Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Listomania!: Will's Funky February 2012 Viewings

The year’s shortest month proved no challenge for me as I got in 33 movies during the 29 days of February (thank you, Leap Year!).  Of those, 27 were films I had never seen before and 6 were revisits.  I caught a bit of Sho Fever mid-month thanks to Tom so 4 of those revisits were Sho Kosugi ninja flicks.  The other two were Nick Millard revisits from January’s case of Millard malaria I had.  Once again, DVD dominated as only 4 of the 33 were on VHS.  My player must have been angry at me for the neglect as it tore up my tape of Millard’s GUNBLAST (1986).  I was so pissed I fired three gunshots into my door. Anyway, here are some of the better new flicks I experienced during February 2012.

FIND THE BLACKMAILER (1943) – I just finished up the 6-film Warner Archive Mystery set.  All of the films were entertaining, but this one turned out to be one of the best.  Down-on-his-luck detective D.L. Trees (Jerome Cowan) is hired by Mayoral candidate John Rhodes (Gene Lockhart) in order to find a real-life crow. Seems this porky politician is being blackmailed by a mystery person who claims the crow can utter some scandalous material about the man (I guess the courts were more accepting of evidence back in the day).  While the plot doesn’t sound like much, this one is highly enjoyable thanks to the performances and snappy dialogue.  Cowan, who was Bogart’s doomed partner in THE MALTESE FALCON (1941), sort of resembles John Waters and his Trees character is a hoot.  He is always cracking wise ("the last four plays she was in had to be raided,” he says of the femme fatale’s stage skills) but is always one step ahead of the cops.  The plot may be absurd (yes, a political candidate is scared of a bird ratting him out in a court of law), but director D. Ross Lederman keeps it moving so fast for its 55-minute length that you won’t be that bothered.

THE SCARECROW (1981) – I had never heard of this New Zealand horror-thriller until I saw an ad for it in Variety a few years ago. Then Video Serendipity hit as Tom sent me a copy without us ever discussing it.  It was truly meant to be.  Young Ned Poindexter (Jonathan Smith) and his buddy Les (Daniel McLaren) are just twiddling away their summer vacation in the 1950s. The same night they steal some chickens, a young girl is found murdered and the arrival of a stranger (John Carradine) coincides with this event. Ned begins to fear for his sister, Prudence (Tracy Mann), as she is fast approaching womanhood and he suspects she might be the killer's next victim. This is definitely more of a mood piece than a FRIDAY THE 13th-style slasher (no murders are onscreen) and director Sam Pillsbury pulls it off the "dark town with even darker secrets" incredibly well. Ultimately it is a story about the loss of childhood innocence, be it through the kids finding out about murder or Prudence finding out about sex. Carradine is actually very creepy as the stranger and, despite his clear illness, has one incredibly powerful scene where he performs some magic tricks for the family and briefly hypnotizes the young girl.  Just try not to laugh when the director has him thumping some folks during a fight scene.

NIGHT FLOWERS (1979) – For anyone who found TAXI DRIVER (1976) too damn cheery, here is this bleak 70s drama. Two Vietnam vets, Tom (Gabriel Walsh) and Nordi (Jose Perez), live pretty sad lives in a crumbling New Jersey town. Sharing a one room apartment, they talk about their inability to hold down real work, struggle to get noticed at the VA and fail to connect with women. Things change for Tom when he meets Marcella (Sabra Jones) and they begin a relationship. However, he can't escape his past with Nordi and the co-dependent, toxic relationship soon takes a gruesome turn. I wasn't quite sure what to label this independent flick, but I guess cult drama is the best term since not a lot of people have heard of it. This is one depressing flick, but I was captivated by it the whole time. Walsh also penned the screenplay and he gives a really good, subdued performance. Director Louis San Andres does a great job of capturing a decaying New Jersey and New York to match the characters mental breakdowns and increasing isolation. There is also a really harrowing scene about 40 minutes in that is totally unnerving, thanks mostly to Andres filming it in a wide shot done in one long take. Sadly, this was his lone feature.

NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (1984) – Telephone line worker Christie (Lucinda Dickey) becomes possessed by an evil ninja spirit after she tries to help a bullet-ridden ninja in the middle of the desert. Lesson learned?  Never help bullet-ridden ninjas in the middle of the desert.  Her supernatural task is to kill all of the cops who sprayed led into her, er, him. This proves pretty easy as she starts dating a cop and every one of his colleagues was in on that shootout. Yamada (Sho Kosugi) is called over from Japan to settle this mess as he has a history with this evil ninja.

The last of Cannon's Kosugi ninja films, it is also one of the strangest films in U.S. ninja history (note I said U.S. ninja history as the Asians love them some wacky and strange ninja films).  It is as if Golan and Globus decided to mix every popular genre at the time, resulting in a ninja film that also utilizes parts of FLASHDANCE and THE EXORCIST. Fans of Sho will probably be disappointed as he takes a supporting role here. He first appears onscreen around the 30 minute mark and doesn't throw his first kick until the 60 minute mark. Returning REVENGE OF THE NINJA director Sam Firstenberg handles all of the action well though, although the violence has been considerably toned down. It looks like they also utilized that turning set from BREAKIN' 2 for a scene in this that resembles POLTERGEIST. Kosugi left the chambers of Cannon after this film and started doing ninja films (like PRAY FOR DEATH) on his own.

THE MISSING ONE (1972) aka EL AUSENTE – Last year I professed my love for Mexican action star Valentin Trujillo. This was one of his early 1970s westerns. When he finds two kids bullying his sick son, Valente, Sr. is forced into a standoff with their parents and is killed. Young Valente, Jr. wanders off to another town to live with his Godfather. 20 years later, the grown Valente, Jr. (Trujillo) returns with revenge on his mind. He finds the town is under control of the two families, Beltran and Landeros. The objects of his rage haven't fared well though as one is crippled and the other is dead. Naturally, Valente creates new enemies in his old enemies the two bullies, Alberto (Fernando Balzaretti) and Jorge (Octavio Galindo). Matters get more complicated when Valente falls for Julia (VerĂ³nica Castro), who has been promised to Alberto for marriage. This western is mucho dramtico, but enjoyable and interesting if you want to see a young Trujillo. In his early 20s at the time, he hadn't yet fully grown into the bullet spraying tough guy I know from his 80s efforts, but he is still very good here. Love interest Castro is quite attractive as well.

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