Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Shadowman (1974)

Via scrolling text we are informed that, on Friday, October 13, 1307, the Knights Templar were ordered burned at the stake by King Philip IV of France.  Their crimes: Heresy, Sorcery, Sodomy, and Black Magic.  But the question remains: whatever happened to their fabled treasure?  Cut to Maxime de Borrego (Roberto Bruni) and his snooping butler Albert (Annet Yvon Sarray).  Maxime is a modern day Templar and knows all the secrets about their booty (read that any way you like).  Albert, being the faithful servant he is, sells this information to Mademoiselle Ermance (who is totally not a man in drag played by Jacques Champreux, who also happens to be the film’s writer).  Next thing you know, the titular Shadowman (three guesses who he is played by) launches his quest for the treasure, and nothing is going to stand in his way.

Shadowman (aka Nuits Rouges) is Georges Franju’s final theatrical film (according to IMDb), and it is set firmly in the realm of the European Supercrook.  Characters like Diabolik, Kriminal, Judex (about whom Franju also made a film along with Champreux), Fantomas, and so on all play on the audience’s dual interest in schemes and geniuses (even when they’re not so much).  Like Hannibal Smith on The A-Team, we love it when a plan comes together.  We even love it when a plan falls apart.  But most of all, we love watching a plan unfold, good or bad.  This is why we love Heist films, why Police Procedurals are perennial television favorites, why films like Escape From Alcatraz are so involving.  So, what could be better than a Supercrook after a legendary pile of mystical riches?  

The criminal mind behind the machinations is important, as well.  We love masterminds, whether they be for good (Doctor Who, Sherlock Holmes) or evil (The Master, Professor James Moriarty).  These people breathe rarefied air from us, because their minds work on a different level.  But our acceptance of their superior intellects all boils down to the writing behind them and the actors’ portrayals.  Anyone can claim that they’re a genius, but if they cannot make an audience buy it, they’re just blowhards.  Geniuses can be stoic or manic or a combination of the two, but they usually favor one over the other (and even then there is typically a limit to how long their demeanor can be maintained under duress).  Shadowman, rather surprisingly, goes way over the top into Cobra Commander levels of psychopathy (probably even higher).  His penetrating eyes bug out at every opportunity, and he flings himself into situations with unhinged abandon.  This is not the cool customer we’ve come to expect from the likes of Anthony Hopkins’ suave Dr. Hannibal Lecter.  He will kill, and he has no compunction about doing so.  His female right hand (Gayle Hunnicutt, billed solely as “La Femme”) mirrors Shadowman’s lunacy and even ups it a notch, if such a thing is possible.  In the midst of a mission, she kills an elderly lady through whose window she enters.  A few moments later, she watches the blood drip down, a soulless, dead glaze in her eyes.  This sequence is backed by a leisurely, ethereal score (also by Franju) which is atypical for action scenes but gives this one an almost haunting quality.  These characters don’t just kill because they are forced into a corner.  For these people, murder is something of a perk.

The opposition in the film is laid out in terms of new versus old, of technology versus antiquity.  The Templars depicted here are still an ancient sect.  They carry their rituals out in old catacombs, surrounded by carved rock.  Even in de Borrego’s house, there are hidden sliding panels (powered by Norelco electric shavers, by the sound of them), but they lead to dank, musty, old cellars and tunnels.  The most modern they get is in their use of radioactive “Alchemist’s Gold” to track Shadowman (and even this is ancient in nature, requiring no moving parts or electricity).  By contrast, Shadowman’s lair is slick and sterile, all white and steel.  There are banks of computers from which he controls things like his mechanical taxi driver (I believe Paul Verhoeven probably saw this before making Total Recall; yes, that’s a joke).  He has a doctor on call to turn humans into mindless killing machines in his service.  He does partake in the world around him, but he is just as adept at watching it through a tube and acting directly on it through same (manipulating reality through televised media).   The most low-fi Shadowman and his cohorts get is in La Femme’s use of a blowgun.  Needless to say, the police in pursuit of Shadowman (lead by Goldfinger himself, Gert Fröbe) are almost entirely ineffectual, most likely because they sit between these two extremes.  It doesn’t help any that they seem to not give much of a shit whenever they have an opportunity to spring a trap.  I suppose this could be a bit of nigh-existential angst inserted by the filmmakers in regards to the common man and feelings of powerlessness.  That said, the acting from all concerned does not go very far in selling this anyway (or go very far at all, if I’m being completely honest).

The core concept behind Shadowman lies in notions of identity, or more specifically, lack of identity.  Shadowman is referred to repeatedly as the man without a face (recalling Franju’s own, superlative Les Yeux Sans Visage).  We never get his real name, nor do we ever lay eyes on his true appearance (or if we do, this is never indicated to us as such).  If anything, he is his pure self only when wearing his red hood, his head a featureless orb with wild eyes.  When he wants to be seen, it is always in disguise.  His true persona generally only comes out in the dead of night (making his name even more relevant).  He surrounds himself with assistants who also wear blank masks (though theirs are black, differentiating him in the only way he can, all things considered).  He has an army of zombie-esque killers, and they are strictly automatons.  They are expendable both in the sense that they do Shadowman’s bidding but also in their planned exploitation for the corporations and militaries of the world who will be able to purchase them as disposable labor/fodder.  We do see La Femme’s face, but she wears a mask of apathy at every turn, distinguished only by the occasional sneer or grimace.  Shadowman and his ilk work towards a stripping away of individuality, the ultimate in horror and the ultimate thing we, as people, struggle against on a daily basis.  What makes it worse is that his motives are nothing but selfish.  He isn’t doing this to make everyone equal.  He is doing it so that he has power over the faceless masses.  Consequently, he cannot succeed, but he also cannot be defeated, because he is the stone that grinds us all down.  And even at the top of the mountain, it still hangs overhead.

MVT:  The mean streak running through this movie is intriguing.  In one sense, it makes it a little harder to get involved in the film.  In another sense, it separates this one from the majority of its kind.  I regard that as a good thing.

Make Or Break:  The Make is the scene when Shadowman shows up at an auction house.  He appears from behind a full-size statue.  But it isn’t just that he glides out from behind it, like he’s emerging on rollers from some surreal Trojan Horse.  He is also in the same position as the statue, mimicking its form and creating a simulated animation of the inanimate.

Score:  6.5/10                

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Bonus #54: Interview with Matt Hannon

Welcome to a special bonus episode between the GGtMC and viewerdiscretionadvised.net where we interview the Samurai Cop himself...Matt Hannon!!!

Hannon was thought dead but recently returned to the public through videos posted on the internet. It was a dream come true for Large William, Heather from viewerdiscretionadvised.net and myself to get a chance to speak with Matt about all things Samurai Cop and beyond!!!

Please help support Matt and his team on the venture that is Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance over on Kickstarter and let Matt know on his youtube account in the comments how much it means to you for him to reappear after all these years and your love for Samurai Cop!!!

Direct download: ggtmc_MHInterview.mp3

Emails to midnitecinema@gmail.com

Adios!!!


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Aquarians (1970)

Few things in the world caused me to titter with delight when I was young quite so much as the name “Lake Titicaca.”  There was a moment in time when underwater photography was a big selling point for mass media, and people such as the late, great Jacques Cousteau brought their pure sense of wonder for the deep into millions of families’ households on a regular basis.  In fact, it was through that man that I first heard this lake’s moniker, so blame him.  After all, what child wouldn’t get joy out of pronouncing two words you weren’t supposed to pronounce?  Together?  In the same word?  To my eternal shame, the name still manages to bring a smirk to my face.  Incidentally, the name “Titicaca” translates (according to some) as “Rock Puma,” and this only makes it sweeter to a pre-adolescent (and adolescent, and even adult) mind.  “Rock Puma” would be a great name for a superhero character (and, more obviously, a rock band; apologies to Dave Barry).  Nevertheless, Lake Titicaca is a large body of water, and like all large bodies of water (and some small ones) it contains mysteries both mundane and exotic.  I mean, who among us can say what truly lies at the bottom of a lake, what doesn’t want to be discovered, what will resist being dragged out into the cold light of reason?  Even with the most modern equipment overseen by the most stolid of explorers, some enigmas refuse to be unraveled.  And that’s their charm.

Don McDougall’s The Aquarians opens with plenty (and I mean plenty) of footage of the ocean depths (courtesy of Ricou Browning, director of Mr. No Legs but likely better known to cinephiles as the Gillman from The Creature From The Black Lagoon [at least in the underwater scenes; the monster was played by Ben Chapman for the scenes on land]) narrated with expository parchedness by none other than Leslie Nielsen.  In due course, we are introduced to Luis Delgado (Ricardo Montalban), the head of Deep Lab, a research station located five hundred feet beneath the waves.  After an interminable amount of nothing occurs, Delgado and his lackeys are whisked away to the African nation of Aganda (which to the best of my knowledge is fictitious, though I was never any good at geography) to investigate the sudden death of almost all sea life in the immediate vicinity.  The answer to the mystery is intriguing (and spoiled right in the film’s IMDb synopsis, not that it’s in any way shocking or all that important to the plot; it’s a straight up McGuffin), but what’s done with it isn’t.

I’m going to say right off the bat that I was let down by this film, though it posits enough compelling aspects that it’s kind of inexcusable.  A group of adventurers cruising around the bottom of the ocean is one of the most innately exciting premises ever.  There’s tension simply in the surroundings (which could kill you if you walked out the “front door”), but unlike outer space, the locales (theoretically) are easier to get to.  Add in some espionage goodness, and you bring in Disaster film elements (something Irwin Allen exploited to the hilt with his movie and subsequent television series Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea).  Further, there are Science Fiction components like the creation of an artificial gill and a deepwater submersible that’s a cross between a UFO from Monster Zero and the Venus Space Probe from what we all know were the best episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man (outside of those with Bionic Bigfoot, naturally).  Montalban proves hands down that he could carry a feature (with or without a neckerchief), and I found myself dreading the moments he wasn’t onscreen.

So, how could all of these things add up to a dry, dull viewing experience?  For starters, there is an overabundance of underwater photography.  I get that a large portion of the reason this was even produced was to showcase such images, but they tend to drag on aimlessly, becoming a blue-tinted visual drone.  The footage that does have action in it is glacial (more a matter of physics than anything else, I’d wager), and it’s not exploited properly to ramp up suspense, at any rate.  It’s all very matter of fact.  Outside of Delgado, the cast of characters are distinguishable as characters in name only.  They exist solely to be the jobs they perform, with little to no differentiation between them (the one standout being Katherine Woodville’s Barbara Brand, though this is more due to biological happenstance than anything written into the script).  

Further, the film is focused on procedure to the point of tedium.  Now, I am a fan of procedure.  I love Police Procedurals, and a good Heist film can thrill me to no end.  I am enthralled by the scrutinization of the details of a plan/crime and watching said minutiae be laid out to the smallest dust mote.  I tend to be myopic in my own approach to procedures.  That’s just me.  Nonetheless, there is no excitement generated in the procedures in The Aquarians.  It doesn’t hit peaks and valleys of overcoming and being overcome by obstacles culminating in ultimate success.  It is instead the stereo instructions of plot progression (and I mean that in the bad way).  Even when depth charges are being flung at our intrepid protagonists, it’s reacted to like plucking a long nose hair: Sure, it stings, but no biggie, and it has to get done regardless.  In fact, if an enterprising person were to research wasted opportunities in filmed media, one would be the casting of Walton Goggins in Django Unchained.  The other would be the sum totality of parts that is The Aquarians.  The filmmakers even managed to never have any direct physical conflict with the bad guys; astounding, since three of the film’s heroes are very able-bodied young men, and the villains include Chris Robinson, no stranger to badassery (see Revenge Is My Destiny for further proof).

The film isn’t empty-headed.  It’s simply poorly handled.  It has an eco-crusader angle that was big (and getting bigger) in the Seventies.  It does a nice job balancing its respect for the ocean with its notions about exploiting it (for the betterment of man, of course).  It deals with the perversion of science and the manipulation of good men for evil purposes.  The potential for the character of Delgado is enormous, as he’s a clinical prick of a man, but he cares about what he does and the people he does it with (again, expertly portrayed by Montalban).  And the film wastes all of this.  Perhaps as background noise (along the lines of the Yule Logs stations used to air around Christmas), The Aquarians could serve a purpose.  Unfortunately, entertainment isn’t one of them.

MVT:  Montalban gets the dubious distinction.  He really does carry himself with authority, and you believe that he believes every word he says.

Make Or Break:  The Break is no one scene.  It is the aggregate of the lack of action and lack of personality in the plot and every character engaged in it (save one; I’m sure you can guess their identity).  

Score:  5/10

Monday, August 11, 2014

Episode #300: The Schoolgirls in Peril Trilogy

Welcome to our landmark 300th episode of the GGtMC!!!

For our celebration and for your listening pleasure we are bringing you reviews of What Have You Done to Solange? (1972) and What Have They Done to Our Daughters? (1974) both directed by Massimo Dallamano and Rings of Terror (1978) directed by Alberto Negrin.

We hope you enjoy the episode and we want to thank all of you that have been there since the beginning and those of you that are new to the GGtMC!!! We do this for the love of cinema and sharing that with all of you makes it all worth it!!!

Direct download: ggtmc_300.mp3

Emails to midnitecinema@gmail.com

Adios!!!


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Instant Action: Road House (1989)



I’m not sure I’d be bragging about fucking guys in prison!

Screenplay By: Hilary Henkin & David Lee Henry
Directed By: Rowdy Herrington

--Patrick Swayze without his shirt on performing T'ai chi ch'uan in front of a barn.

--A waitress who appears only to fawn over Dalton, bring him breakfast, and then randomly sing.

--Terry Funk showing up, in general.

--A guy gets his throat ripped out by another dude.

--The love interest has fake baked skin that looks like rubber.

--She also sports implants that look like rock hard, sagging, bags of sand.

--Let’s not forget that she has a foreign accent for reasons that are never touched upon.

--Patrick Swayze is a bouncer who also has a degree in philosophy.

--Our villain is a villain because he has to be a villain, not for any actual reason.

--A man gets trapped by a stuffed polar bear.

--The bar owner changes graffiti from “for a great fuck” to “for a great Buick.”

--Dalton is too tough for pain, in fact, “pain don’t hurt.”

--Dalton sports a knife wound that a VHS tape could be shoved in, but it doesn’t need to be cleaned, just stapled shut.

--And finally, “I used to fuck guys like you in prison.”

Normally I don’t do reviews in the above style, but Road House is a movie that deserves the bullet point treatment. I even left a bunch of stuff out, trust me there’s a lot more greatness contained within the film. Road House isn’t a great movie, it’s pretty darn awful. Within its awfulness it reaches a place where it’s comfortable being awful and because of that it ends up being pretty darn good.

I’ll say this much for Road House, Patrick Swayze has a charisma about him. I can’t claim to have been the biggest fan of Mr. Swayze, but I always liked him as an actor. Road House is a great example of how Mr. Swayze could make ridiculous characters believable. Dalton is a bouncer philosopher, he’s pretty much a joke from the word go. Yet, as the film plays out Mr. Swayze won me over to the Dalton character through the sheer force of his charisma. There’s nothing to dislike about Mr. Swayze’s performance, he’s the one aspect of Road House that I would say is legitimately well-done.

The chances of me disliking a movie like Road House are very slim. It’s a terrible movie that revels in how terrible it can be. Ridiculous and over the top, but Road House is likable because of those elements. The action is a weird mix of brawling and beginner level kung fu, and it works every time a fight breaks out. It’s a tad too long, but that’s the only outright negative thing I have to say about Road House. When I want to watch a movie about a bouncer philosopher who rips dudes throats out, but is nice about it, there’s no other movie to turn to besides Road House.

Rating:

7/10

Cheers,

Bill Thompson