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Archive for the ‘Comic strips/Super heroes’ Category

Rurouni Kenshin Part I: Origins

Friday, April 16th, 2021

I know Rurouni Kenshin was a ‘90s anime series (sometimes called Samurai X) based on a manga and all that. I don’t usually pay much attention to that sort of thing, but also I knew there was a series of live action movies starting in 2012 with this one, RUROUNI KENSHIN I: ORIGINS. And I’ve been hearing for a long time that it has some really good sword fighting in it, so I’ve been meaning to see it.

But man, if I knew what it was about, I wouldn’t have waited so long! It’s true that it has some good sword fighting and other fun samurai shit in it, but also this is that most rare and beautiful type of action movie: the type that fits lots of fun action into a story that preaches against violence. It shows that nothing could be more badass than a guy who can kill a whole mob of people on his own but chooses to prove it to them while not doing it.

To put it another way, the hero Kenshin (Takeru Satoh, SAMURAI MARATHON) was such a scary motherfucker killing people for the government in his teens that everybody knew him as “Battosai the Killsword,” but now he’s so against killing that he travels around with a sword that is only sharpened on the back side of the blade.

So yeah, don’t worry, he’ll still be sword fighting. He’ll just be whapping them instead of slashing them. (read the rest of this shit…)

Shrunken Heads

Thursday, April 8th, 2021

Richard Elfman is the son of novelist Clare Elfman. He grew up in L.A., then worked as an Afro-Latin percussionist in the San Francisco musical theater troupe The Cockettes before moving to Paris to perform, and later returning to form the “commedia dell’arte ensemble” or “surrealist street theatre troupe” The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. They performed Cab Calloway covers and Russian ballet songs in whiteface, won an episode of The Gong Show, released a doo wop song about the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, and played demons in a hallucination scene in I NEVER PROMISED YOU A ROSE GARDEN. In the late ‘70s Elfman turned filmmaker, directing the Mystic Knights’ black and white cult musical FORBIDDEN ZONE (released in 1982).

It’s a pretty obnoxious and completely amazing movie, filmed on theatrical sets beautifully designed in a German expressionist/Max Fleischer cartoon style (and sometimes noticeably made of paper). It’s a short but unrelenting burlesque nightmare of tap dancing frogs and skeletons, adults dressed as children and/or only wearing underwear, lots of Mickey Mouse ears, fezzes and boobs, every single character (and there are tons of them) a weirdo or a grotesque caricature. They move bizarrely and at fast speed, lip sync to old timey big band jazz tunes, simulate humping. It stylishly switches to animation as they plummet to Hell or through the intestine shaped tunnel from the Hercules family’s basement to the Sixth Dimension, which is ruled by Susan Tyrrell as the Cruella-meets-drag-queen Queen Doris, and Herve Villechaize as her cheating husband King Fausto.

Elfman’s younger brother Danny made some great songs for it and has a scene as Satan, singing “Minnie the Moocher” with a band of hooded, lumpy ghouls. Joe Spinnell shows up as a sleazy, drunk sailor. To me it’s soiled by its use of historical racist imagery – I know this is vintage hipster irony or some shit, but opening with a blackface pimp character looking for his heroin is a problem. And you also have to be patient with the inside joke art school forced weirdness nonsense humor ethos that thinks it’s hilarious to have  a main character named “Squeezit Henderson,” who has a twin sister played by the same actor, who is credited as “Toshiro Boloney.” (That’s actually Matthew Bright, better known for directing FREEWAY. His well-meaning drama TIPTOES, which infamously co-stars Gary Oldman as a little person, was inspired by the director’s friendship with Villechaize.)

Around that time Richard passed the creative direction of the Mystic Knights to Danny, who soon decided to ditch all the theatrics and strip down to the rock band Oingo Boingo. They became very popular and had songs on movies ranging from WEIRD SCIENCE to TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2. And during this time, of course, Tim Burton convinced Danny to score PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE, which led to other scores, and all the sudden he was an A-list film composer.

Meanwhile, Richard directed a few of the band’s videos, but didn’t make any more movies until 1993, when he resurfaced with a silly but pretty straight forward Mimi Lesseos b-action vehicle I’ve already reviewed called STREETS OF RAGE. For that he was credited as “Aristide Sumatra,” which is the name of a character in his third movie, SHRUNKEN HEADS. Released in 1994, SHRUNKEN HEADS was written by Elfman’s old friend Bright (pre-FREEWAY) and produced by Charles Band and his company Full Moon Entertainment. So you better believe it has some tiny little guys in it. Shrunken, like the title says. (read the rest of this shit…)

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Wednesday, March 24th, 2021

PROLOGUE

Well, it really happened. When last we saw the movie JUSTICE LEAGUE, it was credited to director Zack Snyder – who had left the movie unfinished due to a family tragedy, and amid creative battles with the studio – but was known to have been heavily rewritten and reshot by SPEED script doctor Joss Whedon. Although I called it a “perfectly watchable, okay super hero romp” it was poorly reviewed and did not do the gangbusters business Warner Brothers had hoped for. The studio continued with related characters in AQUAMAN, BIRDS OF PREY and WONDER WOMAN 1984, but seemed to abandon hopes for their own AVENGERS.

Meanwhile, a group of Snyder Riders petitioned, hash-tagged, billboarded and sky-wrote for the company to “release the Snyder Cut,” the fabled vastly different pre-reshoots director’s cut of the film. As time went on, the movement seemed increasingly pestering and delusional, but it persisted until somebody at AT&T or somewhere got the notion that the corporation could promote their new streaming service HBOMax by releasing this Snyder Cut thing on it.

One small complication: it didn’t exist. Snyder had left before he was able to finish the movie, as had been reported all along. So they invested a reported $70 million (more than the entire budget of Marvel’s THE NEW MUTANTS) for Snyder to complete the FX and the edit, add a couple new things and a new score. And since who gives a fuck anymore they let him pretty much do what he wanted this time, and what he wanted was to make it 4 hours long (about 14 minutes longer than LAWRENCE OF ARABIA) and in a 4:3 aspect ratio as an homage to MID90S and MEEK’S CUTOFF. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Devil’s Sword

Wednesday, March 10th, 2021

A few weeks ago I reviewed a 2019 movie I was really excited about called GUNDALA. It’s a pretty great Indonesian martial arts movie directed by Joko Anwar, based on a comic book (also Indonesian) that started in the ‘60s, and it’s supposed to launch an MCU-inspired movie franchise called the Bumilangit Cinematic Universe.

When I read up on the BCU for that review I learned a little bit about the other characters they’ll be making movies about, and some of them have already appeared in movies. IMDb listings of Indonesian films are not very complete, but based on my research I think there’s a 1981 version of GUNDALA; a 1954 version of SRI ASIH; seven (give or take a few erroneous double listings) about Barda Mandrawata – The Blind Man From the Ghost Cave, an incredible sounding character whose new movie is to be directed by Timo Tjahjanto (THE NIGHT COMES FOR US); and three about a wandering warrior named Mandala.

Out of all of those titles I could only locate three, and the first I’ve gotten my hands on is THE DEVIL’S SWORD (1984) starring Barry Prima as Mandala. This character is supposed to be played by Joe Taslim (THE RAID) in the BCU’s MANDALA: THE DEVIL’S SWORD, and if that’s like a slicker, more modern version of this, I can’t wait. This version is directed by Ratno Timoer (who both directed and starred in some of those Barda Mandrawata movies) and it’s kind of a cross between a CONAN THE BARBARIAN wannabe and a low budget kung fu movie (complete with wirework), plus some sexploitation thrown in for flavoring.

(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…)

Batman: Soul of the Dragon

Thursday, January 28th, 2021

I don’t normally review Batman cartoons (I think the only time I have before is the Suicide Squad one, ASSAULT ON ARKHAM), but I think you will agree that this one falls into my jurisdiction. In fact, it’s so weirdly specific to my particular areas of interest that during the ‘70s-inspired opening credits montage with funky theme song, after seeing the names Mark Dacascos and Michael Jai White, Mrs. Vern turned to me in disbelief and said, “Did they make this only for you?

Yeah, actually, it seems they did, so thanks, guys!

No joke, this is an animated movie set in the 1970s, based in the DC Comics universe but taking most of its template from kung fu movies. Its spy movie opening and funky, wah-wah heavy score are clearly homaging ENTER THE DRAGON, and there’s definitely some Jim Kelly/Blaxploitation influence in there, but its flashback structure mostly splits between an old school kung fu training movie and a getting-the-band-back-together type story. Two of my favorite plot structures in one. (read the rest of this shit…)

Wonder Woman 1984

Monday, December 28th, 2020

WONDER WOMAN 1984 (actual onscreen title: WW84) is, due to a strange confluence of events, in an unprecedented position. As the first sequel to a big-cultural-phenomenon comic book movie it was highly anticipated and also something of a question mark – I think we were pretty optimistic, but didn’t necessarily know if director Patty Jenkins (who hadn’t done a big movie before, just MONSTER and some TV) could repeat the magic, or build on it, or if the audience would be as hungry for it a second time. And then the pandemic kicked the world’s ass, America’s in particular, so the movie got pushed back until the Warner Brothers executives panicked and dumped a year’s worth of movies to streaming and it became the highest profile meant-for-theaters blockbuster released directly to streaming on Christmas day.

I enjoyed the movie, and what I enjoyed most is Jenkins’ apparent disinterest in making it a modern Marvel-esque or (even moreso) Snyder-esque comic book movie. Though the action is of the modern volume and contemporary FX-based style, the tone and storytelling are more reminiscent of the Christopher Reeves SUPERMAN movies, some of the corny ‘90s adventure movies I like, a tiny bit of the Burton BATMAN movies, and even (not in a bad way) SUPERGIRL. As I write this I realize that there wasn’t a single moment where I thought, “Ah, that’s setting up for the next one.” (read the rest of this shit…)

Bloodshot

Monday, December 7th, 2020

Seeing a new Vin Diesel movie brings me joy. They’re usually not gonna be as good as FAST FIVE or RIDDICK, but I can live with that. It doesn’t even need the heart. It can just have the silliness. I can still love a CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK or a xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE. Even seeing a middling one like THE LAST WITCH HUNTER on the big screen (usually without many other people in the theater) is an enriching experience for me.

In many ways Diesel is a throwback. Some people think he’s arrogant and dumb, and that perception (whether true or false) connects him with the action icons of the ‘80s and ‘90s. So does his vanity when it comes to his bodybuilding and the outsized awesomeness of his characters (both in battle and in love). But beneath the macho posturing is a sincere passion for what he sees as the integrity of his creations, for better or worse. He has left and returned to two franchises of his own accord. He’s turned his supporting character in a minor cult movie into an improbable sci-fi franchise, at one point mortgaging his house to somehow keep it going. He’s adapted his Dungeons & Dragons character into a major motion picture. With one performance he turned a silly drag race exploitation movie into a smash hit, and with 20 years of diligence he shepherded its sequels into a massive pop culture institution. So even something like BLOODSHOT – which looked pretty cheesy and lost a ton of shine when the JOHN WICK directors left and a guy who previously just worked in video games (David S.F. Wilson) took over – is an event for me. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Old Guard

Wednesday, July 15th, 2020

THE OLD GUARD is a pretty good Pandemic Summer blockbuster, because I’m sure it would’ve felt underwhelming if it had been advertised for months and played on the big screen, but as a movie I read mentioned once or twice and never saw promoted until shortly before it dropped on Netflix, it was enjoyable.

In the opening scenes it almost seems like another one in the tradition of CLOSE and EXTRACTION – militarized elite mercenaries or whatever, all geared up with their guns and armor and headsets, on a mission to rescue kidnapped kids in a Muslim country (South Sudan this time). But there are little hints that something else is up – wait, is that guy carrying a sword? They have a team, too, instead of one burnt out loner who’s messed up about losing a kid. Their leader is Andy (Charlize Theron, with hair and physicality that reminded me she was AEON FLUX), who thinks they should be laying low, but reluctantly agrees to meet with this ex-CIA guy Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor, TRIPLE 9) for intel.

It turns out to be a trap. They breach the place and the walls close in on them and some guys come out and machine gun them. A minute later is when we get to the real premise – the team wake up, the bullets drop out of their wounds, they heal and they stand up and kill those motherfuckers with that sword and a cool ax and some kung fu and shit. (Fight coordinator: Daniel Hernandez, xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE, AVENGERS: ENDGAME, VENOM.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril

Monday, May 4th, 2020

LONE WOLF AND CUB: BABY CART IN PERIL is #4 out of six LONE WOLF AND CUB films, and comes pretty directly out of the stories from the late Kazuo Koike’s manga about the former Shogun’s-executioner who was framed by the god damn Yagyu Clan (fuck those guys) and now travels Japan with his young son Daigoro, working as a freelance assassin along his “Demon’s Path” toward vengeance and damnation. He usually ends up doing something very honorable that seems a little more like redemption, but he doesn’t see it that way. He thinks he’s the devil. This was before heavy metal, too.

This one’s kinda got an A and B plot. One of them (take your pick which letter it is) involves the badass Oyuki (Michi Azuma, who played a different character in BABY CART AT THE RIVER STYX – they should do that in more American movie series), a former “sword mistress” gone rogue so she can avenge her former mentor for raping her. One of her trademarks is to cut off the top knots of all the motherfuckers who come after her, which in their culture seems to be even more humiliating than when Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake used to badly shave the heads of those he defeated in the ring. (read the rest of this shit…)