Raw Force (1982)

Raw Force (1982) movie poster

director Edward D. Murphy
viewed: 03/09/2018

Raw Force is The Karate Kid‘s older brother who took a lot of PCP, hung out with the wrong crowd from the Burbank Kung Fu Club in a room covered with posters from girly magazines while scarfing Filipino junk food. And dabbled in human trafficking and cannibalism.

Also, monks and zombies? A Nazi villain? And the most unflappable exotic dancer of all time.

“God forbid we should run out of liquor.”

Truly, one for the ages.

Turkey Shoot (1982)

Turkey Shoot (1982) movie poster

director Brian Trenchard-Smith
viewed: 01/23/2018

Quintessential Ozploitation from Brian Trenchard-Smith, the most likely auteur of the genre. Turkey Shoot is admittedly derivative of I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang and The Most Dangerous Game, but in a dystopian future and a lot of random nudity and dismemberment.

In other words, quintessential Ozploitation.

Also, Olivia Hussey: so gorgeous.

The Battle Wizard (1977)

The Battle Wizard (1977) movie poster

director Pao Hsueh-li
viewed: 01/19/2018

As a kid, I was never won over by martial arts flicks. They were almost nutty enough for me, but I never saw one that really blew my mind or even fulfilled whatever it is I needed fulfilling in such fare.

I guess that is because I never saw one with laser fingers, lobster-armed villains, snake projecting women, or guys with stilt chicken feet. Once you start getting into the more phenomenal fantasy stuff, that’s when I start looking around for a martial arts studio that can teach me to fly.

The Battle Wizard may not be the best of the wacky fantasy martial arts stuff, but it’s certainly got enough of it to endear itself to one. That and a breakneck pace that will have your eyes all aflutter.

Female Prisoner Scorpion: 701’s Grudge Song (1973)

Female Prisoner Scorpion: 701's Grudge Song (1973) movie poster

viewed: 01/10/2018

Yasuharu Hasebe picks up the reins where Shunya Itō left off, directing the fourth and final feature of the Meiko Kaji “Scorpion” films. Female Prisoner Scorpion: 701’s Grudge Song is nowhere as good or satisfying. It’s much more conventional than any of Itō’s films.

Kaji escapes the cops and is found hiding out in a strip club lavatory by Teruo Kudo (Masakazu Tamura), a semi-emasculated former student protester.  Is this the first time Nami (Kaji) has needed anyone’s help?

Nami inspires Kudo to help her, though the cops focus in on him as her accomplice. He takes the beatings with masochistic fatalism, but vows revenge. Unfortunately for Nami, and for us, it’s amateur hour for with Kudo. Despite not giving her up to the cops, he leads them back to her hideout and then plans a failed robbery.

Does Nami really like him? She has sex that isn’t rape for once but also doesn’t seem entirely consensual or pleasurable. At the end, she tells him that it was another person that loved him, not her. An insight that isn’t very satisfying.

The Shunya Itō/Meiko Kaji films are amazing. At first I was thinking “Wow, she’s also Lady Snowblood!, these films must have been influenced by those.” Only if so, it would have been the other way around. I also didn’t realize until viewing these that she was also the star of the Stray Cat Rock series, which I’ll have to delve into more deeply. And then at the very end of the whole thing, I finally realized that it’s also Kaji singing the iconic theme song “Urami Bushi”.

I catch up eventually.

Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion (1972)

Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion (1972) movie poster

director Shunya Itō
viewed: 01/07/2017

I was so gobsmacked watching Female Convict Scorpion: Beast Stable (1973) that I headed for Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion, the first film of Shunya Itō’s trilogy. Weirdly, I couldn’t get subtitles to go on it, but I went ahead with the movie anyways.

More conventionally a “women in prison” movie than Beast Stable, it’s still a hyper-stylized affair with the wildest tilting cameras, dropping 90 degrees, capturing at full width the full height of the image, just sideways. This effect is used to command the space in weird and new ways, not just a tilt for wonky perspective but a whole different approach to the use of the frame. And Itō does it effectively in spades.

It’s the introduction of Meiko Kaji as Nami Matsushima, a.k.a. Scorpion, the taciturn killer lady with “looks that kill”. It’s interesting how the film is structured, opening with a prison break before delving in flashback exactly how Nami got into prison.

This movie is a riot. A prison riot, if you will.

I fell fast for this series and Meiko Kaji and Shunya Itō. Color me enthralled.

Female Convict Scorpion: Beast Stable (1973)

Female Convict Scorpion: Beast Stable (1973) movie poster

director Shunya Itō
viewed: 01/07/2017

I started Female Convict Scorpion: Beast Stable, not really knowing what I was in for. But before it was over, I was regretting not having watched the series in order. Also, I think for the first time in ages, I was in love…with a movie.

It’s not that you have to watch the films in order, but director Shunya Itō’s trilogy, pumped out in quick succession is itself a triptych of pulp mania and psychedelic surrealism, each unique on its own.

Beast Stable opens with the gorgeous Meiko Kaji stalked on a subway, escapes by hacking off an arresting officer’s arm and running for it, arm dangling from her handcuffs. She later uses a tombstone to carve through the chain, spotted by a prostitute turning a trick nearby.

The camerawork and cinematography are lurid, alive and vividly inventive, pulsing with Bava-esque colors. Perversity and revenge are everywhere, fulfilled by Nami Matsushima, the Scorpion. Takashi Miike, eat your heart out. This is sublime pulp Grand Guignol pop art.

The soundtrack is also incredible. I was so enraptured, I had to immediately go to the first film, Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion, to see more of what I’d been missing.

Deadly Prey (1986)

Deadly Prey (1986) VHS cover

director David A. Prior
viewed: 12/30/2017

Deadly Prey isn’t my Best-Worst movie but it certainly deserves its place in the pantheon.

Ted Prior may not have been born to play Mike Danton, but he certainly built himself up into the monster-bodies hunk to go running around in his near altogether.  His brother, writer/director David A. Prior (RIP), has given him a place in celluloid (and VHS tape) history.

There are many laugh out loud moments.

How many times do people just wander upon Danton when he’s not paying attention?

When he spits in his hand to clean off the worm I’m not sure what I thought was going to happen.

The Wraith (1986)

The Wraith (1986) movie poster

director Mike Marvin
viewed: 12/16/2017

I think I’ve found the inspiration for every episode of Regular Show. Creator J. G. Quintel’s entire aesthetic is based on the 1980’s: pumpin’ hair rock numbers, supernatural or extraterrestrial intrigue, and cars. While there are doubtless many such touchpoints, 1986’s The Wraith has it all in spades.

Kicking off with an awesome opening of celestial lights zooming across the the high desert cactus-studded night, it almost seems like The Wraith is going to be good stuff. When all that culminates into a motorcycle-helmeted figure and fantasy racing car, I guess unless you’re J.G. Quintel, you’re going to wind up disappointed.

It’s got an interesting cast. Two of Hollywood’s now insane tweakers, Charlie Sheen and Randy Quaid appear, the latter a decent actor. There’s also Nick Cassavetes and Sherilyn Fenn, but the best performance is by Clint Howard’s hair.

While it’s definitely not great, I liked aspects of The Wraith. The specificity of its locations, the desert roads, the burger shop, the swimming hole, the airplane graveyard, all offer a character to the enterprise. I could imagine someone who saw this at a certain point in their life finding it to be their favorite movie (I’m looking at you, J.G. Quintel!!!)

For the rest of us? Who knows?

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) movie poster

director Matthew Vaughn
viewed: 10/01/2017 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

My kids both wanted to see this so I complied.

None of us was overly impressed. We had watched and kind of enjoyed the first Kingsman movie, though the political reading of the film I’d read at the Guardian made me feel a little dirty.

I started to try to get my head around a political reading of Kingsman: The Golden Circle and it’s ripe for criticism and analysis. Matthew Vaughn is a talented action director, one of the few fairly conservative mainstream big Hollywood directors still pumping out A-list stuff.

I have to say this Kingsman is kind of interesting in its un-PC brashness, but it’s also kind of a flop as a successful action flick. The action is so over-the-top that from the opening car chase, we’re seeing wildly impossible flights of physical impossibility at such breakneck pace that even if you don’t have the time to question it, it’s impossible to pretend this isn’t anything but highly manipulated CGi.

I could go on but it’s not really all that worth it. A couple other thoughts:

  • Elton John was maybe the best part of the movie.
  • Channing Tatum was a bit of a bait-and-switch as he spends most of his time not doing anything.
  • I’ve got a feeling that this was more “cartoonish” than any of the comic books.

The Zero Boys (1986)

The Zero Boys (1986) VHS cover

director Nico Mastorakis
viewed: 09/18/2017

Kelli Maroney really nails it on the head when she tells Joe Estevez that his crew The Zero Boys are “all soon to be yuppies”. It’s not often a character in a movie speaks the mind of the audience so concretely.

Our heroes are automatic weapon-lugging paintballers, who went from worst (thus “The Zero Boys”) to first in their little play action weekend warrior fun. Not exactly the types of protagonists that I particularly identify with. Luckily Maroney joins the gang for their celebratory outing in the woods. I always liked Maroney.

Nico Mastorakis does put this together pretty well, though it’s nowhere as interesting our out-there are his Island of Death (1974).

The hillbilly snuff film crew thing, if that really was what was going on, was a little hard to decipher. For a while I thought maybe it’s a good ol’ slasher guy or even that this would turn out to be pranks played by the team that they had beaten with Maroney in on the gags.

A decent effort.