Thursday, October 19, 2006

Barbarella...Without the Dignity
"The wheel of the future...turns..."

Nothing could've brought me out of hiding except for this.

More than once, I've warned of the dangers of returning to the beloved movies of your past. More than once, like a moth to the flames, I have returned to those movies. On some occasions, I have, of course, had a beloved former cinema gem in my mind's eye dashed to the ground, forever broken and tarnished. On a few occasions, I've been delightfully surprised that the movie managed to still hold some or all of it's magic. On the rest of those occasions, I admit, I ran full tilt head first into the open arms of an old movie's overwhelming badness.

Tonight, I recaptured my youth. It was awful, and I loved it.

Starcrash (1979, d. Luigi Cozzi)

The Story: Hmmm...if only there was a story to summarize...just read the review below, I'm taking this one a step at a time.

The Review: Now, by 1979, we all know that Star Wars had blown away box office records and spawned a following that multiplied faster than Gremlins being sprayed with a firehose. It wasn't, however, until the success was solidified by The Empire Strikes Back, that the drive really geared up to cash in on sci-fi's new success.

Probably the two most well known cash-in attempts were made by the name that produces a groan in nearly every cineaste, Dino De Laurentiis. Now, I own both of those films, (...and how shall I put it in the most diplomatic way between the lovers and the haters of these films...ahem...) and though they are not classics, they still retain a certain joyous charm shown by the lavish work put into them. Those films are Flash Gordon (1980) and Dune (1984). But of course, those weren't the only ones, they were probably just the biggest and the only ones that anyone seems to remember. In 1978, Producers Nat and Patrick Wachberger must have decided to toss anything and everything into one movie in the hopes of grabbing some franchise-starting glory.

If you've seen Star Wars, I don't need to describe the opening crawling spaceship shot. The major difference here of course is that the Star Destroyer looked like...well, something that could damn well destroy some stars. Our spaceship here looks like you could crush it by accidentally laying a book on top of it...or knocking it off the table. Once we got inside the ship, and I saw all the left over leatherette costumes from Planet of the Vampires (1965...and a much better film), I thought maybe it wouldn't be all bad. That was until I saw one of the most leaden exposition scenes ever that was interrupted by what appeared to be a super-imposed death dealing force field that looked like the inner workings of a lava lamp. Oh, oh, oh...the guys in the ship are on a mission from the Emperor to find the ultimate weapon created by the evil...are you ready for this...Count Zarth Arn! (Zarth's not only pure evil...he also has one of cinema-dom's most impressive haircuts...I'm not even sure I can accurately describe it. [see above for cropped photo goodness])

Ok, moving on. We cut to space smugglers Stella Star (Caroline Munro, former Bond girl, The Spy Who Loved Me) and her buddy Akton (Marjoe Gortner, who grew to fame as the youngest ordained minister..and who later appeared in American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt) who are on the run (for what...I have no idea...they're from the space cops, Thor and robot Elle (who's actually a guy...and whose voice sounds like Martin Sheen doing a bad Southern accent). They jump into hyperspace (and we're treated to more impressively bad visuals), but are caught after stopping to checkout a derelict space craft. Oh, oh, oh...the derelict craft was one of the launches from the Emperor's scout ship from beginning of the movie...I probably forgot to mention it because even as I was watching it, I didn't think it would be important.

So Stella and Akton (I keep thinking of Ohio...or bug spray for some reason) are sentenced to hard labor on two different planets (Oh, I should mention that the judge looks like the head Martian from Invaders from Mars [1953...and also a better movie even with the goofy effects]). Right....Let's just skip ahead. Stella makes an...hmmm...confusing escape from...ummm...well, I'm not sure what sort of labor...something to do with a furnace. So she escapes, and is picked up by....Thor and Elle, the space cops! Huh? Oh, oh, oh...apparently, Stella is the best pilot in the galaxy, and Akton is the best the Emperor wants them to find the rest of the missing ships that escaped from the spy ship. Are you following me? Good...let's continue.

The first ship is on a planet...well, it's just a has an ocean, a beach...and a bunch of Amazons...oh, oh, oh, and some woman who we don't know but we do find out that she's loyal to Zarth, and she hates Elle the robot...for some reason. So Stella and Elle go down, they get captured, the make another goofy implausible escape, and are then attacked by an enormous stop motion statue. An Aside here: Clash of the Titans was one of the movies I shouldn't have gone back to, but suddenly and inexplicably, my heart yearned in the hardest way for the majesty that was Harryhausen's Kraken. Oh, and I guess there were no survivors in the one really says what happened to them, but the Amazon queen does tell Stella and Elle that they are spies, and they'll never find Zarth's ultimate weapon. On to the next planet...

For some reason, they stop off on some frozen planet to check out the spy ship that we already saw explode. Now we're told that you'll freeze to death instantly if the sun goes down on this planet. Why are we told this? Well, because someone's got to freeze to death of course. As it turns out, Thor is a traitor. He's working for Zarth and he leaves Stella outside to freeze after he "kills" Akton (remember the old soap opera rule: if you don't see a body...). Somehow, Elle saves Stella from freezing to death...I'd tell you how, but I really don't know...but she is in suspended animation (?). Akton returns from the "dead" powers. He kills Thor, and re-animates Stella...who looks like she was covered in a slimy version of that fake snow sh!t you spray on X-mas trees. I think that it's at this point that Stella somehow discovers that Akton can see the future...right-o...if it isn't, I'm sorry...but you should know...Akton can see the future...but apparently, he can only see it after getting whacked on the head by Thor...Moving on...

Now the third and final planet they visit is filled with smoke machines....well, smoke machines and cavemen. Yup. They club Elle to smithereens (he's a robot remember?), and capture Stella...who's then rescued by David Hasselhoff! Part of me wishes that was just a punchline...but seriously, she's rescued by David Hasselhoff, who plays Simon, the Emperor's son. He doesn't tell Stella that at first...because...well, he's not sure what sides she's on...but despite that, he still saves her from the cavemen...sort of. Within four minutes of screen time, they're both captured by the cavemen...until Akton arrives wielding something that's kind of...ummm...light saberish. He whoops some cavemen @$$, and then reveals that...dun-Dun-DDUUUUUUUNNNNN...the planet they're on holds Zarth's ultimate weapon! (There actually is some explanation on how he figured that out...but that would involve me rehashing some nonsensical convoluted plot points.)

Next, they go down into the weapon' Akton does a lot of explaining, and who should turn up but Zarth Arn and his haircut! Oh yeah, he's also got some men with him who look just like the Emperor's guys from the beginning (the leatherette spacesuits) but with slightly different hats AND two...umm..stop-motion robots with pirate swords. Like any good villain, he then explains that he's going to blow up the ultimate weapon (huh? why?), which will also kill the Emperor whom Zarth told that his son was there and who is on his way. To someone somewhere...this made perfect sense. Nonetheless, Zarth takes off, leaving the robots to watch the prisoners. What he's going to do next, I have no idea...take over the universe, I guess...but without his ultimate weapon. Maybe he just went out for a sandwich and a beer.

So, Akton cuts loose with somemore Jedi-esque work on the robots...and though he can still see the future, as far as I understand...he's still cut pretty badly by one. At this point, Hasselhoff (I know I said his character was Simon...but I'm just gonna call him Hasselhoff which I think is a cooler more heroic name) leaps into action with the "light saber" and kills the other robot. Akton, in Ben Kenobi fashion, has to die to fulfill...umm...destiny...which may have meant something if we knew what the hell was going on with him to begin with. Oh, when he dies, he disappears in something that sort of looks like what my TV does when I turn it off. Sure enough, right about this time, the Emperor shows up.

Ok, pause in action...The Emperor did appear before now, but I was sort of saving him up. Do we all know who Christopher Plummer is? I have two fond childhood memories of Chris. Every X-mas my sister and I watched the Sound of Music on TV with my mom, and Christopher Plummer was the gruff but enventually endearing Captain Von Trapp. Later, my dad and I used to watch Pete Sellers act a fool in the Pink Panther movies, and Christopher Plummer took over the role of the dashing Sir Charles Litton (aka. The Phantom) in Return of the Pink Panther. Yet here he is, and you can almost see the dignity washing away with each frame that he's on screen. Something inside me shed a tear...while I laughed my @$$ off as he explained that his space ship could freeze time while they escaped the destruction of the ultimate weapon. It only got worse...

With the ultimate weapon of unknown weapon-ness out of the way, they go to attack Zarth Arn's flying fortress....dear God...Must go on...must finish story...flying fortress that is shaped like a giant hand. (I should mention that it was at this point that I mentally confirmed that I had seen this movie as a kid...I had never forgotten the flying space hand.) Now we're treated to the second round of space dog fights in this movie...treated...yes, Mr. Cozzi, our director, probably inadvertently taking a page from the serials of the past that inspired Star Wars, uses the exact same footage of space ships flying around over and over and over and over and over and over and over again...until...we send in the flying coffins!

Yup, the emperor launches two-man flying coffins in through the windows of Zarth's flying hand ship. Amazingly, though a great many of these flying coffins make it in...and ignoring that the vacuum of space isn't pulling them and everything else in the ship out into the vaccum of space...they all magically seems to break through the same windows over and over and over again. I mentioned "two-man flying coffins" because that's what comes out of them: two men. However, I began to wonder if the Emperor was such a good guy because...uh...well...all these guys get slaughtered...and um, all his spaceships get destroyed while he, Stella, and Hasselhoff all stand around watching. Sort of seemed like an intergalactic snuff film there for a few minutes.

Now, all seems lost. Zarth Arn's going to destroy the Emperor's home a way that's never explained...and that definitely will NOT involve the ultimate weapon. Suddenly the Emperor is hit with a plan: Starcrash. Nope, it hasn't been mentioned before, not counting the title. It's sort of explained in a way that can't be summarized by the human mind how there's going to be some sort of time space warp involving the flying hand ship and some flying city we've never seen before, but essentially, Stella and Elle (who's been rebuilt...quelle surprise!) basically fly out to the flying city and ram it into Zarth's ship. They escape. Hasselhoff picks them up. Zarth blows up in a lot more repetitive footage of bad miniatures exploding. And instead of a The End with Hasselhoff and Stella making out, Cozzi instead decides to drive Plummer closer to the brink of madness by making him recite the most bizarre, pointless, and nonsensical soliloquoy ever filmed. THE END.

For a minute, I considered rewinding the movie, and copying the soliloquoy down for you...but no, no, gotta see it for yourself...truly. In fact, looking back, I'm not sure that I've done this movie an iota of justice in merely describing it. If you can, just take an hour and a half of your life and throw it away on this glorious travesty of a movie. If you can't manage that, take like a five dollar bill out of your wallet and burn it...for Plummer...for Hasselhoff...and for the great movie that is...STARCRASH!

(I would've done my usual reviewing of the performances, direction, camerawork, music, etc. ...but come on...if you just read all I really need to?)


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Great Taste that Tastes Great
Can someone say...spaghetti?

Ironically enough, now that I've started working again, there's decent odds I might be able to write a few more of these... whether you care or not.

So I started a new show, and that means money! And money means...well, buying stuff! So in order to celebrate my new gainful employment, I started off with a purchase of Wild East's latest DVD offering. Let's just start talking about that shall we.

A Taste of Killing (aka. Per Il Gusto Di Uccidere, 1966, d. Tonino Valerii)

The Story: Bounty killer Hank Fellows collects rewards from stolen money shipments. His latest bounty puts him in the employ of a wealthy miner who wishes to protect his gold from the bandit who killed Hank's brother.

The Review: Let's just start by saying that I'm going to give Tonino Valerii a lot of leeway on this one. First of all, I really enjoy both Day of Anger (1968) and Price of Power (1969), though I have to admit I don't like My Name is Nobody (1973) half as much as many spaghetti fans. Second, this was his first movie, and although some first movies are great, I think they should be judged more on their merits and promise. Admittedly, this is all in hindsight and in some ways going backwards through his filmography, whereas I might look at your first movie without any other reference and pretty much denounce it as crap. That having been said...

I debated how much to describe in the story section in how Hank Fellows (Craig Hill) works. It's actually the most interesting aspect of the movie, and the one that separates from most of the genre. Hank follows gold and money shipments through dangerous areas watching them through a telescopic lens mounted on his rifle. Bandits attack the coach (Hank makes no interference), they ride off with the money, and Hank hunts them down and gets the money back. The device of the telescope comes up multiple times throughout the film, but not in the same Bond-ian way as the devices in a Sartana movie. We'll come back to Hank.

Thanks to Hank's telescope the cinematography in this movie gets to have some fun with interesting set ups and angles. The whole opening sequence where Hank watches a bandit gang rob a stage coach of $100,000 adds interesting layers of voyeurism to an already often voyeuristic medium (ie. Your watching Hank, Hank's watching the bandits, the bandits are watching the stage coach). It's a theme continued in the film in which everyone seems to be watching everyone else, and the frequent anchor is an old man who watches the town's various happenings with mirrors he sticks out of windows in his apartment above the town. Unfortunately, for all the potential for intrigue, the plot's fairly by the numbers and none of the double crosses or dirty deals I hoped might heighten the stakes ever came through.

Now, the story moves along well enough and has some fun with the devices noted above. The unfortunate part is that though the genre wasn't that old, many of the genre devices feel a little tired, a little throwaway, and many get no more development then as a means to move the plot swiftly along. For instance, the fact that outlaw Gus Kennebeck killed Hank Fellows brother gets none of the coverage that most revenge plots or even subplots do. It gets mentioned three times in the movie, and sort of...offhand at that. Another is the relationship between Kennebeck and his brother, which has the looks of the "one brother chose good, the other bad" subplot, but again, it doesn't get looked into. On the flip side, Gus does have far more development as the antagonist than Hank does as the protagonist. Not only does Gus have at least some relationship with a brother, he also has a girlfriend in town, and an illegitimate son. Though he tends towards the bad to the bone characterization, he also has moments of tenderness, a fanatic devotion to his son, and a certain melancholy which render him more human.

Which brings us back to Hank. Hank Fellows is given almost no real character traits beyond his killer instincts and his lust for money. Spaghetti Heroes are often anti-heroes who are slaves to greed, lust, and violence, but many of them still have some moment with other characters or some personality trait that shows they still have a heart and maybe a dash of compassion. Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, for instance, saves the peasent family from the lustful advances and cruel tyrrany of Ramon Rojo in A Fistful of Dollars though he gains nothing by it. Now slaughtering bad guys is every action hero's job, but that's all Hank does. The very telescope that makes him interesting at first later makes him invincible and somewhat uninteresting: He never seems to truly be in danger. Now, this makes him seem more like the 'avenging angel' or 'trickster god' protagonist of later spaghettis (ie. Sartana), but Hank also lacks the mysterious and ethereal quality of those characters. Finally, Craig Hill lacks the natural charisma to be an automatically empathetic character. As I witnessed in another Hill vehicle, I Want Him Dead (1968), he has a natural cold, steely-eyed psycho quality that makes him anything but endearing as a hero. In the end, it's the movie around Hank that keeps it interesting rather than the protagonist himself.

Oh....and it has George Wang in it as a Mexican bandit named Mingo. That's just weird. Although no more weird than Tatsuya Nakadai (one of my favorite Japanese actors) as a Mexican bandit in Today We Kill....Tomorrow We Die!. At least they let Mifune stay Japanese for Red Sun (1971).

Like I said though, I'm watching this through different eyes. In all, it was entertaining and fun, but not a great Spaghetti. Now, had I watched it first and then moved on to Day of Anger and Price of Power, I might have appreciated it more. I think that it's strange that though Valerii shot most of this movie on the same sets as For a Few Dollars More which he had assistant directed for Sergio Leone, he was still very much his own man. With those next two features, he developed and quickly into a solid director...which makes his mimicry of Leone in Nobody seem all the stranger in some ways.

In any event, this one probably isn't strong enough to have much appeal to those who aren't a part of Spaghetti fandom, but would be required viewing for those who are.


Friday, June 09, 2006

The Hard Way...Went Three
Had to come out of hiding for this one

I need a job. Seriously. Something I enjoy that...oh, I don't know...pays better than what I normally do.

The time off, however, has afforded me one luxury, and I've come here today to share it with you. Actually, it's been three or four luxuries, and I could probably talk about all of them. This one, though...this one was special. Extra special.

Three The Hard Way (1974, d. Gordon Parks Jr.)

The Story: A music producer teams up with a...well, I don't know what he was supposed to let's try that again...Jim Brown (Jimmy, a record producer) teams up with Fred Williamson (Jagger Daniels, a guy with a name too cool to have any kind of job that I could tell) and Jim Kelly (Mister Keyes, a karate expert) to stop a white supremacist's plot to kill all the black people in the U.S. through a toxin he plans to spread in the water supply.

The Review: Hmmm, where to begin...This movie, on the whole was a very very mixed blessing. On one end, it was highly entertaining, occasionally riotously funny, and just an all around old school film version of total nonsense and total cool. Essentially, the same as every movie made in the last 3-4 years, and yet with an actual charm that I doubt any of these latter day action movies can match. On the other hand, for fans of the far, far, far superior work of Superfly, it's a letdown of colossal proportions from director Gordon Parks Jr (who sadly made only one other film before he died in a helicopter crash).

Someone who has done far more research into Blaxploitation or the work of Parks Jr. might be able to explain where this movie went south. Maybe it was budgetary limitations (the genre was definitely on a frequent waves of ups and downs in quality), perhaps it was the script (the story and action come in spurts between a lot of walking around and driving scenes), or maybe the filmmakers shot high and missed (the scope in terms of action and locales was huge by comparison to Superfly). Part of me wants to say that maybe alongside strong budgetary limitations, Parks wasn't ready to tackle a large scale action film as compared to his dad's studio backed effort Shaft's Big Score which balances action and story quite well. Then again, the action scenes in this movie are quite fluid, and there's some great camera movement to capture them. So maybe it was a bigger more mainstream story that he wasn't ready for.

What carries the movie for the most part is the cast. Like so many great action movie stars, Fred Williamson never has to do anything in a movie, but be Fred Williamson. Never without a cigar, Fred's got that perfect quality of looking like he could be at your backyard BBQ having a beer with the neighbors, and then in a flash mow down the army of ninjas that just came in to mess up the place. Sure it'd be nice to see him play a part...or play at least a slightly different part...but it really isn't necessary. As long as Fred delivers the cigar, the smirk, and the @$$ whoopin' then he's given you everything you need. Now, the camera isn't always as kind to Jim Brown. Oh, you never doubt that again he could kick everyone on screen's @$$ for looking at him funny, but sometimes he's just a few touches leaden and occasionally seems embarassed to be there. In this one, Jim Brown's cool and at ease, and only the audience must come out embarrassed during his long winded and frankly weird record producing scenes at the film's opening. So two out of three ain't bad.

My problem came with Jim Kelly. Don't ever get me wrong...ever: I love Jim Kelly. Every time I have ever sat down for some Enter the Dragon goodness, I literally choke down the rage that Jim Kelly is killed instead of John Saxon. It just never made sense to me: Jim Kelly can do the moves and is ultra-f!cking cool, and by comparison John Saxon looks like a stop motion animation doll could bust better moves. (Actually...don't take me wrong there...John Saxon and Michael Ironside both have that great A-No.1 prime grade sleazy creepy quality both as good guys and bad guys that I, for one, love.) My problem here is that apart from some of the best kung fu fighting noises ever to grace the silver screen, Jim Kelly gets about five lines in the whole movie. Now while this is an improvement over the Jim-Fred-Jim spaghetti western vehicle Take a Hard Ride where Kelly played a black Native American mute (You're guess is as good as mine), it's not enough. The man fought alongside Bruce Lee, he was Black Belt Jones...we'll forget the two Al Adamson movies...give him more respect! Then again, it's over thirty years later, the movie's in the can...and there's no going back. So suffice it to say, I wish this movie would have cut the opening Jim Brown Jim-ness, and way upped the amazing Jim-ness of Jim Kelly...The man who to this day still has the best on screen Afro imaginable.

As for the rest...hmm...well, the villains are pretty stock and fairly weak. It would've been better had they played down the oddball vaguely effeminate Monroe Feather (that's a villainous name?) and way upped the sleazy Dr. Fortrero. And yes, I must admit that this movie has one of the most ridiculous henchman bodycounts of any movie I've seen. Like the oft-pointed out death cattle known as Star Wars stormtroopers, these guys seem to line up and fall down. Apparently, Mr. Feather (I can't get past that name...Jiminy X-mas) pulled out the health benefits from his troops, because these boys all seem to need a trip to the optometrist based on their aim. Still, they serve the purpose they're there for: to get mowed down by our leading men. Likewise, the toxin that only kills black people that our villains plan to release could use a little more screen time. Now like most large scale destructive plot devices (and most supernatural plot devices), you usually have one of two choices: 1) Explain as little as possible and hope the audience takes it for granted that it exists, or 2) Explain the hell out of it, and hope the audience still buys it. In this case, they opted for the former, but they opted for it a little too much. Hell, I knew what I was watching so I took it for granted anyway, but for a general audience it needed a little more screen time or a little more description to give it any realistic tension.

Finally, I want the theme song. There's a soundtrack floating around out there, but it's pricey and it's of dubious origin. I've bought enough spaghetti western soundtracks of questionable repute to know that there's a line on how much to spend without a preview. Nonetheless, excellent theme song.

Well, once again, darn it, I've made it seem like there's nothing but negative things to say about this movie. Well, it's done out of love. The truth is I had a helluva good time watching Three the Hard Way even if it was a crappy DVD dub off of a VHS tape. While I don't think it's for everyone, those who love 70's action and Blaxploitation are very much in for a treat. Most action movies these days, even with twice the plot and three times the action, only wish that they were this cool.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Wacky...and Wackier...and Wackiest...
Japan hit me with a three fisted attack

Recently, I've been given the charge of creating a painting based on my knowledge of Japanese cinema. That's sort of all fine and dandy. In many ways, Japanese cinema's often meticulous sense of framing lends itself toward a painted medium. At the same time, however, they also feature a tendency to make strong use of the division between on- and off-screen space. That's not so good.

The only reason I mention it is that I needed some sort of explanation for why I've been pounding down all these Japanese films like so much quality beer.

On one end, it was quality research for a future piece of work. On the other, it was a wake up call to the fact that the Japanese cinema I lean toward...well, it tends to lean away from the traditional. Only a small percentage of that cinema that I've enjoyed didn't feature guns, swords, or giant monsters.

This painting is for a girl...albeit a cool girl...but not necessarily the kind that wants a painting of Gamera fighting Toshiro Mifune....

I know what you're thinking: "What?!? Is she crazy?!? She can't be that cool..."

Well take a look at what I've been watching.

The Wacky...

The Executioner (1974, d. Teruo Ishii)

The Story: A former police commissioner brings together a ninja, a hapkaido master pervert, and a disgrased cop turned hitman to stop a drug ring with diplomatic immunity.

The Review: I've seen more Sonny Chiba (our ninja) movies than...well, than most people I know. Like many early martial arts stars, his movies are always lacking one magical moments that could've made them great. In one, it's production values, in another it's strong story, in a third it's any form of coherency whatsoever. And yet, almost every one of them is still infinitely watchable because they deliver the one thing everyone wants: copious amounts of ass whoopin's. (The bonus with Sonny movies for our male friends is the occasional gratuitous amount fo T&A.)

For me it was the first two Street Fighter movies that provided the earliest for instance when all of the pieces came together for Sonny. The Executioner is a...well somewhat distant second. It's a ridiculous amount of fun. It's got some fine slapstick jokes. It's got the copious amounts of beatdowns. It's even got the gratuitous nudity. It doesn't however, always quite make sense. Most of this revolves around the Sakura character who does little more than leer at the former police commissioner's daughter. It's never quite clear what the point of having him in the team is...well, from a story point of view. From a movie point of view, it's quite clear: he's comic relief. The other somewhat distracting aspect is the constant recycling of the villains. One gentleman in particular is missing an ear, and no matter how they dress him up or disguise him...he's sort of hard to miss.

Still any movie that can somehow manage to bridge a gap between a scene where a character literally punches a guys eyeballs out of his head to a prison escape gag that involves a lot pepper-related sneezing has to at least be watchable. And this one was the least wacky of the a sense...

The Wackier...

Atragon (1963, d. Ishiro Honda)

The Story: The Mu empire rises from the depths of the sea to take over the earth and a rogue Japanese Naval commander utilizes his new flying super sub to stop them.

The Review: I checked in a few months ago with a review of The Mysterians, also by Honda. Right off the bat, I'm going to tell you that while I liked Atragon better, it still had a lot of the same problems.

Of the Honda movies I've seen since I was about 10 years old, none seem to hold up as well as the original Godzilla (1954). The weird thing is that they all have a very similar story structure. Much like movies today, they can't seem to figure out how to balance the human stories with the monster/alien/marine life attack.

The opening for the movie was strong, and I was intrigued right away, and who wouldn't be when a mysterious steamy frogman crawls out of the ocean as a seemingly crazy taxi driver crashes himself and his kidnap victim into the ocean. Then almost too much time is spent trying to set up all the characters, but I still didn't end up feeling that much for them. By the time the super sub starts flying around and goes to lay the smackdown on the Mu's, it's a little late. And knowing the run time, I knew I wasn't going to get as much super sub action as I'd been hoping.

The highlight of course was the giant Chinese style dragon Magda, who also shows up too late, and is likewise vanquished too quickly. He is, however, one of the most hilarious show-stopping monsters I've ever seen.

The most disturbing aspect by far came at the finale. The original Godzilla was a wonderful tale of warning about the dangers of scientific hubris and our unrepenetant destruction of the environment. This movie plays with some of the same themes, but has no problem with the genocide of the Mu people. When the queen of the Mu sacrifices herself by swimming to the explosions of the Mu fortress, it didn't feel as victorious as tragic. Sure they were destructive killers of the surface dwellers, but it didn't seem to justify wiping them from the universe.

Altogether, fairly fun...much wackier (c'mon, it's a flying submarine with a giant drill on the front end)...but altogether...disturbing.

The Wackiest...

Kageroza (1981, d. Seijun Suzuki)

The Story: (Anyone who's ever tried to summarize a Suzuki movie sympathizes with me...but from what I gather:) A playwright appears to be having an affair with the ghost of his benefactor's wife, as well as his benefactor's mistress. (I think.)

The Review: I love Seijun Suzuki. In fact, the less I understand about a Suzuki movie...the more I find I enjoy it. Sometimes it's just bits and this case, it was nearly the entire movie! Yay!

I'm not sure how much I can review this movie in any conventional sense. I enjoyed the hell out of it, I'll tell you that much. The movie is slow, but don't let that fool you. For one thing, it's beautifully shot. Suzuki makes great use of framing his characters within architecture within the movie frame. Now a beautiful movie isn't always an exciting movie, but what sets Suzuki apart is his occasionally jarring jump cuts, his story oddities, and just the general air of surrealism that he can lay on nice and thick.

Like Bunuel or Lynch, Suzuki's strongest point in this surrealist film world is that even though you may not understand the proceedings you know that there is thought behind it. Certainly it made sense to him when he filmed it, and the idea meant enough to him that he did film it. It's not purely aesthetics though it is aesthetically charged.

This is most evident in the finale as a troupe of children act out a kabuki style version of the story we've witnessed thus far. It's at once horrifying and fascinating, and a strong reminder of how childish all our characters are in their bizarre love square.

Now some might take objection to my referring to it as wacky. If I'm offering this film up as high art, how can I possibly refer to it as wacky? Well, while Suzuki has a serious touch, his film is not without a sense of humor. Some reviewers even seem to consider it a sort of parody of Japanese ghost stories. To me this would make it a parody within a story, and the final kabuki play as a sort of parody of the story within the parody within a story (whoa...). I've never found Suzuki to be merely clever. That doesn't mean that he isn't, just that I don't think he's nodding and winking at me the whole time. Still, it's got a dash of the absurd...and should you see the film...I think you'll's pretty wacky.

That about covers my deluge of Japanese cinema (after a three month hiatus from spending some time here)...and concludes some of my painting research. Haha. I bet you can only imagine what kind of painting might be made out of these three films...don't worry...I've gathered together imagery from at least two or three more.