Thursday, July 28, 2011

Episode #142: Chungking Confessions

Welcome to the GGtMC, your place for all things breakfast pastry and cereal bound!!!

This episode we go over two films in conjunction with, we cover Chungking Express (1994) from director Wong Kar-Wai and Confessions of a Dog (2006) from director Gen Takahashi.

We hope you enjoy and please leave us a review on iTunes!!!


Direct download: Chungking_ConfessionsRM.mp3

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The War In Space (1977)

Brotman's Rule has been attributed by Roger Ebert to Chicago movie exhibitor, Oscar Brotman. This movie "law" states that, "if nothing has happened by the end of the first reel, nothing is going to happen." While I'm sure both Jun Fukuda and the folks at Toho Studios had never even heard of Mr. Brotman, their film, The War in Space (aka Wakusei daisenso), adheres to his tenet like spaghetti to Shemp's face. The first act alone contains enough UFO attacks, explosions, gunfights, and window-breaking to please anyone. This is all, of course, a ploy to maintain a fast pace during an exposition-heavy start. It works.

In the far-off future of 1988, the Earth is besieged by evil, green-skinned aliens. Their UFOs (not really, they are clearly identified) fly sorties around the globe, blowing up cities like crazy. Meanwhile, Miyoshi (Kensaku Morita) has returned from America to the United Nations Special Defense Federation's Japan branch to find that his ex-girlfriend, Jun (Yûko Asano), has gotten engaged to his best friend, Muroi (Hiroshi Miyauchi). Amidst this drama, Jun's dad, Professor Takigawa (Ryô Ikebe), is ordered to resurrect and complete the abandoned "space defense unit", Gohten, a space-faring submarine with a giant drill at the bow and plenty of surprises under the hull. Joined by old teammate Jimmy (David Perin), the four blast-off with the crew of Gohten to fight the baddies in space.

By 1975, the first cycle of Godzilla films (known as the "Showa" series) had ended with Terror of Mechagodzilla. However, Tokusatsu (literally, "special filming") entertainment was still prevalent in Japan. While this style is usually identified with superheroes, like the "Super Sentai" series and the "Ultra" series, it also encompasses any film or television show that is heavy on special effects. In the wake of Star Wars, there was an avalanche of rip-offs from every corner of the globe. The War in Space capitalizes on the Lucas film in its marketing, and there are obvious riffs on the movie. The land rover has an "R2" antenna. There's a Death-Star-trench-assault-style scene towards the end. The film also borrows heavily from such shows as "Space Battleship Yamato" (aka "Star Blazers") and such films as 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, at its heart, and for all intents and purposes, Fukuda's film is a remake of Ishirô Honda's Atragon. But instead of repelling invaders from the ocean's depths, they're from the depths of outer space. Plus, the theme of Japanese nationalism is dropped in favor of an idealistic spirit of unity.

If you've ever seen a story about alien invasion made in Japan, you'll recognize the story here. Although not really original, it fits like an old pair of sweatpants and feels just as comfy. The acting is all melodramatic but not totally over the top. The editing is where you begin to get a sense that Fukuda's hand is at work. The aerial combat scenes are loaded with zooms, Dutch angles, and jump cuts. Fukuda seems to prefer this style to keep up his frenetic pacing, but there's never any confusion. His sense of spatial relationships is solid and key in crafting dynamic action scenes. Unfortunately, the finale comes off a bit flat, but this is due to the special effects. More precisely how they're shot. The effects work is well-done throughout the movie (I don't think I ever spotted a wire holding a model up), but the models at the climax don't display any sense of physics. Consequently, it feels more like playing with your G.I. Joes in the bathtub rather than a life-or-death dogfight.

The Japanese people have a fascination with combining old and new things in their fantasy worlds. Spaceships like Gohten and Yamato are designed after (and in the case of Yamato at least, actually employ) old military vehicles but with interstellar capabilities and futuristic weaponry. The evil aliens' flagship is based on a Roman galley, the "oars" actually rotating laser cannons. While we're at it, how do the Japanese seem to have a fully-functioning defense force for every eventuality from giant monsters (G-Force) to extraterrestrial marauders (the other G-Force)? It's as if a Godzilla-free day is the exception rather than the norm (thank you, MST3K).

Despite everything, it's the film's wildness that carries it through. Commander Hell's (William Ross) Roman galley spaceship comes complete with marble halls and pillars. Tell me, why would an advanced, alien civilization be based on Earth's ancient Roman Empire? Cause it looks good, is my guess, though the sets may have been extant from another production. However, only the aliens' leader dresses like a centurion. The soldiers of planet Meshie 13 dress similar to Louis Feuillade's "Fantômas" (black hoods, tunics, and pants). It must be said, dressing like medieval executioners goes a long way in projecting an aura of menace. The Gohten has a giant revolver cylinder that alternately shoots lasers and jet fighters (space jet fighters, of course). Also, the seemingly-useless drill bit at the ship's bow has a delightfully gonzo payoff at the film's end. Hell, they actually blow up one of the nine planets of our solar system (I still include Pluto, please and thank you). But what ultimately sold me on this film was the sight of a captive Jun in leather fetish gear struggling against the iron grip of...the Space Beast.

Now, I've always had an affection for hirsute monsters. Maybe it's because I'm bald. War of the Gargantuas is my favorite daikaiju movie. Sasquatch is my favorite member of the Canadian superhero team, Alpha Flight. You can see where I'm coming from. Here, the Space Beast (played by the appropriately-named Mammoth Suzuki) is our Chewbacca the Wookiee stand-in. He looks like the result of a Bionic Bigfoot, Chewie, and Minotaur love-in. With a giant battleaxe. The costume is cheap and saggy, but you can't (well, I can't) take your eyes off it. Tragically, the character has no discernible personality and is wholly underused. I still loved it.

My feeling has always been that Jun Fukuda has forever been compared unfavorably to Ishirô Honda. It's as if he's the second-tier Honda, and I feel that attitude is dismissive to his work as a filmmaker. His films (most famously, Godzilla vs. Megalon) are often unjustly maligned. The War in Space is, to be truthful, a derivative film, but it gleefully captures what legendary FX creator Eiji Tsubaraya called, "a sense of wonder." And that's something to be cherished and admired, in my estimation.

MVT: Teruyoshi Nakano's special effects are exceptionally well-done on what had to be a shoestring budget.

Make or Break: The "Make" is when Jun is first seen in captivity with the Space Beast. Two great tastes that taste great together.

Score: 7/10

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

DVD/Blu-Ray Picks Of The Week - 7/26/11

Samurai's Pick: BLUES BROTHERS (Region 1 Blu-Ray; Universal Studios)
It would be very predictable for me to pick Kurosawa's High and Low on Criterion Blu, it is a superior film. However, this is one of my favorite films from Landis, only behind American Werewolf in my adoration....GREAT stunts, GREAT comic timing between the leads...AWESOME musical buts and honoring the music that inspired the Blues Brother Princess Leia heavily armed with massive guns ( I mean actual guns) Totally worth the pick up....

Amazon Blu-Ray Review
High-Def Digest Review and Specs

Large William's Pick: HEARTBEATS (Region 1 DVD; IFC/MPI)
This week, I've decided to continue the love for the CanCon, and go with a film from one of Canada's brightest young talents, Xavier Dolan and his 2010 film Heartbeats(Les amours imaginaires). Dolan burst onto the scene at Cannes in 2009, with I Killed My Mother, and promptly picked up a hat trick of hardware on the French Riviera. His second film, Heartbeats made my to 25 last year, and harkens to the French New Wave, Wong Kar-Wai, Almodovar and several other cinematic guiding lights of our time. Check out this film, and don't let the synopsis fool you(the story of two friends who both fall in love with the same man). C'est magnifique!

au revoir,
Le Grande William

Amazon DVD

Saturday, July 23, 2011

New York Cop (1993)

Directed by: Toru Mukawara

After stopping a hip-hop mugger from robbing a pervert, a Japanese New York cop, Toshi (Toru Nakamura), receives a supposedly high-level assignment to infiltrate the illegal gun running circle overlorded by Italian mafioso Mr. C (Tony Sirico)and put an end to the recent killings of cops working undercover as vagrants. Captain Brodsky tabs Toshi as the best officer to pose as a homeless man based solely on his ethnicity, proudly affirming his brilliance by proclaiming that "no one will ever suspect a Japanese undercover cop!" If only Captain Brodsky wasn't a fictional character, we could have really used his expertise (and racism) in cracking those Jack the Ripper, Zodiac killer and Black Dahlia cases back in the day. Toshi seems to agree as he readily accepts the assignment and adamantly professes his martial arts training will keep him safe. Although, it's entirely possible Toshi didn't understand the words coming out of Brodsky's mouth. Toshi has the same constipated reaction when attempting to speak and comprehend English as I do when tackling trigonometry; a red-faced, sweat-dripping furrowed brow with pensively squinted eyes while muttering something indecipherable through clenched teeth.

Proving himself adept for this undercover work, Toshi hits the seedy streets in the best lookin' bum disguise I've ever seen; finely groomed peach fuzz, a super sheeny combed hairdo, a three-quarters length Men's Warehouse jacket, some polyester shirts and a Mentos white smile. Toshi looks like a metro-sexual interior designer. This homeless guise is so pathetic that a bunch of street toughs try to shake down Toshi for a few bills, to which he quickly hands over some crisp greenbacks right out of his pocket -- no money clip, no wallet -- looking as pristine as if steam-ironed five minutes ago. To me, this screams undercover cop. To the street thugs, not so much as they chase after Toshi, flailing their hands bombastically as though they're glory walkin' in an NWA rap video. In one of the worst fence-clming escapes ever put to celluloid, Toshi manages to narrowly escape into the car of a struggling artist named Maria (Mira Sorvino). There's no real reason why Maria opts to help Toshi out, but I can only assume that she has a soft-spot for recently mugged homeless dudes rocking business casual attire.

As Toshi and Maria bond over unintelligible accents, other undercover cops start getting picked off one-by-one as Mr. C sniffs them out and sics his laser-sighted gun wielding cab driving assassin after them. Yes, Mr. C employs a cab driver to carry out hits on undercover cops. And this assassin does the job, apparently, while on duty as he's always chasing them in his cab. I feel bad that cab drivers had it so rough in 1993 that they resorted to making ends meet by rubbing out cops. Trust me, I'll never look sideways at the fare per mile on vacation again.

Luckily, Toshi gets his opening to stop the killings when discovering that Maria's hard-ass biker-looking brother, Hawk (Chad McQueen), happens to be the head of a gun-running gang known as The Brotherhood. At first, Hawk despises Toshi for making the moves on his sister and generally assuming homeless people are worthless. However, Toshi easily overcomes Hawk's nay-saying by assertively telling him that he knows martial arts. Honestly, I had no idea that knowing martial arts was such a resume builder (if so I would've minored in Shudokhan in college), considering that through the course of the film that many a random thug sports karate from Mr. C's stringbean Italian goombas to Hawk's curly perm mulleted henchman. Granted, these martial artists throw some of the worst karate kicks in film history.

In order to forge a path to Mr. C, Toshi has to earn Hawk's trust by setting up deals and taking on some grunt work. The problem soon arises that Hawk's Brotherhood cronies somehow pick up on the possibility that Toshi may not be a crescent kick throwin' bum off the street. This places Toshi in high danger as he must carefully balance allegiances between his fellow officers, Hawk and his growing romance with Maria while simultaneously avoiding exposure en reoute to putting an end to Mr. C and this deadly cabbie's cop murdering ways.

Unfortunately, New York Cop is not bad movie fun despite numerous ludicrous elements highlighted in this review. As I suffered through the film and reflected upon it, it was hard to pinpoint why this isn't more entertainingly awful. If pressed, I would say it's a lack of commitment from the majority of the key contributors. In other words, they're phoning it in.

Mira Sorvino has never been worse, and she doesn't seem to care. I'm not suggesting that Sorvino is a great actress by any stretch, but she certainly has the most capability amongst the cast assembled to mine a decent performance from the weak material. She listlessly utters lines in an accent that I still cannot figure out; it sounds like an odd mix of Italian and Spanish, and sometimes vacillates between the two and then she throws in straight American for good measure. Sorvino treats her accent like an off-speed pro-baseball pitcher, showing us a lot of different pitches when all we really want is her fastball. I can picture the director crouched behind the camera flashing through two, three and four finger signals as she settles on a different verbal slant. I'd call her Greg Maddux, but there's no need to insult a hall of famer and give an impression that her work's at a comparable level. Let's go with Bob Tewksbury. Mira is the Bob Tewksbury of accents in this film.

The film further suffers by anchoring itself to Toru Nakamura as the leading man. Nakamura is a puzzling headliner choice. It's obvious from the get-go that Nakamura's not well-versed in English, concentrating so hard on line delivery that it permeates his character with a lack of confidence and stifles any penchant of charisma that may be hidden under the surface. The one dialogue snippet that Nakamura nails with bluster is "I know martial arts." Sadly, director Toru Murakawa never allows him to back this up, rarely allotting an opportunity for Nakamura to cut loose with an impressive exhibition of fighting skills that could have saved New York Cop. That said, it leaves one to question if perhaps Nakamura's martial arts background was not extensive and therefore unworthy of spotlighting. The most impressive combat comes from the hip-hop mugger at the film's opening, who unleashes a fiery pugilistic barrage of hooks and uppercuts on an unsuspecting and overmatched porn connoisseur like he's vying for the WBC Middleweight Championship. I wouldn't be surprised if Marvin Hagler was the mugger's on-set fight coordinator.

Murakawa helms the picture lazily with boxy compisitions and wide tableuas, which are presumably less a stylistic choice than one made to eliminate camera setups. This would be forgiveable if Murakawa emphasized the fun factor by relying on more action, campy performances or perhaps some intensified editing. Instead, he's content to simply capture the scene and move ahead. It's a film crapped out of the low budget movie assembly line. He wastes Tony Sirico. When Sirico appeared, my interest piqued in hopes that he'd channel his future work as Paulie Walnuts in The Sopranos. I can only dream of how entertaining a movie with the hilarious and maniacal Paulie Walnuts as the capo would've been. My excitement soon fizzeled, realizing that Sirico's screentime is limited because Murakawa would rather focus on Toshi's romance and boorish tension to remain covert.

Come on, Mr. Murakawa, you can't keep me giggling like an idiot for 90 minutes with a hitman who pursues his targets in a cab and an undercover cop posing as a bum that wears dry-cleaned threads from Nordstrom's Rack? Where's the scene of this cabbie assassin flipping his sign to "off duty" after gunning down another hobo-posing pig? Or how about a scene of extreme chance where Toshi hails a taxi that just so happens to be the same one driven by Mr. C's favorite laser-sighted fare-grasping stooge?

Make or Break scene - The scene that breaks the film is when Toshi encouters the street gang that tries to roll him. To this point, we're led to believe that Toshi doesn't need to carry a gun or weapon of any kind because his martial arts training is that strong. This is the moment of truth and Toshi fails miserably. In most low budget actioners, this would be the moment where Toshi pummels an onslaught of charging adversaries. After feebly defending himself, Toshi heads for the hills, opting to run for his life rather than stand his ground. Worse, Toshi's not given a chance to redeem himself later, not that any viewer would be apt to stick around for it.

MVT - Chad McQueen. He's the one exception amid the cast and filmmakers. McQueen solidly commits to his performance as Hawk, bringing ample energy to his part and much needed aggressiveness. It doesn't matter that I think McQueen probably should've portrayed Hawk as less of a biker and more of a Latino. He's offering something amid counterparts that serve up nothing. It's too bad that they didn't ditch the Asian cop angle and turned the film over to McQueen as the undercover cop (it'd fit the film's title better, too). If that choice was made, this film would have potential to be a fun-filled cheesy direct-to-video crime movie.

Score - 3.5/10

Friday, July 22, 2011

Hunters Of The Golden Cobra (1982)

During World War II in Asia, a British Intelligence officer (John Steiner) teams up with a roving adventurer (David Warbeck) to chase down an ancient relic called The Golden Cobra from the clutches of a jungle tribe. Along the way they face brawls, big trucks, aeroplanes, mountains, spiders, snakes and twin sisters who are not all they seem.

Directed by Antonio Margheriti this is an obvious lift from 'Raiders Of The Lost Ark' yet manages to be an entertaining little bugger all on its own. Margheriti, under his Dawson alias, is his usual expert craftsman, putting together a lean picture with good humour. solid set pieces and barely any fat to its ninety minute run time. He also throws in solid use of mi natures and models, most obvious is the plane chase at the beginning. It is well done though and isn't awful in the way that Leone's miniature train was in 'Duck You Sucker'. There's little gore apart from a gruesome death by blowdart to the eye. On the whole Marghetti wasn't much for excess and this rides that straight ahead action road, using much of the same comic adventure tone of the Speilberg movies.

Another great plus is the chemistry between John Steiner and David Warbeck. They throw cheeky lines back and forward at each other at a machine gun rate, it's like watching Roger Moore verbally spar with Edmund Blackadder. I only knew Steiner from his villain turn in 'A Man Called Blade' so I'll be checking out what else he has done, so good is his performance here. Warbeck is his always watchable self, a genuine warm screen presence, even when he's falling down a rock face covered in mud.

The action comes thick and fast. Apart from some clumsy fist fight editing, it's all full throttle adventure cinema. You can see the budget lacks a little to properly deliver sometimes but that is the essence of such 80s Italian cinema. My only niggles with this film are how John Steiner is absent towards the end and how the finale just lacks a little energy compared to the reckless energy of the rest of the movie.

MVT: Steiner and Warbeck with Antonio Margheriti's hands at the wheel. Without their chemistry, it would just be a straight ahead action flick instead of a lot of fun. It's obvious Margheriti knew what he had with them as he used them again in another Indian Jones type film I'll be checking out soon.

Make Or Break: Steiner and Warbeck squabbling in the cockpit (tehehehe) of a fighter plane near the start of the film. Comedy gold for an Italian film.

Score: 7/10 The version I saw was a laserdisc rip with Jap subtitles.

Electra Glide in Blue (1973)

When James William Guercio set out to direct his first film, a cynical character study of a small town bike cop who aspires to become a detective, little did he know that he the film's core message, that no matter how big the fish, sometimes the pond just swallows 'em all up, would become the epitaph of his short career as a film maker.

Robert Blake stars as John Wintergreen, the bike cop who discovers a suicide, and sees it as an opportunity to make a play for the gold badge. He butts heads at the scene with an incompetent coroner (Royal Dano), who quickly assesses that the scene is exactly what it seems: a suicide. Enter Mitchell Ryan as grandstanding detective Harve Poole, who takes Blake under his wing as his new driver and protege. It soon becomes clear that Ryan has merely pressganged Blake to serve as an audience to his ego.

When Electra Glide came out back in '73 it was denounced by the Hollywood establishment as fascist for its inverse Easy Rider dynamic of two police officers who are constantly shit on by society. This completely baffles me, as the film (while certainly poking fun of its surface level, with one scene exhibiting Blake firing off rounds into an Easy Rider poster) consistently levels healthy doses of criticism at the institution of police officers. It takes great care to offer several differing and often difficult perspectives to illustrate a sceptic tank water cycle of detectives shitting on street cops, of street cops shitting on hippies, and hippies returning the fecal favor. Everyone's on latrine duty in this film, and it offers no simple Dirty Harry kill 'em all solutions that might suggest a fascistic point of view.

One example of these varying perspectives in the film is the character of Zipper (Billy "Green" Bush), who plays the foil to Blake's Wintergreen character and his partner. Zipper chastises Wintergreen for aspiring for more, and relishes the simple pleasures of lounging on his bike while reading pulp comics and occasionally getting off on hassling hippies by planting drugs on them when the opportunity arises. The only thing Zipper sees himself in lack of is his dream bike, the titular Electra Glide in blue:

"...a stroker. About 1400 cc's worth, tucked into a '74 straight legged chrome frame kicked.  Sixteen-inch Ricon mag rear wheels. With a chrome sprocket, chrome chain, chrome spokes, a chrome tranny, a chrome puddy and eight-inch extended sportster fork with a chrome dog bone. TT pipes, brass rocker boxes, couple of quartz eyed dyed running lights, and a full Farron you can really get behind. Contoured seat, with a two-foot poor boy cissy bar. And no squawk box, but a telephone. And an AM/FM and an insulated cocktail bar in the left pocket."

One mis-step of the film is its inability to self-edit its appetite for overwrought solioquy; apexing in a scene where a drunken barmaid (Jeannine Riley) lugubriously laments her aborted acting career while sobbing and dancing around the bar. Still though, scenes like this do serve the thematic agenda of the film, and something tells me that if Guercio continued directing that he would have learned to diffuse the self-indulgent tendencies of his scripts.

Electra Glide in Blue remains an underappreciated classic of this chaotic and introspective era of American filmmaking, a victim to the us-against-them political climate of those years. I see it as the Ferguson-to-Clarissa weird little brother of Decade-Under-the-Influence classics like Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, and the Killing of a Chinese Bookie who trades those films' art-damaged French New Wave influences for disenchanted westerns like The Searchers and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

MVT: Toss-up between Robert Blake; whose understated performance stands in stark contrast to his unchecked character actor costars, and serves as the emotional core of the story, and cinematographer Conrad Hall, (Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) for whom Guercio gave up his director's salary to bring aboard the production - a sacrifice that paid in spades to the look and feel of the film. 

Make or Break: The haunting final shot that brings the story full circle and evokes Monument Valley as a terrfying maw, all full of jagged rock pinnacle teeth, yawning to consume the everyman.

Score: 7.5/10

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Brotherhood of Satan (1971) - A Review

At first glance, The Brotherhood of Satan appears to be nothing more than another B-movie trying to capitalize on the success of Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. The box art to the old VHS informs you that it’s all about got old people using children as part of a satanic ritual. So, why bother?

Well, take a closer look at the credits. It’s directed by Bernard McVeety, a director best known for his work on TV westerns including 52 episodes of Gunsmoke. Co-written and co-produced by: L.Q. Jones, an character actor who, up until this point was best known as one of the Sam Peckinpah Players, as well as having countless TV western credits to him name. In fact, McVeety directed Jones on an episode of The Big Valley. Not only that, but it also starts TV western and Peckinpah mainstay, Strother Martin who was featured in a number of high profile and well regarded movies during this period.

So, what exactly are these folks doing putting together a low budget film about Satanists? Well, the locale should tell you something. It’s set in the west, in the desert, in the middle of nowhere. While the story takes place in the ‘modern day’, the setting gives it the sense of isolation that we’ve seen in every western from High Noon to the stagecoach way station in The Tall T. In addition, Jones and Martin were ‘besties’, so I assume that Martin has just supporting a pal.

The concept in nothing unusual: a young family get stranded in a small town filled with mysterious, and less than friendly locals. Slowly we learn that people are somehow prevented from leaving town and that a good number of children have a gone missing.

Why are all of the children in town disappearing? Well, it is the incredibly selfish old people. Apparently, they can’t get enough of the good life, and want another go round. Somehow, the planned satanic ritual will transfer their souls into the bodies of these children. Sort of like Freaky Friday, but really freaky. It all ends in one of the nuttiest finales you’ll ever see on film. It’s a frenzied massacre that comes across as neo-psychedelic. In fact, there are some very avant-garde, artsy moment in this film, which seems strange coming from a TV director.

There are also some nice set pieces, most notably a scene in which someone is beheaded by a knight on horseback. WTF? The atmosphere is established well in certain scenes, especially the portrayal of heat, which gives the sense that this town is actually hell on Earth. The stuff involving the children is well down, as they are very, very creepy. So, what’s the downside? Well, it does drag a bit in the middle, as we wait for the third Act to get started. In addition, the power that is bringing this town to its knees is pretty ill-defined. In particular, one scene in which a doll with some form of telekinesis kills a husband and way is laughably melodramatic. The acting is all over the place, and particularly weak amongst the seniors in the cast. I do like the fact that the priest pronounces ‘coven’ like Mark Borchardt from American Movie.

All in all, this is a weird film, worth watching to try to connect the dots between Peckinpah westerns and A Boy and His Dog. It looks good, and is sufficiently strange to keep a viewer engaged, but it has a ton of pacing issues and Strother Martin and his group of satanic seniors might actually ham it up a bit too much.

Make of Break: It's a break for me, and it's the acting. The mood and setting were decent, but the acting among the coven member really ruin the chances for any tension, but didn't veer into SBIG territory.

MVT: The location. Placing this in an isolated desert town helped the story immensely and also helped differentiate it from urban films such as Rosemary's Baby.

Score: 5.25 out of 10. It's a decent time waster and interesting to see this particular group put a film together but it does drag in spots. I caught it on TCM Underground a couple of years back, but revisted it via Crackle.

Episode #141: Double Deuce Series: The Howling 1 and 2

Welcome to a very special return to our Double Deuce series, in these shows we like to take a two film series or perhaps an original and its sequel and cover them on the show. We hope you enjoy this weeks episode on our thoughts on The Howling Parts 1 and 2.

We brought aboard one of the most important members of the GGtMC for this episode in our editor in chief of the blog site, one Death Rattle Aaron. He has been with us for sometime behind the scenes and it was time to pull him onto the air for some film reviews!!!

Direct download: DD_HowlingRM.mp3

Emails to

Voicemails to 206-666-5207


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Exterminator 2 (1984)

Let's start this review off with the obvious question: "Hey, Todd, why not review The Exterminator before reviewing Mark Buntzman's Exterminator 2?" Well, for starters, I couldn't find a copy of the first film, and after viewing its sequel, I'm in no rush to procure one. The only obvious advantages of the earlier movie are that it was directed by James (McBain) Glickenhaus and features Christopher George and Steve James. Upon further contemplation, maybe I should track down a copy. Moving on...

Vigilantism has been a recurring motif in cinema for years. It all started with the archetype of "The Good Cop WhoDoesn't Play by the Rules" which eventually became a stereotype. As crime escalated in the United States, the citizens lost faith in their sworn protectors, especially in the post-Vietnam era when faith in authority was at an all-time low. It was time for a new cinematic hero (or in this case, antihero). Enter the "Vigilante" archetype, a common citizen who is pushed over the edge into violent retaliation by savage criminals and the ineffectuality of police bureaucracy. In the simplest terms, he (or she, witness Neil Jordan's fine The Brave One) is "Dirty" Harry Callahan with a screw loose, no badge, and tons of ordnance. The appeal lies in the vicarious righting of every wrong ever done the viewer.

Unfortunately, Exterminator 2, while hitting all the bullet points of the Vigilante film, somehow manages to mishandle just about everything, thematically and formally. The late Robert Ginty reprises his role of John Eastland, a Vietnam vet (we're clued into this visually by his wearing a very new-looking Army jacket almost ten years after the war's end) who hangs out at the most brightly-lit-ever club, watches Caroline (Deborah Geffner) gyrate onstage there, and occasionally incinerates evildoers with a flamethrower. Gang leader, X (Mario Van Peebles), meanwhile, wants control of all crime in the city, because, as he puts it, he "is the streets." Naturally, Eastland will be forced to confront X but only after everything has been taken from him. I'm tempted, but I won't spoil the ending.

The movie is rife with overkill, and this is one of its most entertaining aspects. The most obvious example is the basic premise. Out of any weapon you could use to fight crime, why would you choose a flamethrower? It's heavy, cumbersome, and can't melt any bullets fired at you. The answer is simplicity itself: It looks cool onscreen. Plus, it does much more grievous bodily harm than most guns. I'd hate to see the Exterminator use it in Central Park during a drought, though. Of course, X and his thugs are just as bad. The best instance that springs to mind is when the gang drags an armored car guard down into the subway (in procession with torches and everything, mind), spray paint a giant "X" on his torso, and then not only electrocute him on the subway's third rail, but also have him run over by said conveyance. The mafia goons who show up are just as ridiculous. Now, I'm not up on gangster fashion, but I'm fairly sure porkpie hats went out with the 60s (unless you're into ska music).

The 1980s inform every frame of this film, for better or worse. The very first shot is of a pre-Giuliani Times Square, and your anticipation swells. Sadly, the film never crawls fully down into the gutter, where it belongs, to wallow in the slop like it could have. Instead, we get sequences loaded with (hell, downright focused on) breakdancing and rollerskating (sometimes in the same scene). Buntzman even tries to justify this egregious padding by making a street performance into a plot point, but it's pretty flimsy. Geffner's aspiring dancer (aren't they all?) character is a blatant riff on Flashdance, and while she does seem to have some talent, the gaudy choreography (normally a plus) only serves to embarrass. Since movies like The Road Warrior and Escape From New York were popular at the time, the filmmakers also tried to sandwich in the post-apocalyptic angle via X's subterranean gang. Torches are the only lighting they know, aboveground or under. They paint their faces in tribal, "punk" fashion. Van Peeble's character dresses in modified football pads over a mesh shirt. This sort of incongruity can be pretty funny, just not really helpful to the film.

The biggest problem I had with the film, though, was its depiction of the title character. For the first two-thirds, when the Exterminator does show up, it's usually for only a few seconds. He immolates a few hoodlums and disappears. The eponymous character is peripheral in his own story, almost like "Godot" but without the existential angst (and the Exterminator does make an appearance now and then). Add to that, the fact that no one ever addresses that Eastland is a vigilante, even Eastland. In fact, Ginty never plays Eastland as anything other than an exuberant schlub. His performance is totally at cross-purposes with the feel and point of this genre. It's frustrating to the point of distraction.

The technical aspects call attention to themselves, as well. On multiple occasions, the characters eyelines are noticeably off. It's so flagrant in fact, it yanks you right out of the movie. The dialogue is horrid, but quite risible. Alas, Van Peebles is the biggest offender in this regard. He strains for an air of cool menace, but he sounds like a litany of non sequiturs overheard at a Jim Jones picnic. And, even though it's the best scene in the film, the final showdown is edited like a Scooby Doo chase montage. I was waiting for Don Knotts and Tim Conway to pop in for a guest spot. Now, I'm willing to forgive a lot in the name of entertainment, but if the filmmakers can't even be bothered to adhere to cinematic basics, it diminishes my enthusiasm.

Exterminator 2 is just one wasted opportunity after another. There's no character development at all. It's as if they felt it was all covered in The Exterminator, so there's no need. There's a nice set-up for a pimped-out garbage truck, but the execution is like the difference between comic book ads for X-ray specs and an actual pair of X-ray specs. The mafia angle is dropped as soon as it has served its purpose. There's no police investigation into any of the goings-on. And worst of all, there's not the slightest hint of tension for the climactic showdown. Everything just kind of happens. And these are not all things that would have cost tons of money to address. Either the filmmakers' ineptness or their lack of respect for the audience ultimately unravels what could have been a decent, little Vigilante movie. Whether it's a spot on the ass of its predecessor, I'll leave for others to debate.

MVT: The A-Team-esque, tricked-out garbage truck. It's a nice buildup to a good idea that fails in execution.

Make or Break: The "Break" is when Eastland, the Executioner, decides to team-up with his pal, Be Gee (Frankie Faison), to go after the punks. Eastland's supposed to be a vigilante, a solo act by all accounts. It totally defies logic for him to go this route after what he's done already. And it's totally unsatisfying.

Score: 5.5/10

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

DVD/Blu-Ray Picks Of The Week - 7/19/11

Large William's Picks:
Technically, this release is from a few weeks ago, but I believe so strongly in spreading the word, that I'm breaking our own rules to discuss it. Paolo Sorrentino is absolutely the BEST filmmaker hardly anyone knows about. For me, he came out of the gates with a crushing home run, Il Divo; the labyrinthine tale of corruption and back door dealing where criminals and politicians mingle and jockey for power. Il Divo was my number 1 film of 2009, ahead of Enter the Void, Inglourious Basterds, City of Life and Death, and a slew of others. He'll remind you of Scorsese, Tarantino, and still feel like a breath of dizzying fresh air. This region 2 box set features 4 of his films, including Il Divo, and 2 more films of his I've had the distinct pleasure of seeing, The consequences of love and One man up(both of which, along with Il Divo, feature master turns from the best actor you've never heard of, Toni Servillo). I cannot recommend this set highly enough. Outside of Il Divo, Sorrentino's films have never been officially released with English subtitles, until now. BUY BUY BUY!

Links: DVD

SMALL TOWN MURDER SONGS (Region 1 DVD; Monterey Video)
Now that I've caught my breath, and let my boner for the Italian combo of Sorrentino and Servillo subside, allow me to recommend a film that I've not yet seen, but really wanted to at TIFF this past year; Small Town Murder Songs takes place in a small Northern Ontario(Canada) town, and stars sublime character actor Peter Stormare as a chief of a town made up primarily of Mennonites, where the body of a strange woman washes up on the shore... Nice and tight at 72 minutes, this one should be rock solid, and a nice peek into some Canadiana.

hugs and kisses,

Amazon DVD

Aaron's Pick: DARK DAYS - 10th Anniversary (Region 1 DVD; Oscilloscope Laboratories)
"Dark Days" is the multi-award winning documentary from Marc Singer about a community of homeless people living in a train tunnel beneath Manhattan. The film depicts a way of life that is unimaginable to most of those who walk the streets above. In the pitch black of the tunnel, rats swarm through piles of garbage as high-speed trains leaving Penn Station tear through the darkness. For some of those who have gone underground, it has been home for as long as twenty-five years. The director abandoned life on the outside to spend all of his time in the tunnels, making it his home for two years. Surprisingly entertaining and deeply moving, "Dark Days" is an eye-opening experience that shatters the myths of homelessness with the strength and universality of the people the film represents."

If your thirst for Bumsploitation wasn't quenched by the recent DVD/Blu-Ray release of HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, you're in luck, because the folks at Oscilloscope Laboratories are re-releasing the fascinating OOP documentary DARK DAYS as a 10th anniversary special edition. It's a 2-disc set packed with bonus features - some of which have never been available on previous prints. I recommend the documentary highly to anyone who hasn't seen it, and even if the subject matter doesn't necessarily appeal to you, anyone with an appreciation for artistic filmmaking should be won over by the ironically-beautiful grainy black & white footage, as well as the original haunting score by DJ Shadow. I know I've recommended some duds in the past (DRIVE ANGRY), but trust me on this one.

Oscilloscope Laboratories
Amazon DVD

They Call Him Chad's Pick: TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT (Region 1 Blu-Ray; 20th Century Fox)
And I just shot my cult movie lovin' street cred in the foot with the've heard the Gents talk about all of us having cinematic blind spots, right? Well, I think we all have cinematic soft spots, too. For me, one of those soft spots happens to be John Hughesian style teen/college coming-of-age stories. Hey, what can I say, I'm a child of the 80s that grew up in Illinois. These films are in my DNA. Now, that's not to say Take Me Home Tonight ranks with Hughes' best works, because it doesn't. It's a solid entry in that territory, and one that I enjoyed far more anticipated. If you're a fan of this subgenre, you know what to expect; the Eighties, parties, popped collars, cheesy synth rock and an uncool guy finally getting a shot at his unattainable high school crush. Oh, and this one sprinkles in a little bit of cocaine. It even makes me nostalgic for Suncoast Video, sniff.

Amazon Blu-Ray and DVD

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Trigger Man (2007)

Directed by: Ti West

Three old pals -- Sean, Ray & Reggie -- get together for a weekend deer hunting trip to re-connect and get away from the city. The recently engaged Sean is the most experienced, though not overly gun savvy, having organized the excursion by borrowing firearms and demonstrating proper rifle techniques to his friends. A painfully monotonous day unfolds as the inexperienced trio find nothing to shoot at other than big tree trunks and a littered beer bottle. Their hunt abruptly kickstarts when an unseen assailant splatters Sean's brain chunks across the foliage with a fatal burst of gunfire.

As the shooter sets his sights on Ray and Reggie, the remaining duo frantically scramble for cover and flee through the woods. After the shooting seems to stop, Ray and Reggie devise a plan to carefully traverse their woodland surroundings with a route that should allow them to safely escape Sean's grisly fate. Unfortunately, the path to safety is short-lived as they quickly navigate themselves right back under the crosshairs of this mysterious shooter. With few options, Reggie ceases the escape attempts and turns his eye toward tracking down this assassin. Reggie eventually pinpoints the shooter's location to a sprawl of dilapidated factory buildings on the far side of a river bordering the treeline and must locate this deadly trigger man amidst deserted structures and shadows before he's the next one gunned down.

The most important thing to know about Trigger Man is that this is a Ti West film. If you're not familiar with the phrase "Ti West film" then it's probably best to educate yourself to some degree before watching Trigger Man or any other selections from his filmography (sans Cabin Fever II, a film West has since renounced). The Ti West crib notes are primarily a feature made high on atmosphere, slow on pace, low on budget and thin on story.

Admittedly, I wasn't aware of this when I viewed The Roost, Ti West's debut film, upon its release. The Roost didn't work at all for me, causing me to write-off Trigger Man entirely. I may not have ever given it a chance if not for West's far superior House of the Devil, which could not be ignored at a certain point due to an abundance of strong reviews and festival buzz. House of the Devil is the pinnacle of West's work and epitomizes his trademarks and motifs to their fullest and most satisfying, and it left me wondering if perhaps starting with House of the Devil is the best entry point for delving into the director's catalogue.

Trigger Man checks all the Ti West boxes, starting with an extremely low budget. The film was reportedly shot over 7 days for a meager $10,000 budget. When considering this, West's accomplishment is much more impressive and some of the hamstrung elements are a little more easily forgiven. This scant budget plays into West's strength for creating atmosphere. West crafts an uneasy atmosphere by shooting everything with a documental feel. It's a bold choice given that this is not a found footage film or a faux documentary. By employing handheld techniques, it creates a natural realism and the sense that someone unbeknownst to our trio is stalking them just out of sight. Being familiar with West's aesthetic, this visual tactic not only aided in pulling me through the first act sludge, but it allowed me to plug into the threatening voyeurism and forthcoming dread awaiting them.

As for the pacing, Trigger Man is a painfully slow burn -- I'm talking tortoise slow with pilot light simmer. If you enjoy scenes of people walking in the woods, this film will give Lord of the Rings a run for the money in that department. I will say that the terribly slow pace and uneventfulness in this section of the film contributes to the harsh boredom of deer hunting; the waiting for hours on end with merely a hope to fire off some shots at a live target. It doesn't necessarily help matters that West avoids utilizing this time to make his characters likable. Instead, he focuses on making them relatable through this monotony and with slight character beats that nod to relationship issues with significant others as well as awkwardness between old friends that have grown apart. This approach does payoff eventually if you can stick with the film (or stay awake) until the action finally breaks loose probably more than halfway through the runtime.

Once the shooting starts, it is a series of effective jolts that serve as little injections of terror. I suppose West's intent was to almost lull the viewer asleep only to snap them awake with a hard slap across the chops. This suddenness manufactures a similar shock and disorientation that abruptly strikes Ray and Reggie, equally unprepared and unsure of the surroundings. As they run and hide, the documentary shots pay dividends in two-folded fashion; first, you're never certain if these shots are from the killer's P.O.V, meaning all of Reggie or Ray's efforts to conceal and defend themselves are virtually useless even with guns in their hands, and second, the visuals are composed in such a ride-along manner that it essentially places the viewer in-step with the characters as if actually inserted into the fray. These traits thicken the tension underlying simple evasion scenes and plotting beats, always milking the hair-raising sensation of walking head-long into a bullet. And while there's not a lot of gore, the damage on display is ghastly enough that you definitely fear the trigger squeeze.

Now, is the back-half of the film worth waiting for? That's hard to gauge and ultimately depends on your patience and appreciation of simplicity. For me, it was just enough to hang in there. As noted, you have to go into this film knowing that the first half is even more sluggish than the proverbial slow burn. I would compare Trigger Man's slow burn to a gas explosion -- it's simple to leave the gas on, but you're gonna have to wait a long while to see something happen, but when it does? You'll get an explosion.

Make or Break scene - Easily the scene that makes Trigger Man is when Sean relieves himself atop a high cliff and then has his skull blown to smithereens before finishing. This makes the film because you're at the point where something needs to happen and if it doesn't then you can't stick with the film any further. Fortunately, West delivers the needed incentive with a bit of nice trickery by focusing the camera on Reggie in mid-conversation and caught off-guard as a gun-pop resounds then blood splashes his face. I also enjoyed the touch of dark humor in the way Sean was caught with his pants down literally when killed.

MVT - Ti West. The film hinges on Ti West implementing his aesthetic successfully and he accomplished that for me. Granted, the finished product isn't great and it's probably a little short of being good, but it is watchable and moderately engaging once the tension breaks. Moreover, I think a number of other indie directors would've struggled to churn out a product as polished and as nerve-racking if hampered by the same limitations.

Score - 6.5/10

Friday, July 15, 2011

Episode #140: The Big Arzenta

Welcome to another episode of the GGtMC folks!!!

This week, Sammy was detained by some rude force known as a job...couldnt make it on the show but fear not sweet listeners!!! Rupert came on the show this week to work with large william and they reviewed The Big Heat (1953) directed by Fritz lang and Tony Arzenta (1973) starring Alain Delon.

Kick back and relax and enjoy the show!!!

Not sure what we are covering next week as Sammy is still incredibly busy away from the show, but do not fret...there will be programming for all of you next week in some shape or form...

Also we skipped feedback this week, we will try to catch up next week...apologies.

Direct download: The_Big_Arzenta.mp3

Emails to

Voicemails to 206-666-5207


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Candid Cuties: Best of the Best, Indeed

eric roberts2

When not busy winning international martial arts tournament against Team Korea, Eric Roberts has been known to spend much of his time tantalizing those that dare to glance his way.

It's difficult to tell if E.R. (short for Emergency Room, 'cause that's where the ladies end up after a night taking a ride on Roberts Runaway Train) is giving the hard SHHH sign like he has some sort of sexy secret to share, or if he is actually so irresistible that he cannot help but kiss his own finger. From the looks of it, he might be working on kissing something else the way his right hand is working them underwear right there. There's another Runaway Train joke in that last sentence somewhere…

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1983)

When I was in college, just about every woman I knew loved Grease. If you went to a party at a woman's apartment, you were assured of three things. One, they usually bought better quality booze than you. Two, at least one track, if not an entire side of the Grease soundtrack would be played. And three, when it was, every woman in the place (and some guys) would gather in a circle, dancing and bellowing out the lyrics. Men have the same sort of love for martial arts movies. Although, by college age, most men don't run out and imitate the fighting moves they've just seen onscreen, you can bet your ass they did when they were kids. This urge lives on into adulthood, it's just that imitating, say, Philip Kwok while attending a "kegger" is a surefire way to not get laid. Of course, some men love musicals, and some women love martial arts movies. But, by-and-large, I think the above represents the balance of nature in this regard.

In the broadest of terms, old school martial arts films will generally follow a set pattern. A young person's family/school/what-have-you is destroyed by a cadre of bad guys. The young person narrowly escapes death and comes upon a mentor figure who teaches the youngster a powerful, unique fighting skill. The young person confronts and defeats the villain(s) who ruined his/her life. Naturally, there are all sorts of variations on this, but that's the basics. Chia-Liang Liu's The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter, while fitting snugly into this paradigm, also subverts it, and the movie has more on its mind than just bloody revenge.

The men of the Yang family are betrayed by the traitorous Mongols, Pan Mei (Ming Ku) and Yelu Lin (Lung Wei Wang). Using poles, the ends of which can wrap around and ensnare weapons and limbs alike, Mei and Lin's fighters kill all the Yang males, save two. Brother #6 (Alexander Fu Sheng) returns to his mother (Lily Li) and sisters, 8 and 9 (the lovely Kara Hui and Ching-Ching Yeung, respectively), a paranoiac. Brother #5 (Gordon Liu), believed dead, tries to become a monk, but the monastery's abbot (Phillip Ko) won't accept him as a disciple. #5 stubbornly refuses to leave, believing a monk's life will redeem his diehard, soldierly ways. Meanwhile, the villains seek to draw out and kill the brothers in order to cover up their treason.

In musicals, conflicts are resolved and emotional depths revealed through song and dance numbers. In martial arts films, the same is done through stunt-fueled fights. Whenever a character is confronted emotionally or physically, their first reaction is normally to start throwing punches and kicks. Every time someone visits the Yang house, the insane #5 (the characters are actually addressed by number for most of the film) immediately goes on the warpath, and his mom and sisters need to knock some sense into him or risk discovery. Likewise, #6 starts cleaning house whenever he's told the abbot wants him gone.

This characterization through Kung Fu extends itself here into the weapons the characters carry. The Yang family's weapons are distinctive, and other characters recognize their owners through them. Further, the weapons, in a sense, define and reflect the characters' states. Fu Sheng's spear is with him at all times as he cries, screams, and carries on. He becomes nigh-catatonic when he is disarmed, nothing without his weapon. By contrast, Liu must burn his spear and cut the blade off in order to extricate his weapon from his enemies' bamboo snare. The next time we see it, it has a red bandage wrapped around the end, as if the weapon itself has been wounded. Also, it's no longer a spear but a pole, a reference to the transformation #5 will undergo for the remainder of the film.

At the monastery, #5 begs to be admitted as a monk, but the abbot steadfastly refuses. #5 must self-initiate himself, shaving his own head and burning the Jieba marks into his own scalp (accompanied by some gruesome sound effects). While he's told daily that he can't stay, it's heavily implied that the abbot is using reverse psychology on #5. He's helping the young soldier help himself on his path of self-discovery. Now, I'm not well-versed in Buddhism or Taoism, and consequently some of the characters' decisions and motives can seem a bit murky. But, when the film's theme is unveiled (during a fight, natch), things become much clearer (if not 100% understandable).

Here's where the martial arts movie pattern gets subverted. We expect #5 to eventually be accepted into the monastery. We also expect the monks to have some wildly-implausible Kung Fu skill that will help #5 beat the Mongols. We're teased with the prospect at the start of the temple scenes when Liu practices his fighting on some vines and a pond. But this never transpires, and that's the beauty of Chia-Liang's film. The new technique is not something external but internal. Even when the monks train on the overly-elaborate wolf-dummies, the outcome is not what we would expect (although this does pay off and will put you in mind of candy corn).

The concept of Yin and Yang lies at the heart of the movie, and Chia-Liang Liu is very conscious of reflecting this in almost every scene. Characters will move and often speak in sync. #5's spear has become a pole, two weapons, one sharp, the other blunt. The recognition of the interconnectedness of opposites is the ultimate goal of #5's journey. Some heady stuff, and while not presented in definitive terms (how could it be?), it leaves the viewer with a lot to think about.

But, lest we forget, this is a martial arts movie, and it certainly isn't shy about that fact. The setpieces are elaborate, each one outdoing the previous one. The choreography is outstanding, and every performer is at the top of their game. It's bloodier than I anticipated, but the level of fun throughout never diminishes. This is the type of martial arts movie I wish they all could be. But then, The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter wouldn't be as special as it is.

: Since Alexander Fu Sheng died tragically during production of the film, I'd like to give it to him, simply out of respect. Unfortunately, his death resulted in a wasted part in the film that only hits one-note. The film world lost a charismatic and talented actor the day he died.

Make or Break
: The "Make" scene is Liu's fight with Ko in the monastery. It's a sophisticated, graceful revelation of the film's main theme.

Score 8/10