case of lethally unfortunate skin.
Vampire Gorilla Peter materializes up in a tree, swings down and attacks Tom with the Roman candles hidden up his sleeves. Tom is inundated with a shower of cheap fireworks until the tree behind him explodes, mortally wounding the heroic anti-drug agent. Groucho makes a hasty getaway in the jeep.
"I think that may be his spleen, lodged in his right ear ... Anyone hungry for lasagna?"
Tom's boss is so grief-stricken at the news of his death that he doesn't hesitate to let their doctor do an experimental cyborg job on his employee. In an ultra-modern infirmary equipped with a sparse assortment of vintage '50s and WWII-era electronic gear -- including the all-important plus/minus machine -- Tom gets a new lease on life. (I especially enjoyed the bit where the doc does some welding ... with a sparkler stuck in a screwdriver handle.)
As you might expect, that poster could never prepare the unsuspecting for the underwhelming reality of Tom's Robo Vampire (Killer) costume: a loose-fitting silvered coverall, with breastplate, shin and forearm guards and pointy epaulets all made of padded silver-gray vinyl, topped off by a tinted-plexiglass-visored, silver spray-painted Army/Navy surplus helmet with a padded silver vinyl skirt pop-riveted to the back and a transistor radio antenna stuck on the side.
Tom demonstrates his super-strength by gripping a pair of soldiers' helmets and lifting them off the ground -- and somehow not strangling them with their own remarkably stoutly-fastened chin straps. Then he snaps their rifles in two, picks up a BAR and fires several rounds into the center of an archery target.
(Another fun fact: Peter Weller spent long hours working with an expert from Juilliard to perfect his Robocop movements. I believe this clown may have watched a Michael Jackson video or two during lunch break.)
Chinese Groucho and Richard -- the Vatican Mob soldier who has this questionable attachment to a baggy stone-washed denim vest -- hold a quick confab. They agree someone in the gang has to be tipping off the authorities. Groucho furiously insists all the anti-drug agents must be eliminated.
Answering this plot's desperate call for padding, a pickup full of armed no-goods arrives at a small village somewhere in what we're encouraged to believe is the Golden Triangle. They bust into a church. Their leader smacks the Anglo priest (actually, Anti-Drug Agent Brown) around, demanding to know where the drugs are hidden. This man of the generic cloth swears he hasn't the slightest, but the church invaders soon locate his stash -- by accidentally jostling that unadorned but conspicuously large crucifix. It topples over, hits the floor and cracks open, spilling white powder and packets of horse everywhere. (Dammit, they just had the place swept!)
The boss orders his men to waste Brown, but at that moment Sister Mary Mayhem pops out of the back room and mows them down with her AK-47.
"Transubstantiate this, mofos!"
Anti-Drug Agent Brown tries to escape, but he's shot in the back. Sister Mary dives through a window, does a very professional tuck-and-roll -- which couldn't have been easy in that calf-length robe -- and comes up shooting. She nearly gets away, but sadly, runs out of bullets at a critical moment. Sister Mary (in reality Anti-Drug Agent Sophie) winds up a captive of Sarducci's partner in the heroin biz, the sadistic, rape-y drug lord Yung, and his band of rogue psychoanalysts*.
Back at Anti-Drug HQ, the boss has learned of Brown's death and Sophie's capture. If she breaks and tells Yung what she knows, he predicts that will mean the end of their operation! He orders an underling to arrange for her rescue. This flunky dickers a bit with a vaguely Eurasian mercenary named "Ray" (but never call him "Johnson") who ultimately settles on thirty grand for himself and the services of three other nitwits -- I mean, soldiers-of-fortune.
Godfather Sarducci makes a quick inspection of his drug bagging operation. (He certainly doesn't want another screw-up with the rice powder!) He then orders two of the baggers to come with him, providentially removing himself and a pair of precious Anglos from the premises just before Robo Tom breaks down the door.
"You're under arrest!" the cyborg informs everyone. (It's nice to know the production at least saved enough boxtops to spring for a vocoder.) The guards are momentarily dumbfounded, most likely at Robo Tom's ludicrous getup, but then they raise their Uzis --
-- and the scene does a budget-friendly shift to Chinese Groucho and Richard the vest fetishist, walking up the beach, with some more parcel-bearing lackeys close behind. The smugglers are surprised by three anti-drug agents, which just naturally means it's Jiangshi Time again. (Groucho takes his pets everywhere with him, in a black-lacquered gourd accented with yellow ribbons.) A pasty-faced vampire does its instant-jerky number on the agent who had some lines. Vampire Gorilla Peter disposes of the other two agents in his own more showy fashion.
Robo Tom clomps on screen. Peter shoots more fireworks at Tom; the cyborg agent replies with his Browning automatic rifle. The two blaze away at each other, until a lucky hit knocks Peter down. Groucho and company beat feet; Vampire Gorilla Peter evades Tom's cybernetically-enhanced marksmanship by way of some leisurely log rolling. Evidently Robo Tom doesn't do so well when it comes to leading his target, even a rather slow-moving one.
But I guess Peter must have been just messing with Robo Tom's head, because he abruptly disappears in a puff of smoke. Tom kicks up sand with a few more rounds -- could be they need to tune up his reflexes a bit, too.
So much for the spectacular debut of this super-powered crime-fighter.
Back in the Golden Triangle, Ray and a couple of his mercenary buddies float downriver in an overloaded skiff. Ambushed by Godfather Sarducci and the usual scruffy assortment of ne'er-do-wells, they're forced to take cover in mid-stream behind an entirely inadequate clump of shrubs. Fortunately, Ray's old buddy, dapper, black beret-sporting Andy -- a remarkable number of East Asians in this film sport European first names -- shows up and wipes out most of the bushwhackers in a hail of machine gun fire, though yet again the Godfather gets clean away.
Meanwhile, drug lord Yung gets his twisted jollies by subjecting Sophie to the Chinese water torture. How ... original. With diabolical ingenuity, he's had an overhead leaky faucet installed for exactly this eventuality. (Since Sophie and the spigot are never in the same frame, cynical types might suspect the filmmakers merely intercut some footage of that dripping tap in the washroom sink.)
Back to Ray and friends: He briefs the new arrival about their mission, and shows him a photo of Sophie tied to a chair. But Ray knows Andy isn't just in it for the money, because he has a personal score to settle with Yung. Then they --
Look: Is there any conceivable reason why we should waste any more of our time with this low-rent Rambo, when there's a veritable smorgasbord of screwiness awaiting us with Robo Tom, Chinese Groucho and the Jiangshi? I think not.
Godfather Sarducci, fresh back from the Triangle and accompanied by his Anglo indispensables, watches from hiding as Robo Tom lumbers along the strand. The same beach where it seems like half the scenes in this movie were shot ... probably on the same afternoon.
Suddenly, a wall of fire (actually, more like a garden border of fire, maybe two or three feet high) springs up before our hero. Robo Tom sinks into the sand and disappears. Instead of just striding right through these feeble flames. The guy's supposed to be mostly metal now, right? Or does he have some kind of Frankenstein's monster thing going on with fire?
Whatever. The flames die down and Tom emerges from his sandy spider hole. (That's got to have put some grit in his joints.) He's immediately set upon by a quartet of pasty-face Jiangshi.
Sarducci and his henchmen watch the action -- such as it is -- while the vampires gang up on Tom. First they circle around him for a bit, inspiring much hilarity with their trademark bunny-hopping.
Caption: Ring around the robo!
They then manage to disarm our fearless Robo Vampire Killer with some coordinated gymnastic moves, but he counters with his Jedi powers: The rifle magically flies back to his hands. Tom and the Jiangshi tussle inconclusively for a few moments more, until Sarducci's soldiers put a richly-deserved end to this nonsense with simultaneous shots from a pair of LAWs.
A crude mannequin Robo Tom blows up real good. Since these gangsters seem perfectly capable of fucking Tom up fairly well on their own, why are they even bothering now with Groucho's vampires?
Not so fast: Back at Anti-Drug HQ, they've collected all the fragments of Robo Tom. The doctor ignites another sparkler with his pipe lighter and Tom's welded back together in a trice, none the worse for being simultaneously flambeed and blown to bits by a couple of anti-tank rockets.
At Chinese Groucho's hideout, it's a nice night for a white wedding. The Taoist twit makes mystic passes with an oddball sword that has a basketweave blade, while he mutters incantations and tosses flame powder at candles. The indicator on his feng shui compass points straight up. (Symbolism, anyone?) Casket lids crack open and vent billows of noxious vapor.
Groucho really ought to consider some changes to his Jiangshis' diets.
Ghostly Christine hurtles through the air, close to breaking the sound barrier in anticipation of her long-delayed nuptials with Vampire Gorilla Peter.
(Rumor has it he's a real animal in the sack!)
(Sorry ... I always cry at weddings ...)
According to the ancient rituals governing ghost-vampire matrimony, Peter enthusiastically waggles his arms up and down as he hops about. Then again, in his place I might react in somewhat the same fashion. Did I mention that Christine's grave gown is so sheer it's almost transparent? She's not wearing a bra, either -- and it appears as if it's a mite chilly on that set.
Peter growls appreciatively. The synthesizer soundtrack switches to '80s porn mode as Christine sways and languidly beckons him to join her in a charming little ghost/vampire pas de deux. The bride skates past the groom while he bounces around and flaps his sleeves even more emphatically in what I'm certain must be the Jiangshi-semaphore equivalent of "Ohhhhh baby!"
Killjoy Robo Tom crashes the wedding just as they conclude the "patty-cake" part of the ceremony, followed by the traditional "ghost-vampire newlyweds flinging themselves to the floor for some frenzied monkey love".
Christine notices Robo Voyeur is watching. She begs him not to kill them before they've had a chance to do the necrophilic nasty -- er, consummate their marriage. Bemused by a quickie flashback to when his girlfriend dumped him, because (all together now) a cop's life is too dangerous, Robo Tom hesitates just long enough for Peter and Christine to vanish in -- you guessed it -- a puff of smoke. (Ummm ... did they just consummate?)
Ghost Lady reappears at the top of a stairway. Her magical grave garment extrudes a tongue of white satin that flows down the steps, wraps itself around Robo Tom's legs and whips him back and forth like a hooked bass. Then she leaps down and pummels him with her flying fists and feet. Hopping mad Vampire Gorilla Peter joins in, and the two of them administer a thorough beating to our crime-fighting cyborg before they triumphantly vaporize. Joined together now in gaseous state, they slip into Peter's coffin. ("If the casket's a-rockin' ...")
Our hero may not be all that effective, but you certainly can't fault his persistence.
Back at the bungle in the jungle, Sarducci leads a gang of thugs in hot pursuit of Andy's spunky assistant/subplot love interest and Ray. The two evade that bunch, but then they're captured by Yung. Water torture all round! They escape with Sophie and link up with Andy, who somehow managed to plant demolition charges all around Yung's headquarters without being noticed. The drug lord and his minions perish in a series of not particularly spectacular explosions.
Returning to Hong Kong -- he must chew up quite a bit of time commuting between town and Triangle -- Godfather Sarducci rages to a gathering of his remaining mob about his latest setback. "Now," he snarls, "I must rebuild my empire!" (Grandiose much, G.S.?)
Chinese Groucho pledges to eliminate Robo Tom and the anti-drug agents. Which is the cue for Robo Tom to be jumped by a couple of Jiangshi while he's patrolling a dark alley. Or maybe he was just looking for a place to vent some coolant. So after that encounter with Peter and Christine, heroic cyborg Tom just picked himself up, dusted himself off and slunk away? Okay, sure.
More bunny-hopping and kung fu as Tom struggles to beat down those rampant stiffies. (I had much the same problem as a teenager**.) I'm assuming from the abrupt cutaway this results yet again in a draw. Later that evening Vampire Gorilla Peter, clearly feeling frisky after all the consummating, plays pranks on Anglo couples frequenting a romantically-lit walkway, as he also carries on a game of hide-and-seek with Robo Tom.
Then Peter heads for the bright lights: He hops across the street in front of the garishly neon-lit "Club Paris", to the stupefaction of several pedestrians. Following this up with a hefty dose of more bonkers bunny-hopping, he lures Tom onto a laughably fake deserted street set.
Let the battle stupide begin!
Popping up on a balcony, Peter twirls fireballs on strings and launches them at Robo Tom. They land nowhere near our hero, and explode. (Although you do see the actor flinch when one goes off.) Then the vampire gorilla goes mano a mano with the cyborg. This continues for a couple of minutes, until a quartet of pasty-face Jiangshi appear and surround Tom, but they're quickly disposed of. Two gangland shooters show themselves long enough to get off a few rounds before Robo Tom blows them away, too.
"Think I'll pick up a sack of sliders when this is over ..."
Ghost Christine unexpectedly turns on Chinese Groucho, first yanking him into a building with that prehensile sash trick, then dazzling him with her umbrella-fu. The Taoist destroys her parasol with the Bic lighter concealed in the tip of his magic sword, She rips the front of her gown off and tosses it at the Taoist. The silk takes on a life of its own and wraps itself around his head like a famished squid, but Groucho quickly disentangles himself. Ignoring these twin nicely pert distractions, he subdues the raging haunt by speed-painting a mystic symbol between her breasts. He must have run out of paper ...
Groucho then summons up another passel of Jiangshi, who bunny-hop around Robo Tom with exceptional fervor. Though why the Taoist thinks they'll be any more effective than the previous bunch is a mystery. Especially now that Robo Tom appears to have had his reflex and marksmanship upgrades installed, and switched to wooden loads. Shooting crosswise from the hip, he effortlessly pots the circling Jiangshi -- who evaporate in a flash and wisp of smoke when hit.
Kind of makes you wonder what all the fuss has been about. And by now that sappy sorcerer should have known that you can't keep a spirited woman down: Christine appears out of nowhere (she's quite good at that) and fatally scratches the Taoist's cheeks.
Vampire Gorilla Peter hops to the attack; Robo Tom belatedly recalls he purchased the flamethrower attachment for his BAR. It's a rather lackluster spurt of flame, but still sufficient to set the glaringly obvious dummy that's been substituted for Peter (and the rope from which it's suspended) on fire.
Then again, maybe you can only destroy gorilla-form Jiangshi by burning them in effigy. Why not? Makes just about as much sense as anything else in this film. Lone survivor Robo Tom stomps through the smoke and flaming piles of Jiangshi residue.
And while we're on the subject of flaming piles, this movie spawned not one but two sequels. Is there anything I could possibly say that would top that?
By Bill S. It's Father's Day, and as always, we celebrate the occasion by remembering TV and Movie dads who make us grateful for the one we had. This year I thought I'd take a slightly different approach, by focusing on one TV show, and honoring a film actor who excelled at playing questionable dads. I'll call it the "RiverDuvall" edition.
WORST TV DADS The men of Riverdale. An insane mix of Beverly Hills 90210, One Tree Hill and Peyton Place (with just a smidgen of Twin Peaks sprinkled in), Riverdale is one of my favorite current guilty pleasures. (To give you an idea of just how far it strays from the old "Archie" comics, the reigning male sex symbol is Jughead, owing mainly to the casting of Cole Sprouse.) Just about every parent on the show is a hot mess in one way or another, with the exception of Archie's dad Fred (one reason among many why Luke Perry will be sorely missed). Among the show's terrible dads...
Clifford Blossom (Barclay Hope). The father of twins Jason and Cheryl, he earned his money supposedly by selling maple syrup, but that's just a front for drug trafficking, including a substance known as "Jingle-Jangle" (an in-joke reference to a bubblegum pop hit by The Archies). When Jason found out, Clifford killed him. Once his secret was known by the town, he committed suicide. Barclay Hope returned to the series to play Clifford's twin brother Claudius, allowing to play a terrible uncle.
Hiram Lodge (Mark Consuelos). Don't ask my why I know this, but Mark won the "Choice TV Villain" prize at last year's Teen Choice Awards. Veronica's dad is the richest man in town, and it turns out he's a mob boss intent on owning all of Riverdale. Which is pretty much what we all suspected although in the comic book, although there he didn't have washboard abs and teeth that outshine the sun.
Hal Cooper (Lochlyn Monro). I'd have to recap three seasons worth of storylines to describe how evil Betty's father was, but I'll just bottom-line it for you all: he turned out to be the serial killer known as "The Hood" who'd been terrorizing the town. Which really put a strain on his relationship with Betty.
Edgar Evernever (Chad Michael Murray). The leader of a creepy religious cult known as "The Farm". With the help of his teenage daughter Evelyn, he lured otherwise sensible people into joining by hypnotizing them into believing they were seeing deceased loved ones...and then harvesting their organs for sale on the black market. Edgar's inclusion on this list is debatable though, since we eventually find out that Evelyn is neither a teenager nor his daughter, but actually his wife. Well, one of them anyway.
WORST MOVIE DADS A while back, I devoted a Mother's Day column to actress Jessica Walter, who played quite a few terrible moms in her career. This year, I thought I'd single out an actor for his portrayal of bad dads: seven time Oscar nominee Robert Duvall. Of course in his six decades long career, he's played a wide variety of memorable characters. Yet it's surprising how often he earned a spot on the Bad Dad list. Among them: Lt. Col. Wilbur "Bull" Meechum in The Great Santini. Probably the movie character who leaps to the front of our minds when we think "terrible dad", Bull was a bully, a racist, homophobic, sexist and seemingly incapable of showing any warmth. Who could forget the scene where he bounces a basketball off his son's head? Most of the characters are afraid of standing up to him, which is why we're grateful for his daughter Mary Anne (Lisa Jane Persky), who uses humor to undermine his authority and call him out on his crap. My favorite scene is the one in which she jokingly claims to be pregnant, describing the father, "Rufus", as a negro, intellectual, pacifist homosexual: "You'll get to like him after awhile, Dad. Dwarfs are easy to like, especially when they're cross-eyed!" Bull is not amused.
Mac Sledge in Tender Mercies. The role that won him an Oscar. Mac is a once famous country star who destroyed his life with hard drinking and hard living. He gets a second chance in life when he meets a young widow with an eight year old son, quitting drinking and finding Jesus. Which is all very nice for him, but what about the people he left behind? He hasn't had contact with his teenage daughter, Sue Ann (Ellen Barkin) in many, many years, and when she tries to re-connect with him, he barely makes any effort. He won't even sing the song he sang to her when she was a child--her one fond memory of him--he pretends not to remember it. (The song in question is "Wings of a Dove", which every country singer knows) Later, we learn the girl has died in an automobile accident. This is heartbreaking for us, and we only saw her for a few minutes. But Mac doesn't seem to register any grief about it. Which is not the case for his ex-wife, Dixie (Betty Buckley). In a movie where everyone--especially Mac--keeps a tight reign on their emotions, Dixie wears them on her sleeve. If Mary Ann called out her dad in The Great Santini, Dixie fills that role here. She suffers a breakdown following Sue Ann's death, and, from a hospital bed, lays into Mac like nobody else would. We'd have liked to see her smack him (he used to knock her around, which why they split up). But I guess her words packed enough punch, because by the end of the movie he's finally able to admit how senseless his daughter's death was. Which means that, just maybe, he won't screw up things with his stepson.
Mr. Childers in Sling Blade. He's not the main villain in the film--that would be Dwight Yoakum's scuzzball character Doyle. In fact he's barely in the film. But as the father of this film's protagonist Karl (Billy Bob Thornton), he was an abusive creep, who may even be responsible for his son's brain damage. He's definitely responsible for the death of his second son, who was born prematurely and was, according to Karl, "no bigger than a squirrel". He gave the baby (wrapped in a bloody towel) to Karl (then about six or eight years old) and told him to "get rid of it", which Karl, afraid of disobeying him, does by burying the baby alive.
Euliss "Sonny" Dewey in The Apostle. Sonny arrives in the Bayou of Louisiana to start a new church and preach the Gospel. His natural charisma brings in a lot of followers--he even wins over a construction worker (Billy Bob Thornton) who'd planned on knocking the church down. He also becomes a local celebrity, appearing on the radio. Oh, did I happen to mention that the reason he's really in Louisiana is to flee a murder charge in Texas? See, after showing up at his kid's little league game, he beat his wife's lover with a baseball bat, leaving him in a coma (he eventually dies), and attempted to drag his wife home (by her hair), scaring the crap out of the kids. He leaves town, dumps his car in the lake, and destroys all evidence of his past life. When his wife hears him on the radio, she notifies the police, who show up at the church during the service. He asks them to wait until it's over, then proceeds to give a long, long sermon (it's like a filibuster) but finally turns himself in.
Judge Joseph Palmer in The Judge. When he becomes the suspect in a hit and run accident, he seeks the help of his attorney son Hank (Robert Downey, Jr.). One problem: Hank is reluctant to take the case, because he's convinced the judge is guilty. That probably tells you all you need to know about him. (Although Hank does change his mind once he finds out the attorney appointed to his father is Dax Shepherd.)
Robert Duvall is now 88 years old but as far as I know, isn't retiring. He could probably keep playing terrible dads when he's 100. I'm rather looking forward to seeing him, at 100, bouncing a basketball off his 80 year old son's head.
A deconstruction of the Luvs commerical I have seen 4 million times while watching Tubi streaming TV:
First Child: A mom is interviewing a babysitter. She dismisses the nice applicant with ten years of experience and a Masters in Child Development with a snide "But no Ph.D?", then asks if she can record her on the nanny-cam hidden in the teddy bear.
Second Child: the same mom, now slightly older, hands a baby to a heavy metal teen who has just entered the house, saying "Here's a list of numbers, food is in the fridge, and Bobby likes to paw jewelry, so you might want to lose the nose ring."
The narrator informs us that the parents of second children are more likely to buy Luvs - presumably because they are cheaper, and a diaper is a diaper. "Live and learn and then get Luvs".
But what ad is really telling us is that parents of first kids are anal and annoying. But by the time they have a second kid, parents don't care anymore, and willingly give their kids to random strangers and possible drug fiends. Second kids: ask your parents about this.
Also, we notice that there is no sign of that first kid in the second scene. We can only assume that the tightly-wound mom did something terrible before she lived and learned. But you make the call.
Jeff, Scott, and Mary talk about the best movies to watch while you quietly weep and eat ice cream on the couch in your sweatpants, and Mary explains that no, they're wrong, because 1999's The Mummy is the greatest comfort film every made. Then the New Movie Crew checks into The Continental to discuss why John Wick 3 is basically the James Brolin TV series Hotel, except everyone's a murderer.
Oh, and Benevolent and Protective Order of Belarussian Assassins has the worst ticketing system since Delta Airlines.
While researching an unrelated magazine article I came across this photo in a newspaper morgue, showing the Memorial Day Parade on Spring Street in Downtown Los Angeles in 1915. I could find no details about the event, but it's almost certain there were Civil War and Spanish American War veterans present. Possibly a few elderly survivors of the Mexican-American War and the various pre- and post-Civil War Indian campaigns, as well as the Boxer Rebellion, the Philippine Insurrection, our adventures in Samoa, and our occupation of Nicaragua. Two months after this Parade we would invade and occupy Haiti, which was followed by our occupation of the Dominican Republic, the Punitive Expedition into Mexico, and then, two years later, our entry into World War I. Even in peacetime, it seems, we've kept our troops busy.
This week Jeff and Scott chat about the peculiar way the new Joker trailer made them feel -- you know, down there -- then they debate the merits and demerits of Jordan Peele's Us and ultimately decide it's the best Easter Bunny movie since the Rankin-Bass holiday classic Here Comes Peter Cottontail.
Jeff remembers his mom's love of horror movies, while Scott recalls his Dickensian childhood reading crappy screenplays in a Victorian blacking factory, then they join hands and keep the lagomorph theme alive by plunging down a bottomless rabbit hole as they celebrate the joys and sorrows of dallying at the dollar theater. Finally, the entire New Movie Crew triumphantly returns to talk Captain Marvel, with many helpful tips on the care and feeding of Flerken.
Now put on your anti-alien cat eye protection and let's hit PLAY!
Jim Donahue, writer for the Daily Grindhouse (and a Crapper from way back) joins Scott and Jeff for an all Unknown Movie Challenge show. This time, it's the 1980 oddity Harlequin (AKA Dark Forces), and this is a weird one, but let me try to set the stage...
Suppose...just suppose...that Rasputin lived in Australia, but wouldn't admit it? And suppose he was a birthday clown? And was played by a guy who used to be Jesus of Nazareth, but now just wants to be in Velvet Goldmine? And suppose David Hemmings from Blow-Up shows up as a British guy pretending to be an Australian pretending to be an American in a mid-70s paranoid political thriller like The Parallax View, and almost gets away with it, until the last moment when a drunken Broderick Crawford lumbers on camera and everyone starts to think that hmmm...maybe they're actually in an episode of Highway Patrol? In HELL!
Look, I can't explain, so just listen and let us, uh...explain it. Anyway...
Maids melt, doves cry, clowns float. You will never be the same...
Today we celebrate the birthday of World O' Crap's own MaryC. Finding the right gift is never easy, so once again it's time to look through our favorite catalogs and Wish Books. Let's begin by seeing what Carol Wright Gifts has to offer ;
EMBROIDERED CAPRI SET ($19.99-$22.99)
For anyone yearning to unleash her inner Laura Petrie.
"JOHN" and "JANE" ($4.99 each)
"Ideal when you need instant relief! Whether in bed, in a car or anywhere, keep John or Jane nearby. Sanitary plastic bottle has easy-to use funnel design and sure-grip handle."
Wha--what...is this? Relief from what? Relief from whaaaaaaat?????
BAVARIAN WEATHER CHALET (only $14.99)
"The residents of this charming Bavarian chalet will step out to predict the weather. Designed with a thermometer and built-in hygrometer, this authentic Bavarian chalet is handcrafted of wood in Germany.
Woman Steps Out on Fair Days--Man Steps Out in Bad Weather"
There's no better way to get a weather report than from a German couple who can't stand to be in the same room together.
"52 THINGS TO DO WHILE YOU POO" book ($10.99)
"This collection of entertaining activities ranging from mazes to word finds to toilet trivia---"
--will come in handy when you're down to a cardboard roll.
JESUS CHRIST BOBBLEHEAD ($24.99)
"Why look to the angel on your shoulder when you have the Messiah right at your desk? The next time you get the urge to plunder the fridge for unsuspecting coworkers' lunches, just give the Son of God a little tap on the head and He will silently urge you not to covet thy neighbor's burger. 8" tall, "gracefully" sculpted resin. WARNING: Choking Hazard-small parts."
CHOKING hazard? How'd they find this out? What kind of weird-ass Communion was THAT?
ARMADILLO CAN HOLDER ($34.98)
"Let TEX, the armadillo guard your drink until you're good and ready to chug it! Cast in high-quality designer resin, this fully handpainted lifelike critter is a sure-fire conversation piece from his textured armor to his whiplash tail. Holds one 12 oz. can."
Well, that certainly will start conversations. Probably once the owner leaves the room. I think we've found this year's gift!
Well, the Academy Awards are airing Sunday night, and that means it's once again time for me to peruse the nominees in the four acting categories and see who'll win this year's SKELLY Award for most embarrassing prior role. Since many of this year's Oscar nominees are past Skelly nominees, they're ineligible, for the practical reason that I've already noted their worst roles, so why repeat myself? If they were eligible, the clear winner would be Christian Bale, because, with the exception of the winner, none of this year's contenders made anything approaching the level of "What the fuck did I just watch?" insanity of Swing Kids. I feel oddly apologetic for this, and for the short list. But let's dive in, shall we?
4th Place: REGINA KING Regina began as a child performer, most notably on the sitcom 227. She's matured into a compelling dramatic actress -- I especially liked her badass detective on Southland (a series seen by so few people, I found myself wondering if I just imagined it). So far, she's won three EMMY awards, and she's the front runner in the Best Supporting Actress category for her performance in If Beale Street Could Talk. Like past winner Viola Davis, most sane people wouldn't object to her winning an Oscar. And, also like Davis, she's been saddled with a few thankless supporting roles before finally getting the respect she deserved, including parts in not one, but two dumb sequels, Miss Congeniality 2: Armed & Fabulous and Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blue. Confession: I haven't actually seen either of them. I'm just assuming they're dumb, based upon the simple fact that, while not all sequels are bad, there are some movies that just don't need a sequel. If any of you have seen both, perhaps you can tell us which was the greater waste of King's time and talent, and also tell us if either was a stupid as the rom-com with Courtney Cox that Viola Davis was trapped in.
3rd Place: SAM ELLIOTT Sam's been appearing in movies for over 50 years -- longer than most of this year's Oscar nominees have been alive. He's also been seen as the face of many internet memes, probably because has the look of a guy who's about to tell you why you're an idiot, and he's probably right. Like many veteran actors, he's had his share of highs and lows, good and bad...and one movie that's good and bad: the camp classic Road House. I was kind of on the fence about including this one, because, as preposterous as it is, it's also kind of entertaining. It's one of those movies you enjoy in spite its badness, or possibly because of it. But then I realized that most of the movie's fans know it falls in the "It's so bad it's good" category, and might well be disappointed if it wasn't in the running for a Skelly.
2nd Place: GLENN CLOSE She received an Oscar nomination for her very first movie, The World According To Garp, and has racked up a total of seven in all. She's never won, but that might finally change this year. She's considered the favorite to win Best Actress for her turn in The Wife. It's one of her many portraits of tough, no-nonsense women. But before she established herself as a leading lady who wasn't to be trifled with, she landed a starring role as woman who was all nonsense -- two characters actually, in the comedy flop Maxie. This fantasy film centers around a yuppie couple, Jan (Close) and Nick (Mandy Patinkin) who move into a house and discover one of its previous residents was an aspiring actress, Maxie Malone, who died in the 1920's before getting her big break. They view an old movie showing Maxie's screen test, which somehow revives her spirit, which occupies Jan. Hijinks are supposed to ensue, as Close keeps switching back and forth between playing Jan and Maxie, and we keep waiting and waiting (and waiting and waiting and waiting) for something truly outrageous to happen, but nothing does. Or as Roger Ebert put it, this is the kind of movie where, if Maxie had any brains, she'd appear as Jan, take one look at the script, and decide she was better off dead. To add insult to inanity, the filmmakers couldn't even be bothered to create a fictional screen test, and used old footage of Carole Lombard, a great star who died tragically young. Lombard was known for her roles in fun screwball comedies of the type that Maxie desperately wants to be. They couldn't revive the spirit of those films any more than they could resurrect Carole Lombard.
What could be sadder than that? Well, that brings us to this year's SKELLY Winner: RICHARD E. GRANT
His first film role was in a 1983 live-action short titled Essences. After nearly 40 years in films, he's finally received his first Oscar nomination (overdue) for his supporting role in Can You Ever Forgive Me? -- a question he no doubt asked many times regarding his worst film role -- a movie so bad it's in a different stratosphere from the other bad movies I just listed. I'm speaking, of course, of HUDSON HAWK. I managed to avoid seeing this movie until just this year when I had to, for the purpose of this column. I was a bit curious to see if it was as bad as its reputation, and was shocked to find it was much, much worse. How bad? Well, have you ever been in the presence of an aggressive drunk who was convinced he was the life of the party, demanding everyone pay attention to him as he knocked over things, behaving like an obnoxious ass, oblivious to the fact that everybody wants him to just shut up and leave? Well, if a movie could get drunk, Hudson Hawk would be in blackout mode. It centers around a cat burglar (Bruce Willis) who times his burglaries based on the running length of pop songs. (Willis also co-wrote the screenplay, and he writes exactly as well as he sings.) His efforts to go straight are derailed when he finds himself roped into performing one last job by a number of baddies, including a husband and wife team played by Grant and Sandra Bernhard, who chew up the scenery and spit it out, like a pair of bulimic psychotics. (Originally, this couple was conceived to be one character, a woman, and Audrey Hepburn was offered the role. She turned it down due to prior commitment -- namely, her lifelong commitment to avoid movies that are unwatchable garbage.) According to Grant, who devoted a chapter of his autobiography to his experiences on the film, Bruce Willis kept injecting new ideas throughout the production. That probably explains why the movie is such a jumbled mess, and has so little story continuity. It also explains why the picture went way over budget. It not only didn't earn back that cost, it bombed so badly it bankrupted the studio, making it the Heaven's Gate of comedies, except that Heaven's Gate was funnier, and more coherent. Despite being a spectacular failure, Hudson Hawk actually does have its defenders. Richard E. Grant met one such fan, who admitted to liking the film. Grant's response: "It was a stinking pile of steaming hot donkey droppings, and you are an idiot." Which is funnier than anything in the movie. And, for that, Richard, I can say on behalf of all your fans, Yes, we can forgive you. Good luck on Oscar night!
Many sports (outside of such whispered-commentary spectacles as golf or snooker) have a frankly atavistic appeal, and the potential to reduce their spectators to hooting mobs held in check solely by the weight of the 32 oz cups of concession stand Budweiser in their laps. But of all contact sports, boxing is perhaps the most primal. Like nature, it’s populated by predators and parasites, its lives are often nasty, brutish, and short, and its passions are as fierce as they are fleeting.
But sometimes a sport, even boxing, will germinate a principled oddball who holds to a code of honor older than the sport itself. Usually these outliers earn a baffled or pitying shake of the head from their more ruthless colleagues, but occasionally – not often, but every once in awhile – the nice guys finish first.
FOR SOME PEOPLE, IT’S LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT. FOR JOE GOOSSEN, IT WAS LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT OF BLOOD
Joe Goossen had the typical Los Angeles upbringing. Seven brothers and two sisters; Irish Catholic mother; mountain-sized father who was one of the few Jewish homicide detectives in the LAPD.
Okay, maybe not so typical.
At 16 Joe snuck past a cop and into the Olympic Auditorium to see his first fight. Without a ticket he wandered down the aisle, scanning the dark, smoky rows for an empty seat and had gotten nearly close enough to reach out and touch the ring apron when one fighter suddenly jerked to his full height courtesy of an uppercut and toppled majestically toward Joe, trailing a cometary tail of blood and spittle in his wake.
“How often do you see a guy get hit with one punch and then just fall?” Joe marveled. “And it was all legal. People were cheering for it.”
“He was knocked out and my eyes were opened.” By the time that long-forgotten pugilist had hit the canvas, Joe knew what he wanted to do with his life.
A half century later, he’s still in the gym; and now also a three-time inductee of the Hall of Fame.
The Ten Goose Boxing Gym began as a hand-built ring under a tree in a Wiffle ball field. Joe and his brothers started training fighters in their off hours, stringing lights in the branches because they all worked during the day. Eventually they laid cement, put up walls and a roof, and varnished every surface, because the whole interior – right down to the speedbag racks – was crafted from wood. Sugar Ray Leonard once walked inside and declared “This is the greatest gym I’ve ever been in! It’s beautiful!” Resembling a Catskills training camp from the golden age of prizefighting, the hand-made gym had no plumbing, not even a changing room, just a wooden box grafted onto the back with barely enough room for a couple of fighters to sit on a bench and change their clothes behind a curtain.
Today Ten Goose is housed in a small, bright, modern space tucked away on a side street in Van Nuys, and frequented by both hungry neophytes and boxing royalty. The day I first met Joe there was another Hall of Famer in the house – former World Welterweight Champion Carlos Palomino, who had brought along a prospect to spar with one of Joe’s up and coming boxers.
Former World Champion Carlos Palomino watches from the corner.
After the two young fighters went a few rounds, with Joe and Carlos coaching from opposite corners, I sat down with Joe in a coffee shop and asked him to tell me about the Ruelas Brothers.
A LABOR OF LOVE THAT STARTED WITH ONE PUNCH
They’d never worn shoes until they came to this country.
It took an hour by truck to wind up through the jungle to the village where they were born. “Walk out the back door of any adobe, you see nothing but fields stretching to the next mountain,” Joe remembers. “Their water comes from the river. They kill something every day to eat.
“No phones, no electricity. Just one street with ten adobes on one side, ten adobes on the other, and a church – the nicest structure in the village. A tiny community centered around God, family, and food.”
Gabriel and Rafael Ruelas had grown up in this isolated environment, two of fifteen children, picking garbanzo beans on their parents’ land. At ages 8 and 7 they were both sent north to live with siblings in the San Fernando Valley, where they were expected to continue working.
Juan Ruelas, the boys’ elder brother, was a boxer, and had spent time in Joe’s gym. When their father fell ill and Juan went home to help with the ranch, he told Gabriel, “While I’m gone, I want you to find this guy, Joe Goossen,” adding “If you go train, I’ll give you five dollars a day.”
Gabriel was selling candy at the time for an outfit called Junior Careers. A man in a van (never a good beginning to any story) would pick up a dozen kids and drop them off in a neighborhood, where they’d fan out to peddle their confections. One day Gabriel found himself outside Ten Goose Gym.
How long the boy stood there, Joe doesn’t know. But eventually Gabriel stashed his cardboard box of candies under a bush and approached the entrance.
“Certain things you never forget. It was really bright outside, and this elfin silhouette interrupted the glare. After hesitating, the figure moved inside and resolved into a skinny Latino kid…”
Joe watched from the back of the room as Gabriel made the long walk around the circumference of the ring to approach him, wondering, “What the hell does this kid want?”
Whatever it was, Joe had no time for it. He’d served his apprenticeship in the corner from 1970 to 1981, accompanying his friend Randy Shields on the long road from Amateur to Professional, picking up skills and absorbing the atmosphere and traditions of the game.
And now business was picking up. Within two months, the Goossens would sign their biggest catch, Olympian Michael Nunn, who four years later became middle weight champion of the world.
So it was a grim, not to say unwelcoming, but certainly unenthused face that greeted the boy who trudged nervously across that gym floor. As Gabriel later confessed, “I was so scared,” he told Joe. “You were scary-looking. You were big.”
“I called Gabriel over, I said, ‘How can I help you?’
“He said, ‘I want to be a fighter.’
“I knew I’d have to turn this kid away, which I didn’t want to do, but I had to make a living.
I said ‘We don’t train amateurs here, we just train pros.’
“He just looked at me, didn’t blink, and didn’t budge.”
That’s when Alonzo “Strongbow” Gonzalez, the number one flyweight in the world, peeked through the drape separating the changing room from the gym and piped up, “No, no, Joe. I want you to train him! I like what I see in his eyes.”
“Great,” Joe sighs. “So now I’m thinking, how do I get out of this?
“I say to Gabriel, ‘You want to train here? Okay. Where do you go to school?’
“’Sun Valley Junior High.’
“’When do you get out?’
“’Okay, you be here at 3:30. If you’re a minute late, don’t come in. If you miss a day, don’t come back.’”
Thirty minutes to get out of school and catch a bus from Sun Valley to Van Nuys? Impossible. Problem solved.
“When I saw him walk in on Monday, I looked at the clock, and it was like 3:28, right under the wire. (And he was never late once in 17 years. They never missed a day. And I rarely gave them a day off, even after a fight. I spent more time with those kids than I did with my own.)
“But a deal’s a deal. So I had him put on the gloves…
“People ask me why I took them on when everybody else in my life thought it was a waste of time; we were looking at six years before they could turn pro and even start to think about making some money. In fact, until then, I was spending money.
“But the first punch Gabriel threw, as soon as his hand hit the mitt, I thought, ‘I’ve got a world champion here!’
“It’s like handing a bat to a Little Leaguer who’s never played before. You start throwing to him and he knocks every pitch out of the park, and you go, ‘So you’ve never played?’ and he shakes his head. ‘Never even had a bat in your hand?’ ‘Nope.’
“I knew very little about working with kids, I only knew I didn’t want to start it. I’d already done the amateurs, and it was very unrewarding.”
But you don’t see that kind of raw talent walk through your door every day, and when you do, you don’t just turn it away.
“It took a little prodding from Alonzo, but it only took one day in the gym before I knew I was lucky. Nobody had to say another word to me after that.”
A month later, in July 1984, Gabriel brought his 11-year-old brother Rafael into the gym to train, and lightning struck twice. And what had started as a wild gamble gradually turned into a labor of love.
The brothers’ first amateur fight was in Oxnard that September, and they caused an immediate stir.
“Gabriel climbed in the ring and knocked this kid out cold. Which nobody was doing. No kid at that age knocks a kid out cold. And the coaches are like, ‘Who the hell is this kid? Where did he come from?’
The Ruelas brothers
“So after Oxnard, I put them in three successive fights over a couple weekends. And people are going ‘Who the hell are these kids? We’ve never seen ‘em before and they’re knocking out our best guys!’”
“A month later I signed them up for the first PAL Blue and Gold, huge national tournament. And back then there was no Junior and Open; if you enter the tournament you could fight someone with a hundred fights, even if you had just three. Which is what happened.
“Gabriel and Rafael had barely any real gym experience, but they got an intense crash course, and started working their way through the brackets.
“Now we got guys from San Francisco to Arkansas to New York, and it was a two ring, three-day tournament at the Olympic Auditorium. Packed house, thousands of spectators. In his seventh fight ever, Gabriel ends up in the finals, fights a kid with a 101-1 record and destroys him. I’ve got a picture; when the referee raises the fighters’ arms, Gabriel’s opponent just collapsed. And this was a kid hadn’t lost since he was like, six.
“So Rafael gets to the finals and faces off against Shane Mosley, who, if I recall correctly, had 80 fights and 75 wins, against Rafael’s five. Mosley was the golden child, he was the guy; they couldn’t justify giving the fight to Rafael, because, who is he? He’s never fought before.”
The officials awarded the win to Mosley, a decision which did not sit well with the crowd. “It’s the only fight they booed over the whole weekend.”
“After that, there was suddenly a lot of interest in these two boys, and all the way through Amateurs, numerous people tried to lure them away from me.
“But they were loyal to me like no other fighter.”
That loyalty was reciprocated. Joe bought them their first pairs of boxing shoes. He arranged through a friend of the family, an Irish priest, for the boys to cut through the red tape to make their first Holy Communion. They lived together for years, in the gym, in the training camps, and gradually the trust between them grew and blossomed into something Joe had experienced with none of his other fighters. And over the years he’s trained many.
But it wasn’t easy.
“Gabriel was a quiet kid. He basically didn’t say a word to me for three years. If we were in the car for three hours driving down to San Diego, he’d be staring out the side window so he wouldn’t accidentally make eye contact with me and have to speak. He later said it was because he was embarrassed about his English; Rafael was more fluent and would always be leaning forward from the back seat (this was before mandatory seatbelt laws) and chattering away.
“By the time they were both in high school, Gabriel and Rafael were both bringing me home their report cards, just like my other kids.”
Rafael was the more outgoing and, outside of the ring, the more ambitious. When Reagan signed the Amnesty act, “Rafael was working as an intern for an attorney, and he received an award from the City of Los Angeles, in a ceremony at City Hall, for processing more amnesty applications than anyone else in L.A.
“He was 15 at the time. Whatever these kids decided to do, they were going to be number one. The lawyer even said, ‘We’ll send you to law school. You have to quit boxing, though’, and Rafael just said, ‘Nah.’
“In the end, he did it on his own. He got his accounting license, his brokerage license, his real estate license…”
After the Amnesty, both boys got their Green Cards, and in 1990, became American citizens. But before that, the possibility of arrest and deportation was a constant threat to their dream. “It was scary, they had to be leery about going certain places, avoid spots La Migra patrolled in their green-and-white cars.”
“The 1988 Olympics were coming up. Gabriel and Raphael weren’t yet U.S. citizens, so they were eligible for the Mexican team. Which is a two-year process. You start in ‘86 with the trials and the tournaments, and because we’d missed the early part of this process, I had to scramble to get them into the tournament in Tijuana. And if you win there, that’s just the beginning; you have to go on and win tournaments all the way through until you get to Mexico City. Talk about an arduous journey! And Mexico already had its A and B Olympic Teams picked. To have a chance you’d have to work your way into the Olympic Center and then beat some of thoseguys—former Olympians, or guys who’d made their way up the ladder and were top amateur stars.
“So I take Gabriel and Rafael to TJ; they were around 15 and 16. They held the fight outside the arena, in the parking lot.
“Gabriel gets in the ring first with another aspiring Olympian, and hit him with a left hook that would’ve knocked out anybody. This kid went down so hard, I was worried about him. They dragged him out, and it took awhile to wake him up. Nobody was wearing headgear, and they used pro gloves – 8 ouncers, they weren’t like the padded Ringside, you could feel knuckles through them.
“The promoter got on the phone to Mexico City right after the fight and said ‘I got a kid here you’re gonna want me to send down there. He just knocked out so-and-so in like 20 seconds, and the guy still ain’t awake.’
“So Rafael gets in the ring, does the same thing, and there’s another phone call: ‘Okay, uh…There’s two of ‘em.’
We bypassed the rest of the tournament. Bypassed the regionals and the districts and went right to the Olympic Center. Gabriel was on the A Team and Rafael was on the B team. It was a hell of a journey. But once that first day in Tijuana happened, I knew where it was going to go.”
“MONEY WAS NEVER REALLY PART OF THE CONVERSATION. WITH US, IT WAS ALWAYS ABOUT THE BELT, NEVER ABOUT THE BANK.”
“Rafael was allowed to turn pro at 17, a year ahead of schedule, because he was knocking out all the amateurs, nobody would fight him anymore. And we had to go to Vegas to do it, we couldn’t do it in California.”
Gabriel turned pro four years to the day after his first fight in Oxnard, on September 16, 1988, in a match against Raul Martinez at Caesar’s Palace.
Rafael debuted on January 17, 1989, also at Caesar’s Palace, fighting Marcos Covarrubias. Gabriel fought on the same card.
“Gabriel’s first pro fight, he knocked the guy out and looked like the second coming of Roberto Duran. Bob Arum jumped in the ring and shouted, ‘We’ve got something special here!’
“We never had to have contracts, not even a handshake. It was just, ‘You do this? Okay, I’ll do this’. Like a brother to a brother.”
“You can always count on having business problems with most professional fighters, but not them. Never. And they were worth millions. They were hot properties. And there were two of ‘em. The odds of getting one world champion? Forget it, you might as well just play the Lotto. But the odds of getting two?” Joe shook his head; more than three decades later, it was still hard to believe.
“Money was never an overriding concern with me, it was always about the belt. You see that thing wrapped around someone’s waist and think, ‘I want one of those.’ I can get money any time, but hardly anybody gets one of those. That green belt, the WBC one with the flags of the world? Oh man, that’s the one I always wanted, because it’s one of the longest standing belts. And that’s the one we won with Gabriel. That was my objective for us. I never said to them when they were kids, ‘Hey, I’m gonna make you guys rich.’ I said, ‘Hey, I’m gonna make you champions.’
Joe’s father, Elliott “Al” Goossen [L], the Ruelas Brothers, Joe.
Joe’s single-minded focus on the belt helped drive his team forward, each of the young men earning title shots with remarkable speed. But it didn’t come without sacrifice, including one fight that, as Joe remembers it, “almost destroyed everything.”
“One day in the gym, in training camp up in Campo, San Diego, Gabriel had complained about his elbow. And Gabriel never complained.
“But he threw a right hand and made an ‘ow’ noise, and I said, okay, that’s it. He said, no, no, it’s okay, and I said, Uh…no. You’ve never complained before. So I took him to an orthopedic surgeon down in San Diego who said it was probably a hyper-extension, just let it rest.
“But it was still bugging him, so I said, let’s go to another doctor, get a second opinion.
“The diagnosis was the same: hyper-extension.
“Okay, so we finished training camp. It bothered him a little bit, but not too bad, but I decided to take him to another orthopedic surgeon in Las Vegas. He x-rayed the elbow, diagnosed a hyper-extension, and gave him a cortisone shot.
“So we get to Vegas for the Franklin fight, and the consensus of medical opinion is he’s got a hyper-extension. Nothing serious.
“It wasn’t a hyper-extension.
“Turns out he had an old stress fracture. Three doctors missed it on the x-ray. So that night in the ring, we’re having our way with Franklin. Gabriel hits him in the fifth or sixth round with a right hand and boom! I saw his arm drop…
“He came back to the corner, and I’m hammering at him to keep that hand up, and he just says, quietly, ‘It hurts.’
“And I just blew right past it. I heard it, but I knew it was a hyper-extension – three out of three doctors agreed – and I was more focused on him keeping that hand up to protect himself.
“So I send him back out. Franklin senses it’s injured, and attacks. Broke it in half, inverted it, like Theismann’s leg.
“I jumped in the ring, and I knew, with what I just saw, that this was a career ender. Even worse, the surgery I got talked into in Vegas, they said it has to be done now. Turns out it didn’t. And what happened when they did the surgery? They put the screws in backwards.
“We get back to town and I took Gabriel to another surgeon, Dr. Tony Daley, who looks at the x-rays and says ‘The screws they put in are too thin, and they’re pointing in the wrong direction. This is all going to break within the week.’ He says they’ll have to operate again, remove all the hardware, take a bone graft from his hip, etc.
“Gabriel had put in a lifetime of work to reach that night, it was his big HBO debut fight, and now an inch from the brass ring, his arm’s ruined. Everyone’s saying he’ll never fight again. Never.
“Needless to say, Gabriel was pissed, and after we got back home, he wasn’t really taking my calls…"
Then Gene Hackman intervened.
“Gene was a friend of mine. He loved Gabriel and Rafael and his son Chris literally followed them around for a couple years and made a documentary about them, but the footage got lost when his basement flooded... So Gene went over to see him, then he comes into the gym and tells me ‘He’s very angry with you.’ And I go, “I know. He deserves to be.”
“Gene said, if I were you, I’d go see him. So I took his advice and drove over there. We went out to a restaurant and I told him, ‘Gabriel, I did everything right a thousand times. I did one thing really wrong, and I could’ve done two thousand things right and it wouldn’t make up for what I did the other night.’ And then he said, ‘I forgive you.’ And that was that. That’s all he needed to hear.
“And you know, he would’ve been within his rights to say anything to me–anything–because he’d trusted me and I broke his trust. It was the worst thing in the world.
“But he never brought it up again.
“And I vowed to myself – just like I vowed to them the first month I knew them; I said, ‘You’re gonna be world champions.’ I guaranteed it. And now I vowed to myself, ‘I’m gonna right this wrong. I’m gonna go through hell to get him that belt I promised him his whole life.’
“It was a long journey back. We had to go through two operations, a year of rehab, and then we had to get back into the gym. There were tune-up fights; my brother Dan maneuvered things so he’d have a shot at the title again; and I did everything I could to make sure he was prepared. But he basically went back in the ring to face Jesse James Leija with one-and-a-half arms. He could never fully extend his right because of the bolts in his elbow.
“That’s how good he was. Where you might rely on the old one-two, Gabriel didn’t have a one-two anymore. So what’d he do in the championship fight? He knocked Leija down twice. With his right. That goes to show you how badass that right hand was. Even with half an arm, that couldn’t snap, he put him down twice. Leija landed so hard he broke his leg. Fought the rest of the match with a hairline fracture.
“And you know still to this day he can’t fully extend it. It’s never going to be 100% again. But he won the belt. He defended the title…”
And then Jimmy Garcia died.
“Gabriel was a stealth-giver. He would do things for people that you’d never know about.
“We’d be up in the mountains at training camp, working six days a week, and I’d say, ‘Get in the car, we’ll drive down to San Diego and hit the mall.’ But suddenly you look around and think, Where’s Gabriel? And you see him over with these homeless guys, giving them money. He was like that. He’d take them into restaurants and feed them.
“Meeting him for the first time, you’d never guess he was like that, because he was such a closed book. Now, he grew out of that as he got older, and became much more friendly and talkative; the conversations opened up, the laughing opened up, the jokes opened up. But at any given moment, when everybody’s sitting around talking, you’d go, ‘Where’s Gabriel?’ and he’d be over there staring out the window, just thinking.
“And some of those thoughts were dark.
“Gabriel had recurring dreams that he was going to die in the ring.
“He used to have visions of the devil visiting him in his room. Gabriel got a devil’s mask when we were up in training camp, and it was a frightening one too. I don’t know if he was trying to do a little self-therapy or what, but he definitely had a feeling somebody was gonna die.
“Where Rafael had no such premonitions. Rafael was like, ‘I’m gonna be champ, I’m gonna make money, I’m gonna do well, I’m gonna get my stockbrokers license.’
“But Gabriel always felt doomed. And he was right in a way, he just got it backwards. Because it wasn’t long after the training camp, with the mask and the devil and all that stuff, that he killed Garcia.”
In May 1995, Gabriel successfully defended his WBC World Super Featherweight title for the second time, scoring a TKO against Jimmy Garcia at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. But Garcia slipped into a coma, and never recovered.
I asked Joe if he was surprised about the way Gabriel took it.
“Knowing Gabriel, I’m not surprised he sat with Jimmy in the hospital room for a week, holding his hand. After everything that happened that weekend – after nine, ten weeks in the mountains -- I was exhausted, mentally, physically, spiritually. I just couldn’t have spent one more minute in Las Vegas.
“Gabriel was the only one who stayed behind. His brother left, his family left, I left. He stayed behind. And then had to face the wrath of Garcia’s mom who wouldn’t shake his hand because these were the hands that killed her son. It was horrible.
“Gabriel stayed behind for a week until Jimmy died, and it was a real act of compassion.
“People think fighters are mean, blood-thirsty guys, that you got to be like that to win. But who you are in the ring is no predictor of what’s in your heart.”
It was getting late. The sun was slanting over the low buildings as we walked back to the gym, where a new generation of young boxers waited for Joe to sharpen and shape them into something dangerous. Good prospects, he mused, ticking them off one by one. Maybe not the Ruelas Brothers, but that’s no surprise; Joe’s been around long enough to recognize a once in a lifetime deal when he sees it.
And though the fights are over, the relationship endures. Gabriel and Rafael bring their families over to Joe’s house for dinner, and several times during our conversations he called each of them to good naturedly argue a name or a detail from some long past bout (his ability to recall the minutiae of fights from thirty-five years ago is faintly eerie).
We shook hands and as I turned to go, the last thing I saw in Ten Goose Gym was the first thing I saw when I walked in: a big photograph hung above the ring. It depicts a smiling Joe with his arms around Gabriel and Rafael, each of their waists encircled by the belt he’d promised them when they were boys.