9/13/13- Turns I was right about Daimajin following a formula the last time I wrote about it. In Return of Daimajin, the god/statue is back, this time a “lake god” instead of a mountain’s protector. Once again, it is seeking to protect a family in charge (guess those Japanese still had a thing about “divine right” back in the 60s) and once again it takes out an invader seeking to wrong the people out of greed. And once again, he doesn’t bother showing up until the end when a comely, kimonoed beauty pleads for it. And once again, he basically stomps around for a glorious 20 minutes at the end of the film.
The historical drama part of the story is, like the first one, pretty engaging as it is though, so it ends up being pretty damned entertaining on it’s own with the kaiju-style hijinx being the cherry on top. I’m not sure if maybe the budget went down with this one because while the effects are still pretty good, there are some instances where they just don’t measure up with the first one. There are a couple of moments in which the optical effects reminded me of some of the problems with Godzilla vs. King Kong. While I haven’t watched the final film of the trilogy yet and the mastering didn’t seem quite as good on this one as the first one, I have to recommend picking this set up if you find it inexpensively.
I’m continuing to watch the Universal Sherlock Holmes films on blu ray and The Pearl of Death definitely impresses by being not just a decent entry into the series (Holmes actually gets bested for once), but it also looks pretty great. This must be one of the instances where the UCLA Television and Film archive had access to a pretty clean print.
What surprises me is how the origin of the scripts seems to have little bearing on how good they turn out. This one is based on The Three Napoleons, one of Doyle’s stories. The Scarlet Claw, another top entry, was a new idea. Traditionally, you’d think the best ones would be all from the Doyle stories, but there have been weak instances of both. Just something I was thinking about.
As a bonus, it contains the appearance of Rondo Hatton as The Creeper. And who is that, you ask? Let me answer your question with a question. Have you seen The Rocketeer? Sinclair’s henchman Lothar was a tribute to him. You can also see him in The Brute Man, a film that was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. He doesn’t even have a line in The Pearl of Death and for the most part is shrouded in shadow for its running time, but when they finally reveal him, you get to see just how huge he was. I would call this one of my favorites of the series so far.
9/16/13- Critters. Somewhere between Gremlins and Hobgoblins you lie.
I’d never seen the film before, but I grew up seeing the furry monster giving a smirking stink-eye from the VHS box in many a video store. And when I had had enough of work last Saturday night, I headed out to catch a late-night screening in Kansas City. Having seen it, I’m sure this was the right choice, as I can’t see there being a better way to see this Reagan-era relic of puppety violence than sitting in the theater with a scratchy 35mm print at midnight.
The movie itself isn’t fantastic by any stretch. It is clearly a Corman-esque attempt to capitalize on the Gremlins phenomenon (and it did so successfully considering there are more Critters films than the franchise that spawned it). Not only that, but it tries desperately to seem associated with the unrelated, in-jokey Amblin universe with a family cat named Chewie and an appearance by ET (in stuffed toy form), among other things.
It’s admittedly pretty entertaining, though seemingly meaner than Gremlins, despite the PG-13 rating. It fit perfectly in the early New Line Cinema oeuvre, back when they were a horror factory and hadn’t “legitimized” themselves with Lord of the Rings and such. The film made me laugh, but I’m not sure whether a few of the things that made me chuckle were supposed to be funny due simply to the period in which the film was made. Is the Bon Jovi-like singer supposed to be making fun of those types of “rockers” or was he actually supposed to seem cool? Those mooks skewed so close to parody anyway that it’s impossible for me to know without having been there. There also isn’t much in terms of recognizable star power. There’s that guy that looks like a rougher Charles Durning. And the mom from ET. And a young Billy Zane in full-on 80s douche mode, complete with little pony tail. I spent most of his screen time resisting the urge to tell him to put a cork in it.
The next night I decided to try out another couple of creature features. First up was Sharknado and, dear God, I knew it would be bad but I was expecting funny bad, not “complete and total incompetence” bad. It does lend itself to an interesting discussion on the nature of “bad” movies, however. Because after that I watched Piranha and while they’re two sides of the same coin, they couldn’t be more different.
The makers of Piranha (i.e. Joe Dante, Phil Tippet, John Sayles, etc.) went in knowing what they were making; a Jaws knock-off that was going to be pretty ridiculous. But they sought to make the best darn movie about killer, genetically enhanced piranahs they could. There’s definitely room for fun in the film, plus the editing is well done and there’s a comprehensible story to follow. The piranah themselves work surprisingly well despite their obvious practical effect limitations. It’s a fun exploitation film that, despite being one of Dante’s first films, has managed to stay popular because it is more than the sum of it’s parts. There’s a reason it’s fondly remembered as one of the best films to come out of Roger Corman’s New World schlock factory.
No, seriously. How do you @*$( this up?
The makers of Sharknado, on the other fin, are The Asylum. This is the infamous studio that puts out awful knock-offs for clueless idiots to grab without thinking, like Transmorphers and Atlantic Rim. The kind of movies that causes initially excited children to cry the delicious, salty tears of disappointment upon with The Asylum feeds. (I swear to God, it’s gotten so bad that they even had a trailer for a fake Tyler Perry movie.) So you know out of the gate that it will be a terrible movie. But given the name “Sharknado,” one would assume it started out its development tongue in cheek and should be fun in an outrageously stupid kind of way. And it certainly is that. But it’s so ineptly made, that I can only assume they’d gone to film School at Ed Wood Tech. It makes Manos: The Hands of Fate seem like a masterpiece of logical plotting. It’s one thing to make a stupid or strange or over the top movie on purpose. I love a lot of movies that fall under that category. It’s another to make a stupid movie so terribly that it starts to ruin the fun. Sharknado has everything; a script in which main characters die without the viewer ever even knowing their names, incomprehensible editing, stock footage that is completely out of place with the film, the worst CGI you will ever see this side of Birdemic, a disdain for the most rudimentary of even Hollywood action movie physics, a token global warming reference as the reason for everything bad that’s happening… I am very conflicted as far as whether I liked it or not because for me there’s a fine line between something that is accidentally bad because people don’t know any better and something that is bad because they just didn’t care. Sharknado seems more like the latter, and that’s the thing that doesn’t sit well with me. It’s not parody or satire, or even a surrealist exercise in storytelling like Axe Cop. It’s nowhere near clever enough. Yet at the same time, I feel a desire within me to force others to watch this out of disbelief that something this poorly executed exists.