Saturday, March 30, 2013

Episode #228: Iron Samurai Cops

Welcome to another girthy episode of the GGtMC!!!

This week the Gents are joined by Chris B. for his Kickstarter selections and Chris really knew what the listeners and the hosts really enjoy from the GGtMC!! Chris selected Samurai Cop (1989) directed by Amir Shervan and Pumping Iron (1977) starring Arnold Scwarzenegger and lou Ferrigno amonst made for some very interesting conversation.

Direct download: Iron_Samurai_Cops.mp3 
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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Asphyx (1973)

Gather around, kiddies, methinks it’s time for yet another in my seemingly neverending line of supernatural stories.  Let’s see if I can get through this one without mangling it, shall we?  I have a friend who has a friend (don’t they all start this way?), and when my friend’s friend (we’ll call him “Teddy”) was young (double digits but not voting age, as far as I know), he was awoken one night to the sight of a ghost walking down the hall outside his room.  The ghost was only discernible from the waist up, but here comes the kicker: It was the ghost of Abraham Lincoln.  Teddy followed after the spectre, and when he caught up to it, Lincoln was sitting (kind of tough with no lower torso, I assume) and reading a book.  After a few stunned moments, the President looked up and said, “Are you enjoying the book, Teddy?”  Needless to say, Teddy was freaked, no one believed him, and certain mental dispositions were investigated to no avail.  Some time later, my friend was staying at Teddy’s, and in the middle of the night, the two of them both saw Lincoln’s ghost.  They kept it to themselves.  I suppose we could turn this into a debate on perceptions and states of consciousness or the existence of the human spirit outside of the human body or any number of paranormal tangents, but I think that misses the point of the story.  These two men believe that what they saw was true.  If you’re a disbelieving sort, you can dismiss it any way you want.  But Teddy and my friend would dismiss your dismissal, and I guess the world would go on spinning, regardless.

One sunny day in then-modern England, a couple of cars collide violently.  Unfortunately, there is a man who stepped out between the two, and when the cops pull his body from the wreckage, they are astonished to find he’s still alive.  Cut to the year 1870.  Sir Hugo Cunningham (Robert Stephens) arrives home at his manor with new bride Anna (Fiona Walker) in tow.  Life proceeds apace, and Hugo whiles away the time taking photographs and sharing his theories with the local parapsychological society.  Quite by accident, however, Hugo observes an apparition looming near a man fated to die.  What’s more, he can trap this Asphyx (a play on “asphyxiate,” I assume), but his experiments begin to prove more dangerous than their rewards.

Peter Newbrook’s The Asphyx (aka The Horror Of Death aka Spirit Of The Dead) is not a Horror film in a conventional sense.  There is a supernatural presence, and it does take the form of a malformed, creature with a gaping, screeching maw, but it is not harmful in any expected way.  Much like William Castles’ The Tingler, the Asphyx is a being nobody would ever even know was in their presence, behaving as a sort of emotional parasite and departing when its host does.  With that in mind, the Asphyx also becomes a representation of the human soul, in a sense.  It transforms the ethereal into a quantifiable, secular, corporeal element.  It causes fear and pain in a physical manner (more like feeds on it, though its lingering prolongs the agonies of a violent death), but it mirrors the idea of man’s tortured soul.  That its appearance is so ugsome says a bit about not only humanity but also about every living creature (even guinea pigs can have them).  The beings feed on the least attractive things in us all, perhaps making them what they eat (?).  This poses a problem for the film’s narrative.  The Asphyx is not actually the human soul (Hugo believes it to be Egyptian Death Spirit, though the only thing I could find that came even remotely close is the concept that a person’s Sheut [shadow] could be depicted as a figure of death), but its capture enables the separation of the human spirit from the physical body.  The obvious question is “why?”  That’s like putting a lion which ate a convict in prison to serve out the con’s sentence (kinda, sorta).  Perhaps I do not fully understand the concept.  Could it be that the Asphyx is like a valkyrie, ushering spirits into the afterlife, so that by capturing the carrier, you capture the spirit?  Either way, it works in a cinematic sense, providing a visually striking focus for the film’s more intellectual conceit.

I mentioned that this isn’t a traditional Horror film, but there are horrifying things going on throughout.  Essentially, these events revolve around the film’s basic premise.  In order to capture the Asphyx, a person must be close to death and aware of the fact, thus generating an inescapable fear.  Nonetheless, the process of capturing the Death Spirit prolongs the victim’s experience, making for some quite tense (and even slightly disturbing) sequences.  Needless to say, the process doesn’t always go correctly, turning horror into despair.  Once Hugo has become immortal, he becomes not only more fixated on his experiments but also more willful in the lengths to which he will go to carry them out and procure subjects.  Ostensibly, this makes Hugo the active monster of the piece (he even gets scarred by acid at one point), and it indicates the idea that our soul is what makes us what we are.  Newbrook (no stranger to a film camera) almost never has Hugo onscreen alone.  He is quite often filmed in the same frame with whomever he is speaking.  The dual purpose served is that the film makes good use of the Todd-AO 35 (no relation) widescreen format, and it juxtaposes the physical representations of innocence and corruption, life and death for the audience to differentiate.  Conversely, it can be argued that Hugo acts the way he does out of concern for those he loves, and this transforms him into a more sympathetic monster.  But a monster, all the same.

Of course, the major theme of the film is one of immortality and its exploration.  It deals with the cost of eternal life, that it is no panacea for the emotional wounds we acquire through our (normally) short lives.  It also deals with forms of immortality, and I’m thinking here of two specific areas.  The idea that we (or our bloodlines and family names) become immortal by being carried on via our progeny.  Anna wants to give Hugo children, and Hugo couldn’t be happier.  Hugo’s son Clive (Ralph Arliss) and his wife are expected to carry on the Cunningham name, and later adopted son Giles (Robert Powell) and Hugo’s daughter Christina (Jane Lapotaire) are to carry this torch (hey, it was the nineteenth century).  But more interesting to me than this aspect is the one of immortality on film.  Hugo has created an early version of a film camera, his own film to use in it, and a means to project it onto a screen.  Moreover, the Asphyx itself is first suggested by smudges on images (possibly symbolizing a stain on the soul?), initially on static photos and later on moving film.  The spirit is ensnared by a special light used in Hugo’s filming process and held in perpetuity by same.  The ability to be seen by cameras and/or be seen by the means which allow cameras to “see” effects immortality.  It’s the same as when cinephiles talk about people like Marlon Brando or Orson Welles as being “immortalized on film.”  Only in The Asphyx, it’s a literal statement.

MVT:  The performances in the film go a long way in selling the story, and they also do a marvelous job generating sympathy and pathos.  The film could have been made with lesser executions in the acting department, but the ones here truly elevate some fascinating and entertaining material.

Make Or Break:  The Make is the scene where Giles and Hugo try to capture the Asphyx of an indigent man (Terry Scully) who suffers from tuberculosis.  It is gripping and powerful, and it focuses how the remainder of the film will proceed with its depictions of the price to be paid for immortality and whether or not it is worth the agony.

Score:  7.25/10

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Bonus #51: Stoker

Welcome to a special bonus episode of the GGtMC!!!

This week the Maple Warriors, Large William and Uncool Cat Chris, bring you a review of Park Chan-Wook's Stoker (2013) starring Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska. 

Direct download: Stoker_Bonus_episode.mp3 
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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Arrogant (1987)

Out of all the implements of death any character can have at their disposal, I think that the axe is perhaps the least well-used (just hear me out).  Since this is one of those things that can be debated ad nauseum, and since we’re not actually speaking (I know, my writing is so good that sometimes it feels like we are, but we’re not), I’ll just give you some of my reasoning on the matter.  The axe is a cleaving weapon.  Aside from having a spear point at the top end of the haft, the weapon can’t really be used for stabbing.  Add to that the fact that, typically, an axe (okay, maybe just a battleaxe) is not only heavy but top-heavy at that.  Almost any blow that can be delivered with an axe will usually be done by hauling off with both hands on the axe handle, thus  telegraphing your shot, so to speak, and giving the user no free hand to block any incoming attack.  Much like the three-section staff, the axe is a weapon which must be mastered to be used effectively.  Oh, sure, slashers have used axes to mount up a nice body count, but rarely are they used with any true finesse.  To my mind, only one fictional character (beside Paul Bunyan, but he had other advantages, a giant blue bull notwithstanding) has truly belonged with an axe in his hand, and that would be Conan of Cimmeria, by Crom.  Search your conscience.  You know I’m right on this one.

Giovanni (Gary Graham) is a bit of a spoiled prick.  At dinner with his Senator father-in-law (Joe Condon) and apparently his entire extended family, Giovanni and the old man basically tell each other how much they want each other dead.  Giovanni sneaks off, ostensibly to get some wine from the garage wine cellar but actually to bang his wife Elvira’s (Kimberly Baucum) sister Laticia (Leigh Wood).  Having picked up a black cat during all this (read: foreshadowing), Giovanni is confronted by the Senator on his way back to the dinner.  Wielding an axe, the Senator only succeeds in splitting the cat in twain (see?) and sending Giovanni through a window, a shard of which Giovanni uses to stab and kill the Senator.  Feeling suddenly unwelcome and wanting to continue his journey of bald-faced debauchery, Giovanni takes off on his motorcycle (and for the purposes of this review, I would suggest pronouncing it “motor-sickle” in your head as you read this) and makes for the desert.  There he picks up hitchhiking waitress Julie (the late, great Sylvia Kristel), and the pair travel around for the rest of the film.

To give you more of the “plot” of Philippe Blot’s The Arrogant (aka Sylvia Kristel’s Desires) would only wind up being an exercise in futility.  On that same note, if what I’ve written above entices you in any way to see this film, you have my sincerest apologies.  This can best be described as an Art film, though it’s not very artfully done.  The plot is set up like a series of vignettes punctuated by extended scenes (let’s call them diatribes) of Giovanni and Julie having “deep” philosophical debates.  In my opinion, Art films, like Science Fiction films should give you its points, raise questions, and give the viewer something on which to ponder.  The much-parodied dialogue style of this type of film is usually intentionally oblique (“You impede me.  I excrete you.” – thank you to Saturday Night Live’s “Sprockets” for that one).  It is meant to generate ideas, to engage the viewer and force (for lack of a better term) an active thought process in order to digest the work (though sometimes the intent is to confound, as well).  This is why Art films are so notoriously difficult to do well and why they are so easy to parody.  Blot’s film posits itself as an Art film, so we expect a bit of pretension to go with his ideas.  

Unfortunately, what we get is a lot of pretension and some seriously self-serious dialogue that could be called purple-nosed, since that is its style and placement.  Witness:  “There is nothing worse than virtue and those who speak of it.”  “You confuse rage with vengeance.”  “I am my king!  My master!  My fate and my god!”  “I don’t know anything about God, but you drive me into Hell.”  The list goes on.  It feels as if Blot took a few first year college philosophy classes and tried to do his best at aping what he thought he learned.  His visual style is no different.  A black limo follows Giovanni around, a symbol for his past following him as well as an angel of death biding its time for the right moment.  At one point, Giovanni seduces a young woman (Teresa Gilmore), and the scene is shot almost entirely from his perspective.  The few cut-aways in the scene are almost always of Giovanni’s eyes in extreme closeup, frozen in a lupine stare.  The obvious meaning is not just of the control of the male gaze but also that Giovanni is a wolf who takes what he wants.  All well and good, but the mashing together of the closeups with the POV camera work draws attention to itself and not in a good way.  Rather than permitting us to think about the film, Blot tells us what to think at almost every turn while managing to remain befuddling.  It is ham-fisted metaphoric filmmaking, and it all amounts to a lecture being delivered to the audience, something which most intelligent viewers will resist and resent (I’m not saying I’m oh-so-smart, but how much do you enjoy receiving a talking-to?).

The Arrogant is also very much a religious film, and calling it heavy-handed is like saying the McGuire Twins were kind of stocky.  Regardless of your own personal views on religion, it is blindingly obvious that Blot does believe in a higher power, and he goes out of his way to pound the audience over the head with his views on it.  Giovanni is a bad man, but he is also arrogant (hence the title) in thinking that he can continue to defy God without consequence.  He’s supposed to be an anti-hero, but he actually comes off as being extremely unsavory.   As a counterpoint (and the only way the film is made even remotely palatable), Julie tries to convince Giovanni that he’s wrong and headed for disaster.  That she puts up with Giovanni’s antics at all is mind-boggling, but more headache-inducing is how their relationship ultimately resolves itself.  The entire film is a series of encounters with Giovanni basically being a massive douche and then challenging Julie to prove that he’s wrong, when he does it himself.  On a moral rather than religious scale, any viewer can still recognize that Giovanni does evil simply for the sake of evil, but he couches it as an act of defiance toward God, as if that makes it okay.  When the final “twist” is revealed, though, it is not only conspicuously predictable but illogical by the film’s own logic.  Even an Art film needs to follow some of the rules it establishes for itself (including the rule that “there are no rules”).  When it doesn’t, as it doesn’t here, it reeks of laziness trying to disguise itself as avant-garde filmmaking, and to my mind, that’s more offensive than any sinning our main character can get up to.

MVT:  The best thing about this film is the desert setting.  I love films shot in the desert, and there’s so much that can be done with it, visually and thematically.  Blot does manage to wring some nice images from the backdrop.  Though outside of that and seeing a few naked/semi-naked women, there’s really no reason anyone should ever watch this film.

Make Or Break:  The Break is the philosophical debate scenes between Giovanni and Julie.  These circular dialectics (wow, that’s giving them a hell of a lot of credit) are over-emphasized in the film, and by about the third one, they have not only made their point, but also worn out their welcome, crapped on your favorite throw rug, and lit your aquarium on fire.  They are pure garbage, and that they are the seeming center point of the film speaks volumes.

Score:  3/10           

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Episode #227: Danger Waterworld

Welcome to another action packed episode of the GGtMC!!!

This week the Gents are joined by James and Red Waffle Paul from across the pond for an in-depth discussion of Waterworld (1995) directed by Kevin Reynolds and Danger: Diabolik (1968) directed by mario Bava!!! trust me we get deep into these two films and have a blast talking cinema!!!

Direct download: Danger_Waterworld.mp3

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Robot Jox (1989)

If I’ve discovered one thing about myself in this lifetime it’s that, in the realm open debate, I’m just no damn fun at all.  It’s not that I don’t have my opinions.  I do.  We all do.  However, I seem to have a knack (we could even call it a penchant) for being able to empathize with the other side of an argument, even if I in no way agree with anything that’s being said.  This doesn’t mean that I can be swayed easily, or that I will endorse an opponent’s views.  It simply means that I can get where the opposing opinion is coming from and understand the context of the argument if not the content.  Some would say this makes me a pushover, but I disagree (ho, ho).  I simply understand and acknowledge the idea that reasonable people can disagree and most (but definitely not all) disagreements should be handled calmly and rationally to the extent that the participants can do so.  And this is the reason why I don’t generally get into anything political or religious with anyone on the internet.  There is no respect for the other person’s opinion from what I’ve seen in general, just children flinging poo with every ounce of strength they can muster rather than making any type of effort to come to a consensus (they basic reason for getting in an argument in the first place).  People value their own opinions, and I think that’s just ducky.  But just because you say something louder and more obnoxiously than others doesn’t make you right.  But I’d like to think we are collectively better than that.  Of course, sometimes I wouldn’t mind telling people to just go fuck themselves, either.

Stuart Gordon’s Robot Jox opens in the future, some fifty years after a nuclear war has wreaked havoc with the world.  However, nations still exist (or at least two do, at any rate), and when they have a dispute over territory or anything else, their fighters (called “Jox” or “Jocks”) duke it out from within Brobdingnagian armored systems.  American Robojock Achilles (Gary Graham) watches his friend Hercules (Russel Case) get stomped by evil Russkie, sorry, Confederation Jock Alexander (Paul Koslo).  Meanwhile, Dr. Laplace (Hilary Mason) has developed genetically engineered humans, derisively called “Tubies,” and she wants them to get into robot piloting to prove her work’s merit.  Plus, there’s a spy giving American secrets to the Commies, sorry, Confederation, making them even harder to beat.  And on top of all that, the Reds, sorry, Confederation are disputing our ownership of Alaska, bringing Achilles and Alexander robotic toe to robotic toe in a battle to the death.

It’s been suggested in the past (I cannot recall by whom at present) that the premise of this film is almost exactly how the world should settle all its disagreements (though he/she wasn’t speaking with this specific film in mind, of course).  Take the top executives from the nations who have a gripe with each other, toss them in a pit, and whoever comes out is the winner.  Of course, that would also mean that government would have to be selected on the basis of physical superiority rather than on any type of mental acuity (and add to that a likely high rate of attrition).  So, geo-politics would turn into the singles bar/pageant scene (moreso than it already is), and let’s not even think about the inherent corruption that would fill the void behind the public faces of government.  In this film, the government has proxies in the form of the Robojox, so the politicians don’t have to get their hands dirty (as per usual).  And even though war itself has been outlawed in this future time, the thought of robots fighting out our problems somehow makes the thought of war slightly less scary.  The long-distance annihilation prevalent with the invention of the atomic bomb is off the table.  Everything is reduced to the credo “might makes right.”  If your robot is superior and has a superior pilot, your country will be the victor.  Logistical strategy is out the window, by and large.  Your opponent is in front of you.  Hit it until it can’t get up anymore.

This sense of tactility extends to the control systems for the robots.  There appears to have been a decent amount of thought put into how the robots operate, and it all makes sense from a design standpoint.  What it also does is provide a theme of synthesis between human and robot.  Granted, if a robot’s arm is blown off, the Jock doesn’t feel it, but since the destruction of the robot tacitly implies the destruction of its pilot, their fates are inextricably linked in the same way that the pilot occupies the inside of the robot (it is, after all, a giant metal coffin-in-waiting).  

For anyone who is a fan of Japanese anime, the basic hook of this film should feel extremely familiar.  Science Fiction in anime very often has at least one giant robot either piloted by or controlled by one or more humans (inexplicably youthful ones at that).  In Japan, this idea of symbiosis with man and machine is rather old hat and even kind of accepted as fairly normal (but who am I to say it’s not, right?).  Naturally, there are more than enough anime (animes?) with nary a robot in sight, but admit it: when you hear the term “anime,” the first thing you think of is some giant robot kicking the shit out of some other giant robot or tentacle monstrosity.  

This synthesis of man and robot can be extrapolated to include “others” in the form of the genetically engineered humans who, at first glance, appear to be the next step in evolution.  In essence, they are people who were grown, embodying only the best in physical traits, but they remain inferior to natural humans, because their thinking has been developed within strict parameters none of which take into account things like luck, intuition, or compassion.  The Gen-Jox also proffer a focus for the film’s commentary on both sexism and racism (unthinkable in the future, I know).  Showing a rather ugly side to his character (and aside from calling them “Tubies” in the first place), Achilles refers to these new people as “manufactured.”  In other words, they may live and breathe and have their own thoughts, but they are worth less than regular humans (sound familiar?).  The Gen-Jox are, in effect, no more significant than a coffee maker or the robot that Achilles pilots.  Intriguingly, the actors portraying the Tubies are all non-Caucasian (or at the very least appear to be) as well, giving the audience the general idea without having to actually point it out.  Adding to and proceeding from this aspect of the film is the lone female Tubie, Athena (Ann-Marie Johnson), who has to not only gain respect despite her genesis but must also prove herself in a male-dominated society and a male-dominated sport.  That she proves herself as worthy as she does is impressive.  That the filmmakers don’t quite allow her to make good on her promise is a bit of a let-down.  But for some of the more progressive ideas brought up in Robot Jox, at the end of the day, it’s a somewhat vanilla affair that manages to succeed well as a Science Fiction/Action film. 

MVT:  Much like with The Crater Lake Monster, the greatest thing about this film is the robot fights (not that there are robot fights in that one, but I think you understand where I’m coming from here).  The late, great David Allen’s stop-motion work is fantastic, and the miniature work is convincing, for the most part.  The battles are fierce, and you can almost feel the impacts (that the robots’ armor isn’t able to withstand more than they can is interesting on a contextual level but frustrating on an entertainment level, but still…)

Make Or Break:  The Make for me was what I like to call the “Monkey Bar Scene.”  All of the Gen-Jox are in a plain white room with an asymmetrical metal pipe structure in the middle.  The Gen-Jox are instructed to climb the bars and get through a hole in the ceiling.  Needless to say, it’s more difficult than it appears.  This was a very well-executed scene that worked for me on a narrative and thematic level.

Score:  6.5/10

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Episode #226: The Boxer's Clean Shaven

Welcome to a special episode of the GGtMC!!!

This week the Gents are joined by Ghetto Tim to cover The Boxer's Omen (1983) directed by Kuei Chih-Hung and Clean, Shaven (1993) directed by Lodge Kerrigan. Tim is a longtime friend and it was a blast to have him on to talk about these two films...Enjoy!!!

Direct download: BoxerCleanShaven.mp3

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