Saturday, April 11, 2020

Weekend Open Thread


  1. Good weekend to everyone. Hope all of you are managing to keep yourselves sane in this crazy time. As you can see from my list, there was plenty of time to indulge in movies this week. It was very heavy on Japanese genre films.

    LONE WOLF AND CUB: SWORD OF VENGEANCE (1972) – Most of the film is focused on depicting the backstory of Itto Ogami, the Lone Wolf. He is an executioner for the Shogunate who is framed by a rival clan to take over his position. I did not understand all of the nuances of the set-up, but it leads to many sword fights. Now wandering the roads of 17th-century Japan while pushing his son’s cart, Ogami starts his career as a hired assassin.

    LONE WOLF AND CUB: BABY CART AT THE RIVER STYX (1972) – The continuing adventures of Itto Ogami as he wanders around Japan pushing his son. This time around he faces a group of female fighters from the Yagyu clan that framed him. He is also carrying out a mission to kill a man who possesses some economic secrets officials of the Shogunate would like to know. Ogami’s toddler son even gets involved in the fighting. Full of great action set-pieces and some beautiful cinematography, this was a real treat to watch. Japan produced some of the most visually creative exploitation films in the early 1970s.

    BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY (1973) and BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY: HIROSHIMA DEATH MATCH (1973) – Kinji Fukasaku’s epic yakuza series has long been in my watch-list, and all the films have been available on Prime for a longtime. With my current freedom, now is a great time to get to them. Though the films are not easy to follow, they are undoubtedly Japanese gangster classics. The first film in the series sets everything up. Hirono Shozo is a demobilized soldier in post-World War II Japan who falls in with a group of small-time criminals with big ambitions. By the 1950s the underworld economy is booming, but the tensions within Shozo’s yakuza family create havoc for everybody. In Hiroshima Death Match, a young man becomes an accomplished hit man for several yakuza groups. There is a lot of bloody (red paint) mayhem that ensues. Violent and downbeat entertainment.

    PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974) – While I was most taken by the outlandish of the film for the first viewing, this time around I was engaged more by the cynicism at the heart of the story. Poor Winslow, wanting to believe that the good intentions of the words he hears will be carried out in real life. I was again struck by how well Brian De Palma managed the manic tone and style of the film, never allowing it to go completely off the rails.

    1. The Battles Without Honor series was one of the best blind buy i ever did. The Arrow box set even comes with a graph explaining the relations characters. It's my favorite movie set in my collection (and highest valued).

      I've been championning championning the series since bought it.i watch all 5 movies twice in 2 weeks because i wanted my friend to see them too

    2. That graph of the characters would come in handy. Remembering who is who is the toughest aspect of watching the series. While the bosses are easy to recognize, their numerous henchman are not. The Battles Without Honor series is well worth the mental effort, though. I plan to finish the remaining three films as quickly as I can.

      There looks to be a second series of The Battles Without Honor films. Those are also on Prime.

      Japanese films from the late 1960s and early '70s have the coolest title cards.

    3. The other 3 films have no relations to the original 5, other than the title. The producers just wanted to bank on the success of the series. They're good, but nowhere near what the original achieved. But at 90-95 minutes each, they're worth your time

    4. Sounds like a pretty good week of viewing there. Reminds me that at some point I need to get through the last 11 or so Zatoichi movies.

    5. I should get into the Zatoichi series. I got the Criterion set a few years ago, but only watched a couple.

    6. Battles Without Honour sounds good. Unfortunately, it's not available to stream/rent here in Canada. I'll see if I can find them through the library system, once they're open again.

    7. Seeing Beef doing the Xtro crabwalk in POTP is one of my favourite things this year

  2. I started binge-watching the Halloween series this week.

    The 1978 original is great, of course. On the commentary, John Carpenter insists that they weren’t trying to make a slasher movie, but wanted to generate real suspense. The last 20 minutes are about as good as movies get.

    Part 2, a.k.a. the world’s most weirdly-lit hospital, is where the slasher tropes are introduced in a big way. They really up the sex n’ violence, and Michael becomes supernaturally unkillable. We also get druid magic introduced, which becomes a deeply buried storyline for the rest of the sequels.

    What can I possibly say about part 3 that hasn’t been said? Not much, except now I want a buddy action movie with Tom Atkins and Scott Adkins.

    I maintain that part 4 is one of the better sequels. It’s a rollercoaster ride, zipping along from one set piece to the next. Rewatching the series in order like this, though, means I see more of how clunky the movie can be, but it's still a lot of fun.

    Part 5 loses me when they get rid of Ellie Cornell from the previous movie and replace her with new girl Tina. It would have been SO easy to switch the two girls’ roles for consistency with part 4. On the plus side, the filmmakers go in some dark and weird places in the finale. I’m not sure it works, but I applaud them for giving it a shot.

    Not looking forward to parts 6 and 8, but as a proper movie geek, I MUST.

  3. I watched the live stream premiere of Sea Fever. It was well-made but to me it felt like they didn't go far enough with the concept and they could have done a little more to build the tension. The Q&A afterwards was nice though.

    Also been watching the Alamo Draft House's streaming stuff with Centipede Horror and Godmonster of the Indian flats. Neither of them are great movies but the restoration on Godmonster had it looking pretty good at least. Also did some research on Godmonster director Fredric Hobbs which took me down a bit of a rabbit hole.

    For some lighter viewing I continue to go back to the '30s, '40s, and '50s. I watched through all the Thin Man movies over the course of the week having only watched the original previously. One can debate whether or not they needed to make six of them, but they're fun and it was a little bittersweet when I got to Song of Thin Man as it was also the last movie where Powell and Loy starred opposite each other.

    This weekend I've got a couple 1939 Westerns lined up in Dodge City (inspired partly by my Errol Flynn viewing from last weekend) and Destry Rides again.

  4. Hope everyone's staying safe and sane ̶o̶u̶t̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶r̶e̶ in there! So I watched some movies this week, a few of which might be worth mentioning here.

    Holy Flying Circus is a BBC made-for-TV movie from 2011 about Monty Python's Life of Brian and specifically the controversy it caused and the TV debate Michael Palin and John Cleese took part in. Only the story is told in a very bizarre and, dare I say, Pythonesque way. There are Gilliam-style animated interludes, fourth-wall breaks and strange tangents aplenty, and the actor playing Terry Jones also plays Palin's wife. Darren Boyd as Cleese and Charles Edwards as Palin do a great job of portraying their characters without going into straight-up parody, the other four are very much supporting players. Definitely worth checking out if you're a Python fan (hi JB!), probably just an incoherent mess for those not well versed in their ouvre.

    Ghost Stories is a 2020 anthology horror film from India consisting of four stories by four different filmmakers. The first and last ones are pretty bland, but the second one has some pretty interesting imagery and the third one is far from original but goes pretty crazy (and then just stops). I think it's a Netflix original, so I'm assuming it's available on Netflix worldwide.

    And Airplane II: The Sequel is surprisingly funny considering that Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker, the writer-directors of the original, had nothing to do with it. Plus, Shatner's in it, so that's one area where the sequel has a leg up over the original.

    1. Holy Flying Circus is excellent. The debate scene was excellent, with that ominous music playing over it

  5. A couple comedies I watched,
    My Cousin Vinny (1992), first watch. Meh. Are we supposed to be laughing at the Italian stereotypes? A lot of the comedy is "Hey, look at how Italian these Italians are!". Same goes to a lesser extant with the Southern stuff. City mouse vs country mouse. It was slightly entertaining, but I admit I was going in with some medium-high expectations. Pesci isn't someone I really enjoy very much (Worst part of Lethal Weapon 2), so perhaps it's him that didn't land. Sorry to be negative, as I know it's beloved by many. (This movie and Joe Pesci).

    Also, rewatched Year One (2009) for Easter, which I've seen 5-6 times. Unlike My Cousin Vinny, it's not at all loved in general. But it makes me laugh. David Cross was particularly good in this. I love Jack Black in everything (Yes, even Nacho Libre), so that's probably a big part of what make it easy to enjoy.

    1. I also watched Gandhi (1982) which I enjoyed a whole lot. Kingsley was fantastic in his portrayal, and I honestly didn't recognize him at first. I'm was curious at how well this movie represented the actual history, and from the small amount of reading I've done, it appears to be quite accurate. It would have liked to learn a bit more about the events leading to the and during the partition of India, but the film opts to focus more on Gandhi himself. I guess there's only so much you can cover in a 3 hour historical epic! The scene where his wife passed was heart wrenching. I also enjoyed how it showed how his stubbornness and unwillingness to comprise, while being an inspiration and catalyst for achieving independence peacefully from the British, was not as effective in bringing about "religious unity" (ie. some way to co govern/co-exist between the Hindu's and Muslims) which was his vision from the beginning. But yes, fantastic movie that I'm glad to have seen.

      Also, INTERMISSION! More long movies should have intermissions.

    2. I do not doubt that you will easily find resources on Indian history. It is a huge topic. Sadly, the partition of 1947 is one of the bloodiest political events in 20th-century history. There is a movie about the leader of the Muslim League and founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, which stars Christopher Lee. The title is JINNAH. European colonialism is such an interesting topic by itself.

      There are several instances in my life when a movie has inspired me to delve a little deeper into history. Many years ago a made-for-tv biopic about the industrialist and colonialist Cecil John Rhodes prompted me to learn about the history of southern Africa. (Zimbabwe was initially named after Rhodes.)

  6. I'm trying to watch different Franchises to fill some movie gaps. I watched the Star Trek movies, which was an absoutle blast, and now I've nearly finished The Planet of the Ape Movies, the Orginal and the reboots. For some reason I never realised how subversive the orginals got - they're blunt, bleak, strange and still a ton of fun.

    I also had a Michael Curtiz triple with The Adventures of Robin Hood, which I fell in love with, Captain Blood, which is delightful and Casablanca - a no brainer I love it, it's perfect.

    I'm also on a John Grisham tear. Not sure where it came from but I really enjoyed The Rainmaker, while The Runaway Jury is really watchable, it's insane.

    I think the next franchise I'll tackle will be The Universal Mummy Movies from the 1932 to the 2017.

    I hope everyone is staying safe as they can.

    1. Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland were a great pairing, Lindsay. Amazingly, she is still with us at 103. The Adventures of Robin Hood is one the most entertaining movies ever made.

      CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES was a film that left a deep impression on me as a kid. Watching it as an adult, the lack of budget shows more, but the themes are still as strong. Roddy McDowall gives his best performance for the series in Conquest. His speech at the conclusion is equally chilling and compelling.

    2. I loved that Caesar's speech ended Conquest. It was so dark and filled with hubris. It's a stunning performance by McDowall. For me it was Escape that got to me. I watched it as a kid. But watching it now, the tragedy really got to me. It's a brilliant series.

    3. Yeah, the Apes movies just have the craziest story arc in any mainstream movie franchise I can think of and I love it. The reboot series is very well made, but those original five...

  7. I've been a bit all over the place in terms of what I've been watching. Currently making my way through The Lord of the Rings because comfort. Also been re watching Lost, more comfort.

    In between those, I've been watching Tales From the Loop which I'm really liking. I see it as sort of a mix been Netflix's Dark and The Twilight Zone.

    I also checked out Netflix's The Decline, which apart from Netflix defaulting English dubs to their foreign content, I thought was pretty decent but nothing overly special.

  8. Like everyone here, I've been watching a ton of movies over the weekend. Two in particular I wanted to talk about...

    Dick Tracy (1990)

    Consider this Batman's weird day-glo doppleganger. It's amazing how many parallels there are between the two films. I can't believe it's just blatant copying, because Dick Tracy had to be well along in production when Batman opened. Still - stalwart hero in a city filled with corruption; a kindly police commisioner played by an old pro, an over-the-top villain played by an A-lister, a song score by a noted musician/composer (Prince for one, Stephen Sondheim for the other). One shot (the hero bursting into a building by crashing through a skylight) is nearly identical. I like both movies a lot, but in today's bleak climate I have to go with Tracy's bright primary colors over Batman's dark brooding shadows.

    Ready Player One (2018)

    I was willing to hang with this one for much of its running time. Who doesn't love a good scavanger hunt? But the relentless pop-culture references began to wear on me. The final straw (spoiler alert) is when Artemis is searching through bad-guy Sorrento's digial library. The scene is clearly meant to show Sorrento is an uncool douchebag, and they show this by...having him reading the collected works of Nancy Drew. Yep, Sorrento is clearly uncool because he reads "girl's" books. Ugh. So much for the supposed liberating influence of the Oasis.

  9. In no particular order...

    Ernest Dickerson's FUTURESPORT (1998) somehow overcomes severe self-made strikes (bad acting, made-for-TV low budget, shitty writing, etc.) to engage in solid world building. Like "Rollerball" (the 70's James Caan version), the rules of the made-up sport are passable-enough to barely justify its silly plot. Dean Cain commits to the lead role as the Tom Brady of Futuresport, and Wesley Snipes (who co-produced the flick) has an inexplicably goofy Jamaican accent. 100% pure grade 'B' movie cheese of the best (aka worst) kind. We'll be right back.

    And we're back! Lucio Fulci's THE NEW GLADIATORS (1984) has a ton of meant-to-be futuristic miniatures of Rome in the year 2072 that are clearly inspired by "Blade Runner." I think they're adorable and cute precisely because they look like the off-the-shelf toys they are, one of a zillion little early 80's Italian cinema details (the same 60 second piece of music endlessly looped, Fred Williamson enjoying himself, strobing light meant to emulate slow-motion effects, etc.) that made Fulci's non-horror flicks from this period wild cards. It's not as bad as "Conquest," but "The New Barbarians" plays "The Running Man" playbook better than the latter (which came out three years later, so who ripped who?) while still being an entertaining bad movie. The complete opposite of...

    LAND OF DOOM (1986), a boring and stunningly shitty "Mad Max/Road Warrior" ripoff. Shot in Turkey (one whole square mile!) by what appear to be West German filmmakers (or American ones that hired a bunch of German-accented actors in small roles), the two co-leads wonder from one action set-piece to another with zero chemistry or fucks to give about engaging the audience. You know you're watching a bad flick when the guys playing the ready-to-rape-at-any-moment bad guys deliver the best performances not because they can act, but commit to being scummy.

    DIARY OF A HITMAN (1992) looks/feels/sounds like the adaptation of a theatrical play it is, which might explain why director Roy London never helmed another feature. Since voice-over of the lead character's inner thoughts are a crucial part of the story/plot Forest Whitaker is miscast as a hitman with a crisis of conscience. Good (Sherilyn Fenn, Seymour Cassel, Sharon Stone) and bad actors (James Belushi) go through the early 90's indie flick motions, but this 90 min. feature feels twice as long and nowhere near as interesting as its title suggests. Pass.

    TERROR TRAIN (1980) is better than "Prom Night" in building Jamie Lee Curtis' reputation as a scream queen. A strong lead (Ben Johnson), an ace cinematographer (John Alcott), a cool premise (college students in a train stalked by a revenge-minded murderer) and eye-catching guest performers (a young David Copperfield at the height of his youthful cockiness) go a long way to impress. The killer and his/her motive will be either love/hate, but the intensity with which he/she chases after JLC really sells the "terror" in "Terror Train." Worth seeing.