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.