Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Black NInja (2003)

Defense attorney Malik Ali is notorious for protecting the lowest of the low, and always getting his client off the hook. Meanwhile, a mysterious vigilante has been prowling the streets recently-The Black Ninja! No-one realises the two are one and the same, though Ali eventually opens up to one Dr. Tracy Allen. She's a therapist who recently witnessed a gangland killing, and now crime lord Finelli wants her dead, hiring an old enemy of the Black Ninja's to get the job done...

The Black Ninja is a bad movie, but it's an amazing time! This is exemplified in the very first minute! The abrupt pacing, the cheesy fighting, the terrible dubbing and stock sound effects, etc, followed by a credits sequence that could've been made in Microsoft Paint. That first minute is a perfect package, that tells you everything you need to know about the movie, and whether you'll enjoy it or not. And if you're anything like me, you'll enjoy it!

The story itself here is pretty standard, but told in an alright way. With some strange elements too. It doesn't make sense that Ali gets criminals off the hook just to beat them up later as a vigilante. They never would've gotten free in the first place if you hadn't defended them!

Made for a minuscule budget, this whole production has a very amateur feel to it. The movie is full of poor continuity and ridiculous moments, like the characters pondering on why Finelli could possibly have killed this cop, only for a flashback have him openly say why, right in public! In front of a heck of a lot of witnesses who aren't Tracy (who's nowhere to be seen, despite apparently/purportedly being the only witness). Some of these issues might have been fixed with more money, but others not so much.

Overall the film is paced pretty well, and I never get bored with it. The only real exception is the last half hour, which is mostly comprised of Ali tracking down random crooks. There is a reason, but since all these encounters end the same way, with him getting nothing, they feel pointless, and just pad out the movie, since Finelli/the secondary villain is gone, but it's too early for the final encounter with Hagiwara. At least none of these scenes are bad though, in their own right. The plot is eventually furthered by Hagiwara just calling Ali upon the phone!

The characters here are very familiar for action film fans. You've got the righteous hero with the tragic past, the sweet love interest who helps him open up, then gets kidnapped, and stereotypical Italian-American mobsters as the villains. Malik Ali is hardly likeable, and kinda smug early on. It is all a front, but I still wanted to deck him. When he shows his true self he's more likeable, though still a bit of a dope. He's an effective enough superhero, using either his fists or a variety of weapons against his enemies. His revenge against Finelli near the end has got to rank as one of the cruelest/most diabolical punishments you'll ever see!

Tracy is better, and despite a few moments of idiocy (she picked the wrong time to go find a/the ninja bathroom!), she gets some moments to shine too. Finelli is an amusing presence  The true villain is Shinji Hagiwara, the man who killed Ali's family. Despite the threatening build-up, he is the least intimidating antagonist possible! He is such a ridiculous character that he's too much! The movie might have its comedic side, but it shouldn't have a baddie like this if it wanted to be taken even a little seriously! Hagiwara gets his amusing moments, and it a pretty fun villain at times, whether intentionally or not.

The fight scenes here are pretty poor, but with their good moments. Many of the punches don't connect, and the camerawork is often janky, but it's not all terrible. The editing also plays a significant role, as there are so many strikes and hits that get repeated not once, not twice, but three times! It gets beyond a joke after a while! I began to wonder if they were just trying to be cool, or covering up for other shortcomings.

Other edits are bad, weird, or almost come across as mistakes, like when a nighttime brawl sees the baddies get tossed out a window into what appears to be broad daylight (or Ali just has aspotlight on his house during bedtime!).

As for how the film itself looks, it's ok. The sets are convincing enough, even though some are cheaper than others. The budget is The Black Ninja's biggest enemy, but also its biggest friend. It may not be able to do what most other films can, but even its failures make you laugh.

Doubling as both the writer and director, Clayton Prince is also the lead. He does an alright job in places, bad in others. His delivery of the more comedic lines work better. Carla Brothers is ok, despite looking lifeless in some scenes. Nicky DeMatteo is fun as Finelli, while Yuki Matsusaki is spectacularly terrible as Hagiwara! It's hard to say how much of the bad performance is deliberate, or just lack of talent, and it's also hard to say whether it's just right, or a bit too much, even for this film. Regarldess, I am at least glad he's here. My favourite performance comes from Michael Chance as the acerbic detective. He doesn't appear as much as I'd have liked, as he livens up whatever scene he's in.

Some of the funniest scenes are whenever characters emotional, especially Prince! The big "NOOO!" he gets at a certain point is hilarious, and had me just about rolling on the floor! Brothers meanwhile looks...I don't wanna use a word as harsh as bored, but she looks [bored].

The soundtrack here is fun! The title track will be stuck in your head all day long. It has other lyrics, though the only one you'll make out is the constant "Oooh, ooh ooh, black ninJA!". It's repeated a lot, but never too much, luckily. The rest of the score is alright. The sound effects are one of the cheaper parts of the movie, from the archive screams in places, to the constant swooshing everyone makes when they movie. Even when they only move slightly-SWOOSH!

Something I like about The Black Ninja is its diversity. An all-black movie, with Asian representation too! That's nice period, but especially because the African-American community has always embraced kung fu movies. It's a really cool historical relationship, and different cultures joining together.

The Black Ninja perhaps bit off a lot more than it could chew, and it is not a good movie in the traditional sense. It also probably wouldn't be an inspiring mark on your CV! However, it has a charm to it, and its heart is in the right place. So while it may not be any Enter the Dragon or Rumble in the Bronx, it's still well worth a watch for those who appreciate wacky martial arts fare!...

The Living Ghost (1942)

Successful private detective Nick Trayne is enjoying his retirement, now a swami helping those in need (for a fee). However, when noted banker Walter Craig goes missing, his feisty secretary goes to drag the reluctant Nick out of his = to find him. Nick investigates the members of the Craig household, while sparring with his client, but things take a turn for the sinister when Craig returns in a braindead condition, and seems to be the culprit behind some new murders...

The Living Ghost is a funny example of 1940s mystery. Plenty of spookiness, never short on comedy, and = with a fun lead too.

The biggest draw to this film is the title. What is the living ghost, you wonder! Well, you may be in for a disappointment. There are no hauntings here, and the ghost of the title is in fact a braindead man. I'm a little bummed out there wasn't more of a supernatural element (whether real or orchestrated), but at least what we do have is interesting, if not as explored as fully as it could have been.

The story moves along at a nice pace. My only real critique is that it could have been longer. Most movies from this period rest comfortably at an hour long, but there was enough material in here deserving to be explored further. The film really could've benefited from an extra 10 or so minutes.

The mystery was a good one, with a fun amount of twists and turns. It's not a total success, mainly regarding the killer's identity. The reveal is good, and the motive makes sense, but we're never really given enough clues, or get to see the cast long enough to make any impression. Besides that, the method of killing is neat, as well as the plan. I haven't seen it before in a mystery film (least not in one from this era), so I'd consider it a [success], even if I was left a little confused at times.

The characters in The Living Ghost are mixed. The two leads are lots of fun. Nick Trayne is your typical retired detective who's roped back into the game by a little persuasion and a lot of manipulation. His new job is kinda interesting, with him being a self help guru, and a pretty sincere one too, almost like a Tibetan (or at least a Tibetan wannabe). Billie meanwhile is a great client, with plenty to her. She's a tough dame, bold and unafraid to say what she thinks. But she's also a scared baby in other scenes! This came off as deliberate, and it's amusing seeing her facade crumble in any given scene. Billie's strong against men, but ghosts are an exception!

The romance is cheesy to the extreme, but in a intentionally funny way, and it is sweet. The way the two reluctant partners profess their love for each-other is cool in how up-front they are! In any other movies they'd still be going "Thanks for saving me! But, uh, it's not like I like you or anything", but here they admit it plainly. There are also some hilariously shocking scenes, such as the ending ,which I won't spoil!

Onto the rest of the cast, the guys are all a general mix of helpful, accusing, or shady. The older = is a bit shifty, while the younger one seems like the obvious culprit, as she seems very snobby and rude at first. Thankfully she's not totally like that, and has different sides to her.   The remainder of the cast are all good, and each get their moments, but what's a little = is that they really don't appear much. This is bad because they were  entertaining characters, but also because they're suspects! And yet with them absent for so long it's hard for there to be a good mystery.

The acting here is all good. James Dunn is somewhat his typical self, but not as overbearing as he is in other movies. I like him, but he can play smug characters a bit too well. Those smarmy guys who get under your skin and are too smart for their own good! He's a bit more reserved [and mature] here, to the point where I didn't realise it was him until halfway through. He's not straightlaced or anything, but more mature than his other characters.

Joan Woodbury is maybe the performer who has the most fun here, with both her tough girl scenes, as well as the scaredy cat ones. She's a hoot! The rest of the actors all do well enough, including Gus Glassmire as the comatose killer, and Minerva Urecal as the spooky though underused sister.

If you're into mysteries, The Living Ghost is the film for you. It may not be amazing or anything, but it's perfectly entertaining, does a few neat things, and is cheesy or cliched only in the best ways!...

Saturday, May 23, 2020

False Pretenses (1935)

Low collar waitress Mary Beekman is down in the dumps. Her thuggish boyfriend Mike is getting on her nerves, and won't take the hint when she dumps him, ending up in her losing her job after a public spat. While out walking in the night, Mary's paycheck flies off a bridge, and in her haste to go after it, a drunken bystander mistakenly believes she's trying to commit suicide and 'saves' her. The man, former millionaire Kenneth Alden, is likewise in the doldrums. Hit by a sudden brainwave, Mary comes up with a plan to help them both. Alden will shop her around as a = for a beauty  and get rich men to invest in her, with the end goal being marriage...

False Pretenses is a thoroughly entertaining 1930s rom-com. It's simple in some ways, and predictable in others, but never badly. You always look forward to seeing where the story goes and what happens to all these colourful characters. The different or unpredictable aspects also help shake things up.

Unless it turns out I'm mistaken, the plot of/to False Pretenses is quite unique, and has a distinct creative flair. With its = anglings, this is a fun story of playful deception, and while it may not utilise the = of its concept to the fullest [extent], it does enough  It does a decent amount, but then it gets almost bogged down in a romance, and kinda forgets itself. The romance isn't bad, but I [kinda wish we'd gotten more]

Unlike [other films], the pacing in False Pretenses is actually pretty good. I think the problem is that unlike other hour long films of the time, this could've stood to have had an extra 20 to 30 minutes on the runtime.

ending is a little crowded. There's a lot happening and very little time for it to happen in. The whole = theft subplot is unceremoniously dropped, with little explanation as to what the shady butler is up to. Is he a thief or isn't he, movie? Explain!

romance is that both parties are full on in love despite only having shared a couple of scenes together

funny old social rules, like how it was considered impolite for a man to wear a hat indoors but fashionable and acceptable for a woman to do so, or how = just can't accept the concept that a rich person of high esteem could possibly have stolen her jewelry.

Ken: "Not the Grenwich Beekmans?"-Mary: "No, just the telephone book Beekmans."
Mary: "I suppose you know everyone in the social register, don't you?"-Ken: "Well, everyone worth knowing. Of course, that eliminates most of them."
Ken: "Miss Beekman, there are certain things a lady does not talk about"-Mary: "Name one!"
Miss Milgrim: "Don't be impatient, dear. I feel you've aroused tremendous interest."-Mary: "Yes, but don't forget, I'm here to collect the principle and let the interest go!"
Ken:"Oh, there's someone I know, will you excuse me?"-Clarissa: "Oh no, you're not gonna get rid of me that easily!"
Ken: "While we do know that Courtland is worth ten million"-Mary: "He may have it but he's certainly not worth it!"

succeeds in making Pat so likeable that it's quite a surprise when his true colours are revealed. I suppose something had to happen to drive a wedge between  since Mary and Ken are the main duo, and thus most likely to end up together, but surprisingly they never become a couple, and things actually do work out between the young lovers. I guess

As for said reveal, I thought it felt out of nowhere the first time I watched it, albeit amusing enough, but on rewatch it's actually quite well foreshadowed.

while = scheming, she's not catty, and the two women end up becoming friends by the end, laughing over their former = [rivalry].

soivice  and poifect   whose idea of a proposal is "Say the word and we can get hooked up" (followed = by "If you wanna be somebody, why not Mrs. Michael O'Riley!"), and for whom romance is clearly a secondary art.


funny watching his accent go from a refined Transatlantic = to a = Chicago drawl.
has an odd voice, but it's =, and kinda fits well with her more mature personality. She successfully comes across as scheming in a good way
fun watching  cooking  mouth watering French toast, though watching it burn was painful.heartbreaking!


9:08, 14:08, 38, 50:43,

 38:15   9:08, 14:08, 38, 50:43,  33:06

Friday, May 22, 2020

The Body Disappears (1941)

5:42, 8:43, 16:05, 21:44, 35:30, 41, 42:40, 51:55    It's funny, as this movie started out I thought it'd be a murder-mystery! xD

Peter DeHaven III is a young college darling, loved and envied by all, and ready to get married. During his bachelor party, he pranks his friends one too many times and they decide to get revenge by laying the drunk and unconscious Peter out in a morgue. Elsewhere, eccentric scientist Professor Shotesbury has perfected a serum to bring the dead back to life, and he needs a test subject since his assistant Willie 'selfishly' doesn't want to take part. They find Peter's 'body' and bring it back to the house, injecting the unsuspecting guy. Upon waking up he has a lot to take in, but all is eclipsed when he finds he's turning invisible...

The Body Disappears is a real gem! There have been many tales of invisibility through the years, from many different countries too. It's a concept ripe for exploration, in many different genres too, be it horror, espionage, or comedy, in today's case.

The Body Disappears starts off in a simple but perfect way. We're introduced to the lead and how he acts, and we see right away what this causes, ultimately setting the plot into motion. I like when something simple can say a lot, or = a lot. There's also a framing story from the perspective of a courtroom trial, which is amusing and effective, tying in very well at the end.

In this breezy 72 minute runtime there's always plenty going on. Not so much that you get lost, but also much to keep you entertained, from the daffy inventor's repeated attempts to perfect his formula, Peter seeing what his fiancee gets up to when he's not around, as well as his budding romance with Shotesbury's's daughter Joan.

Something I love here is that the story uses the concept of invisibility to its full advantage. Rather than just use it for    (which would have been fine, of course), we see way more, from the shenanigans with the monkey, to the other two subjects in the climax. The movie even gets surprisingly sexy and salacious for a 1940s production!

The effects in The Body Disappears are really good! The movie never cheats when it comes to showing invisibility, often going out of its way to pose its hero in various = situations. The most daring of these are the driving segments (yep, there's more than one!), and they're pretty spectacular! I've no idea how they did them, and it's a miracle the cars used didn't crash into a million pieces. The effects aren't 100% perfect. There are a few little moments here and there where you can sliiiightly see the seams, if you look carefully, but there's nothing obvious, and nothing worth complaining about.

The characters here are a nice and varied bunch. Peter is a pretty regular lead, and his sense of humour from the beginning kinda falls by the wayside (though for completely understandable reasons, but he's fine, with nothing wrong with him as a protagonist. Professor Shotesbury is a loveable eccentric, always with one crazy idea in his head or another. He always amuses and never comes across as obnoxious or frustrating. Plus, you can't deny the man gets results! Little is made of the fact that he can successfully resurrect the dead, or that this serum also makes the living invisible, but one can only imagine what he'd do for the medical world!

His daughter Joan meanwhile is much more levelheaded, young and romantic, but also motherly as she's constantly trying to deal with her father's blunders or eccentricity, trying unsuccessfully to get him onto less risky ventures. Lab assistant Willie is the comic relief who's often worried about everything (for good reason!). It's great watching him get roped into all these kooky situations, trying to make the best of it.

Peter's fiancee Christine turns out to be a scheming broad, though not a hugely diabolical one. Peter discovers that she only cared about his money, but that's about it, with her not contributing an important part to the plot. This is fine, as not every shifty fiancee has gotta be = all the time. As she is, Christine is = she's just  is a

Peter's friends are a funny bunch, and their scheming is what sets the entire plot into motion, but after the first half they're never seen again. A shame. They're not necessary =, and the story isn't incomplete without them, but it still woulda been nice to see them get a bit of comeuppance at the end.

The acting here is great fun. Jeffrey Lynn and Jane Wyman are nice leads, and always =. Edward Everett Horton is delightful as the slightly mad scientist, clearly having a lot of fun and delivering each line with such liveliness. He even seems to be ad-libbing here and there, effectively if he was. Willie Best has perhaps the largest role I've seen him in, and he does his usual schtick, to amusing effect. The rest of the performers all do fine, even if some do blend together a little.

Special praise has to be given to Horton and Best because they're the ones who have to act alongside invisible people the most, and they do a wonderful job! Since we naturally can't see an invisible man, those scenes rely entirely on the visible actor with them, and whether they're able to sell the =. These two not only do well, they do it brilliantly! Horton focuses more on =, while Best does the same, all while delivering the best facial expressions in the movie! He visually carries the production in many scenes, and come the climax he's the only one who is visible!

The Body Disappears is great fun. As a movie about invisibility, it's a bullseye, as a comedy it's often hilarious, and as an adventure it always =, and it even does great in terms of race. I definitely recommend checking it out...

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Midnight Shadow (1939)

In a sleepy African-American town, trouble is afoot. A young girl Margaret has just been swept off her feet by a charismatic foreigner, much to the [consternation] of her old boyfriend. Her parents are split down the middle, with her mother disapproving, but the father is trusting enough of Prince Alihabad to share with him papers of a secret oil field in the family, which Margaret will inherit on her marriage. That night, tragedy strikes and the father is murdered. The police begin investigating, as do some private detectives hoping to find success. Is the obvious suspect the culprit behind this killing, or is there another motive?...

[*No, it's the obvious suspect. There's nothing complicated here.]

With its opening crawl detailing the unique nature of small town black Americana, Midnight Shadow promised to be an interesting picture, but some problems were apparent from the very beginning, and I hoped they wouldn't grow. The film really has its work cut out for it, as it tries to set up this community as a living breathing entity unto itself, populated with a diverse cast/roster of characters and conflicts, but has only 52 minutes to explore it. Because of this the film never really fleshes out anything, nor can it decide who to follow. Margaret? Her spurned old beau Buster? The crooked Hindu? Or the two would-be detectives?

The other big issue with the film is its pacing. It's very slow, and often quiet too, compounding the trouble. Scenes that should take 1 minute take 5, and so on, and while no scene on its own is boring per se, when taken together it's a bit of a frustrating experience. The movie has severe 'Hurry up!' syndrome. Like I said, it's not bad, far from it, but we're half an hour in when we've reached what should have been the 10 minute mark. Characters will ass about meaninglessly while we wait for them to do something.

The plot isn't very good, in more than one way. The first is that it starts out as one thing before becoming another. This starts out as a small-town romance, with a heroic figure trying to win back his girl from the clutches of a fake fortune teller trying to steal her family fortune. But then the movie suddenly becomes a murder-mystery, albeit one with no clues or suspects. I was looking forward to   even if it was a pretty cliched story, and it felt like a big missed opportunity to see this squandered/.

What makes Midnight Shadow interesting is the question is what makes a film good, its quality as a product, or what it represents. This isn't always clear cut, because naturally a movie being bad is a pretty conclusive thing.  However, even if a movie is bad, that doesn't mean you can't respect it, or admire the message it tried to convey. Midnight Shadow is a 1930s film that says without condescension or malice that small town black communities are awesome, and hopes to show us that. What an admirable sentiment, especially for this era! And people look down on low budget cheapies. Pah!

In this particular case I really respect the movie for what it strived for, but am really annoyed at it for not presenting this as best as it could, instead choosing to faff about with bullcrap for most of the runtime. Still, a little goes a long way regarding a topic like this from a time like this, so I may not like this movie as a product, but goshdarn do I love what it preaches!

The spiffy opening credits had me looking forward to seeing this large cast in action, but really only a few of those players has any substantial role, and even few appear consistently. Margaret is a likeable enough romantic lead, but we've come in so late to this story that we never got to know her and Buster's old relationship, or their new one, or her romance with Prince Alihabad. Buster meanwhile is never really fleshed out. He's just there, and we're expected to root for him because he's the handsome young guy who's not the comic relief. He's a bit of a demanding little shit in places. They get back together at the end with zero effort or conflict, in a pretty unsatisfying way. I knew it was coming, but you guys coulda had more fun with it!

The true leads are dopey amateur detectives Lingley and Lightfoot, and had I known this going in I probably would have been 10% less annoyed. Despite their awesome names (there has to be a Lingley and Lightfoot series in the future!), the duo themselves are mixed. Sometimes funny, sometimes annoying, and they mainly waste our time. They don't seem to contribute much to the end, but get all the credit anyway. Ah well, I don't mind. God knows we barely saw any of the 'main' detectives.

Prince Alihabad is one of the more interesting characters, in that he's a proud Muslim!...well, not really*, but that's how he acts at first. It's very unique to see a Muslim character in an old African American film like this, especially a black one! Africans have had a long history with Islam    and the film even knows that Allah and God are one and the same! (There's some confusion on whether he's Hindu, but I put that down to Turbans being cross-religion, and Google not existing back then). Now, as you may have guessed by the first frame, Prince Alihabad is a con-artist. While on one hand it bugs me that this means he isn't really a Muslim character, at least it never comes across as judgemental.

By the end everyone works out he's a sham, though I wasn't sure/was unsure what made the heroes realise that, nor did I understand his connection with the main criminal affair, if any. The whole ending is very rushed, but that most of all.

The rest of the characters are ok, though underused. Margaret's father is a nice though very naive guy, while her mother is more levelheaded and grouchy. The father is murdered, though at first I thought it was the mother, and no-one really seems that broken up about it as the film progresses, making me very confused. Detective Sergeant Ramsay is ok, but appears too little. One scene of his I liked was when Buster tries warning him about this shifty Hindu looking fellow who's probably in on the crimes, and Ramsay immediately comes to the conclusion that Buster's just throwing this foreigner under the bus to save himself!

The film looks pretty good, with some neatly directed and staged moments! Midnight Shadow is mostly pretty common, but in shines in places. It's at its worst in the prolonged night-time sneaking scene early on. It's hard to see what's happening, and because of this it's hard to care. There's very little music to speak of here, and this really hurts the film, though there is one very nice track, which perfectly complements its scene. If only the rest of the film followed suit.

The performances here are mixed. Some are good, some are really neat and effective, while others are laughable bad. Over-emotive with melodramatic reactions. Frances Redd is cute as Margaret, while Edward Brandon as Buster is one of the weaker performers. Richard Bates and Buck Woods are a bit of both, and have a couple of slightly amusing moments. Lawrence Criner (credited as John for some reason) is competent, but nothing more . I don't mean he's bad, but rather his character is never really allowed to live and breathe, always acting the same, calm and reserved no matter what.

Midnight Shadow is a crummy film. It promised a lot, but never delivered, not on anything. I appreciate it for its positive messages, but as a film it's a pretty leaden time, and you could do much better...

The Panther's Claw (1942)

Several people have received threatening letters from a mysterious individual named The Panther, including wigmaker Everett P. Digberry, who was instructed to leave $1000 at a cemetery. He's seen by the police and taken into custody, and they soon realise his connection to a struggling opera singer. Things soon seem to be innocent enough,but when the woman turns up dead, the case becomes sinister, and the police must find out whether Digberry is truly a murderer, or if there's someone else in the picture trying to frame him...

The Panther's Claw is a confounding film. It gets off to a really intriguing start with all these mystery letters. But then all of this is explained away in a confusing and anticlimactic way, and the movie instead becomes a very normal whodunnit, albeit one where the murder doesn't actually take place until 35 minutes in! This has its problems, but also positive.s I liked that we got plenty of time to get to know the murder victim, although the problem comes from this whole plotline feeling completely different to how the movie started. It was really hard for my mind to accept that those letters and the titular Panther were nothing!

From here on, the mystery is an alright one, but it's still very confusing in places in its own right, even ignoring the superfluous Panther letters business. I thought the blackmail victims we saw at the start would be the suspect pool, and we'd get to know them, but actually we barely see them again. The suspects we do get appear only sporadically, and I wasn't entirely sure who some of them were, but to the movie's credit the reveal of who the killer is is well handled, as are the clues. I'm happy to say I spotted them!

Despite the disappointment I felt over all the super cool or fun story motifs that should have been explored properly [before being abandoned], there are hilarious ideas and scenes here, like the source of the sinister Panther's signature. The comedy is overall pretty fine here, never unfunny, and always amusing.

The characters here are mixed. The dopey hero is the wigmaker Everett Digberry, who stumbles from one misfortune to the next, always suspected by the police of foul play, save for the main duo. He's likeable, and so pure and innocent you just wanna swaddle him up and protect him! All the stuff about his absent family is great. Despite never appearing, the film builds up a great picture of them, and I was really hoping they'd return from their holiday by the end.

The other leads are Police Commissioner Thatcher Colt, and 'Sergeant' Anthony Abbot. They're decent, though unremarkable. It took me ages to even recognise them, and they rarely stood out from the millions of other cops, but I still liked them. I especially appreciated how noble they were, always trusting of Digberry even when everyone else was against him.

The supporting cast is pretty good. Madly quarreling Latino singer Enrico is an amusing scoundrel, with his over-the-top demeanour and passionate violence. The opera singer Nina is nice enough, and it's a bummer she gets killed, because I thought she was an interesting enough character to stay alive. The butler Nicodemus is fun in his scenes, and gets some good comedy moments.

The movie is your typical 1940s picture. It looks good, but is pretty normal overall, never really doing anything particularly neat to stand out visually. Nothing is directed badly, though one scene has an amusingly obvious backdrop. There is one thing I found neat about the film, and that's the newspaper shots, and how each scene gets different front pages of the same events. I like that level of detail.

Byron Foulger is the best part of the film as the hapless Digberry, and he's always fun no matter the scene. Even though they just felt like any random police officers, Sidney Blackmer and Ricki Vallin still deliver good performances as Colt and Abbot. The former has a nice natural laugh in one scene too. Joaquin Edwards is funny as fiery Latin Enrico. African-American actors Billy Mitchell and Florence O'Brien are a great addition. Billy is a hoot, and she's a nice straight man. They don't appear quite as much as I liked, but at least they got a little time to shine.

The Panther's Claw was a serious disappointment in some ways, but it's by no means a failure. It's a fun movie with some neat stuff on display. Even though it doesn't live up to its potential, and its whole first act is meaningless, this is still worth a watch for those who like the genre...

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Ring of Fire (1991)

Johnny Woo is a doctor, and martial arts enthusiast, even though his own kickboxing days are behind him. He's happy enough dividing up work between the hospital and his family's Chinese restaurant. One day he meets the beautiful Julie, and the two fall in love. She comes from a staunch Italian-American family, including Brad, an aggressive brother who detests all things Asian. Once he finds out about the romance he swears to make trouble for Johnny and his community, and it seems the only way to resolve this dispute before it turns into a race war is to step back into the ring...

Ring of Fire gets off to a good start, showing off a couple of round of kickboxing, before introducing us to the lead characters. It's a bit of a slow start, considering the main character isn't involved in either of the matches, but it still sets up the tone for what we're about to see well enough. And if you're a kickboxing fan I imagine you'll get a kick out of any combat, regardless of whether the hero is involved (And if you're *not* into kickboxing, I can't imagine why you're watching Ring of Fire, but strangely enough it's actually an appropriate choice for such people/you, as I'll get into).

Then a weird thing starts happening-It becomes a romance! It happened gradually, but I began to notice that the amount of time devoted to relationships was actually equal with the fighting, and then it began to eclipse it! Half an hour in and Don The Dragon Wilson hasn't even thrown a single punch yet! I had a problem with the lack of fighting, but I didn't actually mind the greater focus on the romance at first, because it was a unique take on the action genre. How often do you see the romance be paid/given this much attention? A lot of the time they're just basic meatheads with maybe a basic love interest, but here we really get to see it fleshed out.

While I admired and applauded the film for what it was trying to do, this was a problem, even if only a small one. But it's a problem that grew bigger with every minute until we were an *hour* in and still no action from Don! Bloody hell! It's here where the film really started to go off the rails for me. The story becomes increasingly ridiculous, until it [culminates] in a major tragedy befalling one of the supporting leads, causing the film to become a bit too down for my tastes. In a film like this, someone dying early on would give it a sense of motivation and drama, but when it doesn't happen until fairly late in after an hour+ of otherwise [lighthearted] enough picture, it feels like it wasn't necessary for the story, and saps a lot of energy and life away. Plus, it will mean Johnny can't have any fun reminisces about that time he met his love and had crazy adventures!...Yes, a silly point I know, but still!

There are a few contrivances here and there, some acceptable and others not so much. For example, it's never clear why Brad isn't arrested. There's a token explanation later on that tries to explain why, but it doesn't really hold water. We never see their mother and their father was a long dead soldier, so I can't imagine he has = ties so strong they'd keep him outta jail, certainly not after a murder/ charge!

The romance *really* takes a swerve into ridiculously frustrating territory in the last 20 minutes! Julie is furious with her brother   but then for no apparent reason she suddenly decides to dump Johnny, slap him, then go back home with her brother. She's trying to let him down easy, but A, she failed, and B, maybe she shouldn't do that at a funeral, in front of all his friends and family?? I also don't get why cutting Johnny from her life to let him down easy also means reconciling with her psychotic racist brother either!

After this there's your typical amount of brooding, until Julie's nice grandmother whips Johnny into action, leading to a basic and cheesy speech, immediately reuniting the couple. This isn't the end of the movie though, because there's one more fight left! And it's   in the most bizarre edit imagineable! Brad wants to fight, but Johnny refuses him. Brad slaps him, and when Johnny's face turns back, suddenly they're in the ring hours later! Excuse me? Did I sit on the remote? It's a cool transition, but I feel that maaaybe there were a few things in the middle that had to be explained first?

And lastly, we come to the ending. It's a cool fight, though I question how Brad's open cheating doesn't get him disqualified, or him trying to murder Johnny with a samurai sword. Then the movie just stops, with zero resolution to anything. Don won the fight and that's all that matters, [and I guess we're just to assume that Julie's ok after being stabbed/impaled].

There's a pretty distinctive cast of characters here, some good, others not so much, but most are memorable enough, Johnny is a good lead   His cousin Terry is a likeable goofball, despite his somewhat terrible decision making, and a fundamentally flawed understanding of Thai street boxing. Julie's a sweet girl, despite her idiocy in the last act, while her brother is a good villain.

The remainder of the cast are mostly fine, though too numerous to mention, which leads into the next point. Some of the characters felt unnecessary, like the grouchy police inspector. He doggedly = everyone's tracks, but the one time you'd expect him to really step up his game  he's nowhere to be seen! I am glad at least though that his character doesn't go too far. He's a pain in the ass, but once Terry dies, he's more apologetic than accusatory. A shame he never really got a final scene. Given what happens in the ending he really should've!

While there may not be a lot of it, the kickboxing and martial arts on display in Ring of Fire is neat! Some of the editing might not capture it perfectly, but for the most part the choreography and stunt work here is commendable.

The soundtrack here is fun enough, and cheesy in a very late 80s/early 90s way, as well as overdramatic in certain scenes. Nothing to complain about. Funnily enough the same can be said of the acting. Wilson and Maria Ford are fine, and while everyone gets their over-the-top moment, some worse than others, the two leads are always good.

Overall, Ring of Fire is a serious mixed bag. I don't wanna say it's bad, because there's a lot to like or at least appreciate about it, and some smaller aspects/elements are handled really well (or *almost* handled well), but as a complete product/package, it's a bit of a disaster!...

Friday, May 15, 2020

The Crooked Circle (1932)

Mysteries of the 1940s were plentiful, and often great, and with some sounding especially promising, due to either gripping titles, intriguing stories, or beloved actors. The Crooked Circle ticked a few of these boxes, and with James Gleason and ZaSu Pitts starring, and a nifty sounding plot about cultists running amuck, I thought I'd be in for a treat!...

Oh. Or not...

A sinister cult and criminal enterprise known as the Crooked Circle has been plundering the country, but a brilliant amateur detective club led by a resourceful Colonel Walters has begun foiling them at every turn. Wanting to make him pay, the Circle send the Colonel a mark of death. That night, at his new home, the Sphinx Club convenes, to see younger member Brand off, who's retiring to be with his fiancee, and to welcome new member Yoganda.

The Crooked Circle is a pretty unremarkable film for the most part. It just barely keeps your attention, and does little with the story it has. But this isn't to say the movie is completely devoid of merit, however. It shows great promise, which in turn helps make it even slightly interesting], while at the same time making it all the worse as you can't help but see what it could have been.

There are many interesting touches to the plot here, and cool ideas, but the overall presentation is all very straightforward and just seems to go from one point to the next without much thought or exploration. It's a shame, as you really wanna see these elements explored, but they rarely are, and when everything comes to the end it feels less satisfying than it should have, although it does at least manage to tie everything together (albeit somewhat confusedly).

Where The Crooked Circle succeeds partially is in building an atmosphere. The set design here is great, from the spooky run-down mansion, the = crypts, old cellars, and cult meeting places, there's a really creative design that shines despite the otherwise staid direction. This could rival a Universal film if there was enough effort put in, and someone lured Lugosi into a meaty part.

A less than stellar area is its characters. Let's discuss the negatives first. There are a few too many, and some of them feel superfluous, and get so little to do that you consistently forget who they even are. Either more work should have gone into fleshing them out enough to not all blend together, or the cast list shoulda been pared down a smidge.

The comic relief is divided between the straightlaced and somewhat bumbling policeman Crimmer, and easily frightened maid Nora. They each get their moments, and have fun interactions (the most lively in the film for sure), though she can be a little annoying in places. Their part in the ending is sweet,

Brand is an average hero. His fiancee Thelma is likewise at first, but her shifting allegiance makes her surprisingly interesting for a 1940s love interest! How often do they secretly turn out to be sinister cult members! This is taken in a bit of a strange direction, but nice by the end.

The shifty Indian Yoganda seems like the obvious villain, not only because of his =, or the fact that he seems to be reporting to other conspirators, but also because he's the = foreigner! That was an attitude held by some back in the day, so it's a massive relief and pleasant surprise to see this film subvert that = in such an effective way! Of course it's hampered by the rest of the film, but still! This movie may be a touch dull, but it's actively progressive!

The Colonel is a decent leader,  while the other members of the club are tolerable, though forgettable.

The greatest thing about this movie is by far its dialogue! Equal parts funny, weird, and old-fashioned, there are great lines like:
"If that clock strikes 13 I'll be more than beware, I'll be gone!"
"Nora, do you know what a myth is?"-"Yes sir, a female moth."
"Brand, before you got here tonight a queer acting hunchback brought in a basket of tomatoes!"
"The strangest thing has just happened. Crimmer disappeared!"-"Whaddya mean?"-"He was sitting in that chair, I turned to pout him a drink like this, then I turned to give it to him...and he was gone."-"Then what happened?" "I took a drink myself."

The acting here is pretty decent, though mixed in places. Ben Lyon is your typical romantic lead, doing fine, and the same goes for the = Irene Purcell, whose motives give her a little extra to chew on. James Gleason is fun as the clumsy cop, while ZaSu Pitts is sometimes cute and funny, sometimes a bit overbearing. Her whining really gets a bit annoying in places, and I wished/wanted her to shut up here and there. C. Henry Gordon is good as Yoganda, even if he looks as Indian as =. The most bizarre performance comes from Christian Rub as Old Dan, a next door neighbour who likes to terrify newcomers with stories of ghosts.

Overall The Crooked Circle has much better parts than its whole. It's not entirely a waste, and it's not bad, but it's also not great either...

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Invasion of Astro Monster (1965)

In the [far flung] future of 196X, a team of astronauts are sent to the recently discovered Planet X, hidden behind Jupiter. They're they're met by the alien inhabitants, who warn the humans of the destructive Monster Zero. Choosing that moment to attack, the duo witness three headed dragon King Ghidorah arrive and lay waste to the planet's [barren] surface. Now that  the aliens make their proposition-Send them the monsters Godzilla and Rodan to help defeat Monster Zero, and they'll repay humanity with a cure for cancer. Seems too good to be true, and while some trust the aliens' intentions, others aren't so sure...

Invasion of Astro Monster is the sixth in the Godzilla series, though you wouldn't know it considering it takes over 45 minutes for him to appear!

The main focus of Invasion of Astro Monster (oh you wouldn't believe how hard it is for me to not add in a 'the' in there!) is the two astronauts investigating the aliens, and an inventor conducting his own [investigations]. There are enough twists and turns to keep you reasonably satisfied, although where I felt the film lacked a bit was in the sheer amount of time it took before the aliens true motive was uncovered. I guess it's not necessarily a bad thing for it to happen an hour in, but for that first hour they don't really do much beyond chatting about favours and are incredibly suspicious, so you're waiting all this time basically waiting for the other shoe to drop, with increasing impatience. Still, it's never boring or frustrating.

The climax is a little confusing with the technobabble, and two different methods of defeating the aliens and monsters seem to merge into one when you're not looking. They defeat the monsters pretty easily, but in a way that makes sense, and doesn't feel cheap or forced.

Chief among audience complaints against this film is the lack of presence from Godzilla, or any of the monsters. This however is excusable due to the title. It's not called Godzilla vs the Astro Monster, but simply Invasion of. This is a film about humans battling aliens, guest starring these monsters, and the title reflects that. It's honesty I can appreciate. Of course, I'm just a little bit grumpy we don't get enough monsters, but oh well.

The characters here are a fine bunch, with each feeling distinct. The romantic partners all share chemistry, and everyone has well-defined relationships, from Fuji's protectiveness of his sister and disdain for Tetsuo, and Glenn's more reasonable and friendly approach

While Fuji's senseless distrust of Tetsuo may make you wanna punch him, he's still a likeable enough hero, and works well with his buddies. Nick meanwhile is  It's also nice how his character interacts with everything Japanese, and never speaks English, but rather knows the tongue of the locals. He also has his own romance with secret alien operative Namikawa. Their story is nice, though I kinda hoped for a little more, and perhaps a happier ending. But we do get enough at least.

Tetuo and Fuji's sister Haruno are sweet together, and the former gets a good arc and things to do, even if he does disappear for a good chunk of the midsection. Haruno is ok on her own but is a bit [un-active] compared to everyone else. Alien spy Namikawa is cold and inhuman at first, but takes a surprising turn once she falls for Glenn, and helps out in saving the Earth.

The aliens make for good villains, although I felt their culture was unexplored. We get really interesting snippets into how they operate, and these make you wanna know more, but that's all we get.

The monster action that is on display here is awesome! What it lacks in screentime it more than makes up for in spectacle. Buildings are toppled, boulders are hurled, fire breath and sonic wings are employed, and more.

Something I especially liked is how the monsters interact beyond their fighting. It's subtle, but you can see how while Godzilla and Rodan may not be friends, they'll team up on an instant to knock that alien scum Ghidorah back into space. It effectively shows how much of a threat he is. Besides this, it's also fun seeing all the little things, like accidental tail whacks, boulder throws, or the very confused monsters waking up on an alien planet and immediately having to do battle with Ghidorah (what must they be thinking? Probably "FIGHT!"). Most notorious is Godzilla's victory dance, which may annoy some, and adore others.

The effects in Invasion of Astro Monster are very good. Not perfect, and the odd moment here and there looks amusingly fake, but nothing too egregious, and even the less convincing moments can add to the fun. The set design is neat, and the alien costumes are cool. While they don't have any differences to humans besides pasty skin, the outfits they wear help make them appear alien.

The miniatures for the cityscapes and military vehicles are all good. The latter sometimes look a little toy-ish, but are still nice. The places the monsters ravage this time round is less a big bustling metropolis and more small communities. Apparently this was due to budgetary reasons, but I feel it works well. You don't want the same locations for every single movie, so different sets are always welcome.

Lastly, the monsters are great! Godzilla is a little more cartoony than originally, but still a mean green machine, and packs a hell of a punc. King Ghidorah is a little chunky (but don't tell him that, you'll hurt his feelings!), but still looks cool, especially with how articulate his three heads are! Rodan is my least favourite given how normal and unremarkable he is in comparison (he's no Giant Claw!), but otherwise looks fine.

The acting here is all good. Not only do the performers in the monster suits do great jobs (ouch, the falls they must have taken!), but the main cast are all good too, from Akira Takarada and Nick Adams as the astronauts, to Akira Kubo and Keiko Sawai as the couple. Adams' presence is pretty nifty, and makes the movie feel more diverse. It's also nice how his character interacts with everything Japanese, and never speaks English, but rather knows the tongue of the locals.

The score here is great. Done by Akira Ifukube, there are some nice tracks, with the standout being the main theme, a triumphant piece that really heightens the mood during the climax. The music singlehandedly makes you realise that the heroes are succeeding.

Invasion of Astro Monster isn't necessarily a great Godzilla movie, but as a general sci-fi film with Kaiju elements, it's lots of fun, and worth checking out. It may not have much monster action, but what's there will entertain you, and everything else will keep you interested...