Miracles (1989)

MrCantonandLadyRose_1Miracles [奇蹟] (1989)
AKA Mr. Canton and Lady Rose, Miracle, Black Dragon, The Canton Godfather, Big Brother

Starring Jackie Chan, Anita Mui, Gua Ah-Leh, Richard Ng, O Chun-Hung, Sunny Fang Kang, Bill Tung, Tien Feng, Ngai Jan, Gloria Yip Wan-Yee, Wu Ma, Billy Lau Nam-Kwong, Lo Lieh, Lee Hoi-Sang, Michael Chow Man-Kin, Paul Che Biu-Law

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: Very High. It’s the only classic Jackie film I’ve never seen.

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Miracles is Jackie Chan’s favorite of all the films he’s made, but I doubt many of his fans share the sentiment. It is a lavishly produced film, a true achievement for Jackie Chan the director, but from a viewer’s perspective it is a bit all over the place. It is a prime example of the flexible approach to mixing genre and tone often seen in Hong Kong films, and as such it is both a rousing success and somewhat underwhelming. I imagine that future viewings of the film will only make it better in my estimation, as it won’t be working against 20-some years of expectation and personal hype.

Jackie’s film is a remake of the Frank Capra film A Pocketful of Miracles, which in turn was a remake of the earlier Frank Capra film Lady for a Day. I haven’t seen either of the Capra films, but judging from their synopses it would seem that their stories are more focused on the deceptive plotline that makes up the bulk of the second half of Miracles. Again I haven’t seen the other films, but this would make sense because just watching Miracles, it feels like the first half is almost entirely unnecessary in a strict plot sense.

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Stephen reviews: Robot Carnival (1987)

Robot%2BCarnivalRobot Carnival [ロボット・カーニバル] (1987)

Starring Koji Moritsugu, Yayoi Maki, Kei Tomiyama, Chisa Yokoyama, James R. Bowers

Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, Atsuko Fukushima, Hidetoshi Ohmori, Hiroyuki Kitakubo, Hiroyuki Kitazume, Kouji Morimoto, Mao Lamdo, Takashi Nakamura, Yasoumi Umetsu


I remember watching this film way back in the ’90s when Cartoon Network would air it about once a year, usually back to back with Vampire Hunter D. As such, it was one of my first and most formative anime experiences. Back then I was far more enamored of Vampire Hunter D and its more overt action. Robot Carnival is a much artsier film, and as a kid/teen I wasn’t really able to appreciate its more subtle points.

It’s been so long that I had pretty much completely forgotten everything about it, other than its anthology format. This wasn’t helped any by the fact that it never saw any kind of home video release, so after Cartoon Network stopped airing it, it was effectively gone for good. Thankfully the folks at Discotek Media recently gave it a DVD release after all these years. And it’s probably past time to give them a shout out, as they have put out a great deal of older anime titles that I have fond memories of or just never would have seen otherwise; films like Space Adventure Cobra, Fist of the North Star, just about anything related to Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express, and tons of other titles.

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Deadly Weapon (1989)

deadlyweapon_1Deadly Weapon (1989)
AKA Killer Kid

Starring Rodney Eastman, Kim Walker, Gary Frank, Michael Horse, Gary Kroeger, Barney Martin, Sam Melville, Joe Regalbuto, William Sanderson, Ed Nelson

Directed by Michael Miner

Expectations: Not much, but it’s a remake of Laserblast so hopefully there are lots of explosions!

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Most films hold their secrets back from the viewer, but Deadly Weapon reveals quite a big one right in the opening moments. Through on-screen text we learn that the entire film takes place in the mind of a 15-year-old boy. So any and all incredulity can be attributed to this, and boy does this movie go over the top! But while whatever we’re watching is supposedly only inside Zeke’s mind, I feel like there was also a more mundane version of the events playing out in “real life.” Nothing in the movie suggests or references this, I just chose to interpret the film’s exaggeration of everything as what they looked or felt like to Zeke in a heightened, hallucinatory state, similar to how a kid and an adult will remember the same event somewhat differently.

Zeke is an outcast kid who is bullied and beaten down by everyone in his life. He’s powerless against these people, but one day he finds an Army crate in the river outside of town. And what might be inside this crate? Well, some dumb ol’ office supplies are on top, but hidden underneath them is an experimental ray gun! Now Zeke’s got the power to fight back, and that’s exactly what he does! If that sounds at all familiar, it’s because Deadly Weapon is a remake of one of my favorite Charles Band films: Laserblast!

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Quick Takes: Fast Company, The Fly, Dead Ringers

fastcompany_1Fast Company (1979)
threehalfstar

Starring William Smith, Claudia Jennings, John Saxon, Nicholas Campbell, Don Francks, Cedric Smith, Judy Foster, Robert Haley, George Buza, David Graham, David Petersen
Directed by David Cronenberg

Just a few months before unleashing The Brood, Cronenberg released this love letter to drag racing. It is easily the least “Cronenbergian” film from him I’ve seen, but even if I didn’t go into it knowing he loved cars, Fast Company would’ve told me as much. The film’s cinematography is superb, capturing wonderful, wide vistas of the Canadian roadways, as well as close-up shots of gleaming engines, smoking tires and all kinds of other machinery. I was especially taken by an intense close-up of a spark plug gap being checked. Also of specific note is an in-car shot of a complete funny car run, with a timer on-screen to further add to the wow factor. I’m not an experienced fan of drag racing, so I was quite impressed with the speed and the precision with which everything is carried out. The film’s story is relatively cliched, and it gets super campy — AKA Fun! — as it goes along, but during the racing segments it actually feels closer to a documentary. It is real cars with real drivers doing some real racing, after all. I think it would be a fine choice for a rumbling double feature with Mad Max: Fury Road. Plus there’s a Springsteen-like theme song, what more can I ask for? Anyone that loves cars, specifically when they were hulking beasts of steel and thunder, should check this forgotten gem out.

theflyThe Fly (1986)
threehalfstar

Starring Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz, Joy Boushel, Leslie Carlson, George Chuvalo
Directed by David Cronenberg

As I worked my way through Cronenberg’s films, I was eager to re-visit his take on The Fly. It was the first Cronenberg film I saw (as a kid sometime in the late ’80s), and all I remember from that viewing was that I thought it was really weird. I didn’t know how to comprehend or process it. Then I watched it again about 10 years ago, and while I liked it a lot more that time, it still felt kind of emotionally cold and I couldn’t get into it completely. When I look back on these experiences after this most recent re-watch, I’m shocked at myself. The Fly is one of Cronenberg’s greatest achievements, and the FX work that slowly transforms Jeff Goldblum into the Brundlefly is absolutely exquisite. My journey with the film is a testament to re-watching films at different ages; the Brundlefly may evolve rather quickly, but it takes much longer for a human such as myself. Sometimes you see a film too early for it to resonate, and thankfully when I watched it this time it felt exactly right.

deadringersDead Ringers (1988)
threehalfstar

Starring Jeremy Irons, Geneviève Bujold, Heidi von Palleske, Barbara Gordon, Shirley Douglas, Stephen Lack
Directed by David Cronenberg

Dead Ringers is an interesting film for Cronenberg to make directly after The Fly. Where that film went hard into the grotesque, Dead Ringers is reserved and intensely psychological. I must say that I prefer the methods of The Fly, but Dead Ringers succeeded in winning me over despite this. Jeremy Irons plays twin gynecologists, and it’s this absolutely riveting dual performance that glues you to the screen. Irons manages to create two distinct, believable characters, and Cronenberg somehow managed to often include them in the same shot without any hint of optical compositing or other visual trickery. It’s really something to see. Definitely a weird movie, though, so I don’t know who I’d recommend it to other than people who are already Cronenberg fans.

Stephen reviews: Black Magic M-66 (1987)

blackmagicm66_1Black Magic M-66 [ブラックマジック M-66] (1987)

Starring Chisa Yokoyama, Yoshiko Sakakibira, Ichirō Nagai, Kyouko Tonguu

Directed by Hiroyuki Kitakubo & Masamune Shirow


The title of this anime has always confused me. First off, there is no magic at all; black, yellow, turquoise or any other color you can think of. This here is a sci-fi film. Nor is there any significant usage of the color black in a non-magical fashion. In fact, the M-66 robots the film is about are far closer to white than black.

Even the second half of the title is confusing. As the film opens, it states that the “M” stands for “Mario.” Is there a significant character named Mario? Of course not. Is there anyone playing a Nintendo, even in the background? Not a chance. The Mario reference is never mentioned, and it is only in the title screen that we ever see it at all. Thankfully I did luck out in searching for info on this, and it seems that Mario is actually short for “marionette.” Why they shortened it, though, is anybody’s guess. I’m just happy that I won’t have an aneurysm trying to figure it out now.

Fortunately the rest of the film is very straightforward and easy to comprehend, although that in itself makes the title even more confusing. If the film had been a nonsensical art house mindfuck, I wouldn’t expect the title to make any sense. But no, it’s just a run-of-the-mill action film ripping off The Terminator, but with less time travel, more half-naked girls, and a dash of goofy comedy.

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Police Story Part II (1988)

policestory2_1Police Story Part II [警察故事續集] (1988)

Starring Jackie Chan, Maggie Cheung, Lam Gwok-Hung, Bill Tung, Charlie Cho Cha-Lee, Benny Lai Keung-Kuen, Ben Lam Kwok-Bun, Guan Shan, Mars, Lisa Chiao Chiao, John Cheung Ng-Long, Danny Chow Yun-Gin, Johnny Cheung Wa

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: High. Can’t wait to see that playground fight again.

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Like Project A 2, Police Story Part II begins by re-introducing the disgruntled, revenge-seeking villains of the first film, but then sidelines them for a completely new plotline. This works well in Project A 2 — the pirates are but a single cog in a very well-constructed script — but in Police Story 2 the returning baddies don’t serve much of a purpose at all. They drive the story a bit in the early going, and they facilitate the entire playground fight, but overall they could have been excised and the film would still make complete sense. I’m ultimately glad they’re around because that playground fight is one of my favorite Jackie fights of all time, but I just wish their inclusion was more meaningful.

This disillusionment also represents my general feelings towards Police Story 2 this time around. There’s a lot to like here, and the action is incredible, but it’s in bad need of some editing. It turns out the version I watched was the Japanese cut — supposedly Jackie’s preferred version of the film — which runs about 20 minutes longer than the original HK cut. I guess I’ll have to hunt down that shorter version for next time, although I’m not entirely sure it would really change my opinion all that much. I guess it depends on where those 20 minutes are coming from.

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Dragons Forever (1988)

DragonsForever_1Dragons Forever [飛龍猛將] (1988)
AKA Cyclone Z, Action Hunter

Starring Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Deanie Ip, Pauline Yeung Bo-Ling, Yuen Wah, Roy Chiao, Crystal Kwok Gam-Yan, Benny Urquidez, Billy Chow Bei-Lei, Lee Ka-Ting, Phillip Ko Fei, James Tin Jun, Tai Bo

Directed by Sammo Hung

Expectations: High. Can’t wait to see the Jackie/Benny the Jet re-match again, and find out about all the stuff I completely forgot about.

threehalfstar


Dragons Forever is the final film to feature the Three Brothers (Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung & Yuen Biao), and in many ways it feels very knowledgeable of this. It often pits the brothers against each other (to wonderful results), perhaps bringing on-screen the off-screen tension due to creative disputes. It sees the return of the Wheels on Meals heavy, champion kickboxer extraordinaire Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, for a re-match. Its title has nothing to do with the movie, instead referencing the brothers themselves and their enduring friendship. Dragons Forever is a victory lap for the fans, sending off the brothers’ film collaborations at the height of their careers. As a fan you can’t argue that they didn’t deliver enough after so many movies throughout the ’80s, and since they were all capable of headlining their own films at this point in their careers, the idea of “One more Three Brothers film!” is a wonderful way to say goodbye to a very fruitful relationship. Would I like them to get back together and do another? Yeah, I wouldn’t mind that in the slightest, but there is something to be said for exiting the game at the top.

Jackie Chan plays Jackie, a sleazeball defense lawyer who handles cases for despicable criminals and womanizes every chance he gets. Sammo is something of a con-man. We first meet him selling weapons out of a duffel bag, but soon Jackie directs him to set his sights on the owner of a fishery (Deannie Yip). Jackie’s client owns a chemical factory that is polluting the fishery’s water, and he’s hoping to discredit her in any way he can to win the case. Yuen Biao is Jackie’s crazy friend, who he employs to place a bug in Miss Yip’s apartment, again to gather information to help build his case. Against type and tradition, the three brothers are all on the wrong side of this tale, so initially you can’t really root for them like you normally would.

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