Saturday, April 21, 2018

'70s Import Trash: Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1970)

Is this a Prequel?  Nope.  It's much sillier than that.  Today's Film is Dracula vs. Frankenstein aka Assignment Terror, a 1970 Horror Film with so much going on.  As mentioned in the previous Review, Adamson's Film was delayed, having Filmed the whole thing without Dracula- being about the evil Doctor only- in 1969.  As usual, he reworked the Film to make it 1971.  Before that, this Film actually came out, although it didn't come out under this name until the 1980s.  VHS Boom- gotta love it.  Basically, there is just way too much back story for two sleazy Horror Films- and I didn't even mention how a Jesus Franco Film also got this same Title!  So what is this one about?  Well, to make a Meme Generator happy, it is...Aliens.  Seriously- no joke.  They want to conquer us, so they decide to bring back a bunch of Monsters to do so.  Roll Call- Dracula (sort of).  Frankenstein's Monster.  The Mummy.  The Werewolf.  The Golem.  Oops, Budget problems, so lose the Golem.  Make sure you don't cut the build-up for him though- that would be silly.  This one is basically what Universal was trying to set up with The Mummy...only done in an even more rushed fashion.  Yes, they did start the Cinematic Universe thing, but they also kind of suck at it now.  Will this Film succeed where they failed?  It's a one-and-done, so 'no.'  That said, it has a bunch of monsters, Paul Naschy and Aliens- what's not to love?  To find out how this often-retitled Movie is, read on...
Aliens want to conquer the Earth, since their Planet is dying.  Oh good- Sci-Fi Plot #52!
Instead of using their advanced technology to make weapons or devices, their plan is to resurrect and take control of all of our Monsters.

Insert 'Dead Politician You Don't Like Here' Joke.
First up is Dracula, or at least some Vampire according to the Subtitles.  Maybe it is supposed to be him, but there's no point where we see his tomb or anything, so....great job so far.
Next up is Paul Naschy's Werewolf, who is revived by the silver bullet being removed from his body.

According to this Film, he can only really die if he's shot by a silver bullet fired by a loved one.  Okay...
I should mention that while this is going on there is also a Police Investigation into the random bodies found along the way.

At a Library, they find this lovely book that I totally want to own.  Someone make this real already!
Next up is The Mummy, someone Universal never got in on the act (supposedly due to Budget issues).
Finally (since The Golem was cut), there's Frankenstein's Monster, who looks less cheap than in Egypt's Film, but far cheaper than Universal's.  He's also not green, since copyright.

Cool shot, bro.
Now that all of that build-up is out of the way, we can...oh right, the Movie only has like 20 minutes left.  That's...a problem.

Oh well, have our Hero- now with Naschy's reformed Werewolf- fight all of them one-by-one!
Naschy finishes off the last Monster, but is shot by his love.  Don't worry- he comes back like 6 more times (since this is non-canonical).

As for the Aliens, their overlord leaves them to die as the Police surround the place.  They blow up the lab too- shocking.  The End.
A fun, but messy Film.  If this was a better paced Film, it would be an easy recommendation to fans of Grindhouse and/or cheesy Monster Films.  It has a Mummy fighting a Wolfman.  It has Frankenstein's Monster fighting a Wolfman.  It has Aliens bringing a Vampire, a Wolfman, a human monster and a Mummy to life!  It should be glorious!  It is only so-so.  The Film just doesn't quite work because too much time is spent on set-up and not enough time on pay-off.  It just takes WAY too long to get all of the Characters together.  On top of that, they added weird little bits like some of the Aliens succumbing to emotions and conflict within the group.  Get to the good stuff!  That said, the good stuff is pretty damn good.  Dracula(sort of) gets in a stand-off with our Hero as he wields a spear.  The Wolfman and the Monster smash up a Lab in typical, but fun fashion.  The Wolfman lights the Mummy on fire and then sets in him a giant wheel, his flaming body spinning around gloriously!  If the Film was more of that and less of them discussing how to conquer emotions and the World, this would be a true classic.  As it is, it is a bit tainted and disappointing in some ways.  On the plus side, the German/French Credits give Paul Naschy a Writing Credit under his real name and an Acting one under his Stage one!
 ***Who else gets Credits under two different names?***
Next time, I dig deep into the 1970s to find something weird to cover.  What will it be?  Stay tuned...

Friday, April 20, 2018

Holiday Flix: Maryjane (1968)

I reviewing crappy Movies.  In this case, I'm doing one on 4/20, since the Internet is made up of children.  This is Maryjane, a 1968 Drama that wanted to talk to 'the kids these days.'  This is a bit less preachy and more nuanced than stuff like Marihuana or Reefer Madness.  It's still full of stuffy old men and women (but mostly men) talking about the kids and their drugs and their wild ways.  The tale is pretty stock, but at least plays with things a little bit to help the fatigue.  Is this a memorable tale or one to pass to the left?  To find out, read on...
In a Cold Open, some girl on drugs (so they say) hits a guy with her car and rolls it.  She hits him so hard that...

1) He bleeds a gallon of red paint
2) His hair changes from black to blonde!
The Football Coach/Art Teacher (Fabian) is fairly-new and just wants to help his Students.

To the Film's credit, they point out that the older Coach won't bench the jerk Student, since his friends would quit with him and ruin their Season.
Speaking of said Students, one has the hots for a girl and tries to join the group.  They make him steal for them, but he does at least return the stuff.
Fabian stands up for the kids and admits to smoking pot once when he was younger.  Who could ever do that and become, I don't know, President?

This leads to him being framed by the leader behind the gang of teens dealing Pot.
I highlight this bit in Holding to mention that this is both one of the Film's Writers and the winner for Worst Fake Beard I've Seen since Sleepaway Camp's tape mustache!
Oh and the kids pick on the Auto Mechanic/Fill-Up Station Owner in one bit (that reminded me of Zoolander).  He's Garry Marshall.
After some investigating and some luck, our Lead figures out who the leader is- his new Girlfriend!

This Story has no real resolution though, since...
The Film just sort of stops after Fabian leaves the lead kid with the Dealers to be, presumably, killed.  What a moral!
Not quite the buzzkill I was expecting.  Like I said, this is a bit less preachy and a bit more even-handed than I expected.  For instance, the one stuffy Adult says the bullshit fact about Pot being 'a gateway drug.'  When asked for a follow-up, he admits that 'no leading Scientist agrees,' but then says that 'but every heavy drug user we've seen started with Pot.'  They also drank coffee...and milk...and water.  My God- Water is the gateway drug to everything!!!!  So yeah, still a little bit of lying mixed in with some bitter honesty.  This is much more of a Drama than anything else, so its less funny for those looking for stuff like Reefer Madness' Piano Scene or stuff like that.  It is generally-well Acted and looks fine.  It's just dry, really.  It's the Wheat Bread of Drug Scare Films- not bad for you, but not that interesting either.  Partake or don't partake- your pick.  Just don't let the immediate buzzkill of a famously-dead Distribution Studio ruin things for you...
Basic stuff that is only elevated by the dated Music and fashion.  On the plus side, it is randomly-dark at the End, so that's something.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

What The?!?!? Cover Art: Trancers (1985)

So I don't know the origin of this.  I want to think that it is just a coincidence.

Regardless of who made this, however, the whole thing is just plain weird.

1985's Trancers is a Sci-Fi Film from Full Moon about Jack Deth time-traveling to the Past to save mankind. 

I tell you all that to put this thing into whatever context is available...
 Seriously, what is this?!?

Please tell me that there is a Book or a Band or something that is just also called this.

If this is really 'based' on the Movie, I want to know how and why!

Blah blah blah...original art...
I like to think of myself as a restorer of fine art.  One day, I'll actually find some to work on.

TV on the Internet: Ash vs Evil Dead- 'Baby Proof'

Another week and another Episode.  Can they keep things going from last week?  Let's see...
Ash has to face down a new, cuter threat- a demon baby.  Will his newfound personal connection to it make it impossible for him to save himself though?
Will the Foreign Tourist last another Episode?  All signs point to 'no' on account of, well, history.

Will she at least go down in memorable fashion?
While possessed by evil, Pablo's soul is able to journey to the Spirit Realm.  Can family save him?
Can he save his soul?  Can Ash take down the demon baby?  Can the family reunite?

To find out, watch the Show already!
Even with all of the new stuff, they manage to keep this going nicely.  Since we're in Season 3, we've got all of the Leads established and can build upon them.  Kelly shows how badass she is, but also makes a big move that's been a long time coming.  Ash shows compassion...but is still willing to keep demon ass- even if he doesn't want to kill it this time.  Pablo gets a lot of focus here as he finally seems to step up to the place of power that he's been meant to for so long.  Ruby is, of course, still manipulative as all hell.  You get all of the stuff you expect- slapstick, Ash fighting a creature and Kelly being badass- and more.  What's not to love?  I'm still not sure where all of the build-up is going, but I haven't been disappointed by the Show yet.  If you're more anxious than I am, just hold up and see where this goes...
Next time, Ash and company must reunite to save the World.  Can they do it?  See you then...

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Quick Reviews: Suicide Squad- Hell to Pay

When life gives you lemons, watch violent cartoons instead.  When my Sunday plans changed last minute, I made the most of it by watching this...
The Film begins In Media Res with a team on a mission.  Things don't go smoothly, but that's all I'll say...
The next mission is 'off the books' and Amanda Waller recruits some of her best- Deadshot, Harley, Captain Boomerang, Killer Frost, Copperhead and Bronze Tiger.
It all relates to this magical MacGuffin.  While looking like a Monopoly Card made by Hot Topic, it is actually quite powerful!
It is so powerful that at least one other group of Villains is trying to get it- Blockbuster, Silver Banshee and Zoom!
Besides the threat of each other and these Villains, there's also Professor Pyg, Scandal Savage, Powerhouse and their Boss.
Can our mixed-up gang of Villains do the right thing?  Will they save the day for, well, themselves or die trying?

There's only one way to find out and you know what it is.
Violent, engaging and miles better than the live-action Film!  I'm not going to say that the Film is not without its weird flaws and tics.  For example, Deadshot is Tony Stark now, at least based on the model.  It's just odd.  Likewise, you will either love or hate the MacGuffin that drives the Plot- there is no middle ground.  I found it to be interesting and unique to not be bothered by the strangeness of it all.  This is how mix Magic with your Suicide Squad story, DC!  Minor complaints aside, I found it to be fun and interesting.  All of the Characters have their one-notes, but they do them so well.  The Film also manages to mix in bits of funny and surreal with the serious, bloody nature of it all.  One moment, someone is getting their head blown off and the next minute, Copperhead is spooking an old man with his fangs.  It's an odd balance, but it mostly works.  On top of that, the Characters get to all show a little bit of depth at times, which is nice.  Seriously, if DC could make more Live-Action Films this good and interesting, they could actually compete with Marvel during Phase 3.  If nothing else, we need more Films with Supervillains in an RV...
Another interesting DC Animated Film that proves that someone knows what they're doing.  Too bad the people who get $200 million aren't these guys instead!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Netflix and Thrill: Jessica Jones- Season 2, Part 1

After a long delay (and some Shows that people found polarizing), my favorite Marvel Heroine in the MCU with her own Solo Project (low bar, I know) is back.  I'm only doing the first 6 Episodes here, so no big SPOILERS.

That goes for you AND for me.  Nobody SPOIL the rest of the Season for me just yet.
After the stuff with Kilgrave, Jessica is more famous than she would like.  She does what she can to only take the 'sleazy' clients- so as not to get attached.
When the case of a man who calls himself The Whizzer comes, she brushes it off.

Unfortunately, there turns out to be more truth and than fiction here and it all ties back to her own origins...
Things aren't exactly super-great for the other people in her life.  Her Sister is trying to be a legitimate source of News, while her not-friend and occasional employer has a mysterious health issue.
Who is the mysterious killer who seems to also have ties to the people that gave Jessica her powers- IGH- and what is her motivation?
Can Jessica avoid getting on the wrong side of the law when things keep going against her?

There's only one way to find out- watch the Show (so far)...
The bitch is back!  I fully-admit to not being that familiar with Krysten Ritter before this Show.  With that said, she's just plain amazing in this.  She's both acerbic and caring.  She's untouchable, but also vulnerable.  She's direct, but also full of secrets.  There's so much depth to her Character that she almost doesn't need a great Show to back her up.  Thankfully, things don't seem to be letting her down just yet.  Was she not quite as good on The Defenders?  Maybe.  For me, she always felt like she didn't quite fit in with this fight between The Hand and the group.  That worked in her favor, to be honest, as she didn't get dragged down by the iffy Plotting that made up that Series.  Here, she shines with no conditions.  She's not the only person of note here.  Her Sister has developed some nice layers, while her Partner is quite literally her partner here.  The Story is finally exploring more of her past and I'm all in.  Before the Disney deal ruins this great run of Netflix Shows, we might as well enjoy these.  Hell, this may be the last Season of this Show we got on this platform.  Just try to cope with that fact...
Based on what has happened so far, I really want to see how this ends.  No amount of hype can ruin this for me.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Animondo: Trickster

Welcome back to Animondo, my very occasional look at anime. Today, we’re taking a look at Trickster.

Fair warning that some pretty disturbing topics will be discussed in this article, including suicide, mental manipulation, and murder.

Trickster - or more fully, Trickster: From Edogawa Ranpo’s “The Boy Detectives Club” - is, as that extended title suggests, based on the works of Edogawa Ranpo, the author of a number of works focused on a detective Akechi Kogoro. Among the tales are those dealing with the “Boy Detectives Club” - basically Akechi’s version of the Baker Street Irregulars. Not having read the original tales, I’m not entirely sure precisely how much Trickster follows them, but I suspect the connection is fairly loose.

Not that that stops Trickster from being an exceptional show.

Trickster primarily focuses on the...not sure I can call it a friendship. Alliance? Grudging tolerance? Let’s say “relationship,” that’s easier. Trickster primarily focuses on the relationship between Kobayashi Yoshio, a boy living on the streets, and Hanasaki Kensuke, a member of Detective Akechi’s “Boy Detectives Club.”

Hanasaki is your basic anime hero: carefree and cheerful, with a thirst for adventure and excitement and a strong sense of justice.

Kobayashi is depressed, disinterested, unmotivated, and suicidal.

Also, he’s immortal.

Though not in the traditional sense - he could still be killed, technically, if anything could get to him. He has a kind of amazing shielding power that prevents things from getting close to him (often, whether or not they’re harmful), and that can also do things like preventing injury from falls from a great height or even force-feeding him if he’s refusing to eat. Basically, no matter what he tries, his powers force him to stay alive.

This leads to Trickster’s spectacularly odd primary focus: Kobayashi’s wish to get around his powers and find a way to die, and Hanasaki’s attempts to help him while also trying to get him to want to live instead. After an early incident in which Kobayashi helps Hanasaki with one of his cases and actually suffers a minor scratch in the process, Hanasaki theorizes that something about helping with the case made Kobayashi vulnerable - therefore, if Kobayashi joins the Boy Detectives Club and helps out with more cases, he might eventually find out how to die.

If there's an evil way to pour a drink, this is definitely it.

That’s the primary plotline. The other focuses on Akechi Kogoro and his rival, the criminal known only as the Fiend with Twenty Faces, starting out just showing them as established rivals - the great detective and his greatest foe - before going back to show how their relationship started out. Not going to spoil anything here, but suffice to say there’s deeper ties than it at first appears and things get pretty darn screwed up here.

Other characters are members of the Boy Detectives Club, the police that they sometimes work with, and a few notable family members, friends, or more minor criminals that get involved in the cases. The show starts out with a slight tendency towards episodic cases - the case of the week, basically - but moves quickly into lengthier plots, especially once it hits about the halfway mark of its run.

Trickster is an excellent show, albeit with some missteps that I’ll get to later on. First, though, I’d like to talk about some things that it does particularly well.

The character work on the show is exceptional - particularly in how it plays with some reliable anime tropes. Most notably, Hanasaki’s standard anime hero personality is seriously subverted and broken over the course of the show. I don’t want to spoil how, but suffice to say he does not end up as anywhere near the character he was at the start of things, and there’s a really, really fascinating progression in the relationship between Hanasaki and Kobayashi over the course of the show. It isn’t even just something as simple as an inversion, which would be fine in and of itself - the characters don’t just trade places or anything. They remain true to who they’ve been, but the nature of how they relate to each other and how they see the world and issues of life, death, and justice drastically alters over the course of the show.

I think it's a good thing for the show, myself, but what do I know? I'm not an owl.

Similarly, the show ends up heavily playing with concepts of the “great detective” and the “master criminal,” though not to the developed extent that it plays with the “anime hero” with Hanasaki. Akechi and Twenty Faces have a pretty deep shared past that goes beyond the detective and the criminal, and while I can’t say it’s purely original, it is used pretty well over the course of the show.

Aside from its handling of tropes, its basic character work is good overall as well. Kobayashi in particular is surprisingly fun as a character - a rare case of a disinterested and disengaged character who actually works. I watched the subtitled version, and in that, I have to give a ton of credit to Kobayashi’s voice actor, Daiki Yamashita. He just gets a perfect tone for the character. Other characters are also well done - I’ve already mentioned Hanasaki’s excellent character plot, and his general portrayal really emphasizes that with subtle and not-so-subtle personality tweaks as the show goes on. Inoue and Katsuta, two other Boy Detectives Club members, are also very strongly portrayed and have a good subplot about guilt and overcoming the consequences of past failures.

I have to compliment the show on its various episode plots, too - the situations it sets up are interesting by and large and put the heroes in some tight situations - as well as those that force them to think about their principles and ideals. While much of this sort of thing focuses on Hanasaki and Kobayashi, several of the other Boy Detectives Club members have their own philosophical struggles over the course of the show on a smaller scale.

It bears noting, quickly, that this is much more of an action and suspense show than a mystery show. Despite the term “detectives,” the members of the club and Akechi himself tend to act more as crime stoppers than crime solvers. There’s a few nods to finding clues or cracking a case in some of the plots, but things are much more about stopping a crime than any kind of whodunit - not universally, mind, but often. I’m not sure of my opinion on that, honestly - I like how the show generally goes about things, but I do kind of feel like a show that involves characters said to be detectives should maybe involve a little more actual sleuthing. That said, I’m not sure what cases you do differently...a lot of the cases that are most action-heavy and the least like normal detective work are also the ones that really do a great job of progressing the character plots, and the action goes a long way towards benefiting that goal.

I also have to compliment the show on how it handles Kobayashi’s powers. Yes, in early episodes it can kind of feel like he’s a “win button” for the group, but those are early episodes, and the whole point of them is to build up how unsurpassable (mostly) his powers are, because that fact is as much a problem for him as an aid to the group. As tied in to his personal plot as his powers are, I didn’t have as big of a problem with how often they’re used to resolve things early on as I was expecting.

The show kind of makes a deal with you from the get-go...we’re going to show how these powers are a problem as we go on, and we’re going to focus on glitches with them and weaken their impact in ways later, so for these early episodes, just accept them. And it works. I think it helps that even from the first involvement between Hanasaki and Kobayashi we’re shown that something can get past Kobayashi’s powers, and we just don’t know what. Knowing that he does have a weakness helps make his powers seem less certain even as they’re treated as pretty certain early on, especially since we don’t know if that weakness is something rare or something he’s going to encounter often.

I’m torn somewhat on the nature of Kobayashi’s powers. I don’t want to spoil things here so I can’t critique in detail, but I simultaneously found the explanation for them and their weaknesses...appropriate and totally suited for the plot, and unsatisfying as an explanation. It’s weird. The explanation and the weakness are suitable and used very well, and fit the show’s philosophical themes, but they’re hard to square as an actual explanation and they raise a lot of “but what about…” questions. The resolution of the show actually does a great job with them regardless, and links them into the show’s philosophies and Kobayashi’s character arc really well, but the actual nature of the powers was just odd enough that it always bugged me. There’s just never enough of a “but why is it like that?” to satisfy, I think.

Another variable element of the show is its action. By and large, it’s pretty reasonable, and there’s some pretty creative elements to it in the form of some fun with gadgets like Hanasaki’s grappling cable. Kobayashi’s powers, as mentioned before, are always good for some fun too. But there’s some serious missteps with it as well over the course of the show, particularly, unfortunately, in the final few episodes. The show just doesn’t always seem to have a strong portrayal of placement in its action sequences. There are times where characters seem to be surrounded one moment, and then the next second, they’ll defeat only a couple of the enemies near them and suddenly be free and clear enough to calmly stand there talking for longer than it feels like they should be able to given the situation. This problem really comes to bear, as I said, in the final few episodes - there are quite a number of moments like that as the show is trying to raise tension towards its conclusion, and while it doesn’t spoil things, it does rob the show of tension over the possible fates of its secondary cast at times. The show seems to generally do a better job when focused on Hanasaki, Kobayashi, Akechi, and Twenty Faces than otherwise in this regard, and it does hurt it.

I also have to spend a bit of time talking about mind control here. I again don’t want to spoil much, but there’s some uncomfortable stuff that happens in the later episodes of the series involving brainwashing and what appears to be some kind of mental power. I don’t see that as a negative in and of itself, myself, but what I do see as a negative is that one of the really major plots around it just doesn’t actually feel like it gets resolved in any kind of satisfactory manner. It builds really well to a particular point and then just kind of...stops. I think the creators of the show really, truly believed they had a resolution there that fit their concepts - they didn’t just forget or anything - but it just feels like we leave off and never show what happened to the character involved or how things worked out. It may be just that I wanted things to be a bit more sunshine and roses than they ended up, and less that it isn’t developed, but it feels like we don’t get a complete ending for it - like we should know more about where the character involved ends up than we do.

All told, Trickster is a great show, though one that deals with some very uncomfortable subject matter. If the above has you interested, I recommend it - it is well done and thoughtful, and the flaws that it has don’t do anything to ruin the show. Just be aware that it does involve some topics that can be pretty rough.

Dubbed or Subbed?: I watched the subtitled version and found it to be of high quality, but I’m aware there is also a dubbed version - not having watched that one, though, I can’t judge its quality relative to the subtitled version.