Wheels on Meals (1984)

wheelsonmeals_posterWheels on Meals [快餐車] (1984)
AKA Spartan X, Million Dollar Heiress

Starring Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Lola Forner, Benny Urquidez, Keith Vitali, Pepe Sancho, Paul Chang Chung, Richard Ng, John Shum Kin-Fun, Wu Ma

Directed by Sammo Hung

Expectations: The highest.

fourstar


Wheels on Meals is an old favorite, but it’s one of those movies that slipped through the cracks and I haven’t seen it in over 10 years. In the intervening years many films have come and gone, leaving very little of my memories of this film intact, but that’s OK because watching it this time around was almost like seeing it again for the first time. And with a film as enjoyable as Wheels on Meals, that’s a real gift.

What’s interesting about Wheels on Meals is that on the surface it’s a very simple, almost storyless film. So much of the first half is just random antics and gags, and while they’re all incredibly entertaining, there isn’t a traditional drive to them like you expect a movie to have. But as the film progresses it becomes apparent that the film’s plotting is actually very tight, controlled and slowly bringing the pieces together. In a way it feels similar to the fight choreography of the film; it’s simply flawless.

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Cannonball Run II (1984)

cannonballrun2_1Starring Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Jamie Farr, Telly Savalas, Marilu Henner, Shirley MacLaine, Susan Anton, Catherine Bach, Jackie Chan, Richard Kiel, Mel Tillis, Tony Danza, Jack Elam, Charles Nelson Reilly, Doug McClure, Ricardo Montalbán

Directed by Hal Needham

Expectations: The lowest.

onestar


Ugh. These are the moments I really hate my completionist tendencies. I can’t even imagine how I’m going to get through Jackie’s horrid American films of the 2000s. But those are problems for another day, so let’s focus on the travesty before us. Cannonball Run II is just like The Cannonball Run if everything was less funny and even more boring. Sounds great, right?

So this time the Sheik’s father, the King (Ricardo Montalban), is angry with the Sheik (Jamie Farr) for not winning the first cannonball race. So the Sheik announces a new race and puts up a million dollars as prize money. Telegrams go out to all the previous racers and before you know it there’s a bunch of wild shenanigans on the highways of the American Southwest. The race never really mattered in the first film, but it doesn’t matter AT ALL in the sequel. It is merely a device to shoehorn as many wacky characters into one movie as is humanly possible.

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Stephen reviews: Birth (1984)

birth_1Birth [バース] (1984)
AKA World of the Talisman; Planet Busters

Starring Miina Tominaga, Kazuki Yao, Ichirō Nagai, Kaneto Shiozawa, Keiko Toda, Noriko Tsukase, Fuyumi Shiraishi

Directed by Shinya Sadamitsu


Sometimes I wonder why I dig through the bottom of the anime barrel, dredging up forgotten pieces of garbage that maybe should have stayed forgotten. But then I stumble upon one of those hidden gems that I never would have seen otherwise. Birth is one of those films that despite its low production quality is just so damn entertaining that all of its flaws are moot. Its rambunctious humor and action-driven narrative kept me in a perpetual state of giddy excitement.

There’s really not much of a plot here. It’s more of a string of intertwined chase scenes without much purpose aside from having a thrilling chase scene full of random sci-fi gadgets and vehicles. It starts with a small alien blob being chased by a slightly more anatomically defined alien critter, then moves on to a spaceship chasing a flying, glowing sword across the solar system, then shows off a cute blonde girl on a hover bike (which was clearly designed for maximum sexy posing and butt shots) getting chased by an asshole biker gang intercut with a guy on foot getting chased by a big robot with swords and guns. This is pretty much the first half-hour of the film, and there hasn’t been any kind of story going on other than “Run for your freaking life!”

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Stephen reviews: Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer (1984)

beautifuldreamer_1Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer [うる星やつら2 ビューティフル・ドリーマー] (1984)

Starring Fumi Hirano, Toshio Furukawa, Akira Kamya, Kazuko Sugiyama, Machiko Washio, Saeko Shimazu, Mayumi Tanaka, Shigeru Chiba, Takuya Fujioka

Directed by Mamoru Oshii


I was well prepared for this film to be different from the first Urusei Yatsura film, as well as the franchise in general. I had heard this was when Mamoru Oshii’s style really came to the fore, and in that regard it certainly didn’t disappoint. It is full of the stylistic flourishes that populate his other films. This had me rather worried, though. Urusei Yatsura is a zany comedy. I couldn’t see how Oshii’s slow dramatic buildups would work for such a concept, but surprisingly it does. I was geared up for a boring slog and instead found myself in one of the best Oshii films I’ve yet seen.

It starts with a very typical situation for the series. The students are preparing for a festival day, which is a rather common high school activity in anime. The usual hijinks between Ataru, Lum, and Shinobu are in full swing, and everything feels normal. Actually normal is a bit of an oxymoron in Urusei Yatsura. The students are preparing a Nazi themed café, complete with an actual tank in the middle of the shop. (Maid cafés are the stereotypical themed cafés in most anime.) Things wind up turning far more mysterious, however, when one of the teachers finds his apartment overrun by mold. He then proposes that they are all trapped in a time loop, reliving the same day over and over again, similar to the situation in Groundhog Day.

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Stephen reviews: Bagi, the Monster of Mighty Nature (1984)

bagi_1Bagi, the Monster of Mighty Nature [大自然の魔獣 バギ Daishizen no Majyuu Bagi] (1984)
AKA Baggy

Starring Saeko Shimazu, Kazuhiko Inoue, Kazuteru Suzuki, Tomie Kataoka, Masaru Ikeda, Yuzuru Fujiki, Kousei Tomita, Katsuji Mori

Directed by Osamu Tezuka


It seems impossible to overstate the influence Osamu Tezuka had on anime. When I began watching Bagi and it not only featured a sexy, furry catgirl, but then had her attacked by a tentacle monster, my immediate thought was, “Man, there’s nothing in anime that Tezuka didn’t do first.” I hasten to add that this tentacle attack was in no way sexual. That particular depravity wouldn’t appear in anime for several more years, but looking back from today it’s hard not to immediately think of the ickier applications. While I have no supporting evidence that Bagi spawned the sexy catgirls and tentacle monsters that would later ingrain themselves in the anime industry, I don’t know of any earlier uses of either. Though that may only be because this and previous eras of anime are poorly represented in the west (nor would it surprise me to find out that it was simply an earlier Tezuka story that did originate the ideas).

Bagi also surprised me by being an even further departure from Tezuka’s usual style than Prime Rose. While Tezuka’s trademark humor, pacing, and cameos were much reduced in that film, Bagi almost entirely discards them. I’m not sure if this was some fluke of design, or if his style was just evolving. Either way, Bagi feels very little like a Tezuka film. His earlier films, even in their most serious moments, were joyful romps, filled with fun and adventure. Most of that has been filtered out in Bagi. I was a bit sad to lose the zany approach of older Tezuka productions, but this was balanced out by the fact that Bagi is a very well-made film. Due to the more focused narrative, it has a much weightier and more dramatic feel.

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The Terminator (1984)

terminator_1Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Paul Winfield, Lance Henriksen, Rick Rossovich, Bess Motta, Earl Boen

Directed by James Cameron

Expectations: Super high. Can’t wait to see it again.

fourstar


Everyone already knows that James Cameron’s second feature The Terminator is an incredible, groundbreaking film. Even if you don’t like it (for shame!), you still have to give it credit for the undying fan support it has garnered over the years; as Elvis would say, “50,000,000 fans can’t be wrong.” I’ve seen this film and its sequel more times than I could possibly count, yet it remains a perennial favorite.

This time around I noticed a few things I never had before. The most notable thing is that the film is almost purely visual during its first half. Hell, even a good portion of the second half is largely driven by pure action and carnage too, but its the first half that I want to focus on. The film begins with a quick scene of the future war. These scenes have always had a deep effect on me; I remember being absolutely riveted to them as a child. This ultimate manifestation of the post-apocalyptic, war-ravaged city ignites the fires of imagination, and even though we have little context for what’s happening on-screen, we cannot deny the power of the imagery being used. I mean, who saw this as a kid and didn’t remember the tank treads crushing human skulls?

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Thieves After Dark (1984)

thievesafterdark_1Thieves After Dark [Les voleurs de la nuit] (1984)

Starring Véronique Jannot, Bobby Di Cicco, Victor Lanoux, Stéphane Audran, Camille de Casabianca, Micheline Presle, Rachel Salik, Claude Chabrol, Marthe Villalonga, Andréas Voutsinas

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: Very low.

onehalfstar


Thieves After Dark is arguably the rarest of Sam Fuller’s feature films, but unfortunately it’s also the worst one I’ve seen. This one barely even resembles a Sam Fuller film outside of the scenes that bookend it; if it weren’t for his incredible cameo, I’d still be wondering if the people doing the titles had gotten confused. It’s watchable, but at times it’s almost painfully so. Thieves After Dark is supposedly a tribute to the French New Wave, but instead of exuding the detached, youthful spirit of the French New Wave films I’ve seen, it just comes off as a watered-down ’80s film without much in the way of anything, whether that’s entertainment, thought-provoking themes or nice visuals.

Based on the evidence at hand, Sam Fuller himself doesn’t seem too proud of this one either. In his autobiography it barely rates more than a couple of passing mentions, and every time it does come up it’s in a negative light. It can’t be a coincidence that the chapter where Sam Fuller discusses the film is also the one where he explains the book’s title, A Third Face. The third face is the face of a person on the inside, the one that no one sees and is only known to the person themselves. He tells us that you can’t lie to the third face, and then goes on to cautiously dance around talking about Thieves After Dark. I’m convinced that on the inside Fuller knew this wasn’t much of a movie, but he didn’t have the heart to plainly come out and say it. Just based on how much he passionately describes his other films, it’s clear that he knew defeat when he saw it.

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