"I'll just get my gear."

Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Rock-a-doodle

Monday, March 8th, 2021

Let me give you a behind the scenes on the making of this review series: I had been meaning to revisit HEAVY METAL for a million years, and one day when I had kind of an itch for that weird vibe of early ‘80s animated fantasy I finally did it. Then I thought hey, I should also watch AMERICAN POP again, that would make a good review pairing. And then I thought hey, I’ve always wondered what was up with that ROCK & RULE movie, it could be a series. And then late in the game I thought “Oh shit, that would be funny to end on ROCK-A-DOODLE! I finally have a reason to watch ROCK-A-DOODLE!”

Obviously this one is really different than the others. It turns out it’s not much about rock ’n roll, and I already knew it wasn’t trying to be adult or edgy like the other ones. That’s not why I skipped it in 1991 – I wasn’t opposed to watching G-rated animation. It was the year of ROVER DANGERFIELD, after all! Just kidding, I didn’t watch ROVER DANGERFIELD. Until later. But BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was that year and it was nominated for best picture, so this was pretty much the exact moment in the U.S. when the “adults don’t watch animation” attitude was starting to get pushed back.

It’s directed by Don Bluth, mentioned previously in this series as one of the Disney-influenced alternatives to Disney in the ‘80s. In fact, he was an offshoot: starting as an assistant animator and moving up to directing animator, he worked on SLEEPING BEAUTY, THE JUNGLE BOOK, ROBIN HOOD, THE MANY ADVENTURES OF WINNIE THE POOH, THE RESCUERS, PETE’S DRAGON and THE FOX AND THE HOUND. But later in that run he felt so strongly that the Disney movies weren’t living up to the classical animation legacy of Walt and the generation of artists he’d learned from that he and some of the other animators gathered at his house in their off hours to make an independent short, Banjo the Woodpile Cat, from an idea that the studio had rejected. (read the rest of this shit…)

Rock & Rule

Friday, March 5th, 2021

Somehow HEAVY METAL was not Canada’s only rock-soundtrack-animated-fantasy-feature of the early ‘80s. ROCK & RULE (1983) combines the sci-fi/fantasy genre with a story about rock music, as the main characters are a band and the villain is (at least according to the opening text on the American version) a “legendary superocker.” The opening credits list all the bands on the soundtrack before the cast.

This was the first feature film from Toronto-based animation studio Nelvana Limited, who actually turned down an offer to animate HEAVY METAL because they’d been developing this since the late ‘70s. Previously they’d done TV specials like A Cosmic Christmas and The Devil and Daniel Mouse, but I know them for their weird, rubber animation on the Star Wars Holiday Special, which led to them doing the Ewoks and Droids cartoons.

ROCK & RULE takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where (again, according to the text in the American version, unexplained in the original) “The War was over” leaving only dogs, cats and rats alive, and “a long time ago” those evolved into “a new race of mutants.” In other words, it’s a “funny animal” cartoon, where humanoid animals rule the earth and either humans don’t exist or maybe they’re being milked on a dairy farm or something off camera. (read the rest of this shit…)

Heavy Metal

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021

Six months after AMERICAN POP we got another animated-feature-for-adults-with-a-rock-soundtrack. This entry in the ink, paint and rock ‘n roll mini-genre is not directly about the music, but heavily emphasizes its soundtrack, basing sequences around it not quite like FANTASIA, but not completely unlike it. And some of the visual subject matter definitely shares its DNA with the kind of stuff they put on the album covers for this kind of music.

HEAVY METAL was based on the comics anthology magazine Heavy Metal, which is an English translation of the French magazine Métal hurlant. If they had translated the title literally it would’ve been HOWLING METAL, so it would’ve sounded about fifteen to twenty times cooler, but I bet it wouldn’t have been turned into an animated feature with a soundtrack featuring Sammy Hagar, Nazareth and Black Sabbath. And Devo and Blue Öyster Cult and Cheap Trick and Journey and Grand Funk Railroad and Stevie Nicks. And Riggs? Not the same one we’re thinking of, I don’t think. I don’t know who Riggs is. But he has a song on this.

The movie originates from Canada, specifically producer Ivan Reitman, whose directorial work STRIPES came out the same summer. He’d also produced serious genre movies SHIVERS, THE HOUSE BY THE LAKE and RABID, so this movie being much more of a sci-fi/fantasy/horror type deal than a comedy is not completely out of the blue for him. He’d also produced NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE, making him a pioneer of cinematic adaptations of magazine brand names. I wonder if he ever tried to do HIGHLIGHTS’ GOOFUS AND GALLANT? If not they must not have Highlights in Canada, because that’s just a no-brainer. (read the rest of this shit…)

American Pop

Monday, March 1st, 2021

“Music is about the full range of the human condition – good, great, bad, sad. That’s the thing about a classic song – it can keep you going, even if you’re bleeding from the heart.” —Ralph Bakshi

You know who Ralph Bakshi is, right? An animator who worked for Terrytoons as a teenager in the ’50s, did the Spider-man cartoon in the ‘60s, then became sort of the godfather of adult animation in the U.S. by directing the X-rated FRITZ THE CAT. After a few years of that he switched up to be the animated fantasy guy with WIZARDS (1977), THE LORD OF THE RINGS (1978) and FIRE AND ICE (1983). The only movie I’ve reviewed by him is his last animated feature (he’s retired from animation now), 1992’s COOL WORLD, which I did as part of my ‘Summer Flings’ series (“a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on”).

Now that I think about it I really should write about more of his movies some day, especially those urban ones from the ‘70s. But for now I had this whim that I want to look at the brief, strange trend of rock ’n roll inspired animated features in the ’80s. And that started in February, 1981 with the release of Bakshi’s unique, odd epic AMERICAN POP.

How’s this for a highfalutin premise: it’s about four generations of an immigrant family and how the history of American popular music weaves through their lives. It starts in Imperial Russia in the 1890s, with intertitles like a silent film, and ends with a stadium rock concert in the ‘80s, animated in a flashy style more inspired by music videos of the time. After young Zalmie Belinski’s rabbi father is killed by the Cossacks, he moves to New York City, where he hangs out backstage at a burlesque show, becomes the back half of a horse costume, then a clown, but wants to sing. The movie follows Zalmie and his descendants through World War I and II and Vietnam, through Vaudevillians, mobsters, beatniks, hippies, punks and, uh… Bob Seger. (read the rest of this shit…)

She Never Died

Thursday, February 25th, 2021

SHE NEVER DIED (2019) is… kind of a sequel to HE NEVER DIED, the really good, dryly funny 2015 horror-action movie with Henry Rollins as an ancient being whose peaceful but depressing life is upended when an encounter with gangsters revives his habit of eating humans and absorbing their strength. From what I understand, the script by HE NEVER DIED’s Jason Krawczyk started as a continuation, but was rewritten for director Audrey Cummings (TORMENTED, DARKEN) to follow a different, similar character called Lacey, played by Olunike Adeliyi (SAW 3D, A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY).

Like Rollins’ Jack, Lacey lives in an unnamed city (filmed in North Bay, Ontario), eats at a diner and lacks social skills. But she’s straight up homeless, barely talks and has no qualms about killing people – bad people, at least – and tearing off pieces to eat later. When we first see her she’s busting into a nefarious warehouse looking for a particular man who wears lots of rings, and settles for a guy who’s about to play Russian roulette with a dog for one of those sicko livefeeds that exist in the darkest corners of movie-world.

That’s also when veteran detective Godfrey (Peter MacNeill, CATHY’S CURSE, Droids, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE) first spots her. He sees her leave with a bullet wound in her head and then sees her the next day, completely healed. And he’s after the same guy so when he meets her even though he realizes she’s a cannibal he decides to set her up with his unused flophouse (with refrigerator for storing fingers and ears and stuff) and give her the DEATH WISH 3 style unofficial sanction. (read the rest of this shit…)

No Retreat, No Surrender 3: Blood Brothers

Wednesday, February 24th, 2021

“Well, if it isn’t the Alexander boys.”

Sometimes there are movies I know I should watch, but I save them for when they’re needed. And after almost a year of this pandemic I decided it was time to break the emergency glass on NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER 3: BLOOD BROTHERS (1990).

Like part 2 it’s written by Keith W. Strandberg (SUPERFIGHTS, BLOODMOON) and is not a direct sequel to its predecessor. It was originally intended as an unrelated movie, and I don’t even know if it counts as a thematic or spiritual sequel – at best it’s an attitudinal sequel. The tagline helpfully explains the trilogy: The first was for honour, the second for his country, this time it’s family. So this trilogy pretty much covers the full spectrum of what to do something for.

This is the only one not directed by Corey Yuen. His replacement, first timer Lucas Lowe (who followed this with THE KING OF THE KICKBOXERS and AMERICAN SHAOLIN, also written by Strandberg) was a non-martial arts guy chosen by executive producer Ng See-Yuen (a Shaw Brothers executive who’s in the Criterion Collection because he directed GAME OF DEATH II) on the theory that he would focus more on the story. But in interviews Strandberg laments that Lowe would spend too long setting up and shooting extras, run out of time and then cut a bunch of his dialogue. That may or may not explain why I didn’t understand this joke where the main characters’ dad leaves has a guy gagged and tied to a tree outside of his house. (read the rest of this shit…)

TV movie double feature: Running Delilah (1993) and Amazons (1984)

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2021

I’d been wanting to watch this 1993 movie called RUNNING DELILAH, first because it stars Kim Cattrall as a cyborg, then because I realized it was directed by Richard Franklin (ROAD GAMES, PSYCHO II, LINK), and it didn’t hurt that it co-starred THE PHANTOM himself, Billy Zane. What I didn’t figure out until shortly after I pressed play was that it was really an ABC TV pilot that was released as a TV movie when it wasn’t picked up for a series. It’s written by Ron Koslow, the screenwriter of INTO THE NIGHT, but more relevant to this he was the creator of Beauty and the Beast, the popular show with Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton. I guess RUNNING DELILAH was one of his romance/genre crossover ideas that didn’t fly.

And I do not believe it transcends that description, but I wanted to review it for The Cultural Record, so I’ll go ahead and throw in another TV movie, AMAZONS (1984) that was included on the same DVD. (It also had SUPERDOME [1978] and THE AMY FISHER STORY [1993,the one with Drew Barrymore]) but I didn’t watch those.)

RUNNING DELILAH finds Christina (Cattrall) working as a secretary, but she’s actually Delilah, a spy trying to steal documents from her criminal boss (Yorgo Voyagis, VAMPIRE IN VENICE). She meets up with her partner Paul (Zane), who sports what was called a “Caesar cut,” as popularized by George Clooney on ER, and laments that they never got it on. He seems to take it well when she turns him down again, and this is actually one time when it’s a benefit that it was supposed to be a TV show. If it was a movie the guy she turns down would turn out to be a traitor, but since it’s a TV show it just means there will be sexual tension and then they’ll fall for each other. (read the rest of this shit…)

Monster Hunter

Monday, February 22nd, 2021

As someone who finally got into Paul Wesley Snipes Anderson’s RESIDENT EVIL series pretty close to when it was finally wrapping up, I was thrilled to hear that the director and his wife/star Milla Jovovich (HELLBOY, not the Ron Perlman one) had purchased the film rights to a fresh new video game franchise copyright property trademark. Without any judgment on (or implied knowledge of) the respective video games, I feel that there is potential for a series called MONSTER HUNTER about monsters and hunters who hunt monsters to be better than one about zombies and umbrellas or whatever. And I loved that one!

So I had planned to see this Toho co-production based on the works of Capcom in the biggest, if emptiest theater in Seattle, until shit (the pandemic) happened and that was not possible for me. But as soon as they made it available for digital “purchase” I paid the four-or-five-dollars-more-than-the-movie-ticket-would’ve-cost and now that file access is MINE.

It begins in a world of fantasy. Pirate ships are sailing through sand. Ron Perlman (HELLBOY, the Ron Perlman one) is there. Tony Jaa (KILL ZONE 2) is there. Monsters attack. Tony gets knocked off the boat. It is sand, so he doesn’t drown, but he’s left behind.

Then we switch to a different desert, the type in our world, in our time. It even has latitude and longitude listed on screen. I think they might mention directions and clicks at some point if you want to check your map and follow along at home. (read the rest of this shit…)

Once a Thief

Thursday, February 18th, 2021

I can’t explain this, and it’s embarrassing to admit, but somehow I had never seen ONCE A THIEF (1991) until now. How the hell did I not watch the movie that John Woo and Chow Yun Fat did between their two greatest home runs? Especially since I even watched the North American TV pilot he made based on it five years later! I knew this was gonna be more light-hearted and comedic than THE KILLER and HARD BOILED and that I probly wouldn’t like it nearly as much, but come on. Obviously it was something I needed to see. As I should fuckin known, it’s a fun time with some great stunts and action and a type of ludicrousness I enjoy in many Hong Kong films, if not usually Woo’s.

The story is about a trio of thieves, Cherie (Cherie Chung, PEKING OPERA BLUES), Joey and Jim (Chow Yun Fat and Leslie Cheung, reuniting after A BETTER TOMORROW 1 and 2). We meet them as they’re staking out an art museum for a heist, with Joey walking around admiring the art in the suave manner of Chow Yun Fat, Cherie pretending to be an idiot walking her dog through some deliverymen so she can mark the crate that holds the painting they’re planning to steal, and Joey strutting to his motorcycle in a leather jacket and scarf, bragging to a random street artist that he’s a famous thief. Soon they’re performing a really cool FAST AND FURIOUS-esque mobile truck heist that involved climbing on and under the truck, cutting a hole through the bottom, and gliding away with a parachute. (read the rest of this shit…)

Gundala

Wednesday, February 17th, 2021

I gotta admit, I barely knew Indonesian cinema existed until I saw MERANTAU and THE RAID. We all loved THE RAID and THE RAID 2 and then THE NIGHT COMES FOR US came along and that was arguably even more impressive. It was directed by Timo Tjahjanto, who’d already done another Iko Uwais martial arts movie I loved called HEADSHOT with his long-time collaborator Kimo Stamboel. They also did a horror one called KILLERS that I had to turn off in the opening scene because it was too much for me at the time. Some day I’m gonna get up the guts to go back. These days Stamboel has a heavily hyped horror movie called THE QUEEN OF BLACK MAGIC, written by Joko Anwar. Anwar is the guy who directed SATAN’S SLAVES (which I enjoyed) and IMPETIGORE (which I haven’t seen yet but it was on some best of the year lists).

So clearly there are healthy action and horror scenes over there, and those are my primary interests. But did you know they also have a local answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe? The aforementioned Anwar wrote and directed the 2019 film GUNDALA, based on an Indonesian comic book character created in 1969, and will be overseeing a series called the Bumilangit Cinematic Universe (BCU), with seven more films planned in Volume 1.

I knew there’d be something interesting about an Indonesian take on modern super hero movies, but once again I was caught off guard because you guys, this movie is really good. It certainly takes some inspiration from the Marvel films, and there’s a costumed hero with some powers and some colorful super villains, but mostly it’s a legit martial arts movie with lots of really well directed fights. And it’s interesting to see how a character like this compares and contrasts to the ones that have caught on here. The main difference is that his life has been way harder than any of our guys. (read the rest of this shit…)