Saturday, 20 November 2010

Return To Savage Beach

Title: Return to Savage Beach
Director: Andy Sidaris
Released: 1998
Staring: Julie Strain, Rodrigo Obregón, Julie K. Smith, Shae Marks, Marcus Bagwell, Cristian Letelier, Carrie Westcott, Paul Logan, Gerald Okamura, Kevin Eastman, Ava Cadell

Rating: 3 / 5

Plot: When the ladies of L.E.T.H.A.L. (Legion to Ensure Total Harmony and Law) recover a stolen computer disk containing the location of a hidden treasure trove, it’s a race against time to find it before the evil Rodrigo Martinez (Obregón) and his ninja henchmen do.

Return to Savage Beach
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Review: Honestly this is the kind of movie I tend to avoid reviewing, largly because of being the kind of person who gets embarrassed by my neighbours kid, loudly announcing that she wears a bra, so who really knows how writing about a film which is essentially sleazy trash will go, but then I guess the enjoyment of this film is pretty the same as that which comes with equally guilty pleasures such as “Baywatch” and the majority of Russ Meyer's movies, who coincidently is the one director who Sidaris certainly has the most in common with, for as Meyer's had a very obvious obsession with large breasted ladies, Sidaris has with “Playmate centrefolds” and “Penthouse Pets”, who he casted in his “Triple B” movies AKA “Bullets, Bombs and Babes”, a series of B-movies he made with his wife Arlene serving as his production partner and of which this would be the last of the series, while Sidaris was also renown for pioneering what he called “The Honey Shot”, were the camera cuts to close up shots of cheerleaders and pretty girls in the crowd, during his work as a director of sports coverage.

So to to this film, which as to be expected for a film featuring a bunch of centrefold models and other random B-movie actors, the plotting really is nothing to really write home about, especially as it’s pretty much none existent with the few scraps of actual plotting, are padded out with a mixture of overblown action sequences, gratuitous nudity and the occasional spattering of softcore sex scenes, which honestly will either spell out fun times, or will just confirm with those few plot elements, that this isn’t the movie for you. Now if you liked what you just read then there really is some cheesy fun to be had with this movie, which although it won’t be winning any awards it’s still a fun ride with a definite early 90’s / late 80’s vibe to it, which made it all the more surprising to find out how recent it actually was released.

Despite the limited budget, the cast all appear to be having fun playing secret agent, as the girls run around in a variety of skimpy outfits and on occasion nothing at all, while the two sole male members of the team Doc (Logan) and J. (Letelier) essentially do the male equivalent, as they seem to frequently misplace their shirts or go with the open shirt look, proving I guess in a way that Sidaris is an equal opportunities kind of director, with Letelier even sporting a comical looking medallion, which is never a good look anyway. Logan who can be found more recently featuring in various films being churned out by “The Asylum” such as “Mega Pirahna” (2010) and here once again is on top B-movie action hero form, really pulling off the fight sequences convincingly, while possibly being the best actor of the bunch as he puts on his typical gruff exterior, while generally kicking a fair amount of ass, while the ladies generally give the kind of performance that would not look out of place on an episode of Baywatch, which this whole film is essentially an extended episode of, just with more nudity and explosions. Still to many of the cast together in the same scene and their mediocre acting skills become painful obvious, as the laughable attempt at a tense bomb deactivation truly highlights

Backing up this elite crime fighting force is a colourful bunch of supporting characters including Sexologist and informant Ava (Cadell), who uses her innuendo laden horoscopes to guide the agents in the field, making her a kind of sexed up version of the D.J in “The Warriors (1979), while also being assisted by Harry the cat who is bizarrely enough played by Kevin Eastman, who is probably better known for being one half the creative team, behind the cash cow which was “Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles”, though really no idea how he ended up in this movie. To add further to this random cast of characters we also have the former wrestling crime boss Warrior, played here by ex WCW wrestler Marcus “Buff” Bagwell, aswell as Fu (Okamura) who looks like a Martial arts mentor and serves only to show off some kung fu skills and provide the setup for Willow’s (Strain) trademark “Book em Fu!” quote.

Obregón who is on bad guy duties here, as what only be assumed is supposed to be a columbian drug lord, is in many ways Sidaris’s version of Rami’s Bruce Campbell, especially seeing how he appears in nearly all of Sidaris’s films and here, spends the movie wearing a phantom of the opera style mask, while also having an army of Ninja’s (well three atleast) for no discernable reason it would seem other than he can, yet it is also never explained why they also have more of a tendency to use guns, than anything really resembling ninjitsu skill, with the exception of one fight in which they attempt to show off some kung fu skills, which predictably enough ends badly, much like any bad guy who is stupid enough to stand next to anything remotely explosive, as they are ultimately guaranteed to die via explosion, or rather their badly stuffed dummy version is anyway. Still when it came to the big final showdown, I was hardly expecting the Scooby doo ending which essentially get here, which confused me enough, until the end credits began to roll, to actually realise that I never got the big showdown, but instead the got not only a Scooby doo ending, but also the super happy ending aswell, which certainly if anything makes this film quite original for actually trying to pull something so ballsy off.

The action scenes are all pretty entertaining to watch and rise above the B-movie budget that Sedaris is working with, as he also manages to craft a few great original moments, including a couple involving the creative use of an exploding RC car, which although telegraphed from a mile off, still prove entertaining to watch, with Sedaris milking his explosions with the heavy use of slo-mo, which thankfully he avoids putting into any of the fight scenes, avoiding one of the common pitfalls numerous Action B-movies tend to fall into, believing that it adds to the action, when essentially it usually only takes away from it.

It’s hard to really recommend it, other than perhaps a cheap thrill as the gratuitous nudity and soft core sex scenes, limit it’s audience to those seeking the aforementioned cheap thrills and those of you who hunt out films of these standard purely for their humorous value, so if any of what I’ve mention throughout this review holds any kind of appeal give it a burn, otherwise you might want to just this film in a more literal way.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Zack Snyder Gives Us A "Sucker Punch"

Zack Snyder really has come a long way, from being at the helm of one of the more controversial horror remakes of recent years, as he burst onto the scene with his remake of the George Romero classic "Dawn of the Dead" (2004), which proved to be surprisingly good, with Romero himself admitting to have also been impressed by the film. Since that debut he has frequently proved himself to be one of the most exciting directors currently working today and certainly one of my favourite directors, as he quickly proved his debut was no fluke as he not only pulled off the War Porn epic "300" (2006) but then also pulled off the seemingly impossible by finally bringing "Watchmen" (2009) to the screen, after it had served a lifetime in development hell.

Now following up from his Nazi owl movie aka. "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole" he is currently finishing off "Sucker Punch" which he is already teasing with, despite it's release date currently not due until March 2011, which sucks even more when it's safe to say the film looks absolutely stunning, as this latest trailer shows.

The plot follows a young girl called "Baby Doll" (Emily Browning), who is sent to a mental institution by her evil stepfather, she soon finds herself retreating into an alternative reality, as a way of coping with her situation, while envisioning a plan to escape.

This is the film I'm most excited about seeing at the moment, since first stumbling upon the trailer and amazing promo art, which you can enjoy below, but already this film has all the makings of a must see, especially as Snyder seems set to take us on a Tarantino style genre mash up, as he well and truly lets his creativity run wild, as I think is pretty well illustrated with the trailer and personally I can't wait.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Voyage To The Planet of Prehistoric Women

Title: Voyage To The Planet of Prehistoric Women
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Released: 1968
Staring: Mamie Van Doren, Mary Marr, Paige Lee, Gennadi Vernov, Georgi Tajkh, Vladimir Yemelyanov

Rating: 2 / 5

Plot: Astronauts landing on Venus encounter dangerous exotic creatures and almost meet some sexy Venusian women who like to sunbathe in hip-hugging skin-tight pants and seashell bras.

Review: Sitting down to watch this film I would be lying if the synopsis (shown above) which showed on the TV guide, didn’t hold some appeal and honestly I wasn’t expecting anything much from this film, above it perhaps being a fun camp B-movie, only to find myself sadly disappointed in pretty much the same way I was after watching “Bride of the Gorilla” (1951). Okay that might be a little harsh, especially as it certainly wasn’t as bad as that film and this disappointment, seemed to stem mainly for how nothing really happens, with the film quickly boiling down a handful of interesting sequences, which are then sloppily edited together, though this could also largely stem from the fact that the film originally started out as the Russian sci-fi romp “Planeta Bur” (1962), only to be dubbed and edited for the American market, under the title “Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet” with additional footage of Basil Rathbone and Faith Domergue being inserted, in a similar way that footage of Raymond Blurr as an American reporter was inserted into the American release of “Godzilla” (1956) with Blurr bizarrely enough reprising this role (with added Psychic powers) in the hideous American cut of “The Return of Godzilla” (1984) released as “Godzilla 1985” (1985). The footage from “Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet” has now been edited into this film, removing the footage of Rathbone and Domergue and replacing it with footage of the scantily clad inhabitants of Venus, while Director Bogdanovich provides a running narration, portraying one of the cosmonauts, recollecting the whole adventure, while also throwing in footage from fellow space oddity “Nebo Zovyot” (1960) which also suffered some creative editing, as it was turned into “Battle Beyond The Sun” (1960) by then aspiring young director Francis Ford Coppola, working under the pseudonym “Thomas Colchart”. No doubt the borrowing of footage from this film, is yet another attempt to add some meat to the picture and maybe convince the audience that they are not just paying to see the same film, just now with added hot chicks.

The plot of this film it can safely be said is almost as skimpy as the actresses are dressed, with the Cosmonauts on a rescue mission to locate two of their missing comrades who have crashed onto the planet, encountering when they get there, a wide variety of strange alien life, however due to the film being a mismash of mixed footage they never actually meet the titular Prehistoric women (bummer), though seeing how they butcher anything that they come into contact with, it was probably for the best, seeing how intergalactic genocide, hardly spells out good times.

Still this film does feature some classic sci-fi design work, with the Cosmonaut suits having that great goldfish bowl design while their version of “Robbie the Robot” known simply as John, not only looking a lot more impressive than Robbie, but also proving handier, than just being able to source booze on obscure planets and providing general comic relief. The other noteworthy point about this team is their space car, which I’m yet to figure out how they managed the really convincing hover effects; no honestly it really has me stumped.

The Prehistoric women, who for some reason are never given an actual name don’t really contribute a great deal to the film, as they lounge around on the rocky beach, communicating telepathically with other, while occasionally pretending to be mermaids when Bogdanovich, feels the audience might be getting tired of watching them do the same thing, while their telepathic nature which seems to stretch soles to just communicating with each other, bizarrely enough actually works to the films advantage,even more so when you can see how these girls seems to find just doing the limited amount of tasks they are given challenging enough, without the added hassle of them trying to convincing read their lines. Still their main role it would seem is to react horrified to the actions of Cosmonauts who, unwittingly also manage to kill the pterodactyl type creature which they had been worshiping as a god, though again thanks to the footage mash up, they never actually do anything about this other than grumble about their god being killed, still by the end of the film you get the impression that these girls will pretty much worship anything, they find the slightest bit strange or unusual, making their religious views fluid to say the least.

The soundtrack is quite oddly haunting in this film, especially when combined with the fog covered landscapes, this mixture of choral and howling sounds also being highly reminiscent of the opening theme to “The Devil’s Rain” (1975), which made it only the more surprising to find it used in this film, as it almost feels like most of the footage shown here, that it has been lifted like from another film, yet for some reason it still works, providing the film with a mysterious atmosphere to the film, however at times it does feel kind of intrusive and left me wanting to hear something a little more orchestral, especially during the slight spattering of dramatic moments, which the film has.

The Cosmonaut adventures are fun times even if the added footage just prove to largely distracting throughout, but when these guys are left to get one with encountering strange creatures and exploring the planet, it is largely fun stuff even if their intergalactic diplomacy leave a lot to desired, seeing how they kill anything that they encounter, rather than trying to find out anything about this planet. Still cut away all the extra footage or better yet just watch “Planeta Bur” and it’s like a Saturday morning serial, so I guess it’s the combination of footage from so many places, which left me feeling so disconnected with this film, aswell as the fact it truly feels that it would be more at home, in a double feature as the warm up film ideally followed by one of Doug Mclure’s better films like “Warlords of Atlantis” (1978) or “At the Earths Core (1976), which I guess is probably the best way of watching it, as to watch it one its own, will certainly leave you feeling like something’s missing.

Friday, 5 November 2010

G Is For Godzilla

Title: Godzilla
Director: Ishirô Honda
Released: 1954
Staring: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kôchi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura, Fuyuki Murakami, Haruo Nakajima

Plot: After several ships sink mysteriously, the authorities first believe this to have been caused by underwater volcanoes or unexploded mines. Soon however it is noticed that the attacks are all close to Oda Island whose inhabitants believe the attacks to have been caused by a mythical creature known to them as “Godzilla” (Nakajima). After the creature comes ashore a team consisting of palaeontologist Professor Yemani (Shimura), his daughter Emiko (Kôchi), the brilliant scientist Doctor Serizawa (Hirata) and Navy diver Hideto (Takarada) who is also involved with Emiko despite her being betrothed to Doctor Serizawa. Soon however the team discover the monster has set a course for Japan and must be stopped at all costs.

Review: I knew right from the start when I set down to compile the list of the films, which would make up this alphabetical jaunt through Asian cinema, that Godzilla would certainly appear at some point and not only were the Godzilla films, responsible for sparking my love affair with Asian cinema, but also as I now sit down to write this latest entry “The Big G” is currently celebrating his 56th birthday, with his popularity having never seemingly waned over the years since he took his first stroll through Tokyo, with Director Ryûhei Kitamura (Versus [2000]), who directed the final Godzilla film “Godzilla: Final Wars” (2004) describing the honour of directing a Godzilla film, to be equal to a British director being asked to direct a James Bond movie, which might seem surprising especially when the general opinion of the Godzilla films, is that they are camp cheesy fun in which giant creatures engage in monster sized smack downs while destroying most of Tokyo in the process, something which certainly became the norm for the majority of the film in the series and certainly a far cry from the sober and occasionally harrowing view of Japan reacting to an attack by a giant monster, which this first film essentially is though if I was going to feature any film from the saga in this list, I knew that the original film would definitely be the one which would be making the list.

It almost seems accidental that “Godzilla” was even made, especially seeing how Producer and "Godzilla Father" Tomoyuki Tanaka, had originally planned a film based on the true life story of a Japanese fishing boat that had become contaminated after sailing into American Nuclear testing waters and only making this film after he was forced to cancel that project. Still this film still contains several ideas, which were carried across and which can be seen mainly in the opening scenes in which we see a fishing boat catch on fire and sink, while a white light glows below. meanwhile the design for Godzilla drew heavily inspiration from “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953), even though before the final iconic design was chosen, he was also envisioned as being both a giant octopus aswell as a cross between a whale and a gorilla, ideas which were thankfully scrapped, even though special effects artist and fellow “Godzilla Father” (the other two Godzilla fathers being Director Honda and composer Akira Ifukube) Eiji Tsuburaya would get to use his giant octopus design in later Toho productions, which was affectionately named Oodako and who can be seen in both “King Kong Vs. Godzilla” (1962) and “Baragon Vs. Frankenstein” (1965), while also narrowly missing out on being featured in “Godzilla: Final Wars” (2004) alongside numerous memorable monsters, which had populated the series including bizarrely enough the American Godzilla.

Opening with the raw first attempt of a roar for Godzilla, it is truly a goosebumps moment especially when it is followed quickly by the opening strains of Ifukube’s now legendary “Godzilla March”, before throwing us head first into the action, as we are barely into the film before ships are mysteriously sinking and chaos is erupting the screen, while being denied even a glimpse of the monster, which surprisingly Honda doesn’t keep hidden till the end, showing us the monster pretty early on, but saving all his full length shots till the rampage sequence, which is an interesting move and all the more surprisingly pays off. Still director Honda really proves to be the man responsible for Godzilla spawning such a legacy, as he shoots the film with a serious tone, rather than just creating another fun camp monster film, carefully planning his shots as he keeps the shoots the footage of Godzilla to low shots to help emphasis Godzilla’s size, while showing also showing the Tokyo rampage as being full of confusion and chaos as Tokyo burns, with these scenes also including a particularly harrowing scene of a widow holding her children close to her, while rubble rains down around them and only driving home the sense of destruction further with footage of mass choral chanting from schoolchild praying for the souls of the city residents and field hospitals attending to the masses of injured which is something which would certainly not be seen in later films and which unlike the Collateral Damage loving “Gamera” movies, would even go as far as to show footage of the Tokyo citizens escaping to special monster proof underground bunkers. Honda would continue this respectful way of introducing the Toho monsters, when it came to the debuts of “Mothra” (1961) and “Rodan” (1956), which certainly not as dark in tone as this film, still managed to capture the sheer size of these creations, being famously quoted as saying

"Monsters are born too tall, too strong, too heavy, that is their tragedy,"

These words alone would fully justify Honda's passion for giving each of the creation a personality, rather than letting them become just another monster on the rampage kinds of movie, even if like Godzilla, their later appearances would be on a much lighter note, it's also clear that Honda was not opposed to the films taking on a lighter tone, seeing how he would go on to direct a further eight entries in the series, with his final film as a director being "Terror of Mechagodzilla" (1975) which would also be the final film in the Showa era of films, which amount to over half of the total Godzilla movies made.

Despite “Godzilla” having the titular role, he really is pushed to the background for the majority of the film, much like the shark in "Jaws" (1975) as Honda like Spielberg instead chooses to create a more character driven film, as the authorities argue between themselves as they attempt to find the best way of protecting Tokyo from this new dangerous threat, with the most interesting of these characters being the tormented eye patch wearing scientist Serizawa, who having created the oxygen destroyer is now racked with guilt over it’s creation, knowing how easily it could be used as a weapon of mass destruction, refusing to revel it’s existence even though it is the one weapon that could stop Godzilla. Surprisingly the lack of city stomping action does not take away from the film and although the roles would be reversed in later films, as the stories became more far fetched and the focus shifted from the cast, who would usually be caught up in some increasingly random situation, usually involving aliens of some description, while audiences turned out to see the latest monster smack down, with the films generally taking on a lighter tone.

“Godzilla” is still without a doubt still an important film, for not only the sequels it spawned, or the imitators which followed in it’s wake, but for proving that you could infact make a giant monster movie and keep a serious tone and although I love the more campy entries, this film still stands as a fantastic piece of cinema, which far exceeds the expectations of what a giant monster movie could be.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

F Is For Fulltime Killer

Title: Fulltime Killer
Director: Johnnie To, Ka-Fai Wai
Released: 2003
Staring: Andy Lau, Takashi Sorimachi, Simon Yam, Kelly Lin, Cherrie Ying, Suet Lam

Plot: O (Sorimachi) for many years has been the number one Assassin, living an isolated life and caring only for his work. However his life is soon thrown into turmoil by the appearance of the flamboyant Tok (Lau), who is keen to take O’s place as the number one assassin.

Review: After the watching the subtle “Election”, it’s hard to really imagine that the same director, could also have directed this film, which is essentially the polar opposite with Director To teaming up with Wai to create a very traditional Hong Kong style action movie, meaning that countless rounds are fired without a single reload taking place, while every attempt is being made to emphasise the action taking place, as bullet holes create huge crimson splatters and even kneecaps explode in one glorious bullet strewn ballet of violence, while also in many ways coming across as almost like an homage to Hollywood action movies, with the numerous nods it contains, including an extremely obvious one to “Point Break” (1991) during one of Tok’s showboating styled assassinations, yet at the same time it still retains the charm and style of an Hong Kong action film, which at the same time it bares so many of the trademarks of, especially the more overblown the action scenes become.

Complete opposites of each other the two assassins are each interesting to watch as they go about their chosen career, with O the unanimous king of killers going about his work with a cold disregard for human life, as especially highlighted during the opening sequence when he is forced to kill an old school friend, after they witness him carrying out a hit, which he calmly disregards any feelings of guilt, seeing it as just another aspect of his work, while only truly showing any emotion, when it comes to his ongoing obsession with his housekeeper Chin (Lin) whose friend was O’s previous housekeeper, whom he'd failed to save after she was caught up in a murder plot against O, somthing which continues to haunt him as he now lives in minimalist apartment across from what he potrays to be his real apartment, spending his evening spying on Chin as she carries out her housekeeping chores.
Meanwhile Tok on the other hand gets much more of a kick out his work, drawing inspiration for his hits from the action movies he adores, while also dropping constant references in the conversations he has, including comparing Chin to Emu from “Crying Freeman” (1988), which is honestly a pretty accurate description, seeing how she is the typical good girl attracted to the mysterious bad man, as Tok charms her while questionably hanging around the video store she works in wearing a variety of rubber president masks, yet for some unexplained reason this random seduction technique pays off, rather than her doing the more rationale and realistic thing of calling the cops on his wacky ass. Still Lau certainly seems to have fun playing a more theatrical character than he usually associated with playing, sporting a red leather jacket and a manical grin as he carries out his movie inspired hits, all while caring little for anything resembling subtlty.

Meanwhile on the side of the so called good guys we have the Interpol Agent Lee (Yam), who has become obsessed with capturing the two assassins, which only grows the more intense the rivalry between O and Tok becomes, yet the questionable shift in focus onto his character towards the end is slightly questionable, though Yam is still on great form here, for what is essentially a supporting role to add some sense of morality to proceedings and generally fill in the gaps to O and Tok’s personal histories, in particular highlighting an unusual weakness in Tok who suffers from epilepsy and something that To uses to great effect during several key sequences and certainly brings something original to the film, much like the action sequences which are all exciting and visually stunning to watch, which each one seemingly aiming to top the last as it builds to the climatic firework factory showdown.

While it might come off as all flash and little character development, it still makes for a fun time, with the only characterisation really proving filler for the next action scene, while characters are given enough depth to rise above being simple cut outs, while To avoids going into any real depth with any of his characters, preferring it would seem to focus more on the action and keeping the plot moving at a brisk pace, which might not sit with the more snobbish of movie goers and true the plot of assassin versus assassin and the woman that comes between them, has been seen numerous times before, but it still makes for a great companion piece to the other great films of John Woo and Ringo Lam, whose work this film rightfully deserve a place amongst.
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