Stephen reviews: Wizards (1977)

wizards_1Starring Bob Holt, Jesse Welles, Richard Romanus, David Proval, Steve Gravers, Susan Tyrrell, Mark Hamill

Directed by Ralph Bakshi


Wizards did pretty damn well at the box office for its first few weeks, and that was going head-to-head with Disney’s Fantasia. But it had the terrible misfortune of releasing just a few weeks before the premier of Star Wars (which is interesting since Mark Hamill also plays a minor character in Wizards). I’ll let you do your own research to find out which of those films got pulled from the theaters to make more showtimes available for the other. Since then, the film has developed a cult following, and I’ve been curious to see what was so special about it. It turns out that despite its obvious low budget, the film has a visual style like nothing else, and I can easily see why people became so enamored of it.

The story itself is nothing new, and it is very typical of an epic fantasy story. The good wizard Avatar is pitted against the evil wizard Blackwolf who has revived ancient war machines and is out to conquer the world. What sets Wizards apart is its use of varying art styles. The characters themselves look rather generic and ordinary, but the backgrounds vary greatly between locations and have some wildly contrasting styles to the character art. A lot of early rotoscoping is also used in this film, and not in the conventional way, either. The rotoscoping was drawn off stock footage in stark minimalist tone, and the film cuts back and forth between these stylized and mismatched animations with the more traditional line art. Straight live-action stock footage is also thrown about in the backgrounds and even spliced into the animation. The effect is truly bizarre, and if you’re into visually unique storytelling, then this is going to grab you and never let go.

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House (1977)

house_6House [ハウス Hausu] (1977)

Starring Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Kumiko Ohba, Ai Matsubara, Mieko Sato, Eriko Tanaka, Masayo Miyako, Kiyohiko Ozaki, Saho Sasazawa, Asei Kobayashi

Directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi

Expectations: Very high. A foreign cult movie with a Criterion release? OK!

On the general scale:
threestar

On the WTF-movie scale:
fourstar


In the name of all that is right and good in the world, what did I just watch? Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House is a surreal masterpiece that is constantly taking you off-guard with odd juxtapositions and abstract composition. Not to mention all the nutso goings-on.  It’s got to be one of the most unusual horror movies ever made, so much so that it barely resembles a horror film most of the time. A near-complete subversion of the genre, House is definitely a film worthy of a look, especially for those that dig surreal cinema, Japanese WTF cinema, or white, fluffy cats.

At the base of all that surrealism is one of the most traditional horror stories in the book. Seven schoolgirls are off on summer vacation, and after their initial plans go awry, they all decide to visit Gorgeous’s aunt. Gorgeous’s mother died many years ago, and she hopes that by reconnecting with her aunt she can feel a bit closer to her. When the girls arrive in the hometown of Gorgeous’s mother, they find that their destination is a huge mansion on the top of a hill. And it’s a spooky looking mansion, too.

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Raw Iron: The Making of Pumping Iron (2002)

rawiron_1Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, Mike Katz, Franco Columbu, George Butler, Joe Weider, Bill Grant, Ken Waller, Reg Park, Ed Corney, Matty Ferrigno, Liev Schreiber, Sylvester Stallone, Bud Cort

Directed by Dave & Scott McVeigh

Expectations: Moderate.


I’m not in the habit of reviewing DVD extras, but this one seemed juicy enough considering I’ve covered all the other Arnold-related bodybuilding films. I’m hesitant to rate it, though, as it’s hard to really quantify its quality as a film. In any case, I really enjoyed watching it, and I think any big fan of Pumping Iron or Arnold would enjoy it too. So a definite thumbs up, but I’m going to forgo the stars this time.

There were over 100 hours of footage shot for Pumping Iron, so Raw Iron takes a different approach to the “Making of” documentary. Instead of simply gathering a bunch of people to talk to the camera and tell their stories, Raw Iron actually tells its story through deleted footage from the film. These scenes were kept in the vault until Raw Iron‘s release for Pumping Iron‘s 25th anniversary. This deleted footage is mostly great, too, from an unused sub-plot with Arnold trying to teach Harold and Maude‘s Bud Cort how to pump up in the gym, to the film’s bodybuilders posing on top of a Malibu mountain while listening to Arnold pontificate about “the pump.” It’s great fun to see all this unused footage.

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Cinderella (1977)

cinderella_1977_poster_01Cinderella (1977)
AKA Cinderella: The Movie, The Other Cinderella

Starring Cheryl Smith, Yana Nirvana, Marilyn Corwin, Jennifer Doyle, Sy Richardson, Brett Smiley, Kirk Scott, Boris Moris, Pamela Stonebrook

Directed by Michael Pataki

Expectations: Very low.

On the general scale:
onehalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar


[As a slight disclaimer to those who might be interested in seeking this one out and laughing at its absurdity fresh and untainted: I suggest doing so before reading the review. This movie is such that I found it hard not to reveal many of the ways it takes license with the classic tale, and that’s pretty much the whole enchilada with this one. So you’ve been warned!]

Against all odds, Cinderella, the ’70s softcore version of the fairy tale produced by Charles Band, is a memorable, enjoyable experience. I’ve purposefully held back on reviewing this and a few other films in the Band lineup, thinking that they’d be hard to get through (or perhaps impenetrable, to use a dick joke in the spirit of this movie). I also couldn’t imagine the idea that a softcore musical would be any good, but now I see the error in my thinking. Not only was it good, it was a “snapping” good time. And up front I should mention that “good” is most definitely a subjective term here, as I imagine most people would find this largely stupid and pointless.

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To Kill With Intrigue (1977)

10_gkaals1004To Kill With Intrigue [劍花煙雨江南] (1977)

Starring Jackie Chan, Hsu Feng, Sin Il-Ryong, Yu Ling-Lung, George Wang Jue, Tung Lam, Ma Kei, Kong Ching-Ha, Chan Wai-Lau, Lee Man-Tai, Chan San-Yat

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Moderate.

twostar


Coming off of one of the best early Jackie Chan films, here’s one of the worst! To Kill With Intrigue is one of the most convoluted and hard-to-follow wuxia films I’ve ever seen, saved only marginally by its grouping of fun, well-choreographed fights. The “intrigue” in the film’s title refers to the many needless and overly complicated plot points, but, y’know… To Kill with Needless and Overly Complicated Plot Points just doesn’t have that same je ne sais quoi.

And how will I sum up the gist of To Kill With Intrigue‘s plot into one paragraph? It’s just not possible, but the basics are: Jackie’s parents are murdered by the Killer Bees clan (is this where Wu-Tang got the name?), but just as Jackie is about to kill the one responsible, she outs Jackie’s father as the murderer of her parents! They spare each other, and thus begins a weird love/hate relationship that exists to further the plot where it shouldn’t be able to go, and also to overly complicate things (of course). Anyway, the real story is Jackie searching the countryside for his pregnant girlfriend who he sent to safety with his friend right before the Killer Bees attacked.

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Pumping Iron (1977)

pumping_ironStarring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, Matty Ferrigno, Victoria Ferrigno, Mike Katz, Franco Columbu, Ed Corney, Ken Waller, Serge Nubret

Directed by George Butler & Robert Fiore

Expectations: High.

threehalfstar


Pumping Iron is a great document of a sport once regarded as a weird subculture reserved for those crazy enough to devote their lives to pumping iron. While watching the film I couldn’t escape the similarities to Perfect, depicting people’s desire to achieve perfection through working out. I did some research and found that this isn’t too far from the truth, as Pumping Iron‘s success in 1977 helped to popularize the sport and facilitate the rise of the commercial gym, leading to the fitness craze of the 1980s. And of course, it’s also the film that catapulted Arnold Schwarzenegger to stardom. He may have appeared in a couple of roles prior to its release, even winning a Golden Globe, but none of it compared to the power of Pumping Iron (which would later be eclipsed by Conan the Barbarian as Arnold’s true breakout role).

Even though Pumping Iron depicts the 1975 Mr. Olympia competition where Arnold competed for his sixth straight title, it’s not quite the raw, honest documentary it appears to be on the surface. Some of the scenes were specifically filmed to “fill narrative holes,” such as the Ken Waller football scene where he plots to steal the shirt of Mike Katz. In fact, the competition footage had already been shot and the directors came up with this scene to enhance the drama and the rivalry between two bodybuilders who were actually good friends. This makes me wonder if the touching scene in the locker room showing Katz’s crushing despair, and his subsequent, reserved happiness after hearing that Waller had won, is a fabrication also. Katz seemed incredibly genuine in that moment, though, asking the cameraman (or himself) the contemplative question of how it must feel to win. Even if this is a fake (which I don’t think it is), Katz’s intense passion to win the competition is palpable and honest.

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Eraserhead (1977)

Starring Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph, Jeanne Bates, Judith Roberts, Laurel Near, V. Phipps-Wilson, Jack Fisk, Jean Lange, Thomas Coulson

Directed by David Lynch

Expectations: Low. Fuck David Lynch.

On the General scale:

If you like surrealism in film:


[Editor’s note: This review was my entry into the LAMB’s So You Think You Can Review tournament, in which I lost in the first round. Oh well!]

In one sentence: “Use a condom.”

A good 10 years have passed since I saw and hated my first David Lynch film (Blue Velvet) and now I find myself given Eraserhead as my first assignment in this tournament. Great! It’s been languishing in my queue for years, and now I’m forced to watch it. I’ve never understood the fascination with Lynch, but I went in with an open mind and a desire not to fall asleep too quickly. I guessed that the thick, WTF symbolism of his later films would be even worse here in his first feature. I was somewhat right on that front, but in spite of that Eraserhead easily ranks as one of the most engaging films of Lynch’s that I’ve seen. Perhaps that means some re-watches are in order for his other work, but I don’t know if I’m ready for that level of commitment just yet.

Eraserhead opens with a scene that recalls shades of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, with our main character, Henry, superimposed over the dark of space. A crusty God-figure pulls a lever while looking out his window on the infinite and an intestine-like giant sperm flies out of Henry’s mouth. This is crosscut with establishing shots of an asteroid/planet/barren, symbolic womb. Following along so far? No? Well, good luck getting through the rest of this fucking movie then. Anyway, this soon gives way to Henry on Earth carrying his groceries home (or at least a big paper sack that presumably holds some sort of products). He walks through the back alleys of a 1984-esque, dystopian science fiction world populated by derelict factories and men with deep-lined faces. I know that’s not much of a plot description, but a full paragraph that runs down the actual plot would easily contain the entire film, and that’s not my goal. But I do wish to break down what Lynch is going for here, so if you wish to see the film untainted (and really, you should), skip ahead to the last paragraph.

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