Review: Death Promise (USA 1977)

Gritty NYC! Halfway into this, I legit had to check to make sure Death Promise wasn’t a modern parody along the lines of Black Dynamite. Nope, near as I can tell all this low budget action insanity is for real, as Charles Bonet teams up with his buddies to kung fu murder a group of evil landlords in extremely ‘70s NYC. This feels exactly like a Dirk Diggler movie, only without the porn. And it is GLORIOUS!

Highlights include:

– The slammin’ 70s wardrobe.

– Super silly deaths.

– Our hero’s buddy creating a distraction by jumping out onto the villain’s lawn and singing “Girl from Ipanema”

– Crackling expository dialogue like this from the cops guarding one of the evil landlords: “After all, the Judge is a pretty good guy, we’ll take care of him while he’s laying there.”

– All the evil landlords discussing how they’ll spend their ill-gotten gains in typical ways – investments, buildings, women, cars – except the mob boss, who pipes up about how he’s always dreamed of traveling and seeing Turkey.

– Kung fu vocalizations that make Dolemite seem normal. 

– The theme song! 

Seriously, this is Miami Connection lost treasure good.

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Review: Lupin the Third: The Legend of the Gold of Babylon (Japan 1985)

We all know that auteur Hayao Miyazaki polished his chops on a work for hire Lupin film, the delightful Castle of Cagliostro. But what about the OTHER auteur who slaved in the Lupin salt mines? That’s right, Seijun Suzuki, following his long blacklist, co-directed his own Lupin flick, the much weirder and rather less delightful Gold of Babylon.

Oddly, where Cagliostro felt like a dry run for the lyrical sentiment and whimsy of Miyazaki, for its first third at least, set in NYC, Babylon feels like Ralph Bakshi went on vacation to Japan and knocked out a PG-13 Lupin in between Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic, full of local color and bizarre caricatures. 

After that it mostly settles into more standard Lupin hijinks, with a wild international treasure hunt and Zenigata leading a team of sexy (and vastly more competent) Interpol policewomen after our heroes – albeit with an absolutely bizarre storyline involving space gods looking for gold. It’s decent enough, and has plenty of fun moments, but it never transcends its origins like Cagliostro.

By the way, minor quibble, but I find the way this film animates women’s lips very offputting.

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Review: Space Battleship Yamato (Japan 1974-1975)

Watching the original 1974-1975 Space Battleship Yamato series (presented in bowdlerized form as Star Blazers in the US) is a little like unearthing the first Homo Sapiens, the ur-text, you can see its DNA in everything (Macross/Robotech, Evangelion, hell, I’m watching the relatively recent Gurren Lagann and the influence is plain as day).

The plot is suitably epic, the Yamato and its crew must travel across the universe to save Earth and defeat the evil Gamilan space fascist empire. And while the story can occasionally get a little saggy in the middle, the last batch of episodes hit like a real punch, with some incredible action and genuine pathos/tragedy.

The animation is definitely crude on occasion and the characters aren’t as well drawn as I’d like. And the sexism and silly fan service were already there – Yuki, the only significant female crew member, has to be both nurse and coffee maker, and spends too much of her time being sexually harassed by R2D2 or having her clothes disappear during warps. But the space opera and massive cosmic battles are impressive and exciting, prefiguring Star Wars by a couple years, and the Leiji Matsumoto designs and backgrounds, especially for the Yamato itself, are absolutely gorgeous.

I’d recommend this to anyone with more than a casual interest in anime or space opera, especially if you can find the full original Japanese version. And while there are various sequels and remakes, the 1974-1975 story is absolutely complete in itself and leaves no dangling story threads, so you can watch this without committing to some larger watch.

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Review: Full Moon Scimitar (Hong Kong 1979)

I was not expecting this to start with an actual ballad about the titular scimitar that lays out the story. Sample lyrics “The full moon, the smooth scimitar, The moon knows my heart’s desire. The scimitar would join two loving hearts.”

A beautiful wu xia in the classic Chu Yuan/Gu Long manner, with absolutely gorgeous sets and costumes, and impeccable style, even by Chu Yuan standards. Here, we find latter day Chu Yuan protagonist Derek Yee as a hero single-mindedly focused on pursuing fame in the martial world. After a dastardly trick by an opponent (Wang Jung) derails him, he is saved by the beautiful Lisa Wang, and starts his climb again. 

That sounds straightforward, but Scimitar is an odd duck. Rather than the usual elaborate alliances and murder mysteries, this is more of a fairy tale/morality play, which sees Yee’s protagonist struggling more with doing the right thing than with actual opponents. It’s heady stuff, though not in the top tier of Chu Yuan’s work – Jade Tiger better combines the wu xia world with real life concerns. 

Look also for great villainous roles by Wang Jung, Norman Chui, and Wang Lung.

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Review: Death Force (USA/Philippines 1978)

Cirio Santiago week!

That was strangely classy for a Santiago movie. James Iglehart (Savage!) is strong as a Vietnam vet betrayed by his buddies and left to die on an island inhabited solely by Filipinos playing long lost Japanese WW2 soldiers. Joe Mari Avellana is weird as hell playing Japanese, it always sounds like he’s fighting to speak, but it’s an oddly engaging performance – his relationship with Iglehart is the heart of the film as he trains Iglehart in the way of the samurai while Santiago cuts between island life and the betrayers massacring their way to top. 

All leading to Iglehart’s kill-crazy, limb-lopping sword rampage when he makes it home and finds out that not only have these guys tried to kill him and conquered LA, they’re also after his wife (the beautiful Jayne Kennedy). It’s a little (a lot) too long, but Santiago gives the island scenes room to breath, and builds to a bananas climax.

Vic Diaz report: Blink and you’ll miss him as a member of the smuggling group working with the protagonists.

Does the plot involve saving someone’s sister? No, unless you count saving a soul sister.

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Review: Hired to Kill (USA 1990)

Nico Mastorakis’s Hired to Kill is another cheesy Distaff Dirty Dozen, in the vein of Mankillers but with slightly more appropriate combat garb (not booty shorts and tank tops), with soldier of fortune Brian Thompson masquerading as a fashion designer and leading a team of sexy female commandos disguised as sexy fashion models to defeat dictator Oliver Reed on a thinly veiled Cyprus. Lots of swimsuits and explosions ensue, with a light shower of bullets, boobs and pecs.

It’s really a showcase for character actor Thompson, usually notable in bit parts as “that muscly guy” – you may not know his name, but you know him from a million ‘80s and ‘90s flicks and TV shows, alien bounty hunter on The X -Files, helicopter pilot on Miracle Mile, and most entertainingly the villain of Cobra. He’s not the greatest actor in the world but he does have an entertaining intensity and glower – I like him.

Some scattered thoughts:

1. Mastorakis is better known to me for the deeply unpleasant Island of Death, which can best be described in emoji form thusly:
👨 ❤️ 🐐 🍑 

2. Also starring George Kennedy(!), whose main role is exposition and sending a pivotal fax. At one point he gets such a close up you can pick out individual Kennedy nose hairs.

3. Throughout the extremely ‘80s love scene, sweat is visibly dripping off Thompson’s nose, and I kept thinking how that would probably land right in the leading lady’s eyes (that is, if the actors were actually in the same shot together, which they definitely were not).

4. Oliver Reed Report: No nude wrestling, but he does have a John Bolton walrus moustache and kisses Brian Thompson, possibly with tongue.

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Review: The Ring (USA 2002)

samara

Finally watched the American remake after all these years and … not overly impressed. I’ve had people argue to me that it’s better than the original but I don’t see it. Seemed largely an adequate copy with some minor cultural changes, except the remake was weaker in two very important regards. First, the film shows way too much of Sadako/Samara, weakening the impact of the final attack (the scene that MAKES this film and franchise). Second, the finale is left non-specific in a way that weakens the horror of what the protagonists will have to do to survive.

Am I missing something? What is it in this that folks see as better than the Nakata original (not being facetious, genuinely curious)?

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Review: Outlaw: Gangster VIP 2 (Japan 1968)

outlaw gangster 2

Part 2 of the Goro saga moves to Tohoku, and gives us snow instead of city for a while. Tetsuya Watari is back as honorable (now former) gangster Goro – he tries to get out but they keep pulling him back in! – and Chieko Matsubara returns as his long-suffering love interest, but now we get Hideaki Nitani in his usual role as “brother on the wrong side” and my favorite Nikkatsu sleazebag Kunie Tanaka as a frenemy who has beef with Goro (well, maybe second favorite sleazebag, I do love Nobuo Kaneko).

Formulaic but fun, with a nicely edited confrontation/dance sequence featuring everybody’s beloved Meiko Kaji, and continuing the series’ portrayal of train stations as horrific death traps.

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Review: Judex (France 1963)

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Georges Franju’s tribute to the silent serials of Louis Feuillade. Franju takes a different path than Olivier Assayas, whose tribute to Les Vampires, Irma Vep, recontextualized the action into a meta-tribute to Feuillade and Maggie Cheung. Rather Franju does something more akin to Noboru Iguchi‘s take on Karate-Robo Zaborgar – condensing the material into feature length while playing up its inherent absurdity with a loving touch. Perhaps an even better point of comparison would be De Laurentiis’s Flash Gordon.

Continue reading

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Review: The Beach Bum (USA 2019)

beach-bum

Why do I keep watching Harmony Korine movies? I hate Harmony Korine movies. I can only imagine the pitch on this one: “Spring Breakers, but with old people!”

I spent the whole first half of this movie thinking these people are total degenerates, but mostly harmless other than the fact that they are all constantly operating motor vehicles while drunk and high. Whoops.

2 points for everything with Martin Lawrence (who briefly steals the film) and 2 points for the ending.

Added to my “Florida” list: boxd.it/5SCta

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