Monday, May 10, 2021

Shriek (2000)

When Scream came out in 1996, it breathed new life into the horror genre, giving way to a 'teen horror' boom that permeated the market. Not everyone is a fan of scream especially not the often mediocre films it left in its wake, but one can't deny it was a pretty influential movie. It received a parody in the form of Scary Movie, while while some question the need for such a thing when Scream was already a pretty meta commentary, that was a pretty popular movie, and spawned its own series. But it wasn't the only parody of Scream out there...

At Bulimia Falls high school, the students are being murdered one by on. As the useless authorities try and find the killer, five teenagers realise they are specifically marked for death by this mysterious killer. They set out to discover their identity, and to stop them before they too are cut down in their prime...

I first saw Shriek as a young child, and greatly enjoyed it, even if I didn't totally get all the jokes. I hadn't seen it since then, and was a little worried about whether it would hold up or not. Thankfully while Shriek might not be a perfect movie, it still entertains.

The full name of the movie is Shriek if You Know What I Did Last Friday the 13th, which is bloated and unnecessary. I always just knew it as Shriek, ala Scream. Either that lengthy title was dropped for its Australian release, or I just never noticed the smaller print.

The story here is your typical tale of high school students with secrets, who start dropping like flies. It takes inspiration from Scream in how the killer looks, but a lot of the story beats actually come from I Know What You Dd Last Summer, which helps differentiate this from Scary Movie. Even though both films poke fun at the genre as a whole, that film's main target was Scream. The plot here isn't exactly cohesive, with many threads and tangents that never really add in, and are only inserted for a laugh. This works reasonably well, since this isn't a story anyone would take seriously to begin with.

The sense of humour in Shriek might divide. It's pretty puerile and lowbrow. Cleaner in some ways that Scary Movie, but still pretty gross at times, with a frankly annoying preoccupation on sex and teen pregnancy jokes. Other jokes I still don't get all these years later, like the whole deer flasback with Dawson. These bits aside though, I laughed quite a bit here. It's by no means intelligent humour, but a lot of it works reasonably well.

As a parody, Shriek definitely wears its inspirations on its sleeve, with a few overt shoutouts to movies like Airplane, and to Leslie Nielsen. These are pretty unsubtle, but are at least respectful.

Another thing to note, Shriek feels very much of its time in that it's a product of the late 90s/early 2000s, so your tolerance of the movie really depends on your feelings toward this particular period. As for me I grew up with it AND I don't like it, so that's already two reasons why movies like this aren't usually on my radar. As for Shriek, it's obviously good that I can enjoy it, though it still definitely bears all the hallmarks of the era.

The characters here are a weird bunch, each with their own quirks and cliches, from the mysterious newcomer, to the witch main girl, the slutty cheerleader, the lame-o virgin, and dumb jock. Despite being the only characters actually sent threatening letters, they make it through most of the movie unharmed, with the killer mainly targeting random students in the background for much of the runtime. The killer has an amusing enough personality, which can be seen despite always wearing a mask, although I really coulda done without that shower scene, yikes/yeesh!

The actors all do decent enough performances too, barring a couple of pretty bland ones. Of note are Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, Simon Rex, alumni of later Scary Movie entries, and Julie Benz. Coolio also features in a Prince parody, and surprisingly Shirley Jones (of The Partridge Family), and Rose Marie have small roles too, not that I noticed them.

There's a pretty decent soundtrack on display here, with the most notable being a cover version of Pretty in Pink. No idea why it plays, especially in the scene it does, but it makes for a fun addition, and if t was intended in the spirit of homage, then I appreciate it, even if it is the wrong genre altogether.

Shriek may not be the funniest movie around, and not the best parody, but it's a lot better than its reputation suggests. Far from being the worst movie ever, it's leagues above the horrible parody movies that would come, and is worth a watch if it's your cup of tea...

The Invisible Ray (1936)

Disgraced scientist Janos Rukh manages to regain his reputation with a fantastic new discovery, which leads to an expedition into the heart of Africa in search of a special new element. While there however, the element proves too deadly, warping Rukh's body to the point where he glows and kills anything he touches. He manages to keep the condition at bay with the help from former rival Dr. Felix Benet, but his wife has already left him. As his mind starts to go, Janos begins plotting a terrible revenge against all those who wronged him...

The great Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi made for a great team throughout the years, often proving great foils to each-other. The Invisible Ray is no exception, delivering a pretty neat story! It ticks a lot of the boxes you'd expect from a sci-fi/horror film of the era, but gets there in some creative ways. We get atmospheric scientific demonstrations in Carpathia, expeditions in the sun-drenched African wilderness, and more!

What I liked about the plot is how unexpected and against the norm certain events are. I appreciated how Dr. Rukh goes from being a pariah to a trusted scientist once more, given credit for his discoveries rather than scoffed at, and his fellow scientists don't turn on him. Even when they recognise he might be going a little loopy, they don't demand his arrest, nor steal the credit, they just take the element out of his hands, which is sensible enough. Unfortunately everything goes so swimmingly that it's hard to understand why Janos would become so bitter and pissed off at everyone. Thankfully the movie at least has the excuse of "He's going crazy!" to fall back on, but it feels a bit unwarranted at times.

Janos Rukh is a fleshed out villain, if you can even call him that. He's both hero and antagonist here, with a sympathetic plight, and the events he undergoes cause a mostly believable descent into madness and villainy. One thing that did disappoint me thought is that he turns glowing and deadly, then is immediately given an antidote for this until like the last 5 minutes!

mother  speaks like a seer   At times she comes across as an old biddy, who's apparently can't stand to see her son be happy.

Dr. Benet is a likeable ally and friend to all, even if he looks like a diabolical villain. Seriously, no good can come of someone with a goatee like his!

Janos's wife Diane is nice enough at first, and loyal to her husband. But the instant a young Americnn popped up at the castle, and said "Oh. I see." when discovering she was spoken for, you just know the pair are gonna end up together. And end up they do. It's really shitty of them! Rukh is a good caring husband, and it doesn't feel like a marriage of convenience either. And yet halfway through the film she just ditches her hubby to be with another dude! Then, the instant she finds out he's dead, she doesn't waste any time in ringing wedding bells. I can picture her saying "Though I am with you in body and soul, we can never be married while my old husband still lives...Wait, he's dead? Woo, let's get to the church before sundown, honey!". I was hoping Boris would kill them both, but sadly they avoid his wrath by virtue of being the handsome young couple.

The rest of the cast are good. Sir Francis and his wife Lady Arabella are a delight. Goofy and lighthearted, they're pretty good comic relief. They never intrude too much on the rest of the film, and give some funny moments to the picture. Now we come to the second most annoying thing about Invisible Ray. It kills off all the comic relief! Crazy, I know? These are such goofy characters, who not only lighten up the film, but are some of the only characters I didn't want dead, and yet they get violently murdered!

The acting in The Invisible Ray is great. Boris looks as different here as he did in many other of his movies. The man was a real master of disguise, and thrived on never looking the same twice. He almost looks like a hunchbacked Mexican here! It's funny the effect a big overcoat and a lower posture can have. The curly hair looks different too, giving him an almost Latin feel when combined with his darker complexion, and the overall effect makes this character look unique when compared to other mad scientists he played over the years.

Bela is good too. While you might be fooled at times thanks to his appearance and the occasional ominous line delivery, he is not playing a bad guy here. This does mean he can't go all out with his performance, but he is still a great addition to the cast. I also find it amusing that Boris's character has a Hungarian name, yet he's British, and Bela, who actually is Hungarian, is playing a Frenchman! They were such cosmopolitan actors.

The rest of the cast do decent jobs, barring one amusingly melodramatic maid. Everyone dies convincingly enough, although there is one scene with a dog that would be unpleasant if not for the adorable dog actor, who simply lies down on command (presumably with the aid of a cue card from behind the camera). I wonder how many takes it took! I can imagine Boris laughing at the dog panting happily, going "Steady on, old chap, you're supposed to be playing dead".

The effects in The Invisible Ray are a real high point! Rukh's scientific demonstration is conceived really well, especially for a film from 1936! You don't usually expect the effects in horror films back then to be this good! Clearly a lot of money and effort went into this production. The glowing effect for Boris is decent enough, and the melting scenes are pulled off very well. 

The locales all look good, from ancient Hungarian castles, to cobblestoned French streets, and the wilds of Africa. There's a ton of visual variety here.

Overall, The Invisible Ray is a nifty little slice of 1930s horror, with a lot to enjoy, and two great leads to give you a nice radioactive jolt. It also gives a strong moral in the form of 'Don't be unfaithful to your significant other if they've just been transformed into a radioactive killing machine'...

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Dr. Plonk (2007)

Dutch-Aussie director Rolf de Heer is always doing something different. From making surreal and 'disturbing' odysseys like Bad Boy Bubby, to straight dramas, and borderline documentaries, there's never a dull moment with his films. Today's entry is the perfect example of this-An Aussie silent film from 2007!...

Dr. Plonk is a mild-mannered mad scientist living in 1907 era Australia. After an unknowingly botched experiment says the world will end in 101 years, he builds a time machine to try and prove his findings. However, he only seems to cause more trouble, and becomes not only a nuisance in his time and the future, but eventually a wanted man...

Dr. Plonk came to be when de Heer found a bundle of leftover film, and fancied a light endeavour. Intended as a throwback and pastiche of old silent cinema, it succeeds wonderfully, and really does feel like a movie that time forgot.

The story is an amusing and simple one. It's really just an excuse to string gags along, but an effective one. It doesn't need to be complex, getting across everything it needs to, less being more. Even the stakes of the film are nonexistent for the audience, and this is a good thing here. The fact that we know from the get-go that the world isn't actually going to end means the movie never feels like it's wasting its time by focusing on all these gags and setpieces instead of getting straight to the biscuits and saving the world, because we know everything is actually ok, even if they don't.

The characters are a bunch of larger-than-life goofs. There's the daffy Doctor, his large wife, equal parts caring and stern, and his dimwitted assistant Paulus, who consistently tries and fails to pick up women. The ball-loving pooch Tiberius is an adorable addition to the cast, giving lots of great humour and lightness to the proceedings.

The comedy here works great. If you've ever seen a silent film before, you know what to expect here. All the familiar tropes and gags make welcome returns, along with lots of fresh material.   The film has a great eye for visual gags. They are a joy to watch and never outstay their welcome.

1907 Australia is recreated so perfectly that you could swear this was authentic. Everything from the sets, to locations, cars, and dresses/outfits are all pitch perfect. But that's only half the film. Something I was both eagerly awaiting and nervous about, the modern settings fit in well! I was afraid they'd look too at odds with the film's classical feel, but no such problem exists, thankfully. While they do look completely different, no doubt intentionally so given the vast difference in eras, it's never so much so that it spoils the movie, or makes those scenes feel disconnected. It's a treat seeing how the very exaggerated turn of the century man interacts with the humdrum modern world, from families hypnotised by the idiot box, to gatecrashing parliament house, and falling afoul of the heavily armed modern police, who manage to feel just as Keystone inspired as their 1907 counterparts.

The only thing I didn't like about the movie was the ending. It's a breakneck climax, where everyone is running from one place to another, and you wonder if everyone is gonna be ok. Then, instead of really giving us a proper conclusion, the movie throws us a curveball. I felt this was unsatisfying partially because it gets your heart racing over how the hero is gonna get home, and when it never happens it kinda feels like we've been cheated of that sense of relief. Secondly, it's a real bummer to watch, especially for such a farcical movie! If you watched Dr. Plonk and Bad Boy Bubby back to back, you would honestly not expect Dr. Plonk to be the film with a downer ending!

The music in Dr. Plonk is wonderful! It has that classical silent feel, with an abundance of jaunty ditties, and ambient noises fitting perfectly to accentuate the sounds and actions onscreen. We also get a nice accordion recreation of Beethoven's 9th Symphony (I'll leave which Movement a surprise). Tracks are repeated every now and then, but in a good way. A movie that features nonstop scoring has often got to reuse tracks, and how well this goes depends on the frequency, how much time passes between each use, and the general quality of the piece. Dr. Plonk ticks all those boxes, thankfully, and you enjoy hearing these lovely tracks once more.

Nigel Lunghi makes for a great visual lead as the titular Doctor, and never exaggerates too much, or underacts. Paul Blackwell is fun as the sidekick. National treasure Magda Szubanski is great as Mrs. Plonk, with both her appearance and facial expressions giving her character a distinct personality. And last up is Reg the Dog! Either Reg is just a super excitable pup and de Heer and crew used that to their advantage, or he is a very promising actor, to be applauded and given biscuits!

Problems aside, Dr. Plonk is still a real gem, and ought to be watched by all silent film aficionados! It's heartening to know that Australia, the country responsible for some of the world's first features at the dawn of cinema, still isn't finished with the silent era...

All Monsters Attack (1969)

Ichiro is a bored youngster living a day to day life, drudging back and forth from school, trying to avoid bullies, and holding a fascination for all things Godzilla. One day he begins fantasizing about being on Monster Island with Godzilla's son, and this night end up being the very thing that saves him when he is taken hostage by two nefarious criminals...

All Monsters Attack is considered by many to be the Godzilla series' ultimate low point. It panders the most to children, it's half made up of stock footage, and features an annoying kid. Those are the general complaints. As for how true they are, mostly, in a sense, but it really depends on context, or your preference. I do agree that it's perhaps the least good Godzilla film, but American films notwithstanding I don't think I could call any entry in this series truly bad.

This is most definitely a kids film. There's none of the darkness of the original, of course, but that had been absent for a while. But the story is the most simple and down-to-earth we'd gotten in a while, focusing not on aliens invading Earth, or Godzilla fighting King Kong, but on a normal Japanese boy's adventures. He doesn't even live in Godzilla's world, but the real world, making this perhaps the only entry in the series to truly be out of canon (unless you wanna think Godzilla is real here, and Japanese children adore real monsters). This story is definitely out of the norm, but I feel it's handled well, and I like that it's directed at kids who are kaiju fans. They are sure to see themselves in Ichiro.

The story is decent enough, with the fleeing bank robbers giving a bit of stakes to the human plot. The daydreaming cutaways to Monster Island are spread out evenly enough, and the movie has pretty good pacing.

The film's messages are a little off-key though. The first big message is to stand up for yourself when bullied instead of running away. Some people might disagree with this message of beating the stuffing out of your bullies, or at least its portrayal here, but I think it's generally handled well, and I do think bullies deserve a good trouncing every now and then. Whether it's a good idea for the film to advocate children fighting armed gangsters though is another. On one hand, the 'real world' setting makes it come off as insane advice, but on the other hand, it is just a movie, so again it depends on how you see it.

What isn't up for debate though is how bullshit the ending itself is. After foiling the baddies, Ichiro once again encounters his bullies, then promptly kicks the crap out of them...and promptly joins them, pranking an innocent painter into falling off a ladder. What a little shit! Is this what you're doing with Godzilla's influence?!

All Monsters Attack is directed by Ishiro Honda, which may come as a surprise to many, who might see it as the director really slumming it, when he's the man responsible for the masterpiece that was the original Godzilla. But surprisingly Honda actually had great affection for this film, even considering it one of his favourites of the series. While that sounds crazy at first, I can actually see where he's coming from, as it contains such a sense of childhood innocence that I appreciate. Whether or not it does these well is up for debate of course, but that kind of sweet intent makes me understand why he would hold it in such high esteem, especially in his older years.

The monster action here is pretty good, even though there's not a lot. Godzilla's role as single parent continues, as he pushes his son to not be a coward and to face up to his issues. The things all monsters go through. It's Minilla who gets the bulk of the action, during his encounters with the villainous Gabara. He gets his ass kicked most of the time, but perseveres and finally knocks that electric sucker out! Then he and his dad tag-team the monster while he's down. Ahhh, bonding.

Gabara is a pretty neat new kaiju, with a colourful design and bullyish nature.     Perhaps the strangest thing about All Monsters Attack besides its overall premise is the fact that Minilla can talk! Like a human! It doesn't feel too out of place thankfully, with such a cute kid-friendly character, and it's not like Godzilla or Gabara talk either. Otherwise things would start getting a bit too over-the-top!

The film uses stock footage from Ebirah, Horror of the Deep and Son of Godzilla. This is the laziest use of stock footage the series would ever do, but only because it's not trying to hide it. Instead it comes off like a highlight reel in a way, as if Ichiro was watching past fights he's seen in the movies. Because of this, All Monsters Attack doesn't feel anywhere near as shameless as it could have.

The score is classic 60s Godzilla goodness. Some of it is recycled, but that's not too big a deal. There's a difference between a recurring track or two throughout a series, and just using the same song again and again. The main original tune is the song that opens the movie, and its weird! The lyrics are like a kid screaming "Bang crash, destroy, Godzilla, hahaha!", and the singer sounds like a gravelly voiced woman pretending to be a child. It's one part bizarre and screechy, and another part oddly enjoyable in a way.

The acting here is fine. Tomonori Yazaki is a decent enough kid for the most part, although some moments leave a little to be desired. The rest of the human cast do well. Haruo Nakajima is a great Godzilla as usual, while Marchan the Dwarf once again portrayed Minilla.

The English dub however is somewhat notorious! From making Ichiro ten thousand times more annoying, to giving Minilla a bizarre old man voice, and having a few classic moments that live on in infamy to this day, 'Godzilla's Revenge' is hardly the definitive version of this movie to seek out, as it only magnifies the movie's existing problems, but it's certainly worth a watch just for the sheer laugh-value.

Overall, All Monsters Attack is hardly the Godzilla series's greatest moment, but I've always thought it better than others have, and it certainly has plenty to enjoy. At its worst, it's just a basic hour long monster movie, and that's a hard thing to hate...

BMX Bandits (1983)

Once again Aussie cinema provides us with another treat! BMX Bandits is a slice of 80s fun that proves we were more than up to the task of being America's match! Maybe not in quantity, but in quality? Certainly!

P.J. and Goose are two avid cyclists, who treat Sydney as their personal riding ground. It's fun, but they lament not having a proper bike track. This soon becomes a moot point when their bikes are totalled during a = meeting with local girl Judy. The three become friends, and they boys are deadset on not only getting their own bikes repaired, but finding one for Judy too. To raise money they go cockle fishing, and inadvertently stumble upon a crate full of special walkie-talkies. This lands the trio in hot water, as the crooks who stashed them want them back for a big heist

BMX Bandits is a very enjoyable ride (no pun intended). It shows off 80s era Sydney in all its glory, tells a lighthearted story that's impossible not to enjoy, and always lives up to its title (ok, technically it doesn't since they're not bandits, but you know what I mean!).

Director Brian Trenchard Smith's aim with BMX Bandits was to recreate the old Ealing comedies. I don't think he succeeded, but only in the sense that he created something different instead. This doesn't remind me of the quintessential 1950s British comedies, but instead reminds me firmly of quintessential 80s adventures! It's not often that failing to meet one's goals (if one even sees this as a failure in that regard) still meets with success, but this is one such occasion.

The three main characters are a good bunch, and are written in a believable way. They don't talk like 30 year olds, but they're also not infantilised! Nothing bugged me more as a teen than movies making us act younger than they were, as if they were afraid of writing teenagers as real people. Another thing I appreciate is how Australian the film feels. This is the kind of story that could take place anywhere, but it has enough local touches and behaviours that it feels [completely] unlike your typical American fare.

Something I liked about the story is how the kids handle the crooks. In other movies, the kids would be taking direct action against the gangsters by the second act, which can run the risk of being unrealistic (I mean, in a way beyond the norm), or paints the leads as idiots leaping into danger. Here however it's handled very well. The fight is brought to the teens enough times, and by the time they take direct action, it feels right.

For a while I was afraid the title would be a misnomer, as Judy has no bike, and the boys rides are trashed 5 minutes in! But thankfully they do eventually get some rides, and once they do the movie wastes no time in living up to its title. It may have taken its sweet ass time getting to that point, but BMX Bandits handles its pace and general tone in such a way that this is never more than a lingering worry that gets silenced once the action truly begins. 

The bicycle action here is truly exceptional. It was Trenchard Smith's intention to feature all the biking in unexpected places. I'm glad to say he succeeded! There is no shortage of wacky and wonderful locations the heroes bike through, each unique in their own ways.

The direction is effective, not only in the bicycle choreography, but in the general action beats, and the scenery. The Sydney setting is beautiful, and blue in a way that can sell a thousand tourist ads. It actually managed to make me as a West Aussie jealous!

The actors here all do fun jobs. The three leads all deliver good performances, with James Lugton and Angelo d'Angelo making a nice pair of blokes. I especially liked that young Nicole Kidman girl. I hear good things will come of her, [and you can mark my words they will]. David Argue, John Ley, and Brian Marshall make for amusing villains, playing it just seriously enough but with enough goofiness to never lose sight of the tone.

Overall, BMX Bandits is a great time to be had! While some nogoodniks may make it out like it's a crummy kids' flick, it's much more than that-It's a great kids flick! It's just nice simple fun, and that goes a long way. Oftentimes a nice breezy sit like this is just what you need...

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Surf Ninjas (1993)

Today's movie is one I had mixed feelings about. On one hand, I adore ninjas! On the other hand, I'm extremely skeptical of all things 90s! Now that's not to say I automatically hate the entire decade. After all, there was some great stuff from the period. Ok, a little, but you get my point. Surf Ninjas seemed to embody a mix of all the worst qualities of 90s entertainment, and I was afraid for how it'd fare, but hopeful, because god knows we have very few movies like this...

For years, the peaceful island nation of Patusan has been under the iron hand of the tyrant Colonel Chi, and its royal family all but eliminated. The only survivors are Johnny and Adam, two unwitting brothers who have grown up to a normal life in California. The epitome of surfer culture, they breeze through life with no real understanding of the bigger picture, until one day an attack by ninjas leads to the kidnapping of their adopted father. Intent on getting him back, the two are guided by the mysterious warrior Zatch, who tells them of their birthright, and will train them for the fight to come...

Despite my hopeful but present skepticism, Surf Ninjas is actually a pretty fun time! Yes, it is everything you think it's going to be. A bunch of surfer teens going "Like, whoooaaah,", "Radical", "Bodacious", "Psych!", and "Wassupppp?" etc. If you have a low tolerance for this sort of thing, stay away! But thankfully none of this intrudes too much on the overall film, and it paints a good picture of the subculture. And the surfing plays a helpful role in the climax too, so it never feels superfluous, as if it was just window dressing over an existing script.

The movie gets off to a good start, introducing us to enough its and pieces at a time, before giving us the full picture. There's a variety of fun setpieces, both comedy and action (not to mention musical, with a great Beach Boys inspired scene that is too short!), before the action moves to the island and the climax nears.

The story is pretty basic stuff, but handled in a fun way. The leads are two surfer bros, but always feel up to the tasks they're given, despite their confusion and protests. We the audience are never left feeling like the movie's shackling us to two idiots. There's a cool level of mysticism here, that's never too overt, but always there. I really dug how Adam's powers as a seer are presented in the form of his Game Gear. It felt like a nifty modern upgrade that still felt in keeping with how the powers work.

Whether there are enough ninjas in Surf Ninjas to justify the title is up for debate. They're only random henchmen, and there's no real reason for them to be ninjas, but they do appear frequently enough, and this is definitely on par with classic 90s fare like 3 Ninjas and Beverly Hills Ninja. Man, for all the crud that came out in the 90s, it really was a golden age for ninja entertainment!

Where the film falters is in its messages. The film ends with the liberation of Patusan, as expected, but the brothers promptly dissolve the monarchy! On one hand, I see where they're coming from, as they want their people to have complete and total freedom. But on the other hand, there's never been an instance of a bad monarch in their history, and the family is a beloved institution, so why can't they keep the monarchy? After all, they're clearly shown to be a good and heroic influence for the island, and are literally granted magical powers by the heavens to help their people! Speaking as a heathen Aussie convict, that sounds like the kind of king or queen I'd actually want!

Second up is an area where the movie almost succeeds on-Arranged marriages. This practice is mostly seen in a negative light in cinema, for obvious reasons, as we always get depictions of the unwanted kinds. But this overlooks the many times where it works totally fine, i.e. two awkward people who are never gonna have any romantic luck have it done for 'em. Surf Ninjas does this well, presenting these two betrothed actually digging each-other. The film cares about their consent in a way that manages to be modern and respectful to their culture...Then the film has an abrupt and out-of-nowhere take-that to the tradition in the last 20 minutes! I thought it was unnecessary. It felt like a concession to the viewers who'd find arranged marriages completely unpalateable, but in doing so spoils the story they'd been portraying.

Swinging back to the positives, let's discuss the characters. The teen hero and his younger brother are an endearing duo. They're slackers and ne'erdowells, but in a funny way, and never come across as mean or unpleasant. And once the chips are down, they're quick to act. The family dynamic they have with their adoptive father Joe is amusing enough, and slightly sweet.

Ro-May is a spunky love interest. While she starts out as very modest and sweet, she soon proves she's not just a lover, and joins the heroes in the island revolution. She fills the role of a second generation immigrant who's part of her new country, but aware of her own culture and practices, actively keeping them alive. She does get one weird moment though, when she knocks out a guard by seducing him, and when a surprised Johnny asks what she said, she replies with "You'll find out on our wedding night!" Oh my god, you teens are such hornbags!

A potential bane of the film is the comic relief friend, Iggy. He's constantly letting off zinger after zinger. Half the time they're amusing enough, or at least tolerable, but the other half I felt like belting him upside the head. How annoying he can be really depends on the viewer, but at least his presence is worth it at times, like how the other characters treat him, knowing when he gets annoying. "If you keep telling your cave stories, you and your cousin are gonna have a lot more in common."

The villain is a promising one! Firstly, he is a cyborg dictator! Doesn't that already sound amazing? Secondly, he's played by Leslie Nielsen! Oh I am sold! But here we come to one of Surf Ninjas' only real problems, and it's a big one-The complete lack of Leslie Nielsen! I understand why he doesn't interact with the leads while they're in another country. But you'd think that when the heroes finally reach Padustan, almost an hour in, that we'd finally get to see them face to face, but shockingly he actually gets even less screentime! Only in the very last fight does he show up, and it's disappointing when the final fight with this brutal dictator is over when he's knocked into a puddle of water, and dies instantly. 

The acting here is all good. Ernie Reyes Jr. and Nicholas Cowan are good leads, with plenty of charisma and life. Ernie Reyes Sr. plays their protector, and does well, while also handling amusing moments well. Rob Schneider meanwhile is Rob Schneider. That should tell you what you need to know! He's annoying in some places, but not too bad in others, and at least never felt unnecessary. Kelly Hu is a delightful presence, demure and pretty, and kicks some ass too!

The decision to cast Leslie Nielsen as a ruthless dictator is strange, and he's never presented as anything but a comic character. This does take away from some of the seriousness the movie tries to portray about Patusan's repression, but this kind of villain is more fitting for such a movie, not to mention more fun.

The locale here is great! L.A. looks the same as it always does (I honestly can't tell American cities apart), and looks like a nice holiday destination. The 'Little Patusan' district is neat too, a Chinatown-esque suburb. But what really stands out is Patusan itself. Filmed in both Hawaii and Thailand, it's stunningly gorgeous! We get sunny beaches, lush green forests, neat cave systems, and fantastic South east Asian temples.

Surf Ninjas is a neat time capsule of the 90s surfer trend, wrapped up in a pretty entertaining story, and at the very least it's a nice and simple way of killing 80+ minutes....However, there are also no surfing ninjas, so I understand if that's a dealbreaker...

Saturday, April 17, 2021

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)

1930s Germany was a turbulent time, and the filmmakers who weren't willingly or reluctantly being drafted into propaganda were making what basically amounted to warnings. This was the case with noted film auteur Fritz Lang, in his last film before fleeing the country...

In Germany, a series of seemingly unconnected crimes has rocked the state. Unbeknownst to the police, they are all orchestrated by one man-A man thought gone long ago. Inspector Lohmann slowly pieces the case together, but keeps stumbling up against roadblocks. How can a dead man still be at large? And what plans does he have for the world?...

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse is the long-belated sequel to Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler, a sprawling 4-and-a-half hour crime epic. That film introduced Norbert Jacques' character to the silver screen and immortalised him, but his entire character hadn't quite yet been crystallised. The Mabuse of that film was most certainly more nihilistic than others of the era, with no motive beyond doing crimes for the sake of it. But while The Gambler has a very stylish and at times surreal flair, the plot is a fairly straightforward crime story. Whether you like this is up to the viewer. For me it's personally just a bit too much this instead of that, but it's still a monumentous film.

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse really amps up the twisted philosophy the Doctor possesses, and adds an ambiguous supernatural aspect to the series that it has never been wholly without ever since. The movie has an unsettling aura to it that make it go beyond the realms of ordinary crime, and into borderline horror territory. Unlike the pulp fun of Fu Manchu or Diabolik, Dr. Mabuse is certainly a horror villain, and one of the scariest.

My only real problem with Testament comes in the form of its runtime. This really didn't need to be 2 hours long. Many scenes either aren't necessary, or could've had a minute or two trimmed without sacrificing anything. Where things got most frustrating for me was how the big climax and shootout in the film happens when there's 40 minutes to go! There's nothing more annoying that reaching what feels like it should be the finale, only to see there's still a full album's worth of runtime left.

The characters here are strong and well developed. Inspector Lohmann is a loud fellow who won't be seen without his cigar, but is clearly dedicated and passionate (take for example when he doesn't complain once about missing the opera, despite so looking forward to finally getting time of work). He interacts well with the various different characters here. From his anger at disgraced officer Hofmeister to paternal worry once the man's mind snaps, to his flippant and amused attitude towards the unhinged Dr. Baum's ramblings, he's very expressive.

The other main character is Tom Kent, an ex-con fallen back into bad ways, and trying to balance this life with his affections for kind local girl Lili. She is a bit drippy in the romantic scene when Tom reveals the truth, but is otherwise a very good character, and shows great bravery and determination, not to mention loyalty.

Despite dominating the picture, Mabuse actually has very little screentime. Maybe only 5 minutes, tops, and all he's doing is silently scribbling, staring intently, or delivering a creepy monologue (in perhaps the film's best scene). On one hand it's a testament (*sigh*) to the power of the film that a character who appears so little, and casually dies partway through, still holds so much sway on events. On the other hand, it's a bummer that a movie about Dr. Mabuse barely has Dr. Mabuse in it! Imagine going into the cinema after an 11 year wait between movies, and the main character's not even in it!

The real main villain's identity is sort-of kept a mystery, but barely, and I feel no worry in discussing it here. Asylum head Dr. Baum is an effective enough antagonist, and it's interesting seeing his psychology. Is he just a criminal Mabuse fanboy? Is he actually deluded into believing he is the new Mabuse? Or is he actually possessed? Either way he's bad news.

The acting here is great. Returning from the previous entry, Rudolf Klein-Rogge is instantly iconic in the title role. I'm not sure if he's wasted or not. He's a presence in the entire first hour (not counting the ghostly sequences), but doesn't get that much to do. All of his scenes are great, including that famous stare, but I kinda wish we'd gotten a little more of him. Otto Wernicke once again plays the role of Inspector Lohmann, after first playing him in Lang's M. He's garrulous and loud, but charismatic too. Some of the acting can get a bit over the top in places, especially in moments of high emotion, but nothing bad, certainly.

The direction in Testament is by far its highest quality! Lang shows his strengths perfectly, with many shots constructed extremely well down to the smallest degree. He also successfully imbues a tone of expressionism, making this more than just a simple crime film, but also without forgetting its roots as one. Though the sped up running in a couple of instances is weird, albeit thankfully fleeting.

The only time I feel the direction gets a bit carried away is in the chemical fire at the end. This is supposed to be the big catastrophe that heroes have to prevent, and they do succeed before the intended effects happen, but it's like Lang had already spent the money on a barrage of explosions and toppling miniatures, and didn't wanna waste them, regardless of how little sense it ultimately makes.

Testament is simultaneously a very loud yet remarkably quiet movie. Noise plays a big role  And there's one transition form the ominous ticking of a clock to another scene that is breathtaking in its simplicity! Where the silence comes into play is in the music. There isn't any! There may have been a couple of tracks here and there, but none that I could remember. For me as a viewer, the whole movie feels quiet, almost eerily so...And sometimes boringly so if I'm speaking frankly. If a movie is gonna forego a score, the least it could do is not be 2 damn hours long!

Whether seen as an artifact of its time, or a movie divorced of all outside context, The Testament of Doctor Mabuse stands tall as a classic of cinema. It has inspired an incalculable number of directors, films, and artists throughout the years, as well as spawning further sequels down the track. It's a must watch for anyone interested in world cinema, and in crime or horror. There are none that compare to Mabuse...