Evil Brain from Outer Space (1964)

Evil Brain from Outer Space (1964)

directors  Koreyoshi Akasaka, Akira Mitsuwa
viewed: 12/13/2017

Evil Brain from Outer Space is my type of pop surrealism, like someone slipped some acid in your cheap hot sake.

It’s like an old fashioned serial meets 1950’s Superman TV show, madein Japan, of course, with bananas hackneyed dubbing, writing, and voice acting.

“I was trying to bring the brain here to you , Dr. Sakurai . Because it’s imperative that it be destroyed. To do so won’t be easy. Its indestructible.”

Okay, making fun of the dialog or voiceover is like shooting fish in a barrel. That said, I’m not sure the American soundtrack could be improved upon. It’s pure silly awesome genius.

This film, as it is, is an edited fabrication for American audiences of a couple of Super Giant movies from late 1950’s Japan.  Really, it’s one of a set, including Atomic Rulers of the World, Attack from Space and Invaders from Space, all adapted from the film series featuring Japan’s first cinematic superhero.

The action is almost non-stop and trying to transcribe the plot seems near impossible. It’s best taken as is, a straight-up late-night (or anytime) hallucination of cosmic weirdness and hilarious wonder, and 1950’s parkour, by which I mean lots of jumping and editing for action fights and leaps and flying by the seat of your tights (attached to a visible cable). Also, some really cute kids are in it, though they turn into other cute kids partway through (I think.)

That’s the point: don’t think. Just enjoy.

Fat City (1972)

Fat City (1972) movie poster

director John Huston
viewed: 12/10/2017

Fat City is a man’s man’s man’s world but it would be nothing without a woman or a girl. And that woman is Susan Tyrell.

Susan Tyrell, is there any movie she doesn’t completely dominate? Stacy Keach and Jeff Bridges are the pugilists, the centers of the story here. And there is a great performance by Nicholas Colasanto (who would go on to be best known as Coach on TV’s Cheers). But Susan Tyrell.

“Thing you got to understand about her, she’s a juicehead.”

She doesn’t just dominate the scenes she’s in, she dominates the film. And it’s a hell of a good film to dominate. In fact, Fat City is a great fucking movie about the futility of human existence, the blood, sweat, and tears that add up to fuck all, and even going down mano y mano, you’re going down.

“The job I’d really like ain’t been invented.”

How many great fucking movies did John Huston make? In many decades and eras of American cinema. Here, he’s working with Leonard Gardner, adapting his own novel about Stockton, CA in the late 1950’s, a brutal, humanist haunt of clapboard reality, cheap bars, cheap work, human struggle. And it’s amazing.

“The pride of Stockton,” this is how Keach gets announced at a bout on the low echelons of the boxing scene. There is something here, too, shooting in then contemporary early 1970’s Stockton, storefronts and skid rows soon after demolished.

But Susan Tyrell, all day long, every day. She takes a character in the novel who is not so much a character but a thin figure of a drunk and makes indelible work of it. Amazing stuff.

Post Script: The LA Weekly may have suddenly gone to shit with its new ownership, but this 2000 article about Susan Tyrell is amazing: My So-Called Rotten Life by Paul Callum.

The Shape of Water (2017)

The Shape of Water (2017) movie poster

director Guillermo del Toro
viewed: 12/10/2017 at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema – New Mission, SF, CA

Though it’s not post-modern in most ways, Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is a revisionist horror fantasy.

It’s the movie in which the monster gets the girl.

Del Toro mashes up and masticates a lot of different things here, including the 1960’s aesthetics and period shorthand of TV’s Mad Men, all while simmering in the sauce of lush designs. With its initial tone of fairy tale, I first thought that the world of The Shape of Water was indeed a fantasy, like one of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro. But as the film wears on, this is very much meant to be the Maryland of the 1960’s.

The creature, beautifully designed indeed, is the romantic hero here. How is it so different than the Abe Sapien of del Toro’s Hellboy films? Inhabited by Doug Jones, as in the other films, the creature is really only a shade away.  I find this somewhat perplexing.

The film, however, isn’t some miraculous fantasy love story. Well, it is and it isn’t. The writing is less than great. After watching del Toro’s television show The Strain (a bit), the cracks and lacks in quality are more acceptable in pulpier genre junk than vaguely arthouse dreamwork. As inverted as the concept is, the execution is almost pedestrian outside of the design work.

The Crater Lake Monster (1977)

The Crater Lake Monster (1977) movie poster

director William R. Stromberg
viewed: 12/08/2017

The Crater Lake Monster, if it could talk, would probably take a Rodney Dangerfield defense, “I don’t get no respect!”

Case in point, The Crater Lake Monster is a plesiosaur, like Nessie. Is that what it looks like on the poster?

In reality, it’s very capably and decently-produced for a regional horror flick out of 1977.  It’s downright quaint for 1977, too, a total throwback to The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957),  The Giant Behemoth (1959) or Reptilicus (1961), a giant monster movie, with action rendered in stop-motion effects. The newest of those comparison points was 15 years prior. 1977 was the year of Star Wars (as if anyone needed me to mention that).

I’m talking quaint.

The actors, all across the board, are a strange selection of thespians. The comic relief characters are charming but maybe not so good to take up as much screen time as they do. Still I was sad when one of them got eaten. Sad, but glad too because you need somebody to get eaten and animated in the mouth of the monster.

Total props to David W. Allen and team because this monster, clearly on a seriously low budget, is an excellent bit of craftsmanship and totally makes the movie. I love this stuff, no matter how I, you, or anyone else “rate” it. It’s also kind of awesome.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

director Shinya Tsukamoto
viewed: 12/06/2017

They don’t make ’em like they used to.

Shinya Tsukamoto’s bombast bomb blast of body horror surrealist industrial phantasmagoria, Tetsuo: The Iron Man not only holds up almost 30 years later, but in my viewing, is even better.

The last time I saw Tetsuo was in film school back in the Nineties. Though visual images, ideas, and impressions were deeply emblazoned on my brain, I had really forgotten what a radical visual effects, editing, and pacing of the film. Also, how little explication is given to the narrative.

I love moviemaking that incorporates so much such tactile techniques. This is totally 16mm film and from the stop-motion animations and other pre-digital effects, you can almost feel the crew making this with their hands on the actual film. When editing was editing actual celluloid strips of photo-exposed images.

Brilliant.

Dark Passage (1947)

Dark Passage (1947) movie poster

director Delmer Daves
viewed: 12/04/2017

Dark Passage is one of the great San Francisco noirs. Directed by Delmer Daves, a native of the city, the movie features a litany of shots around both San Francisco and Marin, capturing the City by the Bay in its state of being in the late 1940’s.

But that’s just one angle on the film.

It’s Bogey and Bacall in their third screen pairing. It’s also the great Agnes Moorehead in a nasty, venomous role.

It’s also the big breakthrough for pulp crime novelist David Goodis, an adaptation of his novel of the same name that had been serialized in the Saturday Evening Post and would wind up his most well-known work for years beyond his death.

I think that the last time I watched Dark Passage, I had just recently read the novel, and I had more of an issue with the film’s notable first-person camera perspective that hides Humphrey Bogart from the camera through the first entire hour. This time through it, I enjoyed that gimmicky approach, enjoyed the approach of the whole film, flecked with great character performances throughout. (The best sequence is the plastic surgery one, with the disgraced artist surgeon and the sly cab driver).

“Ever see a botched plastic job?”

Dark Passage isn’t Goodis’s best novel, but it’s a great film noir, worth taking in for a number of reasons or angles.

The Undertaker (1988)

The Undertaker (1988) movie poster

director Franco Steffanino
viewed: 12/03/2017

In a world full of morons…

The Undertaker is not quite London After Midnight but this never released lost film was Frankensteined together for release with public domain flicks and who knows what else. Joe Spinell also isn’t exactly Lon Chaney, nor is director Franco Staffanino anyone’s idea of Tod Browning.

This sutured, re-edited flick is a little hard to fully estimate. I suppose the padding and attempts at continuity were well-intended, but ultimately, they end up changing whatever vision was originally there.

The Joe Spinell scenes are a lot of fun. Still can only imagine what they might have been in a completed context.

Attraction (1969)

Attraction (1969) movie poster

director Tinto Brass
viewed: 12/03/2017

The 1960’s and early 1970’s were radical times, in the world, and in the cinema. “Avant-garde” may have been a recycled term to describe a lot of what was coming out influenced by the French New Wave and further radicalization, but challenging times made for challenging films, and particularly, films that challenged cinema, meaning, and all things status quo.

Though Tinto Brass is often described as avant-garde, as is his 1969 film Attraction, I found myself questioning its rigor.

Anita Sanders is a young woman about town (the town being London), and the film is arguably all her perspective, her looking (voyeurism and desire) and interior images from her mind and impressions. It’s about sex and sexuality, sure, but also Vietnam, advertising, art, race, violence, all to the decidedly psychedelic groove of Freedom (the band).

For my money, the success level of Attraction‘s avant-garde-ness is moderate. I’m thinking of other films of the era that I’ve seen that were more radical and challengeing. Take a lot of Godard, but more specifically Věra Chytilová’s Daisies (1966), Jaromil Jireš’s Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Dušan Makavejev’s W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (1971), and to some extent as well, Marco Ferreri’s Dillinger Is Dead (1969).

I don’t know. I’ll see how it sits. It’s cool but not too cool.

Jack the Giant Killer (1962)

Jack the Giant Killer (1962) movie poster

director Nathan H. Juran
viewed: 12/02/2017

Nathan H. Juran is not a major name in horror and science fiction cinema, but it isn’t for lack of work or even lack of notable works. From The Deadly Mantis (1957), 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957), The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958),  The Brain from Planet Arous (1958), Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958), to First Men in the Moon (1964), he made a lot of pictures with a lot of special effects. Though he’s probably best known for the films in which Ray Harryhausen provided the stop-motion action, Juran rose from the art department and worked with a number of creative teams.

Jack the Giant Killer is almost a knock-off of his more classic The 7th Voyage of Sinbad with Harryhausen. They brought back hero Kerwin Mathews and villain Torin Thatcher and straight-up ripped off Harryhausen’s Cyclops from the earlier film. The monster designs and execution of the action are by no means up to Harryhausen’s level, but there’s actually quite a bit of action and creatures here.

“Captain! More witches on the quarterdeck!”

Jack (Mathews) does slay a giant. He also fights another two-headed giant but that one is really slain by the octo-whatever-serpent. My personal favorites are the witches, which are not stop-motion but oddly-costumed ladies with different powers that attack in glowing color-tinted action, setting animated fire to the ship and blowing wind all around. They’re really almost like a cavalcade of television kaiju characters.

Fun stuff.

Coco (2017)

Coco (2017) movie poster

director Lee Unkrich
viewed: 12/02/2017 at the Balboa Theater, SF, CA

My kids are both teenagers now, so all Disney or Pixar movies are no longer mandatory screening. I was actually a little surprised when my daughter asked if we could go see Coco.

After the atrocious and annoying Frozen “short”, the double-branded Coco begins. Patting itself on the back for its innovations in CGI and its due diligence to Mexican culture, the film opens up on the story of a long-lost patriarch and the remembrances of the Day of the Dead.

My daughter said her Spanish teacher had encouraged seeing it. And she was pleased by how many words she recognized (though I frankly knew about as much of the  Español myself.

It’s vividly-realized. I mean, this is Pixar, after all. The land of the dead is gorgeously depicted with meticulous details abounding in shot after shot.

Still, I wasn’t enthralled in it. I’m still trying to weigh exactly why this was. My daughter did enjoy it.

And I enjoyed going with her. I don’t know how many more of these we’ve got.

How old were you the last animated film you saw with your parents as a child? What was it?