Movie Reviews 296 – Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)

April 21, 2017

While William Shatner is an actor everyone is familiar with, his career is denoted by his role as Captain James T. Kirk and a number of TV series. Not counting any of the Star Trek movies, you’d be hard pressed to name a feature film in which he starred. For myself Kingdom of the Spiders immediately comes to mind.

Released two years after Jaws, I suspect this film was partly aiming to tap into that “natural animal gone amok” theme, immediately opening with a similar prey Point of View killing shot where we have a spider walking a beeline towards a cow and then hearing its last panicked Moo. OK, it doesn’t have quite the same dramatic effect as a Shark swimming in for a kill, but this was but one of many thinly veiled swipes from Jaws. As the troublesome taratula carnage spreads just before the town’s highly anticipated County Fair is about to begin the Sheriff wants to make sure that the nearby ranch (which we are supposed to believe is a large tourist draw) is not going to be closed down and put into quarantine. Sound familiar?

But let’s get back to The Shat in the role of Rack Hansen (how’s that for a character name) who plays a doctor ‘playing doctor’ if you get my drift. Well a veterinarian anyhow whose lotharian longings are directed towards both his brother’s widow and Diane (Tiffany Bolling) the big city arachnologist who comes to help when the local tarantulas begin grouping in the hundreds and start killing large prey including people. Rack is the one who sent in a dead calf’s blood for analysis prompting Diane to arrive with the distressing and unbelievable news that the venom found in the blood sample was hundreds of times more potent than normal tarantula bites. With Rack’s eyes are on her as much as the spiders I suspect that he too wished he had eight eyes so he could scope in more than one woman at a time. In typical Shat fashion he is literally all over the women, rolling on the ground with his sister-in-law after a horse ride in which he lassos her and then proposing Diane at every opportunity.

But the spiders are the draw of the movie and you won’t be disappointed in that regard. Numbering in the hundreds for many shots, I suspect many were fake replicas. But the close up scenes used the real buggers and I have to give credit to the cast as most of the actors had them crawling over them at some point and quite a few even handle a bunch of the eight legged crawlers in their hands.

The story sums up the reason for the invasion as DDT killing the spider’s sources of food leading them to be more aggressive and seek out new subsistence supplies. But who cares, right? We came for The Shat who gets to entertain us in a scene which he gets to overact while seemingly in his death throes. Now for real acting the movie does deliver with the roles of the rancher couple that are the initial hosts of the spiders, played by the great Woody Strode and Altovise Davis, Sammy Davis Jr’s wife, in what turned out to be her most memorable role.

As was the case for the movie Squirm, all I could get my hands on was the novelization of the movie to read.  Why was it so hard for me to watch all these bug movies? Perhaps that is why I appreciate them so much today? In any case if you do have a chance to watch this one be sure to stick around until the very last frame for a monumental matte painting shot that’ll be sure to give you the creeps.

Movie Reviews 295 – Death Wish (1974)

April 14, 2017

During the 1970’s cop dramas were well established cinema mainstays with such hits as The French Connection (1971), Serpico (1973) and The Seven-Ups (1973). The renegade cop concept was explored in Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry (1971) but it was Charles Bronson in Death Wish which exploded vigilantism in the form of citizen rebellion to the forefront.

Laying on an idyllic tropical beach, middle aged couple Paul Kersey (Bronson) and his wife Joanna (Hope Lange) are savouring the last moments of their romantic vacation.  We then cut to the stark contrast of them back in overcrowded New York city, sitting in gridlocked traffic amid incessant sirens, under the soot and smog skyline.

With Paul back at work as architect in a large firm, a trio of young punks note the home address after Joanna and their newlywed daughter leave a grocery store leaving behind an order to have their purchases delivered. Posing as the delivery boy, the thugs burst into the apartment and proceed to dole out one of the most brutal and realistic rape and beating scenes ever filmed – even eclipsing that in A Clockwork Orange.

With his wife now dead, his daughter in a catatonic shock tormented by screaming fits when touched, Paul’s life is forever changed. He takes notice of his surroundings, punctuated by violence, fear lurking in every nook and cranny, and now suspicious of every encounter. His newfound anxiety leads him to carry a coin filled sock which soon comes in handy when he is confronted by mugger. With the basic weapon he manages to repel the hood, but more importantly gains a bit of fortitude and courage.

On a business trip to Arizona his associate (Stuart Margolin) treats him to a visit to a wild west frontier amusement park where cowboy gun battles are recreated, reminding him of how old style justice was meted with a gun as much as in a courtroom. Later at a shooting range he demonstrates his crack shot marksmanship to his friend explaining his instruction by his hunter father, but also how an incident in his past has made him renounce the use of guns, going so far as to being classified as conscientious objector during the Korean war. But his associate believes otherwise gives him a surprise parting gift of a revolver just as he embarks on his way back to New York.

Conflicted but also emboldened, Paul visits Central Park late one night, baiting the muggers in the notorious fertile urban jungle. As expected he makes his first kill, and retreats back home where he vomits in shock and revulsion. But the revulsion is temporary and Paul soon adopts regular hunting forays into the night.

Piecing together crime scene evidence  the police soon figure out that they have a vigilante on their hands and lieutenant Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia) leads the investigation. The news that a vigilante is running around the city makes national headline news with billboards and magazine covers marking the event and energizing the city. But the police and municipal leaders try to downplay the conspicuous guardian worrying about copycats and others taking up arms while noting that muggers themselves have taken notice with a marked decrease in crime. The question remains, is the vigilante a hero or a criminal? And what will they do with him when they do catch him?

A lot of the success of the movie was that it hit on a very real crime problem that was rampant in many large cities at the time, New York being a poster child for murders having tripled its rate in the years between 1960 and the mid 70’s. The fear exemplified by Paul was real and seeing something being done, even if only in a movie, was somehow satisfying. The philosophical questions it raises regarding the morality of vigilantism and self defense remain as relevant today as it was then.

With convincing acting and realistic, savage scenes, Death Wish still holds today as the seminal vigilante film and satisfies from the very beginning up to the memorable, final finger pointing gun and smirk on Bronson’s face. As you watch, keep you eye out for a number of future stars playing minor roles.

With three of the four sequels sitting on my DVD shelves I also watched some of them, none coming close to this film, and each stretching the concept further into mediocrity and which play out more like extended cop show episodes than feature films.

On a parting note I have just learned that Bruce Willis is set to star in a reboot directed by Eli Roth – noted for the Cabin Fever and Hostel series of horror movies -set to be released this year. Not sure what to make of that but it will still be tough to match this original.

Movie Reviews 294 – Shrooms (2007)

April 7, 2017

When prim and proper Tara (Lindsey Haun) joins a bunch of friends on a trip to Ireland her real goal was to strike a romance with a foreign friend of the gang, the Irish local Jake (Jack Huston, the latest entrant in the Huston thespian dynasty). Her friends on the other hand have a slightly more mischievous goal of having Jake, a connoisseur of the hallucinogenic fungi, host them to a wild ‘Magic” mushroom camping trip.

As Jake drives the vacationers deep into lush and damp forests of the Emerald Isle the trip is temporarily marred when their camper van runs into a wild goat only to have a pair of hillbillies gladly scamper off with the roadkill, presumably for dinner. Later while harvesting the psilocybin mushrooms Jake neglects to inform everyone in the party that they are to avoid the similar looking “Death’s Head” Shrooms as their effects go way beyond mere head trips and can lead to paralysis and even death. Unaware of this little fact Tara ingests a Death’s Head and has a near deadly convulsing episode.

As Tara recovers later that night Jake entertains the others with a campfire tale of the Legend of the Black Brothers a religious order who ran a young offenders institution in the area. Suffice to say that local legend has it that the lone surviving victim of the most sadistic of the Black Brothers is said to roam to forests. Tara begins to experience both sightings of shadowy figures while at the same time having premonitions of ill fated demises of her friends as they begin to disperse and disappear in the backwoods. Is the legend true or are Tara’s experiences all in her head?

You would think that the filmmakers would capitalize on the possibility that Tara may merely be experiencing a distorted perception of events and her surroundings as it is made clear that that is one of the effects of the mushrooms. But unfortunately this is only hinted at briefly and then discarded as the plot evolves into a ‘by the numbers’ horror in the woods suspense with the archetypal Scooby gang as fodder (jock, primadonna, stoner, outsider, etc.) Worse yet, we have little empathy for the group of snot nosed friends as they can barely tolerate and take every opportunity to backstab one another. The hillbillies do figure in the plot but only as a distraction that further complicates the viewers take on what’s really going on. What we do get is a lot of running around, glimpses and hints of some feral child or animal, and a lot of psychotropic visuals.

The film’s marketing tagline is “Get ready to be wasted” but I didn’t realize that that would include my time watching this tale from the Land of Leprechauns. This is one bad trip and you’d be better of settling for a bowl of Lucky Charms.  At least “They’re Magically Delicious!”

Movie Reviews 293 – Barbarella (1968)

April 1, 2017

It begins with a veritable gravity defying striptease, one piece of clothing after another being excised and left to float in space. The spectacle takes place on a discernibly vintage shag carpet while an exotic music score plays and the opening credits adorn the act in progress. These suggestive and sensual characteristics are all a portents of things to come in Barbarella, the movie that brought the sexual revolution of the 60’s to science fiction cinema.

Before she became a political activist, hopped around in leotards and leggings to create and dominate the entire Workout Video industry and even winning a few Oscars, Jane Fonda (or “Hanoi Jane” as she would soon be known as) delivered the starring role as space faring sex-kitten Barbarella in one of the strangest science fiction comic adaptations to hit the screen.

The mindless plot begins with the President of Earth calling on the services of Barbarella to rescue prodigious scientist Durand Durand (Milo O’Shea) from the Tau Ceti space system worried that an invention of his, the Positronic Ray, may fall into the wrong hands. Arriving in the system Barbarella crashes into an ice planet and is soon captured by kids that unleash dolls with razor teeth. “The Catchman” (Ugo Tognazzi) whose job is to trap the kids rescues her, sailing off in a Wile E. Coyote inspired, self propelled sleigh. As he brings her back to her spaceship she agrees to his request to ‘get shagged’ the old-fashioned way and not with her customary use of  exaltation-transference pills, which she surprisingly enjoys.

Before long, her ship is sucked into some subterranean core where she meets the blind, angel-winged, bronze bodied Pygar (John Phillip Law)  and with the help of Professor Ping (legendary mime artist Marcel Marceau in a speaking role) she ends up in the land of Sogo, ruled by an Evil Tyrant who is aided by a Concierge (who is really Durand Durand). It’s all quite complicated (overly so) but Barbarella is first left to die being picked by birds (an obvious homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds), meets a bumbling sex-obsessed Dildano (David Hemmings) and is eventually tortured by an excessive sex machine.

Add in blue dyed rabbits, plexiglass and bubble sets, psychedelic liquid light show backdrops, greeting of “Love” and you may begin to understand the absurdity of this movie. Fact is, aside from the visual feast comprised of kaleidoscopic sets, lavish costumes and nubile bodies, it’s really a terrible film with an atrocious, nearly incomprehensible script, gaudy score and lame attempts at comedy.

When the characters or the annoying ‘computer’ aren’t spewing technobabble we get to hear Barbarella talking to herself aloud, usually uttering cringe inducing puns as she screws her way through the galaxy. While the entire cast looks like they’ve just come from a fashion show on a Paris catwalk sporting revealing gold lamé and feathered garments, Barbarella herself has more wardrobe changes than a bride at a Vietnamese wedding.

If the point hasn’t been understood yet this movie featuring place names that include Palace of Pleasure, Labyrinth of Love, Chamber of Dreams is all about one thing: sex.

Directed by Fonda’s then husband Roger Vadim and produced by Dino De Laurentiis, the man who would later give us two budget King Kong movies, the ill fated Dune adaptation, and the similar veined Flash Gordon, this bawdy romp encapsulate the sillier aspects of the 60’s.

But it did have quite a lasting effect in other ways. The name Durand Durand was later adopted by the musical group “Duran Duran” because they used to play in a nightclub named after the movie, while the name Barbarella has itself been adopted by many a ‘gentleman’s club’ (commonly known as strip joints to the uncultured) around the world including one right here in my home city. The concept of the Excessive Machine was used by auteur Woody Allen in Sleeper where he called it the Orgasmostron,  which was the name used in the French version of this movie.

I have to confess that while I usually prefer to seek out images of original movie posters to include with my blogs in this case I opted for the magnificent Boris Vallejo painting that was used for the 1977 re-release.

Movie Reviews 292 – The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

March 25, 2017

While it is hard to pick which one of master stop motion movie creator Ray Harryhausen’s epics is the best – there are so many – The 7th Voyage of Sinbad was certainly a milestone and is representational of the great variety of fantastic creatures he animated. Like other Harryhausen movies, the plot is not what sticks in your memories as much as which particular creations were featured. In the case of the 7th Voyage, it was the cyclops (more than one actually), the shackled giant fire breathing dragon, the enormous two headed eagle chick (and one of it’s irritated parents), and probably the most memorable of all Harryhausen creations, a sabre and shield wielding, fighting skeleton.

Without any setup, Captain Sinbad (Kerwin Mathews) and his devoted sailors find themselves battling a raging sea storm when they suddenly comes across a mysterious island. Sinbad is transporting princess Parisa (Kathryn Grant) to Baghdad not only to marry her, but to sooth relations between her homeland and his own. But as the crew is low on food and water their unscheduled landing is a fortuitous opportunity to replenish resources and do a little exploring.

With supplies restocked and preparing to leave, Sinbad spots a magician fleeing a giant cyclops on the beach shore. While they manage to save the magician, a lamp that he carried was lost and retrieved by the cyclops. The magician Sokurah (Torin Thatcher) tries to convince Sinbad to turn back to the island to get back his precious lamp but is rebuffed. Sokurah awaits his opportunity back in Baghdad and the eve before the nuptials he shrinks the princess to palm size.

With the princess’ father in a uproar and vowing vengeance to the Caliph of Baghdad, Sinbad reluctantly recruits the magician and a bunch of prisoners to join his crew for a trip back to the island to get one of the ingredients needed for the potion that can turn his princess back to normal and avert a war.

Back on the island fulfilling their quest for the ingredient – the shell from a oversized egg – Sinbad and his sailors have to deal with more cyclopse, two headed monstrosities, the gargantuan dragon, as well as the lure of a treasure trove, all while the nefarious Sokurah’s double-crosses Sinbad and the men. With the help of Barani, the genie in the lamp and a giant crossbow, Sinbad saves the princess, averts the war and live to sail another day.

The first of Harryhausen’s movies to be filmed in colour and featuring the “Dynamation” name for his miniature marvels, the film is also greatly enhanced by a memorable Bernard Herrmann (Psycho) Arabian themed score. This would be the first of three Sinbad movies Harryhausen would go on to make, although other films such as Jason and the Argonauts and his last film Clash of the Titans would also be based on mythological lore, his most imaginative subject matter. Not to disparage his earlier black and white films such as Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, 20 Million Miles to Earth  or Mighty Joe Young  – created under the tutelage of his mentor Willis O’BrienThe 7th Voyage of Sinbad – remains one of the favorites.

I was fortunate enough to have met him when he appeared for a special screening of Jason and the Argonauts at the Fantasia film festival in 2005. A thrill to shake the hand that crafted and gave life to all those miracles in miniature.

Movie Reviews 291 – Garden of the Dead (1972)

March 17, 2017

If you think that this movie is geared to horticulturalists seeking to prolong the lifespan of their petunias or azaleas, drop your hoe right now. Although manure does figure prominently in my assessment of the film there is a seed of low budget wholesomeness that levitates Garden of the Dead for the bottom of the barrel, but only by a fraction.

Credit DVD distributor Retromedia for including a drawing of a bombshell to create an nontraditional FBI DVD warning, but I had to question the introduction with Ohio horror host “Son of Ghoul’ who lambastes the film before egging Retromedia founder and B movie producer, director Fred Olen Ray to hurl a bowling ball through a TV set before we get to see the opening credits. This was not an option on the DVD mind you but built right into the Play command. Not sure what all that was about but whatever.

A snazzy, catchy Jazz beat gets things rolling with a bunch of prisoners hauling formaldehyde barrels around a worksite, as we cut to some of them hiding from their guards and sniffing the stuff as they plan for their not so great escape.

Clearly divided into groups that want to partake and others that want to know nothing about the impending outbreak, those determined soon make their getaway. With one of bumbling escapees taking in one last whiff of the noxious gas, he soon stumbles, alerting the guards which leads to an inevitable motor chase, the end result of which is the convicts crashing into a graveyard and having formaldehyde spill across the plots.

Within seconds hands of the living dead are bursting through the soil grabbing ankles amidst a futile shootout with the prison guards. So what do the zombies do? Why they head for the garden tools in the getaway pickup of course as they merrily chant “Destroy the living”. I only mention this since honestly it’s the only tie in to a garden that could explain the title.

The plot includes one ‘good’ prisoner named Paul who has an emotion filled visit from his lascivious lady Carol. After a few zombie battles that take out some of the neighbors and the perpetually gloved warden, those that are still alive, prisoners and guards alike, get holed up in a standoff on the prison grounds. In the end, twas beauty in the guise of Carol that killed the … zombies.

Clocking in at a merciful 58 minutes, this will never make anyone’s top ten zombie movie list. Or top twenty. But I’ve seen far worse so I’ll leave it at that.

One last thing about the Retromedia DVD. The trailer included as the only extra is for the wrong film. But the trailer that was included which was for the co-feature Grave of the Vampire actually looked more interesting than this movie.

Movie Reviews 290 – Shaft (1971)

March 12, 2017

With the highly suggestive name and title, Shaft is the movie that brought the ghetto to the big screen and along the way gave birth to the blaxploitation movie trend that continued for most of 1970’s. While the plot may be fairly light, viewers were seduced by many other factors and it’s those aspects that have made the movie and the name itself classic.

For starters, Richard Roundtree, the embodiment of John Shaft was one cool dude. Slick and trim sporting cunate sideburns and always wearing his trademark long brown leather coat, his looks cemented his ladies man status, but it was his smarts and take no guff attitude that shaped this private investigator.

The tenement buildings and their dilapidated accommodations within. The garbage strewn streets. The smoky corner bars. The rusty cars amid the Manhattan smog. All vividly portray what the Big Apple was really like in it’s darkest days. While not inviting to movie audiences in itself, it did provide realism for a new brand of action packed movie, those catering to African American audiences. But perhaps not surprisingly, those same trappings caught on with audiences across the race spectrum.

The nostalgia oozes from the moment the frames start to roll with glorious Shaft dodging full sized 70’s gas guzzlers in the streets of Harlem, all while Isaac Hayes’ theme song streams in the background. But this is no mere score. One could argue that “The theme from Shaft” is more famous than the movie itself as it pretty much delivers the same essence.

Who’s the black private dick
That’s a sex machine to all the chicks?
(Shaft!)
You’re damn right

Who is the man
That would risk his neck for his brother man?
(Shaft!)
Can ya dig it?

Who’s the cat that won’t cop out
When there’s danger all about
(Shaft!)
Right on

You see this cat Shaft is a bad mother
(Shut your mouth)
But I’m talkin’ about Shaft
(Then we can dig it)
He’s a complicated man
But no one understands him but his woman
(John Shaft)

Story wise, the pedantic plot does not stray too far from your regular cop drama. While Shaft may have his differences with NYPD Lieutenant Androzzi (Charles Cioffi), theirs is a cooperative and symbiotic relationship. But that friendship gets stressed when a bunch of mobsters start arriving from all parts of the country. Something is brewing and Androzzi wants Shaft to leverage his street savvy to get the lowdown. At just that time Shaft gets hired by a local drug kingpin to find out who kidnapped his teenage daughter. These two pieces are part of a puzzle that on the face of it appear to be a gangland turf war, but because of the particulars of those involved, can develop into citywide race war.

A few car chases, shootouts, fistfights and someone thrown out of a window, all with ample breaks for Shaft to radiate his pearly whites to the fairer sex, and you have Shaft.

Can you dig it? I can.

Movie Reviews 289 – Discopath (2013)

March 3, 2017

DiscopatheWhen the guys from Black Fawn films discussed and ran the trailer for Discopath (original French title Discopathe) at a comic con nearly three years ago I was stoked. Shot mostly in Montreal and featuring a Disco era slasher, the trailer highlighted lofty production values that accurately captured the mid 70’s smoke filled discotheques, funky duds, and gleaming chrome bumpered wheels. I was even kind pissed not being able to get a copy then and there and was only able to buy my DVD from them the following year.

A few DVD synch issues resolved, I finally got around to spinning this disc anticipating a nostalgic reprise of movies like Joe Spinell’s Maniac, or perhaps another musically inclined light horror like Phantom of the Paradise. The premise was rife with possibilities, the trailer looked promising, how could things go wrong? But somewhere along the way a few ‘mis-steps’ were made on this dancefloor and the end result was no chart-topper or even a one-hit-wonder.

The disquieting ripples begin with the first scene where we find Duane (Jérémie Earp-Lavergne) chatting with Valerie (Katherine Cleland) in full roller skating regalia. The wardrobes are perfect but the ‘New Yawk’ accents are grating. The two are chatting in what is obviously a modern day cement sloped skateboard park because back in the 70’s no such public parks existed for roller skaters. Valerie becomes Duane’s first victim that night at the local discotheque which befuddles the NYPD officer Paul Stevens (Ivan Freud) as the case remains unsolved.

Leap ahead five years later to a religious all girl residential school in Montreal  where Duane, now using an assumed name is handyman. When two of the girls sneak back into the dorm as all the other students head home for a long weekend, the music they play on their rickety 45 RPM record player touches off Duane’s memory of his father being electrocuted by his HI FI stereo system when he was a child. Transfixed by the traumatic sonic memory, Duane viciously slaughters the girls, and miraculously the news reaches the ears of detective Stevens who must plead with his supervisor to allow him to revisit the cold case on his own dime.

By the time Stevens arrives in Montreal to work with local inspector Sirois (François Aubin), Duane has nabbed one of the teachers, Francine (Sandrine Bisson), that has caught Duane’s eye. Unknown to all, the sultry and flashy Francine was also having an affair with Sister Mirielle (Ingrid Falaise), the straight laced and bun coiffed head teacher. After a car crunching and body strewn car chase, Duane finally gets cornered for a Dyno-O-Mite denouement.

While the film has a lot going for it, it does suffers from a ridiculous script, lame acting by lead Earp-Lavergne, and other factors that could have been easily addressed. From a plot point of view the worst assault is the fact that Stevens takes the merest of hints that his original killer was triggered by music – music was playing in the background – and then links it to another murder in another country five years later simply because the killer diced victims with 45’s. As for the acting one could argue that the role of Duane is arguably impassive when in a semi-trance state committing his crimes, but Earp-Lavergne’s portrayal is as rigid as a vinyl disc throughout.

An example of the nuisance factor are the choices made for the score. You’d think that with a disco themed film the musical selection would be pretty obvious. Expecting only an original soundtrack reminiscent of the disco sound, I was a bit surprised that the budget even allowed for procuring the rights to one or two bona fide hit songs of the time. Hearing K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s “I’m your boogie man” was fine, but was totally stumped as to why the main featured track ended up being Kiss’ “I was made for lovin you”. Great sound mind you, a huge hit, but hardly disco.

One the positive side, both Mirielle and Francine are credible and downright appealing as they coo and tease over the phone about their clandestine lesbian affair while Sirois is great playing the cop with just the right touch of humour. The costumes reign with period clothing featuring wide collars, tank tops and skin tight gym shorts. Aside from the aforementioned ‘Death by 45’s’ there is also an appropriate strobe lit kill and other fair carnage effects, some done notably by Rémi Couture, who gained notoriety for having so vivid artwork he was prosecuted.

With apologies to my disco trotting friends the final verdict is the same as that applied to the disco music of that era. Disco(path) sucks.

The Zap Gun – Philip K. Dick (1964)

February 25, 2017

the-zap-gunAs a long time fan of Philip K. Dick I’ve always enjoyed the lunacy of his novels, even some of those that are not as endearing as his classics like The Man in the High Castle or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (A.K.A. Blade Runner). Some of the fondest on mys hselves have been his quirkier novels like Dr. Bloodmoney and Clans of the Alphane Moon. Based on past experience I thought that a novel about a world which features ersatz psychic weapon designers that jeopardize the Earth when faced with an alien invasion would be a sure bet. But The Zap Gun, while encapsulating the usual Dick staples of conspiracy theories and paranoia, was a bit of slog and took it’s sweet time to get to the expected insanity.

Reflective of the then contemporary Cold War divided world, Dick posits a similar East and West disunity, but with more convoluted hierarchies. Under the surface both sides have suppressed the arms race by having the populace (or ‘parsups’) believe that they have supreme weapons designers that have been continually receiving new designs in trancelike dreams for some unknown higher being. But instead of building the weapons ‘imagined’, the designs are studied (understood?) and then ‘plowshared’ into inert common use devices.

Lars is the preeminent Wes-bloc ‘Weapon Designer” who has been in a funk largely due to a case of conscious regarding his fraudulent role. The one thing that does interest him is finding out more about his Peep-East counterpart, one Lilo Topchev. But elusive miss Topchev remains nothing more than a blurred picture provided by Western intelligence.

All that changes when a satellite shows up in the sky one day, the first salvo in an invasion by  Sirius. The two planetary alliance’s only hope is to combine Lars and Lilo’s talents together in the hope that their trances can produce an actual viable weapon.

Mostly political intrigue, navigating the machinations and echelons of bureaucracy, this is largely Lars’ story. His interest in Lilo, his relationship with a mistress, and his few friends who are the manufacturers of his ‘weapons’. The invasion itself is just a plot device and the ‘war’ is simply described in a sentence here and there as cities disappearing under a veil.

Perhaps a case of going to the trough once too often, the story did not really pique my interest until things got really crazy mid way like finding out that Lars’ and Lilo’s trance productions were coming from the mind of a South Ghanaian comic strip writer of “The Blue Cephalopod Man from Titan“. If that wasn’t wacky enough, the ultimate solution to the Alien invasion is nothing short of genius, and involves a toy.

So if you’re a fan of P.K.D, stick with this one and you’ll be rewarded. For those not acquainted with the man, it is (eventually) another example of the warped mind of the late, great author. That cover insane painting is more apropos than you would be led to believe.

Movie Reviews 288 – Ichi (2008)

February 17, 2017

ichiNot to be confused with Ichi the Killer, director Takashi Miike’s ultra-violent yakuza thriller, this Ichi is yet another variant entry of the Japanese Blind Swordsman lore known as Zatoichi. In this case the blind sword wielder is a lonely and depressed young woman whose day to day meanderings are driven by one solitary goal.

As a blind orphan, Ichi (Haruka Ayase) was rescued and trained by Zatoichi to master the sword. Unable to care for her himself he sent her to become a member of a goze – a term used for visually impaired women who have taken on jobs as musicians for hire – but left her with a little ‘calling’ bell with a promise to visit when rung to comfort her.  After being forced upon by a goze patron and accidentally killing him, Ichi is banished from the goze and began travelling the land in search of the lost Zatoichi.

On the road she meets Toma Fujihira (Takao Ohsawa) – a hapless samurai who cannot remove his saber from its sheathing, guilt ridden due to an accident he had as a child while playing with it.  Their journey brings them to a small resort, or “Inn” village ruled by a benevolent Yakuza known as the Shirakawa clan but now being held under siege by Banki (Shidô Nakamura), the scar faced gang leader of the Banki-to with a snivelling laugh.

That night, Toma decides to do some gambling at the local parlor and with the help of Ichi’s acute hearing Toma wins handsomely while the Banki-to participating in the game loose.  As Toma, Ichi and Shirakawa boy who has started clinging to Ichi depart into the night, the flustered Banki-to follow to reclaim their lost wagers. As Toma once again stammers with his sword, Ichi springs into action and slices to shreds the outskilled Banki-to. Moments after the battle, Toraji (Yosuke Kubozuka), the son of the reigning Shirakawa comes across the fallen Banki-to and, mistaking Toma as the adept swordsman, hires him to protect the Shirakawa and help rid the village from Banki’s oppression.

His secret now out having frozen in action when confronted by the Banki-to in the presence of the Shirakawa, Toma is beaten and berated. But when the elder Shirakawa is slain by Banki, Toraji decides that enough is enough and that the Shirakawa will finally stand up to Banki with a final, all out battle. Scorned by the Shirakawa members, Toraji lets Toma join the fight, goading him to act becoming of a samurai.

The direction is a bit uneven especially in the beginning as transitions between light comedy and poignant drama are somewhat awkward and untimely. But once they arrive in the village the story finds its footing. There are also plenty of solemn and introspective points, either with Ichi distancing herself from Toma, and when Ichi is briefly held captive by Banki. The battles are decent and bloody but don’t expect the usual acrobatics or gimmicks.