The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: Death Grip
The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Issue #404: Death Grip
The Eric Jacobus Special Edition
Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that isn’t on the hunt for a sacred silver coin, The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number four hundred and four, I take a look at three different efforts from modern martial arts superstar Eric Jacobus. First, I’m going to take a look at his feature length flick Death Grip, and then I take a look at two of his short film efforts, Rope-A-Dope and Rope-A-Dope 2: The Return of the Martial Arts Mafia.
Death Grip, written by, directed by, and starring Jacobus, is a badass action flick that also doubles as a kind of dark comedy. The movie features some of the hardest hitting fight scenes committed to film this decade, some shocking, bloody violence, and moments that will make you laugh out loud. Yes, it drags a bit every now and then and the antagonists are weirder than they probably should be, but the flick is a definite must see for martial arts movie fans.
Jacobus plays Kenny Zemacus, a sort of quiet, badass caterer who is trying to not only get his life together, but also get his mentally challenged brother Mark (Nathan Hoskins) out of a special home. The movie starts with Kenny meeting with a social worker who, after some back and forth, eventually agrees to allow Mark out of the home and into Kenny’s custody. Despite being siblings they don’t seem to have much in common (you get the sense early on that Kenny only wants Mark out of the home out of a sense of familial obligation, not because the home is hell and he can’t stand having his brother locked up), but Kenny does everything he can to make sure that Mark has a smooth transition into the regular world. Kenny tries to play baseball with him (a hilarious montage of what can only be described as miscommunication) and he protects him from a team of bullies who show up out of nowhere (we see a fantasy dream sequence where Kenny takes on the bullies kung fu movie style and then we see Kenny dispatch the bullies with one punch). Mark doesn’t outwardly react to his brother’s protection, but he does appreciate it on some level. Mark becomes upset, though, when Kenny won’t let him keep a “magic” silver heart pendant that their mother gave to him (Mark is allergic to silver).
After taking Mark to his apartment, Kenny is called to the local museum to provide catering for a big event after the original caterer got sick. Kenny brings his brother to the event (Kenny also keeps all of the food in the backseat of his car, which, to me, is just hilarious. Why in the back seat and not the trunk?). The event goes off without a hitch, as Kenny mingles with a food tray and Mark keeps the main food table full. As the event winds down, Kenny ends up hanging out in the bathroom where he can look at his phone and smoke a cigarette in peace. Kenny eventually dozes off in the stall and stays there past the official closing of the museum. Mark ends up taking a nap behind the main table, using several trays of tin foil as a pillow. The event coordinators don’t seem to mind that the caterer is still in the building or that one of them has fallen asleep on the main display floor. The coordinators, a woman named Rindy (Rebecca Ahn) and a man named Michael (Chelsea Steffensen) are more interested in making sure that an old silver coin believed to be one of the thirty pieces of silver paid to Judas is returned to wherever it is they got it from. It should be a fairly simple pack up procedure. I mean, it’s just a coin.
Yeah, it isn’t a simple process. At all.
In the midst of removing the coin from its protective covering, a group of heavily armed masked men enter the museum and threaten Rindy and Michael with death if they don’t give up the coin. Michael agrees to give it up immediately, but Rindy isn’t keen on letting the masked men have it. A brief fight ensues, one of the masked men is shot, and suddenly there’s a shootout in the museum. As all of that goes on, Mark wakes up, opens up the coin display, and takes the coin (Mark has a knack for opening locks, both chain locks and electronic ones). Mark then goes to wake up Kenny so they can leave. Neither one is aware of the shootout or the masked men in the museum. Then one of the masked men, Torch (Johnny Yong Bosch), enters the bathroom and demands the coin. After a scuffle, the coin ends up in the toilet. Now, before Torch entered the bathroom, Kenny broke the toilet’s automatic flush mechanism (he pulled it off the back of the toilet). The toilet doesn’t flush like it once did. In fact, it seems to be more sensitive to motion than before. When the coin falls into the bowl, Kenny, Mark, and Torch have no idea what to do. Should they continue fighting? Should they try to retrieve the coin somehow? Their group solution is the comedy highlight of the movie (Kenny and Torch have a slow motion fight where they grab one another, punch one another in the face, and grab and twist at one another without trying to make all that much noise or move that much so they don’t set off the flusher, and Mark tries to get the coin by sneaking up on the toilet). I can assure you that you have never seen anything quite like this bathroom scene.
Once Mark retrieves the coin Kenny and Torch speed up their fight to “normal” speed. It’s a brutal brawl that destroys the bathroom and leaves Kenny and Mark vulnerable to getting shot. But Kenny thinks fast, slashes a guy’s face (I’m not sure who this is. He wears a suit, though), and Kenny manages to get Mark out of the building and to safety. The coin is still in the building, though.
While all of that is going, a group of hooded men kidnap a woman (Caitlyn Corson) from a parking lot somewhere for God knows what reason. The hooded men are obviously related to the museum intruders, but why the heck would they kidnap some random woman? And why is the silver Judas coin so special? Just what the heck is going on here?
I don’t want to attempt to explain the rest of the plot as there are a few interesting twists that you likely won’t see coming (I know I didn’t see them coming). I will say, though, that Kenny’s night isn’t over and that retrieving the coin becomes incredibly important to him. That, and the fights he finds himself in are so nasty and brutal that they will make you wince as you watch them. There’s also enough blood and gore on display to make any slasher movie nerd ecstatic. There’s a sequence involving a face wound that will keep you from eating extra cheese pizza for a few days.
Now, the humor may confuse some people because it isn’t just something that pops up every now and then. Goofiness permeates the entire movie, even when the story is deadly serious. Humor can be a big risk in a movie like this, but Jacobus somehow makes it work. The gags are genuinely funny on their own, and Jacobus, with his constant, somewhat bewildered look, help sell them. I’d imagine that if the movie contained zero humor and was super serious throughout it would still work but it would be a grim movie watching experience. Death Grip wouldn’t be something you’d want to watch again for the story or the performances; it would be all about the fighting.
Jacobus does a great job as Kenny. He gives Kenny a world weariness that you don’t see all that often in martial arts movies. It’s also interesting how we don’t get much in the way of backstory for Kenny (he isn’t some ex-Special Ops guy or professional fighter or something. He’s just some guy who knows how to beat the crap out of people). His martial arts skills are on full display in every fight and, man, if you’re an action movie fan and you don’t dig Jacobus’s skill you need to seriously reconsider your allegiance to the action genre.
Nathan Hoskins gives the standout performance of the movie as Mark, Kenny’s challenged brother. Hoskins is sweet and funny as the guy who seems like he should be perpetually out of it (he’s wearing fuzzy pig slippers with everything, including his catering suit) but he’s more “with it” than you assume. He can get out of locks with ease, he’s quick, and he knows how to tie a tie (he doesn’t ask if you want the tie tied, though). You will be leave the movie moved by what Hoskins does.
Johnny Yong Bosch does a good job as the cult member Torch. He’s more than a match, physically, for Kenny when it comes to the fights, and you’ll be amazed at how fast he is, too. I’m not sure if I completely buy him as a cult leader or as a guy who would appear in a cult of some sort (he seems to be too smart for it, unless it’s just a giant personal scam to make money on his part. I could believe that), but it’s a minor quibble that might disappear with a few more viewings. Bosch is a badass.
Everyone else who appears does a decent job. Rebecca Ahn is believable as Rindy (she’s earnest). Chelsea Steffensen makes Michael a weasel. And Sean Rochford is one of the sleaziest speedo men in movie history as Joe. You will be skeezed out by where he keeps his goddamn phone.
Death Grip is a great martial arts black comedy. It may weird you out at first, simply because there aren’t that many martial arts black comedies out there, but if you stick with it you’ll be rewarded with something special. And Death Grip is special. A great flick through and through.
See Death Grip. See it, see it, see it.
So what do we have here?
Dead bodies: Around 10.
Doobage: A shooting, pig slippers, a silver heart pendant, attempted baseball, baseball to the arm, baseball to the back, bully attack, skateboard attack, face punching, attempted steak eating, attempted sleeping, a special coin, a drawing of a burning house, catered food, mirror breaking, cigarette sneaking, sleeping in the bathroom, attempted burglary, napkin writing, more face slapping, toilet sensor breaking, a shootout, a slow motion bathroom fight, attempted finger breaking, thumb to the eye, nut twisting, a full on bathroom brawl, bathroom stall destruction, sink breaking, face slashing, kidnapping, gut punching, serious cocaine snorting, hand slicing, bondage, shackle breaking, off screen pool ball throwing, pool cue to the face, pen to the face, face gouging, a very small knife, an off screen beating, knife blade grabbing, throat slitting, lots of cult bullshit, a blind guy, serious blood dripping, light bulb breaking, candle throwing, book to the face, some stuff about ghosts, more beatings, lock picking, a wicked multi-person fight, sort of stick fighting, giant chain attack, multiple blood geysers, double butterfly knives, a wicked hand-to-hand brawl that leads to a knife fight for the ages, face skin pulling, a final brawl, stabbing, and a nice ending.
Kim Richards?: None.
Gratuitous: A remote control with a red button on it, drawings, impromptu tie tying, cookie replacements, dreams, a slow motion bathroom brawl, dominoes, multiple knife Russian roulette sequences, attempted virgin sacrifice, a dog pile, and a nice ending.
Best lines: “Look, you like baseball still?,” “What the fuck you doing with my bike, man?,” “Are you a vegetarian now?,” “What’s this about the Lackeys?,” “Michael, where’s your tie?,” “Have you tried the quiche?,” “Get up,” “I think you broke the toilet, Kenny,” “Are these guys with Mushatiq?,” “I didn’t want you to hurt it,” “I think he’s retarded,” “You… should not have come here,” “Hi, I’m Mark,” “What did you think was going to happen if you came here?,” “What the fuck is going on back there?,” “Aaahh! Fucking cocksucker!,” “This reminds me of Saint Elmo’s, except they didn’t tie me up, and they didn’t punch me in the face for opening locks,” “Silver helps me remember Mom,” “Mushatiq?,” “Give me the coin,” “Do you ever get scared, Kenny?,” “You strike me as the kind of guy that doesn’t really fuck a lot of bitches, so I don’t expect you to understand what it’s like to fuck bitches with a little asshole in my face!,” “Mark, do you remember my model airplanes?,” “Do you need to go to the bathroom?,” “I need to use the bathroom,” “Are you him?,” and “Leave my brother alone.”
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All Death Grip images courtesy of david j. moore.
Things to Watch Out For This Week
–Don’t Kill It: This action horror flick starring Dolph Lundgren has been on this writer’s radar ever since I first heard about it. Dolph Lundgren fighting demons? That is a must see based on the premise alone. It received a small theatrical release and has been available on Video On Demand (it wasn’t available on my cable provider but that happens sometimes) and is now set to hit DVD. I can’t freaking wait to see it. Hopefully it kicks as much ass as the premise suggests and we have a low budget franchise on our hands. The world needs more of that kind of thing.
–Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: The latest Star Wars flick finally hits home video. I liked this way more than The Force Awakens. I have issues with it, sure, but it was a good time at the movies, and it helps set up the original Star Wars trilogy and a Star Wars spin-off that should absolutely happen, a lean and mean 85 minute kung fu laser sword movie featuring Darth Vader chasing down a Jedi that somehow escaped Order 66. I mean, what Star Wars nerd wouldn’t want to see that movie? Exactly. Every nerd would want to see it. Check out my thoughts on Rogue One, and then pick it up on home video.
–The Evil Within: Holy Jesus the trailer for this movie is goddamned messed up. Watch the great Michael Berryman, apparently playing a demon of some sort, opening a body and inserting himself into it. Holy shit that’s goddamn messed up! Sean Patrick Flanery, Frederick Koehler, and the luscious Dina Meyer appear, too, but I have a feeling we’re all going to be talking about Berryman and his demon shenanigans. Go ahead, watch the trailer and get freaked out. I know I’m freaked out.
–Tank 432: This is apparently some sort of low budget action horror flick from the UK from first time feature director Nick Gillespie. It’s all about mercenaries hiding out in an abandoned tank for some reason and then some weird as hell stuff happening. The trailer is pretty freaky (what the hell is that bug thing? A bug? An alien demon thing?), and the fine folks at IFC Midnight are releasing it, so it has that going for it. Did anyone get a chance to see this in a theatre anywhere? IFC movies usually play in IFC theaters, like the one in New York City.
–A Room to Die For: Here we go with yet another low budget British horror flick, this one about a young couple renting a room from a bunch of old people and then really bad shit happening after that. Ghosts? Demons? Old people just a bunch of psychos/perverts (the old guy looks like the boss from WKRP in Cincinnati who also appeared on that episode of Different Strokes and tried to molest Arnold and Dudley)? We’ll have to all watch in order to find out. Very rentable.
Larry Cohen Documentary Coming Soon!
King Cohen, a feature length documentary on the career of the legendary writer-producer-director Larry Cohen (The Stuff, Q: The Winged Serpent, the It’s Alive trilogy, plus so much more), just released its first official trailer and, man, does it look awesome. It has clips from Cohen’s movies plus on camera interviews with directors John Landis, Joe Dante, Mick Garris, and Martin Scorsese, actors Yaphet Kotto, Eric Roberts, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, and plenty of other people, not to mention Cohen the man himself.
(poster and film information courtesy of david j. moore)
The Eric Jacobus Special Edition continued
Rope-a-Dope is a short film, directed by Eric Jacobus and Pete Lee, that came out in 2013. It stars Jacobus as The Dope, a guy who wakes up one morning just wanting to get a hamburger. After going to his local burger joint he runs into the Martial Arts Mafia, a band of thugs who do thug type stuff (you know, push people around, random street violence, stuff like that). The lead Mafia guy, played by Dennis Ruel, attacks The Dope after the Dope drops his soda on him. Now, normally, a guy getting his butt kicked by people like the Martial Arts Mafia would lead to a prolonged hospital stay. However, in this case, the attack leads to the Dope suddenly waking up at the beginning of the day. He goes to get a burger again, runs into the MMM, and gets his butt kicked again. This encounter, though, is slightly different, but ends in the same way, with the Dope waking up at the beginning of the day again.
And that’s what Rope-a-Dope is, a kind of martial arts Groundhog Day, and it’s brilliant. It’s a showcase of Jacobus’s skill as a physical actor, a martial artist, a fight choreographer, and as a director (or co-director, in this case). There isn’t a wasted moment in the short’s 13 minute running time. Every second is accounted for. As the story escalates and the Dope figures out what he needs to do to advance to the next day (or, really, just get out of the predicament he finds himself in), it all makes sense. Because how do you fight off a group like the Martial Arts Mafia? Learn martial arts?
Obviously. You also do it with absolutely no dialogue, from anyone. How often do you see that work out?
The final fight in the alley is a thing of beauty. It’s something that will make you laugh, make you cringe, and make you cheer. Amazing stuff throughout.
Rope-A-Dope is an absolute must see for martial arts nerds and comedy fans. See it as soon as you can (and you can see it below, as it’s available on YouTube).
See Rope-a-Dope. See it, see it, see it.
So what do we have here?
Dead bodies: None.
Doobage:Newspaper to the face, drink dropping, an old printer, headbutting, book reading, a working out montage, pole to the face, slick backed hair, bucket kicking, broom hooey, a big, final brawl, and a baseball bat.
Gratuitous: Eric Jacobus, newspapers, the Martial Arts Mafia, a book about Bruce Lee, and outtakes in the credits.
(Rope-a-Dope image from YouTube)
Rope-A-Dope 2: The Return of the Martial Arts Mafia
Rope-a-Dope 2, also directed by Eric Jacobus and Pete Lee, picks up about a day after the events of the first Rope-a-Dope, with Jacobus’s the Dope set to be honored by the city for taking out the nefarious Martial Arts Mafia. As he walks towards the “big” celebration (the city has put up a sign that actually says “Dope Saves Lives,” which is just hilarious) he is accosted by Den (Dennis Ruel), the lead Mafia thug from the first short. After getting hit in the head with a glass bottle, the Dope finds himself mired in the whole “the day keeps repeating itself” thing. However, unlike the first movie, the Dope isn’t the only one who finds himself repeating the same day over and over again. This time, Den also has to live the same day over and over again. As soon as one of them is knocked out the day starts over for that person.
Everything about this sequel is bigger, both in terms of the plot and the fight scenes. Having two people suffer through the same issue complicates the story and makes the idea even more interesting. Because, man, will it spread to more people eventually? As for the fights, they will take your breath away. Literally. And this is all done with about four extra minutes as compared to the first Rope-a-Dope.
The ending is hilarious and a shock because, heck, I didn’t see it coming at all. It makes you wonder what a third Rope-a-Dope would involve. As I said, how many more people could end up having to live the same day over and over?
I also want to point out the general awesomeness of the Martial Arts Mafia here. They’re the bad guys, yes, but you sort of like them because their operation is ridiculous. The group actually has fliers all over town looking for new members. What kind of bad guy outfit does that? The group’s hideout also includes a perpetually running game of Super Mario Bros. 2. That’s cool.
Once again, there’s no dialogue but plenty of fighting and physical acting. It’s a thing of beauty and a terrific sequel. Now, all we have to do is hope for a third one. Or a full-length version. That would rock.
See Rope-a-Dope 2: The Return of the Martial Arts Mafia. See it, see it, see it.
So what do we have here?
Dead bodies: None.
Doobage: A montage of the first Rope-a-Dope, a hilarious newspaper headline “Man Learns That Violence Can Fix Things,” a somewhat cleaner environment, a funny flier, glass bottle breaking, baseball bat attack, attempted 2 x 4 attack, a homeless stick fighter, frying pan hooey, a badass bad guy HQ, a hot frying pan gag, pool ball to the back of the head, stick fighting, and a double knockout.
Gratuitous: Sad city celebration, a skateboarding newspaper delivery boy, Super Mario Bros. 2, pizza boxes, and a double knockout.
(Rope-a-Dope 2 image from filmcombatsyndicate.blogspot.com)
Next Issue: Adkins April begins with Wolf Warrior!
B-movies rule. Always remember that.
Eric Jacobus– Kenny Zemacus
Nathan Hoskins– Mark Zemacus
Johnny Yong Bosch– Torch
Rebecca Ahn– Rindy
Chelsea Steffensen– Michael
Alvin Hsing– Dominic
Ray Carbonel– Vince
Sean Rochford– Joe
Caitlyn Corson– Sacrificial Woman
Directed by Eric Jacobus
Screenplay by Eric Jacobus, based on a story by Pete Lee and Eric Jacobus
Produced by Action Pact Entertainment
Runtime– 96 minutes
Buy it here