8/25/13- Had a couple of great nights this week and watched a lot of movies. Almost too many. First off, for the second time in the last couple of weeks I watched the first two-thirds of Edgar Wright’s Cornetto trilogy. I’ve written and spoken a lot about these films in the past, so I don’t particularly feel the need to expound upon them even further at the moment, aside from saying that despite their differences, they really are phenomenal as a body of work and a uniquely accessible look at American popular culture through the eyes of Britain (much like Spaced often was.) One could probably blame Shaun for the resurrection (pun intended) of zombie films over the last decade, but only the same way people like to blame Star Wars and Jaws for those attempting to ape their success instead of putting a new twist on an old formula like all three of those films did.
I had planned on attending the trilogy screening at the Alamo Drafthouse in KC, only to find that the only reason it said it wasn’t sold out was that there were a couple of handicapped-designated seats left. After briefly considering renting a wheelchair and claiming to have “entitlitus” like Ronnie Dobbs, I instead broke out my blu rays again. It was still a great time because I had some great company, Jade, a girl I’ve known for a while and have wanted to spend more time with. We got some Glory Days pizza, had some ice cream on the way to the theater and hit The World’s End to finish out a charming night. Definitely one of the best Thursday evenings I’ve had in a while.
The next night I hit up another edition of Cinema A-Go-Go (“Brought to you by KPR and The Retro Cocktail Hour.”) This edition brought a couple of greasy with cheese Italian superhero flicks from the so-called swinging ’60s. I’ve seen some of these types of films before. CAGG has shown films like Diabolik, Seven Golden Men and Super Argo before, while Mystery Science Theater also threw some stuff at us like Danger! Deathray, which I think may have been edited by a four year old. And they all have the same jazzy music, like Henry Mancini on anabolic steroids. Thanks to the aforementioned Deathray, I now find myself automatically inserting the words “Watermelon Man” into a good many of their scores. First up was Argoman: The Fantastic Superman. And he’s a total wanker, for the record. Argoman is a distinctly wonky bit of fluff in which the characters all seem to be wearing cheaper versions of outfits off the set of Batman. (The Adam West version, notch.) The henchmen were attired in a way that made me remark, “She’s got an army of Die Fledermauses!” It’s also obvious that the filmmakers had seen Thunderball and said, “We can make this look WAY more stupid.” Most interestingly (and the thing that got the most laughs) is that Argoman is a telekinetic that loses his superpowers for six hours after having sex. No, I’m not making that up. He also loves to throw away guns after using them for no particular reason, despite assuredly having more ammo in them. While he’s set up as a hero, he’s also a master criminal that loves the thrill of stealing the world’s greatest treasures. As you do.
Kriminal is not set up as a hero, however. While the filmmakers obviously expect the audience to root for him, he has little redeeming value beyond being super quick on his feet to avoid the law. While his signature is wearing a reverse-skeleton costume, he spends a surprising amount of time walking around in stylish bachelor wear. And of course he seduces every woman he comes across because apparently women simply had sex with anything that moved. Talk about your free love. While his costume and some other oddities like the inappropriate use of a kettle drum in the soundtrack helped supply the kind of goofy energy the crowd was looking for, it was actually the better of the two movies by far in terms of quality and plot. In the end, it is fun watching this creepy dude using his brain to fool both the law and the criminal element for his own gain. It’s essentially a heist movie boiled down into it’s essentials. Instead of a team of guys trying to pull off a big score, it’s one man against the world and it works. Of course the super-villian subgenre has never caught on in America the way it did over in Europe where these characters have their own comics and films. Americans are OK with anti-heroes, but we tire quickly of outright bad guys in most cases. Every time The Joker has gotten his own title from DC, you’ll notice it hasn’t lasted very long. But that might be changing. Breaking Bad has been a pretty beloved TV show and it’s about a character becoming a remorseless drug kingpin. So while the show may not have gained the love it has if it had started out with him being evil, shows like that and The Sopranos do indicate that America is becoming more and more tolerant of morally complex or bankrupt leads in entertainment, so long as they’re compelling. I’ll leave it to the pundits to decide if this is due to the moral degradation of America or the improvement in pop culture storytelling that has mostly taken place in the field of television. I just find it interesting. And it’s a fun button to push and see what people say.
8/30/13- Moving on, I finally finished the Lone Wolf and Cub series with White Heaven in Hell. Unlike the other films, this one took a bit of a weird turn into what is almost “supernatural,” if you want to call it that. First off, it really focuses on him and his one-man war against that darned Yagyu clan that framed him so they could take over as the Shogunate’s executioner for the first time since early on in the series. But it also brings on a legendary “spider tribe” that can dig through the earth like moles in a completely unrealistic manner. But it does help make them creepy so when Itto turns the tables on them, it is actually pretty great. Though when he finally comes up against a hundred guys at the end of the film in what looks like it is supposed to be the final showdown, it looked like they were finally going to put some closure on the story, but I guess I was asking too much. I mean, they had SIX MOVIES to do it. And instead his arch enemy goes dashing through the snow declaring that Itto will meet his end at his hand. Really? WHEN. Aaaaaaargh. Talk about a limp ending to an awesome series. I hope someone gets hold of this series that knows what to do with them because, dang it, it needs to get a proper release. One that doesn’t make it look like it was filmed with Vaseline on the lens.
As I finished that series, I started another from the land of the rising sun. Daimajin is a trilogy that came out in the mid-60s that managed to somehow combine kaiju films with historical dramas. I’ve only watched the first one, but it was surprisingly good. It boils down to this; in fuedal Japan, a no-account ronin something or other pulls a coup and takes over a village. He then proceeds to be a complete butthole. Meanwhile, one of the guards manages to escape with the “royals'” two young children and, with the help of his aunt, hides with them for ten years on a ‘haunted’ mountain where a stone statue guards the evil “majin” that lives in the mountain and causes earthquakes. And at a certain point after the crap hits the proverbial fan, the statue comes to life and effs the evil leader’s ess up. And at one point I found out that the Japanese were into crucifixion. Didn’t know that one. And there’s a point in the rampage of what is referred to confusingly as both the Mountain God that they pray to and the majin they fear (the hell?), that the statue does something that had me saying, “Are they going to… no way… yep, they totally are.” Considering the blu ray set comes from bargain house Mill Creek, the same company that released the (surprisingly badass) 90s Gamera films, it actually looks pretty darn good. Certainly the best that we’ll likely ever see them. I’m looking forward to seeing the next two, but I get the feeling they’re gonna follow a pretty rigid formula. I’ll keep you apprised, true believers.
It’s all been downhill from here.
To completely change gears, can I just say how sick I am of theater advertising? I mean, I used to look forward to trailers. And every once in awhile we get an awesome one. But before seeing You’re Next earlier this week I counted seven of them. SEVEN. Not counting all the “pre-show entertainment” and the multiple plugs for the theater itself. The Regal Cinema that I usually end up going to because it’s the only game in Lawrence (for non-arthouse stuff, anyway) has continued the downward slide of the Hollywood chain they were bought from. See, there had been an uptick in the number of trailers over the years, sometimes to ridiculous lengths. (I remember how the midnight showing of Return of the King, already an incredibly long movie, began about 30 minutes late because of all the advertising and trailers the Manhattan, Kansas theater had attached to it.) Since the theater went digital, it’s been completely whacked in terms of advertising and trailer overload. The most you ever need to show before a movie is three. Maybe four. And theaters like Liberty Hall, The Alamo Drafthouse and the Warren chain (at least last time I was there) are theaters I applaud for not making me sit through at least fifteen minutes of ads before I see a movie I paid for a ticket to, even if I don’t get there early. If I wanted to pay to watch advertising, I’d get cable.