October 08, 2004

Two Three Ok, Four Remarkable Movies

I've recently seen a foursome of interesting movies, each fun and worthwhile in a unique way, yet flawed enough to keep them from reaching their full potential.

First up, and probably the best known here in America, is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, starring Sean Connery. Critics panned it and a lot of people hate it for various reasons.

Too bad, 'cause I like this movie. Characters not true to legend? Boo hoo. Unbelievable special effects? That's the point. It doesn't follow the storyline it's based on? It's based on a comic book, get over it. Much like Starship Troopers Earth vs. Soup, you need to suspend belief and just enjoy the ride. I enjoy these bigger-than-life adventures in the Raiders of the Lost Ark style (I think RotLA is overrated too). Lots of fun.

Next, I've got a pair of international offerings courtesy of my friend Dan. He's got the same twisted taste in movies that I do, so we trade flicks often and suggest weird little offerings for each other.

Shogun Assassin. From Japan, this is the movie that inspired Kill Bill. In fact, Kill Bill is an Americanized version of this cult classic and pays tribute in little ways to the original, but you probably missed them if you've never seen this one. The cover of the box proclaims that this flick has been banned since 1983 (due to extreme violence), and that it's impossible to keep a body count. The violence is intense and frequent by 1980's standards, but is fairly tame in today's slasher flick-infested world. The gore mainly consists of gushing blood and is cartoon-like in the way it sprays all over the place.

Lone Wolf is an elite and loyal Samurai for a senile and paranoid Shogun. The Shogun's ninjas kill Lone Wolf's wife, so he vows vengence and, accompanied by his toddler son, they begin their quest to topple the Shogun. Lone Wolf pushes his son along in a stroller-like cart (remember, this is medieval Japan), vanquishing all mercenaries, samurai, and ninjas sent against them, and there are a lot!

The son narrates:

"My father tells me not to count the number of men he's killed, just to pray for the souls of those he's killed. I need to know how many souls to pray for, so I keep count..."

As silly as this sounds, it works. The actor who plays Lone Wolf has a powerful screen presence (unfortunately he died a few years ago of a heart attack), and the spiritual aspects of Japan are played up somewhat. There is some nudity, and like I said the violence is plentiful but not particularly gruesome by today's standards. In short, this is a Samurai movie, and an excellent one at that.

The third movie goes in about a dozen directions at once, and although it can't seem to make up its mind about where it wants to be, it's still a riveting and enjoyable movie.

Made in France, Brotherhood of the Wolf tells the story of a legendary beast that terrorizes a rural province in pre-(French) revolutionary times. The cinematography is beautiful, and you can enjoy it just for the scenery, which is a good thing because some aspects of the plot are just plain silly. I tend to be overlook that, because what do I know about French cinema (other than I can't stand Jerry Lewis)? Same for Japanese films, so I just shrug and move on.

We've got a beast running around wreaking havoc, killing men and women, children and adult alike, and the local French army garrison has had zero luck tracking it down. The King sends his Royal taxidermist to determine what exactly is going on, and he charms the local yokels as he begins to unravel the mystery.

And it's quite a mystery. A local brothel is involved, as is the Catholic Church. His sidekick, an American Indian he befreinded during the French Indian War, gets quite involved with the local gypsies, and between them and the peasants and the clergy and the hookers and the resident royalty, well, everyone has something to hide and an agenda of their own.

Remember that "silly" part I mentioned? For some odd reason, many of the fight scenes are straight out of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. In fact, I had no idea that the French in those days were such kick ass kung fu fighters! I have absolutely no idea why this was included in the film, and the film doesn't even try to justify it. You're just cruising along, digging on the hoop skirts and powdered wigs, and suddenly it's Bruce Lee time, baby.

Once again, suspend belief and just go with the flow, and you'll find a lot to like. The plot keeps you guessing pretty much right to the end, and I have to again mention the absolutely beautiful scenery and cinematography.

Finally, we have a flick that I saw on the SciFi channel, titled Retroactive. This is a little gem for action film fans. The premise is inspired: if you could go back and relive a moment, what would you do differently?

Jim Belushi plays the baddie in this movie, and enjoys the hell out of it. He's a low-class Texas redneck and the kind of guy who owns a gun and is always on the edge of the law. Critical, but oddly peripheral to the story is a government lab with an experimental but functioning time machine.

Belushi and his meek wife pick up a stranded hitchhiker, a good-looking lady who's car has broken down in the remote Texas desert. Along the way they encounter a few other people and things get out of hand quickly, resulting in Belushi killing his wife.

The hitchhiker gets away, finds herself at the lab and accidentally gets to relive the last stretch of time. Knowing what's about to happen, she tries to change events but just makes things worse. It happens again and again, and each time it gets more complicated and goes more wrong as she desperately tries to set things right.

There's lots of explosions and gunfire and car chases and crashes, and like I said, the SciFi aspect is critical to the plot but not really used beyond that. Once again, just go with the flow and enjoy the action. It's by no means a great movie, but it's interesting and entertaining and Belushi makes a great bad guy.

So there you go, four movies I can heartily recommend, and I only used the word 'silly' for two of them.

Posted by Ted at October 8, 2004 05:35 AM | TrackBack

Loved the one of the wrong-way helmet! Funny.

Posted by: JohnL at October 8, 2004 12:51 PM

Oops! I commented on the wrong post. The previous comment goes with the "comfy couch" post below.

Posted by: JohnL at October 8, 2004 12:52 PM

If you liked the League, you have to see Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Think of it as the League done right, without silly scaling or perspective issues.

Posted by: Dominic at October 9, 2004 04:39 AM

Shogun Assassin rocked. What a great movie, Lone Wolf and Cub is a great comic series as well. LoEG was kinda stupid if you ask me. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay to far fetched. Just couldn't get the requisite suspension of disbelief going.

Posted by: Kin at October 10, 2004 04:22 PM

Saw all of those except Shogun Assassin. I was really impressed by Retroactive - a thinking man's actioner. LoEG was OK, but I dig Brotherhood of the Wolf. Liked it so much I bought the DVD. The French do have a half-assed sort-of martial art called la Savate, but it doesn't look much like what you see in that movie. Anachronisms are all right if they're played right, and they were in that flick.

Another odd movie you might enjoy is Equilibrium - I just got the DVD for it. Fun little dystopia with a made up gun-fu martial art. Interesting, and beautifully filmed.

Posted by: buckethead@perfidy.org at October 13, 2004 04:46 PM

As for the League of Extraorinadily Boring Gentlemen, my main complaint is that it prevented me from suspending disbelief. And this is coming from a guy that had no such problem with Canibal: The Musical. It was just a bad, bad movie.

Posted by: Phelps at October 14, 2004 05:42 PM
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