Tag Archives: Action

CAPSULE: ASSASSIN 33 A.D. (2020)

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Beware

DIRECTED BY: Jim Carroll

FEATURING: Morgan Roberts, Ilsa Levine, Geraldo Davila, Donny Boaz, Lamar Usher, Jason Castro

PLOT: Muslim extremists use a time machine to go back to 33 A.D. to try to assassinate Jesus; with the encouragement of his Christian girlfriend, an agnostic genius tries to fix the time stream.

Still from Assassin 33 A.D. (2020)

COMMENTS: I wouldn’t say its impossible to make a good Christian time travel movie; would have nailed it. But I am pretty sure it is impossible to make a good Christian time travel movie that involves terrorist strike teams with assault weapons going back to 1st century Judea to assassinate Jesus. Assassin 33 AD is Donnie Darko meets The Passion of the Christ done on the kind of budget usually reserved for an episode of “The 700 Club.”

Assassin33ad.com boasts that the script has “won more International Screenplay Awards than any know [sic] script in history.” Starting straight off with the line “I’m just struggling. I went from saving an embassy and killing terrorists to being head of security at a research lab,” delivered casually by a rugged man to his wife on a Sunday drive, you can see why. That’s the kind of expository introductory dialogue slick Hollywood movies are too afraid to put in for fear it might sound “clumsy.”

The wife who needs filling in on what her husband has been doing with his life is Heidi Montag, a former Playboy model and current aspiring Christian pop singer who, like much of the cast and crew, was drawn from a cable TV show called “Marriage Boot Camp Reality Stars.” In another fine bit of screenwriting, Montag’s husband chuckles fondly, “That British accent!” This is necessary foreshadowing, because the accent will turn up as an important plot point late on, and without that bit of dialogue we’d have no way of knowing  that she spoke with a British accent. Assassin33ad.com reveals that a producer warned the director when he was planning to cast Montag that “Reality stars can’t act.”

Maybe all the praise for the screenplay comes from its nimble handling of the multiple timelines that infest the second half of the movie. I can’t opine on that, because I quickly lost track of how many time-clones there were running around, and which one were alive and which ones were dead, after the second or third time the hero (Ram Goldstein!) and/or villains leapt  backwards or forwards in time like chronological yo-yos. Personally, it seemed to me that they made up the rules of time travel on the fly:  somehow, even though he just invented time travel accidentally twenty four hours ago, Ram knows that there’s a lag between changing the past and overwriting the present that could take “minutes, possibly hours, maybe longer,” Continue reading CAPSULE: ASSASSIN 33 A.D. (2020)

CAPSULE: BACURAU (2019)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY:  Juliano Dornelles, Kleber Mendonça Filho

FEATURING: Bárbara Colen, , Sonia Braga, Thomas Aquino

PLOT: A group of killers isolate a small Brazilian village intending to massacre the residents for recreation, but find the peasants are more resourceful than they anticipated.

Still from Bacurau (2019)

COMMENTS: Seeing the word “weird” used to describe a movie like Bacurau reminds us just how jaded we here at 366 Weird Movies are. The only unusual features of this Brazilian export are its slightly unconventional blend of art-house drama with ballsy genre filmmaking, along with some mild psychotropic visions and one quirky flying-saucer shaped drone. It may be a weird brew for general American audiences—the ones who would never go see a foreign or independent film anyway—or to professional critics who prefer to stick to the realist side of the art-house scene… but this sociological-study-cum-shoot-em-up isn’t exactly Let the Corpses Tan.

With it’s magnificent landscapes, including some local cacti that could pass for Saguaro, Bacurau evokes the mythic West of Sergio Leone: it could be Once Upon a Time in Brazil. The opening scene includes a litter of coffins spilled onto the road leading into town, which sure reinforces that connection. By the end, when the resourceful tribe defends their eerily deserted town from the better-equipped invaders, the Bacurau takes on the shape of The Seven Samurai.

The first forty-five minutes paint a portrait of the hamlet of perhaps one hundred souls, planted in the middle of nowhere. A matriarch, the ancestor of a large percentage of the population, has just died, and nursing student Teresa returns, bearing a suitcase of vaccines, to attend her grandmother’s funeral. The town has a teacher, a doctor, a whore, a DJ who serves as the town crier and local news anchor when not pumping out the jams, and so forth; it also has a rather large library and a museum devoted to the town’s history. Things get strange when Bacurau suddenly disappears from Google Maps, a UFO is spotted, and bullet holes are found in the tanker truck that supplies them with fresh water. The nature of the trouble soon becomes apparent; a tour group of American thrill-killers have paid a small fortune to hunt these forgotten people for sport. The killing starts in the final act, but although squibs are not spared and plenty of red stuff splashes around, it’s not the action-packed bloodbath you might expect. Steering away from exploitative spectacle as much as possible (given the scenario), the killings are spread out, as the invaders are picked off one by one. You might guess that Udo Kier, the oldest, evilest, and most famous of the bad guys is the last one to go. I’ll never tell.

Many note that with the sympathetic portrayal of the villagers’ “degeneracy” (casual nudity and free love, acceptance of homosexuality, and liberal use of ethnobotonicals)—and the presence of crooked con-man mayor Tony Jr., representing provincial corruption—the film takes its shots at homophobic, right-wing Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro. Capitalism itself also comes in for quite a thrashing. On the other hand, Bolsonaro might be pleased with the film’s xenophobia aimed at the stereotyped Western interlopers (Kier is not a Nazi, he insists, shooting a companion to prove his point). He might also approve of the derision heaped on the invaders’ big city Brazilian allies, traitorous globalist collaborators shamelessly manipulated by shadowy outsiders. The line between anti-colonialism and populist nationalism is thin indeed.

Pulled from American theaters early due to the Covid-19 crisis, Bacurau is currently streaming via Kino Now. They have thoughtfully set up a system whereby the independent theaters that were supposed to screen the film can share the streaming revenue (check here for the list of participating venues). Kino probably could have kept all the revenue to themselves, as Disney did with the digital release of Onward, so they deserve massive respect for this move. Bacurau is not only a quality film, it’s a good way to support small (and big) businesses in a dry season.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“’Bacurau’ is definitely weird, a quasi-Western mashed up with psychedelic sci-fi and political satire.”–Jeffrey Anderson, San Francisco Examiner (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: ROBOGEISHA (2009)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Aya Kiguchi, Hitomi Hasebe,

PLOT: A pair of geisha sisters are abducted by an executive of an evil arms corporation, who plays on their sisterly rivalry to turn them into cyborg killing machines.

Still from RoboGeisha (2009)

COMMENTS: In 2008, Noboru Iguchi made a movie called The Machine Girl about a Japanese schoolgirl who installs a Gatling gun in her arm and goes on a murderous rampage of revenge. A year later, he came out with RoboGeisha, which is totally different. This one is about two geishas who install Gatling guns in their breasts and go on a murderous rampage of revenge.

There are other major differences between the two flicks, of course. RoboGeisha takes a (slightly) more serious stab at a plot than Machine Girl‘s bog-standard revenge template. It features two sisters with an unexpectedly complex love/hate dynamic (“sisters are… complicated,” says one, after the other appears to have been blown up during an assassination). Their relationship even comes with a minor twist at the end. RoboGeisha also favors comedy over the nonstop action and gore that marked Machine Girl. RoboGeisha‘s budget seems to be lower than its sister’s; nearly all of the special effects are rendered in CGI rather than through practical effects. The ludicrous sparkly gunshot effects from Machine Girl are carried over, but the sudden reliance on digitized blood spatters is especially disconcerting. The computerization sort of wastes the talents of special effects director , who’s at his best when building prosthetic limbs for Iguchi to lop off and hooking up hoses full of red karo syrup for him to direct onto the faces of his long-suffering actors and actresses.

I personally think that the tweaks Iguchi made to the formula result in an improved product. Many disagree. Gorehounds, in particular, may be disappointed by the paucity of severed heads and the bare trickle of scarlet bursting from neck-holes. And many complain that the focus on plot at the expense of action slows down the nonsense. To me, however, the relative restraint in the violence allows the movie to focus on the absurdity that is what I treasure in this trash. Acid breast milk, a folk protest song, fried shrimp eye-gouging, brain-caressing, and bleeding buildings are among the bizarro attractions to be found in this sleazy funhouse. And this is a movie  that doesn’t simply posit the existence of cybernetic butt-swords; it explicitly demonstrates how awkward a duel would be when the contestants have to crane their necks over their shoulders and backpedal into each to parry and thrust (while muttering, “how embarrassing”). That’s the kind of attention to detail Western B-movies tend to gloss over.

As was often the case with Japanese B-movies of this ilk and period, the DVD release contains a bonus “spin-off” short utilizing leftover sets, costumes and concepts. This one is called “GeishaCop: Fearsome Geisha Cops – Go to Hell” and is partly centered around a plot device requiring girl-on-girl kissing.  It includes a scene where members of the geisha army, still incognito as Kageno Steel Manufacturing workers, drink the blood of male captives during their lunch break, leading the protagonist to declare, with what some might view as understatement: “Something about this is strange. This is one twisted office.”

Unfortunately, the DVD is out of print in North America, and the available VOD version does not include the short, and offers only the English-dubbed version, to boot. It’s still worth a look if you like this genre.

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

Reader review by “Cletus”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s not that I loved either of the team’s previous efforts… but at least each had moments of truly unique creativity and even beauty amongst all the strange and grotesque gore. ‘Robogeisha’, however, contains only concepts, weird ideas and a few moments of self-reflexive humour. Otherwise it was mostly a pretty big bore.”–Bob Turnbull, “Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind” (festival screening)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: SHE (1984)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Avi Nesher

FEATURING: Sandahl Bergman, David Goss, Harrison Muller

PLOT: Two brothers in a post-apocalyptic wasteland go off on a quest to rescue their kidnapped sister, meeting a menagerie of mid-grade antagonists along the way as a million flavors of all hell breaks loose.

Still from She (1984)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: What a tragedy that She (1984) is so obscure, its title so Google-unfriendly, and its competing versions so better-known. If not for these handicaps it might have squeezed onto the List. It is a gonzo anything-goes claptrap of nonstop action with costumes, sets, and indeed whole scenes made out of whatever the filmmakers had lying around. If weird movies are a flea market, She rolls in Crazy Glue and runs through the bazaar, buying whatever sticks.

COMMENTS: The first rule of She (1984) is that it sets out to break every rule of filmmaking, and the second rule of She is that it circles back to break the first rule again. The goal of all this seems to be to make film reviewers look like fools; so allow me to draw the roadmap for the twists and turns ahead. She starts out bluffing with a trite and cliched approach, then steadily gets friskier along its run-time, until by the end it has become a completely different movie. It’s like the whole crew grew up over the course of shooting, or else they just improvised and got lucky. It starts out as a tired post-apocalyptic action clunker in the same vein as Mad Max and Tank Girl, only way less interesting than either of those. Somewhere between shooting the beginning and the end, the crew must have discovered—I’m guessing—Monty Python, Mel Brooks, something in that vein. It’s like they tried to make a serious Road Warrior-ripoff, but gave up after twenty minutes and decided their budget was better suited to making a campy satire; but, rather than withering away the fun, as you’d expect, they discovered they happened to be really good at comedy. Whatever happened, they sure as hell chucked the source material. This is allegedly an adaptation of “She: A History of Adventure,” but if you’re expecting anything to do with H. Rider Haggard‘s typical Victorian adventure universe of Allan Quatermain and King Solomon, you’re queuing in the wrong line.

After elaborate animated credits which also have nothing to do with the movie, we’re plopped “year 23 after the Cancellation.” Siblings Tom, Dick, and the sister Hari pilot a barge to a post-apocalyptic flea market selling cereal and chess sets, when a warrior tribe of “Norks” (composed of Clockwork Orange droogs, bikers, quarterbacks, Roman centurions, and Nazis) raid the market and haul Hari away screaming. The brothers now have a convenient plot: they have to go rescue Hari! If you liked that fight scene, you’ll look forward to the rest of the movie, which has one noisy brawl after another. The defining characteristics of post-apocalyptic people here are that they’re all Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: SHE (1984)

CAPSULE: THE MACHINE GIRL (2008)

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Kataude Mashin Gâru

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Minase Yashiro, , Honoka, Nobuhiro Nishihara,  Kentaro Shimazu

PLOT: Yakuza kill a schoolgirl’s brother and lop off her arm, but a friendly mechanic affixes a Gatling gun to her stump and she goes on a bloodbath of revenge.

Still from The Machine Girl (2008)

COMMENTS: The term “,” as used on this site, refers to a subgenre of Japanese horror movies, beginning with Meatball Machine in 2005, that were equally influenced by the mechanical body horror of Tetsuo: The Iron Man and the over-the-top comic violence of The Gore Gore Girls-era . Few movies could be more exemplary of this mix than ‘s junkyard bloodletter about a schoolgirl with a machine-gun arm hunting down the brutal ninja-yakuza gang that killed her brother.

The plot is vengeance-standard boilerplate; the movie really only cares about its gore set pieces (to an extent, it also cares about its action set pieces, but mainly because they set up big gory finishes). Iguchi is nothing if not creative in coming up with new ways to mutilate the human body: Machine Girl gives you finger sushi, a tempura arm, people halved from head to crotch, a pair of guys who swap half their faces, and for a finale, a sadistic yakuza matron who warns Machine Girl, “I’m wearing a special bra…”

Even in service of the absurd, the practical effects here are good to excellent; the blood spurts may be watery and improbably voluminous, but the prosthetic heads and other body parts can be surprisingly realistic. The computer aided effects, on the other hand, are deployed too casually: the use of green screen is sometimes obvious, some effects look pixelated, and the bullet flashes are overdone and silly-looking. There are also frequent blood spatters on the camera lens, which is a fourth-wall-breaking pet peeve of mine.

It’s noteworthy that most of the main characters—both heroes and the final boss—are females who drive the action and triumph over the males. (All those schoolgirl upskirt fetish shots take away from the feminist vibe a bit, though). The three main actresses all do well, considering the low bar. In her film debut, gravure idol Minase Yashiro shows decent athleticism that makes her a plausible action lead. Honoka, an actress with mostly adult credits, has wicked fun playing a bad girl who keeps her bra on for a change. Most impressive of all is Asami, previously known mostly for her pink films, who, when not kicking ninja ass, forgets that she’s in a trashy B-movie and gives her emotional all grieving for her slain son (who must be about eight years younger than her). The extra effort is appreciated. The one knock against the two heroines is that they enjoy torturing a captured thug way too much, surrendering their moral authority. (This may seem like a stupid complaint in a movie about a girl with a machine gun arm, but it’s still a narrative slip-up, since Machine Girl had previously been depicted as a righteous avenger).

The makeup and effects here were done by , who appears in the promotional material on almost equal billing with Iguchi. He would go on to surpass Iguchi as a director, and in fact has proven the most talented of all the directors associated with Japan’s splatterpunks.

This review is based on Tokyo Shock’s two-disc “The Machine Girl: Jacked! The Definitive Decade One Deluxe Edition.” The title makes it sound like an impressive release, until you realize it’s a DVD-on-demand1, and the sometimes fuzzy presentation is nothing like a remastered print. This edition also fails to include the spin-off short “Shyness Machine Girl,” which had been included in previous releases; its absence makes it hard to call this a truly “definitive” release. What the set does deliver are two behind-the-scenes featurettes, one running ten minutes and the other twenty (with some of the footage overlapping between the two); a twelve minute segment devoted to the effects; action scene rehearsals; an older group interview (in which Nishimura discusses his then yet-to-be-released Tokyo Gore Police); and several often amusing sets of footage from screenings and Q&As with cast and crew (including one where Iguchi and Nishimura introduce the film together wearing sumo loincloths). Altogether, the supplements run almost as long as the movie itself. The release also sports an English dubbed track. Altogether, it’s an heavily hyped package that promises more than it delivers—much like the movie itself.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The story is absolutely ridiculous, of course… There’s always some bit of extra craziness going on in the corners…”–Jay Seaver, Efilm Critic (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: REVOLVER (2005)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , , Vincent Pastore

PLOT: Jake Green is released from prison and sets out to settle scores with the crime boss responsible for his sentence; two mysterious loan sharks who seem to know the future offer to help him, but Jake senses he’s being conned.

Still from Revolver (2005)

COMMENTS: Quite naturally, there are lots of guns and gunplay in Guy Ritchie’s Revolver, but there’s no pistol playing a featured role. The title might instead refer to the way the plot spins your head around. Personally, I suspect Ritchie chose Revolver to draw a comparison to the Beatles album of the same name. Prompted by newfound mystical awakening (via psychoanalysis, rather than the Hinduism that affected the Fab Four), he’s announcing his intention to turn to  serious and experimental work after having mastered a simpler form. If so, savage critical notices and flaccid box office returns quickly prompted Ritchie to return to conventional narratives, making Revolver the curiosity in his oeuvre rather than the departure point.

For fans of snappy, stylish gangster films hoping for another Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch, Revolver begins promisingly enough. Haggard-but-handsome Jake Green (Statham) is released from captivity in an atmospheric downpour, which causes oily-but-elegant Macha (Liotta, very good here) a twinge of concern when he hears the news on a limo ride. Armed with conman wisdom he garnered from two cellmates in the slammer, Green sidles into Macha’s casino with long-game revenge on his mind. When the story pulls back, a twisted underworld comes into view: Macha strikes a dangerous deal with unseen kingpin “Mr. Gold,” while two loan sharks save Green’s life from assassins and put him to work for them, on their terms. They’re hatching a plan that involves some Yojimbo-style sabotage of Macha’s drug deal with a Chinese gang, and everything seems primed for a nice twisty thriller.

But don’t get too invested in that plot. Hints of something metaphysical keep screwing with the audience: precognitive warnings on business cards, twelve dollar bills, and the fact that the action inexplicably becomes partly animated during one caper. These bits set up one hell of an ambitious twist; but the problem with it is, it makes all of the preceding events arbitrary and meaningless. Really, there’s not even a point to Jake Green being a gangster; Ritchie could have written him as a politician, a car salesman… or even a film director. The misdirection here goes so far afield it feels like cheating—an especially distressing development because the film is presented and structured as a game. The effect is not like being surprised by an opponent’s intricately plotted chess move, but like learning that your opponent was playing a different game all along, and that all the moves you both made were completely irrelevant. You see, the movie’s all symbolic and deep; but Ritchie manages to fumble the reveal so that it’s somehow simultaneously confusing and obvious. Allegories work best when they play fair in their own narrative worlds; they usually falter when they go out of their way to announce themselves (Ritchie even appends clips of a bunch of psychologists talking over the credits, explaining the basic concepts underlying the movie’s “mind blowing” theme). There’s a difference between subverting an audience’s expectations and betraying them. Early on, Green’s internal monologue informs us that “in every con, there is always a victim. The trick is to know when you’re the latter…” At the end of Revolver, you’ll know you’ve been the victim of Guy’s jejune “gotcha!”

Revolver was the kind of self-indulgent mess that could easily have ended Ritchie’s career, particularly following as it did on the heels of another huge flop (the romantic comedy Swept Away). If nothing else, it’s a testament to the director’s perseverance that he’s still cranking out films for major studios today. He certainly hasn’t dared to try anything this outside-the-box since.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Ritchie may still be working within his beloved cockney gangster milieu, but he does to it something akin to what Alejandro Jodorowsky did to the Western with El Topo, or to the slasher flick with Santa Sangre. In short, Revolver is a strange trip that dazzles the eye and exercises the brain, amply rewarding multiple viewings and certainly worthy of critical reevaluation.”–Anton Bitel, Eye for Film (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Daniel wiram, who called it an “outstandingly [weird] but great movie.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: SPEED RACER (2008)

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DIRECTED BY: Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski (as The Wachowski Brothers)

FEATURING: Emile Hirsch, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Christina Ricci, Roger Allam

PLOT: He’s Speed Racer, and he drives real fast; the corporate goons at Royalton Enterprises fail to hire him, and so try to sabotage his family and career.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Made up of equal parts technical prowess, tremendous passion, and mind-boggling stupidity, the Wachowski siblings poured all their knowledge, soul, and their massive bag of Matrix-era goodwill into this videogame-cum-technicolor-comedy-melodrama that, while obviously the movie they had in mind, raises the question of whether or not it actually should have been assembled at all.

COMMENTS: Our weekly to-do list of new and re-released opportunities was sparse, so I instead pondered the Venn diagram of “reader suggested movies” and “movies I have access to.” Three titles presented themselves, and it was Speed Racer that managed to zip to the top of that last. (This may have been, in part, because its alphabetical position meant it was the closest to my Blu-ray player.) I hadn’t seen this movie since before I began working with 366, and it was just a hazy memory of bright colors, flying sparks, and a strange pathos provided by John Goodman and Susan Sarandon. My memory did not disappoint me.

As a facsimile of a racing computer game, Speed Racer has just enough plot to justify the on-screen zip-bang-light-up race shots. Speed Racer (née “Speed Racer”, played by Emile Hirsch at his charmingly blandest) lives up to his name and follows in the Racer Family tradition of racing race-cars. (His older brother, Rex Racer, disgraced the family and died in a horrible explosion during a sketchy rally race.) Purple-clad corporate bad guy E.P. Arnold Royalton, Esq. (played with effete glee by Roger Allam) tries to woo Speed to work for Royalton, Inc.—but Speed has none of it. Not used to being snubbed, Royalton uses his considerable resources to destroy the Racer family, not knowing that in the end, “the truth will out.”

I’m admittedly a sucker for a well-told story, no matter how stupid the underlying material. This movie brings stupid into overdrive with countless “just because” elements. There are Cockney gangsters who act as fixers and enforcers; there is, among other themed teams, a Viking racing crew obsessed with animal fur; and then there’s the thread that boldly attempts to hold this movie together, the “Inspector Detector” character investigating corruption in the racing leagues. (The less said about the recurring deus-ex-Spritle/Chimp-machina, the better.) The Wachowskis then painted all this with halogen colors that would have sent more cynical members of our staff into a tailspin of bitter, whiskey-fueled reproaches.

I am not that sort. I can appreciate the fact this extravaganza had an estimated $120,000,000 poured into it. I can also believe that it did not recoup the outlay. But that’s why it falls so firmly into our orbit. To see two of the best technical film-makers of their day so wholeheartedly stake their years-built reputation with something as confounding as Speed Racer gives me, at least, hope. (What gem might, say, Michael Bay concoct if told he could really do anything?) The Wachowskis did the world a disservice with the whole Matrix nonsense. They made up for it with Speed Racer: a movie that had me rooting for the good guy even as my eyes melted and my brain tried to shout down the cacophony of electro-Singh-visuals, “Lifetime Channel” monologues, and top-tier talent somehow grounding this eye-candy-fluorescence. The stars are likely to never be so aligned again.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This toxic admixture of computer-generated frenzy and live-action torpor succeeds in being, almost simultaneously, genuinely painful — the esthetic equivalent of needles in eyeballs — and weirdly benumbing, like eye candy laced with lidocaine.”–Joe Morgenstren, The Wall Street Journal (contemporaneous)