Friday, February 13, 2015

Ask Me a Question: Only the Strong w/Sheldon Lettich

After a few minutes of walking around the surprisingly bustling 6th Street on a Sunday night, we wolfed down some hot dogs on the corner then headed back in for Only the Strong. A local Capoeira group had learned of the screening and came down to give a live demonstration. This was Sheldon's personal print he purchased from the lab so I'm not sure if it's ever even been run for an audience. Trailers for the amazing looking dance/street fighting Rooftops and coming of age drama Stand By Me preceded.

Only the Strong starts off in Brazil where we meet Green Beret Louis Stevens (Mark Dacascos) ending his assignment and mixing it up with the locals for some dance and gymnastics based Capoeira. Cut to Miami, Florida where Louis visits his old high school which is now covered in graffiti, plagued by gangs, drugs and has bars in the stairwells so kids don't throw their peers off. You see, Louis used to be a bit of a lost cause as well but gruff teacher Mr. Kerrigan (Geoffrey Lewis) inspired him to do more in life leading to a four year stint in the Army. But now even Mr. Kerrigan has all but given up on the kids and school that has a 14% graduation rate. Pissed off and saddened by Kerrigan's apathy, Louis ends up intervening when a local drug dealer publicly embarrasses his little brother for not selling enough product. Louis then whups his and several other gang members asses using his Capoeira skills and stylin' white high tops. The violent incident grabs the attention of the entire student body and gives Kerrigan the crazy idea of rehabilitating the school's 12 worst students...through fighting. Setting up in an old firehouse, Louis begins teaching the troubled youngsters Capoeira as a challenge to their manhood and futures. But having the kids in this alternative after school program means less time on the streets selling drugs and chopping cars which pisses off local warlord and Capoeria expert Silverio (Paco Christian Prieto). Of course the kids bond, grow and stick up for each other before supporting Louis in a final showdown with the menacing martial arts maestro Silverio.

For a film as simple yet ridiculous as Only the Strong, it still plays quite well. The action is the main attraction of course and fights are filled with impressive looking handstand kicks, flips, cart wheels and dance infused fisticuffs. While the concept would be cheesy and totally unbelievable in lesser hands, Lettich and co-writer Luis Esteban give the story a straight ahead earnestness that doesn't have you questioning the questionable actions of making a high school mash up of The Dirty Dozen, Stand and Deliver and a karate movie. Young Mark Dacascos infuses his role as Louis with nice guy honesty while being super yoked and able to jump, flip and kick the shit out of everything and everyone. Besides Silverio, he actually gets thrashed pretty bad in their first encounter to set up their end fight. Mark D's nimble athleticism is truly impressive and it's a shame he didn't go on to have a bigger career. Edward J. Pei's cinematography highlights sunny beaches and the shitty high school equally well to give the film a very slick feel. Watching it again, I was really impressed by the fight scene in a chop shop later in the film after one of Louis' students is killed. Putting on his Army fatigues, the teacher is out for revenge. It's brutal and kick ass with lots of heads and bodies smashing windshields and into cars.

Greg and Sheldon took the stage one more time for Q&A:

- Prolific France based distributor and producer Samuel Hadida had released Lionheart overseas and wanted another martial arts vehicle, this time based on the exotic Capoeira.
- Sheldon and company worked hard to highlight the art while putting it's flashy moves into more realistic street fights as it wasn't as obvious a transition as typical karate or boxing.
- Filmed in actual closed down high school that had bars in stairwells.
- Mark Dacascos worked with a Capoeira trainer for months and through the shoot.
- Dacascos is a talented martial artist and gymnast but Van Damme is the real deal and a real badass.
- Mark is great with weapons while JCVD is horrible.
- Being the early 90's, Sheldon suggested Mark beef up for the role to take his place among the Van Damme, Arnold and Stallone set.
- Feels Mark has had a nice career but Only the Strong should have been bigger. Fox picked up distribution rights, liked what they saw and offered Dacascos a 3-picture deal.
- Imperial Entertainment, same company that made Lionheart, hired Mark D. for the video game adaptation of Double Dragon with a director known for commercials and it wasn't going well.
- Fox originally planned to have Sheldon and Mark do a 12 city junket to hype the film but Double Dragon's delays meant they could only do one in Miami.
- Fox lost interest, only had a few million invested in Strong and knew it would make it's money on video so didn't give theatrical release much of a push.
- Loved working with cinematographer Edward J. Pei, two were neighbors at the time but stars haven't aligned since with Sheldon working in Canada and Europe where a local crew member has preference.
- Costume Designer Pat Field would go on to work on Sex and the City series and films.
- Known for action, Sheldon just loves making movies and wouldn't mind a comedy or drama.
- Dog of war tale Max is coming, Warner Brothers has it set for an August release.
- Not a tough guy himself even though he served in the Marines and Vietnam but gets along with tough guys really well. Stallone, Van Damme, Dacascos, Seagal and Lundgren, everybody.
- Mark is the nicest guy in the world so didn't buy him as villain in Cradle 2 the Grave versus Jet Li.
- Dolph Lundgren is a really nice guy that you don't want to tick off.

And there you have it. A great night all around. Greg and the Alamo do a kick ass job while Sheldon keeps living the dream traveling the country and next the globe with his movies. As Jean-Claude Van Damme would say: "I see you ladder!"

No comments:

Post a Comment