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"All of us will disappear, I'm sure of it."
The one thing I will grant the picture is that it's a unique and strange visual experience. It starts out interestingly enough in a creatively stylized manner, but then gets too clever by half, much too gimmicky, and ultimately incoherent as the story progresses. Well, maybe not incoherent entirely, because you can follow the story well enough, as a group of Japanese teenage girls falls victim to a demonic house in the countryside of Satoyama Village.
In checking the credits page, it appears that the version I caught on Turner Classics changed the name of all the principal characters, so that the main character named 'Angel' on the IMDb title page became 'Gorgeous' in the film I saw. In no particular order, the remaining six girls went by the names of Fantasy, Sweet, Mac, Kung-Fu, Prof and Melody. Their English names in general referenced a character trait, so that 'Melody' was accomplished as a musician, and 'Kung-Fu' was a martial artist. Even the cat's name was changed, another reviewer called it 'Snowflake', while in the story I watched it had the very non-Japanese name of 'Blanche' - how they came up with that one I'll never know.
Although it seems that the director's take on this movie was to produce something resembling horror, there's just too much goofy stuff occurring that takes the horror element right out of it. I'll refer to just two of the deaths in the story - one by a piano eating Melody (how appropriate!), the other involving Kung-Fu getting chomped by a ceiling light. After a while, one's interest in the story wanes because it's all just a bit too bizarre.
As for the main protagonist, Angel/Gorgeous winds up being 'consumed' by the Auntie the girls originally intended to visit. Gorgeous was upset that her widowed father was going to remarry after eight years, so a change in vacation plans brought Gorgeous and her friends to Auntie's home in the country. In an effort to make friends with Gorgeous, the fiancé Ryoko Ema set out for Auntie's home, and upon arriving, the picture somehow totally disconnects from the comic/horror element, dissolving to a message about how the 'spirit of love can live forever'. Maybe it all had to do with the translation, but whatever it was, any message the director was attempting to convey was simply lost on this viewer. And I don't get lost too easily.
"Charles, the world is not the same as it was."
This was an unusual comic book based story in as much as we get to see popular characters grow old, feel useless, and watch the world pass them by, seemingly with no purpose or logic. So when Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) dies, it just feels wrong considering his importance to the Marvel universe. Then, with the passing of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) himself, I didn't know what to think. The scene didn't leave room for any other interpretation, or some logical way for the character to be resurrected for future consideration, unless one were to have a retrospective story.
Leading up to those events though, you had your classic Wolvie battle scenes against a host of formidable Reavers led by a relentless guy named Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). The new kid Laura (Dafne Keen) played her role like she was made for the part, and I have to admit, she creeped me out with her feral look and the way she skulked around the early part of the story. When she first spoke though, her voice had a sharp juxtaposition to her otherwise stoic character, almost sounding as if she were dubbed. I guess I expected a deeper voice for the new mutant.
In accord with the somber mood of the story, I missed seeing Marvel comic creator Stan Lee in a cameo appearance, and the absence of an after credits scene was a downer. But then again, it seemed the movie was about endings and not new beginnings. The X-Men tribute at the finale was creatively done, but I'd rather that the story had left things on a more positive note.
Wait Until Dark (1967)
"Do I have to be the world's champion blind lady?"
A clever screenplay and a tight plot deliver a neat psychological thriller, with Audrey Hepburn portraying a blind woman who's the target of a vicious criminal intent on retrieving some heroin hidden in a doll her husband received in an unintended hand-off at the airport. Whew! It sounds complicated but it's really not once the story gets going. This one will keep you fascinated with it's subtle twists with the characters, resulting in a convincing climax as the handicapped woman wins out against her tormentors.
One thing I thought the writers were going for though resulted in no follow through. At one point, crooked cop Talman (Richard Crenna) makes a slow, deliberate call to the phone booth outside Susy Hendrix's apartment, and the attentive viewer will figure she's counting the dial clicks to realize it's the same number he gives her for his police contact. That seemed a wasted moment for me, since Susy was so resourceful in every other respect. Another point, when Susy prepares for her showdown with Roat (Alan Arkin), she eliminates all the light sources in her apartment, but the ones she simply unscrews by hand would have burned her without protection, so that seemed like an unforced error in the story.
So the picture is a half century old as I write this, and if you need to be convinced such a thing as inflation exists, how about Talman asking for two hundred fifty bucks up front for him and partner Carlino (Jack Weston) to fall in with Roat? What! - mere chickenfeed today for the enterprising criminal. And then, when neighbor Gloria shows up at the apartment with two full bags of groceries for five bucks, I knew we were still in the Twilight Zone era.
For all that, the picture still delivers pretty well in the suspense department, and the coup de grace in the script occurred when Gloria made her two-ring telephone signal to Susy that second time, and she realized the outside phone booth connected Talman with Roat. Still, I had to wonder when it was all over if it was really worth it for Roat to kill three victims for those few bags of heroin he pulled out of the doll. I'm not up on my drug prices, but it didn't seem like there was that much there for him to get so intense about. Even so, Arkin was convincing in his role, all three of them if you count the impersonations, but then again, why go through all that for a blind lady?
Uchû daikaijû Girara (1967)
"The cosmic ray belt is especially wide this time."
This happens to be one of those pictures where the good and the bad reviews both sound about the same, and everyone winds up considering it a blast. You can put me in the same category, who wouldn't have a good time picking this thing apart for it's cheesy monster, cheesy model toy tanks and airplanes, and cheesy actors playing it straight and wondering how they'll make it through the whole thing.
Even so, I've come up with a couple of observations that might be worth mentioning. Anyone else notice how the original male astronauts of spaceship AAB-Gamma were introduced by their last names - Captain Sano, medical doctor Shioda and signal officer Miyamoto? But then, the space biologist on the mission was introduced as Lisa! I'm not into the whole feminism thing but that was a pretty significant slight to an important member of the team. Speaking of which, I couldn't help thinking while watching Peggy Neal in the role, that she could have been a stand-in for Angie Dickinson in a bigger budget flick.
The other thing I noticed was that business of the 'guilala' spore burning through the table and floor and eventually into the earth before wrecking the space station, while the science folks were partying it up at Dr. Berman's (Franz Gruber). I hate to think this is where the writers for the 'Aliens' franchise got the idea for their monster, but it makes you wonder.
But when it comes to the monster itself, oh baby!, stand by for what's probably the goofiest looking Godzilla knock-off in the annals of Japanese monster movies. Every time it set down it's rubbery feet on an unsuspecting mechanical victim, I had to laugh - there was no way to control their floppy motion. The bonus had to be those fiery spitball blasts at the attacking war planes, unless of course, one considers the monster ability to absorb itself into a red ball of energy and float around from city to city on it's path of destruction.
Well, with embarrassingly hokey special effects and laughably ridiculous science, this has to be one of the all time, campy sci-fi greats, even if I'd never heard of it before catching it on Turner Classics the other day. You know, as I sit here and think about it now, the scientists involved here never did get around to discovering the mystery of the UFO that popped up every now and then. Not that I would have expected them to, when they couldn't even come up with a decent title to describe the 'X' from outer space.
Maximum Risk (1996)
"What you find here could be ugly."
I go into Van Damme and Seagal films for the martial arts mayhem and there didn't seem to be much of that in this picture. Plenty of everything else though - car chases, a shootout at a Turkish bath, and Natasha Henstridge looking as fine as she did in the prior year's "Species" movie. The big bruiser Russian (Stefanos Miltsakakis) was a formidable foe for Alain Moreau (Van Damme) and didn't look like he could have ever been beaten in close-in fighting; he had to outweigh Alain by at least fifty pounds, probably more. Filled with nasty bad guys on both sides of the pond, it makes you wonder if our own FBI agents would ever get involved with the Russian mob. At one time I would have said no way, but after recent escapades within the agency I wouldn't doubt it could happen. Besides all the incredible and mind boggling punishment Alain goes through, I just had to shake my head at how easily he zipped through the French bank's set of protocol questions to get to his brother's safe deposit box. I guess Mikhail wasn't very creative. Too bad about the New York City cab driver, I got used to him doing his run at the mouth gimmick. I would have read his book too.
Ulzana's Raid (1972)
"The problem with fighting Apaches is predicting what they'll do next."
I wasn't expecting much from this Western, but I tell you what, it turned out to be a compelling and well written psychological study of two factions attempting to outdo each other in a harsh desert landscape with death a very real possibility for participants of both sides. The story follows a small Cavalry unit dispatched to capture and subdue a raiding war party led by the Apache Ulzana (Joaquin Martinez), whose band escaped from the San Carlos Reservation with stolen horses, and are now spreading death and destruction across the Arizona border landscape.
For those of humanistic persuasion, the film places young Lieutenant Harry DeBuin (he's listed in the credits as Garnett, but that name was never mentioned in the story) in charge of the cavalry soldiers, intent on doing his professional duty, but all the while pondering the nature of Apache savagery and how one group of humans can be so vicious in dealing with another. I've read viewer comments stating that this theme makes an allegorical statement about the Vietnam War, but it seems the argument can be made in the present day in discussing radical terrorism and the atrocities of an entity like ISIS. Assigning some non-existent motivation to extremists removed from their very nature does a disservice to those who find themselves in opposition. When it's kill or be killed, it seems like all bets would be off.
For me, the most intriguing character in the story turned out to be the cavalry scout Ke-Ni-Tay (Jorge Luke), who's discourse on power and how the Apache regards it, allows DeBuin to reevaluate his notions about the Indian way of fighting. Ke-Ni-Tay's advice is further reinforced by civilian guide McIntosh (Lancaster), who chides the young officer with - "You'd be well advised to stop hating and start thinking, Lieutenant, because you ain't doin' too well up to now."
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the story lies in the resolution, with Ke-Ni-Tay in the position of facing a final showdown with the Apache rival Ulzana. It's not an ending I expected in the tradition of your tried and true Western formulas, an outcome that could have gone either way depending on skill and circumstance combined. However in the movie version I saw on the Encore Western Channel, a scene described by reviewer 'documain-1' on this board which concerns the death of Ulzana's son wasn't part of my viewing. In fact, the writer makes note of many such discrepancies that undeniably affect one's understanding of the story as it unfolds, thereby recommending I add my name to the list of those seeking out a director's cut of the movie.
Kong: Skull Island (2017)
"What imaginary monster are you hunting this time?"
Well I'm a big monkey movie fan from way back, having seen the original "King Kong" when I was about nine years old, and even then the picture was already almost three decades old. One might argue that yet another iteration of the mighty Kong is rather unnecessary, but for all that, I was on board to see this flick to see what the latest in story line and technical achievement would bring to the table. I'd have to say I walked away fairly impressed with the epic monster battles the picture had to offer. The technology available today certainly blows away the stop motion photography of the 1930's and adds a dimension of realism that couldn't be captured even a couple decades ago.
Set in the same universe as the 2014 "Godzilla" movie, I was gratified to see that we didn't have to wait around a long time to have Kong show up for his first appearance. It's only a few minutes into the set up of the story when we get our first glimpse of the giant gorilla, and from there things set up for a pretty fast pace once the investigation team makes it's initial foray on Skull Island. I can't say that the action of the military crew against Kong was handled very realistically, but after all, movies about huge apes aren't going to be grounded in reality much anyway. The treat here is in the over the top action sequences, like Kong engaging in hand to helicopter combat, satisfying one's expectation for visceral thrills coming at you non-stop.
With an ensemble cast, I didn't get much of a sense that there was one main star here required to carry the picture for the humans. Some of them, like the John Goodman character, came to an unexpectedly quick demise, as the movie gradually revealed an array of fabled prehistoric creatures in battle against the landing party and Kong himself. I don't know that 'skullcrawler' was the best name they could have come up with for those ancient looking giant lizards; the most creative one was probably the walking tree trunk that came to life when one of the explorers gave it a reason to get up and take a stroll. It was clunky looking, but pretty cool at the same time.
A major departure from the original "King Kong" and it's subsequent remakes was the absence of a Kong/leading lady dynamic. It was teased to some degree with Kong's saving Brie Larson's character from drowning, but the story line didn't take it in the same direction as prior films did. Nor did the story rely on capturing Kong to show him off as some huge sideshow attraction back in the civilized world. Those elements benefited the story in as much as there will be plenty enough time for Kong to make his mark when he takes on Godzilla on the big screen in a couple more years.
So basically, just go for the gusto with this flick. It's positioned to provide an adrenaline rush for fans of great monster action and outstanding visual effects, enhanced by colorful cinematography in the lush and luxuriant backdrop of present day Hawaii and British Columbia simulating 1973 Vietnam. I'll be seeing it again, because let's face it, I'm just a sucker for these big ape extravaganzas.
Point Blank (1967)
"You're a very bad man, Walker, a very destructive man!"
After reading some of the negative reviews on this board, I'm compelled to warn future viewers that it's not recommended for those with attention deficit. There's a myriad of flashback sequences, some only seconds long, that take gangster Walker (Lee Marvin) back to an event that turned him into a veritable revenge machine. All over a ninety three grand payday that he was screwed out of after a partner double crossed him. Too bad, the hierarchy of 'The Organization' is about to experience some forced retirements.
Walker doles out punishment in unique fashion and the film itself has some artistically rendered violence, but even for 1967, I didn't find it to be all that ground breaking as the host of Turner Classics found it to be. "Bonnie and Clyde" came out the same year and that one had it's own fair share of grisly rub outs. The idea here was that Marvin's character was a loner depending only on himself; the back story of Walker having a wife who committed suicide didn't even seem particularly necessary for taking on the mob.
Angie Dickinson has a pretty thankless role as the sister of Walker's dead wife. She has a great scene pounding away on Walker's chest following the flight lesson he gives to former partner Mal Reese (John Vernon), going at it until she dropped from tiring herself out. The scene highlighted Walker's stoic nature in accepting virtually anything that came his way with principled self assurance. The guy was like a great white shark waiting out his enemies and circling his victims until dead in his sights.
The picture's slickest move had the the unnamed sniper hired by The Organization (James Sikking) taking out one of his own bosses when Walker sniffed out a set-up. How he knew that is one of the mysteries of the story, but then again, he was quite the intelligent guy under that cold exterior. One word of warning though, don't go with him on a test drive.
Absence of Malice (1981)
"Where did this story come from?"
From the vantage point of 2017 and the predominant theme of 'fake news' in the media, this movie is a perfect candidate to expose how a nothing story could blow up in a reporter's face and lead to the unintended consequence of someone committing suicide. After all, it's not so much if a story is true or not, but the seriousness of the charge that needs to be investigated. The whole thing made my blood boil when it was revealed that Teresa Perrone (Melinda Dillon) killed herself because she told the truth to reporter Megan Carter (Sally Field) and it wound up front page news. One has to wonder about the real life consequences inflicted by sleazy journalists just to get a scoop.
But at least Michael Gallagher (Paul Newman) gets his measure of revenge, if not complete vindication for just going about his business day to day, having the unfortunate circumstance of being related to a former mob boss. I thought it was pretty slick the way he said "Prove it" to sleazebag Assistant D.A. Rosen (Bob Balaban) who tried to corner him on a bribery charge. Wilford Brimley was great in that scene in a limited appearance as Assistant Attorney General Wells. You knew he would go the extra mile if he had to, to get the goods on someone, anyone. Quinn (Don Hood) and Rosen both got what they deserved.
What didn't work for me in the story was the romantic angle played out between Gallagher and Carter. One could argue that Gallagher was stringing her along to find out who was running the scam investigation, but he didn't have to take her to bed to do it. The idea that they could get along as a couple bothered me the rest of the picture until of course, the whole thing blew up in the law office scene. That the film makers had to tease it again at the very end was a disservice to both characters, they should have left well enough alone.
One final thought as it relates to the Perrone suicide. It got me wondering what the Catholic Church's position is on performing a burial service for someone who killed themselves. Though the official position maintains that suicide is a mortal sin, thereby disqualifying a church service, there is a degree of leniency in the Catechism that states that "grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide" (CCC #2282). I had a sense that that might be the case, but I never ran across a situation like that myself. I always find it interesting when a movie sends me off to research something that came up in the story line like that. Now I know.
The BFG (2016)
"Dreams is actually very mysterious things."
I'm surprised at the low score and quite a few negative comments about the movie from the reviewers at IMDb. Personally, I go for the whimsical, so stories like "Alice in Wonderland" and "Big Fish" hold a kind of fascination for me, whether it be the written word or in a picture like this. The inventive language used is quite clever, odd enough to sound weird, but close enough to the English words that are represented to make it sound credible from the mouth of a twenty four foot giant. One of the surprises in the story (since I haven't read the source book), had to do with the fact that 'Runt', the BFG, was actually small by comparison to the other denizens of the Giant Country.
Watching the movie with my eight year old granddaughter, I've never seen her laugh so hard or so long as when the three canine pets of The Queen (Penelope Wilton) did their double take upon drinking the frobscottle, sending them into a tizzy of whizzpoppers. It made me stop and reflect on a common element seen in almost every kids movie these days, a reference to passing gas that seems like a prerequisite of the script. Most of the time it feels like a juvenile attempt at a cheap joke, but here it was actually comical to see and I had a good chuckle myself.
For my part, I got the biggest kick out of The Queen calling Nancy and Ronnie to inform them of the latest turn of events. So it made sense when I looked up some information on the actual novel, written in 1982, just a couple of years into the Reagan administration. I thought that was a clever tribute to the President and his wife in the picture. I'll have to check out the Roald Dahl book to see if it's mentioned there.
The one drawback to the movie to my mind has to do with the unfortunate choice of title. When trailers for the film first came out I couldn't help but wince at the unintended connotation the name suggests. I don't have a particularly dirty mind, but it's hard to miss. I only mentioned it once to somebody and they immediately knew what I was talking about. So I think if they used "The Big Friendly Giant" as the title of the movie, it would have worked a whole lot better.
Well, be that as it may, I had some fun with this picture, watching it a second time to pick up once again on the nuance of Runt's colloquialisms, stuff like 'bozzwinkles' and 'phizzwizard', all of which adds a charm and colorful character to the story. The young actress Ruby Barnhill seemed just right for the part of Sophie, developing a warm and special relationship with her new giant friend. When she states at one point "It's just all rather hard to believe", it becomes an invitation to the viewer to continue on a magical journey made special for the kid in all of us.