Sunday, February 28, 2021

Scary Godmother (2003-05) [The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense's The Shortening]


When I was a kid, I disliked many things aimed at my age demographic. Bananas in Pyjamas? Pass! How about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre! Mary Poppins? More like Evil Dead! This isn't to say I hated all kids media, but for many things I was quick to dismiss them as childish. I had this assumption about Scary Godmother when I saw the ads, but after I caught it on TV one day I was entranced, and took back every negative thought I ever had!...


One Halloween night, mean boy Jimmy and his three friends Katie Darryl and Bert decide to ditch his young cousin Hannah, so they can go trick or treating more efficiently on their own. They come up with a plan to scare her away by sending her alone into the 'Spook house', but things go wrong when she doesn't come out. As the trio wait impatiently for their plan to succeed, the deathly frightened Hannah soon meets her Scary Godmother, and realises the creatures of the night are nothing to be afraid of...


Scary Godmother is a delightful watch. Brisk at only 45 minutes, packed with plenty of entertaining setpieces and comedy moments. It can be a bit hyper at times, and one or two scenes are a little confusing, but theses are minor issues in an otherwise highly enjoyable film.

Onto the characters. Hannah is such a cutiepie! She's endearing, loveable, and has such a nice approach with everyone she meets. Scary Godmother on the other hand is the manic and fun-loving aunt you wish you could have. Never obnoxious, she carries the movie greatly, introducing us all to a world that should exist, if only the real world wasn't so boring.


Jimmy is the most villainous of the cast, and amusingly unlikeable. Not a moment goes by when you don't want to slap him, but he's never genuinely frustrating. As for his three friends, I like the way they're written. They're not bad kids, and quite likeable in some ways, but between their cowing to Jimmy, and kinda dismissive attitude at times, you can see how they'd go along with this plan, and you do look forward to seeing them punished at least a little. What I found most adorable of all was the romance between Katie and Darryl. It was so sweet! I was hoping we'd get to see a kiss, but not quite. *sighs*

The monsters are great! From the campy skeleton in the closet Skully Pettibone, hungry werewolf Max, the amusingly droll vampire family, the gruff yet friendly Bug-a-Boo, and more, they're lots of fun, and no two are alike.


The animation in Scary Godmother is charming. While some nowadays say it's terrible and unsettling, I think it holds up perfectly well. The 3D models are well designed, and move fluidly, always with life in their faces (or DEATH, as it were! Mwuhahaha!), and even their eyes manage to avoid being lifeless or creepy, as often happened with other 3D animations back in the day (or even now). The environments are created with an illustrated fashion, and it's a really cool effect. The two styles mix awesomely, creating some nifty visuals.


The directing is very good, and has lots of flair, with my favourite moment being the 'spinning' moment. It really shows off how good the integration is between characters and their location, and shows that the director wasn't just being lazy because he got a cartoon gig. There's a variety of other neat moments all throughout, and great visuals.

The cast all do a fine job, from the kids to the monsters. A couple of performances might be a bit too over the top for some, but there's nothing bad at least. The music is great too, with many super groovy tracks! We get   all with a Halloween ring to them.


Two years later, Scary Godmother received a sequel, The Revenge of Jimmy, and it's likewise lots of fun! It continues the story without rehashing anything, and it's got a really enjoyable structure, and captures the spirit of Halloween perfectly. If ever anything goes wrong with your Halloween and it seems like things are done for, don't fret, because there's always a way to fix it, or always an alternative. A great message to share. The characters are loads of fun. Hannah has grown as a protagonist, and is older and more assured, while still an adorable and sweet-natured girl. The trio of kids are nicer this time round, and hang out almost exclusively with Hannah, though everyone is still friendly towards Jimmy, despite his consistent/constant attempts to destroy Halloween. The jokes continue to earn laughs, and there's a decent mix of laughs for the kids and adults alike.


To finish, Scary Godmother is a wonderfully ooky watch, especially for kids! If you have any who want something gruesome, macabre, and terrifying, I suppose you could show them an R-rated move (goodness knows I would've been happy with that as a wee one), but if you insist on something family friendly, this is the perfect choice!...

Phantom Investigators (2002) [The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense's The Shortening]


It's that time of year again for my good friend Emily Intravia's annual blogathon-The Shortening   for storytime! When I was a child, we were in a golden age of television, even if we didn't quite realise it at the time (sometimes you don't appreciate things as much as you should until later on, when you reflect upon how things were, what they're like now, etc). One show that I've always fondly remembered from this time is the unsung Phantom Investigators!...


Every day there's a ghost or spectre of some kind terrorising innocent kids, and it's up to the four Phantom Investigators, Daemona Prune, Jericho, Casey, and Kira, to solve each case before it's too late, saving the world as well as satisfying their customers.  From demonic possession

Phantom Investigators was a short-lived series that came and went without much fanfare, but those of us who saw it never forgot. I only saw a bare handful of episodes as a kid, yet what I saw really stuck with me. For years I searched for it, without success. It's never had a VHS or DVD release, nor did I have any luck finding it online. Until recently! And I was finally able to see the series in its entirety. Hell, see it at all for the first time in 18 years!


This is a highly enjoyable series. Fun, spooky, and well written, each episode   full of creativity. From the design and ideas of some of the monsters, to the ways the team beat them, the show is extremely imaginative. It's also light on cringyness that can be present in some kids shows, which is a relief.


What also sets Phantom Investigators apart from other shows of its kind is the edge it has. Don't get me wrong, it's still a lighthearted kids show, but it doesn't shy away from darker elements, or genuinely effective bits of horror. Even though they're in the confines of a G-rated series, they don't feel held back or watered down. This attitude of never talking down to its audience really says a lot about its quality, and will endear it to young and old as a result.


My least favourite episode has gotta be The Stall of Doom, not because it's bad, but because the characters are so snippy to each-other all of a sudden! I know it's part of the episode's overall message, bu still, it's annoying! My favourite episodes meanwhile are a toss-up between three. First is Haunted Dreams, which manages to be creepy in the same vein as A Nightmare of Elm Street, in a way I'm surprised a [kids series was allowed to show. Then there's Ghosts on Film, which is a love letter to old B-movies, as well as a neat story to boot. But my personal favourite has got to be the finale-Secrets Exposed, which entranced young Christopher, who thought for sure this show was just some stupid childish guff, when instead it turned out to be a surprisingly mature and layered] program! I so wanted to see what happened next after that ending phone call...


The characters are a nicely diverse bunch, each with their own unique traits. Daemona was my favourite, both in visuals and personality. I wish I coulda had a friend like her as a kid! Supernatural helpers Jinxy and Wad might be annoying to some, but they grew on me, and are good comic relief (especially in one episode with a hilariously Australian ghost koala).



The animation is the most unique thing about this series. A combination of both stop-motion, puppetry, and live action, it's unlike most other shows. This may sound like a completely disparate combination, but it works very well. The flat cut-out characters integrate nicely with the environments and the live action actors.

The acting here is fun all round. The leading actors do great, and special props to Courtney Vineys as Daemona  The live action performers can get a bit goofy, but not obnoxiously so, for the most part. My favourite of the bunch was = as friendly ghost janitor Mustapha.

The music is a lot of fun, helping build an atmosphere of supernatural fun. It's always neat to listen to.


Phantom Investigators is a real diamond in the rough, and well worth checking out. It's a shame it never got a second season, and an even greater shame that it's never even seen a legitimate release, because this is a series that deserves all the attention in the world. If you're eager for spooky fun, look no further!...

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Banana Joe (1982), Buddy Goes West (1981), and Bomber (1982)


Banana Joe

Banana Joe is a simple trader from the tropical South American island of Amantido. One day his peaceful routine is broken by the arrival of some prospectors, who question his authority to trade without a license, causing Joe to get in trouble. In order to get a license and secure his village's safety, Joe ventures to the mainland, further than ever before, and discovers all the chaos and confusion of the 'civilised world', as well as new love. But will he be able to succeed before his town is taken over?...


Banana Joe is a quintessential Italian comedy. It's got the lot, a lovely tropical setting, wacky comedy, neat action, plenty of heart, and of course Bud Spencer punching bad guys, in this great solo outing.


The plot is pretty basic, really only an excuse for the comedy setpieces. This might annoy those who want to see Joe hurry up and get the license already, and they will probably be dismayed that it takes over an hour, but that's not really what the movie is 'about', if that makes any sense. Thankfully the movie is upfront about this, it never lingers on one thing for too long, and there's always a good reason for everything to be happening (not that a silly comedy really needs one, but still, it's the thought that counts).


A big message of the movie is the insane bureaucracy of the modern world. It's delivered in a satisfyingly matter-of-fact and non-preachy way. It's never jamming the message in your face, but instead just presenting the dilemma as is, and letting things speak for themselves. Your blood is bound to boil thinking of all the horrible red tape  But not too much of course, as this is still a fun comedy, and doesn't let such things distract you too much.


The titular Banana Joe is a great lead. Friendly and helpful to all, he's never short of compassion for the good, or walloping for the bad. This naturally pits him against the mobster Torsillo, whose operations keep getting foiled, like a race that Joe 'dares' to win ('How dare you give the prize to the winner, don't you know who I am?' is pretty much what the baddies say!), or when he gets a brief job as a bouncer and throws the mobster out of his own bar.


Torsillo is a funny villain. Interestingly, we see him getting into more trouble than giving it. This makes for an amusing dynamic, with a villain who's constantly scared and on his toes, growing crazier as the movie goes on, with often hilarious and unexpected results! Bud rarely seeks him out intentionally, which makes it all the funnier when their paths inevitable cross again and again.

The film's romance is sweet and funny, with Joe being insanely blunt and direct. Dorianne is a down-to-earth gal as far as nightclub singers go, and their interactions are believable enough, with good chemistry. Though I question her taking the villain's singing gig in the climax! The movie doesn't really make a big deal out of it, and she's always on the side of Joe of course, but I treat it as a major transgression!


The fights here are plenty of fun, especially the hilarious offscreen battle, and the church fight, which gets amusingly creative, as well as jaw-dropping at times, like the 'rosary bead' moment! The final battle is interesting, in that it's not Bud versus the gang members per se, but Bud against the actual casino! He's a one man demolition squad, and after a whole movie of being pissed off, he takes out all his frustration by absolutely leveling this building, while the baddies can only look on like day-old kittens.


The direction by Steno (Stefano Vanzina) is really good, with many shots arranged well. He has a great eye for mise en scene, and colour. Ordinarily I am against directors who pretentiously label themselves with just one name, but with all this in mind, I'll allow it this once.

The soundtrack to Banana Joe is fun! The main theme is a Spanish tune, sung well, with lots of innocent Latin charm. There are several rescorings throughout, each very nice and fitting the scenes perfectly. Interestingly, the theme to Odds and Evens is sung too at one point in the nightclub. The theme to Crimebusters shows up as well, which feels a bit lazy, like the composers decided to recycle some tunes. But at least it's all good music!


Banana Joe is a great solo vehicle for Bud, and well worth checking out. It's chockablock full of more funny scenes than you can count...


Buddy Goes West

Buddy is a quiet and hungry cowboy going from one town to the next, often dogged by the clumsy native Eagle Eye, who holds up a train under the mistaken belief that a doctor's suitcase is full of gold. This leads Buddy to have to flee to a small town, where he immediately finds trouble, and gratitude. The locals are being tormented by a ruthless bandit trying to drive everyone away, but the arrival of a new doctor gives them faith. But can Buddy keep up the ruse and save the day?...


Buddy Goes West is another cowboy adventure for Bud to enjoy. Which is surprising, considering the date, getting a western as late as 1981. Even in Italy the genre had well and truly wound down by this point. But does this mean the movie has nothing to offer? We'll see.


Buddy is a fairly amusing movie. It doesn't do much special, and it was perhaps a bit hoary and cliched by the time it was released, but it's never bad, and rolls along at a brisk enough pace. The idea is a tried and true one, a typical case of mistaken identity. Where it gets more unique is Bud being mistaken for a doctor, and the crazy concoctions he makes to cure the townspeople. This does end up taking a backseat to more traditional antics, but it still makes for a great addition.


As expected, much of the movie is made up of raucous fight scenes, and abundant eating. There was no-one in Italy who could eat as much as Bud Spencer! And one of the film's villains learns it the hard way in an eating contest. Another highlight of the film is Bud 'diagnosing' problems with the goons while beating them up.


The big bar fight is great fun (even if the worrywart in me was worrying about all the damage caused to the place), although I did wonder how the movie would give a satisfying climax afterwards, because this fight felt like the major action setpiece of the whole movie. It was as if the climax had come early, and the film was doomed to amble on a bit longer before ending with another big brawl. Thankfully this didn't end up being the case, as the climax has a different take.

I wasn't a big fan of the ending in a few ways, but at least it wrapped everything up completely, which I give credit for.


The acting is all fine. Bud Spencer is a fine lead, throwing punches, and expressing all he needs to with his famous impassive face. Amidou may be annoying to some, and fun to others. Somewhere in the middle for me. Also of note is that Bud Spencer's usual dub voice is here as another character, putting on an Irish accent for the role of Popsy.

The score here is by none other than Ennio Morricone, and it's very good. A little serious and dramatic at times, perhaps too much for such a film, but at least it gives a certain gravitas. There are lighter tracks here too, and they are nice to listen to.


Buddy Goes West isn't the greatest example of Bud's filmography, or the spaghetti westerns, but it's a perfectly serviceable entry, and you can't go too wrong with it.


Bomber

Former boxer Bud Graziano, aka Bomber, returns to Italy after some time away on sea, and after seeing the unfair treatment a local gym gives to others, he decides to open up his own. He's quick to build up a stable of growing talent, including prize boxer Giorgo. The boy is worried he may not be able to make it against these tough fighters but with Bomber on his side, there's nowhere to go but up...


One of Bud's most beloved solo films, Bomber is a boxing flick that delivers plenty of fun! It breezes by, feeling much shorter than its 100 minute runtime, and there's always something going on, whether funny, action-packed, or dramatic. The movie is also accessible enough for those who dislike boxing. If the sport doesn't appeal to you but Bud Spencer does, then have no worries. It's the main focus without every waking second being inside the ring.


One thing to note is that I watched the entire movie in Italian, without subtitles. With this in mind, the plot holds up very well even if you don't understand the language. Naturally Bud speaks in punches more than he does words, but beyond that the story is still clear, the visuals help a lot, and the actions of the characters are often universal. Just about everything else you can infer.

I liked the story plenty, and the characters therein. Bud is a great lead, and it's endearing to watch how he defies this gym of musclebound thugs and gives all the amateurs and 'weaklings' of the area a chance to shine and shape up.

 
Jerry is the comic relief, and he's a little overdone at times, and his cries of "ARRRIVAAAA!!!" may drive some to madness, but he's a fun presence for the most part. Bud's friend/love interest Susanna is absolutely adorable, and a nice addition.The up-and-coming boxer Giorgio is a likeable and charismatic dude, and you naturally side with him and his struggles throughout the film.

The climax is an important boxing match,   The only thing I wasn't as much a fan of is Giorgi's's role. It's a little disappointing how his thunder can't help but be stolen a bit at the end. The movie was building up to him regaining his confidence and winning the day, and yet it's Bud Spencer's film, so of course he's gotta be the one to get the final fight. Maybe it makes more sense if you actually understand the dialogue though.


The villains are a satisfyingly nefarious bunch, and it's enjoyable seeing them get their just desserts, especially after some of the crap they pull.

The ending is pretty abrupt, but I'm not sure I can fault it too much. Yeah, it's over a little too quickly, but at least we do get conclusions and last look-ins for all the characters, no matter how short. And the final shot is a great one.


The actors here all do fine jobs. Much of what I said about their characters apply the same to the actors. Bud can carry a film with his presence alone, no matter how little he says, while Jerry Cala could be amusing or annoying in equal measure. Stefani Mingardo does very well as Giorgo, and Kallie Knoetze is an effective villain. The movie has some lovely ladies too! Gegia is a bit shrill and over-the-top as the cackling Susanna, but is otherwise neat, while Valeria Cavalli is also nice as Giorgio's girlfriend.


The soundtrack to Bomber is wonderful! The main theme Fantasy is another gem for Oliver Onions,  The movie does get a liiitle bit carried away though, playing the song at every chance it can get. It never gets tiring, and it is only background music half the time, but still they could have cut down a little. The rest of the soundtrack is neat, from the rescorings of the theme, to the couple of training songs. Both have a little bit of Rocky in their DNA, while also being unique, and very nice to listen to.


To finish, Bomber is a great watch, in whatever language you see it in. A perfect highlight of its star, and plenty of fun!...