Saturday, July 5, 2008

Hall of Strangeness Part XXX

Versus – (Ryuhei Kitamura) A reincarnated samurai turned yakuza thug, escapes from jail to meet up with his aggressive gang in the aptly named “Forest of Resurrection”. When a dispute occurs over a kidnapped girl, one of the flunkies gets killed and quickly returns as a zombie. That’s when it occurs to the rest of the gang that they’ve been burying hits in the woods for years. The plot is mostly an excuse for an endless series of battles involving samurai, gangsters, zombies, vampires, government agents and demon lords to name a few. Exhausting.
Artistry: ** Fun: **** Strangeness: ***

Videodrome – (David Cronenberg) Arguably Cronenberg’s best film, Videodrome features a sleazy television producer looking for the edgiest show he can find. After viewing a torture scene on pirate satellite, he sets out on a trail that eventually leads him to media tycoon Brian O’Blivion, who only appears to the public via television. Our hero gets more than he bargained for when he begins to experience disturbing hallucinations and spontaneous mutations. James Wood and Deborah Harry (Blondie) star.
Artistry: **** Fun: **** Strangeness: ****

Walker – (Alex Cox) The historical story of William Walker (played with crazed intensity by Ed Harris), an American manifest destiny warlord who brought despotic “democracy” to Nicaragua when he conquered the country in the 1850’s, is given shocking, satiric and exuberant treatment in Cox’s (Repo Man) visionary dip into studio funding. Cox’s searing political agenda (the parallels to Reagan era politics are spelled out in the credits) and rule-breaking violations of historical fact (including intrusions by cars, computers and a helicopter) ensured that critics and audiences were baffled and outraged, while the studio system turned their back on him forever. For the open-minded, however, Walker’s blood-drenched surrealism, inspired musical score and Harris’s majestic depiction of madness are unforgettable treats.
Artistry: **** Fun: *** Strangeness: ****

Warning Shadows – (Arthur Robinson) A jealous husband, his flirtatious wife, four smirking male admirers and an unkempt shadow-puppet wizard all gather for a life-altering dinner in this rarely watched work of German Expressionism. After observing the sexual tension in the room, the puppeteer puts on a show, enchanting his hosts and awakening their shadows to act out the tragedy they are about to undergo. German Expressionism’s love affair with shadows reaches its peak in this film, benefitting from Robinson’s decision to work purely with visuals (silent, with no intertitles).
Artistry: *** Fun: ** Strangeness: ***

Waxworks – (Paul Leni) A poet is assigned the task of writing stories for the macabre denizens of a wax museum, and so he immerses himself in three imaginative tales featuring the Caliph of Baghdad, Ivan the Terrible and Jack the Ripper. This silent anthology features an all-star German Expressionism cast that includes Emil Janning (The Blue Angel, The Last Laugh), Conrad Veidt (The Hands of Orlac, The Man Who Laughs ), Werner Krauss (Dr. Caligari himself) and William Dieterle (director of The Devil and Daniel Webster and Sex in Chains).
Artistry: *** Fun: ** Strangeness: ***

8 comments:

Mad Dog said...

I would still argue that Eastern Promises is better than Videodrome.

BTW, you're a Kitamura fan? I had trouble reconciling the fun rating with your "Exhausting" comment. Personally, I haven't seen a Kitamura film yet, but from what I've seen and heard from others, I don't think I'd be a big fan. I hear it's all style over substance with over-the-top special effects. He directed the cutscenes for the GC remake of Metal Gear Solid and I hear he put in a bunch of Matrix-esque effects. It seemed for a while there Kitamura was the favorite of every Japanophile out there, but it seems to have mellowed over the last few years.

Walrus said...

Mad Dog,

We've had this conversation before. Kitamura is fun in the ridiculous way that Miike or "Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl" is, but no, I'm not a particularly big fan of any of those. Versus and Godzilla: Final Wars are both movie-length fight scenes with no restraint, a concept that I can appreciate, but which is admittedly pretty shallow. From the way you react here and in the Vampire Week post on Versus, I would guess that you are too set on disliking him for a conversion to be possible. Still, you'd have more to find fault with if you watched one of his films :)

Walrus said...

And yes, if you are judging by things like quality and craft and all that, "Eastern Promises" is definitely superior. Still... I love Videodrome.

Mad Dog said...

Well who can fault you for that~ <3

The extended porn scenes on the Criterion disc are hilarious.

Tim said...

Versus, man. Some pals and I tried watching that. We love over-the-top action of the Eastern variety (Tony Jaa, Bruce Lee, Zatoichi, Miike, Beat Takeshi, Sonny Chiba) but we were left bored by that over-hyped mess. This was back when the Kitamura craze was at its height and every Internet troll and pirated Hong Kong DVD salesmen could barely put down polishing their Rei Ayanami matte finish 18" dolls to sing his praises. Understandably, we were psyched to see what this action visionary could bring to the table. And that cover! Like a live-action Dante from Devil May Cry!

What a crushing disappointment. The fight scenes were dwarfed by the constantly-360-degree-circling camera and the dumb premise alone wasn't enough to entertain. And the set-up, Jesus Christ ... it's awfully talky for a dumb action flick, arguably the number one cardinal sin of most Asian cinema. All that talking and nothing was said to make me give a damn. It was just boring, actually a lot like a poorly-directed Final Fantasy cutscene. Or Power Rangers. We couldn't even finish it.

Now it's been a while since I've seen it but Returner was a far more successful stupid Japanese action movie. The endless aping of Hollywood action tropes (thank god no one cares about The Matrix anymore) is eye-rollingly awful but at least it had characters I could root for. Al dente~

- Tim

Walrus said...

I would say Versus is most damaged by its ability to become boring through its relentlessness, but I would not say it is any worse than Sonny Chiba or mid-level Miike. Even Bruce Lee has some real tiresome "classics."

It may be different for me, since I live pretty far outside the real world's hype industry. I don't hear about things through the usual channels and so things like summer blockbusters and Japanese fanboy fodder are not rubbed in face as hard as most consumers (though I share their anger and indignation when it does happen). This struck me yesterday as I was thinking to myself how excited I was about the upcoming release this month of Hungarian auteur Bela Tarr's 7-hour "Satan's Tango" while the rest of the world is screaming over "Hancock."

But here's an even better idea than debating whether we should dismiss or tolerate Versus: Turn "Walker" into a cult classic. It is very underrated and deserves a loving fan base. Bring me your reactions to "Walker," and we can get into a discussion that actually deserves our passion.

Mad Dog said...

The thought of an anachronistic historical movie IS appealing.. :3

And hey, I heard Satan's Tango referenced last week. So I'm actually sort of proud I had heard of this before you mentioned it.

P.S.: I saw The Last Emperor and was not overly impressed. But I thought the same thing of Little Buddha, so...

Walrus said...

Yeah, I know I should resee Last Emperor, but I remember not being all that into it before. I've not seen Little Buddha, but I'm can't see the Keanu element working out. I do think Bertolucci is one of the best at visuals, but I'd recommend "The Conformist" (my vote for all-time best-shot film) or "Last Tango in Paris." I hear "Spider Strategem" and "1900" are good, too.