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Playtime (1967)
8/10
The Film Grew on Me
20 February 2020
Although I have always loved Monsieur Hulot's Holiday, the first time I watched Playtime I did not like it nor did I see what all of the fuss was about. I even gave away my Criterion DVD because I suspected I would never watch the film again. I was wrong. The second time I saw the film I could appreciate it (I understood why others liked it), but I admired Playtime more than I liked it. This week I watched the film for a third time and could finally say, without hesitation, that I did like the film.

Viewers need to overcome several hurdles to enjoy Playtime. First, although the character of Monsieur Hulot is probably the film's main character, Playtime lacks a clear protagonist. Furthermore, the film is arranged not by plot but by episodes, which means it does not have much in the way of a traditional story. Finally, Playtime deals with characters who are alienated (or at least out of touch) with the modern world. Perhaps as a result, the film can seem cold. There are laughs to be had, but they are like laughing at the memory of a friend's hysterical misadventure while attending his funeral.

Where Playtime succeeds, and it took a third viewing for me, is with its view of human nature. The films of director Jacques Tati are some one of the most humane and optimistic that I have ever seen. These traits are a big reason I return to the films.

Take for example the sequence at the fancy restaurant in the second half of Playtime. The restaurant is having a lousy opening night. Anything that can go wrong does. Into this environment comes a rich American. This fellow enters the film by demanding a specific table at this restaurant. The fact that this table is already reserved for someone else makes no difference. The American wants that table and is willing to pay to get it. At this point, the viewer is expecting this character to remain the easy target of the arrogant American who thinks he can buy everything. However, Tati is a much richer director than that, and the more the character (a side character really) is shown, the more we as the audience likes him. For all of his money and brusqueness, this man likes fun, play, and games. The more the evening deteriorates, as more and more disasters befall this restaurant's opening night, the more humor this man sees in the situation (unlike one clueless guest who states, "It is the same every night"!?). So, it is not surprising that this American will end up befriending Hulot. What is surprising is how much thought director Tati has put into this minor character that most directors would have just left an easy joke.

Another example, early in the film, Monsieur Hulot goes to an office building. The reason is unclear (it might be for a job interview), but the why is not really important. The office manager that Hulot is to see is a brisk, harried man who wears shoes that patter loudly on the floor when he walks. This office manager and Hulot will spend a lot of screen time chasing each other all over the office building, almost, but never quite, meeting each other. A lesser director would have abandoned the office manager after this sequence, after his turn as the comic foil was over, but Tati comes back to the office manager long after the office building has closed for the night. The office manager does finally meet Hulot, on the street, at night, and the two will have a nice conversation (that the audience is not privy to) and will part on friendly terms. These are the moments that make Playtime (and much of Jacques Tati's work) special.

For Playtime, Jacques Tati built a giant city front on a set, at much expense. It is an impressive feat which looks marvelous on the Criterion blu-ray. Yet, in spite all of the spectacle (or maybe because of it) Playtime wins me over with its characters, like, for example, Barbara (oh, the many things that can be written about the classy Barbara).

I did not like Playtime the first time around, maybe because I was expecting a story with Monsieur Hulot in the lead. On my second viewing, I appreciated the spectacle and the massive accomplishment but did not find the film all that funny. With this third viewing, I observed the film's characters and that made me, finally, like the film, even if I do still miss Monsieur Hulot's absence for much of the movie.
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Trailer Trauma (2016 Video)
Second Tier Trailer Collection
6 February 2020
Trailer Trauma (the first in a series) offers 137 minutes of movie previews. It is an enjoyable enough time, although I have seen better trailer collections.

First off, I have to give Garagehouse Pictures credit, of the sixty odd trailers on display I had only seen seven of them. True, I had seen different trailers for some of the films featured (Black Fist for example), but I am still impressed by how new to me most of these trailers were. The collection has its highlights: The College Girl Murders, Dawn of the Mummy, Goliathon, and an odd double bill of re-titled films Hex Massacre and Lucifer's Curse (actually Who Can Kill a Child? and The Chosen). All of these trailers are for movies that I have seen and enjoyed. However, Trailer Trauma also provided me with a few recommendations. Due to Trailer Trauma, I am now curious to see The Children, Knights of the City, and Naked Vengeance.

In spite of all its strengths, Trailer Trauma still ranks second tier as far as trailer collections are concerned. First, there are no extras on the disk. All the Blu-ray offers is trailers. Some information about either the films in the disk or the process of making the disk would have been appreciated.

Second, the arrangement of the trailers is somewhat problematic. Although some attempt is made to occasionally put similar trailers for similar movies side by side (the trailer for Smokey and the Good Time Outlaws is followed by one for Smokey and the Hot Wire Gang), the disk never builds the way a good collection should. Starting off with the teaser for Deathbed is a nice touch, but the disk soon falls into the pattern of here is a trailer, here is another trailer, here is yet another trailer, without a noticeable progression. Finally, the set ends with a trailer for the Italian western Captain Apache. While Captain Apache does not look like a bad movie, it is an odd choice to end a 137 minute disk of trailers, particularly since it is only the second western featured in the collection (The Legend of Frenchie King being the other). In contrast, Trailer War, the previous trailer collection I watched, saved its wildest trailer for the end. Trailer Trauma just kind of peters out.

I like Trailer Trauma, but I doubt I will re-visit the disk.
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Hell (1979)
5/10
Decent But Long Reimaging of 1960 Film
1 February 2020
First I need to confess that I find the 1960 original only fair. I like the bright color cinematography, but find the story rather silly.

The 1979 version of Jigoku features a better story at its center. An adulterous couple (a man and his pregnant sister-in-law) are fleeing the woman's husband (who is also the man's brother). They hide out, but are caught and the man murdered by his brother. The killer also mortally wounds his former wife and leaves her to die. However, the woman gives birth to a daughter before dying. This daughter, Aki, is fated to avenge her mother and end in hell. Twenty years later, Aki returns to her rural birthplace and begins to seduce her two half-brothers (they share the same father) leading to tragedy. In the last twenty or so minutes, the film switches to the underworld (hell) as we see the punishments the characters receive. I think life (and afterlife) is rather unfair to Aki since she is given no moral choice but is forced by fate to avenge her parents. Maybe that is just a westerner's opinion.

This version of Jigoku suffers from being way overlong, a half hour longer than the original 1960 film. Also, there are some noticeably ineffective uses of rear projection (the rescue on the train is one glaring example). As for the afterlife scenes, they are not as colorful as the original 1960 film nor do they improve in the FX department. However, the resolution is more satisfying than the ending of the original film.

Fans of the 1960 film might want to see this 1979 version for comparison sake. Also, lead actress Mieko Harada, in a dual role as both Aki and her mother, is quite good (Harada later had a good role in Kuroasawa's Ran). This version of Jigoku is not a bad film, but it is way overlong.
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Trailer War (2012)
Thoroughly Enjoyable Disk of Film Previews
30 January 2020
I can't remember the last time that I watched all of the content on a disk. I don't just mean the featured show but all of the extras as well. I watched everything on Alamo Drafthouse's movie preview collection Trailer War.

First, there were the trailers themselves. As I expected, having watched the fifth volume of 42nd Street Forever, the employees of The Alamo Drafthouse have turned in some wild trailers. Some trailers were familiar to me. I have enjoyed the trailers for Amin The Rise and Fall, Deranged, and Starcrash in the past and enjoyed watching them again here.

Other trailers were new to me but for films that I have previously seen. These included the trailers for Inframan, The Dungeonmaster, The Northville Cemetery Massacre, Who Saw Her Die? (with that great Ennio Morricone children's choir), and the great trailer for Thunder Cops, which ended the disk with a bang! All of these were good trailers for films that I have enjoyed. I was happy to see the films represented.

Finally, this wouldn't be an Alamo Drafthouse collection without the trailers for obscure films. Some of these included: Animal Protector (which looked like it could be the most inept action movie ever made), Argo the Fantastic Superman, Eunuch of the Western Palace, and Voyage of the Rock Aliens. All of these were new to me!

Trailer War offered two hours of great movie previews. So what about the rest of the disk? The blu-ray featured a good interview with director Joe Dante who reminisced on his days of making trailers for Roger Corman at New World Pictures. There was a brief, but interesting, talk with Alamo Drafthouse employee Lars Nielsen about the American Genres Film Archives. The disk also featured trailers for other Alamo Drafthouse releases. Here was where I had one of my criticisms with disk. After setting through a disk with two hours of great movie trailers, it was disappointing to see such boring trailers for other Drafthouse releases (Miami Connection excepted). I would guess that the Alamo Drafthouse was stuck with whatever the film companies sent them, but still they were disappointing, particularly since I have seen a far, far better trailer for one of the releases, Wake in Fright under its alternative title The Outback ("What happened to him? The Outback!").

Finally, the main extra of the disk was a commentary track by Alamo Drafthouse programmers Lars Nielsen and Zack Carlson. These two were also on the commentary tack for 42nd Street Forever Volume Five. Nielsen and Carlson were entertaining to listen to and provided some useful information. However, their track was slightly disappointing for two reasons. Nielsen and Carlson have not seen all of the films for which they have trailers (this is understandable since some of the films are quite obscure). Harder to overlook was the lack of preparation. Doing a little background research on the films would have cleared up a few points. The most glaring example was when Nielsen and Carlson debated whether or not George Lazenby appeared in the trailer for Who Saw Her Die? (yes, guys, he was the leading actor!). In spite of this, the commentary track was well worth listening to, with the comments for Lola's Mistake and The Northville Cemetery Massacre being particularly of interest.

I am a fan of trailer collections, and Trailer War ranks high up. I still prefer the 42nd Street Forever collections, but Trailer War would be just under them.
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4/10
Some Thoughts on a Mediocre French Thriller
11 January 2020
I saw this film under the title Special Correspondent. The print I saw was dubbed into English as well as panned and scanned; however, the film's mediocre plot would only have benefited so much from a better screening.

The plot has a bored suit and tie businessman (Jean-Louis Trintignant) one day leaving his car in traffic and abandoning his respected life. The man drifts for a couple days until he happens to meet a criminal planning a diamond heist. This seems like an exciting change of pace to the bored hero, so he joins the thief and another man for what promises to be an easy, inside job. The heist goes wrong when the three are double crossed by the men who set up the heist. The former businessman finds himself alone still alive. On the run, he is picked up by the girlfriend (Marie-Jose Nat, the director's wife) of the man who double crossed the hero and his partners. She wants the former businessman to rob her boyfriend and his men, one of whom is a stone killer.

This is familiar territory. The film gets more familiar as the businessman and the gangster's girl go on the run to Monte Carlo with the police and the unstoppable killer in pursuit. A simple plot is not always a hindrance in a thriller, but Diamond Safari is simply too pokey, stopping for dull romantic interludes (like the lovers strolling in the countryside). I usually like Jean-Louis Trintignant, and he is fine here. However, Marie-Jose Nat does not generate enough sultriness for the viewer to understand why men are so willing to follow her. Diamond Safari (or Special Correspondent) is not terrible, just overly familiar, the kind of movie one watches with half interest on a lazy afternoon and forgets about two days later.
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4/10
Delivers On What One Would Expect, But Very Familiar
7 November 2019
I saw this film under dubbed into the English under the title Victims of Vice. It is a sleazy thriller that delivers on the naked flesh, but it is also unsurprising in every way.

The film opens with a blonde woman, naked under a coat, being shotgunned to death by a killer in leather and a biker's helmet. Two policemen are searching for the killer. The clues are the drugs in the dead woman's body and reports of a boyfriend that drove a white convertible. The film then switches to this boyfriend as he has a new pickup, also young and blond. It soon becomes clear that he is grooming her for a rich older man with kinky tastes.

Victims of Vice has hottie French blondes in various stages of undress, an 80's synth score by Cerrone, and that is about all. I don't want to suggest that the film is unwatchable, for with the female cast, it is not. Instead, Victims of Vice is just overly familiar. There are the mismatched cops, the druggie snitch, the politically connected bad man, and even the girlfriend-used-as-bait climax. The film's script offers no surprises.

Victims of Vice reminds me a little of another 1980's low budget French crime film, also directed by a filmmaker more known for sex than action. That film was Death Brigade from Max Pecas. That film, while no classic, was better than Victims of Vice.
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6/10
Decent Lazy Afternoon Viewing
7 August 2019
Stone Age Warriors is a diverting jungle film from Hong Kong with a couple of pretty actresses, an action packed climax, and real Komodo dragons.

The plot has two women traveling from Hong Kong to an Eastern jungle in search of a missing man. One woman (Elaine Liu) is the man's daughter and the other (Nina Li Chi) is an insurance representative who is pretending to be pregnant with the missing man's child. They are helped by a missionary with expert martial arts skills (he is played by Siu-Wong Fan from The Story of Ricky). The group has to face a tribal war over a pig, drug dealers, deadly natives, and komodo dragons. These komodo dragons were a highlight. In typical Hong Kong fashion, real reptiles were used near uncomfortable looking actors (viewers should watch the outtakes over the end credits).

The first half of Stone Age Warriors feels slow. It also features a fair amount of unsubtle Hong Kong humor (like a native having to wear a large pink hat over his privates). The film comes alive in the second half when the girls encounter the drug dealers led by a viscous fighting female. The action is strong in this second half, making up for the slow beginning.

Stone Age Warriors is not a great film. In fact, it is just slight entertainment, but it does, at least in the second half, entertain. One could do worse on a lazy afternoon.
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Samurai Spy (1965)
6/10
Heavily Plotted Samurai Film With A Few Good Scenes And A Good Lead Actor
3 August 2019
Samurai Spy was the one film in Criterion's DVD box of four samurai films (called Rebel Samurai) that I had never before seen. While I would slightly recommend the film, it is a slow going motion picture with a lot of talk and intrigue.

I know very little about Japanese history, so some of the film's plot was lost on me, but basically the film is set during a period of cold war between the two groups that control Japan. Sasuke (Koji Takashasi) belongs to a clan that is neutral. Sasuke has been in battle before and the fighting has left him tired and numb. He no longer sees the point in battles. . . this will not stop him from killing a couple dozen people during the film's running time. On the road, Sasuke meets up with an old friend who is planning the defection of a high ranking spy of one of the ruling clans to its rival. This friend only cares about the money he will make, but does offer Sasuke a portion if he helps with defection. Sasuke refuses, yet does come to his friend's rescue during an ambush. Slowly, Sasuke finds himself drawn into the plot somewhat against his will.

Samurai Spy benefits greatly from Koji Takahasi's performance as a weary samurai tired of killing. In addition, the film also has some impressive moments. The deadliest villain dresses as a white ninja and is quick to show off his fighting prowess. The climatic fight between him and Sasuke is quick and startling. Director Masahiro Shinoda places a boy clutching a dead bird in the background of some of the scenes. I have no idea what the boy is supposed to represent, but the distraction is an asset. Finally, the film stages one excellent sustained action set piece where Sasuke has to rescue two prisoners.

In spite of these strengths, I could only get so interested in Samurai Spy. The plot incorporates a lot of elements. There is the initial defection plot, the persecution of Christians, a murder mystery element, a broken family subplot, two love interests, and two masterful swordsman rivals that Sasuke has to face. Shinoda (admittedly not one of my favorite Japanese directors) does only a fair job at balancing all of these elements. The ending should have meant more than it does considering all that happened leading up to it.

Samurai Spy is not a bad film. I certainly can't say I was bored with it, even with the slow pace. I don't think I would watch it a second time though. Others might like the film more than I did.
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3/10
The Story Would Have Worked Better As A Traditional Western
3 August 2019
In Siete en la Mira, a biker gang, all wearing too much make-up, ride into a small Texas town. The sheriff (Mario Almada) tries to take a light handed approach, suggesting that the gang move on. However, when a biker rapes and accidentally kills a local woman, a deputy steals an illegal gun from a local mechanic and executes the assailant. The gun leads back to the innocent mechanic who is promptly arrested. The arrest does not satisfy the rest of the bikers. They take over a bar and a school, threatening to kill those inside the establishments if the mechanic is not turned over to them. The sheriff has to deal with the bikers, the hostages, and restless townspeople.

The basic plot elements could have been made as a traditional western, with horses and outlaws. This approach would have worked better. In the 1980's, the sheriff should have picked up the phone and called for help from the state police and maybe federal agents. The town would not have been as isolated in 1984 as it would have in 1884. The film does play with the western genre. The sheriff uses a bullwhip to kill one of the bikers. The film also has a final showdown where one character has to outdraw another.

I am not well versed in Mexican popular cinema. I have seen a couple masked wrestling films and a few of the 60's horror films released on DVD from Casa Negra. I do know that Siete en la Mira is slow going for the first half and the action in the second half is not very well staged. Also, some of the plot elements are just confusing. Why does the deputy need to get someone else's gun to kill a biker who had raped and murdered the townswoman? For that matter, why does he go after this gun instead of trying to stop the biker from raping the woman (he can see the couple through a window)? Why are the police so impotent to stop less than a dozen bikers?

Siete en la Mira seems to have a small cult following, but I don't see why. It is certainly not in the same league as second tier biker exploitation films like Northville Cemetery Massacre or Mad Foxes, let alone a classic like Mad Max.
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Censuren - En thriller (2011 TV Movie)
7/10
Easy to Watch Documentary, but Somewhat Hard to Follow for Outsiders
12 July 2019
Censorship: A Thriller is a documentary about the Swedish Censorship Board which closed its doors in 2011, after a century of policing movie releases in Sweden. One of the misconceptions that Americans have is that almost everything is fair game in Sweden. This documentary shows that historically that has not been true. For instance, Martin Scorsese's Casino, which played in America uncut with an R-rating, had to be trimmed in Sweden. This documentary certainly educated this American viewer.

However, because the film was made for Swedish audiences, sections can be confusing for outsiders who do not know the background. For instance, the film mentions a couple of notorious Swedish crime cases (Mattias Fink and a more recent case involving youths and gang rape) that were unknown to this viewer. More troubling, I never understood what was going to replace the Swedish Censorship Board. Many interviewed were convinced the Board's disbandment would mean greater freedom. However, one filmmaker, who had made a film consisting of all scenes cut by the censors over the years, disagreed, but since I did not understand what was replacing the board, I could not grasp the director's comments.

I enjoyed watching Censorship: A Thriller. I liked seeing Christina Lindberg all of the years after her notorious Thriller: A Cruel Picture. I liked the comments by the former staff members of the Swedish Censorship Board. The film clips were entertaining. This was an easy hour to watch. I just wish that some of the content had been more clearly discussed.

One word of caution is needed. This film does include clips of banned material. A couple of the clips are sexually explicit (hardcore) in nature, so this is not a documentary for all audiences.
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7/10
Hard to Dislike Drama
2 July 2019
Passion for Life begins with a new teacher coming to a rural village. This teacher, Pascal, is fresh from college, eager, and with new ideas about how school should be taught. For one, he does not like sitting on a raised platform above the students. For another, he distrusts rote memorization. Finally, he wants the students to develop a passion for learning and to always be curious. These beliefs put Pascal at odds with the village leaders, the old teacher Pascal is replacing, and, at first, the old teacher's daughter.

I saw Passion for Life at a summer college film series. None of the audience members knew anything about the film. They ended up being very pleased with the film. It is a hard one to dislike. Passion for Life is a light, pro-student, pro-education film that runs only 90 minutes. This is classical French filmmaking, pre-New Wave, when the emphasis was on rustic characters.

I am not often taken by sentimental films, but I like this one. True, it offers few surprises and the script is not overly risky. However, the film succeeds at everything it wants to do. I was also pleased to see that the climatic speech was given by one of the students instead of the teacher. Passion for Life deserves to be better known in the United States.
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Mr. Freedom (1968)
8/10
"The French are the White Man's Burden"
26 June 2019
By day, our hero is a redneck policeman, but when needed, he puts on a strange outfit and becomes the policeman of the world. At the beginning of the film, Mr. Freedom is dispatched by Dr. Freedom (a dead-on Donald Pleasence) to France, which is in danger of going Red. Mr. Freedom will not let this happen. . . regardless of how many innocent bystanders he kills in the process.

Obviously made as a reaction to America's involvement in Vietnam, Mr. Freedom is slightly dated, but perhaps not as much as its detractors may like to pretend. Also, the film is surprisingly colorful. With its bright set design, this low-budget film pleases the eye far most legitimate superhero film movies.

There are slow stretches. Some ideas miss. Yet, one forgives the misses for what the film gets perfectly right (an American embassy in a supermarket, Mr. Freedom trying to get a French child to laugh at him, a trip to the dentist, and the ending). This film reminds one a little of Alphaville. Both films are low-fi science fiction with unique, inimitable visuals. This is a good film for the adventurous viewer who thinks he has seen everything.

Simply put, Mr. Freedom is unlike any film being made today.
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Golem (1980)
4/10
Inert, Hard to Watch Movie with an Expressive Visual Style
15 June 2019
This Polish film looks nice. The use of color filters offers a standout look. Much of the film is bathed in yellow and red light. The look reminds me a little of the Russian science fiction films Letters from a Dead Man and Stalker. The latter is particularly noteworthy since director Piotr Szulkin clearly admires Andrei Tarkovsky. Unfortunately, this variation on the golem story is a slog to watch.

The confusing plot begins with the protagonist, Pernat, at a police station being interrogated about a murdered neighbor who lived in the same apartment building. Pernat seems confused about much of his past but because there is no evidence the police free the man. However, when he goes to collect his personal effects, he is given someone else's hat and coat by the unconcerned clerk. When Pernat returns home, the viewer is introduced to the other people who live in the building. They are all eccentrics. The rest of the film has the hero bouncing from one tenant to the next, finding all social relations difficult. Every now and then, the story is interrupted by a group of scientists discussing a project that went wrong. That is about it for plot. The viewer waits for something more sinister to develop, and waits, and waits. . . .

Almost nothing happens in this film. The director shows his various influences, Franz Kafka, Andrei Tarkovsky, the Tarot deck, and the legend of the golem, but the director fails to tell a coherent story. Sure, the film looks nice. Too bad it does not go anywhere.
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6/10
Explicit Vigilante Cop Film
11 June 2019
Death Brigade is a tough cop film in the style of Dirty Harry. The hero is Gerard, a Parisian vice cop. At the beginning three transsexual prostitutes are gunned down by killers on motorcycles. In addition, Gerard is also dealing with the murder of a policewoman by a pimp, and a gangster nicknamed The Greek. All of these cases will become intertwined by the end of the film, as Gerard has to go full vigilante and execute summary justice on the villains.

Death Brigade is a sleazy film with full frontal male and female nudity, bloody shotgun murders, and scenes of brutal torture. The film is not overly good, but it certainly does deliver. On the downside, the story seems to have been made up as the film was being made. Although there is a clue (a victim's compass) that connects the cases together, Gerard finds this clue only after, somehow, deducing that the cases are connected. Speaking of Gerard, he is played by a bland actor named Thierry de Carbonnieres (a far cry from Clint Eastwood).

The film shows its era. The ending shootout is staged in that 1980's low budget standby, an abandoned factory. In addition, the main villain is a sadistic homosexual who dresses like a club patron from William Friedkin's Cruising (a stereotype that might not have worn well for some viewers).

Death Brigade is a more explicit film than the usual low(er) budgeted vigilante cop movie that were popular in the VHS days. It's not any better made though. The action scenes are only competent. The film is fine to veg out on (I was mildly entertained), but viewers should not expect much more than that.
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7/10
Likable Talking Heads Documentary for Trash Film Fanatics
6 June 2019
In the 1970's and 1980's West Germany had no grindhouses or drive-in theaters. Where was a trash film fan supposed to go? To the train station! In West Germany most of the big railway stations had theaters. These were for travelers killing time before their trains. These stations played movies around the clock. When the film ended, it started again. Viewers came and went as their train schedules demanded. At first these theaters played newsreels and other documentaries, but over time, the theaters switched to fiction films, and fiction films that could be obtained cheaply. Thus, if one wanted to see Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill! or Cannibal Holocaust in West Germany, he or she needed to check out the railway stations in the country.

As an American, I knew none of this until I watched the pleasing documentary, Cinema Perverso - The Wonderful and Twisted World of Railroad Cinemas. The documentary consists of talking head interviews with people, including directors Uwe Boll and Jorg Buttgereit, who grew up watching films at the railway stations. Along the way, the viewer is shown fast clips from some of the films that played at railway stations. Some of them, like Angels with Golden Guns and the German made Love Camp, were new to this viewer.

Although an enjoyable documentary, I did have a couple of complaints. First, I wish the filmmakers would have identified the titles for all of the film clips. I would like to see a couple of the films sampled, but I have no idea what they are. Second, the film becomes less interesting when it starts spotlighting some of the genres that played at these cinemas. Most viewers watching this documentary already know about Bruce Li, Bruce Le, and attempts to make viewers think they are watching new Bruce Lee movies. I think the screen time spent on these genre overviews could have been better spent elsewhere.

All good (well to some) things come to an end. By the mid-1980's the railway cinemas were dangerous places that only showed hardcore pornography. For those who grew up with railroad cinemas, this documentary should be nostalgic. For those of us who did not, Cinema Perverso is an entertaining look at a long gone time (before home video).
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Gong gui zai (1983)
5/10
Tasteless Yet Slow Going Hong Kong Horror Film
5 June 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Like many Hong Kong horror films, Red Spell Spells Red goes for the gross out. Squealing pigs are killed on camera. Chickens are ate live. And, of course, scorpions crawl over the background, including on the actors. Anyone with a fear of scorpions should avoid this film like the plague. Viewers with no such fear will enjoy seeing how far the actors will go for their art. Unfortunately, also like many Hong Kong horror films, Red Spell Spells Red suffers from awkward pacing.

A Hong Kong camera crew doing a story on The Red Dwarf Ghost, an evil sorcerer who was killed in 1919, travels to a less developed country in South East Asia. There, the crew ignore the warnings of the locals and go into the tomb of the sorcerer. In the name of good footage, the crew unseals the sorcerer's casket and a red mist comes out. The producer is satisfied with the footage and rushes back to Hong Kong, leaving the news presenter (also his lover) and the crew behind to film local color. Soon, odd things begin to happen as the crew members seem to be under a curse. If they bleed, they die. In the special case of the news presenter, she finds that scorpions will crawl out of any drop of blood she spills.

This is a gooey film that delivers on its freak show set up. The wild ending features the lead actress going round and round on a waterwheel as cast members our possessed and holy men try to contain the Red Dwarf Ghost. Too bad getting to that climax is such a chore. The viewer feels like he is watching lots of that local color that the camera crew is supposed to be filming. Also, the film shoehorns in some flat comedy involving the antics of two horny crewmen. A few early set pieces stand out (an attack by film strip is one), but most of the fun is in the film's final twenty minutes, right before it (abruptly) ends. Overall, Red Spell Spells Red is worth watching for the last third but just barely.
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5/10
Showing Signs of Fatigue
29 May 2019
In spite of the ending of the third film bringing the story to a satisfactorily close, Daiei studio has continued on the series with a new ninja, Saizo Kirigakure, but still played by Ichikawa Raizo. This casting seems a little odd. Raizo is a good actor, but I think the film would have been less confusing had a new face played the new ninja. In addition to Raizo, Tomisaburo Wakayama returns in a new role (his first character dying in a previous entry). However, characters from the previous three films do appear in this entry, some still played by the actors in the previous films, making the plot a bit hard to follow.

This fourth film is set fifteen years after the events in the previous film. Ieyasu, the schemer from the two previous films, is trying to break the last of those opposed to his rein, these being the son and mistress of the late Hideyoshi, who lost an ill-advised invasion of Korea in the third film. Ichikawa Raizo's Kirigakure is on the side of the son and against Ieyasu. What follows are two sieges, a love interest, and our hero ninja turning himself invisible (is that historically accurate?). There is more action than in the last entry, but I have grown tired of the series. Fans might want to continue through all eight Shinobi No Mono films, but this is where I am bailing.

Those interested in Japanese military history might enjoy the Shinobi No Mono series. However, for those who just want to watch Ichikawa Raizo kill a lot of people, the Kyoshiro Nemuri films are the way to go.
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6/10
About Equal to the First Film
25 May 2019
The third film in the Shinobi No Mono series begins with Goemon escaping execution and a double taking his place. Although now officially "dead," Goemon cannot resist aggravating the local government, even stealing the head of his double, which is on public display as a warning to the people. All of this is enjoyable and probably the best section of the movie.

Soon the intrigue gets rolling. Goemon is still swearing vengeance on Hideyoshi, who has united Japan and now has a foolish plan to invade Korea. Meanwhile, an ambitious schemer waits in the background to wrest control away from Hideyoshi. There appear to be only three ninjas left. Goemon wants revenge. Another wants success, and the third wants to follow Goemon.

Shinobi No Mono: Resurrection is an okay film, about equal to the first film. Those wanting a lot of swordplay should look elsewhere. Viewers interested in the historical aspects of ninjas and of Japan will probably enjoy the film the most. The film builds to a nice ending which resolves all the plot threads and brings the story arc to a fitting close. The AnimEigo DVD collection has one more film, but I cannot see where the Goemon series is going to go from here.
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7/10
A Slightly Better Sequel
15 May 2019
The second film in the Shinobi No Mono series improves somewhat on the first film. As it begins, Ishikawa Goemon (Ichikawa Raizo) has given up his ninja past and just wants to live a quiet life with his wife and young son. However, Nobunaga Oda's men are hunting down all ninjas and catch up with Goemon and commit a savage (and surprising!) act of violence. In retaliation, Goemon swears to kill Nobunaga. To do this, Goemon manipulates one of Nobunaga's men against the warlord. This plot is interesting and takes up about the first two-thirds of the film. The pay off is a thrilling action sequence, the best so far in the series, where Goemon gets his revenge.

However, the film has more than a half-hour left, which makes for a somewhat awkward final third. A new villain is introduced and the film keeps giving Goemon reasons to get back into that black suit. The film ends with a cliff-hanger. All of this material would have worked better in a separate entry. As it is now, the film's most visceral sequence is at the two-third mark. It should have been at the climax.

As a whole, this second Shinobi No Mono film is more enjoyable than the first. Action scenes are more plentiful and the intrigue is easier to follow. As usual, Raizo is good. I am still not converted to the series, but I am more interested in watching the third and fourth entries in the AnimEigo box set than I was after the first film.
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6/10
Probably Historically Accurate But Slow Going
15 May 2019
I saw this film back in the late 1990's when I was a college student. After recently watching the Kyoshiro Nemuri films and being impressed with Ichikawa Raizo, I was curious to try the Shinobi No Mono series, even though I had a vague memory of not caring much for this first film.

On re-watching this first film, I remembered why I was not overly taken with the film. It is slow going with a lot of intrigue but very little action, much different than the Kyoshiro Nemuri films. Raizo is still good though. He plays Ishikawa Goemon, a young Iga ninja. At the start of the film, he has ambitious dreams of becoming the master of his ninja clan. After engaging in an affair with his master's neglected wife, Goemon is exiled from the clan and given two tasks. The first of these is to commit robberies to help the clan with expenses. The second is to kill Nobunaga Oda (played by Tomisaburo Wakayama from Lone Wolf and Cub), a cruel warlord that is the target of several ninja clans. The film has a lot more plot, including a prostitute that Goemon falls for and a rival ninja that Goemon fights (in the film's two best scenes).

Shinobi No Mono is a well shot, well made film that only occasionally grabs me. It is also problematic that the hero is mostly absent from the film's action climax (which leaves many plot threads unresolved). Viewers knowledgeable in Japanese and/or martial arts history will get more from the film than casual viewers. While I can't say that I dislike Shinobi No Mono, I must admit that I do prefer Revenge of the Ninja with Sho Kosugui as ninja films go. Call me a philistine.
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7/10
A Conan Fan's Guilty Pleasure
18 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
I am a fan of the 1982 Conan The Barbarian. I have watched it half a dozen times and own the DVD, Blu-ray, and soundtrack CD. My love for this film has made me seek out other films with barbarians with giant swords slaying armies and monsters. Tarkan and the Blood of the Vikings is a guilty pleasure. On an objectionable level it's awful, but I was entertained throughout, which is ultimately the test of a movie.

Being a Turkish film, Tarkan and The Blood of the Vikings is somewhat challenged in the budget department. Special effects are not so special. In the most jaw dropping moment, the film's villainess falls to her death in a pit. As she falls, a viewer can clearly see hands reaching up from the pit to grab her! I rewound and watched that shot again just to make sure I had not hallucinated. To my shame, not until the next day, after the fourth or fifth time I laughed about the technical guffaw, did I grasp the true insanity of that scene. There were no wires, no safety harness. Nope, the stunt was performed with just the optimistic faith that the crew would not drop the actress.

The short documentary "Turkish Pop Cinema" (an extra on the Mondo Macabro Turkish double feature DVD) makes clear that the actors in Turkish films were expected to be stunt men. The filmmakers did not have the knowledge or the time or the money to fake a lot of stunts. Thus, if a filmmaker wanted to have a chainsaw fight in his movie, like in Komando Behcet, he had the actors fighting with a real chainsaw. So, if an actress has to fall into a pit, well those production assistants are strong lads.

Tarkan and the Blood of the Vikings has much to offer, bloody battles (sometimes almost convincing), nice eye candy, and the cheapest looking octopus since Bride of the Monster. This creature appears four times in the film, as if the producer was determined to get his money's worth even if the monster's eyes never move.

I realize I have not mentioned the plot. The plot is the least interesting facet of Tarkan and the Blood of the Vikings, so I am skipping it. However, I would not skip buying another Tarkan film if Mondo Macabro wanted to release a second Turkish double feature.

One final note, I should mention that I trashed the Turkish Superman movie The Return of Superman a couple months ago. Why that film was an ordeal to sit through while Tarkan and the Blood of the Vikings was a hoot may come down to the fact that I always liked Conan more than Superman.
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7/10
Slightly Better Than the First Film
18 April 2019
Trapped, The Crimson Bat is the second in the Crimson Bat series. I thought the first one was okay but nothing great. The second is a bit of an improvement, so I am upping the rating by one star.

In this one, the blind swordswoman Oichi runs afoul with a female villain using a whip made of the hair of women hurt by men (is there paperwork on that?). In spite of the other review, I don't think this is the same villainous as in the first film. The characters have different names (at least in the subtitles) and are played by different actresses. After Oichi nearly dies from the venom of snakes thrown by the villainess (!), she is rescued and nursed back to health by a simple farmer. Oichi falls for her savior and wants to settle down and be a farmer's wife. Unfortunately, the local government is crooked, cheating the farmers out of their rice. Soon, Oichi will have to pick back up her sword.

Trapped, The Crimson Bat is often considered the best of the series. The story, while simple, is well presented (sort-of a female samurai variation on Shane). Trapped, The Crimson Bat has more action than the first film and ends with a bigger action sequence (and higher body count). I liked the film, but I still found it a little disappointing. Yoko Matsuyama is not overly convincing as either blind nor as a master swordswoman. Most of the time, she swings her sword and villains run into it.

Trapped, The Crimson Bat is easy viewing for samurai film fans. I was entertained, just not enough to seek out the third and fourth entries in the series.
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6/10
An Okay Samurai Film But Nothing Great
10 April 2019
The first of the Crimson Bat films was an okay time waster but nothing overly memorable either. As a little girl, Oichi was abandoned by her mother (ran off with a lover) and then blinded in a lightning strike. She was taken in by an old man who one day was murdered by a gang of criminals because he could identify their leader. Oichi was saved by a swordsman who taught her the weapon. Within what appears to be all of six months, Oichi became a master of the sword and was on her own.

In this first adventure, Oichi was trying to protect an old man with a price on her head who wanted to see the daughter he gave up years ago. Said daughter's adopted family are poor farmers who have no choice but to sell the girl to a local brothel ran by a hard-as-nails madam.

Much of this first Crimson Bat film felt familiar. There were few surprises in the plot. The action was just okay and not very plentiful. The best thing about the film was the character of Obun, a female croupier that Oichi upsets, but that plot point remained underused.
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6/10
Decent Max Ophuls Film, But Best Appreciated by Completists
10 April 2019
Comedy of Money is a somewhat different film than what I have seen from director Max Ophuls. The tone is lighter and the setting the (then) modern day.

Brand is a respected bank employee with a pretty daughter just beginning her career as a physical education teacher. However, Brand has a brother-in-law, Ferdinand, who is a scoundrel. Ferdinand runs a con on the rich. He offers to sell them his dog, takes their money, and then, when he is out of sight, whistles for the dog to come running to him. The bank wants Brand to dissociate himself from Ferdinand, yet Brandt cannot do it. One day, Brand is to deliver money to another bank. This money disappears. Brand is accused of theft and arrested. The charges are soon dismissed due to lack of evidence. However, Brand's name is damaged. Both he and his daughter are fired from their jobs, and the bills begin to pile up. Then, when things are at their bleakest, another bank seeks out Brand for a new job, bank manager. There has to be catch, right?

The print that I watched had vague subtitles that made some of the characters' motives unclear. Regardless, I still feel comfortable stating that this is not a film that is going to be re-discovered as a classic any time soon. The film is pleasant enough and easy to watch. However, it does not seem like a film from a major director. The film does feature a few of the long(ish) tracking shots that the director is known for. My favorite is a circular shot as Brand, now bank director, dresses down Ferdinand, now the bank's doorman. I also like a montage of bills being typed up from early in the film. I was less taken with the film's carnival barker, acting as a chorus, who breaks the fourth wall. Also, there is no getting around the fact that I never found the film funny, even the more farcical elements (like a talkative butler).

Comedy of Money is best watched by Max Ophuls completists. Most viewers can probably skip it, although the film is a painless viewing experience.
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Good Collections of Trailers But the Bonus Features Are a Mixed Bag
9 February 2019
I picked this disk set up because I like trailers. I had never heard of Stephen Romano who created this set (and whose name is on the title). Apparently a writer and screenwriter, Romano released a book called Shock Festival that spotlighted films that that did not exist. I have not read the book, so I cannot comment on it. To supplement that book, Romano released this DVD set, which included faux trailers for some of the "films" he created in his book. First off, the viewer is presented with a quandary. Are the fake trailers the main feature (they are listed first in the menu) or are the two disks of real trailers? I found it best for my enjoyment of the set to treat the fake trailers like a bonus feature.

Shock Festival features two feature length collection of trailers and two additional short collections. The first disk features "The Ultimate Exploitation Trailer Marathon." The description "Ultimate" might be pushing things a bit, but the collection did try to hit a variety of exploitation genres. Highlights included trailers for some of my personal favorites like The Last Days of Man on Earth, Venom, Venus in Furs, and Vice Squad. In addition, I now have to track down The Treasure of the Four Crowns based on its wild looking trailer (which began the set). Some trailers stumped me. The Female Animal, The Raiders of Leyte Gulf, The Seven Dwarfs to the Rescue, and Titillation (narrated by adult film actress Little Oral Annie) were all new to this viewer. I also got quite a bit of amusement from the teaser to the Albert Pyun's Captain America movie, which promises to be in theaters in 1990 (well, maybe a couple of theaters).

I am first a horror movie fan, so this first set is mildly disappointing for its lack of horror films. However, the second disk features a collection of only horror films. "The Ultimate Horror Marathon" kicks off with a personal favorite The Stuff and would deliver on trailers from Argento movies (Cat O' Nine Tails, Deep Red), Lucio Fulci projects (The 7 Doors of Death, and the Fulci produced The Curse), low budget ripoffs of Jaws (Great White, Grizzly), and bottom of the barrel schlock (Blood Sucking Freaks, Carnival of Blood). I was entertained and even stumped by one movie (Satan's Black Wedding).

In addition, disk two features TV spots, many for films that I am surprised got advertised (Beyond the Door II, Cry of the Prostitute), ten trailers for Independent International Pictures' movies, and a short interview with Sam Sherman who used to own IIP.

All of that are definite pluses. However, the much hyped fake trailers were neither convincing nor entertaining. The one (major) exception was the fun, brief trailer for Evolver. Most of the others looked like cheap 21st Century films trying to look like movies from an earlier time period. If these films really existed, Evolver is the only one I would watch. The trailers for the others failed to make me want to see the movies.

I also was not overly taken with what I heard from the two audio commentaries. Stephen Romano is a decent speaker and tells a few interesting stories on his two tracks, but he rambles and talks only sporadically about the movies featured on either trailer collection. The other commentary is from someone named Uncle Creepy, who thinks he is funnier than I do. I gave up after watching ten minutes of his talk on "The Ultimate Horror Marathon."

The bottom line is that one gets a lot of good trailers in Stephen Romano Presents Shock Festival (what an awkward title). It is well worth purchasing for them. As for the extras, one should watch with the fast forward button handy. The gold standard for trailer collections remains the Synapse 42nd Street Forever sets, particularly volumes three and four which have awesome audio commentaries.
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