Thursday, October 07, 2004

"By the way Tommy, your mom is woof-dog ugly."
Guardian of the Universe...and really annoying kids in short-shorts....

Nothing yesterday because of that pesky work thing. Speaking of which, as my job is nearly over and my movie opens next week, my posts might get a tad spotty. Fair warning is all.

That doesn't mean however that I'm gonna stop watching silly sh!t in the meantime. I'm already watching it now, and it's the note I feel I should go out on.

Though I did watch Branded to Kill (1967, d. Seijun Suzuki) and it definitely qualifies as silly crazy, I've already seen it a dozen times. If you haven't, then get to it. Many of you may watch and go, "Huh, what the f*ck was he talking about? That sucked." The rest will be tuned in and from the opening frames, will give me a hearty, "Awwwww, yeah!"

The other day was a trip back to my childhood and the land of late afternoon, late night, post-Saturday morning cartoons, Sunday morning UHF fare. This mostly consisted of sci-fi, fantasy, martial arts, old horror, and superhero movies that were amazing when you were a kid and at best hilariously bad as an adult. Many of these movies were made in Italy. The kung fu ones were from China. And some were badly dubbed Japanese films. If it wasn't the one and only Big "G" it was the other Big "G" starring in:

Gamera Vs. Guiron
(aka. Attack of the Monsters [Huh?], 1969, d. Noriaki Yuasa)

The Story: Akio and Tom are kidnapped by a UFO and whisked away to a world that's been destroyed by Gamera's enemy, the Gaos. The last survivors of the planet, a pair of space chicks, plan to kill the boys, and use the ship to return to Earth. When Gamera arrives to save the boys, the space chicks unleash their pet monster Guiron on him. (I'm sorry that was so long. The only other way to sum it up was Giant space turtle fights giant knife-faced lizard on barren planet for stupid kids. Wait a minute...that is better.)

The Review: Whoa boy. First of all, if you didn't grow up with Gamera, Godzilla or any other giant monster movies (Rodan, Mothra, etc.), you're probably just not going to get this one. Trust me.

Let's put it this way: 2001, A Space Odyssey hit the big screen in 1968, the year before this movie. It's special effects, for the time, are still breathtaking and certainly beautiful. By comparison, most of Gamera almost looks like it could've been made by some high school students and a good arts and crafts class.

The buddy of mine who watched it with me mentioned that a friend of his liked these movies more than the Gamera flicks of the 90's because Gamera's eyes moved. As we watched the movie and watched Gamera's eyes moving, we started asking the big question: "What the f*ck is he supposed to be looking all around at?" Once they started moving, you had to wonder if and when they would ever stop.

Does that mean we didn't enjoy the movie: Hell, no!

It just means that if you've never seen one, there's decent likelihood that YOU won't.

We were having the time of our lives.

Moving on.

The movie's main draw of course is Guiron, the evil monster. Ignoring the fact, again, that he's obviously a man crawling on his hands and knees, one has to marvel at the design. Godzilla's obvioulsy a sort of dragon and dinosaur combo. Gamera's a giant turtle of sorts. Mothra...nevermind. Gaos, Gamera's primary enemy, is sort of a birdy bat-dragon. My point is that you can tell what they evolved from. Not so with Guiron. What creature in nature has a giant knife blade portruding from his head...or for that matter what animal shoots ninja throwing stars? Any hands? (If you should like to witness Gurion's majesty, look here:

Personally, other than being relentlessly comical, Guiron doesn't do much for me. I love the space chicks. They have that 60's eye-makeup look. They have pointy eyebrows. They wear 60's space outfits with short capes (awwwww, yeah). Their helmets have twin antennas. They eat brains.....wait...WHAT?!? Yeah I don't get it either, and the bad english dub we watched didn't offer much in explanation (I have a feeling that the Japanese doesn't either). They're supposed to be from a highly advanced scientific race, yet their theory on absorbing someone's knowledge from eating their brain seems awfully....I don't know....Aztec?

Still, doesn't mean they're not awesome.

I can watch them. I can watch Gamera. I can handle Guiron. What I can't stand is the d@mn kids in these old movies. I'm just gonna put that out there. For one thing, they carry that childlike innocent "they see things adults ignore" thing to a ridiculous extreme. My question is: Well, if they're so smart why do they always have to have a giant monster save their @$$es? Shucks, maybe they're not all bad. The dubbing doesn't do them any favors. (I do want to know why Tommy is always kissing Akio's @$$ throughout the movie by constantly telling him how much smarter he is.)

So anyhow. No matter what it sounds like above, I recommend that you watch this movie. Watch it with other like minded individuals. For God's sake don't attempt to force it on anyone. And as I always say, "Lighten up." The movie isn't going to cure cancer, but it'll be a lot of fun if you let it be. This all assuming you have seen any of this kind of stuff before as I said. If not, but you still want to witness the glory, try one of the newer Gamera movies from the 90's.

Just remember, if it's giant monsters that you want, make sure that it's Japanese! (English dubbing optional...but if you're looking for's the way to go.)


Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Flexing a Weird Muscle
Oh, where to begin...?

Not much time for play today, so we're going to jump right in.

Now as a kid, I wouldn't have thought that there was anything weird about this movie at all. I simply would have thought, 'Cool!', and gotten my He-Man figures while it played in the background. As an adult, I look at it the same way I see anything Ed Wood-like. In other words, I watch it with a hearty "What were they thinking?!?" ringing between my ears. As in, who came up with this premise?

With that I bring you:

Hercules Against the Moon Men (1964, d. Giancomo Gentilomo)

The Story: Hercules is asked to help the citizens of Samar where the young are ritually sacrificed to mysterious monsters in the mountain; however, Herc discovers that Samar's queen is in league with the monsters who are in fact from OUTER SPACE!!! (or something like any event, they're not from our moon from what I gathered...but they're from A moon.)

The Review: By '64 peplum (Italian-made sword and sandal movies post Ben Hur [ie. Hercules movies]) were giving out, and the door was opening for spaghetti westerns (you knew they would be in here somewhere right?). Just like the spaghetti's and virtually every other genre began to fade out, they started to get more and more outlandish and often bizarre. After all, you always started out with the single hero movies, then single hero vs. super villain, then two heroes together in the same movie vs. one or more super-villain/s, and then you were running out of places to go. Herc, Samson, and Maciste had already fought every mythological beast, army, god, and sorcerer. So who was left? That's right: The Mysterious Moon Men.

Steve Reeves is probably the man who will forever be remembered as Hercules, but the movies continued long after he left. Alan Steel (née Sergio Ciani), who had been Reeves' stunt double, took up the short skirted toga and the beard for this outing. Truth is, he's not bad. He's not Reeves, but he's not bad. First and foremost, unlike later modern body-building action movie types, Steel manages to throw himself into the role without the self-consciousness that tends to go one of two ways: 1) "I look so stupid, what am I doing embarassing myself like this?", or 2) "I'm so badass, and I'm on my way to superstardom." Steel is onscreen to get a job done and he throws around armored soldiers, killer apes, and styrofoam moon men like he was born to do it.

The rest of this cast puts in a genuinely satisfactory effort, and our queen is both beautiful enough and evil enough. The monsters only work in their way because the movie's old. First up is the wild ape-thing with the tusks that Herc fights in the underground caves: weak, but fun. The Moon Men...well, they look like styrofoam carved blocks that move like a stone version of a Romero-movie zombie. It's tough to believe they could ever really catch up to someone much less kill them. On the other hand, they're just old enough, and they act just funny enough to be totally entertaining. The leader of the Moon Men almost seems like a pretty good bad guy. He sports this weird skull-like alien mask which covers his whole head and is cool until you can see his lips moving underneath it.

The most hilarious part is that I actually tried to get the nicest looking copy I could find which turned out to be the Something Weird Video release. It's the only widescreen copy, and it turned out to be quite a nice transfer. In a way, that almost ruined the experience though (don't get me wrong, I still say it's the one to buy). Also on the disk is The Witch's Curse, another strongman flick, and that transfer looks like a video copy from a UHF channel in the 80's. Just like badly dubbed martial arts/Godzilla flicks and Italian space operas, I expect them to look washed out, high contrast, grainy, and just generally bad. When you see something as it was probably originally presented it somehow loses some of it's initial charm, but on the other hand, if it's good enough, it picks up a new life.

This one actually managed to do this.

Again, this is more of my thirst for fun cinema that doesn't have to mean anything, and sure as hell doesn't even try for realism. In fact, a lot of time, the best parts of these movies occur when they actually pull off a really cool shot or special effect. It doesn't always happen, but when it does it's great. Many times, these movies also have more genuine and earnest performances despite the silliness than any number of modern day big budget blockbusters. So grab Hercules Against the Moon Men, grab a snack, grab your significant other, curl up, and don't be or expect everything to be so damned serious all the time.


Monday, October 04, 2004

"I Could Feel This Cool..."
If you're gonna kill 'em onscreen, make if colorful...

Now, don't get me wrong, Takashi Miike is colorful. He is. It's just that it strays into garish. Well, garish, bloody, and nightmarish. Nonetheless, you can't say that he isn't colorful. The locations. The costumes. The language. All of it quite colorful...just more in grime and blood tones.

For a purer vision of color with a similar sense of over-the-topness and a similar spread of violence, you can stay in the same country. You only have to turn the hands of time back a few years. In the 1960's, Japan was no stranger to splashing the screen with high doses of colorful wackiness. When you look back, it's hard to figure out how all these other movies got by, and visionaries like Seijun Suzuki kept getting fired....well, ok, he took it too far too fast, but he warmed an auidience for one of his protegés.

Oh, what the hell am I talking about...let's move along to:

The Black Tight Killers (1966, d. Yasuharu Hasebe)

The Story: When a photojournalist chases after his kidnapped girlfriend, he finds himself in a web of intrigue between corrupt military officers, gangsters, the police, and a group of go-go dancing female ninjas.

The Review: There's a reason these days that I almost have to watch movies like this. It isn't that I'm all into nostalgia or kitsch or just plain being retro. I'm not. Let's face it though, I saw most of the major movies that I grew up with in the 80's. Those movies represent, to me, the end of movies for fun, movies merely for entertainment, movies for movies' sake. In isn't to ignore their important social functions, but once upon a time telling a story was all it was about. Now it's all about having realism and themes and "art", but all mixed up in a corporate/advertising profit-driven franchise star system. Movies are expensive. Movies do have to make money. But, frankly, they've gotten way too big for their britches and forgotten what they were meant for in the first place.

At least that's what I think.

Slowly I've worked my way back through the 70's, and covered a healthy dose of that ground. (The funniest part being that the last generation to make great movies for movies' sake were also the one's responsible for the art meets franchise blockbuster market of today.) The 70's are of course largely covered in darkness and decadence. That's not all bad, but sit through enough and you almost have to welcome the loud and colorful 60's. At least I did.

That's not to say there's not a grim side to The Black Tight Killers, just that it isn't mired in it. Anyone film-savvy person watching could instantly place the film as following the James Bond craze. It's by no means a knock-off of any sort, but it's got all the adventure, chases, wacky weapons, and beautiful girls of those films.

Hasebe directs with flair, and keeps the movie moving along at a quick clip. Showing an abilitity rarely seen these days, Hasebe keeps the movie moving hand-in-hand delivering story and action as needed without totally tired predictability. Too many movies today get mired in the too much story before too much action followed by too much story formula. Another bizarre facet of modern movies is their ever apparent need to absolutely attempt to flesh out every character onscreen to the nth degree. The funny is that modern movies don't spend enough time with any character to make them interesting, and they've forgotten that a distinctive face and good acting goes a long way to livening up a lesser character more than a pretty face does.

Yes, half the movie's allure belongs to the title heroines/villainesses. These movies truck in a sensuality that keeps the movie engaging far more than the modern Andy Sidaris straight-to-video Playmate filled movie does because you're watching and enjoying the movie and not just waiting for the girls to get naked. Five girls in black leather and tights has promise all by itself, but when they weild blinding chewing gum, tape measure swords, and razor sharp 45 vinyl records, they're just awesome. I mentioned the part about Go-Go dancing too right. There's somethign crazy about Go-Go, and I've been fascinated since Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!. (R.I.P. Russ, I loved your work.)

Anyhow, the point is this is the pretty lean and mean movieworld cinema that I love. It's the fantasy. It's the kind of world you wish you could jump into. It's the kind of world that doesn't exist, but that does in a way only because it's onscreen. It's that idea of bigger-than-life. I may love Clerks, but that doesn't mean that I want all my movies to be about working class schmoes...after all, I am one, I know that life already. I want the movie about the guy who uses the ancient wooden (!?!) canon to shoot down an attacking helicopter. That was this movie.

At the same time, you can never walk into these movies expecting the greatest cinematic experience ever...just be open to having a good time.


Friday, October 01, 2004

"Thank you, Alfie."
I lit the fuse, and sure enough...Sartana arrived!

Have you ever had that book or movie that you were dying to finish, but no matter what you did, you couldn't find time for it? I am actually experiencing that as I sit here typing this. Well, it was two movies and a book. I'm feeling a sharp sense of relief just for having gotten one of the movies out of the way. Unfortunately, no matter how much time I have to myself this weekend, I doubt I could get the book squared away...and I'd really like to.

Ahhh..such is life.

My desire for spaghetti westerns has begun to wane as I've managed to acquire so many over the last few months. After all, in the past year, I went from having the Dollars trilogy and a few odds and ends to having a collection of 40+ films. And I ain't like the members of the Wu-Tang clan with the kung fu flicks, I love spaghettis a lot but I have plenty of other stuff I want to crazy Japanese movies from the 60's.

So I'll likely tone back on those for a while and watch some different stuff...but it's not like I'll pass up a deal if I see one.

Last night, of course, I managed to finish one of my two latest (though the other one isn't the one I'm dying to see, that one's a 60's Japanese movie). And today, I'm gonna talk about it. Did you expect any less?

Light the Fuse....Sartana is Coming! (1971, d. Giuliano Carnimeo)

The Story: In a deal turned deadly, a bag of gold and a bag of counterfeit dollars goes missing, and Sartana arrives to sort out who killed who and where the loot went.

The Review: Sartana stands as one of the most fun and iconic characters in spaghetti history. Cut from similar avenging angel cloth as Blondie (Clint Eastwood) from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. He's always in the right place at the right time, his plans go off without a hitch, and he's all but invincible. He still has to figure things out, and if you're really lucky, you might get a punch in. So he's not the total Superman, but he's fascinating in that larger than life fashion.

Unlike Django, who had scores of unofficial sequels and many of those starring everyone but original star Franco Nero, Sartana's five appearances were actually helmed by the same director (Carnimeo) and four out of five featured Gianni Garko in the title role. (The odd one out was It's Sartana...Sell Your Pistols and Buy Your Coffins which starred (yech) George Hilton as the gunslinger.) That isn't to say that a movie or two didn't suddenly feature a character who happened to be named Sartan, just that there were a whole lot less of them. The funniest part was that two of those unnofficials were actually about Django and Sartana in the same flick. Anyhow, Sartana's five movies actually show a coherency almost unheard of in spaghettis. (After all, both original Ringo movies starred Giuliano Gemma and were directed by Duccio Tessari but one had little to nothing to do with the other. Go figure.)

Oh, so enough with the history lesson already.

While this movie might move too slow for fans of Post-Bruckheimer actioner, I found this flick to contain a fantastic balance between mystery solving and action sequences. The story actually had some pretty strong twists and turns, and kept the fun on as the viewer and Sartana are all having to find the mastermind within three different groups of villains. With the exception of the James Bond-style organ shootout in the street at the conclusion, the action was sharp and deadly. Most of that had to do with Garko as Sartana.

Gianni Garko contoured handsome face with light eyes and broad handlebar moustache carries a hard but humored look. He's got that perfect long and lean gunfighter frame and moves with, yes the incredibly clichéed but true, cat-like grace. His almost supernatural ability to disappear and reappear, coupled with his ability to avoid nearly every attack seem more comic book than real-life; however, in the movie world, the actor that looks convinced of his unbelievable abilities can do wonders in convincing you that he can.

As I mentioned, Sartana with all his otherworldliness does function as an avenging angel archetype. Perhaps the primary difference here is that he's the devil in angel's clothing. For all intents and purposes, rather than act as a representative for good, Sartana spends the length of the movie in the company of real scum. Thing is, Sartana's mere presence there assures the audience that everyone gets what they deserve in the end. While it's obviously an idealistic message (and one that's largely faded from recent cinema

The plot functions pretty well, and does a good job juggling the ultimate blame between a handful strong characters. If it fails anywhere, it's merely because the action is so much fun and well executed that one's mind can start to wander waiting for the next shootout. In all, it functions in much the same capacity as good page-turning pulp story. That just means that it's all about the pistols, loot, and beautiful women, and if it happens to rise above that, more power to it. This Sartana entry meets the three criteria, and does manage to rise above.

The copy I watched was yet another clean letterboxed version with good sound which is always so painfully rewarding after so many years of bad video dubs of these movies. I guess even though the digital age has been used to already print so much crap on disk, at least every once in a while some real good comes out of it too. The movie once again made some use out of locations other than the same five desert and mountain vistas that I've spotted time and time again in any number of spaghettis.

Ok, I confess, this is only the second Sartana movie I've seen, the other being the (yech!) George Hilton one. I did, however, receive at the same time as Light the Fuse... a copy of Have a Good Funeral, Amigos....Sartana is Paying! That means, I've only got two more to see.

Of course I have to see the one knock-off if only for the title: One Damned Day at Dawn....Django meets Sartana!