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!

Friday, August 15, 2014

An Accute Case of Sequilitis: TEKKEN 2: KAZUYA'S REVENGE (2014)

Once upon a time in a land far, far away someone decided to adapt these newfangled video games to the magic of the silver screen. At the time, video games weren’t exactly story driven and the most popular of these were simply things like a yellow pie shape eating dots in a maze or a slightly obsessed Italian plumber navigating an under-construction building while avoiding a never ending supply of barrels that were left at the top along with a very angry gorilla. If you were going to adapt them, you were going to have to fill in more holes than “Load Runner”.

Modern video games make things a bit easier by providing back-stories, but any time a movie is adapted from a book, a game, a cartoon, whatever, there are going to be changes, it’s a fact inherent of the medium. Even if you do something incredibly faithfully (say, 2009s WATCHMEN or 2012s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS), there will be those that are furious that one little detail has been slightly altered. Don’t be that guy.

That said I have a confession to make. I’m not a fan of the “Tekken” games. I know there are legions of them and I know they are vociferous. Understand I don’t hate them, I just never could get into them. Because of this I’m going to leave the ranting about the differences between the movies and the games to the people who sit around on message boards trying to pick fights with anyone who dares to have a slightly different viewpoint.

TEKKEN (2009) served as the first live-action version of the game. Directed by veteran genre director Dwight H. Little, it envisioned the King of the Iron Fist tournament to be an underground bloodsport in the year 2039. Taking place within the walled city-corporation of Tekken, it is overseen by the fascist Heihachi Mishima (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). Within the walls of Tekken City, corporations and the wealthy lived in luxury while outside the walls, the lower classes live in filthy, abject poverty. Mishima’s death squads would frequently kill civilians for apparently no reason whatsoever, instigating riots and unrest. In one of these situations slum-dweller Jin Kazama (Jon Foo) sees his mother killed and sets out for revenge by entering the tournament as a way to get close enough to Mishima to kill him. Even though I am not much of a fan of the game, I've played it enough to know that they at least got the look of the characters right. Even SUPER MARIO BROTHERS (1993) managed to screw that up somehow.


Badly scripted and terribly acted with “futuristic” clich├ęs flying fast and furious, Little at least made the fight scenes interesting. Not exactly great, but better than the average DTV fodder. Pilloried by fans of the games and completely dismissed by everyone else, we flash forward five years and suddenly have a sequel. Well, actually, a prequel. I know the title is TEKKEN 2, but it’s a prequel. Not that it matters in the least.

Set in an unidentified time frame that we know is prior to the original only because the marketing says so, a man suffering from amnesia (Kane Kosugi) wakes up in a hotel room in the slums with a Tekken death squad running up the stairs. After fighting off the troopers, he is knocked cold by a hot brunette in a pleather outfit. Waking up, once again, the man finds himself tied up in the courtyard of a man called The Minister (Rade Serbedzija). The Minister alleges to preach the word of god and dubs our amnesiac “K” (since he is the 16th recruit). 

After telling K that there is a bomb implanted in his chest and demonstrating its cranial combustion ability on a guy he didn’t like, he tells K “By the sweat of your brow shall you labor until you return to the ground.” To which K replies “You crazy!” If K didn’t state the very obvious, he would have no dialogue whatsoever. 

What this all boils down to is the fact that The Minister is going to use him as one of his hitmen. His stable of killers take out the people that The Minister is paid to hit. Though he doesn't do children. No children! Well, unless the price is right (not that this movie dares to show him having kids killed). His current top killers include a woman dressed up as a school girl (Charlotte Kirk), who sucks a lollypop and uses her feminine wiles to lure men to their deaths, which of course we have never, ever seen before. Apparently this heinous cliche is not even related to the game in any way. Seriously, I wish "Sukeban Deka" had never been made.

The Minister keeps K locked up in a cage until he has proven that he can, I guess, stumble blindly into places where people are going to fight him. One such place has been cleverly decorated to appear like a very small warehouse lined with steel barrels. Presumably these are intended to be settings from the video games, but they get absolutely no set-up and while I realize this is supposed to be a slum, the sets are impoverished at best. Since K has no memory, we get no backstory and little dialogue. What dialogue we do get is so inept that it borders on legendary. A character called The Janitor (Sahajak Boonthanakit) is introduced specifically so that he can give his backstory to break the monotony and have exchanges with K, such as this one:
K: “What is this place?”
Janitor: “To some it is home, to others it’s a prison.”
Thank you for that enlightening pearl of wisdom.

Also to fill in the void, we have The Minsiter rambling incoherently over a PA system saying that people should kill each other in order to “stop the violence”. I’m not sure if this is supposed to be part of his nutty character, or whether it is just an indication that the script was scratched out on the back of a cocktail napkin the day before shooting. To give context to this monologue, we get a few random scenes of people in the compound killing other people. Why? To stop the violence, of course. Did someone really get paid to write this?

In addition to the fact that K has nothing to say and his expression never changes, every scene is weighed down by somber music and slow motion walking, looking and standing, desperately trying to give the film a serious and emotional tone that would be utterly laughable if it wasn’t so dull. The only emotion wrenched out of the audience is due to the fact that they are bored to tears.

K kills a couple guys in a PG-13 kind of way and is allowed to have an apartment with a hot neighbor who he saves from some British bullies. See? Just because he murders people, he ain’t a bad guy! Conveniently she also works at a clinic which qualifies her to remove explosive implants. Finally we get some flashbacks of K in a chair with bandages around his head and Mishima (who they couldn’t even bother to make up to look like Tagawa’s character in the first film) berating him for being weak. Oh, and we also get flashbacks to the scenes we just saw! The most cruel of blatantly obvious padding ploys. This movie is slower than a short bus with two flat tires and a broken axle. It literally takes 70 minutes to get anywhere near something that resembles a “plot”.

You’d think that at least the fights and assassination scenes would be a break from the monotony but writer Nicole Jones-Dion (also responsible for the previous year’s DTV turkey DRACULA: THE DARK PRINCE) insists on making it as lethargic as possible. In one sequence K is required to kill the owner of a “gentleman’s club” in which girls in bikinis do not strip, but stand around looking as if they are waiting for some stage direction. K doesn’t even bother to try to look like a club-goer, staring in every direction to find the owner, who spots him immediately and sends his bodyguards after him. Ok, I hear you say, this should make for the time honored bar-fight scene in which many liquor bottles will be put to death. Sucker! Nope, we cut to K breaking the owner’s neck while the bodyguards look at the ceiling in bewilderment.

Director Wych Kaosayananda's dubious claim to fame is having made the big budget trainwreck BALLISTIC: EKS VS SEVER (2002), which was made for $70 million and returned $7 thousand on its opening weekend. It took him ten years to get someone to bankroll another film which turned out to be another disasaster and yet somehow he managed to land this job. Clearly the producers didn't care about anything in this movie other than the title. If you are looking for the epitome of "shameless cash grab" this is it.

Even worse, when there is a fight scene, they are brief and badly shot. Kaosayananda's is one of those directors that feels that if the camera is not moving he is not doing his job. The only time it is still is during “dramatic” scenes in which people walk determinedly in slow motion. In Parma, Italy, the thought is that anyone can make prosciutto by burying it in salt. It takes a real craftsman to cure the leg with a small amount of salt. In other words, have the good sense to allow the ingredients to do their job, don’t go overboard like a clumsy oaf. During the brief bits of action, Kaosayananda loves to assemble over-edited close ups of hands and feet, and do shots that start at the feet and quickly pan up to the faces during the fight. This results in a hodge-podge mess that does a disservice to the talented martial artists that he hired to do the fights in the first place.

Kane Kosugi may not be in any danger of being winning an Olivier Award, but since the writer has no idea what to do for a plot and uses the conceit of amnesia as an excuse to not have one at all, this means that Kosugi must be stonefaced through the entire film up until the final couple of minutes where he actually gets angry because he finds out why he has amnesia. Not that it really matters then, because there is no resolution due to the fact that it is a prequel! Instead of a showdown with a boss character at the end with an opening for the sequel/original movie, he simply fights a couple of random dudes who walk in from off screen! That said it is the best fight scene in the movie, but I think it's apparent that none of the fights had much time to choreograph and reherse, as we have seen much better out of Kosugi in NINJA II (2013).

Not content to tarnish the Kosugi name, Kaosayananda has Gary Daniels pop in for a completely pointless bit part as Bryan Fury, one of The Minister’s escapees. I get that he is supposed to be foreshadowing his part in the original film, but they can’t even be bothered to get him into make-up and costume! It looks like he was on his way to the grocery store and stopped by to shoot a few scenes. As if that wasn't bad enough he is saddled with dialogue that does neither him or the audience any favors. When telling K that he escaped from The Minister, he says "Trust me. I'm your only friend. And I'm not your friend." Huh? Who thought that looked good on paper?

The original title for the film was TEKKEN: A MAN CALLED X, which should give you a clue as to the mess that the movie is since throughout the majority of the movie he is a man called “K”. TEKKEN 2 desperately wants to be UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING (2012) and is not even close. Not even in the same ballpark, not even in the same league, not even in the same sport. I could completely forgive the total lack of production values (oooh, another fight on a patch of asphalt!) and the clueless, meandering script if they had shot some good fight scenes. That’s all I ask. I’m easy, I don’t care if you don’t actually have any real connection to the game, just don’t waste Kosugi and Daniels. That’s it. Instead we get what is without question going to be the most tedious action movie of the year. Ok, maybe that’s not true. I did see the life-draining Renny Harlin SOV actioner 12 ROUNDS (2009) this year, but then again you can’t really say John Cena was wasted in it.


Sadly Kosugi and Daniels’ next film will be in Kaosayananda’s latest (technically his previous), ZERO TOLERANCE, which started life as a film titled ANGEL. The film was released only in Vietnam in 2012 and has subsequently been in another post production after getting a major overhaul with Scott Adkins being involved in the reshoots. Even though heavy re-edits and re-shoots are usually the kiss of death, I figured with Kosugi, Daniels and Adkins in the ranks, it couldn’t be all bad. After seeing this sloppy, half-assed mess, I can't imagine what sort of disaster ZERO TOLERANCE will turn out to be. I may have to hand that one over to Will to review. I don't think I can bear to see the dream team of Kosugi, Daniels and Adkins ruined by this man. Besides, misery loves company.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Newsploitation: Trailers, Trailers, Trailers!

One thing Tom and I love doing via email is sending each other trailers for upcoming flicks that look promising.  So why not share that with the world?  Below are just a few of the things we've ogled lately and are flicks we're looking forward to.

HEISEI RIDER VS. SHOWA RIDER: 
KAMEN RAIDER TAISEN

If you hear a loud scream emanating from the end of the San Jose, California area, don't worry.  It is just Tom getting to watch this latest Kamen Rider throwdown.  Easily our most anticipated film of this summer, it is an all out war (taisen) between the old school and new school Kamen Rider character.  In our best Kamen Rider Wizard voice, "Yes...puh-lease!"


KIKAIDER REBOOT

Oddly enough, it was watching this trailer for the new Kikaider film that got Tom and I back in touch with our old pal Kamen Rider and things haven't been the same since May. This remake/reboot looks slick as hell and got us promptly excited.  Word of a U.S. release is even better.


FALCON RISING

We're big fans of Michael Jai White and it is a crying shame he is still being relegated to low budget flicks.  In our mind, he should be headlining a $200 million dollar Marvel movie like BLACK PANTHER.  Alas, Hollywood is stuck in its ways so we end up with White in FALCON RISING.  Like his earlier BLOOD AND BONE (2009), this looks to have White seeking revenge while busting heads.  It is due out in September.


TEKKEN 2: KAZUYA'S REVENGE

NINJA II: SHADOW OF A TEAR (2013) not only served as a great vehicle for Scott Adkins, it established Kane Kosugi (yes, son of '80s ninja legend Sho) as a bonafide action star in his own right.  His next vehicle is a TEKKEN prequel titled TEKKEN 2.  You got that?  Gaming fans have been bashing the hell out of this trailer, but if it delivers in the fight department, I'll be happy.  This came out on DVD this past week and is directed by Wych Kaosayananda (aka KAOS), who did the poorly received BALLISTIC: ECKS VS. SEVER (2002).

EDIT: Just give us good fights and we'll be happy.  Ah, so naive.  Turns out TEKKEN 2 is a steaming pile of celluloid and you can read Tom's review at this link to learn about the pain.


ZERO TOLERANCE

Speaking of KAOS, the director lives up to his name with his other project, ZERO TOLERANCE.  This began life as a film called ANGELS (2012) starring Dustin Nguyen and Gary Daniels.  Subsequent re-shoots have added the aforementioned Kosugi and Scott Adkins into the mix.  I'm sure this movie will be totally coherent (end sarcasm).  The first trailer is interesting, I guess.


WHITE TIGER

When it was announced that Don "The Dragon" Wilson was going to be making a comeback of sorts, I kinda cringed.  I mean, we love Don here, but we didn't want to see him embarrass himself like the old retired fighter who comes back for one more fight.  Thankfully, this action flick lensed in Thailand looks to deliver the goods with lead Matt Mullins doing some impressive work.  Bonus points for Cynthia Rothrock!

 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Gweilo Dojo: SAKURA KILLERS (1987)

One of the great things about being a two-man operation here at Video Junkie is that we can cover twice as much ground in the seemingly endless cinematic wasteland. And, since we are mere mortals, we both always end up surprising each other with our discoveries.  For example, Tom sends me SAKURA KILLERS, a 1980s ninja movie starring Chuck Conners.  Let me repeat that – starts Garret Morris screaming – a 1980s ninja movie starring Chuck Conners!  How could I have never seen it?  And how much is this going to rule?

The film opens with a group of ninjas assaulting a corporate building.  Showing off all their tricks, they make it to the main guy’s office to steal a video.  Cut to an isolated ranch where The Colonel (Conners) is practicing his golf game while his assistant Karen (Cara Casey) gets her aerobics freak on.  For some odd reason, ninjas show up and the Colonel – he is never given a name – blasts them with a shotgun he keeps in his golf bag.  Back inside, Karen talks about her super duper computer system which prompts the Colonel to bemoan technology.  This dude is old school.  But the system appears to be working as it tells them about the videotape being stolen.  What was on the tape?  Some kind of stuff scientists were doing, which causes the Colonel to exclaim that “maybe they shouldn’t ask so many questions!” Damn, this guy is really old school!  And let's not forget this isn’t just any videotape…it is a Beta tape!  Are we sure these are ninjas and not VJ friend and Beta fiend Jon Stone?


Anyway, our duo decides the recovery of this videotape is a job for top men and they first recruit Dennis (George Nicholas).  This is done by having Karen run next to him on the beach.  Dennis is sent to the hotbed of ninja activity. Japan? No, Taiwan! The plan is for him to start a boxing club (?) and eventually team up with old friend Sonny (Mike Kelly). I know all this because a clumsily inserted voiceover by Conners explains it all. Sonny tells Dennis (and the audience, finally!) that the videotape contains some information about genetic splicing.  They figure the best way to break the case wide open is to hit a Japanese restaurant and start asking questions.  Dumbasses!  Afterward, they are promptly attacked by ninjas.  Damn, never mind, these guys know their shit when it comes to flushing out ninjas.  Note to self – don’t eat at Japanese restaurants or at least ask ninja-related questions there.

Dennis figures they might need some help and they visit his old friend Manji (Manji Otsuki) at a Japanese teahouse. She introduces the guys to her uncle, who promptly begins training them in the art of ninjutsu.  The biggest challenge is being able to run fast enough that a straw hat will stick to your chest without you holding onto it. Apparently they master all of the ninja techniques in one quick training montage and even get garish ninja outfits.  All of this training prepares them for action and Dennis comes up with an amazing plan – let’s go back to the same restaurant we got attacked at and harass the hostess Yukiko!  Brilliant! But, unfortunately, she isn’t there but Manji is sharp enough to get her home address. Damn, these guys are good. Sonny goes to talk to her, but gets bonked on the head.  Damn, these guys suck.  We then hilariously cut back to the Colonel (riding on a tractor!), who gets updated on the events by Karen.  She says they found the girl and the Colonel says, “What girl?” He then says, “Is she the same girl who works at that restaurant by the water?”  Wow.  Godfrey Ho shakes his head at this lousy exposition.  Anyway, they locate Yukiko (at the restaurant by the water, duh!) and get her to reveal location of the ninja headquarters (by Dennis yelling at Yukiko).  Our heroes arrive just in the nick of time as the evil Russians are copying the formula.  And I literally mean copying the formula as they are only allowed to view the video and not copy it.

Damn, this movie is a riot from start to finish.  Any film that opens with Chuck Conners in a Brooklyn Dodgers jacket blowing away ninjas with a shotgun at a ranch during daylight is awesome in my book.  Conners might be top billed but he probably only did a day or so of work on this picture.  The filmmakers make sure to insert a scene with him every 15 minutes or so.  It is also hilarious how he looks exactly like a Sleestak from the LAND OF THE LOST TV series with his glasses on:



The Taiwan stuff takes up a majority of the footage and it is a blast.  Nicholas and Kelly might be the most mismatched couple of heroes (the back story is Dennis was a cop who arrested and befriended Sonny) to try and locate the tape held by ninjas.  Yeah, a white muscle head and skinny black guy. They surely will blend right in.  Not that I mind such plot machinations as these kinds of flicks are all about the great bizarre bits and fights.  I cracked up when a ninja spy is sitting in the lobby of a hotel reading Omni or the ninja boss being shown getting his hair done.  Films like this and NINJA TURF (1985) are the reason I love continuing to search for new flicks to view.  They may not be good, but they are a blast.

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.

www.videojunkie.org