Cyber Monday: Project Shadowchaser Trilogy

Frank Zagarino dies hard!

Cinemasochism: Black Mangue (2008)

Braindead zombies from Brazil!

The Gweilo Dojo: Furious (1984)

Simon Rhee's bizarre kung fu epic!

Adrenaline Shot: Fire, Ice and Dynamite (1990)

Willy Bogner and Roger Moore stuntfest!

Sci-Fried Theater: Dead Mountaineer's Hotel (1979)

Surreal Russian neo-noir detective epic!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Newsploitation: '80s Horror Box Office Showdown

With the new site design, we’ll be trying some new stuff to see if it catches on.  One thing I’ve always loved is checking out box office figures.  Ever since I was a kid it has always intrigued me, even if it initially stemmed from a wayward “if a movie is successful, it must be great” sentiment.  Today we’ll look at the battle of two horror box office behemoths during the celebrated summer of 1989.

In the ‘80s, there were no bigger horror franchises than FRIDAY THE 13TH and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.  Although Jason and his Mama were first, Freddy was the champ at the box office.  It was a combination of factors, including FRIDAY fans waning interest in the series (especially after you get a new film less than a year after THE FINAL CHAPTER).  So as Jason sunk, Freddy rose.  The one thing their respective studios – Paramount and New Line Cinema – never did though was go up against their rival at the box office.  That is until the summer of ’89 where new sequels for each series debuted within weeks of each other.

Up first was FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN.  Paramount was in full Jason-ploitation mode at this point.  Part VII had matched the box office of part VI (approximately $19 million) and FRIDAY THE 13th: THE SERIES was into its second season. Sadly, Paramount was so cynical and cash hungry that they slapped together the eighth entry.  They announced the sequel (under the title FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON IN NEW YORK) in February 1989 with an initial release date of August 4, 1989, putting it in theaters one week before Freddy’s already announced return.  Paramount blinked at one point and later changed the date to July 28, 1989.  Insanely, production of this started in March 1989 in Vancouver for a release date just over five months later. The JASON TAKES MANHATTAN plotline certainly got fans buzzing and the "I Love NY" poster created some (much needed) headlines as New York wasn't pleased with it and had it pulled.  Unfortunately, fans felt cheated as the film only spent a scant few minutes in that titular location. It also didn't help that debuting director Rob Hedden concocted one of the goofiest endings in Jason history. The film opened in fifth place and quickly sank like Jason with a rock chained to his neck from the box office rankings.  It grossed just $14,343,976 and would be the lowest grossing film of the series until JASON X (2001).

Amazingly, New Line Cinema found their company in the same rushed boat when it came to the fifth entry of their series, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5: THE DREAM CHILD.  Now if you thought Jason-ploitation was bad, you hadn’t seen anything compared to Freddy-ploitation.  After the huge success of THE DREAM WARRIORS and THE DREAM MASTER, New Line would slap Freddy’s image on just about anything.  Yes, a burned child molester/killer was suddenly a market worthy commodity.  Take a gander at how Tom was dressing that summer:

Amusingly, New Line also announced their sequel in February 1989 (just a few days before Paramount) and they lined up an even shorter window for their production crew. The studio hired a gaggle of writers to come up with a script (including John Skipp and Craig Spector, William Wisher, Leslie Boehm, and David Schow) and filming started under young helmer Stephen Hopkins in April 1989.  Now FRIDAY is a film that required FX for deaths, but that is manageable in five months. ELM STREET required considerably more FX and they wanted it done in four months? That is freakin’ insane. With such a tight schedule, it is no surprise the film turned out to be a mess just four months later. As a result, the film suffered and opened in third place at the box office with $8,115,176. It went on to make $22,168,359 in the U.S., the lowest of any ELM STREET film until Wes Craven's NEW NIGHTMARE (1994).

So in the end the pursuit for the almighty dollar ended up hurting both series in the long run.  Sure, New Line could contend that Freddy beat the crap out of Jason at the box office but both series suffered.  Ironically, both horror icons wouldn’t see box office gold again until Freddy was literally beating the crap out of Jason with the long-awaited meet up FREDDY VS. JASON (2003) with New Line owning both characters.  That film would turn out to be the highest grossing entry of either series.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Sci-Fried Theater: GATCHAMAN (2013)

As I mentioned before, back in the '70s there were a lot of Japanese "cartoons" hitting us shores as morning children's programming. It was a good time to be a kid in the states. None of this "My Little Pony" and "Gummy Bears" nonsense. Nope we had death-defying race car drivers, inter-galactic space wars and my favorite of the lot, a bunch of secret agents dressed like birds engaged in a battle with a secret organization of part-alien super villains... who also dress as birds. Yes, I'm talking about "Battle of the Planets" (1978).

Originally titled "Science Ninja Team Gatchaman" (1972), the series concerned a secret organization of scientists and superheroes (the "International Science Organization" or "ISO") who are battling the secret organization of villains known as the Galactor who are trying to rob the earth of its resources in order to take over the planet. The Gatchaman team of five heroes dressed in stylized costumes reminiscent of various birds and were trained by Dr. Nambu in a highly effective form of martial arts that allowed them to have super-fast reflexes and leaping ability. Also they had a secret island base, individual transformer vehicles and a ship called The God Phoenix.

In 1978, the infamous Sandy Frank licensed the show, heavily edited it, added new footage to bondo the holes, re-wrote the plots and dubbed it into English (with Casey Kasem providing the voice of the lead Ken, who was renamed Mark) as "Battle of the Planets". In his version, he added a new character, the robot 7-Zark-7, who could act as a narrator to link up the pieces of the plot. He also changed the names (the Galactor were now "Spectra") and had the dialogue re-written to soften some of the harder edges. No longer were there shower scenes with the female team member Jun (now named "Princess") or slightly disturbing scenes of humans who are captured and turned into walking timebombs, but that's ok, in 1978 we didn't know the difference, it was still a hell of a show. There have been additional animated series', an animated movie cobbled together from the series' and an DTV series (technically an OVA seris) in the '90s. Now after years of comic books, toys and ill-advised cosplay, not to mention with super heroes being white hot at the box office, isn't it time someone made a live action film out of the property? Hell yes! Will it be good? Oh jesus, need you ask?

Produced by genre-oriented Nikkatsu (probably best known for the JU-ON: THE GRUDGE movies) in association with Toho, GATCHAMAN (2013) envisions itself falling in with the Marvel Universe movies. Set in 2015, some black-suited aliens, called the Galactor, are invading Earth with an army of cyborgs armed with red force-shields that render human weapons useless. It took them 15 days to occupy half of the Earth, enslaving the humans that they don't kill outright. The only thing stopping them from total domination are some glowing stones of great power (see? I told you it was cheating off of Marvel's page). Only certain people, called "receptors", can use these stones however (STAR WARS EPISODE I?) and with great power comes... oh, you know. The users of these stones are the members of Gatchaman, the ISO super team for Tokyo. Yes, now every area of the globe has their own Gatchaman team. You ain't so special now, are you Ken?

A brief word of warning, because of the way the Japanese like to roll out their plots over the course of the movie, instead of the American way of simply handing the audience the entire plot in the beginning of the film, there will be spoilers ahead. No major ones, but plenty of minor ones.

The 28 glowing stones were found in an ancient ruin in Africa in the 1700s, but only now have they been analysed and put to use. Presumably for 300 years there wasn't a scientist on the planet who found them remotely interesting. The stones are inserted into a wrist watch that allows the Gatchaman team to fly around cities, or if they are so inclined, swing on a line of blue, glowy stuff. Apparently no one catches thieves just like flies, however. To complicate (and bastardize) the back-story even more, there is a lethal virus called "Virus X" that turns people into Glactors, this can happen to a Gatchaman, but only if their stones aren't glowing. Why? Hey, shut up and eat your popcorn! Nobody asks Michael Bay any of those questions.

Speaking of Michael Bay, the plot is rolled out when a giant mechanical wheel starts tearing through Tokyo carrying the Galactor cyborg troops on a raid to the ISO headquarters. Of course the Gatchaman team Ken (Tori Matsuzaka), Jun (Ayame Goriki), Ryu (Ryohei Suzuki) and Junpei (Tatsuomi Hamada) fly into action (literally) whuppin' ass on the cyborgs. Unfortunately it isn't all that easy as the Galactors have their own super villains with purple glowing stones! After a battle that tears up half the city, they realize that it is just the spear-tip of the main mission: Operation Last Suicide! Yes, I'm assuming there was a previous suicide, that must not have gone so well, which is pretty sad if your goal is to fail in battle.

Now the Gatchaman team must get together with a European Gatchaman Jo (Go Ayano), who is bitter and angry that his fiancee Naomi (Eriko Hatsune) took a purple laserblast in the back to protect Ken five years ago. Perfect guy for the job. Their first plan of action? Go to a masked fancy-dress party! Up until this point, the movie was a reasonably entertaining wanna-be Marvel flick with cool-looking costumed heroes and villains. It wouldn't change your religion, but at least it isn't a bunch of generic emotional conversations in empty rooms. Did I just say that? Oh hell, welcome to the rest of the movie!

After being patched up in their utterly barren white roomed hideout base on a remote island, the Gatchaman team engage in a lot of tedious "good-natured ribbing" that is supposed to substitute for character development by way of social interaction. Then it's off to the party. Their mission here is to extract a Galactor defector from this heavily secured black tie affair. I guess he couldn't just meet them in the parking lot. Tension is ramped up to the yawning point when Ken and Jun wait in line to get in while ace-computer hacker Junpei frantically tries to forge their credentials in the high-tech handscanner that identifies the guests. After meeting and extracting Ilia (Shido Nakamura), the team put him in a high-tech Hannibal Lecter cell where he taunts the team members and Dr. Kirkland (inventor of a new superweapon) into getting so upset he manages to escape. At least we didn't have a scene where, in the confines of his cell, he has a pity party and pulls out his false teeth and cheekbone. Nor does he have a train conveniently derail and fall on the hero, but I digress.

If you don't want to know the big spoiler that you will see coming a mile away, skip to the last paragraph.

As it turns out Ilia's play for political asylum is just a ruse to get into ISO and kidnap Dr. Kirkland and get him to use the superweapon on ISO, in other words the "Last Suicide". Hoo boy. You'd think there'd be some big action scenes as Ilia (who turns out to be the presumed dead Naomi in disguise) escapes with the doctor, but you'd be very, very wrong. Instead after everyone freaks out because of the emergency, they promptly settle into some heartfelt discussions of loyalty, honor and mission directives... all taking place in empty rooms. No, seriously, this is like the Philip Glass of production design. Even the inside of the God Phoenix (which in the film is for some reason in the prototype stage), is empty! Or rather lined with curved video panels showing the outside of the aircraft. Either way it seems like just a ploy to shave a few yen off the budget.

The ending, of course, involves a giant space station which the team must infiltrate. This sounds cool, except for the fact that instead of a high-tech center for super-villainy as seen in the series, it is a cramped series of earthen tunnels and gravity defying stone platforms. Naturally the platforms serve as a video-game-esque showdown area, which is so grossly uninteresting that it will make you question the importance of your place in the universe.

I know what you are thinking, you are thinking that I just have some sort of thing about movies with "relationships". You'd be right, but only when it is a paper-thin pretense at relationships. The kind of forgettable superficial drama that could be transposed to any film with no one being the wiser. If you are then going to surmise that maybe I just don't appreciate the cultural differences with the Japanese approach to pop-culture filmmaking, and you would be very wrong. I love the fact that they roll out their stories over the length of the film, but doing it with talking heads in empty rooms is just lazy filmmaking. Toei studios have made an incalculable number of genre films that have balanced character, story and great action. Watch KAMEN RIDER: THE NEXT (2007) to see how it's done right. Toho should be taking pointers, but instead they came up with some great looking villains and then gave them a few scant minutes of screen time and over an hour of entry-level character drama. For shame.

In 2004 the US company Imagi was working on an oft-delayed stereoscopic CG animated adaptation of the series. Imagi, the studio responsible for the well-received 2009 ASTRO BOY movie, suffered some major financial problems and even though they appeared to have lock in the film's release in 2011, the additional $30 million needed to complete production was never found and the project cancelled. The really bitter pill in all of this is the fact that the promotional material, including stills, concept art and a few trailers, looked un-fucking-believably good. I can't imagine how with evidence of such awesomeness, they couldn't get the last of the financing, but it is not only painful that this didn't happen, but this 2013 production just adds salt to the wound.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Listomania: A Double Dose of Dolph with a Side of Adkins

To celebrate our new makeover (all praise goes to Tom on that end), I’ve decided to do a Listomania post.  That sound you just heard was Tom fainting.  So here are a few smaller reviews of recent views.

We’re big fans of both Scott Adkins and Dolph Lundgren here at Video Junkie.  Adkins is the new breed of action hero (sadly, still waiting for major studios to notice him), while Lundgren is a (mostly) consistent veteran from the action packed ‘80s.  Their first time onscreen in THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012) didn’t really give us much of them together, but their subsequent vehicle UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING (2012) blew our socks off.  So when a reteaming on another film being made in China was announced, we stocked up on sock garters.  Unfortunately, this is as far from their previous film as possible.

LEGENDARY (2013) – Crypto-zoologist Travis Preston (Adkins) spends his time traveling the globe looking to discover nature’s hidden animals.  The film opens with him and his crew in Russia tracking a species of super-bear. Along for the hunt is tracker/bounty hunter Harker (Lundgren), who is more concerned with bagging both the big game and credit. Naturally, this combination ends in the death of young student at the hands…er, claws of the bear and Preston feeling his career and enthusiasm suffer.  All of that changes when a lawyer (James Lance) shows up offering Preston a big-time job for an anonymous client to help find a monster scurrying around the hills of rural China.  Seems an industrial group was setting up a pipeline and didn’t count on a salamander-like thing the size of two cars chomping down on their workers.  Preston and his team arrive at the location and quickly find out that this aquatic beast isn’t their biggest problem as Harker is also on the scene in an official capacity and not to happy to share any perceived glory.

Fans hoping for the non-stop, martial arts action Adkins displayed in films like UNDISPUTED III (2010) or NINJA: SHADOW OF A TEAR (2013) will definitely be disappointed in this film. Chosen by Adkins to be more of a downtime project (he was recovering from knee surgery) this is more of an adventure with more in common with a 1950s dinosaur flick.  It isn’t bad by any means and flows pretty quickly through its 92 minute running time (the film actually ends at 85 minutes and we get 7 minutes of end credits).  Adkins is fine in his role and Lundgren does his patented “guy who kills people” routine that involves him speaking slower.  The problem with the film is it exists in a world where it doesn’t really fit in.  Co-funded by a Chinese company, the $12 million dollar budget ensures it can’t compete with something like GODZILLA (2013) and the serious, non-snarky tone won’t allow for viewings from people who like their cult films fed to them a la SHARKNADO 2: THE SECOND ONE (2013).  That second fact is reinforced with some wonky creature CGI work.  In small shots, it is pretty effective, but when we finally get to the monster’s cave in the end the beast gets too much exposure and ends up looking like the GEICO gecko on steroids with a bad skin rash.

So who was this ultimately made for?  Well, lots of Chinese investors (the end credits boast a jaw dropping 22 producers!) for one and probably Adkins and Dolph fans who have no life and will watch anything they are in…oh wait, that’s me!  Recommend only if you suffer from that latter affliction.  Just do not go in expecting anything as cool as that Japanese cover above (there is nary a helicopter in sight!).

BATTLE OF THE DAMNED (2013) – One of Dolph’s releases previous to LEGENDARY – and in between a couple of those terrible Giorgio Serafini vehicles that even I, a Dolph-addict, can’t stomach – was this sci-fi/horror hybrid. Again, while a far cry from the insanity of John Hyam’s UNIVERSAL SOLDIER sequel, this is another fun time killer that sees Dolph in a futuristic land of the dead.

Following a zombie/virus outbreak, an unnamed city is teeming with the dead and quarantined. Major Max Gatling (Lundgren) is hired by an industrialist to head into the city to find and save his estranged daughter, Jude (Melanie Zanetti). Damn, you know you got family problems when your kid would rather spend time in a zombie-infested city than with you.  And you know your script is lacking when you rip off ESCAPE FROM L.A. (1996).  Gatling assembles his team and they head out on their apocalyptic mission.  They find their target in relatively quick order, but soon find out she is living with a whole crew of survivors and that she is (cue the strings) pregnant.  With the numbers of attacking undead increasing, Gatling decides to rewire some robots to become zombie killers. Why he is the first one to think of this is beyond me.

As the blurb says on the cover there: “Explosions, bullets, zombies, and robots…”  Jeez, if they had thrown in “boobs” I think we might have the perfect film.  To be honest, I don’t give a damn about 99% of the zombie films nowadays as that subgenre has been beaten to death (haha).  Yeah, my 15-year-old self is weeping right now.  A zombie film really needs a hook to get me to bite and I think they may have done it with explosions, bullets, and robots.  Oh, and Dolph!  Writer-director Christopher Hatton previously made the robot-heavy ROBOTOPOLIS (2011), so he definitely had the credentials for this and he manages to get some effective and haunting visuals from his locations in Malaysia. As mentioned earlier, this isn’t top tier Lundgren but keeps going at a quick enough pace that I was never bored.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Welcome to the new site!

Break out the party favors (you know, like whiskey and sharp objects)! Our site has undergone a major overhaul and while there still are a few tweaks that need to happen, we are pleased as a dog with hambone and two tails.

Plus we have have a direct link that you can use to get to the site without having to remember that really long blogspot link.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Sci-Fried Theater: SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO (2010)

As much as I don't care for anime in general, for some inexplicable reason I find live-action films based on them to be fascinating. Sometimes it has been because of the fact that it is based on one of the few anime's that I like. FIST OF THE NORTH STAR (1995), by all rights, should have been incredible. Maybe Gary Daniels isn't the living embodiment of Kaneshiro, but it's freaking Gary Daniels! I weep for those of you who only know him as the guy who gets cold-cocked by Steve Austin in THE EXPENDABLES (2010). Regardless of whether you enjoyed the anime or not, everyone can agree FIST was a train wreck. Because of the budget, I'd say it was a Lionel train wreck.

This brings us to Toho's attempt at bringing the hugely popular anime "Space Battleship Yamato" (1974-) to the big screen in in live action form with modern technology. "Yamato" was so popular back in the '70s that it was one of many that got licensed and dubbed into English for US morning children's television under the tile "Starblazers". Of course the last time I saw the Battleship Yamato was during Daiei's mind-liquefying epic SPACE MONSTER GAMERA: SUPER MONSTER (1977). Again, I feel this makes me the perfect person to talk about the Toho live action film. No prejudice, I take it on its own terms. I just wish those terms were more enjoyable. Do you like how I justified my ignorance of the source material?

Starting off with the obligatory JEDI-inspired dogfight, except here it's cranked up to the level heretofore unseen in anything other than a game of "Ikaruga". If only more pew-pews equaled something more interesting. By contrast, SPACE CAPTAIN HARLOCK (2013) took the space battle and moved it in to the realm of THE ROAD WARRIOR (1982) with massive spectacles of twisting metal and vehicular debris.

I think we've played this game before.

Now that the STAR WARS homage is over, we can now get down to business. The year is 2199 and the Earth Defense Forces are being decimated near Mars by aliens called the Gamilas. For the past five years the Gamilas have been bombing Earth from orbit with meteors that have turned the planet's surface into a desert wasteland, saturated with radiation. What is left of the planet's population now lives underground in squalid bunkers that clearly did not have showers installed. One of the few of the more rugged humans, ex-pilot Susumu Kodai (Takuya Kimura), makes trips out on to the earth's surface in a gas mask (which apparently prevents radiation contamination) to forage for scrap metal that he can sell to the EDF in exchange for drugs and likker. Where the EDF is getting dope and alcohol from when there is a war on is never explained. Perhaps there was some sort of Federal Reserve set up for just such an occurrence. On his most recent trip, Kodai is nearly hit by a meteor that knocks his gas mask off, which should have given him a lethal dose of radiation. He discovers that the meteor is actually an alien device of some kind and takes it to the EDF for analysis.

It turns out that this device is a message transmitter showing the location of a planet called Iskandar. The military decides that since humanity can't hold out much longer, that they should send a ship manned with volunteers out to see what the message is all about. Oh, and they will lie to the public about it, saying that Iskander has a device that will eliminate the radiation from the Earth as a morale booster. This is not a spoiler as it is handed to the audience in the very beginning of the film. There will be none of that annoying "what will happen next" stuff here. More like "who will have a heartfelt discussion with whom".

After hearing that the EDF is looking for suckers - err, I mean volunteers, Kodai signs up with the EDF again. This puts him face to face with Captain Okita who was the only survivor of the last battle with the Gamilas, and who Kodai believes is responsible for his brother's dead. Oooooh, some drama comin'! Not only that, but Kodai's ex-subordinates, the Black Tiger squad, are a little cranky that he quit on them. Some more than others as far-too-pretty-to-be-such-a-badass, Yuki (Meisa Kuroki), slugs down both shots and men with equal enthusiasm. Oooooh, more drama comin'!

After literally resurrecting the Battleship Yamato from the Earth, the crew set out to find Iskandar. Just getting on the road proves difficult as the team need to take on a whole mess of Gamila fighters in an asteroid field that feels a bit like STAR WARS, but I'm pretty sure was inspired by "Star Fox 64". This fray ends up leaving Yuki unconscious in a wounded fighter. In order to save her, Kodai hops in a fighter flies above her and has her hit the ejection seat which launches her into space toward Kodai's ship that extends robot arms to catch her and keep her in place as they fly back to the Yamato. In space. When they get back on board the Yamato, Kodai feels that the best way to revive her is by screaming her name in her face.

Yep, played it too.

When this movie isn't cribbing its sense of reality from the anime, it borrows heavily from STAR TREK. In particular THE NEXT GENERATION. When the ship is hit by an enemy attack, sparks fly out of the ceiling and crew members are thrown around the bridge like they suddenly went on the Universal Tours Earthquake attraction. The ship's engineer is a fountain of wisdom and at one point he gives her all she's got, until it can't take any more (not in those exact words, but close). Also every scene is accompanied by melancholy violins and majestic swells and no situation is too urgent and dangerous for an emotional discussion about relationships. I'm sure a lot of this played better as an animated TV show, particularly the AI PDA that Kodai chats with and turns into a robot during a crucial moment. Also the final battle must have played better too as an anime as in a live action movie. I'd say it looks like someone has been playing too much "Halo", but it's probably more accurate to say that the folks at Bungee watched too much "Yamato".

"Halo" anyone?

It seems like, yet again, Toho is playing it safe. In the same way their recent GODZILLA films felt completely by-the-numbers, this too feels confined to a strict set of rules from which there will be no divergence. Granted, it does appear to be incredibly faithful to the source material, which is something Hollywood would have never done. Even so, it still feels like Hollywood in Asian-face. We get the generic Hollywood score that never picks up tempo even during action scenes, we have a BRAVEHEART speech when things are looking grim, we have the old conflict-turns-to-romance sub-plot, we have morality lessons and life lessons. We find out that with great power comes great... oh, you get the idea.

I think this illustrates the mindset of Toho vs. Toei. Toei has always been a bit of a risk taker. Retooling the beloved HARLOCK took balls, giving audiences exactly what Toei thought they wanted and then gambling on a darker, more adult vision of the amine. Sometimes a gamble doesn't pay off, but Toei is willing to take the risk and hope that baby gets a new pair of shoes. Toho gives exactly what they think audiences want and not a penny more. That said YAMATO was only just released this year in the US on DVD and blu-ray and it seems to have made a lot of American fans of STARBLAZER ecstatic. So if you grew up watching the show or just like emotional character dramas in space, there's a good chance it will fit you like a pair of well-worn space boots. All others take heed.