Retro Review: MIAMI CONNECTION: Congratulations, The Plaza Got You Motorcycle Ninjas for Christmas

Posted on: Dec 8th, 2012 By:

MIAMI CONNECTION (1987); Dirs: Y.K. Kim & Woo-sang Park; Starring Y.K. Kim, Vincent Hirsch; Plaza Theatre, HELD OVER for second week through Dec. 13; Trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

The first thing you need to know is that MIAMI CONNECTION takes place not in Miami, but on or around the beaches of landlocked Orlando.

Still listening? Then the other thing to know is that MIAMI CONNECTION is a movie out of time, a gift from the past that you didn’t even know you wanted. Congratulations, The Plaza got you motorcycle ninjas for Christmas, but you have to go this week to pick them up.

The history of MIAMI CONNECTION is so unbelievable that it’s already a movie legend. In 1987, Korean immigrant and self-described “modern philosopher” Y.K. Kim collected a modest budget and a gang of amateur actors and taekwondo students to craft a martial arts epic about a black-belt rock band’s struggle against drug-dealing ninjas, starring Kim, of course, as the improbable college student hero, Mark. After failing to find distribution, the movie disappeared into obscurity, never officially released.

Twenty-five years later, an employee of the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas, stumbled upon the last remaining film print on an online auction site. The Drafthouse is a kind of national church for movie fans, and they’ve been aggressively searching out and stockpiling 35mm film prints for years, defying the conventional wisdom that film is dead. After negotiating a $50 price for the MIAMI CONNECTION print—sight unseen—the Drafthouse decided to show the film as a random oddity for their midnight crowd. The audience erupted and, somehow, MIAMI CONNECTION became a hit. Now, the Drafthouse has made the movie an official release for their distribution arm, remastering it and shipping it to theaters nationwide. They’ve even mounted a tongue-in-cheek Oscar campaign and produced a new trailer, cut by Jason Eisener, director of CONNECTION’s spiritual soulmate, HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN (2011).

For decades, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975) was the king of ironic entertainment, beloved for being bad long enough to become an institution, but today’s audiences have been seeking new guilty pleasures. First, we had SHOWGIRLS (1995) and its silly drinking game, and then TROLL 2 (1990) became popular enough to spawn its own documentary. Most recently, crowds pack the Plaza for regular showings of THE ROOM (2003), bringing forks and costumes to make themselves part of the experience.

And now, for these folks, MIAMI CONNECTION feels almost like a culmination. It’s an honest-to-godawful classic, something that’s normally found and championed by the few, now delivered by a major theater entity in a pristine presentation. It’s a movie literally plucked off the scrap heap, polished and mass-produced. Ready-made cult movies tend to flop because audiences are savvy and they know when they’re being pandered to (REPO: THE GENETIC OPERA, anyone?), but the vibe around MIAMI CONNECTION is completely different. This is one group of movie-fanatics speaking to others and saying “you have GOT to see this,” just as they’ve done for years, but never before on this scale.

Part of the film’s charm is that it’s so damn sincere. Y.K. Kim’s college student is just one member of the band Dragon Sound, all of whom are badass taekwondo students/total dorks. For some reason, Dragon Sound’s very existence seems to be standing in the way of a growing drug cartel based out of Miami, but doing business through the band’s club in Orlando. This thin premise kicks off an escalating series of martial arts battles between the band and the cartel’s thugs and, yes, eventually leads to a confrontation with motorcycle-riding, cocaine-dealing ninjas.

In between attacks, the band hangs out at their favorite eateries, spars on campus and fails to score with chicks at the beach. Oh, and one member of the band has about three scenes dealing with the search for his long-lost father, handled entirely via mailbox. Did I mention that the band also writes and performs a song about friendship? That song shares stage time with a ditty about fighting ninjas, which they sing before any member of the band has encountered even a single one.

But no plot synopsis can completely capture MIAMI CONNECTION’s charms. Sure, there are laughs to be found in the schlocky gore effects, bizarre plot twists and bad dialogue (“…because of that stupid cocaine…”), but people don’t go to these movies again and again to simply sit and make fun of them. That’s a mean-spirited reaction, and the crowd with whom I watched MIAMI CONNECTION showered it with love. No, what makes the movie resonate with people is that it’s an endearing reflection of the types of movies it wants to be. When you watch MIAMI CONNECTION, you can recognize the notes the film is trying to play, even if it comes off more than a bit tone deaf. Film is a language, and this is an American urban action movie made by someone who doesn’t quite speak that language, but who was passionate enough to try anyway. This is true, too, of the Italian ambition behind TROLL 2 or, um, wherever the hell Tommy Wiseau came from to produce THE ROOM. If any of these filmmakers had managed to make the movie they attempted, the result would have been a magnitude less interesting. Are these movies bad in the strictest sense? Sure, but they’re also minor miracles. In a sea of low-budget mediocrity, it takes a special spark of passion to fail this spectacularly and entertainingly.

MIAMI CONNECTION doesn’t make much sense as a story, but the action is fun and for real, and it’s a blast to watch the random plot threads bang together and make noise. Most of all, it’s a reminder that films inspire and speak to all of us, even those who don’t quite know the words. Come for the irony and the motorcycle-ninjas, but don’t be surprised if you get caught up in the fun of going to the movies.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game writer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He writes at www.thehollywoodprojects.com and hosts a bimonthly screening series of classic films at theaters around Atlanta.

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30 Days of The Plaza Theatre, Day 5: Meet Star Tommy Wiseau When THE ROOM Gets a View This Entire Weekend at The Plaza!

Posted on: May 12th, 2012 By:

Tonight marks Day 2 of cult classic THE ROOM‘s three-day run at The Plaza Theatremade extra special by live appearances by stars Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestaro.  THE ROOM (2003) screens TODAY and Sunday May 12 & 13 at 8:30 p.m. Sponsored by FANTASYLAND RECORDS, the film’s so-bad-it’s-freakin’-awesome vibe has attracted a devout army of aficionados whose membership includes the cream of Hollywood’s comedy community.  Dubbed the “CITIZEN KANE of bad movies,” it’s a must-see and another great way to keep Atlanta’s one and only longest running historic independent nonprofit cinema open and running!

And you can even win CDs and LPs by grabbing the most spoons after the show! Say what about spoons? Well then you’d better get down to The Plaza, though you’ll have to decide whether or not to bring your mom.

What else can we tell you? Comedians Paul Rudd and David Cross are both fans, as is Jonah Hill, who uses a still from the movie as his MySpace photograph. HEROES star Kristen Bell hosts ROOM-viewing parties at her house and last year attended the film’s monthly Laemmle screening with Rudd, Hill and SHAUN OF THE DEAD director Edgar Wright. ”There is a magic about that film that is indescribable,” she says. THE ROOM has even infiltrated the halls of cinematic academia. ”It is one of the most important films of the past decade,” says Ross Morin, an assistant professor of film studies at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. ”It exposes the fabricated nature of Hollywood. The Room is the Citizen Kane of bad movies.”

Also Playing This Week at The Plaza:

AKA BLONDIEMay 14, May 16 and May 17 at 9:30 p.m. An intimate view of the most famous exotic dancer in the Southeastern U.S., the new documentary provides a fresh, provocative look at the complex, morally ambiguous world of the 55-year -old Atlanta icon. Anita Rae Strange, also known as Blondie, recounts her childhood with an absent father, her brief stint as a prostitute, the loss of loved ones to AIDS and the infamous Clermont Lounge.

THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. Every Friday at Midnight. With live stage show by Lips Down on Dixie.

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30 Days of The Plaza Theatre, Day 4: Hot Patootie, Bless Our Souls, It’s a Time Warp of a Rocky Horror Trivia Quiz!

Posted on: May 11th, 2012 By:

Lips Down on Dixie performs a live stage show at THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, midnight every Friday at The Plaza Theatre.

Tonight, there are two great reasons to get down to The Plaza Theatre and support this city’s one and only longest running historic independent nonprofit cinema! First off, cult classic THE ROOM starts a three-day run at 8:30 p.m., made extra special by special guests stars Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestaro.  May 11, 12 & 13 at 8:30 p.m. SPONSORED BY FANTASYLAND RECORDSThe film’s so-bad-it’s-freakin’-awesome vibe has attracted a devout army of aficionados whose membership includes the cream of Hollywood’s comedy community.  Dubbed the “CITIZEN KANE of bad movies,” it’s a must-see and we’ll be writing about it tomorrow, but first, we’d like to remind you that The Plaza is the only place in Atlanta to catch the mother of all midnight movies, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW every FRIDAY NIGHT at MIDNIGHT just like it’s meant to be seen with audience participation and a full floor show by the incomparable Lips Down on Dixie. We’ll be talking to Lips Down soon, but first we thought we’d have some fun by testing your ROCKY HORROR knowledge. So we contacted our secret arcane mistress of all things ROCKY and asked her to come up with a mix of both easy questions and ones to really test your sweet transvestite stripes. If you don’t score a perfect 10, then that’s just another reason to plan another visit to Transexual Transylvania. And remember if you don’t buy some tickets to the Plaza soon, there may be no more Plaza and Brad and Janet won’t ever get undressed and do the Time Warp again…

Questions (answers at end):

1. What number is tattooed on Frank’s leg?
2. What does it say on the back of Eddie’s jacket?
3. What is the bride’s name in the wedding scene at the beginning of the movie? (Add a bonus point for correct spelling!)
4. What is the religious denomination of the church where the wedding is held?
5.  How many Transylvanian guests (unconventional conventionists) are at the castle?
6.  According to the criminologist, in what month does the movie take place?
7.   When Dr. Scott rolls through Columbia and Magenta’s room, what magazine is Columbia reading?
8. What is depicted on the stained glass window over Frank’s bed?
9.  Who is the first person who gets turned to stone?
10. In the floorshow, who is the last person out of the pool?
OK, here’s a tasty pic of Tim Curry to give you a little antici…pation before you check your answers….

Tim Curry as Dr. Frank N Furter in THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, every Friday night at Midnight at The Plaza Theatre. 20th Century Fox.

1. 4711
2. Baby
3. Betty Munroe (Munroe, not Monroe, is the correct spelling according to the credits.)
4. Episcopal
5.  19
6.  November (late November)
7.   Movie Life
8. Atlas holding the world on his shoulders.
9.  Brad
10. Janet
Also Playing This Week at The Plaza:

AKA BLONDIEMay 14, May 16 and May 17 at 9:30 p.m. An intimate view of the most famous exotic dancer in the Southeastern U.S., the new documentary provides a fresh, provocative look at the complex, morally ambiguous world of the 55-year -old Atlanta icon. Anita Rae Strange, also known as Blondie, recounts her childhood with an absent father, her brief stint as a prostitute, the loss of loved ones to AIDS and the infamous Clermont Lounge.

THE ROOM, with special guests Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestaro.  May 11, 12 & 13 at 8:30 p.m. SPONSORED BY FANTASYLAND RECORDS!  Win CDs and LPs every month by grabbing the most spoons after the show! The film’s so-bad-it’s-freakin’-awesome vibe has attracted a devout army of aficionados whose membership includes the cream of Hollywood’s comedy community. Role Models star Paul Rudd and Arrested Development’s David Cross are both fans, as is Jonah Hill, who uses a still from the movie as his MySpace photograph. Heroes star Kristen Bell hosts Room-viewing parties at her house and last year attended the film’s monthly Laemmle screening with Rudd, Hill, and Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright. ”There is a magic about that film that is indescribable,” she says. The Room has even infiltrated the halls of cinematic academia. ”It is one of the most important films of the past decade,” says Ross Morin, an assistant professor of film studies at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. ”It exposes the fabricated nature of Hollywood. The Room is the Citizen Kane of bad movies.”

THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. Every Friday at Midnight. With live stage show by Lips Down on Dixie.

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30 Days of Plaza Theatre: Day One, The Beginning

Posted on: May 7th, 2012 By:

The Plaza Theatre is Atlanta’s oldest continually operating cinema, but this art-deco treasure is in serious danger of closing. In recent years, under the stewardship of the amazing Jonny and Gayle Rej, the Plaza has been undergoing a renaissance with edgy bookings of cult and classic movies, often accompanied by stage shows. It’s home to the Silver Scream Spookshow (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON IN 3D June 30), Splatter Cinema (ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST this Tues May 8), Blast-Off Burlesque‘s Taboo-La-La (BEYOND THE VALLEY OF DOLLS on Sat. June 2), monthly screenings of THE ROOM (with star Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestaro in person, May 11, 12 & 13), THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW every Friday at midnight complete with stage show led by Lips Down on Dixie, as well as all sorts of special screenings and regular first runs of art, foreign, indie and just plain cool movies. For the next 30 days, we’ll be reminding you of what’s great about The Plaza – articles, fun facts, and more – and urging you to support this amazing Atlanta institution by seeing a show or making a tax-deductible donation. It’s really come down to use it or lose it. Atlanta has lost so many great places, and we don’t want to think of an Atlanta without The Plaza.

For our first day, we asked Gayle Rej to go back to the beginning and give us a little history lesson…

[Coca-Cola tycoon family] the Candlers built the Plaza shopping center and Plaza Theatre in December 1939. It was a big deal because it was the first place in the city with off-street parking – making it the first official shopping center in Atlanta. There were giant klieg lights from the city, and Mrs. Candler-Griffith (the builder’s daughter and the mother of the current owner) was very young and was in a hotel room across the street at The Ponce de Leon Hotel looking down at all of the excitement. The first movies shown were THE WOMEN and then Frank Capra‘s MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON starring Jimmy Stewart.

Tune in tomorrow and visit ATLRetro every day for the next 30 to find out more about The Plaza!

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