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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Project A II (1987)

ProjectAII_1Project A II [A計劃續集] (1987)
AKA Pirate Patrol 2, Project B

Starring Jackie Chan, Maggie Cheung, Rosamund Kwan, Carina Lau, Lam Wai, Bill Tung, Kwan Hoi-San, Regina Kent, Wong Man-Ying, Chris Lee Kin-Sang, Tai Bo, Mars, Ben Lam Kwok-Bun, Ken Lo, Michael Chan Wai-Man, Wang Lung-Wei

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: The only thing I remember is the redone Buster Keaton stunt. I don’t even remember if I liked the movie or not!

threehalfstar


The perennial question, “Is it better than the original,” always surrounds any discussion of a sequel. In the case of the Project A films, this is not an easy question to answer. The two films are markedly different from one another, with the most defining difference being the absence of Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao from the sequel (they were off making the awesome flick Eastern Condors). This allowed Jackie to branch out the sequel’s story in wildly different directions than the original film, and in a lot of ways it makes for a better, more diverse piece of entertainment.

The choreography is certainly more refined and representative of the “Evolved Jackie” that took shape in Police Story and emerged fully formed in Armour of God. There are certainly instances of Jackie’s defined style earlier, but starting with Police Story the elements come together to create the earliest examples of the quintessential Jackie Chan film. In Project A II, the fights are funny and almost constantly thrilling, without a single moment of wasted movement, and the circumstances under which Jackie finds himself fighting are truly inspired (such as the incredible sequence when Jackie is handcuffed to Chun (Lam Wai)).

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Armour of God (1987)

ArmourofGod+1987-97-b

Armour of God [龍兄虎弟] (1987)
AKA Operation Condor 2: The Armor of the Gods, Mister Dynamite

Starring Jackie Chan, Alan Tam, Lola Forner, Rosamund Kwan, Ken Boyle, John Ladalski, Bozidar Smiljanic, Wayne Archer, Yee Tin-Hung, Marcia Chisholm, Linda Denley, Stephanie Evans, Alicia Shonte, Vivian Wickliffe

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: It’s Armour of God! It’s amazing!

fourstar


When I think about my favorite Jackie Chan films, Armour of God isn’t the first one that comes to mind, but it’s definitely on the list. As one of the many kids who obsessed over Indiana Jones, I can’t help but love the idea of a film in a similar vein with Jackie Chan doing Jackie-tastic stunts and fights. I’m surprised my young head didn’t explode upon first learning of it. Anyway, I loved it then, and I love it now (with slightly more complex feelings).

Viewing Jackie’s film in the order of release has allowed me to see the films a bit differently from when I was first exposed to them. Jackie had made many successful films prior to Armour of God, but the signature Jackie style that is evidenced throughout his later work, and for which he has become well known, only really begins to show in earnest in Police Story and even there it’s a little rough around the edges. In Armour of God, it’s fully formed and ready to party. Realizing this also led to the thought that as big of an action star that Jackie Chan is (or was), his “Jackie-est” movies are not action movies in a classic sense. Instead they are “show off what Jackie can do” action movies, usually built around a flimsy plot. So while I love them, and anyone should be able to respect what he’s physically capable of, I think to truly love these movies you have to love Jackie (because as films they just can’t hold up to any traditional scrutiny).

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The Curse (1987)

thecurse_9The Curse (1987)
AKA The Farm

Starring Wil Wheaton, Claude Akins, Malcolm Danare, Cooper Huckabee, John Schneider, Amy Wheaton, Steve Carlisle, Kathleen Jordon Gregory, Hope North, Steve Davis

Directed by David Keith

Expectations: For some reason I’m really stoked about this one.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
onehalfstar


The Curse puts a few different horror movie premises together and expects them to play nice, but instead they just kinda sit apart from one another and refuse to jell. On one hand, it presents itself as a small town paranoia-based ’50s throwback film. A crazed man with a nasty boil on his face is taken away by the police while screaming, “It’s in the water!” He nervously watches out the window as they drive away from his home, as everyone in the neighborhood waters their lawn, or washes their car, or drinks from the hose… etc.

After this opening, the film shifts gears to the story of a small family farm owned by Nathan Crane (Claude Akins). Nathan is a strict religious man who berates his wife, Frances (Kathleen Jordon Gregory), for every little thing she does wrong. She’s actually doing a great job taking care of the house and the kids, Nathan’s just an overbearing asshole with the Lord on his side (in his mind). Here The Curse becomes something of a religious-based horror film, with Nathan seeing the family’s misfortune and hardships as a curse brought onto them by his wife’s behavior.

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Evil Dead II (1987)

EvilDead2_1Evil Dead II (1987)
AKA Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn

Starring Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie Wesley DePaiva, Ted Raimi, Denise Bixler, Richard Domeier, John Peakes, Lou Hancock

Directed by Sam Raimi

Expectations: One of my favorites.

fourstar


The Evil Dead is one of the few perfect films in my eyes. Sure, it’s low-budget and it definitely shows, but the experience is second to none and it’s a total blast from start to finish. The prospect of making a sequel must have been daunting to Sam Raimi and company, but the choice to go in a completely different, yet similar direction was every bit the right one. To simply retread the same ground would be useless and boring, so why not let everyone in on how much Raimi loves The Three Stooges? It’s as inspired a horror film sequel idea as there ever was.

But by going in this direction, I do think that Evil Dead 2 isn’t as good a film as the first. Evil Dead 2 doesn’t feel quite as tight, but it more than makes up for this with laughs and a ridiculous amount of madcap energy. Even though this was always my favorite film of the series, I think age has led me to appreciate just how impressive the low-budget success of The Evil Dead was. But when it comes down to it, these petty discussions of one film being better than the other are ultimately pointless, because both of them are pure, unbridled awesome.

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Stephen reviews: Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise (1987)

honneamise_1Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise [王立宇宙軍 オネアミスの翼 Ōritsu Uchūgun: Oneamisu no Tsubasa] (1987)

Starring Leo Morimoto, Mitsuki Yayoi, Aya Murata, Bin Shimada, Hiroshi Izawa, Hirotaka Suzuoki, Kazuyuki Sogabe, Kouji Totani, Masahiro Anzai, Masato Hirano, Yoshito Yasuhara

Directed by Hiroyuki Yamaga


This is the first anime produced by studio Gainax (though they did make earlier works as a different company, Daicon Film), who are famous for reshaping the entire anime industry with Neon Genesis Evangelion. It’s an art film rather than a genre film, and thus it has been acclaimed by critics (including Roger Ebert) while languishing in the commercial market. It is pretty unusual for an anime to avoid any genre alignment. Even the artsiest of anime usually fall into a genre category as well, such as the romance film Utena or the psychological thriller Perfect Blue.

I suppose I could lump it into the science fiction category since it deals with scientific content, but even that would be a stretch as the technology, though fictional, is outdated and for the most part realistic (such as the airplanes using rear propellers, a design which was seriously considered during the early days of aviation). Perhaps it fits in a broad interpretation of steampunk, but I feel uncomfortable giving it that classification either. There are some action scenes in the second half, but they aren’t central to the story really. At that point I may as well call it a romance, which is also true as far as it goes, but as with the other genres it could technically fall in, it’s just not what the film is about.

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The Running Man (1987)

runningman_2Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Conchita Alonso, Richard Dawson, Yaphet Kotto, Jim Brown, Jesse Ventura, Erland van Lidth, Marvin J. McIntyre, Gus Rethwisch, Professor Toru Tanaka, Mick Fleetwood, Dweezil Zappa, Kurt Fuller

Directed by Paul Michael Glaser

Expectations: Super high, this is one of my favorite movies.

fourstar


As with Commando, I’m unable to give The Running Man anything less than a full and total endorsement of four stars. I’ve seen this film more times than I could ever remember; at this point it almost seems like I was the one who escaped from prison and got roped into a sadistic, future game show when the girl I kidnapped ratted me out. But my love of The Running Man isn’t blind, and now that I’m tasked with sharing my thoughts, I’ll do my best to relate why I think it’s such a great movie.

The film began its life under director Andrew Davis, who was just coming off of the Chuck Norris movie Code of Silence and would later go on to make such films as Under Siege, The Fugitive and Collateral Damage. Davis was fired after one week of filming, and Arnold is on record saying that this hurt the film because the replacement director, Paul Michael Glaser, shot it like a TV show. I love Arnold, but I have to disagree. The Running Man is gorgeous, and the look is one of the main reasons it succeeds. The film bursts with colors, from bright neons to dark blacks and blues. Thick fog and dirty mists swirl around our characters, filling many of the shots with a level of intoxicating cinematography usually unseen in genre fare like this.

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