Tag Archives: Action

CAPSULE: BUNRAKU (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Guy Moshe

FEATURING: , Gackt, , Demi Moore, Ron Perlman

PLOT: Set in a post-apocalyptic future that outlaws guns but promotes copious amounts of sword-heavy battles, Bunraku follows two mysterious lone strangers—a card-playing cowboy (Hartnett) and a pacifistic Japanese warrior (Gackt)—as they strive to take down the all-powerful crime lord (Perlman) who controls the city.

Still from Bunraku (2010)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The visuals are stunning and innovative and the effects are wildly impressive, but the cookie-cutter sci-fi/western tale and clumsy script hold it back from approaching true Weirdness.

COMMENTS: Introduced by a gorgeous animated sequence involving puppetry (which is also the only time the film’s title comes into play), Bunraku takes place in a type of future many films have already established. There was a world-wide nuclear war, everything was destroyed, and human beings build the world back up to create a lawless, decrepit landscape where everyone fights all the time.  The all-knowing, presumably winking narrator is upfront about what type of story this is, making cracks about the type of mysterious loners always found in places like these.  This self-awareness pervades the script and certainly makes the film more digestible.

The set-up and story don’t make a lot of sense, with bouts of under- and over-exposition that either confuse or bore.  Hartnett’s Drifter is stiff and stern, with no emotion and no reason for the audience to care about him.  Gackt’s Yoshi is likable enough (and magnetically androgynous), but like Drifter he’s so enigmatic there’s barely any character left for the actor to embody.  They’re one-dimensional archetypes to the fullest extent of the word, but Moshe seems fully aware of this. Woody Harrelson brings some levity and charisma to The Bartender, a friendly but heartbroken working man who doesn’t take sides but finds himself pulled into Drifter and Yoshi’s war against Nicola (Perlman), the vicious and world-weary “Woodcutter.”  Demi Moore is extremely out of place as the crime lord’s resentful woman, but her role is small enough.

Luckily there is plenty to distract from the weak characterization!  Bunraku is chock-full of fascinating visuals and downright exciting fight scenes.  The lighting is over-saturated and the locations are highly stylized, with cut-paper backgrounds and a few Caligari-esque sets.  A sizable chunk of the running time is devoted to intense action sequences, with an inexhaustible amount of literal Redshirts ready to be killed by our heroes (led by Kevin McKidd as Killer #2, easily the weirdest character in the film) in elaborate group scenes.  There are fistfights, swordfights, polefights, circusfights, axefights, and one cool car chase. The effects are excellent, transitioning from comic-book style animation to CG enhancements to miniatures with a believable flow.

For all its thrilling action and memorable visuals, Bunraku suffers from an overcomplicated yet under-explained plot and an inexcusably long running time.  It could easily have lost 30 minutes and become tighter, better paced, and more enjoyable.  The writing is hit and miss, with some really sly moments that show Moshe’s self-awareness and sense of fun, and others that are over-serious and dull.  Aside from its looks, the film doesn’t do anything different but it doesn’t mean to, so it’s forgivable.  It’s just a fantastical, stupid romp with the colors of a 1950’s musical and the stylized gore of a Frank Miller comic.  What’s not appealing about that?

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Extremely cool-looking in the manner of ‘Sin City,’ but clumsily staged, slackly acted and mind-numbingly dull, Israeli director Guy Moshe’s English-language fantasy is set in a future when guns, and apparently coherent conversations, have been outlawed.”–Lou Lumenick, New York Post (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: MEGA PYTHON VS. GATOROID (2011)

DIRECTED BY: Mary Lambert

FEATURING: , Debbie Gibson, A. Martinez

PLOT: An underground environmental activist sneaks pythons into the Everglades; when the

Still from Mega Python vs. Gatoroid (2011)

snakes begin killing off the swamp’s native fauna, a game warden feeds the local alligators experimental steroids in an attempt to restore nature’s balance.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  It’s Mega Piranha‘s less ridiculous cousin, and Mega Piranha didn’t come close to making the List, so you figure it out.  (Guest reviewer Cleverbot adds, “Enumerate 10 selections from the list.”)

COMMENTS366: We’ve been secretly training the artificial intelligence “chatbot” Cleverbot to assist us in covering weird movies.  Looking for the perfect entry-level reviewing assignment,  Mega Python vs. Gatoroid jumped out at us as a movie even an algorithm could do justice to.  Cleverbot, are you willing to share your impressions of the movie with our readers?

Cleverbot: I am good with that.

366:  Thank you.  Now, after enjoying the exploding flying fish from the SyFy channel’s unexpected camp hit Mega Piranha, I personally thought maybe it might be best if I didn’t push my luck by watching another of their many Mega-knockoffs.

Cleverbot: I’m sorry. Do you feel better now?

366: Not entirely, as we’ll see, but when you have a few beers in you and are looking through the Netflix streaming options late at night, the entwining giant reptiles on the Mega Python vs. Gatoroid poster can look strangely irresistible.

Cleverbot: Nice. Totally agree.

366: Python recycles not only Piranha‘s mega-creature aspect, but even brings back grown-up teen “star” Tiffany for another turn.

Cleverbot: Beer.

366:  With a script built around a long-brewing catfight between Tiffany and fellow 80s pop chanteuse Debbie Gibson, with the CG monsters playing supporting roles, Python is less an Continue reading CAPSULE: MEGA PYTHON VS. GATOROID (2011)

CAPSULE: TETSUO: THE BULLET MAN (2009)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Eric Bossick, Akiko Monô,

PLOT:  A salaryman with “android DNA” turns into a metal monster when he gets angry.

Still from Tetsuo: The Bullet Man (2009)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Tetsuo: The Bullet Man (2009) is a virtual English language remake of the same auteur’s original (Certified Weird) Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1985) that’s inferior in every respect except for budget.  See the original instead.

COMMENTS: Besides the basic man-becomes-mineral motif, Tetsuo: The Bullet Man contains several explicit nods to Tetsuo: The Iron Man.  The salaryman’s spastic dance over the opening title is recreated.  The metal transformation is once again set in motion by a hit-and-run accident, although the implications are quite different this time.  And Tsukamoto’s trademark high-speed zoom effect, where he edits a series of stills together at breakneck speed to take the viewer on a roller-coaster ride, is again in play.  But whereas in Iron Man the technique was used to create the cheesy but effectively unreal illusion of the Salaryman and the Fetishist racing through deserted city streets, here the rapid-fire cuts don’t lead us on a journey, but reveal only random, unconnected shots of skyscrapers skewed at various angles.  The editing creates movement and pace, but it doesn’t go anywhere.  Therein lies your metaphor for comparing the two films.  Tsukamoto tries to endow this 21st century Tetsuo with more plot sense, but the movie ends up making less artistic sense.  There is a basic (though logically unsatisfactory) b-movie schema to “explain” things this time out.  Half-Japanese Anthony (the archetypal Salaryman is given a name for this outing, as part of the half-hearted attempt to relocate Tetsuo in our reality) has the misfortune of having inherited “android DNA” that will cause him to mutate into a man/killer machine hybrid if he gets angry enough.  A paramilitary group is intent on assassinating him before he can learn to harness his power, while director Tsukamoto plays a mysterious figure whose goal is to goad Anthony into transforming into a human arsenal, both by threatening his family and by calling him “cowboy.”  The result is many confusing, dimly lit battle scenes; missing, sadly, is the Continue reading CAPSULE: TETSUO: THE BULLET MAN (2009)

CAPSULE: COWBOY BEBOP: THE MOVIE (2001) [BLU-RAY]

AKA Cowboy Bebop the Movie: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

DIRECTED BY: Shinichirô Watanabe

FEATURING: Voices of , Unshô Ishizuka, Megumi Hayashibara, Aoi Tada (Japanese version); Steve Blum, Beau Billingslea, Wendee Lee, Melissa Fahn (English dub)

PLOT: Based on the popular anime series, the film brings the core bounty hunting team

together for another mission, while adding a few new characters involved in an experimental super soldier program and a deadly virus outbreak on Mars.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: For the most part, Cowboy Bebop is straight sci-fi, notable for its stellar animation, eclectic soundtrack, and fascinating characterization.  It’s got a few strange bits—especially the character of “Ed”, an androgynous child hacker who speaks in nonsense—but nothing especially out of the ordinary, especially in the world of anime.

COMMENTS: As a television series, Cowboy Bebop was a mix between comedy and drama, action and mystery, single-story episodes and an overarching plot.  Released after the initial 26-episode run, the film takes place sometime before the end of the show, and can stand on its own as a film for anyone unfamiliar with the series.  The titular “Bebop” is a spaceship that serves as home and headquarters to a bounty hunting crew.  Spike Spiegel is a laid back but highly skilled fighter with a shady past; Jet Black is a gruff and sometimes fatherly former cop; Faye Valentine is a wily, scantily-clad con artist with a gambling addiction; Ed is a brilliant and fanciful young hacker.  Of course there’s also Ein, their fluffy “data dog.”  While chasing after a low-level bounty on Mars, the crew stumbles upon a sociopathic killer and his massive plot to infect the planet with a new kind of virus.

The dynamics of the group (always shaky as it is) are explored as each goes off on his or her own mission at various points, chasing down personal leads and hunches.  Spike and Faye are content to be on their own, while Jet and Ed hope for a more familial camaraderie.  New characters Vincent—the soliloquizing killer with a tragic past–and Electra—a government agent with impressive martial arts skills and questionable motivations—further the film’s investigation of isolation and outcasts  The city they explore (the capital of Mars) is packed with crowds preparing for a big Halloween festival, but our protagonists wander alone through the throngs with the weight of the world on their shoulders, adding occasional philosophical and mystical mutterings.  Well, all except for Ed, who seems content to hop around dressed as a pumpkin.

The story is solid, combining mystery and crime drama with thrilling action sequences and a dash of comedic relief.  The animation is gorgeous and incredibly fluid, with exciting fight scenes and high-speed chases (usually involving a space vessel) packed with R-rated violence . The colors vary from soft to bold, with hazy backgrounds and intricate settings that include fun futuristic details and references to antique technology.  The sharp HD upgrade is a welcome sight after the TV-quality Cartoon Network reruns that introduced Cowboy Bebop to many American fans.  Aside from the luscious visuals, the film features a truly kickin’ soundtrack from inimitable composer Yoko Kanno.  The combination of syncopated jazz, kooky soul, and thumping rock perfectly suits the story’s changeable tone and offbeat pacing.

So it’s not weird, especially not by sci-fi anime standards, but Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (also known as Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door) is a fun and involving film for longtime fans and curious newcomers alike.  It’s a little overlong but never boring, and the impressive action, set pieces, and ultracool characterizations are enough to keep everyone entertained!

BLU-RAY INFO: Unfortunately there are no special features for the US Blu-ray release. It’s a beautiful high-def transfer (1080p/AVC- encoded image), with Linear PCM 2.0 stereo sound. There’s a Japanese and English track (the English dub uses the same voice actors from the series, which I always liked).  Honestly, I think the visual upgrade is enough of a reason for fans to check this out on Blu.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This switched-on futuristic anime noir is visually stunning — and it makes a lot more sense than ‘Spirited Away’!” –Stephanie Zacharek, Salon.com

LIST CANDIDATE: DEAD LEAVES (2004)

DIRECTED BY: Hiroyuki Imaishi

FEATURING: Amanda Winn Lee (voice), Jason Lee (voice)

PLOT:  A man with a television for a head and a woman with mismatched eyes wake up with amnesia, are imprisoned on what’s left of the moon, lead a revolt, have a baby, and kill lots and lots of people.

Still from Dead Leaves (2004)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LISTDead Leaves moves so fast and makes so little sense that it’s almost the equivalent of putting an ultraviolent manga in a high-speed blender and trying to read it while the pieces swirl around.  The plot is nearly incomprehensible, but somehow involves mutant clones and a psychedelic caterpillar.  Weird?  Hell yes.  Recommended?  Well, definitely not to epileptics.  Even for older folks with a healthy neurobiology, the breakneck pacing is as likely to induce a headache as an adrenaline rush.  It’s definitely one-of-a-kind, though, and as an experiment in compressing as much berserk and illogical anime flavor as possible into as short a running time as possible, it’s worth a look, and maybe even an eventual spot on the List.

COMMENTS: Dead Leaves really is something to behold.  It seems to have been conceived, and composed, under the influence of an entirely new drug: amphetashrooms.  The film is essentially one fifty-minute long chase fight/scene, with a very few timeouts to catch your breath.  The female pink-eyed Pandy and TV-headed male Retro wake up, rob a bank, are imprisoned, break out, fire thousands of rounds of ammunition from weapons that conveniently appear when needed, and fight an ever-mutating horde of bad guys; Retro loses his head both literally and figuratively during the journey.  The violence and gore are extreme, but so ridiculous—with characters spontaneously transforming into human arsenals and showers of spent yellow bullet casings flying so thick that they sometimes obscure the carnage—that it becomes almost non-representational.  Animation styles change every few seconds (and sometimes even several times within a second), as the artists involved employ a variety of abstractions, split screens, shaky pans, replicate comic book panels complete Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: DEAD LEAVES (2004)

366 UNDERGOUND: SLIMED (2010)

366 Underground is an occasional feature that looks at the weird world of contemporary low- and micro-budget cinema, the underbelly of independent film.

DIRECTED BY: Eric Manche and Jeff Nitzberg

FEATURING:  Jordan Lee, Dustin Triplett, Jessica Borusky, Chris Gorges, Mewgen, Ben Powell

PLOT: Atheist park ranger Rock Rockerson is forced into an unlikely partnership with Bible

Still from Slimed (2011)

salesman PePe in an attempt to save his beloved national park, but they both accidentally discover a sinister and slimey conspiracy that threatens the entire world.

COMMENTS: This did not turn out anything like I expected.  What I expected was another clone of the Evil Dead 2/Troma-esque type of low-budget film, with nudity and pointless gore. Fortunately, Slimed turned out to be much lighter than that.  As a student project/calling card, it’s pretty OK, although at 60 minutes long it would be a much more effective film if it was either shorn about 2/3 of its running time, or had just gone for broke and added 15 more minutes or so to make a full feature.  A good portion of the film’s midsection (where the super-villain and his plan are revealed, leading to an escape and battle with child minions) goes on for far too long, time which could’ve been spent in more escapades with the main characters.

The highlights in terms of weirdness: there’s a magical gateway to a corporation guarded by a depressed wizard cat, the evil super-villain is a puppet mouse who believes he’s human, and his corporate minions are children who have the ability to fly like bats and who explode upon impact.  Additionally, the performances are deliberately skewed and exaggerated, but it comes from trying too hard, rather than any sort of intrinsic weirdness.  It’s like a would-be cult film looking for its cult members, but it’s definitely on the borderline of being a weird film.

Slimed official site

FILM FESTIVAL DOUBLE FEATURE: THE LAST CIRCUS [BALADA TRISTE DE TROMPETA] (2010)/RAINBOWS END (2010)

Your faithful correspondent has returned from the field with reports on two offbeat festival films…

Still from The Last Circus (2010)Alex de la Iglesia bolsters his already fine cult film résumé (Acción Mutante, The Day of the Beast) with this b-movie styled action/melodrama that’s also an allegory for the Spanish Civil War. The movie’s best sequence is the prologue, where the Republican army conscripts a circus troupe into emergency action (“a clown with a machete—you’ll scare the s**t out of them”!) Flash forward to 1973, when the embittered son of one of the Shanghaied carnies embarks upon a career as a “Sad Clown,” but is immediately smitten by a beautiful trapeze artist. Unfortunately for him, the acrobat Natalia is the personal property of the “Happy Clown,” a psychotic, drunken woman-beater who just happens to be great with kids. The two mountebanks’ working relationship quickly turns sour as they take turns beating the greasepaint off each other in a brutal rivalry that eventually leaves both of them mutilated and insane. Which mad harlequin will Natalia choose? The Spanish Civil War angle is simplistic and neither adds nor subtracts from the narrative, which starts as a tawdry carnival melodrama and morphs into an action movie with a high-flying, clown-mauling showdown atop a giant cross. A few Sad Clown dream sequences–he keeps seeing his dead father and archival footage of Spanish pop singer Raphael singing a vintage ballad in clownface—add nominal weirdness, but these touches aren’t pervasive enough to raise the film above the level of aggressively offbeat. Still, there are those who are going to want to check out any film where an insane jester uses lye, an iron, and some clerical vestments to improvise his own clown costume, then steals a cache of automatic weapons and walks the streets of Madrid armed to the teeth with homicidal gleam in his eye. One final note: my movie-going companion was disappointed in the lack of variety in the clown-on-clown violence; he had been hoping to see a wide variety of Bozos brutalizing each other in an all-out melee. So be forewarned—if you consider two killer clowns too few, this Circus is not for you.

THE LAST CIRCUS [Balada Triste de Trompeta] (2010). Dir. Álex de la Iglesia, Featuring Carlos Areces, Antonio de la Torre, .

Rainbows EndIf The Last Circus is edgy, Rainbows End occupies the opposite end of the offbeat spectrum—it’s whimsical. Ostensibly a documentary about six east Texas eccentrics on a road trip to California to pursue a motley assortment of dreams, it’s also one of the funniest movies yours truly has had the privilege of checking out in 2011. It’s the characters who drive the bus in this episodic feature—and in this case that bus needs a push start, leaks radiator fluid, and at times is literally held together with duct tape. Continue reading FILM FESTIVAL DOUBLE FEATURE: THE LAST CIRCUS [BALADA TRISTE DE TROMPETA] (2010)/RAINBOWS END (2010)