Monday, December 19, 2005

His Web Fans call him...LVC
The Grande Finale as promised...

Despite the Dean Martin interruption (I've now seen all four Matt Helm movies...but haven't decided whether to review them yet), I managed to return my focus to the other two Lee Van Cleef spaghettis that I had intially wanted to review all at once with the two Sabata movies. Two things happened: 1) I didn't have time to watch the other two movies before writing my review, and 2) I realized it was gonna be one mammoth movie review. The whole thing begged for a two parter, and now it has one.

Ain't life grand?

Let's get started.

Beyond the Law (aka. Al di là della legge, 1968, d. Giorgi Stegani)

The Story: A drifting thief strikes up a friendship with a mining company worker he robbed which lands him the job of sheriff in order to protect the town from a team of outlaws.

The Review: Hmm. I'm not sure how much time I can devote to this one.

First of all, it's not a bad film. Lee Van Cleef was of course in fine form, and this one provided him an opportunity to actually play up his fun side. Like The Stranger and The Gunfighter, Van Cleef doesn't have to have the badass quotient cranked up the whole time, so he springs that wry grin in humor rather than as a warning. Antonio Sabato provides a good hearted optimistic foil, and Lionel Stander has a lot of fun as the completely corrupt "preacher." Gordon Mitchell, of course, overdoes it on the bad guy side, but then that's part of what makes Gordon Mitchell fun to watch (although not nearly as fun as the split personality outlaw he played in Django and Sartana...Showdown in the West.) So the fault wasn't with the cast.

The movie was shot fairly well. The pacing was fairly swift, and the plot had a few good turns. So that wasn't it.

I think it was just that there was nothing really stand out about it. Honestly, I think that's kind of unfortunate. Let's face it: Everyone remembers great movies, and we all remember really bad movies. Then there are those cable movies...the ones that aren't great movies...but they have enough charisma or something going for them that you'd still watch them again. This one had some of that, such as Stander's performance. Overall though, it was just a solid decent effort. Somehow, I just feel that's not fair, because it wasn't bad.

Anyhow. You could spend an hour and a half on far far worse things.

Moving on to greener pastures...otherwise known as the B-side of the disk.

The Grand Duel (1972, d. Giancarlo Santi)

The Story: An ex-sheriff drags a young outlaw back to a town he ran from in order to settle who killed a corrupt patriarch.

The Review: Now, by comparison, this movie was far more gravy.

First of all, it's by the book Van Cleef, straight up bad ass (Think 'Angel Eyes' Setenza from GBU); however, this time his character is peppered with a little Sartana (I've covered him previously and will again!), a character much in vogue at the time. Sartana was an avenging angel of sorts who is always in the right place at the right time. Clayton (Van Cleef), though vastly more earthly than Sartana, holds all the cards based on information he does know, but much like Sartana he orchestrates how everything flows along until the final reveal. Even though he appears to be in danger, he's always ahead of every turn, thus never truly in danger. Maybe I just got a soft spot for characters like this but Van Cleef plays it so well.

Much of the rest of the film is stock spaghetti with the corrupt family of brothers who keep the town under a yoke of potential violence. Then of course, there's the wild young outlaw who has far too hot a head to clear his own name. In a somewhat different vein, there's a horde of bounty hunters who appear to only be interested in bringing the young outlaw to justice but who turn out to be part of the plot. Still (and you may think I'm an idiot for admitting this), I still got dragged in enough that I was trying to solve what was happening before it did. Now, of course, I figured it out, mere moments before the final reveal. (I think what it is is that I've seen so many movies and read so many stories that I start thinking "that's too obvious!") In any event, I actually really enjoyed the use of flashback in this movie, and then the final showdown truly is a Grand Duel. This was in no small part due to a combination of the cinematography, the editing, and a beautiful score.

This one, I imagine, I can watch a number of times. It has all the sweep and circumstance that the first film lacked. Despite the fact that it certainly has more flaws than the first film. For instance, when the Saxon brothers (the villains) murder all these peasant-like figures from the town, I didn't exactly feel that bad. Sure it was a horrific scene...but, I wasn't sure who they were. Somehow they were tied into our young outlaw hero, but I was never quite sure how. Yet, it wasn't enough to totally distract from the rest of the movie.

If anything was distracting, it was Adam Saxon of the villainous trio of Saxon brothers. Ah, Adam. He's merely another in a long line of crazed, depraved, pervert killers. Now, that little description I gave is usually interpreted as homosexual, and certainly that's what's implied. However, of the multitude of gay men I've dealt with, none of them have been THAT crazed, depraved, or psychotic...well, no more or less than most people...and NONE have been master gunslingers or master swordsmen. In this case it's a gunslinger, but I mention swordsmen because I've seen a plethora of villains like these in samurai films, swashbucklers, etc. He's distracting because he seems so odd, and I can't help but wonder how they came to arrive at that type of character. Well, I have a few literary and historical hints...but I don't have time to delve into them now. In any event, just like the completely fey representations of gay men on TV and in the movies, it would take you only a second to realize that this is no accurate representation...and certainly couldn't even be called a stereotype. (Hmmm, I never thought I'd be worried about generalizations in the opposite direction...I guess I can only hope that the cast of Cruising doesn't show up to prove me wrong about that level of depravity.)

In the end, all I can say is that this was the kind of movie that sucked me into Spaghetti Westerns in the first place. I'm always wary about how much I wildly recommend some of these movies. I know I'm not the only one with a love for them out there, but I'm always careful when trying to figure out if I'm being blinded by fan devotion. It's kinda like how all comic book dorks will see, often multiple times, any comic book movie no matter how piss-poor it is (Hey! I've seen you buying the Corman Fantastic Four movie...and I know a few of you still have the Dolph Lundgren rendition of The Punisher.) So, I'm not sure that I can say this was a great movie for those unfamiliar with the genre...but it has definitely made my list.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

"Big O..? You're Sick!"
America's...ahem...answer to James Bond

Ok. We interrupt the crushing wait of the second Lee Van Cleef double feature review (...I watched one...but not the other yet...) to bring you a review of...well, something else.

I believe it was in my review of Temptress of a Thousand Faces or perhaps Angel with Iron Fists (Did I review that one?) that I may have mentioned my growing love for the James Bond knock-offs from around the world in the 60's. The funniest thing about them is that even the best with comparable budgets still fall far short of the mark. Was it Connery? Was it 'Cubby' Broccoli? Was it Fleming's source material?

Actually, I feel I have to answer that in a way before I go on. Part of it, I think was Connery. Few of the Bond knock-offs feature an actor with comparable charisma who can be taken seriously as an action star, a lover, and a wit. He had the looks, the style and the growl. Second, I think it was also producer Broccoli who was already a firmly established professional in Hollywood, and who showed an obvious love for the series which he worked on for 30 years. As for Fleming's source material, it's a tougher call. I've only read Goldfinger, but from what I understand, nearly every Bond movie was quite a departure from the source material; however, I believe it was the considerable amount of work and the imaginative nature of it that the filmmakers were able to create one of the most successful film franchises of all time.

The knock-offs however lack most of's review on the other hand, seems like it could've made it there...or at least come a lot closer. But don't let that fool you, it's still a good watch.

The Silencers (1966, d. Phil Karlson)

The Story: Photographer/Playboy Matt Helm is called back into espionage action when a leader of the nefarious Big O plans release the poisonous fallout from an underground nuclear test.

The Review: Now without doing a pesky thing research, in some respects I can't tell if this is honestly mean to be a parody or not. Most of the reviews or mentions one finds of this flick on-line refers to it as a parody, but having seen it now I'm not entirely sure. In fact, in many respects, I think the tone of the film could be ascribed in part to the stuido and it's star.

Lemme make my argument.

In a similar fashion, James Coburn's Flint vehicles often get called parodies of the spy-flick genre, but I don't believe they were. I think it was a lack of control in the humor department. It was the desire to give into the Swingin' Sixties Beach Party movie vibe, and camp it up...just a little too much. For one thing, Coburn plays it straight, and there's no nodding or winking at the camera. Plus, it has all the usual elements of a Bond moive, only it would appear that everyone making the movie thought that the only way to beat Bond was to go farther with it. But, is over-the-top or more over-the-top a crime? Considering that none of the super-spy flicks, at least the early ones, ever had anything to do with real Cold War threats, the tone fits the total comic book nature of the beast. It just got turned up too high.

Hell, Marvel comic's superspy, Nick Fury, fought more Russians than any of his movie counterparts did.

Matt Helm, as envisioned by his creator Donald Hamilton, is a fairly dark character. He's a man of action, an antihero whose moral code makes him a valiant warrior but also a cold hearted killer. Now take a moment, read back over that description, and tell me honestly if Dean Martin is the first person that comes to mind. So if you cast Dino, can you keep the movie true to what it was supposed to be at least as far being an adaptation of the novel? (After all, though the Bond movies leave the source material, they still hold true in ways to tone and character.) The book version Matt Helm was a photographer, but the movie version Matt Helm...well, he has to be a Playboy-type photographer. (Maybe this movie should've been made by Russ Meyer...a marriage of form and function.) So is it spoof, or is it character vs. actor?

In any event, let's see what we've got left.

I'm gonna go ahead and confess that any movie whose primary concern is moving it's protagonist from one hot 60's babe to another while at the same time blowing things up that threaten truth, justice and the American way...well, it's my kind of movie. Note I said 60's babes. Andy Sidaris movies don't count. (Ok, Ok...I like those too...but for different reasons...actually similar terms of cheese...) So in other words, this movie was a jackpot of sorts.

The story is fairly thin. There's a threat to the U.S. There is a big bad villainous consipiracy. Do you need to know more than that? What the movie has instead is the truckload. Dean Martin spends nearly the entire run of the movie spitting out one-liners that range from good laughs to the nearly painful. Now, you can't say the movie is a character study, because it's not exactly an in-depth study of Matt Helm, nor does it waste any time delving into anyone else. It's more like a movie of archetypes, characters we already sort of recognize so the filmmakers don't have to say more about them. We've covered Matt Helm, but Daliah Lavi is the dark femme fatale, and Stella Stevens is the ditzy sidekick.

Then there's Victor Buono, the main bad guy, who is referred to as Tung-Tze. I assume he was meant to be Asian (and if you see him, you'll know why I say "assume"). Now You Only Live Twice may have contained the silliest Asian make-up job on a white guy (turning Sean Connery "Japanese"), but Tung-Tze...hmm...well, it's not even fair to compare them. At least they were trying on Connery, on Buono they put some dark eye-liner and stopped. It's not even in the same ballpark. And though I've found Buono entertaining in other roles, his sort of shrill distinctly non-Asian accent was for the most part anything but threatening. That's not to say it was bad. It certainly fit in with the rest of the movie. It just wasn't terribly all.

Which leads me to the funniest aspect of the movie: Do we care? Do we care that Lavi turns out to be the enemy agent, Cowboy? Do we care that Matt's going to be melted by what was perhaps the funniest early interpretation of a laser I've ever seen? Do we really care if the Big O detonates the missle freeing the underground fallout (is that an oxymoron?)? The answer is...well, no. Did that stop me from enjoying the hell out of this movie? Again, the answer is no. Was it a good movie? No. Was it enjoyable? Yes. Do you see where I'm going with this?

To be fair, maybe this movie is only as enjoyable as it is because of hindsight. Thirty years later and it's sort of funny to watch nearly every character light up a cigarette every five seconds. This particularly funny when looking at the efforts of anti-smoking lobbyists over the past few years when you don't have nearly the volume of smokers on screen. Nothing, however, nothing beats watching Dino and Stella having a drinking contest while driving! Driving! And we won't even get me started on the...well, I wouldn't call them mysognistic tones (Ok, there is the dress ripping scene)...or even chauvanistic tones exactly...but something says that your average feminist would not go in for Dino's almost constant carousing with all too willing female companions. But in this day and age, it sure is fun to watch!

Now, most importantly: Do I recommend it?

Hmmm, that's a matter of debate. If you're looking for Bond, you're going to be let down. And though Austin Powers was more obviously inspired by Matt Helm than Bond or Flint, you're not going to exactly find that kind of humor either. Certainly, if you were old enough to have seen the movie in it's initial release, you may or may not see what I find so funny and/or entertaining about it in the first place. You have to take it for what it is. It's a product of it's time, star, and studio in much the same way as say Indiana Jones (not that there's any comparing the two in terms of quality).

Basically, a good rule of thumb is: If you can enjoy Death Race 2000, Gamera Vs. Guiron, and Santa Clause Conquers the Martians then you can certainly enjoy The Silencers. I say that because I enjoy all of those movies.

Besides which, I'm halfway through Muderer's Row the 2nd Matt Helm adventure. So far it's been worth it for Ann-Margret (who I'm also working with currently) and a character I just refer to as 1/4 Destro. You can figure that out for yourself.


Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Man With The Gunsight Eyes Comes to Kill!
...and no, I don't mean Col. Steve Austin...

I came across a site this morning that clenched the subject of this post. I don't recall the name of it off the top of my head, but it was a search engine for cemeteries. Type in a name, find your dead relatives, favorite passed musicians, and your dearly departed Hollywood stars. It's creepy....and all too familiar to the wacky world wide web. I should mention that you could leave flowers and messages for those on record. Now, I've lost a deeply loved sister and a close grandparent in my time on Earth, and I've only visited their graves maybe once since their passing. So...I'm not sure that online "bereavement" qualifies as healthy, much less sane.

Suddenly, a fella carrying around a 20-sided die doesn't seem all that dorky...well, until he starts talking about his +3 Fighting Strength Warrior with a +2 halberd...

Anyhow. Combine that with my double-header the last time around. I decided to expand to a four-for-all...then realized that I hadn't watched the other half of my quadruple header. Not knowing when I'll get around to it, we're back down to a two-fer. (I shall return with the other half.)

All of this because I was shown where a certain favorite axtor was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery, in sunny southern California.

It's (gonna be) a Lee Van Cleef spectacular!

Sabata (aka. Ehi Amico...C'è Sabata, Hai Chiuso! 1969, d. Gianfranco Parolini)

The Story: Master Gunslinger Sabata enlists the help of a loudmouth homeless veteran and a high-flying mute Indian in his quest to unravel a plot by several pillars of a Western community to buy up land that the coming railroad will be built upon.

Return of Sabata (aka. È Tornato Sabata...Hai Chiuso un'Altra Volta 1971, d. Gianfranco Parolini)

The Story: Sabata sets up shop in a town whose benefactor for town improvement may actually be its greatest robber baron.

The Review: Let's just get two things out of the way right off the bat, shall we?

For one thing, I am very aware of the existence of Adios, Sabata (aka. Indio Black, 1971 d. G. Parolini) which stars Yul Brynner and much of the same cast as the other two films. I watched it at the same time as the other two. It came in a box set together. Two important details however made me decide to leave it out: 1) Like many spaghettis, it became a Sabata movie to cash in despite the obvious difference in leading men (which went vice versa in the The Magnificent Seven franchise), and 2) which is repetetive, but Yul Brynner (though very very cool) is not Lee Van Cleef.

The second thing, is that I'm still not entirley sure what the hell is with Aldo Canti who plays the crazy acrobat character in all three films. Well, not so much with him, as he was supposedly gunned down by mobsters in the early 80's. More along the lines of: What the hell is this acrobat doing bouncing around the screen in a spaghetti western? Thing is, this wasn't a phenomena limited to spaghettis. Having seen the bizarre trailers for any of a number of different Italian genre movies, I know that I've seen this weird spring board flipping around crap in several different genres. It's almost always the same with someone dropping from a height onto a well hidden trampoline and then flipping through the air to attack, to enter a building stealthily, etc. I just don't get it. It looks weird and...well, early bad wire work in martial arts movies. But where wires eventually worked, you can tell that this craze was never going to catch on.

Ok. Ok. I'll admit that it comes across cleverly in a couple of places, but it still looks illogical...and kinda dumb. It did, however, just needed to be stated up front. If anyone reading this watched these movies based on my recommendation, and I didn't mention that. I can imagine, that within 20 minutes of putting the disk in they would be saying something along the lines of "What the hell is this?" Now it's well over time to move on.

Now, if there's one signifier about many spaghettis, it is the frequent reuse of things that worked in other films or things that were cool. Gianfranco Parolini, the director of the Sabata films, also had a hand in creating another Spaghetti fave, Sartana (played by Gianni Garko...and once by George Hilton [yick!].). He only helmed the first film, but both Sartana and Sabata are sleuthing gunslingers who have a penchant for gadgets (and so do the villains). Now, I've reviewed a couple of Sartana films in these pages, and I have to say that Giuliano Carnimeo who made the rest of the Sartana films definitely created a more realized character with more ironed out mysteries. The difference between the two series though would be that while Sartana had better developed plots, Sabata has higher production values...well, the first one for sure. The one thing neither series failed on though was casting for the iconic leads.

Lee Van Cleef was quoted once as telling his mother that nothing could've been more fortunate than his being born with beady eyes. How true. Lee's hawk-like appearance goes a long way to establish his gentleman killer character. As this set of mysteries doesn't involve any forensic pathology, one needs a man whose sharp-pointed eyes seem to peel through the other characters giving him all the information he needs. Lee had this in spades. Van Cleef also telegraphs the confident strut of a man who knows he can kill you with a glance, who can take a casino for everything it's worth, and who can woo every lady in the room without a word. The only way to explain the importance of this is to see the film because you need exactly that character to suspend your disbelief when he repeatedly demonstrates a preternatural skill to be in the right place at the right time almost every time.

Now the rest of the cast in both films is largely filled by spaghetti regulars. Of standout note in both films is Ignazio Spalla who plays the big burly and surly loudmouth sidekick (a role often inhabited by Bud Spencer, or Mario Brega). Spalla has a natural charm and on screen charisma that keeps his over-the-top blustering fun instead of tedious. We won't cover Canti again, who sort of plays the sidekick to sidekick Spalla in both films. And if you've enjoyed seeing the actors who play the villains dying in nasty ways in other'll enjoy them dying nasty deaths here as well. Though it is a detraction to the second film, that no one stands out particularly well as a villain as more time is spent digging out the shady plan than dealing with him directly until well over half way into the movie.

I can't get away from the character point without mentioning one of my personal genre favorites, William Berger, who plays Banjo in the first film. Banjo's is one of those great characters who walks that fine line between being on the side of good or the side of bad and you never can quite tell which way he'll turn. Now, in a genre populated almost exclusively by antiheroes, it definitely says something if you can stand out in such a role. Berger, whom I've loved in nearly every movie I've seen him in, plays it just right though he is obviously more a character of the 1960's than of the Wild West as the cynical musician lothario with a past. Unfortunately, though there is tension thick enough to cut with a knife between Van Cleef and Berger, Banjo is never quite developed enough to be one of the greats. This ends up being a letdown to the movie as a whole as the choices and plays Banjo makes spur the plot on more and more as the story moves along.

Parolini's direction is brisk and fun, and he keeps the action rolling along at a decent clip. What seems to fail him more than anything is the story, which in both films just seems to lack the right amount of development and in some cases coherency that would make them at least solid good movies if not great ones. In most ways, though the gunslinging detective of sorts comes off as fresh, many of the other elements are boilerplate, but like I said, not tied together well enough to be a totally solid genre effort. The reason I went at some lengths to go over the cast is that they keep the film engaging more than anything else. Van Cleef's banter, Spalla's bravado, and, in the first film, Banjo's moody strut make the effort well worth watching. The frequent, and often well staged gunfights, don't hurt either.

In all, the first film is superior to the second film in many ways, but both are very watchable. I'm not sure if these would win any fans to the genre who had seen no other examples, but they are definitely in a the upper half. I would actually recommend Garko's Sartana over Sabata, but I don't want that to detract from Van Cleef. After all, the decision to write this review came from a link to Lee Van Cleef's grave. If I could, I'd go back in time just to shake hands with him. I enjoy watching him work, and these movies are a good example of his skill and charisma. Unfortunately, too many of the important elements of good film making don't quite add up enough around him.


Friday, October 28, 2005

Hell Hath No Fury...
There's nothing I can say that would've prepared you for this one...

In an effort to keep things moving right along, today we're doing a two-fer.

I can't even think of an intro...other than I've found my alternate wold in the reality I would choose outside of this one: the movie world of 60's/70's Japanese cinema. Now that's not because I'm some loser Asianophile. You know, the chunky dork who watches too much animé and talks about the code of the samurai and tries to know more about Asian culture than any Asian man or woman within 20 miles of him. I'm not that guy...from what you know of me here you may think I'm that guy...but I'm not that guy. I've just found that it's a movie world that every time I enter it, I find that I have a badass good time. It's sexy and stylish. It's violent and garish. It can be soft and hard. It doesn't matter if it's sword swinging samurai or gun toting gangsters...or any of other smaller's usually a pure hoot.

Actually, the same could be said for a lot of 60's American's just that the Japanese is almost always...what's the word?...zanier? Sure. Zanier.

That having been said. Here's a couple that prove that you can have lots of sex AND violence while still telling a story.

Sex and Fury (1973, d. Norifumi Suzuki) & Female Yakuza Tale (1973, d. Teruo Ishii)

The Story (One): Pickpocket extraordinaire and gambler Ocho Inoshika seeks revenge against the criminals who killed her father who have now become powerful politicians.

The Story (Two): Ocho Inoshika returns to take down a murderous drug smuggling ring to pay back a debt of honor to a yakuza boss who saved her life.

The Review: Hmmm, I wonder if my synopsis are fair. Both of these movies' plots play out a touch more complicated than I've made them sound, but if you strip it down then the above is what you are left with. I'll try to explain without having to get into a play by play.

The first film features a whole political subplot with a crazed anarchist band and a pair of European spies along with a whole subplot of Ocho trying to rescue a young girl from being sold into prostitution all while trying to solve who killed her father. And the second had three different rival gangs, each of which has different goals and a strange murder/mistaken identity subplot. And like I said, they then sped along chockful of violence and nudity and sex and torture and what have you.

It was all about balance.

The problem is that most movies like this (and the Japanese have been guilty of this more than once (espicially if you watch enough animé) is that they almost fall into formula. What I mean is that it gets to the point where you can start timing things off. For instance, there's going to be a gunfight ever 5-6 minutes, a sex scene every 10, and so on. Another fine example of this kind of filmmaking would be a personal guilty favorite: Andy Sidaris. I'm sure I've mentioned him here before, but for those of you who missed out I'll repeat. If you've seen Savage Beach, Return to Savage Beach, Hard Ticket to Hawaii, or Do or Die, you know exactly what to expect and when. You could probably jot down the timing of the sex scenes and violence for one movie, then pop another one in, and without watching just fast forward to those same numbers and you'd have the same corresponding scenes. (Come to think of it...that's an experiment I oughtta try...)

I'm happy to say that though there is something noticeably familiar about the timing and delivery both of these movies keep chucking enough style and crazed concepts to keep you guessing. For instance, there are scenes with nudity in any of a thousand different movies, but how many of them are slow-mo choreographed bloodbaths in the snow with a naked woman hacking and slashing through two dozen assassins? I bet you could name all of them on one hand that lost a couple of fingers in an industrial accident.

But it's not all...pardon the expression...milk and honey.

Now I've looked up some reviews and opinions on these movies, as I do with most everything I review (assuming I can find anything), and the majority opinion out there is that Female Yakuza Tale is the better movie. Now both of them feature a naked Ocho fighting for her life against mulitple assassins. For whatever reason, which is hard to explain and justify, in the first film it didn't seem exploitave (or as exploitave) as it did in the second one. Of course, in the second film, the naked swordfight was the back drop for the opening credits! When you start with something like that, you can't let up. With little exception, the first move does a decent job of motivating its violence and nudity....the second one...well...

The first movie definitley takes itself both more seriously and stylishly. The second tries to have more fun, and takes on a more over-the-top comic book tone that verges on slapstick. This may betray a bias on my part since I have a strong feeling against the tongue-in-cheek tone most movies have today. It's not hard to see how or why something so maniacal could slide so fast into self-parody. The problem for me, once again, is what I refer to as post-Airplane syndrome. Airplane, for all its lunacy, works only because it's played completely straight. Take away the jokes and it's a top-to-bottom disaster movie. That's why it works. Most movies that followed in that vein, however, spend so much time acknowledging their stupidity that it isn't remotely funny anymore. Female Yakuza Tale isn't quite that ridiculous, but without the "we're taking this very seriously" just doesn't work for me. It's too self-consciously jokey...and as I mentioned before, exploitave.

As this is a family site...uh, yup...I don't want to go into graphic detail, but the movie uses a, somewhat different way, in a movie for smuggling drugs. I'll simply say, it ends up being an excuse for a bevy of young woment to get naked over and over and over again. Now, I imagine, in some respects, this could be titillating if it weren't for the now general knowledge that this and even more umcomfortable way of smuggling illegal goods are commonplace. Nevertheless, like I said, it becomes a sort of boring excuse to have naked girls on screen regularly. And just like anyone who has managed to watch a porno movie all the way through, like say an early entry like Deep Throat, the nudity for the sake of nudity loses it's novelty after a while and simply becomes sad.

So I choose Sex & Fury as the better of the two, but that's not to say it's flawless. I've always wondered why the caucasian actors in Asian films are always the absolutely worst actors in the universe. This one is no exception. Christine Lindberg (famous Swede from Thriller: A Cruel Picture (aka. They Call Her One Eye)) is passable, but her male counterpart is...well, I'm not sure you can call it acting. On the flip side, I'm not sure if that's because he wasn't an actor, or that he was directed to yell at the top of his lungs. In any event, he's terrible. So there's that, and the fact that Christine's love interest plot with the young handsome anarchist really goes nowhere except to add a sort of pretty soft side to the movie.

Wow, I feel like I've said a lot of negative things about these movies which wasn't how I meant to come across. I enjoyed both of them for the most part, but I definitely found the first to be more entertaining, stylish, and fun. Like I said, it's a splashy, colorful, intense world that I would long to be a part of. Well, only if it was like a restart version of life where everytime some beautiful naked girl with a sword hacked me to pieces I got to get up and do it all over again tomorrow.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

That's Right...Giant..Effing...Rabbits...
Anyone think I couldn't help touching this one?

Ouch. I've been away too long...and there's too much material to cover.

So, I'm gonna start with the obvious choice.

Somewhere, someone in the DVD department at Warner Bros. is a total movie geek...or just a geek period, let's be fair...and somehow he/she talked his/her boss into getting one of the world's great turkeys on DVD. They had to have slipped it under the radar. Any executive at any studio that I've ever met would have never understood why anyone would ever want to see this movie again...but now that it's on DVD...they'll probably want to remake it.

If you know me, and you know know it's time not Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (I've got too much Santa right now as it is), it's time for:

Night of the Lepus (1972, d. William F. Claxton)

The Story: In an attempt to chemically alter the reproductive cycles of rabbits, which are destroying a Southwest town's ranches, a pair of research scientist end up creating a swarm of giant killer bunnies who must now be stopped.

The Review: Let's just start with the obvious: No matter what you do, you cannot film real rabbits in any way and not have them come off as cute and cuddly. Even jackrabbits, which are much larger, spindlier, and more bug-eyed than your garden variety rabbit is still anything but threatening. So to make a movie about giant killer rabbits, without your tounge so far in to your cheek that it's putting stretch marks on your face, is an excercise in...ummm...well, I'm not sure I even know what...but I guess futility is as good a start as any...but I don't know what else.

I do know that this movie is supposedly based on Russell Braddon's novel The Year of the Angry Rabbit. I say supposedly because from what I've found on the book (it's quite rare and pricey apparently), it's a political satire of sorts. The plot appears to be about a program to stop the devastation caused by the overpopulation of rabbits in Australia that results in the creation of a powerful chemical weapon that instead kills humans. In none of the scant info I can find have I seen the words "giant" or "killer" or any derivations there of co-joined with the word rabbit. So for those of you thinking that Hollywood only recently started making movies out of books in title only (think I, Robot)...well, it's been going on for at least 30 years now...

Ok, so let's turn to what the movie does deal with.

Well, there's a lot of stock footage of rabbit's being chased into giant nets in Australia...ah-ha, there's the tie in...oh, sorry...Then we cut to the American Southwest (where the stock footage will eventually continue) and rancher Cole Hillman asks college dean Elgin Clark (Star Trek's DeForest Kelley! Bones!) if any of the school's scientists can help. Soon Dr. and Mrs. Bennet are on the case and injecting rabbits with a mystery serum. In one of the most hilarious offscreen lines ever, their daughter exclaims something to the effect of "Not that one daddy, he's my favorite." This leads to her taking the test bunny with her and in the second most hilarious (and contrived sequence) her new friend, Hillman's son, lets the rabbit go...because he...umm...hates them? I think...something like that. A few screen minutes later and giant paws attack from offscreen, there's a lot of forced perspective, and we're hit with some of the most hilarious closeups of rabbits with fake blood on their faces looking...ummm...ferocious...I guess. (I know I keep using hilarious too many times, but if you've seen the movie, there just isn't any other word.)

I'm tempted to go through some of my favorite rabbit "attacks", but there just isn't any way to clearly get this across. Furthermore, the rather liberal use of stock footage, and the constant reuse of rabbit efx footage only ups the laughs. I can say that the Humane Society must not have been on set for this one because it gets pretty obvious that one or two of our furry friends met with a messy demise on one of many miniaturized sets.

The one sequence I'll describe that I loved was the first attempt to destroy the giant rabbits. Believe it or not, I'm not enamored with the first wonderful reveals of the furry giants, though they are priceless. It's something else going on in the scene. Now, maybe I've just been too drenched in the postmodern self-conscious schtick that is the modern horror movie (has anyone seen the trailer for Slither which boasts about it's originality and yet looks suspiciously like Night of the Creeps with CG to me?), but all through this sequence I kept watching DeForest Kelley keep hanging his head over the giant rabbit hole just waiting for him to get it. They kept showing this rabbit hole POV shot with DeForest craning over...and you could hear the sounds of giant rabbits...and you could just feel it coming...but then nothing...well, someone else gets attacked but not DeForest. I knew what I thought was supposed to happen, but it just didn't. I mean, the movie had me at the phrase "Giant Killer Rabbit", but that scene...well, I think I fell in love.

And for the rest, well there's not much to say. Each of the actors, old school B-movie celebs every one, sold the show as they fought the floppy eared killer with grim earnest on their face. Today, they'd all be nodding and winking at the camera, hence ruining the experience while thinking they are making it more fun. Thank God for them. The movie was shot in a fairly standard fashion when giant rabbits weren't to be seen, but actually pulled off some very creative composite shots. Some of the sound effects in this movie were drop dead funny all by themselves. Director Williman Claxton was a veteran of western, particularly TV, having steered quite a few episodes of "Bonanza" which begs the question of how he ended up behind the camera of this one? However, he does a more than competent job with the material he had to work with.

In conclusion, the best thing about this film has to be the ponderables. The tagline on the DVD box, instead of "How many eyes does horror have? How many times will terror strike? ", should probably read "What were any of them thinking?" I wish this no frills DVD said more about how this movie got made. Was it all done in good fun, or was everyone taking it as seriously as it seems? I have to imagine that at the first dailies that featured the killer bunnies people were either giggling, or thinking stonily "My God, what is this?", or both. In the end though, it did get made, and it played in theaters. Now it made it to DVD. The worst part in some ways is that we'll never see a movie like this again because the people who made great movies like Black Knight and the upcoming Snakes on a Plane would look at the script and think "This is stupid."

Then again...Snakes on a Plane...maybe there is hope.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

"Even If You Were the Monkey King, Himself..."
Everybody was Monkey Fist Fighting...
(This one goes out to the KB. You know who you are.)

I know, I know. I said that previously thatl the only Shaw Bros. flicks that I was interested in these days were the Bond-like superspy knockoffs. Well, hey, when I said it, it was absolutely true; however, I just didn't enjoy Angel With Iron Fists nearly as much as I had hoped. I'll admit it, I'm fickle enough that one disappointment can put an end to my fascination with some newfound interest. You never know, though, I could rewatch Temptress of a Thousand Faces and get started all over again. Ultimately, it doesn't mean that I love the Shaws any less.

I'm about to prove that.

Recently, I was asked to mull over some of my favorites in terms of kung fu flicks. So I did. (I'm not just gonna cough up that list, we'll save it for another time.) In the end, it left me inspired to take in a new one, as I hadn't in some time. Where else was I gonna turn but to the original masters. After a stop off at my favorite Asian video store, I picked up a copy of today's subject.

What can I say but: Wow!

And to think, you don't even know what I'm talking about yet.

Well, let's get on with it.

Mad Monkey Kung Fu (1979, d. Lau Kar Leung)

The Story: A wily street scamp manages to convince a crippled kung fu master (with a dark past) to teaching him the Monkey Fist technique in order to rid themselves of the gangsters terrorizing the town.

The Review: Ok, I assume you just read the synopsized synopsis above, and you've seen how excited I was about this movie above that. I bet, however, that you can't figure out why. There is absolutely nothing in that synopsis that makes this sound like anything more than every other kung fu flick ever made: Loser learns kung fu and becomes champion of down trodden town. Ah, but trust me, this one was different.

First of all, I'm gonna admit to a prejudice that I have when it comes to kung fu flicks (which goes a long way to explain why I like this older stuff): I prefer to watch movies which feature actors who can perform incredible stunts and feats without the benefit of special effects. Let's be honest, most of Bruce Lee's movies aren't great, but Bruce himself was such an incredible physical presence that he keeps them impressive. Likewise, many of the actors in these older flicks could've kicked some serious ass in real life. Now, it's mostly wireworks and special efx that double for physical ability. I don't mind that these things are used, but I certainly like it better when they are used to enhance a performance rather than be the entire basis for it.

This movie features a trio of impressive physical actors. The first is actor/director Lau Kar Leung who plays the crippled teacher. Lau's speed and agility are impressive, but he also has a wonderful comic presence and movement. I wouldn't say that there was anything extraordinary in the direction, but Lau's presentation is quality meat and potatoes and provides a fluid look at the theatrics of the actors. The second example is the villain played by Lo Lieh whose role in the Shaws' production Five Fingers of Death was expected to shoot him to superstardom. Unfortunately, he was passed over by the rapid rising star of Bruce Lee, though he made numerous wonderful performances for martial arts films. Here, he is no different able to move with grace from his early hard edge style to the wily animalistic Monkey Fist style. Finally, the true star (non-ironically enough) is Hou Hsiao who plays the hero Little Monkey. I have never seen a more physical performer except maybe the director, Hou has it turned on throughout the film with constant movement and monkey mimicry. At the same time he embodies the likeable scamp and the cheerful prankster. In truth, all three of these performers were a joy to watch, but without Hou Hsiao, the movie wouldn't have been nearly as remarkable.

That isn't to say I don't have a few problems with this film, though they are very minor. First, the one limitation many Shaw Bros. films can't escape is their dated production value. This film was made in 1979, but doesn't look all that different from The One Armed Swordsman which was produced 12 years earlier. That's not a bad thing necessarily, but it can be very limiting to a lot of these movies. (Side Note: I don't wanna attack the Shaws. Thank God they made the movies they did. Also, if not for them and Golden Harvest, we would've never had the Hong Kong film boom of the 90's.) Second, as the movie has a comedic element, there ends up being a lot of mugging to the screen, particularly from the villains. Most Hong Kong comedy has a tendency to play it over-the-top, and unfortunately, it doesn't always play. Finally, (and for once I don't want to ruin it,) the ending cuts off with a weird tone. I had a similar problem with Five Deadly Venoms, where the final fight was the most important thing, but it didn't resolve many of the subplots. This one doesn't have as major a hacked off feeling ending, but there were a few things that were more than a little "huh?".

As a final note, you don't have to know the plot of the famous Chinese folk tale Journey To The West, but it'll add some extra dimensions to the story. I'm not gonna rehash it for you for two reasons. One, I can't do everything for you, and some things are worth finding out for yourself. Two, I haven't read the whole thing...just chunks and pieces (and I've seen Stephen Chow's Chinese Odyssey if that counts for anything) though I know a lot of the story. All I'll say for now is that it recounts the story of the Monkey King which is where the kung fu style (Monkey Fist) this movie covers comes from. The other reason I mention it is because there are numerous references to it and the Monkey King in the film, and it would help you somewhat to know what they're talking about if you didnt' already. Finally, I might have mentioned it if only to show how damn smart and pretentious I am...or maybe not...

Unfortunately, once again, this movie isn't available domestically in the beautiful letterboxed original language edition that I watched (which was a region 3 disk). I think you can find it in some rinky-dink DVD copies taken from video masters....which might be letterboxed from a British edition...and is almost guaranteed to be dubbed. Now if you know my affection for dubbing for the Asian movies of my youth, know that I make an exception in this case, and that this film is better in the original Chinese.


Thursday, August 11, 2005

They Came, They Saw, We Kicked Their @$$...Sort Of...
What else would Martians wanna do...other than invade us...?

No, it's not War of the Worlds that I'm going to be talking about today.

You see, I go through phases of genre cinema. It's not all Spaghetti Westerns all the time. That merely happens to be my favorite genre, and the one I default to most often. Also, keep in mind, that I don't mean genre as in Drama, Comedy, Sci-fi, etc. When I say genre it's more like: Blaxploitation, Shaw Bros. Kung Fu, Giant Monster movies, 50's Sci-Fi, etc. I look at movies kind of like zoologists break down animals into kingdom, phyla, class, order, family, genus, and species (Did I get them all?). Currently, I'm on a 50's alien invasion run (check out my last post on the Japanese film, The Mysterians).

Now the film I'm reviewing this time around sort of shames me into admitting that I had never seen it until now, especially considering all the garbage I have seen (like the Tracy Lords vehicle Shock 'Em Dead (1991) or Decampitated (1998) [which was low even for Troma]).

Nevertheless, I must forge ahead.

Hell, there's good odds you've never seen this "classic" either.

Invaders From Mars (1953, d. William Cameron Menzies)

The Plot: Junior Astronomer David Maclean spots a saucer land in the sand dunes across from his house, but no one believes him as the locals are snatched up one by one by the invaders. Finally with the help of the local observatory scientist and a local doctor, David is able to turn the tide and dispatch the aliens.

The Review: I had a momentary debate over whether to include the wry twist at the end of the movie as part of the plot. If you've never seen the movie, well I'm going to ruin it for you right now, but only because I don't feel I can review it without it. Fair enough? First though, I'm going to ramble for a bit.

Invaders clearly fits into the category of quasi-anti-Communist science fiction films such as The Thing From Another World (1951) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). All three of these films feature alien invaders who end up taking over or impersonating the forms of captured or killed humans. Much of the fear factor rested within the idea that one couldn't tell who the invaders were. Even if their secret identity were exposed, no one would believe that someone they knew and trusted could be evil. The end result being that a town would fall without anyone being able to know or stop it. Ahh, the plucky days of the RED MENACE...or was it THREAT...I don't remember, but a nation full of paranoids is so much more polite.

That's assuming you manage to not be ousted as a suspected Commie and have to face the rosy-cheeked terror of Roy Cohn.


In many ways, what made Invaders more interesting to me than many of these films was the stress that it placed on the alienation (no pun) of the little boy David. His father and mother are some of the first victims of the aliens "re-programming." Within a matter of moments, David loses almost everyone he can turn to. For the most part, the first third of the movie is by far the most terrifying. Much of this can also be chalked up to director Menzies whose primary occupation was set design. Each space that David moves through looks at once familiar, but each contains little oddities. The world gets more and more skewed until we reach the police station which is nearly as stark and creepy as the alien craft at the end of the film. What's more is that it's a situation most of us can identify with: that first time in our lives when something happened and no one would believe our explanation of it.

The first third of this movie had me nearly completely hypnotized...which of course means that it couldn't hold it up exactly. As I mentioned in the plot summary, David does eventually find aid which leads to one of the most hilarious exposition scenes in movie history. David's astronomer buddy expounds at length about "commonly held" theories about life on Mars. Now the bits about their society being underground are passable, but when he gets into the stuff about them making humanoid mutants to serve them...I suppose you could say it gets far-fetched. I'm kidding. What it really feels like is the excuse is a cheap set up to have monsters later on. Also, there's some decidedly flimsy stuff that the Martians are after a new prototype spaceship. Why a race who can build interplanery ships that can phase though solid earth would be all that concerned with the fledgling outer space efforts of another race are beyond me? I'm probably thinking about it too hard. The attempt to expose the alien plot takes up much of the second third.

The final third of the film is a general mixed bag. On one end, there is a strong amount of menace as the remote-controlled humans (including David's parents) begin to carry out assasinations and general mayhem. The rest of the action involves the military trying to find and uproot the aliens. Naturally, David and his Lady Doctor friend get kidnapped by the aliens, excuse me, the mutant servants of the aliens. (Mutants who, I now feeled compelled to point out like every reviewer of this flick, have large obvious zippers running up their green costumes.) From there on out, it plays like nearly every alien or monster movie, until we get to the end and my point from the start of this review. (So if I haven't ruined enough comes the rest.)

The alien ship is blown up sending David and the solidiers running for cover. The camera settles on David who begins to have hazy flashbacks of all the terrors he's experienced, and soon enough he wakes up in bed. It was all a dream. Now in some ways, that's been a hokey ending since the dawn of hokey endings. At the same time, when put into the perspective of a coming-of-age film instead of an alien invasion moive, it works for me. Like I said, I found the first third of the film the strongest, and much of that was because of the isolation and the education for an otherwise sheltered young boy (ie. sometimes you can't trust a police man, etc.). Taken from that angle, the movie makes an Alice in Wonderland-like commentary on moving from childhood to adulthood.

However, that isn't where the movie ends.

Granted, in 1953, this wasn't as cliché as it is now, but the movie ends with David, relieved that it was all a dream, getting out of bed only to see the alien ship arriving for real this time. I don't get in, I don't get why this was the way the movied ended. I've thought of it a hundred different ways. After working in the movies myself, I've quickly realized that often putting any thought to these kind of questions is automatically too much thought by default. Maybe it was just that, a last minute: "Hey, wouldn't it be scary if we then....SHOW IT HAPPENING FOR REAL! That'd be great!" On the other hand, as meticulous about many things as Menzies seemed to be about his movie, I can't imagine that being his attitude. Ultimately I can't tell if it works or if it completely undermines all of the stuff I found really interesting about the movie.

I'm keeping in mind that most folks wouldn't have been able to take it seriously past the zippers on the mutants costumes.

All in all, this is still a movie with a lot of serious fun, and just enough kitsch to keep it interesting. A little too much armed forces stock footage, perhaps, but still a good time. I should also confess that I've got this itch to watch Tobe Hooper's version from the 80's again, despite all the evidence to the contrary.


Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Not So Friendly Visitors
The "wacky" quotient is riding high...

It's not easy to convince people that watching movies is research. I'll at least claim that it's half-and-half. It isn't as though I'm going to watch a movie that I won't enjoy as part of my research. Then again, that's beginning to encroach on the territory of what makes a good movie, a bad movie, and a good bad movie. I didn't come here to go over all that again. The movie I watched was supposed to be research of sorts...but, I confess, I had wanted to see it for a long time.

You see, I've sent my novel off to a friend of mine who's going to give it the old once-over. I'm hoping it takes him quite some time, as I have little interest in looking at it for a while to come. In the meantime, progress should march on. I'm particularly bent on trying to write a second one (without knowing whether the first is worth a crap) before the end of the year. Well, perhaps not finish it by then, but at least have something under way. So I've been attempting to study certain genre structures and devices.

Here's the part where we get to my review, but believe you me, you won't be able to figure out the story I want to tell based on this review.

The Mysterians (1957, d. Ishiro Honda)

The Plot: After a series of bizarre natural disasters, scientists discover that an alien race from a destroyed planet are attempting to settle on Earth. The aliens have two requests: a two mile radius tract of land, and the right to breed with Earth women. Needless to say, the human race won't stand for that and so war begins between the humans and the space age weapons of the invaders.

The Review: A few months ago, I went to see the re-release of the original Godzilla. It was a restored print with a Japanese language track and no Raymond Burr. Sure it had become more than just a little silly in places over time (like the photo of the Big G over the mountains that's obviously a painting), but it was still shocking how grim and serious it was. I doubt anyone on Earth understands how seriously to take atomic weaponry than the Japanese. Nowadays Godzilla, himself, is hard to take seriously, but early on he put an appropriate dragon face of horror on atomic nightmares that no mushroom cloud could.

I mention Godzilla for two reasons that are both connected. For one, The Mysterians and the first Godzilla film share the same director. Second, that first Godzilla film set up the formula for nearly every giant monster movie to follow as well as a lion's share of Japanese science fiction films. It breaks down like this: 1) the threat arrives and humanity's confused, 2) the first attempt is made to stop the threat which ends in humanity getting its collective @$$ handed to it, and 3) humanity figures out some new fangled kooky way of attacking and wins the day. Somewhere along the line there's a love story, and very often there's a misunderstood scientist or child who somehow figures in the finale. The formula doesn't vary much, although certainly in the chain of sequels, the title monster begins to have a hand in stopping the new threat.

Now, even though I've brought up the giant monsters and this film is often listed in that category, it only resembles them in terms of story line. Certainly, you see a couple of giant robots (who have a striking resemblance to Gonzo of Muppet fame), but not for very long. Most of the destructive attacks center around a large stationary globe that acts as the Mysterians base. A large glowing globe that doesn't move could hardly be mistaken for a giant monster like...say Guiron, who had a giant knife shaped head. Guiron is definitely a giant monster. Nonetheless, the plot of this film still does strongly resemble that of the giant monster film, except in one important area (other than the monster...sorry about that). It lacks the emotional core most of those films had.

In the original Godzilla, you got to know and care about the people trying to stop the monster's tirade. It had a hint of a love story, a love triangle in fact. In the midst of disaster, it wasn't merely a screaming faceless mob, but they took time to at least give you a touch of humanity in the crowd. For instance, in the original Gamera film, there's the moment amidst the destruction when Gamera stops and saves a boy's life. Sure it's hokey, but it puts a face to the destruction. The Mysterians, on the other hand, spends more time trying to wow it's audience. Unfortunately, that lets it down in more ways than one.

For one, if you didn't grow up with this kind of movie or haven't developed a taste for miniature efx extravaganzas, then you're likely to not care for this movie right off the bat. Then again, you may enjoy it, but likely that'll be because you'll spend the hour and a half laughing at it. To the trained eye or those who love this stuff however, the filmmakers did manage to pull off some amazing stuff. One matte shot in particular of a live action man leaping from a minature tank as it is sucked into the ground is impressively effective. Not only that, there is a lot of fun and priceless silliness to the design of the various ships and what have. The problem is that there is just too much of it all the time, but it's never fascinating enough to overshadow the fact that the story is paper thin. The eighteenth Godzilla movie can be paper thin, but not the first.

To be honest, and maybe it was just the subtitles, but I don't think I knew a single characters name by the end. Now when the one character makes the ultimate sacrifice to save everyone, it usually means more when you know what his name is. It wasn't so much the name in some ways as it was the fact that I spent more screen time with the exterior of the Mysterians base than I did with that character.

Don't get me wrong though. As usual, though I tear into the movie, I had a good time watching it. It was ok...and what bothered me is that it could've been great. It could've been the Citizen Kane of alien invasion movies. It had all the right elements. Giant Gonzo Robots. Melting Tanks. Damsels in distress. And a squadron of aliens dressed in capes and motorcycle helmets. Like I said, the miniature work was a lot of fun, and well done. I enjoyed watching it, but it got to the point where my trigger finger was getting ready to start fast forwarding through it.

This is the kind of movie I would like to remake. The problem is that most people would want to jazz it up too much and miss the point (ie. The Thunderbirds movie sans puppets), or you make it too kitschy and retro and it becomes utterly trite. So I think it's best to...I don't know...ummm...leave it alone. If only everyone would take that cue.


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

To Evolutionize Your Ideas
An unpopular word for an unpopular concept...

I saw a banner ad on a website a short while ago about saving the Roe v. Wade decision.

Now, it's not that I'm against a woman's right to choose. What I find ridiculous is that we even have to have this debate.

But, then again, I'm dealing with a society that has only recently begun to have a problem with violence, but is still petrified of sex while surrounded by a sea of pornography.

Anyone else see some of these inherent contradictions we got going here?

I should start with a declaration or two, so that you see where I'm going from.

1) I believe in God, and I believe in the teachings of Christ; however, if you were to talk to me long enough about them, you'd realize that the Inquistion would've burned me at the stake for what I believe. I came to my understanding and my beliefs in my own way...which, conincidentally, I believe is part of our development as human beings. Sadly, instead of aspiring to be spiritual beings (in a real sense, not some bullsh!t New Age enlightment sense) which requires little things like faith, we have instead chosen to become more and more carnal and animalistic. It's all about satisfying desires. Furthermore, I happen to love animals, but I find it disturbing that so many people have begun to make animals more important than humans. Finally, in a attempting be a human being, I think most people, including the religious right and animal activists due to their cause-ism, miss the bigger picture of respecting and honoring the world (ie. flora, fauna, mountain, stream, etc.). But that's just me.

2) I believe in birth control, planned parenting, and global population control. I don't think that 'be fruitful and multiply' meant fill up the planet with people and hoard all it's resources for your selfish consumption. I also don't think it meant meant use all those teeming often ignorant masses to line your coffers (Hello Catholic Church!). Again, it's all bigger picture stuff. For one, not everyone needs or is capable of raising children. Sorry. Two, there's only so much room and so many resources on Earth. My last point is by example (which is just that, I'm not picking on anyone). There are nearly 80 million people in the Phillipines, which are an archipelago of islands. They recently conducted a survey and found that only 30% of the population knew where babies come from. Now that to me is unimaginable, but I'll continue. At what point do land and resources run out, and how does one complete their plans economic reform to improve the country with a constant growing tax on the system? More importantly, what about little things like the tsunami earlier this year? The U.S. has been sued for not getting a warning out fast enough...but let me ask you: say we had to warn the Phillipines, where are you going to put 80 million people assuming you can get them off the islands fast enough?

Everyone with me so far? In summation, my belief in God does not for me contradict my belief in birth control.

It's time to evolutionize ideas.

There's that word again: Evolution.

It's very simple: I don't want a child in this world that his or her parents didn't want.

We've already got more than enough unwanted ones, and scads more that people did actually want. While I don't like to compare and contrast what's more or less evil than something else, I will say that I think stopping something in that cell division phase is far less evil that ruining a person's life by never wanting them, caring for them, or loving them. But hey, that's all on your conscience, which is something that won't bother most people either way.

Part of the evolutionary process that I'm after is the return to the idea or ideal of taking responsibility for oneself. My first little ideal stop is for everyone to take a moment to stop blaming everyone else for what's happened to them in their lives, and taking the time to reflect on what they did to f*ck themselves up. How's that for an idea. After doing that once or twice, you may either off yourself, or figure out how to fix it. Sure, you're a product of your environment, but how many people have recognized the cycles of destruction in themselves, their families, and their communities and risen above it? Too many for me to believe anymore bullsh!t "It's not my's (blank's) fault." (Some people do need real external help, don't get me wrong...but too many need to figure out how to help themselves.)

Now, keeping in mind that everyone is very likely to have sex at some point in their life (this abstinence as the only birth control junk only sounds like bigger b.s. when one knows that all those conservatives likely had sex or at least fooled around in their own teenage years), and if you take responsibility for what you're doing (and there are many ways) then you won't have to worry about so large a decision as whether to proceed with your right to an abortion under Roe v. Wade.

After said self-responsibility ideal is conceivably achieved, we then move on to everyone taking a healthy dose of realism.

But first things first.

That's all the bile I can muster for the time being.


Thursday, July 14, 2005

Nonesuch...and Nonesuch...

If there's anything you don't want to talk about, it's having nothing to talk about. I'm sure somewhere in here, I've also discussed writer's block. Well, that isn't my problem exactly. As a matter of fact, I wrote the first treatment for a new script idea today which pretty well confirms that I don't have writer's block. Being 'burnt out' isn't much of a topic either, and while the more likely culprit (at least for today) I don't have much to say on it either. The final, and what I think is representative of my true problem is simply not having a topic.

Well, that's seldom stopped me before. After all, here I am.

Isn't it curious that I watch more movie trailers than I actually see movies. I do. I watch them on a regular basis on-line either from Quicktime trailers or Between the two, one can gain a fairly good idea of what will be playing at the cinema. The sad fact is that not much of it catches my eye. Now some of you might attribute that to most of those trailers being for Hollywood films. That's not true. Take a look for yourself. While it's true that they aren't fully representative of the offerings of world cinema, they do give a fair amount of offerings for both world and independent films.

For instance, I've watched the various trailers emerge for the Fantastic Four. I mention is primarily because I've written a number of topics on comic books. Each trailer I saw made me less and less interested. I couldn't have said for certain why at the time, but now having discussed it with people who did see it I know that I was right for not wanting to. As I've been told, the story is weak, the characters unevenly established, and that even for a summer blockbuster, the effects are sub-par in spots. What's more, my new favorite phrase to come from a review came from one of the Four, "Hack du jour." That about sums up a great many of my feelings.

Now it isn't as though I've ever really talked about current films playing at the theater in this column of sorts. However, there's a reason for that. That reason is that I don't go to see many of them. Doesn't that seem strange when well over half of the articles I post on here are movie related? Seriously. I recall going to see the Life Aquatic with Steve Zizzou at Christmas time. Then I didn't see another movie until Sin City earlier in the Spring. Following that was the third Star Wars prequel, and most recently Batman Begins. While I enjoyed each and everyone of those, it's a pretty scant representation for six or seventh months of movie offerings. I have however, seen the trailer for just about all of them.

Similarly, I have the same problem with music lately. Now with music, there's been a nearly constant influx of new material. I buy stuff. People send me stuff. I hear new stuff all the time. In that sea of notes and beats, only a handful of it stands out. Now, on one hand, I at first thought that that was only because I was hearing so much, and sometimes only once. Then I realized that for the most part it was simply that it was mediocre. Little of the music was bad, but none of it was really great in and of itself. I've even gone back and spun some of this stuff a second and third time only to find that I was right to dismiss much of it in the first place.

Only for the sake of across the board consistency do I mention that I haven't been interested in reading much lately, but that I actually know has a lot to do with my mood, my taste at the moment, and the availability of the reading material I seek. However, I have noted that there hasn't been much new that I've wanted to read. I can't recall the last time I read a 'bestseller.'

What caused me to give this a mulling over was a conversation I had yesterday. The discussion was over the fact that in music there aren't really any superstars anymore. Even people like Britney Spears and so on are still flavors of the month only stretched out over a longer time. On a pop scale, few of them even register in comparison to Michael Jackson or Madonna. Don't even bother mentioning album sales numbers to me, I'm not convinced by the numbers. It's the psyche I'm after.

For example and by comparison in the movie world, Shrek 2 is in the top ten highest grossing films of all time. It's number three in fact, just after the original Star Wars. Quick question for you: In twenty years, which one do you think more people will still be watching? I'm gonna have to go with Luke, Han, and Leia. If anything, most of the people I know who saw the second Shrek were by and large let down by it. When I told them how it was doing at the box office, they were very genuinely surprised. Not all of these people were movie people either, many of them were joe average movie-goer. To me, the success of that film is more attributable to: a) the success of the first film giving it a highly anticipated appeal, and b) the fact that people of all ages could attend the movie. I don't think it made it to number three based on it's ability to stay in the hearts and eyes of true hardboiled fans the world over.

Just to be cantankerous, I feel the same way in many cases about bestsellers as faux numbers. People read them for two reasons generally: a) something fun and escapist to read, b) because they saw or heard about from someone else who gave it a mediocre or at least somewhat praising review, and c) they saw it was a bestseller. That by no means equates to it being great literature or even great story telling. Used bookstores are choked with past years 'bestsellers'. Sure they sold a lot of copies...and a lot of those were immediately resold. Similarly, I don't even recognize the names of any of the 'best-selling' authors any more...and hey, I still go to the grocery store on a regular basis. A few years ago it was Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Danielle Steele, Tom Clancy, and John Grisham. Sure there were more, but I could almost guarantee that each one of them would have an offering on that drug store shelf. I don't know who these new people are and haven't heard mention made of any of them.

So just like with my problem with the Hack du jour at the movies, it seems like there are no superstars at all in any entertainment medium. Now part of that is the absolute flood in nearly every form of entertainment. While I agree that the opening of them means to film/record/publish work to the general public may have allowed many otherwise silenced voices to speak...I think it also opened the floodgates for a whole lot crap. Some have argued with me that the cream will still rise to the top. I, on the other hand, argue that the gold is getting buried under the garbage. It's like panning for gold in a stream behind a nuclear power plant.

The end result, at least for today is that I don't have anything to talk about. I generally thrive on this stuff for topics. While this is an almost entirely negative past, I don't thrive on this kind of stuff. I just want something to be excited to talk about. Though it may seem it, I don't think I've become entirely too cynical about pop culture to enjoy it anymore. After all, I was talking to someone today about how much I enjoyed Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. If I can still think a comedy whose base is second rate Cheech and Chong jokes was fun and remarkably intelligent, doesn't that show that I'm still willing to let the good light back in?

We'll see.


Tuesday, July 12, 2005

No Mistaking the Original Mysteryman
A tribute to a true independent

In the late 70's, artist-writer Dave Sim began an interesting experiment in the realm of comics that I didn't come here to talk about. However, I can't get to what I am going to talk about without going through Sim. It's a personal story arc of sorts. In any event, that experiment was to produce a limited series of a mere 300 issues. It's name was Cerebus. I say 'was' because Sim recently reached issue 300, and now a few people (namely myself) do wonder what's next. Like I said, I'm not here to talk about Cerebus the Aardvark, though I've got the entire collected series sitting on my bookshelf. It was what I discovered in Sim's pages that spurred me to write this.

I've never exactly been one of those guys who had to always be onto the next and coolest thing. For instance, I own something like 1,500 CD's, and I'd still listen to nearly everyone. Sure, along the way, some of it's become dated, but I never said "That's so should be listening to (Insert Obscure Flavor-of-the-Month Here)." Still, I've often sought out quality and fun in the arena of pop culture arcana. So even as a mere fifth-grader scoping out the local comic book store, I wanted to find something beyond the Spider-Man and X-men titles. That's how I found Cerebus...and eventually the subject I came to discuss.

I don't recall where I saw Cerebus first, but I assume that it was in the advertising of some Marvel title I was reading. Most likely, he appeared in the advertisement for some comic book festival. Back in the early 80's, Cerebus was an underground comic fan favorite, long before Dave made some interesting choices that alienated a healthy portion of his readership (not me...I stuck in to the end). So Cerebus' image was occasionally used to grace the announcement of such events. If you've ever seen him, you may understand why I sought him out.

I picked up a few issues here and there, and I will confess that my elementary school brain couldn't initially make heads or tails of it, though I attribute much of that to the true serial nature of Cerebus. The issues I had were rarely consecutive, and hence: made little sense to me. The art was beautiful, and I knew there was something great about it, so I stuck to it...randomly. Cerebus being a Canadian small-press product, he was much easier to find in Michigan than when I lived in Florida or Texas. So I recall ordering some issues, and in my Mile High Comics catalogue I saw three words that I couldn't shake: "(Flaming Carrot Appearance)."

Can you guess what today's subject really is, if it isn't Cerebus?

If you are familiar with the Flaming Carrot, then you wonder: if I was having trouble following the both literary and straightforward Aardvark, what would I make of the surreal stylings of Bob Burden's surreal creation? Well, I'll tell you: it was unfathomably cool, and then it was just plain unfathomable. Luckily, as I got older, Cerebus became clear, and I realized that the Carrot didn't have to.

The issue of Cerebus I had picked up was somewhere in the early 50's, during the High Society story line. I cracked open the book. Read the Cerebus story that I couldn't follow (High Society is a wicked satire on politics and such), and then turned to the separate (ie. not part of the Cerbus storyline) Flaming Carrot story that I couldn't follow. Perhaps, like the guy who studies something that he doesn't get until he does, I wanted more. I cracked open that Mile High Catalogue, did a scan, and found there was more Flaming Carrot material which was in his own book. There was only one problem.

I was in the mid-80's, and the indy comic phenomenon (ie. non-Marvel/DC publishers like Dark Horse, Image, etc.) hadn't really taken off yet. Independent comics have always been around, but they were often regional. Take The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. When that title broke people were combing the world for those hard to find small press issues of which only a limited few existed. O'Barr's original run of The Crow is another fine example of that kind of comic. Fiercely popular, but few in number. Well, the Flaming Carrot never achieved that kind of fame, but it had those print numbers. Now that issue of Cerebus was years old when I picked it up, and so were those early Carrot issues. What I'm trying to say is that because of their age and scarcity, they cost a lot more than my soon-to-be-middle schoolin' @$$ could afford.

I didn't see the Carrot again until I picked up yet another random issue of Cerebus. This one I couldn't pass up. They were together on the cover, standing side-by-side. Emblazoned in big letters next to them it read: "This Flame. This Carrot." It was near the conclusion of Cerebus' Church and State Saga. I could explain to you what happened in the issue, but it would make about as much sense to you now as it did to me then. Needless to say, I was in the need of that indy explosion I mentioned before to fill my Carrot needs. There was one problem: just as that began to hit, I got fed up with comics and stopped reading them. (The reason behind that is an issue unto itself, so lets just move on.)

Lemme explain about the Carrot. I assume he looks like an ordinary guy of average atheletic build. I say assume, because we've never seen what he looks like. He wears a carrot mask that stretches a foot or so above his head down to his knees. Instead of the green at the top, he's got...well, flames. He wears a white button down shirt, slacks, and swimming flippers. He can travel on a hyper-powered pogo stick, isn't afraid to gun down his enemies if necessary, and makes great use of a giant sock in combat. Mentally...well, wouldn't you expect a man wearing a five foot long carrot mask to be a touch unstable? Is it getting through why I love this guy? I'm not sure that I can communicate it exactly.

There's one panel, that of all the comics I have ever read, I will likely never forget. A wounded man is laying on his side. The Carrot is trying to prop him up. In his hand, the Carrot holds a box of breakfast cereal. The Carrot is saying to the man, "You're hurt pretty bad, mister...Have some Wheaties!" I can't look at it without laughing...Hell, I can't think about it and not chuckle.

Durning my comics hiatus, Dark Horse picked up the title, and made the Flaming Carrot a little easier to come by. For those of you who don't know, the Flaming Carrot was also the birthing grounds for the Mysterymen, which eventually became a feature film. While I do find the movie entertaining, it's a far cry from properly translating Bob Burden's whimisical and hilarious sense of humor to the silver screen. I think the first and most noticeable deletion was the absence of the Carrot: the Original Man of Mystery. The more I think about it though, I must admit I'm glad that they didn't include him. I would hate to see him ruined.

I must also make mention of the fact that one of the primary draws to the Carrot is Burden's wonderful artwork. I've never seen anything like it in any other comic I've read. Realistic and surrealistic, but without ever getting overly cartoony. I would like to see a roomful of artists translate a character named Sponge Boy and not make him cartoony. Burden did it. The drawings also demonstrate that perfect message-relaying image shorthand that many of the comic artist's best can relate. If you have the chance, and can find a copy, you should also check out Burden's sketchbook that shows even more of his brilliant work. He uses an almost globby curved line to great effect, and an almost swirling quality of shadow. Great stuff.

Back to the story: I did end up with a few of those Dark Horse issues through various means, but it wasn't long after I returned to comics that I found a shop that had all four volumes of the Carrot's adventures (as well as the Mysterymen collected edition). I snapped them up one by one as paycheck would allow, and regaled at all those Carrot adventures that I had missed over the years. Unfortunately, not too long after I completed my collection came the great flood (ie. my apartment got flooded by a brokend watermain). I lost three of the four Carrot books, along with a rather valuable collection of Philip Dick novels (amongst other things).

Well, still having Flaming Carrot Comics Vol. 1 and the Mysterymen collection doesn't put me totally back at square one. Although Vol.2 has for some reason gone out of print. Yet, hope blooms eternal. Recently, much too my surpise, the Carrot returned to print as Burden began publishing new issues at Image comics. He's three issues in and has lost none of the pizzaz. I only hope that a new generation of readers will invest in this hilarious oddity of a comic book. After all, I equate the relationship between comic readers and the Carrot as I do American movie audiences to Godzilla. Just about everyone in America would recognize Godzilla if they saw a picture of him, but I doubt few over the age of say 15 have seen a Godzilla movie since they were below the age of 15. I think most comic readers recognize the characters (after all there are a few action figures, and Zippo lighters of all things), but I don't know how many have peeked inside the pages.

So after a lot of talk about Cerebus, whom I didn't intend to talk about, I hope that I've relayed my love of the wonderfully bizarre world of the Flaming Carrot. Each time I pick up an issue it brings a little joy and a smile to my face. After all, you're never gonna see Batman fight an 8 ft. tall chicken wing. (Well, maybe way back in the 60's. They did some weird stuff in them days.)


Monday, July 11, 2005

Less Than A Month
On like a light switch...

Something must be wrong, I'm actually posting again in less than a month's time.

Is there anything new to report? Not really. I'm filling some sort of writing quota.

In the months ahead, I'm planning a full on internet assault. It's something I've been meaning to do for some writing on this thing. Seriously though, a website, a shop, and a whole bunch of other crap. Of course, this assumes that you: a) care, and b) would even be willing to buy something from me based on the meager offerings to be found here.

I suppose the primary thing that spurred this one was that feeling that I've been left behind somewhere by not having one. In this new professional world that I need to grow up into it, having a website seems to be the next thing after having a business card. Well, I still don't have any cards because I'm still not sure what to put on one. I'm at the bottom of the entertainment industry food chain, what do I have to advertise?

Thus far, I don't have anything to show for my other skills. I have this blog, but it isn't as though people have been knocking down my door to sign me up for something. You may not think that's such a big deal, but there have already been movies and books based on people's blogs. That's fairly amazing. Still it is, what it is...which is...something.

I've always considered the the biggest problem with my two primary talents (writing and drawing) to be that they aren't performance mediums. Actors and musicians can get attention immediately because they immediately have something to show for it. That something doesn't have to be an album or a movie role. You can plunk your @$$ on a street corner with a guitar and start playing a tune. Actors, it's a little tougher, but then again, most of then I know just say they are whether they 'act' or not. Come to think of it, in a way, it's already a performance: an actor acting like an actor. (D@mn, why didn't I ever think of that? Oh well, too late now.)

In the meantime, I'm opening up a page over at DeviantArt, which will feature my other attempts at creativity. I'd post the link, but there's nothing there yet to gander at. If you're really clever though, look at the address above, and I'll bet you could figure it out. At the very least, you'll get to see my smoking cool avatar. I'll probably come back with it when I'm having a grand opening or somesuch.

A website. It's on the horizon.

I hope that I do something worth while. After all, what dissuaded me for so long was looking at the deluge of terrible sites crop up as this internet stuff kept catching on. Now, I haven't been on here since the days of Usenet or anything (I think Prodigy was the first thing I began playing with way back when), but it seemed like it wasn't until college or so that it really started to take off. Within a few years it seemed like the whole web was made up of two essential groups: 1) Porn, and 2) Fansites for everything ever. Of course, those are both still around, but the porn's mostly pay, and the fansites had all their images and whatnot taken away by the copyright owners. In the wake of that, it's become the new business card...and well, personality card.

Hmmm, I hadn't thought of it that way, but now that I do...

Obviously, there's internet dating. Then, I guess all the friendster's and myspace's started to come along. Now you could just make friends, re-establish friends, or set up some hive-like coporate conglomeration of your friends. All during this the free blog sites started to appear, quickly followed by the digital photo repositories. Now, I've noticed that instead of talking about friends or incidents or personal work, people just tell people to check out their website/profile/blog/photo site.

Ahh, modern communication.

Well, this is threatening to become a rambling affair. If it already is, I'm ignoring that fact. And if it's any consolation, I'm ending it now.


Thursday, June 23, 2005

Not Meant to Be
Thoughts on a beautiful review gone bye-bye...

So it's been a month since I proclaimed that I had not disappeared off the face of the earth. I'm a little tardy on getting back into it, but I've been busy. Not work busy. God forbid. I only wish I was that kind of busy.

Things have been slow going for jobs in the old entertainment industry. I assume they are because I've not reaped the benefits of any whirlwind of work. I've had a lot of false starts and a few short gigs. Some folks have the luxury of picking and choosing which projects they go onto. I'm not one of them.

I take them as they come.

I took one that involved my up close and personal dealings with cow sh!t..but that story is for another time.

I started off my return with a thoughtful looke at Walter Hill's 1978 movie, The Driver. I was proud of the fact that I had finally chosen something that someone could actually find at a video store, or that they might have caught on TNT in the middle of the night. I did a whole study of the car movie, the fascinating subgenre of the 70's and early 80's. I talk about the segway this film showed in the styles between the 70's grit and the 80's Miami Vice glam. I thought I did pretty well.

Sadly, Blogger ate it through some minor snafu. I didn't have it in me to chalk the same thing up again.

So I thought I'd post something if only post something. It's a writing thing.

See after two years, I accidentally wrote a novel. I didn't even know I was doing it. It just sort of happened. One day, I wrote a few lines, and two years later I wrote 'The End.' When I went back to see what I had done, I had actually produced 400 some odd pages of material. Then I read it to see what I had wrought. When it didn't completely makes sense, I had to comb back through and bring a little more cohesiveness to the table. Needless to say, accident or no, this took up a lot of my free time. When I got back to 'The End' again, I suddenly didn't have anything to do.

I don't do well with blatant amounts of free time on my hands.

So, I've had to start something new. Only this time, I'm doing it on purpose. For some reason, that's harder. It's more daunting.

Thing is, I'm not sure whether to go ahead with this novel thing. (It still feels so goofy and pretentious to say 'I wrote a novel.' That always seems like something someone else does. I read them. I don't write them...well, until now.) I could write another. It's that sensation of wanting to make sure you can do it. You keep thinking, 'Did I really do that? Can I do it again?' I wish I knew more writers so that I could ask them.

On the other hand, there's the screenplay thing. Now, I had largely given up on it for a couple of reasons: 1) I don't like the current atmosphere of Hollywood and have had little luck getting anything off the ground, and 2) I got tired of the format. See, I've got this thing about maybe wanting to make one of these things, but I've yet to produce my Clerks/Slacker (ie. something I could possibly scrape the money together for). My story ideas tend to be a little grandiose for the low budget indies.

I've been encouraged to go for either one, or both.

I decided to start back here.

You've got really low expectations from me.

Thanks for caring.

Cheers. (I'll be back. Promise.)

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Here I Come...Back From the Dead...
It's been a hard two months, ladies and germs...

What to say? What to say?

Lemme put it this way: It's hard to write or publish an entry when the screen of your machine is what people where I come from call pitch black. Very hard.

Come to think of it: Logging on the internet, opening a browser, pulling up a page, and logging in to write said post is kinda rough going too.

Now granted, it didn't take me two months to get a new machine and get it up and running...but there were a lot of down things in between. For starters, there was this Hilary Duff movie I worked on...that was kind of a busy time. There's this novel I finished...writing...not reading (though I did some of that too). And a bunch of personal stuff, which I promised not to talk about on this thing.


Boy I miss the days of the puppets, then I got a good entry written nearly every day of every week. Now I have a lot more time and no time at all, all at the same time. It blows.

Tune in....later...when I have more fascinating things to talk The Flaming Carrot...or something like that...or The Forgotten Pistolero....

One of these days...straight to the moon.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

A Thousand Monkey on a Thousand Computers...
More of that Digital Age Thang

George Lucas made a great observation in his commentary on one of the original three Star Wars films (Do you really need to know which one?). He talked about how people complained about the fakeness of digital special effects, specifically in dealing with characters or creatures, to which he then asked "does a guy in a rubber suit look less fake"? I hadn't exactly thought of it that way. My feeling up until then had always been: If it's new technology shouldn't we work with it an hone it (ie. make it look real) before splashing every screen with it? In truth, many times it's no worse and a lot of times it's much better looking than rubber suit effects. For me personally, I just always liked having something real (ie. tangible, actually on set) more to having actors act against things that aren't there.

However, it isn't just 'to rubber suit or not to rubber suit,' now it's a decision on whether to build anything at all. On one hand, I understand it. Working on graphics and whatnot on a computer vs. hand drawing them definitely has it's advantages. It does create a certain speed (certainly in editing and refining), but opens up a whole other issues with just about everything else. Part of the problem is hacking away at a computer for hours on end. I noticed that guys in the model shops who worked with their hands showed little of the fatigue that guys working on computers all day in other departments showed.

The reason I bring it up though, goes back to my initial paragraph about what I said about what George said. Why is it that for all the improvements in the technology, the movies themselves haven't gotten much better apart from the visuals? No matter how much or how often people complain about it, still no one seems to realize, you gotta tell a story first. (Ironically, you can go even further and ask: Why with all the computer technology in the world haven't we seen any new Shakespeares? But I risk a digression.)

Which brings us to our case in point:

Casshern (2004, d. Kazuaki Kiriya)

The Story: With the world divided into two warring factions, a brilliant scientist, while trying to create replaceable body parts for dying soldiers, inadvertently creates a race of destructive supermen and resurrects his son into the only being that can stop them.

The Review (of sorts): In some ways I wanted to pose this against the American feature, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004, d. Kerry Conran). Even better, I wish I had seen the French feature, Immortel(2004, d. Enki Bilal), to also bring it into the discussion. All three used similar techniques of almost wholly digital worlds with filmed actors in them to tell their stories. Just comparing the two doesn't seem to work well enough with a third out there, and I've got too much to say on the one I started with.

Ok, it's sort of granted that one of the problems I have with Casshern is a convention that's often shows up in certain Japanese cinema, namely the anime-based stuff. I've seen it in a couple of other features, both animated and live-action. It's a kind of cinematic short hand. Having never looked into it far enough, I assume that there's an assumption that because the story already exists (either in novelized or in television series form), then there's no need for fully hashing out all the details. In the case of Casshern, the movie was based on a 70's animated series called Robot Hunter: Casshan (Shinzo Ningen: Casshan), though from what I can tell about the series (I know I've seen an episode or two at some point), the movie is fairly different. Still, this narrative style of sorts isn't quite enough for me to totally forgive some of the movie's faults.

For instance, we know that there's a war going on in the world, but we're never quite made to understand enough about the war, nor do we ever see enough of it to really understand how it's affecting this movie world (other than everything being dirty and industrial) because it's removed from the action. There is some explanatory exposition and some sporadic flashbacks, but it's never quite enough. Though this horrific reality molds and shapes everything about the story and it's characters, it's been left too far into the back ground. That's only for starters. The movie does move along pretty well for the first half hour, and the engagement does stem beyond just arresting visuals. Dr. Azuma, who we've gotten to know pretty well, appears close to completing his experiments when.....well, that's the problem, I'm not sure what to fill in the blank with.

The tubs that contain all the body parts are struck by some sort of metallic bolt of lightning. You know, the kind that comes out of nowhere with no explanation whatsoever. The kind that remains as some sort of symbol, not to mention the kind that turns mysterious body parts into a new kind of superhuman. Of course, by now, you realize that this is the same kind of that resurrects dead soldiers...well, only if they're the sons of the scientist whose tanks these are. From there it only gets clearer....(unfortunately there's not many ways to inject sarcasm into the printed page, however)...and boy does it look cool. (That actually wasn't sarcastic.)

Now like I said, a lot of this is by-the-books for animé stuff, but unlike some of the better written animé series or movies which take the time to at least hint at the mysterious goings-on (even if they never really explain it), this one just keeps sweeping by like a whirlwind. Additionally, things just keep happening to pop up to take care of the things that just happened to happen. For instance, for reasons unknown, our resurrected hero's body is going out of control because of the powers injected into when he was brought back to life. Not to worry though, because his girlfriend's dad just happens to have a cool body armor that will contain it...and...allow him to whoop @$$ at no extra cost. Ok, fine. Moving on. (There's a shot of the helmet Casshan/Casshern wore in the series which furthers my suspicions about this being plot-line shorthand since it's an obvious nod to the predecessor.)

Let's turn to our "villains." I put that in quotations because's not really clear. What's funny is that in most of the reviews I've looked at for this film, everyone seems to think it's pretty obvious that the newly formed superhumans, "Neoroids" as they name themselves, are villains. This bothers me because I'm not sure that's what the movie was saying (not that I know what it was saying exactly). For one, when the Neoroids are slaughterd by soldiers as they escape Azuma's lab, it seems to be a pretty downbeat display. They're naked, dirty, frightened, and that's before they start getting mowed down. When they kidnap Azuma's wife (ok that's bad), there's a whole subplot about her bringing out their humanity. Oh, not to mention that our hero murdered the people who the regenerated body parts were made out of (who now reformed into the Neoroids, etc...see what I mean about this plot?). The weird part is that yes, in between this, they do perform some standardized villain-type bad attacking the "hero", and trying to wipe out most of humanity....Now wait a minute...

I've talked about the villains, but what about the "good" guys, or at the very least, every other character in the movie. Well there's the general and council who are shown as nothing but self-serving war-mongering old men. Then there's the general's son, who overthrows the council, but also turns out to be an immature and petty war-mongerer. There's Doctor Azuma who is really only trying to save his wife's eyesight with the cloned body parts which is kinda selfish and in this way is also feeding the war effort. Our hero, Casshern, ran off to fight in the war against his father's wishes, committed war atrocities, but who did get himself killed trying to save someone else. Only, upon his return, he basically just whoops @$$ against our too sympathetic villains, and the general's son's army whom we don't really care about anyway. In other words, nothing all that heroic. You could say "Well, he's trying to save the human race," but the only problem is that this dirty war-filled selfish nasty world doesn't seem worth saving. To be honest, I found the lead "villain" comparable to Roy Baty in Blade Runner...and in this case, it almost seeme like he would win. I would've cheered for him, except I knew that Casshern would inevitably still save the day.

But boy, it looked prety darn cool! And I'm absolutely serious. It did.

So the point seems to be something about man's inhumanity to man (or super-man) and something about scientific irresponsibility. In this case, I know a lot of this stems from philosophical strains that have filtered down through the generations and into the Japanese cinema as a result of events in World War II that the Japanese were responsible for (experimental atrocities against war prisoners) and that they were attacked by (nuclear weapons). Granted the series has wandered away quite a bit from it, but it's the same breeding ground that the original Godzilla was born in. The problem is that nothing about this movie is clear...and no, I don't think that was the point. The point seemed to be: Make it look cool. The rest seemed to be an attempt or a failed attempt to fit in all the other stuff.

Having confused themes, and grey area issues are not wrong in and of itself...but an adventure movie is not the place for them. Take Apocalypse Now. As a dramatic piece, it contemplates the horrors of war, the confusion of morality, and it's "hero" isn't much of a hero in the same way as say Hercules or James Bond is a hero. Imagine a Bond movie where the lines were all confused and bizzare, and you found Ernst Blofeld to be a more sympathetic character than Bond. Sure, you might appreciate the originality of it, but I doubt it'd be the entry that you liked the best. Even having a well rounded villain isn't a bad thing, in fact I appreciate it, but it doesn't work very well if your hero doesn't get the same consideration. What really does it here is that our "hero" has the look and would-be feel of a superhero, and we all know there's nothing grey area about Superman or Spiderman (at least not like this movie). Not that you can't do it, but it's got to be developed far better than this, if you're going to try. (If they were trying here, they didn't try hard enough.)

Thing is, for all the money, time, and effort that had to be poured into this movie, it almost seems a total waste because it only seemed to work in little pretty moments. However, pretty moments don't make me want to watch it again, nor would I recommend it to anyone (except as a curiosity. Bear in mind I love Fellini's Satyricon which I still can't satisfactorily explain, which I would recommend, but it was an artsy movie.). It needed a story first. A really good story. I think that there were the elements for one in there, but they needed to either be cleaned up or expanded upon to make them work better. Having said all this, I don't want to make it sound like artless trash. After all, if it was totally artless, I would have never finished watching it, or I would have only I would've been more annoyed. (Of course the flipside of that is if it was really really artless and artfully trashy, I would have enjoyed it more, but for all the wrong reasons.

So back to the point we started with: Visuals and special effects, particularly in this new breed of all digital movie, are still supposed to be tools of the story. No matter how realistic they may get, they don't take the place of a well-told story. The stop motion monsters in a Harryhausen movie may now look hokey as all heck, but as long as the stories are better, then I'll stick with the goofy monsters. Hopefully more people feel the same way about it...and eventually maybe the movies will begin to reflect that. Hopefully.


(P.S. I did like Sky Captain quite a bit. It was a little light on substance, but it made for an entertaining and cohesive story which was all it was trying for.)