Stephen reviews: Project A-ko: Versus (1990)

projectakovs_1Project A-ko: Versus [A-ko The ヴァーサス] (1990)
AKA Project A-ko: Uncivil Wars, Project A-ko: Versus Battles, Project A-ko: VS, A-ko the Versus

Starring Miki Ito, Emi Shinohara, Michie Tomizawa, Saeko Shimazu, Hiroshi Takemura, Sho Hayami, Masami Kikuchi

Directed by Katsuhiko Nishijima


Don’t tell me you’re surprised that there’s another Project A-ko. You do remember my reviews of the Urusei Yatsura series, don’t you? Just ‘cuz it’s got “final” in the title doesn’t mean they stopped there. As with Project A-ko 4, I only have my likely incorrect guesses to go by for why Nishijima, director of the original film, came back to make Project A-ko: Versus. Whether it was intended to revitalize the franchise or if it was only ever intended to be a one-off side story is beyond me, but if it was intended to restart the series it failed. No more official Project A-ko projects were made except the American comic book adaptations and tabletop RPG (yes, A-ko was that popular in the States).

Versus is actually a mini series, not a movie, however it only spans two episodes, “Battle 1: Grey Side” and “Battle 2: Blue Side.” Together they tell a single story, so it’s easy to cover them both in one review. A-ko: Versus takes place in the distant future where A-ko and B-ko are friends who hunt giant turtles on Tatooine (or whatever the hell they decided to call the planet here), and neither of them have ever met C-ko before. C-ko is the daughter of a wealthy businessman, and she gets kidnapped by the series’ antagonists, space pirates that want to use C-ko’s body to resurrect Xena. No, that time I wasn’t pulling out a pop culture reference for ease of comprehension. Xena is a long-dead sorceress that has the power to destroy the universe, so it’s a pretty big deal.

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Shadowzone (1990)

shadowzone_1Starring David Beecroft, Louise Fletcher, James Hong, Frederick Flynn, Shawn Weatherly, Miguel A. Núñez Jr., Lu Leonard, Maureen Flaherty, Robbie Rives

Directed by J.S. Cardone

Expectations: I’ve purposely put this one off for years, so that’s a good indicator of how good I think it’ll be.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
twohalfstar


Shadowzone is upfront about its influences, citing both Alien and The Thing right on its current poster at Full Moon Streaming. This is pretty bold for a low-budget movie that has no chance to match those films’ excellence, and it was one of the reasons why I stayed away from the film. I deeply love both Alien and The Thing — what self-respecting horror fan doesn’t? — so I had no interest in seeing a lesser version. As the pool of available Full Moon films dwindles, confronting Shadowzone was inevitable, and thankfully it wasn’t the painful experience I thought it might be.

At a remote and otherwise abandoned research facility, a man from NASA, Capt. Hickock (David Beecroft), arrives to investigate a death possibly caused by the project leads: Dr. Van Fleet (James Hong) and Dr. Erhardt (Louise Fletcher). The scientists are exploring the link between sleep and death, studying Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) by cutting the brain stem off from the brain… not literally, but through the blockage of electrical signals. Don’t worry if doesn’t make sense; I didn’t really get it, and I was watching the movie! The characters in Shadowzone talk so much scientific mumbo jumbo that it literally put me to sleep a couple of times.

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Kindergarten Cop (1990)

kindergartencop_1Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Penelope Ann Miller, Pamela Reed, Linda Hunt, Richard Tyson, Carroll Baker, Cathy Moriarty, Joseph Cousins, Christian Cousins

Directed by Ivan Reitman

Expectations: I don’t know. I hope I like it.

threehalfstar


Kindergarten Cop seems to be one of the more popular Arnold films among his mainstream fans, but I never really liked it. Well, to be honest I never gave it much of a chance. I only saw it once, and I was only around 9 or 10 years old. At that point in my life, I only wanted to see Arnold kick ass and take names. Anyone who’s seen Kindergarten Cop can tell you that Arnold doesn’t really do a lot of that in the film. This one is a completely different beast, but seeing it again as an adult has allowed me to see why everyone seems to love it. Or, if nothing else, it has allowed me to see why I love it. I can’t speak for everyone, after all.

Kindergarten Cop does a great job of transitioning Arnold from the hard-edged action character to the caring teacher. The film opens with Arnold looking scruffy and intimidating as he tracks a criminal through a crowded California mall. Later we see him infiltrate some back alley drug den where he smashes guys into the wall and nonchalantly knocks a guy through a glass coffee table. He doesn’t kill anyone because it’s a PG-13 movie, but man do they take some hard hits. His character, John Kimble, doesn’t bat an eye because this is the over-the-top action world he works within. But it’s not just the character of John Kimble, it’s also the world that Arnold has consistently inhabited for our entertainment. Over the course of the movie, our muscular, solve-everything-with-his-fists hero must face an enemy that he can’t use any of his usual tactics on. This, of course, is the class of kindergarteners.

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Quick Takes: Hardware, Snowpiercer, Brotherhood of Blades

968fullHardware (1990)
threehalfstar

Starring Dylan McDermott, Stacey Travis, John Lynch, Mark Northover, William Hootkins, Carl McCoy
Directed by Richard Stanley

I’m surprised I haven’t heard more about Hardware over the years. It’s an ultra-fun killer robot movie that is legitimately frightening in parts, and it’s one of those rare genre films made with such visual flair and artistry that it could easily crossover into the more highbrow conversation on film. Absolutely fantastic cinematography is around every corner, as are tons of wicked gory delights. The robot does seem rather stupid at times, but if I reformed myself from a pile of scrap metal and broken parts I wouldn’t be all there either. This is the kind of movie to whip out when someone says disparaging things about low-budget movies.

snowpiercerSnowpiercer (2013)
twohalfstar

Starring Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris, Ewen Bremner, Go Ah-sung, Alison Pill
Directed by Bong Joon-ho

After reviewing the Snowpiercer graphic novels, I was really stoked to see what Boon Jong-Ho would make of them on-screen. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as thrilled with the results as I thought I’d be. Snowpiercer is a very entertaining film that moves quite briskly, but for a story all about class struggle I found it to be rather shallow. Tilda Swinton is brilliant in her supporting role, though. Definitely well-made and worth watching, but I guess I expected something more cerebral than this was. Even still, a great English debut for Bong.

brotherhood-of-blades-posterBrotherhood of Blades [繡春刀] (2014)
twohalfstar

Starring Chang Chen, Ye Qing, Chin Shih-Chieh, Wang Qian-Yuan, Ethan Li Dong-Xue, Nie Yuan, Zhao Li-Xin
Directed by Lu Yang

I think I might like Brotherhood of Blades better on a second watch. I would have my 50% knowledge of what was going on to build on, and I wouldn’t have any expectations that it was a wuxia film. It’s actually a period-set action drama with no supernatural elements, so I was rather disappointed that it didn’t live up to my expectations. As a period drama it excels, though. Fantastic costumes go a long way, and the cast Brotherhood of Blades wear some damn fine duds. The fights aren’t all that special, though, with unhealthy amounts of uninspired choreography, quick-cut editing, and the shutter speed thing from Saving Private Ryan. It makes for action that is VERY modern, and I’m just too old school to embrace it. Yes, even in 2015 when these techniques are at least 15 years old. If you like Chinese costume dramas and modern action, you should definitely try this one.

Total Recall (1990)

total_recall_xlgStarring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Ronny Cox, Michael Ironside, Marshall Bell, Mel Johnson Jr., Michael Champion, Roy Brocksmith, Ray Baker, Dean Norris, Debbie Lee Carrington

Directed by Paul Verhoeven

Expectations: I expect to get my ass to Mars.

fourstar


Total Recall is possibly the greatest movie ever made. It doesn’t have a single slow moment; its pace is relentless and unforgiving. The special FX work throughout still looks amazing, seamlessly bringing the near-future world and the surface of Mars to brilliant life. Director Paul Verhoeven, hot off of the equally incredible RoboCop, squeezes every last ounce of entertainment and excitement out of every shot in Total Recall.

The script might be the film’s greatest aspect, though. Total Recall is based on a Philip K. Dick story called We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, but the film isn’t all that much like the story. Usually I’d complain about this kind of thing, but in the case of Total Recall the screenplay takes the ideas from the short story and creates a thrill ride for the ages. Most importantly, it doesn’t just use the ideas, but also the overarching themes that run through so much of Dick’s work. Dick’s major theme — the nature of reality and what is truly real — is in full effect in Total Recall. The lines between reality and dream are constantly blurred, and even at the end of the film this question is never answered, just as Dick ends many of this novels.

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Nightbreed (1990)

nightbreed_2Nightbreed (1990)
AKA Clive Barker’s Nightbreed, Cabal

Starring Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, David Cronenberg, Charles Haid, Hugh Quarshie, Hugh Ross, Doug Bradley, Catherine Chevalier, Malcolm Smith, Bob Sessions, Oliver Parker, Debora Weston, Nicholas Vince, Simon Bamford, Kim Robertson

Directed by Clive Barker

Expectations: High.

threehalfstar


Nightbreed might be a little disjointed and hard to penetrate for some viewers, but this is one of those movies I watched because I finally read the book upon which it is based, in this case: Clive Barker’s Cabal. So I watched Nightbreed with a huge grin across my face almost the entire time. The film is a fantastic adaptation of the novel, bringing Midian and the monsters of the night to life in ways that I didn’t think would be practical or possible. Clive Barker once again surprised me in ways I never dreamed, proving that his imagination knows no bounds. Barker’s vision of horror and fantasy defies genre labels and Nightbreed exemplifies his ability to drop us into a colorful, nightmarish world without much exposition (not unlike Philip K. Dick, another of my favorite authors).

Nightbreed starts as the story of Boone (Craig Sheffer), a troubled man plagued with dreams of monsters. Boone visits his therapist, Decker (David Cronenberg), for some relief, but instead Boone learns that he’s actually been murdering families during periods of blackout. So now, as an outcast and a murderer, Boone ventures to the one place where he knows he can find refuge: Midian, a place where the true monsters of the world, the Nightbreed, seek shelter and peace. That’s the basic beginning to the plot, but it only scratches the surface in describing Nightbreed. The film is about Boone ultimately, but the central plot is almost secondary to the periphery elements. Boone is a small, but important player in a larger narrative, one that’s been going on for thousands of years. The way Barker explores the other Nightbreed and their shared mythology, man’s compulsion to ridicule and exterminate those who are different, as well as indulging our own fascinations with the creatures of the night, is what makes the film the powerhouse I found it to be.

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The Madonna and the Dragon (1990)

la_madone_et_le_dragon0The Madonna and the Dragon (1990)
AKA Tinikling

Starring Jennifer Beals, Luc Merenda, Patrick Bauchau, Behn Cervantes, Pilar Pilapil, Christa Lang, Reginald Singh, Alfredo De la Fuente, Antony Tan, Dodie Lacuna, Chabeng Contreras, Nanding Josef, Ray Ventura, Ernie Zarate, Samuel Fuller

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: Low.

twohalfstar


The Madonna and the Dragon is the final feature-length film to come from director Sam Fuller, and it’s also the first of his films since White Dog to feel like a Fuller film throughout. Produced for French TV, it’s not generally included in his filmography for some reason — even the list of his works in his own autobiography leaves it off — but it’s definitely a worthwhile film that should be seen by Fuller fans. It combines many of Fuller’s noted trademarks into one movie: the streetwise kid, social commentary, stock footage used to lend credibility and realism to the film, journalism, etc.

The Madonna and the Dragon is set around the People Power Revolution that happened in the mid-’80s in the Philippines. During this time in their history, the Filipino people rose up in revolution against the authoritarian government that had been oppressing them for the last 20 or so years. Fuller’s film focuses on a pair of photo journalists hoping to capture some great images of the revolution. They find themselves in a world of poverty, where kids ride garbage trucks to scavenge whatever they can find, and everyone is potentially double-crossing you behind your back.

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