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.

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