Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Vampire Bat (1933)

A mysterious plague of deaths has struck the sleepy village of Kleinschloss, and the superstitious townsfolk immediately jump to the conclusion of vampires, suspecting the bat-fancying simpleton Herman. The local inspector Karl Breettschneider has other ideas though, determined that a more human murderer is at work here. Meanwhile, his girlfriend Ruth works for a mild-mannered local scientist, who is conducting innocuous experiments in his castle home.  However, unbeknownst to the rest of the village, Dr. von Niemann has other more sinister motives at play...

The Vampire Bat is everything great about 1930s horror! There's murder, mystery, and mayhem, all in a classic time and place. A somewhat creative mix of old and new, it's a fairly simple tale. That way it focuses on what's important and pays enough attention to that for everything to be sufficiently fleshed out.

The Vampire Bat was a low budget production, shot in the off-hours of more 'important' pictures. This is a surprise to hear, as it's a very good looking movie! The cobblestoned village looks great, feeling like a convincing Germanic location, while the castles and laboratories are all neat, filled to the brim with fancy looking doodads.

The main villain here is a neat one! Kind at first glance, he turns malevolent behind closed doors, and makes for a spooky presence, even if he is only human. The 'vampiric' manservant though was a bit confusing. I understood his role by the end, but that's a little late. Herman is a good red herring, acting very creepy, but we know he's not actually bad, just different. And he ends up suffering dearly for it!

Sadly there is not an actual vampire here, or even a giant bat, but that's ok, since it'd only validate these superstitious assholes if it turned out vampires were real (plus, it helps we already have plenty of movies that fit those bills). The actual solution ends up being surprisingly different, taking the movie into more abstract Frankenstein territory, almost to the point of mild science-fiction. It's a neat mix, coming up without you realising, and not feeling out of left field when it shows up.

The remainder of the cast are effective enough in their small but important roles. At only an hour long, The Vampire Bat doesn't want for any extra story, telling plenty to fill out the runtime, and wrapping everything up satisfactorily. The only thing I feel it lacks is punishment for the bastards who killed poor Herman! They oughta have been strung up and exsanguinated!

Melvyn Douglas is a fine lead, just your typical handsome fellow. Fay Wray is always a treat to see, and delivers a good performance, both as a lighthearted romantic plus scientist, and also as a petrified damsel. A couple of lines come off a bit over the top, but she does well. Lionel Atwill is great as the villain, polite and unassuming, until he's exposed, and he rants and raves like a quintessential mad scientist. Dwight Frye is great as the creepy yet gentle Herman, while Robert Frazer does well in his Dracula-esque role. And lastly, Maude Eburn makes for a decent comic relief.

The direction in The Vampire Bat is stellar. The shots are frequently stylish and brilliantly arranged, even in moments where they didn't need to be. This goes to show just how much the people behind the scenes cared about this production.

One drawback that does affect the movie though is the lack of soundtrack. In some scenes the silence works well (or even works wonders), but in others you wish there was a traditional atmospheric track playing, to run a shiver down your spine. Instead there's nothing. I didn't even realise until late into the film, but once I did I was able to put my finger on what felt missing the whole time.

The Vampire Bat is a nifty example of classical horror of the 30s, and like all movies of the time it has a good moral. To all scientists, it's really not sensible to bother creating life when it's only an inanimate ball of flesh that needs 10 corpses a week to survive. It's uncanny how movies like this could so perfectly understand human nature and offer us such wonderful teaching moments...

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

After a tremendous storm, a mysterious egg washes up on the local beach. The townspeople promptly sell it when the unscrupulous Happy Fun corporation come knocking, much to the frustration of a scientist, who teams up with some journalists to do a little digging. On their travels they meet the Fairy Twins of Infant Island, who implore them to retrieve their sacred egg before it hatches. Their initial plans fail, and soon a new threat looms when Godzilla awakes. It seems only the twins' spirit guardian Mothra can help, but will she save those who stole her egg?...

Mothra vs. Godzilla, not to be confused with later entry Godzilla vs. Mothra, is his first encounter with the fluttery female kaiju. And what a classic encounter it is! Almost 60 years later this still holds up brilliantly. A brisk yet eventful movie, that never slows down.

The story is a fairly simple one, but told strongly. We completely understand the positions of each party, from the desperate Infant Islanders to the conniving corporation, and the helpless humans/reporters.

Beyond the base story, there's plenty of satire and commentary here about the evils of big business, all delivered in a way that's effective, fun, and not too preachy. There's also a good message about humanity's capacity for working together for the common good, even when we don't get along.

The movie's human leads are a pair of plucky newspaper staff and their scientist buddy. The trio have a nice dynamic, though the two men often blended together, and the = banter between reporter Ichiro and his photographer Junko is often sidelined or completely forgotten. Understandably I suppose, since one tends to forget their little feuds when giant moths hire them to find their eggs.

I felt they were underused by the last act though. The movie seemed like it was setting them up for something big, with their editor reminding them of the power of the press. They shouldn't give up hope of stopping the Happy Fun group, because the pen is STRONG...Then nothing really happens. The two evil businessmen just get randomly stomped on by Godzilla after their own scuffle and that's all solved. I would've preferred the heroes to have done something proactive in stopping them. Perhaps they could've somehow exposed the group's illicit dealings, and that's why the billionaire almost seems on the run in his last scene.

The Fairy Twins are a breath of fresh air. Usually supernatural messengers are ominous or threatening, but even when they're delivering warnings, or declining requests for help, they do so with such politeness. They even ask the villains to kindly return the egg! I also found how people react to them hilarious, especially when one of the heroes responded to their story with "I believe them" after they said the egg was theirs. He doesn't bat an eyelid at meeting these tiny women, and only believes them because their story is convincing, not because they're magical fairies. Junko also says "Let's hear their story first", as if to imply the fairies could be liars.

The bad guys have a great role here. While we don't get as much of them as I'd have liked, there's enough. The standout is the portly Kumayama, who's always got an excuse for everything (including for why he hasn't paid you yet), comes up with amusing ways of pricing giant mystery eggs, and would sell his own mother if he could.

The monsters here are handled in a mixed way. Whenever they're onscreen, it's wonderful! But that's the problem. It takes Godzilla over half an hour to appear! Before that point, he's literally never even mentioned, and you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a Mothra solo adventure. She fares a little better. Her introduction is surprisingly early and random, but nice all the same.

Godzilla is his usual angry self, going on a rampage, and expressing his distaste for Japanese architecture, old and new. This was the last entry for a while where he was exclusively the bad guy, but even here he's more of a pissed off force of nature. He causes destruction, but more because it's in his way, and he hasn't had his morning coffee yet. He even kills the human villains, so thanks Godzilla!

Mothra is a perfect counterpoint to Godzilla. Feminine, gentle, and always willing to help humanity in a pinch, even if she might knock over a building or two along the way. The whole mythology around her and the Infant Islanders is great, and they are portrayed as a very interesting culture.

The overall direction here is stellar. Ishiro Honda does a wonderful job at framing even smaller scenes, and the larger scale ones are a marvel. Locations are very believable, with the crew either making a fleet of tiny boats, or actually crafting a giant egg prop and sticking in the ocean, presumably hoping the thing would float! Infant Island is portrayed in an almost harrowing manner, showing off perfectly the scale of devastation nuclear testing can bring. The monsters look great with their surroundings, and there's never an unbelievable moment. The rampages and monster fights are shot really well.

Godzilla is designed well as always, and his tail has an interesting degree of animation this time round, almost wriggling like a snake. Mothra meanwhile is a technological wonder, flying and moving very convincingly, even in combat! Shes' also very pretty, too!

The acting here is all nice, with good leads, villains, and an inspired turn by twin singers Emi and Yumi Ito (aka The Peanuts). Something I miss about older movies is that not everything had to star a celebrity. Japanese movies would often just star regular actors. Popular, yeah, but many films nowadays feel the need to cram in a big name  just for the sake of it, leading to  In movies like this though, they feel more like real people.

Akira Ifukube delivers yet another wonderful score. The recurring tracks still hold up brilliantly, creating a perfect atmosphere as the monsters rampage. They make things feel so epic and dramatic. Then on the other side of the spectrum we have some fairy tale-esque tracks, that five those moments a serene almost fantasy feel. The songs the Fairy Twins sing are wonderful too.

Considered by many to be one of the series's best moments, Mothra vs. Godzilla is a great time. It's a nice introduction to the series, and would lay the groundwork for a lot to come in the future...

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...