Thursday, June 30: Subterfuge

I collapsed in front of the TV tonight with Atragon (1963) from Toho studios, the people who brought you Godzilla. Like all of the films starring Big G & Co, this film has a giant monster (Manda), massive property destruction and fleeing Japanese citizens. But the star here is the super-submarine from which the film gets its title. The movie sort of reminded me of Gerry Anderson's Stingray, but with real people instead of puppets.

Cypher (2002) stars Jeremy Northam, an actor I like, and Lucy Liu, one that I usually avoid like egg salad. It's a technological thriller from Vincenzo Natali, director of Cube (1997), set in the world of high-stakes industrial espionage. Northam does a nice job of transforming himself into the nerdish Morgan Sullivan. Lucy Liu is -- well, Lucy Liu. The suspense is kept alive with plenty of twists and turns, but I felt that the end was a bit of a let down. But it wasn't so bad as to ruin the film.

 

Monday, June 27: Day of the Dead

This evening, Larry took the whole Glass Eye Pix team out to see George A. Romero's Land of the Dead (2005). While it may not approach horror cinema classics like his first two zombie films, "Land" has some pretty entertaining sequences, with a heavy helping of social commentary added for weight.

To me, the film felt like it was over a bit too soon, so I guess that means I was enjoying it. I don't want to over-sell this movie, but it does have the best looking zombies of any previous Dead offering and some pretty cool scares.

Come on, it's a zombie movie. What else do you need?

Saturday, June 25: Fly by Night

Who's tougher than Batman? Why, Super-Batman! Well, not really. This hero's got copyright-infringement written all over him, but that doesn't stop him from leaping into action in Korea's Super-Batman & Mazinger V (1990).

A giant robot warrior Mazinger is in trapped on Earth in the form of a child's toy. Cheaply-costumed manimals (guys in lycra unitards and monster masks) descend upon a group of humans, looking for the mechanical superhero. Unable to reactivate the robot, our heroes are thankfully saved by Betaman (aka Super-Batman)!!!

Mazinger does eventually come to life, but appears in this film in cartoon form only. There's also a crazy and crudely animated sequence where Super-Batman goes deep into the earth. The whole film is a super-low budget effort that appears to have been costumed out of a Halloween Store.

The action sequences are of varying quality, mostly slightly below Power Rangers level. But to be fair, this production doesn't appear to be aimed at adults. It's more for really young kids who ride the short bus.

By the way, do you like Mazinger and other Giant Robot heroes? We've got a bunch of toys and stuff that you'll love in the "Japanese Heroes" section over at the MonsterPants Store. Go there now and BUY! BUY! BUY!!!

Sorry. Moving on...

Even though it's all about ninjas, Owls' Castle (1999), isn't an action movie, it's a historical drama from director Masahiro Shinoda. The film tells the story of the last survivors of the Iga ninjas, ten years after the clan was all but wiped out by the warlord Oda Nobunaga.

The movie is slowly paced, but engaging. The scenery is breathtaking and the cinematography is absolutely magnificent. Unfortunately, the movie also features some of the worst bald caps that I've ever seen. A bit of an unwelcome distraction in an otherwise fine film.

 

Friday, June 24: She had to leave...

Okay, I'm way behind here.

I just got back from shooting scenes for the MonsterPants movies, Death to the Automatons (2005) and Satan Hates You (2006), in Los Angeles. The days & weeks leading up to my trip were pretty hectic, so I let things slide here at the old blog.

Here, in reverse order, is my attempt to catch up. I'm sure I'm forgetting something that I saw.

Thursday, January 23:
I liked Batman Begins (2005), despite the over complication of the caped crusader's origin, changes in traditional story details and the complete neglect of the genius detective aspects of the character.

It's nice to see a superhero film that appears to have been made with adult sensibilities in mind.

Wednesday, June 15:
Jeremiah invited me to join him for a preview screening of The Devil's Rejects (2005).

Rob Zombie's sequel to House of 1000 Corpses is much better than the first film. Actually, Rejects is a completely different kind of movie than the original. So much so, that if not for the main characters, the two films would almost seem to be completely unrelated.

Rejects is a raw and brutal film, true to the movies that inspired it, with an army of genre stars filling out the cast. But, as with "House", I have to wonder if this new movie is offering its audience anything they haven't seen many times before.

Sunday, June 12:
I've always been a Peter Gallagher fan for some reason. No, I don't watch The OC, but I did watch this version of Brave New World (1998) starring Mr. Galagher and Leonard Nimoy.

It's decent, but forgettable. I'm only saying that because I can't remember a thing in the movie worth writing about.

Saturday, June 11: Marvel Mania
Not every film based on a Marvel comic is a Spiderman or X-men, or even a Hulk. The Punisher (2004) is a lifeless and sloppy representation of the comic book vigilante.

The only one punished in this movie is the audience. The guy in this film is more of a male model-turned-punching bag than Mighty Marvel's infamous tough guy. He just teases people and lets them go. Wuss.

This film is no fun. Go watch the much-maligned Dolph Lundgren version instead. At a fraction of the budget, it at least delivered some thrills and did it with style, unlike this bloated and poorly crafted mess.

One step below The Punisher is Man-Thing (2005). Not that it's any worse of a film, it just never got a theatrical release. I guess that means the movie's title is still available for any of you guys making gay porn out there.

The story is pretty generic and you barely see the title creature until the last ten minutes of the movie. The filmmakers also crapped out on exploring the only thing that separated "Manny" from DC Comic's original Swamp Thing -- the fact that all who feel fear burn at the touch of the Man-Thing.

The movie premiered on the SciFi Channel and is now available on DVD.

I cleared my palette with dozens of clips from classic films via the documentary Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (2004). The film is the story of an early and revolutionary Los Angeles pay-cable station and its troubled programmer, Jerry Harvey, who killed himself and his wife in 1988.

I couldn't get over how good Theresa Russell looks. Check it out, if you have IFC.

That's it. If I saw anything else over these busy last few weeks, it wasn't worth remembering. Many thanks to everyone who helped out on the LA shoots and my apologies to those I had to blow off due to our tight schedule. You guys rule.

Sunday, June 5: Vengeance is Mine

As with Chan-wook Park's Oldboy (2003), I didn't think his earlier film, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) is as violent as its reputation. In fact, Sympathy is much less action-driven and a much more sophisticated film than last night's Park selection. The violence occurs mostly off screen, and less frequently. It's this control and restraint that makes it much more shocking when things finally do get rough. Another really good film from this Korean director.

As I did yesterday, I followed the Chan-wook Park film with something to to lighten the load. Tonight it was Shin Kamen Rider (1992). It's a direct-to-video feature film that was an attempted to launch a new, "true" version of the popular Japanese superhero Kamen Rider. The old Rider (known as Masked Rider in a hacked-up US version of the show) was a cyclist in a bug-themed Ultraman-style uniform. In "Shin", the costume is now part of the hero, who is a man genetically crossed with a grasshopper!

Being a pilot for a TV show that never took off, the film is almost entirely backstory. It takes way too long for us to get a look at our transformed hero and there is far too little monster-on-monster action overall. I'm a big fan of the classic Rider of the 1970's (we sell Rider merchandise in the MonsterPants Store), but I have to admit that this slimy version is pretty cool as well, with its throbbing temples and chomping mandibles.

The producers obviously wanted to make the show much more adult than the Power Rangers-esque stuff that US audiences are accustomed to. The production values here are much higher, and there's also a lot more realistic violence and even a little nudity! The hero's transformation is an obvious homage to The Incredible Hulk TV series, with the Bixby / Ferrigno change mimicked almost shot-for-shot. There's even a flying, glowing fetus at the end of the film! But we never do get to the "Real Masked RIder" actually ride anything. Which is a little odd, considering the name of the show.

 

Saturday, June 4: Tae Kwon Do's & Don'ts

I watched a couple of popular Korean films this evening. Oldboy (2003) is currently the belle of the ball as it enjoys a limited theatrical run here in the US. I'd say Chan-wook Park's film deserves the the good reviews it's been getting, but not the condemnations for the violence.

Yes, I know there's something wrong with me. But people are talking about this thing like its a two-hour torture session. It's really not all that bad, and a lot of the rough stuff is pretty cartoonish. I actually found moments in the film quite touching.

Anyway, I loved the film, and you should check it out for yourself. Go see it in theatres or watch an import DVD, as I did. There are plenty of Hong Kong 0-region ones available, as well as a 2-disc special edition PAL version that my friend, Rich, was kind enough to share with me.

Much, much lighter in tone is the hyperactive teen action film Volcano High (2001). You may be familiar with the rapper-infested English dub version of this movie from MTV. I haven't seen it, and never plan to.

I watched a DVD of the film in its original language with English subtitles instead. Though, to be honest, you could almost watch Volcano High without dialogue, as its backstory is far too complicated and confusing for the movie's simple "I don't like you, you don't like me -- let's fight" plot. It's all power-charged eye candy -- empty calories to give you a ninety-minute blast. A good waste of time, as long as you're not expecting another Battle Royale.

 

Friday, June 3: Far-Out Space Nuts

I decided to watch a little TV before bed and ended up viewing the Spanish film Stranded (2002). It stars Vincent Gallo, Maria de Medeiros and Joaquim de Almeida as the first people to land on Mars. Well, maybe not "land"... "crash" is more like it. As the title suggests, they're stuck there and have to make some tough decisions in order to survive.

The acting is uneven -- sometimes good, sometimes not so. But the story is interesting and intelligent enough to carry me through some of the rougher line readings. The real treat in this film is Johnny Ramone's only real performance as an actor. He plays an astronaut orbiting the red planet. That alone should make the film worth seeing.

Thursday, June 2: Space Wars

I had to cancel Movie Night again this week, but Laree, Don and I sort of made it up at their house last night, with some good old fashioned science fiction trash.

The poster for Target Earth (1954) promises "Raw panic the screen never dared to reveal." The film does show some scenes of panic, attempted suicide and a touch of hysteria, but I guess the screen still wasn't able to reveal the army of automatons that we're told are invading the city. We only see one at at time, because the producers only built one robot for the film. You'll just have to take the characters word for it that there are hundreds of them, just around the corner, and hope that the army (two jeeps) has the resources to stop the invasion. But still, my friends and I had some good laughs at the corny dialogue, mock-scientific gobbledygook and scenes of 1950's socially acceptable domestic violence.

The Soviets made some pretty cool science fiction films back in the day, and U.S. producer Roger Corman knew it. The Heavens Call (1960) was another one of those films Corman imported and then turned over to his lackeys to re-cut and dump on America's Drive-in audiences. None other than Francis Ford Coppola chopped up the film about a futuristic Soviet-American space race and called it Battle Beyond the Sun (1962).

Of course, the Americans are the bad guys here, so in order to make it acceptable to domestic audiences, the film is set in the post-apocalyptic future, with the Russians and the Americans replaced with the "South Hemis" and "North Hemis". Optical effects were added to hide the Russian insignias on the ships, but eagle-eye Don spotted the red star on the tail fin.

Now I don't know how Corman came up with the title for this one, because there's no battle and the astronauts never go beyond the sun. They never even make it to their planned destination, the planet Mars. They do make it to a dark, craggy asteroid, where a couple of "interesting" looking aliens live. These creatures are not in the original Soviet film, but puppets added by Coppola, in order to give Corman something cool to put on the poster. Though nothing added to these films was ever as cool as the amazing sets and incredible special effects that this and a few other Russian space operas from this era already had. It's the one space race that the Soviets won.

 

Wednesday, June 1: Hurts Like Hell

Teruo Ishii's Jigoku (1999) is an odd one. It starts out as the story of a living girl's visit to Hell, so that she can report to mankind what's waiting for them if they don't straighten up. The film's version of Hades immediately brings to mind the one from the dream sequence in Coffin Joe's This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse. It has a similar color scheme and home-made theatrical feel. Filled with actors in costume depicting demons, this Netherworld is sort of a Dante's Inferno as conceived by Sid and Marty Kroft.

The girl is told to observe the sins of a child molester/murder on Earth and then witness his punishment in the afterlife, before viewing her own past. Here the film shifts gears and becomes a docudrama about the Aum Shinri Kyo cult, which released sarin gas into the Tokyo subway in1995. The connection being that the girl was once a member of the cult.

The film is obviously a combination of two unfinished movies, but it all comes together in the end. Jigoku is currently available on DVD under the title "Japanese Hell" from Media Blasters' Tokyo Shock label.

I still eagerly await every installment in the Hellraiser film series. Yes, I know that every sequel to the 1987 classic hasn't lived up to its origins, but I keep hoping for a taste of the pure evil that made the first one my favorite horror film of the 1980's. I'm not completely deluded, some people love the 2nd & 3rd Hellraisers as much as the first. But to be honest, even those early sequels haven't aged well. If you don't believe me, watch them again.

After the "Alan Smithee"-directed fourth Hellraiser movie, all other films in the series have been released direct-to-video. They haven't been all that bad, but all share the same glaring fault: very little screen time for the only reasons that anyone revisits the franchise: The Cenobites.

The latest installment, Hellraiser: Deader (2005), is guilty of the same crime. For a straight-to-video thriller, it's pretty good. But our beloved demons are there for mere minutes of the entire running time. What's the point of bringing in Doug Bradley, the actor famous for portraying the Cenobite leader, if you're barely going to use him?

But like, I said, if you weren't eagerly awaiting Pinhead & crew, the film isn't bad. The real surprise of the film is C-movie actress Kari Wurher going above and beyond, by giving what may be the best performances of her career.

Disappointed yet again, but not discouraged. I'll be running to the video store in a few months to pick up Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005) starring one of my modern genre heroes, Lance Henriksen. Call me "Sucker".

Anyway, sorry that the month of May was so lame here. I told you I was going to be too busy to take in many movies, let alone make time to comment on them.

I also feel that I let my enthusiastic hopes for the then-upcoming final Star Wars film carry me away. I'll try to control myself this month as I eagerly await the release of Batman Begins.

Speaking of Batman Begins, a couple of years back there was a lot of buzz about this little sci-fi film that came out on video to cash in on the release of The Matrix Reloaded. I checked it out and was quite taken by this Matrix-meets-1984 action film starring Christian Bale. While watching the film, all I kept thinking was, "That's it -- I never saw in in any of his other performances -- but Christian Bale would be perfect to play Batman!"

It was announced shortly after that Bale was indeed to be the next Caped Crusader. I like to think it was because of that film, which is this month's first recommendation, Equilibrium (2002). I doubt that's actually the case, but I like to think so.

Not so action packed, is the second film on your "to see" list, The Saragossa Manuscript (1965). It's a Polish film based on the book by Jan Potocki. I first saw it at my favorite movie house in L.A., The Egyptian. The film is haunting and atmospheric period piece that stretches on for three hours with stories within stories within stories. Not for the impatient, this is a great film with a little weight to it for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

You can talk about Ichi the Killer all you want, but The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001) is my favorite film by uber-director, Takashi Miike. This movie has everything: laughs, zombies, gore, musical numbers and even claymation! If you haven't seen it, you must. Immediately. It's one of the most original things I've ever seen, even if it is a remake (of 1998's The Quiet Family).

Your favorite 1958 pairing of Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak may be Vertigo, but mine is Bell Book and Candle (1958). It's a sentimental old favorite staring Novak as a witch who falls in love with a mortal (sound familiar?). Not everyone loves this film as much as I do, but the great comic performances by Jack Lemmon and Elsa Lanchester alone make the film more than worthwhile.

What's cooler than MechaGodzilla? Nothing, that's what. But the Mechani-Kong in Ishirô Honda's King Kong Escapes (1967) is pretty close. I mean look at that thing! The film also has a bad guy named "Dr. Who". What more can I say?

Now go enjoy this month's selections.
And Batman Begins.


 

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