Stephen reviews: Project A-ko 2: Plot of the Daitokuji Financial Group (1987)

ProjectA-ko2_1Project A-ko 2: Plot of the Daitokuji Financial Group [プロジェクトA子2 大徳寺財閥の陰謀] (1987)

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

Directed by Yuji Moriyama

 


With the success of Project A-ko, it should come as no surprise that a sequel was quickly put out. What is a bit surprising is that instead of a full theatrical film, all the sequels to Project A-ko were much shorter, direct-to-video releases. As a result, Project A-ko 2 suffers from a pretty big downgrade in quality. The animation is nowhere near as good, and the music lacks that memorable charm of the first film. This also adds up to some less satisfying action as well.

With Katsuhiko Nishijima stepping down as director, it might be tempting to blame Yuji Moriyama who took his place. I do think Nishijima did a better job; Moriyama tends to linger over the jokes a little too long, and he doesn’t have quite the flair for exciting action scenes. But Moriyama is certainly no stranger to the franchise. He was character designer, animation director, and one of three screenwriters for the first film, so he didn’t just pop up out of nowhere with no idea what to do.
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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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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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