Stephen reviews: Project A-ko (1986)

projecta-ko_1Project A-ko [プロジェクトA子] (1986)

Starring Miki Ito, Emi Shinohara, Michie Tomizawa, Tessho Genda, Shuichi Ikeda, Asami Mukaidono, Daisuke Gori, Sayuri Ikemoto

Directed by Katsuhiko Nishijima


Thirty years ago Project A-ko took the anime industry by storm. It was one of the biggest names in anime, and thoroughly beloved by just about any anime fan in the ’90s. So now, for its 30th anniversary… well, pretty much nothing is happening other than me writing up this review. The franchise has been dormant for the past 25 years, and people seem to have just forgotten about the whole thing. I suspect there are vast swaths of younger anime fans who have never seen it, possibly never even heard of it.

This strikes me as strange. More than any other title, save for perhaps Akira or Ghost in the Shell, A-ko was the face of anime in the West. And if you ask me, I would say A-ko is a much truer definition of the art form. Akira and Ghost in the Shell were great films, no question about it, but they are the face of anime solely because they have mainstream appeal. People who don’t like anime often like those films anyway, because they don’t really represent what anime is like. Anime is about over-the-top absurdism, larger-than-life action, and exaggerated emotions which cannot be portrayed with live action; because human faces cannot actually contort like that.

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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.

Let’s Get Harry (1986)

letsgetharry_1Let’s Get Harry (1986)
AKA The Rescue, Operation Harry

Starring Michael Schoeffling, Thomas F. Wilson, Glenn Frey, Robert Duvall, Gary Busey, Rick Rossovich, Ben Johnson, Mark Harmon

Directed by Alan Smithee (Stuart Rosenberg)

Expectations: None.

twohalfstar


An American ambassador and a plumbing engineer, Harry (Mark Harmon), are kidnapped by Colombian guerrillas and when word gets back to Harry’s brother, Cory (Michael Schoeffling), he’s not about to let Harry rot away in the back of a Colombian shack in the middle of the jungle. Cory first attempts to appeal to the proper channels, taking a trip to Washington with his buddy Pachowski (Thomas F. Wilson), but the politicians are all, “Sorry, son, we just can’t help you.” So Cory decides to ask himself WWHD (What Would Harry Do?), and he finds that the only answer is that Harry would board a plane to Columbia and do his best at being Rambo. And that’s exactly what Cory, Pachowski, Spence (Glenn Frey) and Kurt (Rick Rossovich) do. Let’s Get Harry is one of the many ’80s action films with a Colombian drug lord villain, but how many of those films feature his civilian buddies attempting a rescue mission?

But what the hell do four plumbers know about assaulting a Colombian drug lord’s camp patrolled by armed guards? Well, they know their limitations — not that they need to in an ’80s action film — so they hire Shrike (Robert Duvall), a no-nonsense recipient of the Medal of Honor who agrees to help them traverse the treacherous terrain. And because they can’t get to Columbia on gusto and skill alone, they enlist the help of local car dealer/big game hunter Jack Abernathy (Gary Busey). He refuses to fund their little excursion unless he comes along, so now their party is up to six members and they are ready to roll. (And really, if they cast Gary Busey in this and didn’t take him along…)

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Night of the Creeps (1986)

nightofthecreeps_1Starring Jason Lively, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow, Tom Atkins, Wally Taylor, Bruce Solomon, Vic Polizos, Allan Kayser, Ken Heron, Alice Cadogan, June Harris, David Paymer

Directed by Fred Dekker

Expectations: Super high.

fourstar


Horror comedies are definitely a lost art these days, but in the 1980s filmmakers had the perfect grasp on what made a great one. Night of the Creeps is easily one of the genre’s best, managing to be hilarious yet frightening, delightfully gory, and reverential of past horror films while also being original. It often feels like a whole bunch of horror movies all smashed together into one, and that’s kind of exactly what it is. But while a multitude of ideas usually leads to a muddled story that trips over itself in its effort to entertain, in Night of the Creeps it’s just a total blast.

We open in space as fat, pink, naked aliens with monstrous heads chase after one of their own who’s apparently carrying some kind of highly dangerous experiment of theirs. But they can’t stop him, and his escape pod rockets towards this wonderful little planet we call Earth. The film now shifts to black & white, and we find ourselves in 1959. This shift is not only visually interesting, but it also sets a mood. Director Fred Dekker is not trying to accurately represent the 1950s here, just the movies of the 1950s. He does so flawlessly, even right down to the fun/scary tone that many ’50s B-Movies have.

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Stephen reviews: Urusei Yatsura 4: Lum the Forever (1986)

uruseiyatsura4_1Urusei Yatsura 4: Lum the Forever [うる星やつら4 ラム・ザ・フォーエバー] (1986)

Starring Fumi Hirano, Toshio Furukawa, Akira Kamiya, Saeko Shimazu, Kazuko Sugiyama, Shigeru Chiba

Directed by Kazuo Yamazaki


Well, it’s official. My mind has been blown. I don’t think I’ve been as confused by a movie since Utena. But that’s OK; I got over it. It did take me quite a long time to think things through, but I’ve come to terms with the film. The problem is that nothing in the film happens for a reason, or at least not one that’s included in the film. It makes for a jumble of nonsensical events that just sort of happen. They string together as if there ought to be some significant plot line that explains everything, but by the end of the film, I was just as lost as ever.

The characters are making an independent horror film which goes awry when the props turn out to be haunted, Lum gradually starts losing her powers, a mountain pops up in the middle of the city, people start forgetting Lum even exists, and Mendou believes that starting a war with his cousin will somehow solve everything. Supposedly all of this is connected to some strange concept of the dreams of the city, but if there is any coherence to this at all, it was lost on me. Even Netflix’s summary blurb for the film ends on an almost apologetic note: “Just keep in mind that these plot points are really just jumping off points for amazing surreal imagery and situations.”

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Raw Deal (1986)

rawdeal_1Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kathryn Harrold, Darren McGavin, Sam Wanamaker, Paul Shenar, Steven Hill, Joe Regalbuto, Robert Davi, Ed Lauter, Mordecai Lawner

Directed by John Irvin

Expectations: Moderate. I saw this a couple of times as a kid but I don’t remember much about it, which probably isn’t a good sign.

Overall:
twohalfstar

Only in terms of action:
threehalfstar


When a movie opens with machine guns, power boats, witness protection and synth rock grooves, my only answer is a broad smile. Raw Deal is not an Arnold film that gets much love these days, but it’s definitely a worthwhile entry in his filmography. While it is a minor film alongside the others that Arnold made around it (The Terminator, Commando and Predator), taken on its own Raw Deal more than delivers its share of great Arnold moments and excellent ’80s action.

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Mark Kaminsky, an ex-FBI agent currently serving as the sheriff of a small town. His wife is furious about being stuck in the country for the last five years, so when Arnold’s former colleague at the bureau offers him an undercover mission infiltrating the Chicago mob, Arnold jumps at the chance so that he might be able to make his wife happy again. Or just to get away from her. Little details like this are not the strong suit of ’80s action films. Anyway… cue the montage of Arnold slicking back his hair, and before we can say “Great Terwilligers!” we’re on our way with Schwarzenegger to break up a backroom gambling joint and drive a tow truck through its walls.

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Stephen reviews: Outlanders (1986)

outlanders_1Outlanders [アウトランダーズ] (1986)

Starring Fumi Hirano, Mitsuo Iwata, Mari Yokoo, Kenji Utsumi, Mikio Terashima, Takashi Toyoma, Akira Kamiya, Mika Doi

Directed by Katsuhisa Yamada


There were a lot of great films in 1986. Any year that gives us the likes of Platoon, Top Gun, and Howard the Duck is obviously a memorable one. Aliens and Transformers especially had a massive impact on my childhood. On the anime front, 1986 gave us two of the greatest: Fist of the North Star and Project A-ko. Barefoot Gen 2 was nothing to scoff at either. But Outlanders? Scoff your little hearts out, my fellow internet dwellers; scoff as hard as you can.

Outlanders is a comedy about Kahm, a bikini-clad alien woman with green hair and ram horns on her head. She invades her way to Earth and grabs a random loser to be her new husband, which will, through illogical plot contrivance, stop the aliens from destroying the Earth. Somehow I didn’t realize just how much this rips off Urusei Yatsura‘s premise until I found out that it even stole that show’s lead actress, Fumi Hirano, to play Kahm.

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