Stephen reviews: Dark Cat (1991)

darkcat_1Dark Cat [ダークキャット] (1991)

Starring Tsutomu Kashiwakura, Ryotaro Okiayu, Daisuke Gori, Shigeru Nakahara, Aya Hisakawa

Directed by Iku Suzuki


This is clearly one of those anime titles that is a reduced form of the original story it was based upon, except that upon further investigation I can’t find anything that it was based upon. Now that’s pretty bad if it really was this disjointed and incomplete right out of the original design phase. It truly feels as if there is a much larger story to be told, and it just got drastically cut down for a movie adaptation. So many of the plot threads reference backstory that doesn’t exist in the film that I have to believe there was a lager story somewhere, even if only in the writer’s head.

The film opens with a tall dude with hair shaped slightly like cat ears talking to a blue girl in a hospital bed. It cuts back and forth between his conversation and random girls about town vanishing in a flash of light that leaves smoking craters behind. This is actually a pretty good opening that really got me interested in what was going to happen. Sadly, it never really follows up on that mysterious situation. The rest of the film is mostly filled with the emotional struggles of a teenage girl and the guy she’s been in love with since childhood, then a bland fight with a cat monster gets tacked on at the end to wrap things up.

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Island of Fire (1991)

IslandofFire_1Island of Fire [火燒島] (1991)
AKA Island On Fire, The Prisoner, The Burning Island

Starring Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, Tou Chung-Hua, Andy Lau, Jimmy Wang Yu, Yeung Hung, Jack Kao, Tu Fu-Ping, Chang Kuo-Chu, O Chun-Hung, Elsie Yeh Chuan-Chen, Chan Yin-Yu

Directed by Chu Yen-Ping

Expectations: Low.

onehalfstar


Island of Fire is such an oddly structured movie. It boasts a fantastic, all-star cast, but the way the story is crafted the characters never really come together to form a cohesive movie. Each character’s story could have been its own movie, but since this was a low-budget production hoping to capitalize on its cast, they just threw everything they had into it and hoped for the best. And by “everything they had,” I mean a bunch of recycled prison movie stuff, mostly from Cool Hand Luke.

The film begins with Wang Wei (Tony Leung Ka-Fai), a cop who witnesses the murder of his father-in-law. The culprit tries to drive away in his getaway car, but it explodes as soon as he turns the key. While investigating the crime and who this mysterious assassin was, the detectives discover that the man was a prisoner declared dead a little while back. So how does a dead inmate get out of jail to murder someone? Well, that’s what Wang Wei sets out to uncover by getting himself thrown into the prison.

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Armour of God II: Operation Condor (1991)

operationcondor_1Armour of God II: Operation Condor [飛鷹計劃] (1991)
AKA Operation Condor

Starring Jackie Chan, Carol Cheng Yu-Ling, Eva Cobo De Garcia, Ikeda Shoko, Vincent Lyn, Jonathan Isgar, Dan Mintz, Bozidar Smiljanic, Aldo Sambrell, Ken Lo, Ken Goodman, Winston G. Ellis, Wayne Archer, Bruce Fontaine, Steve Tartalia, John Ladalski, Nick Brandon, Chen Chi-Hwa

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: Very High. This has always been one of my favorites.

fourstar


Armour of God is one of my favorite Jackie Chan films, and in my opinion this sequel sits right alongside it. It exemplifies everything Jackie had been working to refine over the course of his directorial career in the ’80s, to the point that he didn’t direct another film until 1998’s Who Am I? To be fair, I don’t actually know if that’s why Jackie handed the reins over to other directors in the ’90s, but it makes sense to me. He calls Miracles his favorite of his films, and it represents a real culmination and sophistication of his talents behind the camera. Jackie takes all of that wit and style and applies to it a more traditional Jackie film; the result is the stunning and incredibly fun Armour of God II: Operation Condor. After something as triumphant as that, why not take a break from complete control to see what direction others might push him in? This would ultimately result in his collaborations with Stanley Tong, arguably some of the most entertaining films of his entire career.

After another “Jackie tries to steal artifacts from natives” opening scene, we learn that Jackie’s mission this time is to find a cache of hidden Nazi gold. Like the first film, he picks up a few traveling partners: Elsa (Eva Cobo De Garcia), Ada (Carol Cheng Yu-Ling), and Momoko (Ikeda Shoko). These three women contribute significantly to the success of the film, enhancing the comedy of the film and playing off of Jackie quite well. They each get their individual moments to shine, but they are never better than when they come together towards the end to fight one of the henchmen.

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Quick Takes: Naked Lunch, M. Butterfly, Crash

nakedlunch_1Naked Lunch (1991)
threestar

Starring Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm, Julian Sands, Roy Scheider, Monique Mercure, Nicholas Campbell, Michael Zelniker, Robert A. Silverman, Joseph Scoren
Directed by David Cronenberg

Naked Lunch is one of those movies that’s hard to classify. I’ve never read the source novel, but from what I understand it was always assumed to be unfilmable. Cronenberg definitely found a way around that, incorporating elements of William S. Burrough’s life into this wild, weird, paranoid tale. It’s something of a horror movie with its gross-out physical FX work, but it’s also nothing like a horror movie. I mean, does a living typewriter that looks like a bug automatically make this into a horror movie? No, I don’t think so, but this movie would be a hard sell to any “normal” audience, that’s for damn sure. If you are intrigued by the creative process or surrealism, Naked Lunch is a must. I don’t know if you’ll like it, but it’s definitely a movie that you won’t be able to shake easily.

MButterfly_1M. Butterfly (1993)
threestar

Starring Jeremy Irons, John Lone, Barbara Sukowa, Ian Richardson, Annabel Leventon, Shizuko Hoshi, Richard McMillan, Vernon Dobtcheff
Directed by David Cronenberg

On the surface M. Butterfly seems like an odd film for David Cronenberg to make, but its themes of sexual politics and identity fit right in with much of his other work. Both of the lead characters, René (Jeremy Irons) and Song Liling (John Lone), are compelling and very well acted, but together I don’t think their relationship is satisfactorily developed. It always felt a bit cold emotionally, but I suppose that’s part of the point of it all, isn’t it? In any case, because of this I didn’t connect with the film as I’d have liked to, but as Cronenberg clearly made the film he wanted to, I’m sure that’s more my fault than his. Shooting the film in China, on back alleys and grand vistas alike, with some truly exceptional lighting, M. Butterfly is one of Cronenberg’s most beautiful films, and that’s saying a lot within his filmography. My personal obsession with China and its culture probably helped, too. A good film that I appreciate and respect, but don’t especially like too much.

crash_1Crash (1996)
threestar

Starring James Spader, Holly Hunter, Elias Koteas, Deborah Kara Unger, Rosanna Arquette, Peter MacNeill
Directed by David Cronenberg

Speaking of films that I appreciate and respect, but don’t especially like too much: Crash. But in this case, I think Crash is a much better film than M. Butterfly. It’s incredibly bold, telling its story almost entirely through car crashes and sex scenes. Surprisingly then, there’s a ton to deconstruct and engage with intellectually while the actors writhe on-screen. This is Cronenberg exercising his visual storytelling abilities to the absolute max, creating a non-traditional, challenging film to stand the test of time. The cars and the taboo sexual desires associated with them in Crash are provocative and integral to the film, but it also feels like they could be replaced with non-offensive, traditional elements to craft a more mainstream pleasing film. But where’s the fun in that? I feel like if I saw Crash a few more times, I’d really come to understand and appreciate it more fully. I can’t say that I liked it, but Cronenberg definitely didn’t make a bad film. In fact, it’s probably one of his finest achievements.

Curse III: Blood Sacrifice (1991)

thecurse3_1Curse III: Blood Sacrifice (1991)
AKA Panga, Blood Sacrifice, Witchcraft

Starring Christopher Lee, Jenilee Harrison, Henry Cele, Andre Jacobs, Zoe Randall, Olivia Dyer, Gavin Hood, Dumi Shongwe, Jennifer Steyn

Directed by Sean Barton

Expectations: Low.

onestar


I used to think Christopher Lee was badass in everything… then I saw Curse III: Blood Sacrifice. I can’t hold it against him, though, as everything in Curse III is less than it should be. On paper I’m sure this one looked like it had potential, and Christopher Lee is in it? Well yeah, sure, here’s a sack of money; go make a movie! But what resulted was less movie and more insomnia cure.

One of the worst things about Curse III is that its plot can be summarized completely in one sentence (and that’s without exaggeration). Here goes: The American wife of a sugar cane farmer in Africa angers the local witch doctor, who curses her entire family to die by way of an ancient ocean spirit. There’s definitely potential for a fun horror movie there, but Curse III sidesteps every opportunity and runs screaming in the opposite direction. A simple premise is fine, but without an engaging story the audiovisual aspect of the film — the filmmaking itself — must grab the audience and shine. Director Sean Barton may have many credits as an editor (including Return of the Jedi!), but his talents as a director are severely lacking. Unsurprisingly, Curse III is his only directorial effort.

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Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Terminator_2_posterStarring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, Earl Boen, Joe Morton, S. Epatha Merkerson, Castulo Guerra, Danny Cooksey, Jenette Goldstein, Xander Berkeley

Directed by James Cameron

Expectations: I’ll be back.

fourstar


You shouldn’t need me to tell you that Terminator 2: Judgment Day is an incredible movie. One of the greatest blockbuster films of all time, T2 is a total thrill ride that, like the Terminators themselves, never stops. It is expertly paced and written in such a way that it is both a perfect sequel to the original film and completely self-contained and accessible to anyone in the audience. And does it hold up nearly 25 years after its original release? No problemo.

T2 brought revolutionary FX to the screen, and honestly they still look fantastic to me. Due to the limitations of the time, the CG is used exactly how it should be: to augment real footage to create incredible illusions of fantasy. The grounding in the real world makes the unreal feel all the more real because it’s seemingly happening in the same world we live in. The physical FX work is top-notch as well, with the scene when Arnold tears off his skin to show Miles Dyson his cyborg endoskeleton remaining my favorite. It blew my mind when I was a kid, and it still looks so real to me. I guess that’s what you get when your movie has a crazy budget and you’ve got Stan Winston on the case. Practical FX work may have gone out of style, but I stand by the claim that it does and will continue to age much better than CG.

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Stephen reviews: Mikadoroid (1991)

mikadoroid_1Mikadoroid [ミカドロイド] (1991)
AKA Mikadroid: Robokill Beneath Disco Club LaylaMikadoroido

Starring Hiroshi Atsumi, Sandayū Dokumamushi, Yoriko Dōguchi, Kenji Hayami

Directed by Satoo Haraguchi & Tomo’o Haraguchi


It’s time for some B-movie shlock, my friends. This time it’s coming from me instead of Will, which also means it’s coming from Japan. Actually, I’m still kind of amazed that anyone bothers to make US releases of Japanese B-movies, but here we are, so we might as well make the most of it. And while Mikadoroid is something of a mixed bag, there is definitely enough crazy shit to make a snack out of, if not a full meal, for any B-movie fan.

The film starts off with some cool black and white scenes set in World War II, punctuated by still shots for dramatic effect. This part of the film is actually pretty good as it explains that Japan was working on a cyborg super soldier experiment that might have turned the tide of the war (which I am going to assume is the titular Mikadoroid, not that the film ever says so). But as resources grew scarce, the government decided to cut off funding and shut the project down. But of course, there was one finished prototype that got locked away in the secret lab. Queue the plot of the film, as that prototype wakes up 45 years later to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting underground parking lot. Alright, I’ll admit that with the American title of Robokill Beneath Disco Club Layla I was hoping for more of a rampage inside the disco club, not in its parking garage, but I suppose I have only myself to blame as the title was completely accurate.

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