Wednesday, February 22, 2017


Image result for roar 1981Let’s see, how can I get you all to check out a movie about lions and tigers and…other big cats roaming free and interacting with humans?  The delicate bit is there’s practically no plot.  Ok, how about tons of cast and crew members got horrifically injured during filming?  How does that sound?  Or maybe that the human and cat interactions (like mauling, tackling, scraping) are all real with no trickery?  Well if any of that sounds appealing keep on reading.

This was a passion project from husband and wife team Noel Marshall (producer: The Exorcist) and Tippi Hedren (The Birds) who wanted to spread awareness of lions by making this weird piece that doesn’t directly educate you on the subject.  Instead it’s done indirectly through observing how these animals interrelate with humans in this very specific multi-acre compound environment (which was Noel and Tippi’s real life cat sanctuary).

Image result for roar 1981 tippiThe terrifically loose narrative involves Noel trying to pick up his visiting family (which includes Tippi, real life sons John and Jerry and real life step-daughter Melanie Griffith (Another Day in Paradise)) at an airport somewhere in Africa.  Along the way he runs into obstacle after obstacle that relentlessly delays him.  So after a while the fam decides not wait any longer and takes the bus.  When they get to the house they find it overrun with dozens and dozens of huge fucking lions ‘n shit.  Nearly the entire movie has the family doing their best to try to escape from the creatures.  However, what they don’t know is that these guys are Noel’s friends and they don’t actually mean any harm.  If they would only give the furry fellas a chance they would find out that they’re not so bad and there’s nothing to fear.  I supposed this is the message of the picture?  Along with: stop hunting down and murdering these magnificent animals please.

All of the footage is some of the most unbelievable animal stuff I’ve ever seen.  It’s breathtaking and nerve-racking as hell to see the lions fight with each other, play (very hard) with humans and run around freely.  It’s all due to the extremely brave crew that stuck their necks out, literally, to get the footage.  There was a plethora of injuries over the multi-year shoot and many got hurt very badly.  One of the unlucky ones was incredible cinematographer Jan de Bont (Die Hard, Basic Instinct, Black Rain) who shot this very early in his American career.  He risked his life for this shit and got scalped by a lion at one point who nearly took his whole fucking head off.

Image result for roar 1981Roar is a fascinating film and the story behind it is equally enthralling.  I won’t go into it too much but Marshall and family actually adopted these animals who lived in their house for years before filming.  When they finally got around to making the damn movie it took another five years to shoot (the picture is supposed to take place in one day by the way) and they were ravaged by constant animal problems, injuries and even a huge flood.

Boy is this one strange bird, er, cat.  But it’s definitely worth seeing not only from a crazy filmmaking perspective but also if you’re interested in animals and their behaviors.  It’s a miracle this thing exists at all.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


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It’s been twelve years since the US last got a Ring movie which is surprising because the timeline for another one of these should’ve been never.  Does anyone in the states care about this series?  To try for a third picture seems like a fool’s errand to me.  The first one is completely self contained and unique in the world of horror.  The base premise is pure horror material (watch a video and in seven days a ghost will pop out of your TV and kill you) but the movie plays out much more like a mystery thriller.  It’s almost film noir-ish with the characters piecing together what happened to this fucked up little girl.  Once the full story is discovered and a cure for the cursed viewer is stumbled upon there isn’t anything else to tell.  It’s over.  Vamoose babe.

But the studio execs couldn’t help themselves and went for a sequel.  It was absolutely terrible.  You can read what I thought here.  Then nothing for a long while.  Now we got number three to contend with.

The first thing you should probably know is that this is not really a sequel even though it’s been touted as such.  All evidence shows this is a reboot.  Nothing is mentioned of the first two installments whatsoever, Samara’s backstory is tweaked and certain rules in the Ring universe are changed.

But here’s how shit goes down.  It starts with some dude on a plane who reaches his seven day milestone.  He chats with a chick across the aisle telling her (the audience) about a video that eventually kills you after you watch it.  She thinks he’s a weirdo but then all of a sudden the plane goes haywire and Samara murders the guy.  It’s an open question if the others on the flight survived.  Would Samara massacre a whole airplane full of folks just to take out one man?  If everyone on board really did die then that’s fucking bullshit.  The only person that should die is the cursed individual.  Plus we know what the outcome is when there are witnesses.  In the first film the friend of the victim in the opening scene becomes traumatized.  She ends up in a mental hospital and doesn’t really speak or emote at all.  Did this happen to the passengers on the plane?  We never find out.

Skip to Professor Gabriel (Johnny Galecki (In Time)) buying the VCR of the guy who died on the flight at a flea market.  He likes it ‘cause it’s “vintage”.  When he takes the thing back to his way cool warehouse bachelor pad he jams a screwdriver in the video slot because that’s how you get a VCR to work?  What the fuck is he doing?  I bet Galecki (who was forty when they made this (yea the math is a little off but I’ll get to why later on)) was like “do I really have to do this?  I grew up with this technology and this doesn’t make any damn sense”.  Anyway a VHS tape pops out (on its own mind you, not from the fiddling with the screwdriver) and the good professor lights up a joint and puts the tape on.  Although I swear I remember the tape starting to play by itself but whatever.

Image result for rings movie 2017Skip to our boyfriend/girlfriend main leads, Holt ((Alex Roe (The 5th Wave)) and Julia (Matilda Lutz in her first major role), saying their goodbyes to each other because Holt is off to college.  We never find out why Julia is staying behind at home and not also going to college.  There could be a million reasons for this and it doesn’t really matter, but it’s kinda lazy filmmaking to not even have one throwaway line to explain.

After six weeks or so Julia gets a Skype call from Holt except when she picks up it’s some lady looking for Holt and she’s all panicky spouting cryptic inane shit to get the audience stirred up.  Julia decides to investigate and drives to Holt’s college.  She finds Professor Gabriel who gives her the runaround on Holt and scurries off as quickly as he can.  Thinking this is suspicious Julia tails him to the seventh floor of one of the main school buildings.  She finds that the entire floor has been taken over by a mess of students and Gabriel conducting some sort of experiment with the cursed video.  There are countdown clocks on the wall, video projections of scenes from the tape and what appears to be all out partying.  It’s a pretty strange sight.  Eventually Julia finds Holt and they journey to solve what the shit on the tape is or means.

So this is similar to the first picture except there’s one big difference.  It’s true that in The Ring (and Ringu) our leading ladies were trying to decipher the images on the tape but they were also looking for a way out of the curse.  They only had a week so there was a major ticking clock element to the story.  In Rings everyone knows how to exorcize themselves of the curse from the get go.  Presumably Professor Gabriel figured this out and told his Guinea pigs.  The very large problem though is that we’re never shown or told just how Gabriel knew to make a copy and show it to someone else to lift the curse.  That’s too big of a fucking hole to leave in your movie guy.  Again, there’s no reference to the first two films so there needs to be a discovery of the solution somehow in here and it’s not there.  The filmmakers are going on the assumption the audience knows how this works so they didn’t rehash it.  That was a really bad decision.

Now since all of our characters have a certified way of dealing with the curse there’s no excuse for anyone to die.  They have the knowledge to set themselves free.  But guess what?  Every single person waits until the last goddamn minute to do anything about it.  Put yourself in their shoes.  Would you try to relieve yourself of imminent assured death right away or put it off for six days and twenty three hours?  I get that there needs to be tension ‘n’ shit in your movie but having every character, except Julia, be negligent and/or braindead doesn’t make me care about them.  They had their wide open shot to deal with it and they fucked it up.  So fuck them.  This is some dumb scriptwriting fellas.

Spoilers in this next paragraph, skip to the following one if you don’t want to know Samara’s new backstory

With Samara’s backstory the filmmakers decided to rewrite it.  The part about her being born pure evil and infecting her hometown with plight is all there.  But the change is her father was one wicked asshole sonuvabitch that maybe actually wanted a demon child.  You see this small town reverend raped a local girl and then kept her locked up in a secret bunker beneath the church during the pregnancy.  When the baby was born she had special powers and things went bad in the town so she had to go.  I don’t think it’s ever explained but I guess the father is the one that tossed Samara down the well to kill her.  So daddy’s the co-villain in this installment which I’m fine with because it changes it up enough.  Otherwise it’s exactly the same old shit you’ve seen before.

You’re safe from here on out

Image result for rings movie 2017I have to bring up the religious symbolism they threw in.  The Ring series was never about religion, at least the American ones.  The original Japanese picture had some spiritualism sprinkled in but it was in the background.  In Rings the filmmakers for some reason felt that there needed to be a Christian connection and imply that Samara’s the anti-Christ.  You got a church, a priest, many visions of crucifixes, you could say Samara rises from the dead, a flood and a swarm of cicadas (‘cause I suppose locusts would’ve been just a little too on the nose).  I don’t necessarily mind the film trying this out but at the same time part of why I like the Ring universe is because there aren’t any religious aspects to it.  It’s simply a magical curse and a nasty chick that comes to kill you in a week.  Usually something like that would have a religious angle but the concept is so intriguing that extra help isn’t needed to sell it.  It’s non-discriminatory that way and I like it.

Probably the weirdest aspect to the entire movie though is that we’re still dealing with a cursed VHS tape.  Sure, they make an attempt to update the technology by converting it to a video file you can watch on a computer.  But even that method is outdated or only used by certain professionals.  The real update is YouTube or some similar video streaming site.  But I can understand why they didn’t want to open that can of worms.  If YouTube were involved everyone in the world would be cursed and then how do you make a copy and share it to save yourself?  Shit gets way too messy so they sidestepped it.  They also dodged the fact that all of the students who took place in the college experiment would’ve uploaded the cursed video to YouTube as soon as they got their hands on it.  It’s a fucking miracle no one did.

Image result for rings movie 2017However, having the video be available on YouTube was already done in Sadako 3D, the fifth film in the Japanese line that came out in 2012.  But they went off in a totally bonkers direction for that picture which I actually kinda enjoyed.  That one plays out more like a grindhouse movie where Sadako (the Samara equivalent) can use her giant hair as a weapon by twirling it around and there’s an army of half bug half Sadako creatures and all sorts of stuff.  American audiences would never go for something like that in this context.  Maybe if it were its own thing and not a Ring movie.  But to completely change the format and attempt a radically different approach would put too many folks off.  So if you like the idea of the Ring but are frustrated with the American ones then check out the Japanese films.  They’ve made so many sequels and they all do their own distinct thing.  I wish the American studios would take more chances on different tones and styles for sequels but they know that shit doesn’t really sell here.  So we tend to get the same damn thing over and over.

Rings was shot in 2015 and originally scheduled to come out the same year.  But reshoots and schedule changes pushed this sucker into 2017 (that’s why the math didn’t seem to add up earlier).  It’s never good when a film sits for that long because it shows that the studio has no faith in it.  They kinda need to realize the Ring concept isn’t franchise-able.  Hey Hollywood, you have to accept it’s only one movie.  And if you’re unwilling to go way off course then you’re gonna inevitably and boringly repeat yourself.

The changes they made here aren’t nearly enough to breathe new life into the ol’ gal.  Even the last little twist (minor spoiler) sets up the idea used in The Ring Two where Samara is looking for a way to cross over into the real world full time.  Look, overall this is bland crap that I’ll forget about tomorrow.  But that was expected and the sad part is some amount of disappointment goes along with that notion.  There’s a tiny piece of your mind that thinks it could be a surprisingly good piece of work but alas, the odds prove out and the house wins.  So there’s nothing to see here folks.  Keep moving.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Lone Wolf and Cub (all films)

Image result for lone wolf and cub 1972Once in a blue moon you come across a movie that touches your soul.  It’s like love at first sight.  You feel like this piece was made just for you and you know instantly that you’ve got something incredible on your hands.  My latest encounter with this special sensation came in the form of Lone Wolf and Cub.

Based on the manga of the same name this series of films (six in total) follows the saga of former shogun executioner Itto Ogami (Tomisaburo Wakayama (Black Rain)).  He was setup by the Yagyu clan to look like a traitor so he would lose his prestigious post.  He also finds his wife murdered while their one year old son, Daigoro, survives the ordeal.  Ogami vows vengeance for all of this disgrace but doesn’t outright go after the Yagyu.  Instead he and his son, now three or four years old, become assassins that wander the country.  They drift from one assignment to the next and leave a shitload of carnage in their path.  They are on “the demon way in hell”.

Look I’ll try not to bore you by going on and on about how undeniably badass and unbelievably beautiful this series is.  It’s also very intimidating because I know I won’t be able to do it proper justice.  So here are just a few brief things.

Image result for lone wolf and cub 1972These films are gorgeously made.  Most of the time scenes take place outdoors, or at least you can see to the outside, and the filmmakers photographed the Japanese landscape wonderfully.  There’s certainly a lot of respect for nature and all it gives to us.  The variety is stunning as well.  We visit open fields, rock quarries, snow covered mountains, hot springs, sand dunes and a million other locations.  There’s always something different and nice to look at.

And holy shit is this series violent.  I mean the body count alone is off the charts.  According to (I shit you not that’s a real site) the last film, White Heaven in Hell, racks up 169 kills.  And that’s only one out of six!  Jesus, so many fucking people die.  They’re mostly done in by Ogami’s untouchable skills as a swordsman which you would think would get kinda dull after a while, but it somehow doesn’t.  It’s so much fun to watch the man take down everyone in sight with astonishing gracefulness.  The films even introduce this repeated scenario of Ogami going up against dozens and dozens of bad guys as a climax starting with the third one, and each and every time it’s fuckin’ crazy.  I think my favorite of those is at the end of Baby Cart in the Land of the Demons.  Maybe that’s because it was the third time putting together a sequence like that so they figured out the most exciting way to do it.

Image result for lone wolf and cub 1972Most of the deaths are pretty gnarly too with vivid bright red blood spraying like a goddamn firehose out of some poor bastard’s body when they get the sword taken to ‘em.  It’s gloriously over the top and that helps to define the series.  But these movies aren’t trying to be funny (at least I don’t think they are).  There’s plenty of magic, impossible maneuvers and situations where our protagonists power their way out of certain death, but it’s all presented straight up as if you come across this shit every day.  I applaud the filmmakers for making something so stylized and never once winking at the camera.

Everyone does a great acting job in this but Wakayama stands above all as Ogami.  He has such a strong presence and he never compromises his formidability or his honor.  He will cut down anyone without thinking twice (including women and, oh fuck, children) but he also clearly loves his son.  He would never allow anything to happen to little Daigoro and will always protect him.  Ogami keeps his word, sticks to his mission and is one badass motherfucker.

Ok, here’s how I would rank the movies from best to really fucking good:

Baby Cart at the River Styx (film 2)- A masterpiece from start to finish and probably the most even all the way through.  And I guess this is where John Carpenter got the three storms from for Big Trouble in Little China because the Hidari brothers (or “Gods of Death”) are dressed almost exactly the same and they each wield their own unique weapon.  Although, the Hidaris use way less magic, if any.  Actually Carpenter more likely got this idea from Shogun Assassin which took the first two Lone Wolf and Cub pictures and mashed them together for the US market.

Image result for lone wolf and cub baby cart at the river styx hidari
The Hidari Brothers
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The Three Storms

Sword of Vengeance (film 1)- You got your classic setup movie that actually only hints at how insane the series progresses.  It’s very good and definitely your starting point if you plan to take on this sonuvabitch.
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Wow, that's one of the coolest title screens ever

Baby Cart in Peril (film 4)- This one may be the most visually varied and striking.  You got different shit like a sorcerer with a fire sword, a topless lady out for revenge that has a tattoo of a demon child groping her tit and crucial backstory for our main villain.

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Don't you dare fuck with her, she'll slice you wide open

Baby Cart in the Land of Demons (film 5)- At first Ogami must face and defeat five separate warriors to achieve the whole story of who they want assassinated and why.  Then there’s a weird middle section that focuses on Daigoro and his unfortunate run in with a pickpocket.  Finally Ogami proceeds with the task he was hired to perform at the beginning of the film and ends with the best of the big battle sequences where Ogami takes on fifty plus dudes all by his lonesome.

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Baby Cart to Hades (film 3)- A little too much rape in this one which I guess is why it ranks lower for me.  But there’s a cool virtue fight between Ogami and this mercenary that eventually carries through.  Maybe that should’ve been more of the focus.

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Looks like Ogami has his hands full in this one

White Heaven in Hell (film 6)- The head of the Yagyu throws his last couple of guys (and gal) at Ogami and Daigoro to try to finish this.  I guess by the sixth installment things started to feel a little same-y but it’s still fantastic and does a good job of fleshing out the main villain and his clan even more.
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A lot of blows to the head in this series

Now even though every picture is episodic there are common threads that run throughout.  The biggest is the Yagyu threat.  This guy and his people really hate Ogami and want to see him wiped off the face of the earth.  The other commonality is that a little more background gets dished out to show you how and why Ogami and Daigoro are in their current state of affairs.  By the end you really get a good understanding of how everything fits together.  So I guess what I’m trying to say is I would recommend watching the films in the right sequence to get the full effect.  And trust me, you want the full effect.

Let’s wrap it up.  These stories and characters are timeless.  It’s about restoring honor, preserving integrity, slashing various body parts off, enduring in the face of death, showing your four year old son it’s ok to kill bad dudes, protect the defenseless (sometimes), maintain a code and all that great shit.  A huge theme in here is not fearing the path you’ve selected for yourself.  In almost every movie (if not every single one) someone points out to Ogami that he and his son are essentially dead men walking or questions their actions and his response is always the same: they’ve chosen their way, they’re walking in hell.  Interestingly I don’t think destiny is ever mentioned.  They never say they’re being guided by a force or that events are set in stone and they can’t alter them.  Instead they take the approach that every action is their own and they will stick by those decisions even if it costs them their lives.  No regrets, no worries.  They’re incensed, almost possessed to fight every step of the way and keep moving forward.

I know this was criminally underwritten because there are so many things I didn’t bring up like Daigoro’s crazy haircut, the awesome fuckin’ soundtracks, the empowering female presence throughout the series, the baby cart Ogami wheels around that’s full of hidden blades and guns that he frequently uses to annihilate his enemies with, every film is a lean mean eighty mins and so much more.  But the best thing to do now is shut up and let you take in these masterworks for yourself.  You won’t regret it.