Film Review: Robot Carnival (1987)

Release Date: July 21st, 1987 (Japan)
Directed by: Hidetoshi Oomori, Hiroyuki Kitakubo, Hiroyuki Kitazume, Katsuhiro Otomo, Koji Morimoto, Mao Lamdo, Takashi Nakamura, Yasuomi Umetsu
Written by: Hiroyuki Kitazume, Katsuhiro Otomo, Mao Lamdo, Takashi Nakamura, Yasuomi Umetsu
Music by: Joe Hisaishi, Isaku Fujita, Masahisa Takeichi

A.P.P.P., Studio 4°C, Diskotek Media, Streamline Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

Robot Carnival is a pretty neat and interesting picture.

The film is an anime anthology where everything in it has the theme of robots. It also has a steampunk and cyberpunk aesthetic throughout the picture. Another interesting thing about it is that most of the film is actually silent in regards to dialogue.

The biggest thing that made me want to check this out, however, is that it features a story by Katsuhiro Otomo before he worked on the film adaptation of his megahit manga Akira.

Otomo’s contribution to this film is the opening and ending scenes. Both are fairly short but they act as the bookends to all the short stories in-between. These segments also feature a massive city structure on treads, rolling over the countryside. It’s actually pretty damn clear, once seeing this, that the Otomo segments were the inspiration behind the novels and film adaptation of Mortal Engines.

All the other stories are pretty cool and unique. It’s honestly a mixed bag, really, but it is cool seeing all of this as a larger body of work where its segments have a nice variance in art style and narrative structure.

This is a pretty chill and kind of relaxing anime to sit through. Each film is straightforward and just a neat, simple concept that has been realized and presented in all its glory. While everything has its own feel to it, the picture, as a whole, has a pretty consistent vibe.

I wouldn’t categorize this as a classic but I can see why many have held this in pretty high regard. I see it as more of a sampler of what many of these creators were capable of before they went off to make their own, larger features.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other cyberpunk and steampunk anime of the late ’80s/early ’90s.

Film Review: Clash by Night (1952)

Release Date: May 30th, 1952 (limited)
Directed by: Fritz Lang
Written by: Alfred Hayes
Based on: Clash by Night by Clifford Odets
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Paul Douglas, Robert Ryan, Marilyn Monroe, Keith Andes, Silvio Minciotti, J. Carrol Naish

Wald/Krasna Productions, RKO Radio Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“What do you want, Joe, my life’s history? Here it is in four words: big ideas, small results.” – Mae Doyle

While I love the hell out of Fritz Lang movies, especially his noir films, as well as just about anything that Barbara Stanwyck has done, this film mostly missed the mark for me.

This also has Marilyn Monroe and Robert Ryan in it too but regardless of the film’s star power, I found it mostly dull and sort of wrecked by Paul Douglas, who had me wanting to kill him by the third act of the picture.

Now I haven’t seen much with Paul Douglas in it, except for the original Angels In the Outfield, but he really started grating on my nerves due to how overly intense he was once he lost his shit due to his wife running around with Robert Ryan behind his back.

Sure, I understand the guy would be pissed but he wrecks the scenes he’s in by acting like a bull in a china shop. That might not be Douglas’ fault though, as Lang probably thought that it was effective, as he was sitting behind the camera directing these scenes. I guess my biggest issue with it is that it pulls you out of the picture and diminishes the great performance by Stanwyck, who felt like she was whispering her lines next to a madman with a bullhorn.

Still, it’s hard not to sympathize with Douglas’ character and maybe that’s just the magic of it all and Fritz Lang got the performance that he wanted out of him. And maybe I didn’t see how effective it was until that final scene that closed out the film, which had a surprisingly pleasant conclusion and made my heart warm for the two leads.

This isn’t the type of noir I fancy the most, however, as I like gritty crime stories. This one is more about a woman that creates human wreckage in her wake but starts to realize that she’s found something she didn’t even know she needed. Unfortunately for her, at least at first, she learns this way too late, after her selfish impulses have caused a lot of damage.

For those who prefer noir pictures that focus more on human romance, this will most assuredly be your cup of tea. It’s hard to deny how great Stanwyck, Ryan, Monroe and J. Carrol Naish are in this. And while this isn’t close to Fritz Lang’s best, you leave the film fairly satisfied with how it all turns out, which is kind of odd and unique for the noir genre.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other classic film-noir pictures of the era, especially those featuring Barbara Stanwyck or Robert Ryan or directed by Fritz Lang.

Film Review: Highlander: The Final Dimension (1994)

Also known as: Highlander III: The Sorcerer (original title), Highlander: The Magician (Sweden VHS title)
Release Date: November 30th, 1994 (Philippines)
Directed by: Andrew Morahan
Written by: Paul Ohl, Rene Manzor, Brad Mirman, William N. Panzer
Based on: characters by Gregory Widen
Music by: J. Peter Robinson
Cast: Christopher Lambert, Mario Van Peebles, Deborah Unger, Mako, Clancy Brown (archive footage)

Fallingcloud, Initial Groupe, Karambole Films Productions, 99 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll see you in hell!” – Kane, “I’ll be the judge of that.” – Connor MacLeod

While the Highlander series should have stopped at one film, this third entry is at least much better than the second. Granted, it’s still fairly shitty.

Christopher Lambert returns as Connor MacLeod and once again, he has to fight another Immortal because sequels gonna sequel. It doesn’t matter that he killed the last Immortal (other than himself) in the first film. Actually, he does that in the second one too.

However, at least this doesn’t try to make sense out of the terrible, second film and this really just ignores that it ever happened. But that’s another problem with this series, as each new chapter just sort of did what it wanted. It’s kind of like the Terminator franchise without a big budget or bankable star.

The only good thing about this movie is that I liked the villain. While Mario Van Peebles’ Kane has the most generic name ever and he isn’t nearly as badass as Clancy Brown’s The Kurgan, I liked the sorcerer twist to the character and he looked fucking cool.

Plus, Van Peebles really seemed to be enjoying the role, as he got to be a total bastard that looked like he was truly relishing in his bastardness. Sure, he was hammy but he was good hammy while the rest of the film was shit hammy.

Other than that, this movie is a fucking mess and it’s really damn hard to sit through in one go. I had to pause it about three times to walk around the house and stare into the abyss of my empty fridge, as there was nothing to curb my boredom hunger.

That being said, this is still a more enjoyable and palatable picture than its direct predecessor. But that movie was so bad it was used to torture information out of terrorists.

God, I really don’t want to have to watch the fourth and fifth films in this franchise.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Highlander sequels, none of which come close to the cool and original first film.

Documentary Review: Bruiser Brody: Wrestling’s Last Rebel (2017)

Release Date: 2017
Cast: Bruiser Brody (archive footage), Gerald Brisco, Bill Apter, Bob Armstrong, Kevin Sullivan, Jim Ross, Dave Meltzer, Abdullah the Butcher, Jimmy Hart, J.J. Dillon, Bill DeMott, Stan Hansen, Tony Atlas, various

Highpsots, 110 Minutes

Review:

I loaded up on a bunch of documentaries from Highspots due to not having much else to do during the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve run some great sales on their site, so it’s allowed me to grab a lot of the films and collections that I’ve wanted to own for quite awhile.

Being that I love Bruiser Brody, at least the stuff I’ve seen over the years since my tape trading days, I was stoked to see a beefy documentary about the guy. There is a great Dark Side of the Ring episode about his death but this here, is pretty much his full story, as it talks about his early life, his family and his career as a whole.

Like all the Highspots documentaries that I’ve seen, this features a ton of talking head interviews with Brody’s friends and colleagues. Many of these were taken from various shoot interviews over the years but they are well edited and form a good, energetic narrative.

There are also segments and narration by his widow, which add a lot of context to who the man was outside of the ring while also shedding more light on his tragic end.

For fans of old school wrestling, especially of the territories at their height, this is a cool film to dive into. Brody was primarily an indie wrestler that worked just about everywhere, touching a lot of people be they co-workers or fans.

This also comes as a three disc set with two other discs chock full of bonus material and some matches.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other wrestling documentaries by Highspots.

Film Review: Twins (1988)

Also known as: The Experiment (working title), Twiins (alternative spelling)
Release Date: December 8th, 1988 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Written by: William Davies, Timothy Harris, William Osborne, Herschel Weingrod
Music by: George Delerue, Randy Edelman
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny DeVito, Kelly Preston, Chloe Webb, Bonnie Bartlett, David Caruso, Marshall Bell, Maury Chaykin, Tony Jay, Frances Bay, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Jason Reitman, Catherine Reitman, Heather Graham

Universal Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

“My name is Julius and I am your twin brother.” – Julius Benedict, “Oh, obviously! The moment I sat down I thought I was looking into a mirror.” – Vincent Benedict

When Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the absolute top of the action film world, he decided to be in a comedy. At first, that may have seemed crazy. But the end result was this great picture that in my opinion, is a true comedy classic of its era.

Granted, this also had Danny DeVito in it, who never disappoints, and it was directed by Ivan Reitman, who was a great comedy director at his creative peak.

I think this film has actually aged really well too. Sure, it’s definitely a product of the ’80s but it is still a very human story that is carried by the charisma and chemistry of its two stars.

Schwarzenegger and DeVito just felt like a natural pair and even if they aren’t really brothers and don’t look the part, as that’s part of the gag, they just clicked and their connection and relationship felt truly genuine. And maybe Schwarzenegger doesn’t get enough credit as an actor but this allowed him to show his range and he did stupendously well in the role. It’s damn near impossible not to love him in this. And even if DeVito is a shithead for most of the film, you understand why he’s broken and I find it hard not to sympathize with his character and sort of grow into loving him as well.

At its core, this is just a feel good movie and it came out in a time where family dynamics were changing. I think that for a lot of people, it gave them hope that even if their upbringing might not have been the ideal, cookie cutter situation, that maybe, in some way, they could find the people in their life that would become family.

It’s really hard to peg but this is just a film that resonated with me at an early age and it still does. I don’t really think that has to do with nostalgia and for me, at least, it has to do with how good this is top to bottom from the characters, the story and their emotional journey.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Ivan Reitman comedies.

Film Review: The Mighty Peking Man (1977)

Also known as: Goliathon (alternative title)
Release Date: August 11th, 1977 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Ho Meng-hua
Written by: Kuang Ni
Music by: Frankie Chan
Cast: Danny Lee, Evelyne Kraft, Hsiao Yao, Ku Feng, Lin Wei-tu

Shaw Brothers, Shochiku, 90 Minutes

Review:

What a delightfully bonkers, energetic and fun movie!

For a Hong Kong ripoff of King Kong, this is so fucking enjoyable and it honestly comes across more like a Toho styled kaiju flick, especially their two King Kong ones from the ’60s.

The overall plot is about the same as King Kong, however, the pretty girl in this film has lived on the island with the giant gorilla for most of her life already. When she was a small child an aircraft crashed on the island and she was the only survivor. The gorilla found her, took a liking to her and raised her into a Jungle goddess. Basically, she’s like Tarzan but a woman… and raised by one very large ape.

Anyway, some rich doucher ends up taking the giant gorilla back to Hong Kong to turn him into a carnival act. But once the doucher attempts to rape the girl, the gorilla breaks free and starts trashing the city.

There is also a male human hero in this, played by Danny Lee. He’s a cool and likable guy that falls in love with the girl while also trying to save her from the danger the government brings down on her gorilla father figure.

While Shaw Brothers was mostly known for their martial arts movies, they really did the kaiju genre well and honestly, I wish that there were more of these. Hell, Roger Ebert gave this film three out of four stars and referred to it as his “favorite Hong Kong monster film”.

I was impressed by the effects of the film and the miniatures especially looked good. If I’m being honest, the craftsmanship and skill was pretty close to Eiji Tsuburaya’s level when he was making magic in those Toho Godzilla movies.

Ultimately, this is a picture that is much better than I could have hoped for. While I do like a lot of non-Japanese kaiju flicks, this is certainly one of the better ones and it should have spawned a Hong Kong era in giant monster movies.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other kaiju pictures from outside of Japan, as well as the King Kong films, especially the 1976 remake and the Toho ones.