We didn’t want Downsizing to be our official final film of 2017, so we rewatched Inside Out on new year’s eve, then after a couple of attempts, managed to make this early Ghibli feature our first movie of 2018. The early ones are cool, but we’re more taken by their later works (Mononoke and everything after).

Pirates:

A couple of orphan kids from different backgrounds meet and end up saving the world by teaming with pirates to stop a power-mad government agent from harnessing the destructive power of an ancient and abandoned floating city called Laputa. The boy Pazu (pronounced POT-sue in the Disney dub) is from a factory town, and the girl Sheetah is descended from Laputa royalty, and that’s about all we learn about them before the movie erupts into battles, pirate humor, and tons of flying machines.

Every Miyazaki movie has a standout piece of character or vehicle design – in this one it’s long-armed bird-loving robots.

A hell of a weird, fun flick. The central story is a sort of Western parody: a couple of truckers come across a lousy ramen place run by a woman named Tampopo and decide to help her improve it, recruiting more experts until she has the best ramen in town, then disappear into the sunset. But the movie’s most genius idea was cutting little food-related vignettes into the main film, basically an improvement on the structure and focus of The Kentucky Fried Movie.

The first I’ve seen by Itami, who also made episodic comedy The Funeral, and died twenty years ago this week. Tampopo is Nobuko Miyamoto (Itami’s wife, star of Sweet Home), along with her team: main trucker Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki: Farewell to the Ark, Kagemusha, Rikyu), his sidekick Gun (Ken Watanabe, the most famous Japanese man in Hollywood), broth master Yoshi Kato (a bunch of Shinoda films including Silence), noodle expert Shohei (Kinzô Sakura of Itami’s A Taxing Woman), and hardass interior designer Pisken (Rikiya Yasuoka of some early Miike movies).

I’ve already forgotten half of the incidental sideplots, but the recurring one featured a white-suited gangster (Kôji Yakusho, the guy from Doppelganger, Tokyo Sonata, Eureka) and his girl (Fukumi Kuroda of Tales of a Golden Geisha) having weird food sex.

After sitting through two stiff early horrors, this was more like it – the voodoo-magic of White Zombie and satanism of The Devil Rides Out thrown into a noir-blender. Unlike The Fly its style and music can’t quite transcend its 1980’s origins, but it’s a good try.

Angel is Mickey Rourke, and I’m not used to seeing him pre-Sin City – he looks more like Mathieu Amalric here. He’s hired by the devil Robert De Niro (“Louis Cyphre… Lucifer… even your name is a dime-store joke”) in 1955 to track down devil-dealing singer Johnny Favorite who disappeared without paying his debts (reminiscent of Hellraiser from the same year). Angel follows the leads to New Orleans, meets Favorite’s ex Charlotte Rampling, Favorite’s daughter Lisa Bonet, and Favorite’s bandmate Brownie McGhee, all of whom end up murdered. But Angel himself is the missing Johnny, and after he tracks down all his old friends and family (and has sex with his own daughter btw), he blacks out and murders them, before the devil reveals all and Johnny/Angel is taken away.

“It’s not an easy thing to meet your maker.”

I remembered noir detective Harrison Ford tracking rogue artificial humans Rutger Hauer and Daryl Hannah through a future city, but did not remember the replicants convincing childlike inventor/toymaker William Sanderson to bring them to their maker Terrell (Joe Turkel wearing stop-sign glasses). First time watching the “final cut” edition on blu-ray, and it was glorious.

One of the key films leading to my lifelong horror fascination, and a movie that it’s now obvious I should never have watched in theaters at age nine. Fun to rewatch now – it holds up beautifully. The dialogue is funny and well-written, and the leads are charismatic, which should immediately place it near the top of any 1980’s horror list. The horror element itself is interesting too, as Jeff Goldblum examines his transformation scientifically then slowly loses himself into Brundlefly, killing nobody and only threatening his journalist girlfriend Geena Davis at the very end. Creature effects are top-notch – it deservedly won a makeup oscar over Legend. The only unfortunately dated element is slimy John Getz (McDormand’s man in Blood Simple) as Geena’s boss, who saves her from Brundlefly at the end.

Part of a Late Horror Masters’ Lesser Works double-feature. Opens with a disclaimer about the treatment of the movie’s monkeys, but they never appeared to be in any convincing danger, except maybe in the final scene. No mention of the treatment of the movie’s parakeets. Monkey tricks are the primary reason to watch this movie, except for George Romero and/or Stanley Tucci completists.

Allan’s car accident:

Allan and monkey giving the same steely expression:

Moody Allan (Jason Beghe of One Missed Call Remake) is badly crippled, so his monkey-researcher friend Geoffrey (John Pankow of Talk Radio) donates a brain-eating monkey to service-animal trainer Melanie (Kate McNeil of The House on Sorority Row) to get Allan a furry helper buddy. Brain-eating monkey in a George Romero movie – what could go wrong?

Mad scientist Geoffrey:

Geoffrey’s boss Stephen Root:

Moody Allan is a bad influence on the monkey, who starts to murder everyone who she perceives as a threat – first setting fire to Allan’s ex (Lincoln NE’s Janine Turner of Northern Exposure) who has run off with his doctor (Stanley Tucci), then electrocuting Allan’s annoying mom (Joyce Van Patten of Bone), killing Geoffrey via drug injection, and most horribly, murdering the parakeet of Allan’s hateful catetaker (Christine Forrest, Romero’s wife). After she threatens Melanie in a rage, Allan manages to dispatch the monkey using only his neck and mouth. We also get a monkey-surgery dream sequence and blurry monkey-POV shots. Mostly dullsville compared to the space vampires. My birds reacted to the monkey chatter, but not to the parakeet.

In memory of two recently-departed horror directors, who made some of the best horror films in history, I caught up with two of their worst pictures…

To begin with, a bullshit voiceover lets us know that this spaceship, created with colored lights and 1980’s computer graphics, has some inexplicable gravity technology – just trust us, we’re on a spaceship but there’s gravity. I don’t recall Star Trek worrying themselves with explaining the ship’s artificial gravity, except when it broke in the sixth movie.

Discovering nude-vampire crystals inside the space anus:

Fallada, looking like an apocalyptic preacher:

“I almost have the feeling I’ve been here before” as they fly into a giant vaginal-looking tunnel. Astronauts discover nude, crystal-encased space vampires and bring them home via a badly failed first mission plus a second rescue mission. The sole survivor of the first mission is Steve Railsback (later of Scissors and Alligator II: The Mutation), who couldn’t help but sexually harass the female alien (Mathilda May, later of some Chabrol and Demy films) and becomes psychically connected to her. Railsback works with Peter Firth (Tess, Equus) and alien-invaded doctor Patrick Stewart to track down the vampire girl, while dapper white-haired Professor Fallada (Frank Finlay, one of Richard Lester’s Musketeers) and barely-competent Dr. Bukovsky (Michael Gothard, Oliver Reed’s executor in The Devils) try to contain the evil – and fail utterly, as most of London falls to the vampire-zombie plague.

Patrick Stewart Replica:

Return of the Living Dead Zombie Phantom Alien Vampires:

More perverted and apocalyptic than most 1980’s horror movies, at least. The movie’s pretty okay, but the concept is cool as hell, so it’s got my respect. Tobe’s follow-up to Poltergeist, produced by Cannon Films, cowritten by Dan O’Bannon, who made Return of the Living Dead the same year, which ties into our next filmmaker

I’ve watched these before, in their Decalogue versions, but since the extended movie versions appear on certain lists of great films, I always wanted to watch ’em and compare. It has been nearly a decade, so it’s hard, but I’d have to say I prefer the Decalogue series as an interconnected project than either of these movies individually.


A Short Film About Love (1988)

Deep-voiced teenage creep Tomek watches neighbor Magda through the window with a stolen telescope, then tries to interfere in her life. She is dismissive, then taunts him, and finally becomes concerned after he tries to kill himself. I guess they’re a couple of doomed losers who might just end up together, but Kieslowski is up to something more twisty, closing on Magda in Tomek’s room, watching herself across the street. It’s got the mutual torment of White mixed with the surveillance of Red, set to some nice Priesner music.


A Short Film About Killing (1988)

Another movie about a deep-voiced creep! A hanging cat in the opening credits brings to mind Cosmos, but this movie’s a slog, the most unpleasant Kieslowski I’ve seen. I covered the story pretty well last time – main difference here is that it’s longer, and the inky blackness and distorted colors of the picture comes out more clearly on the blu-ray. I love the sudden time jump from Jacek sitting in his stolen cab dreaming of escaping to the mountains, to the moment of his conviction for murder.

Happy SHOCKtober!

This is pretty advanced for a low-budget hour-long mid-1980’s British horror, beginning with a closeup of a sleeping head, crossfading to a naked tree, its branches recalling the nervous system. “Just a bad dream” – Marion (1970’s TV actress Heather Page) is awakened by gentle husband Alex (Scottish filmmaker Bill Douglas). They’re having guests for dinner: her old friend Angela (Joanna David of Secret Friends) and husband Richard (Nickolas Grace of Salome’s Last Dance), who we’ll soon learn is an absolute ass. The home-cooked meal is ruined by a window blown in by the storm, so they go out to a restaurant run by the Captain from Fraggle Rock, and the bulk of the movie seems to be an extremely painful dinner conversation. Drunken sniping rules the meal, mixed with references to sleepwalking and hypnosis.

L-R: Alex, Marion, Richard, Angela:

What with the storm and the drinking and the late hour, Angela and Richard reluctantly agree to spend the night. And as the dark synth music rises, a sleepwalking Marion kills everyone in the house with a knife. Perhaps that’s what happens, anyway.