Monday, January 25, 2010

Blind Swordplay, Demons, Werewolves, and a superspy??? FOUR REVIEWS!!!

Holy SHIT!!! Four reviews? Four fucking movies to watch and review for this dang foolish ego project of a blog that I've been trying to maintain for the past few years and you get to read them! Aren't you lucky? Alright, faceless reader, I had a whole day to myself on Sunday, and several hours to sit back and enjoy my Roku-player on Friday and Saturday nights. I watched several films and programs, and here are my thoughts on four of them. Enjoy!


What could be better than Shintaro Katsu wandering the countryside as the blind swordsman, Zatoichi? Answer… nothing. But having a wandering blind swordswoman is a close enough second. Ichi is a goze (blind musician) turned away from her home after a male attacker took her virtue, sending her on a quest to find the blind swordsman who helped to raise her. Is he her father? Though he’s never named, the under handed cutting style is the same as the legendary Zatoichi and no attempts are even made to dissuade the viewer from drawing such conclusions. She is joined by another wandering Samurai named “Toma” (mispronounced, to comedic effect, as “Tonma” by several people in the film. The latter definition given as, basically, “Imbecile”), and a young boy of the village the duo happen upon in their travels. The village is set upon by vicious bandits, including a horribly scarred swordsman who may be the key to finding Zatoichi.

The female Ichi is quiet and moody, a bizarre contrast to Katsu’s traditionally clever and humorous “Zatoichi” upon which the story is based. It’s hard to find her as like-able when she’s whining about the lack of value in her life, but this is where the character of Toma tends to steal the show from our lead. He’s a shy, awkward, and caring Samurai whose inability to draw his steel has sent him on a journey of self discovery. He seems the imbecilic braggart throughout the first act, but revelations from the past expose him as much more than meets the eye. It’s a fantastic character to watch develop, and it’s really too bad that the film wasn’t really about him. The art director does a fantastic job with costuming in this film, distinguishing all the characters through their choice in colors. Ichi, Toma, and “The Boy” are garbed in earth-tones, the people of the village in dark and light contrasts in mostly blues and whites, while the bandits wear a chaotic jumble of clashing vibrant colors. The leads are obviously caught between two worlds of Order and Chaos.

The movie is your standard “swordplay” period piece. Its primary theme seems to be the value of life and of living, and what that could mean. One man unable to draw his sword in violence is forced to stand against a scarred monster whose life has been left to nothing more than violence. Between them is Ichi, a woman whose life tips on the edge between both worlds: Killing for its own sake, and the preservation of life through sword-slashing death and carnage. It’s a fine example of the genre, but there are better movies of its type and the film is kind of dreary and depressing. Either way, though, it’s worth a watch if you enjoy chambara or if you’d like an introduction to the genre.

4 out of 5

The Beyond:

Despite my enthusiasm for the works of Lucio Fulci, I’d never actually seen “The Beyond” and actually never really placed it high on my list of “must-see” films. It’s one of those films you hear so much about that you just don’t want to watch it anymore; especially when the shock ending is spoiled by people who simply don’t realize that the film hasn’t actually been seen by the whole world. But it was still on my list, and it crept its way along several long years to finally show up in my mailbox. So when Sunday came around and I found myself alone, I decided to pop it in for a beverage-drinking, chip-crunching good time. Whenever people are discussing the best HP Lovecraft and Cthullu mythos adaptations, I always throw a kink in the argument by tossing out City of the Living Dead by Lucio Fulci. Although it isn’t an actual adaptation, the film is probably the finest example of capturing the mood that Lovecraft tends to inspire in his readers. “The Beyond” is even better, going so far as to introduce its very own “ancient book” plot device and other subtler hints of inspiration from Lovecraft and the Cthullu Mythos.

There are seven Gates of Evil throughout the world. The opening of any number of these gates will allow an evil darkness to gain entry to this world and spread its malignancy. So some 60 years after the opening of one gate in the cellar of a hotel, a young woman inherits the property and sets out to rebuild and reopen. Several mysterious deaths begin to mount and the local doctor begins to grow suspicious of the woman’s true motives, especially after she starts to flip out and claims to see things that couldn’t truly be there. As any number of things could be considered a “spoiler” in reviewing this film, I’ll stop at this point and just urge any true fans of the horror genre to take the time to watch this masterpiece.

5 out of 5.

Murder’s Row

Dean Martin brings the character of Matt Helm to the screen with this (extraordinarily) loose adaptation of the spy series. Helm is a secret agent tasked with uncovering the masterminds behind a plot to knock off the worlds’ leading spies in one elaborate assassination after another. Boozing and joking his way from one lead to another, Martin winds up teamed with a young Anne Margaret whose spastic undulations are intended to pass for dancing (or she’s an epileptic and this film is even sadder for it). The two leads are under constant threat from the metal-domed Lead Henchman (name not important) and his insidiously evil boss whose men appear wearing a red lightning bolt logo on their arm-patches and helmets. These low-rent “Brutes” wait around while Dean Martin quips wise, Anne Margaret shakes her assets, and the least effective gizmo devices are employed to knock bad guys down. At no point could any moment of this film be taken seriously, nor was it meant to be. It’s really one Dean Martin drinking joke after another after another with only the flimsiest of plot devices used to create any sort of a coherent threat for a secret agent to overcome.

Ultimately, Murderer’s Row is only the first in a couple Dean Martin films to feature the character of Matt Helm and the franchise never really improves on the formula we see here. The “studio” never really saw Helm as anything more than an American Competition to the successful James Bond series. They decided to work the character as a parody, rather than the hard-edged assassin portrayed in the successful series of novels upon which the movies were supposed to be based. Author Donald Hamilton probably made a few extra dollars in allowing the studio to churn out this dreck, but his work with Helm has yet to find a truly faithful adaptation. Helm hit the small screen at one time as a Private Detective, and there continues to be talk of another adaptation somewhere down the road. The book series, however, continued on well until Hamiltons’ unfortunate demise as he was working on yet another addition to the Helm saga.

The movie succeeds where it needs to in that it is a vehicle for Dean Martin to sit back and crack wise about his predilections for the sauce. So for that it gets…

3 out of 5.

Big Bad Wolf

“Little Pigs, Little Pigs, Let me come in… “

Would you like my spoiler-free review? This movie is gank… but keep on reading if you want to find out why. Beware!

*spoiler alert!!!!*

Did I just watch a werewolf sodomize his victim before offing her? Yes, I did. Did the rest of the film live up to such a bizarre, twisted, and wretched act? No, not really… though it tries to push a few envelopes by upping the gore and the sick-headedness of a film too long by at least one hour. The basic premise begins when a young college kid steals the keys to his step-father’s hunting cabin and heads up with some other kids. He and his girlfriend manage to escape with their lives, the other kids wind up so much werewolf chum, and we now spend the next 45-50 minutes dealing with the mystery of precisely who the Wolf might be and just how the two kids might plan on putting a stop to the endless horror of Richard Tysons’ glowering for the camera. That’s right! Richard Tyson, the evil and notorious villain from “Kindergarten Cop” and a few direct to DVD monstrosities (including Flight of the Dead, which I enjoyed). The menacing glare from Tyson looks much more like he’s confused than anything else, and he never comes off as anything more than a little bit petulant. But we still have him mugging for the camera, growling in anger, and then pouting because he knows those rascally kids just might be on to him and expose his big secret.

That is, honestly, about as deep as the plot gets. They explore the thematic elements of cyclical abuse, but it’s so utterly devoid of good acting, writing, or direction that it all just seems superfluous. Look, this isn’t a good movie but it has some funny moments and it’s fairly gory. If you have time to waste and you don’t mind sitting through some horrible dreck, than go for it. I didn’t mind it, kind of amused me, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

2 out of 5.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

2 New REviews: Popcorn & Wizards of the Demon Sword


An old movie theater is rented out for an all night horror festival in this standard Slasher Film from the 80’s. We see some familiar faces in the cast, young people preparing for bigger futures and older actors struggling to make ends meet with bit parts in any old movie they could get. And all the standard slasher-trope characters are featured, including our carbon copy “survival girl”, misfit weirdo, class bicycle, the cool “tough girl”, and wise-cracking handicapped guy. There isn’t really anything extra-ordinary about Popcorn, except for maybe the cheesy “classic” gimmick films they have playing in the background throughout their festival and the films’ obvious ode to classic spook-shows from the 50’s and 60’s. We have a 3-D film where the monster flies through the rafters on a pulley system, “Smell-o-Rama” gas pumped into the theater for “The Stench”, and electric buzzers in various seats for a “shocking” film about an electrified man. We get the standard elimination of cast members through gimmick kills, along with the standard slashes, stabs, and red herrings “jump scares” scattered throughout. The story culminates in an obvious nod toward several Vincent Price films, like House of Wax and The Pit and the Pendulum.

The fact that there isn’t anything extraordinary shouldn’t be taken as any sort of an insult, because it’s not. It’s a decent movie with a few good jumps, a couple of amusing moments, and a fairly decent mystery surrounding the main character. It doesn’t set out to re-invent the wheel, which seems to be one of my most common sayings these days, but it’s something that movie-makers tend to forget. You don’t have to deliver a big surprise twist, you don’t have to invest millions into CGI and gimmick effects, and you don’t need to deliver anything more than a decent story that keeps me entertained and amused from beginning to end. Popcorn was frivolous horror entertainment.

3 out of 5.

Wizards of the Demon Sword:

Cue synthesizers and bring on the California Desert backdrop, because we’re in full mode for a classic fantasy adventure. When a young woman is chased by the vile henchmen of a notoriously evil warlord-slash-wizard, her only hope lies in the sword arm of a brave young warrior. After twirling his sword like a baton for a moment, our hero proceeds to lay waste to the henchmen in a sword battle for the ages. You can almost hear each man screaming, “Not the face!” as they hold their swords out at arms length to block each potentially devastating swing. The Demon Sword in the title? It’s an 8 inch dagger with some jagged edges, made with some sort of clear plastic or glass. They do, however, deliver on the multitude of wizards… a grand total of three, if you want to be generous and label the “seer” a Wizard through technicality. But the real treasure is from the delivery of each line uttered by the “actors” in this story, from their deadly serious invocation of the danger they are all in to the flippant disregard for the bravado of the lead. This movie has it all… but we really slip into something truly special when our two main characters travel the country on horseback, pausing time and again to react to claymation dinosaurs doing battle with one another. They quickly make haste to get the heck out of there before they become lunch… over… and over… and over again. At one point, though, the lead character decides to casually flip his dagger at one of the dinosaurs… and the beast promptly falls dead, allowing our leads to eat play-doh for dinner that evening.

This movie also had some real star power to back it up. Michael Berryman comes down from the hills to do battle with our hero for a brief turn, reminding everyone precisely why these Hills Have Eyes…. Bad joke, I know. But if you thought the mutant mug of Berryman couldn’t sell you on this film, how about the rock-hard gravel appearance of Lawrence Tierney as a slave-trader offering his wares on the open market? There has to be a Mr. Pink joke in there, but I’m just not clever enough to find it. “Wizards of the Demon Sword” is nearly the pinnacle of what you could expect from sword and sorcery films of the 80’s, with synthesizer music and teased hairstyles to the over exposure of skin in nearly all forms of costumes and armor.

3 out of 5.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What I'm watching now, 8th Plague review

The 8th Plague:

With a low budget and an amateur cast, an artist can pull off some amazing things when given half a decent chance. We’ve seen these stories a dozen times before, but The 8th Plague manages to do it well enough that it shouldn’t be dismissed half as easily as the couple dozen or so Direct to DVD releases from amateur horror enthusiasts. A young woman goes looking for her sister in an abandoned prison rumored to be haunted, accompanied by her friends, an officer, and a former Prison employee. An ancient evil lies in wait, possessing the people and turning them into bloodthirsty “Near-Zombies”… kind of a nod to “Prince of Darkness” more so than “Night of the Living Dead” or movies along those lines. The film really excels at pushing the boundaries of gore, though… splashing plenty of blood to satisfy most while also capturing the atmosphere of a Lovecraftian exploration of the Unknown and Unknowable. The pacing is excellent, the framing for several shots seem a little shocking with the technology they worked with, and the whole experience was enjoyable despite some really terrible acting.

3.5 out of 5.

What else I’ve watched this weekend:

Hatchet For the Honeymoon: Mario Bava film that I’ve seen the trailer for nearly a hundred times on other DVD’s and trailer compilations.

The Producers: The Musical remake with Matthew Broderick, a funny film but not nearly as riotously funny as the original film.

Plasterhead: A low-budget slasher film that tried neither to make sense nor be very good, and succeeded at both endeavors.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Sherlock Holmes (I eat crow!) and Gamers: Dorkness Rising REVIEWS

Sherlock Holmes:

I’m not fond of eating crow. When I first saw the trailer for this film, my hopes that this would be a faithful adaptation of a legendary character were immediately dashed by Robert Downey’s seemingly drunken portrayal of a serious, logical, and inquisitive Holmes in a much seedier London than the one I imagined in my youth. I thought the film would be just another “blockbuster” out in time for the Holidays, but with no more depth than to cash in on the star commodity of pairing Jude Law with Downey. And so I decided to ignore this release, despite the eager anticipation several friends had expressed. So one week after it’s release, after hearing so many rave reviews and glowing praise for the film from friends whom I trust, I decided that Sherlock Holmes would be the first film I would see in the New Year. And I was forced to eat crow.

Downey is brilliant, not at all the drunken wastrel seemingly teased in the trailer… he is drinking heavily, he is somewhat brooding and temperamental, but his demeanor is a reaction to the impending loss of his closest friend and roommate to the upcoming marriage of Dr. Watson. We find the seedy London is closer to the reality that a man like Holmes would face in his line of business and expertise, and Jude Laws’ “Watson” is a courageous and brilliant man whose devotion to his friend is also at odds with the expectations of his bride-to-be and the society around him. This adventure could be their last, and neither man is at his best in order to take on a very worthy adversary.

We get a lot of action, big stunts, incredible effects, but all of that is basically eye candy to what is one of the more intelligent storylines presented in the past several years. The villain is obvious, the crimes are brutal, but the question remains about “how” and “Why”… which Holmes manages to deduce through classic detective work and the logical assembly of clues. And the audience is never insulted with a shock twist, like so many mysteries in this day and age. We share the mystery, we can pick up the pieces if we wish, and we can see how Holmes is able to piece together the puzzle.

I want more from Downey and Law, more from this version of Sherlock Holmes, and the film ends with enough of an opening to build a small franchise over the next several years. I’m so happy with this film, and it probably could have been a top contender for my years’ best films had I seen it a week earlier.

5 out of 5.

Gamers: The Dorkness Rising

Fresh off my Roku player with my Netflix account, “The Dorkness Rising” is a sequel to the little Gaming Convention favorite that could be seen in several parts on youtube. This film, however, shows the improved progression of film narrative from “Dead Gentlemen” productions as they address deeper themes within the context of this “D&D” parody.

A struggling module writer tries to run his friends through a home-made dungeon that he hopes to polish before sending it in for publication, but the three players have already died twice. Their solution is to find some new players to join their quest and they are joined by the ex-girlfriend of one of the members. She is able to breathe new life into the campaign, and the players begin to adapt new strategies to face several of the confrontations in the module. The DM is also able to relinquish some of his own control, allowing the players more free reign with their decisions that enable the rest of the group to relax and enjoy the story as well as the game.

The trouble with films like this is that they tend to cater to a niche audience with “inside” jokes that could only be understood by the fan base. Dorkness Rising lets outsiders in by presenting a character that is entirely new to the world of D&D, introducing the audience to this hobby through her eyes. The more she learns, the more the audience is able to grasp the humor in the parody as we follow both the players of the game and their “in-game” characters through the Dungeon Module as prepared by the films main protagonist.

4.5 out of 5.

2010 preview thoughts on upcoming movies

The time? The year 2010. The movies?

There are so many movies coming out this coming year, it’s hard to narrow down the field on what I should be looking forward to. Following up what might be one of the more lackluster years in movies might not be too difficult, but I’m going to keep my sights aimed a little high and hope for the best.

Superheroes are getting a huge leap forward with Marvel’s “Iron Man 2” and the DC competition of a full length “Green Lantern” film set for the summer schedule. Iron Man has momentum on his side, along with the promising future “Avengers” film getting set for production in a few years. Thor is already lined up, as is Captain America, and the company already has some impressive credentials including the possibility of a return to Spiderman in coming years. DC hasn’t had the string of success rates, despite (or perhaps because of) its ties to Warner… the Batman franchise continues to be their big seller while Superman is considered one of the most miserable failures. Last years Watchmen film explored some of their alternative properties, but Green Lantern is really one of the first forays into their character line that isn’t one of the three major characters in their mythos. Its success or failure should determine the development on their other title characters.

Fantasy heads up the year with an early release on the Clash of the Titans remake, paving the way for Percy Jackson and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice due out later. The split on the last Harry Potter book (the first part of The Deathly Hollows) is due out for the Holidays before next summers’ blockbuster release of the final installment for the adventures from Hogwarts. Let’s throw out the third installment on “Twilight”, since it really falls in line with Fantasy rather than horror and you have an interesting year for this niche market.

But let’s not forget the dance that got us to the ball. Horror has an interesting year laid out for it, with the early release on “The Crazies” remake, Romero’s latest “Survival of the Dead”, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” re-imaging, “The Wolfman”, the latest “Resident Evil” film, another entry to the “Scream” franchise, and a Blob remake from Rob Zombie. But no film has managed to capture my attention more than the trailer for the upcoming “Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil”. This movie doesn’t attempt to redefine a classic; it simply offers an interesting twist on some older genre stereotypes with pure dark comedy. Joss Whedon teams with one of the guys from Cloverfield to bring us “A Cabin in the Woods”, Adam Green brings us “Frozen”, and has already started work on his Hatchet sequel. We also have the long awaited sequel to “2001 Maniacs” will probably get a direct to DVD release in the next coming months. Raimi’s Ghosthouse Pictures adds a gentler, younger teen friendly version of films with their Spookhouse division and its’ first effort, a remake of 2008’s “The Substitute. But they’re not done with their rougher films, as they’ve also started work on a sequel to “30 Days of Night”. And then we have the Rodriguez produced, full length “Machete” release.

2010 has a lot of eye candy to look forward to, but it’s hard to pinpoint the genre “event” film of the year. In fact, other than Tucker and Dale, the rest of the year looks like a never-ending stream of remakes and sequels with one coming right after the other. I’m excited for Clash, I’m thrilled for the Potter stuff, and I’m hyped for Iron Man 2. I don’t know what to think about Green Lantern, having not seen a single trailer yet. I’ve been looking forward to a full Machete film since the fake trailer appeared in Grindhouse, but it’s certainly no major Event.

That’s it from me, faceless readers. As always, thoughts and debates are welcome and encouraged.