Film Review: Dead or Alive (1999)

Also known as: Dead or Alive: Hanzaisha (original title), D.O.A. (short title)
Release Date: November 5th, 1999 (Tokyo International Film Festival)
Directed by: Takashi Miike
Written by: Ichiro Ryu
Music by: Kōji Endō
Cast: Riki Takeuchi, Show Aikawa, Renji Ishibashi

Daiei Film, Toei Video, Excellent Film, 105 Minutes

Review:

“My father was a small-village cop in a town where nothing ever happened. He just hung around like a scarecrow, until he died. But like they say – even a scarecrow keeps away the sparrows.” – Detective Jojima

People often ask me, “Hey, did you see that new Takashi Miike film?!” And my usual response is, “No.” People that know that I’m a hardcore film aficionado just assume that I like everything weird and strange out there but Miike’s movies have never really resonated with me and this one is no different.

Now that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate the film. I respect lots of things that aren’t my cup of tea because a person doesn’t have to like everything just for the fact that others see value in it or just because it has some sort of merit or special quality that makes it unique or influential.

I understand why Miike’s films resonate with some people, just as I understand why David Lynch is so beloved, even if most of his films don’t hit me in the same way. But I also know that directors with really strange oeuvres have die hard fans that love everything they do almost blindly. Miike fans are very much like that, especially ones in the Western Hemisphere.

Dead or Alive is beloved by many but I just see it as a knockoff of old school Japanese Yakuza and Hong Kong crime films with a bunch of crazy shit thrown into it to gross people out without a real reason for it to exist other than shock value.

Now I think that Riki Takeuchi and Show Aikawa gave good performances and they deserve the recognition they received in these sort of films but lots of capable actors give capable performances in movies beneath their talent level.

I guess the only way I can describe this is that it’s like Infernal Affairs or The Departed if they were made by Troma and with Japanese dialogue.

Like other Miike films, a bunch of crazy, nonsensical shit happens with really fucked up curveballs thrown at your head pretty violently. Here we get a girl fucking a dog, a stripper drowned in a kiddie pool of diarrhea, a man snorting a 30 foot line of cocaine and a big finale that doesn’t make you suspend disbelief, it just shows you that you’re an idiot for thinking that you could.

This is a movie for people who want to relish in super violent, gross shit. This is the cinematic equivalent to poop munching porn. People will argue for the artistic merit of this film and Miike’s creative choices but I’m sure there’s someone that gets paid to analyze psych ward hieroglyphics that a mental patient finger-painted with their own feces.

Yet, Miike is pretty good at making this feel like one long, overly surreal music video. So props on the editing, I guess. Except for the middle of the film where things slow down to a brutally boring crawl.

I don’t want to completely trash Miike because he is capable of making good movies but I just don’t understand how and why this became a beloved film.

Dead or Alive was actually my introduction to Miike around the turn of the century. It didn’t set a good precedent and I do think that it has made me biased against his later work but I do think that Audition was a good movie and Ichi the Killer certainly felt more refined and accented his style better.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: other Takashi Miike films that focus on crime or the Yakuza.

TV Review: X-Men: Pryde of the X-Men (1989)

Original Run: 1989 (first-run syndication, 1 episode)
Created by: Lee Gunther, Margaret Loesch
Directed by: Ray Lee
Written by: Larry Parr
Based on: The Uncanny X-Men by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Robert J. Walsh
Cast: Michael Bell, Earl Boen, Andi Chapman, Pat Fraley, Ron Gans, Dan Gilvezan, Alan Oppenheimer, Patrick Pinney, Neil Ross, Susan Silo, Kath Soucie, John Stephenson, Alexandra Stoddart, Frank Welker, Stan Lee (narrator)

Marvel Productions, New World Television, Toei Animation, Baker and Taylor Entertainment, Metrolight Studios, Disney-ABC Domestic Television, 1 Episode, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Pryde of the X-Men was a pilot for a proposed X-Men animated series in the late ’80s. As far as I know, only one episode was ever produced.

The episode appeared on television in 1989 but I never got to see it until the VHS was available to rent in my local video store.

While the failure of this pilot eventually led to the development of the spectacular X-Men: The Animated Series in 1992, it’s hard to say which version of an X-Men cartoon would have been better because this pilot was damn good.

Also, the great X-Men arcade game from the ’90s was modeled after this cartoon and not the better known 1992 one.

I loved the style of this, as it was very similar to the early seasons of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and Transformers. All three of these shows were made by Marvel and Toei. The animation is basically done in the same style and this show even uses some of the same voice talent that were featured in G.I. Joe and Transformers.

This show, at least this one episode, is centered around the arrival of Kitty Pryde to the X-Mansion. The X-Men team here consists of Professor X, Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus and Dazzler. Lockheed, the dragon, is introduced in this too.

The episode also features the villains Magneto, Emma Frost, Juggernaut, Pyro and the Blob.

Pryde of the X-Men hits all the right notes and is a really cool experience if you grew up in the ’80s and ’90s and had a love for X-Men and the other Marvel/Toei animated shows. Man, I really wish this would’ve at least gotten a full season run because this setup was well done and left me wanting more.

I’m glad that we got the 1992 animated series but this could have been good and maybe even great. We’ll never know but this show certainly started off on the right foot.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: X-Men: The Animated Series, as well as G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and Transformers.

Film Review: Invasion of the Neptune Men (1961)

Also known as: Uchu Kaisoku-sen (original Japanese title), Invasion from a Planet (alternate title), Space Greyhound (US promo title)
Release Date: July 19th, 1961 (Japan)
Directed by: Koji Ota
Written by: Shin Morita, Akihiro Watanabe
Music by: Michiaki Watanabe
Cast: Sonny Chiba, Kappei Mastsumoto, Ryuko Minakami, Shinjiro Ebara, Mitsue Komiya

Toei Company, 75 Minutes

Review:

Not all tokusatsu films were created equal and that’s certainly the case with Invasion of the Neptune Men.

Even the great and legendary badass Sonny Chiba couldn’t save this picture from itself.

However, if you do have a soft spot for the obscure tokusatsu genre, then this may still hold your interest. But there are much greater films within that genre and from this era. All the Toho stuff is damn entertaining and I’m not just talking about Godzilla and other kaiju films.

This is probably most famous, at this point, for being lampooned in one of the later seasons of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Mike and the ‘Bots really suffered through this one but they make it more watchable than it is on its own.

The special effects are terrible but that goes without saying. Toei wasn’t at the level of Toho or even Daiei.

The alien robots looks like generic knockoffs of Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet (and a dozen other films and shows).

This is also littered with really annoying kids thanks to the awful dubbing. If you want 75 minutes of shrill screaming and loud talking, this will probably be right up your alley. But you should also talk to a psychiatrist because something is wrong with you.

Rating: 2.25/10
Pairs well with: the worst Japanese tokusatsu of the 1960s.

TV Review: The Transformers – Original Miniseries & Seasons 1 & 2 (1984-1986)

Also known as: Transformers: Generation 1, Transformers G1 (informal titles)
Release Date: September 17th, 1984 – January 9th, 1986
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Transformers by Hasbro and Takara Tomy
Music by: Johnny Douglas, Robert J. Walsh
Cast (voices): Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Chris Latta, Michael Bell, Corey Burton, John Stephenson, Jack Angel, Casey Kasem, Scatman Crothers, Charlie Adler

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, AKOM, Claster Television, 65 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

“Sometimes even the wisest of man or machine can make an error.” – Optimus Prime

*Written in 2015.

The original Transformers television series, simply called The Transformers and now commonly referred to as Transformers G1 (for Generation One) was a sister show to Marvel/SunBow’s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

It had the same art style, the same producers and directors and the voice cast of both shows were pretty much identical. It was also obvious to kids at the time but we didn’t care that Starscream and Cobra Commander had the same voice. All we cared about is that this show was just as badass as G.I. Joe.

Also, like G.I. Joe, this animated series was used as a vehicle to sell a tie-in toy line produced by Hasbro. It worked well, as the Transformers characters were some of the best-selling toys of all-time. In fact, after Star Wars, Hasbro’s G.I. Joe and Transformers lines have to be the hottest selling toys of the ’80s for boys.

In regards to the show, there were great multi-part episodes and many stand alone episodes. This was the typical format of male action cartoons of the era. We were treated to great stories, a rich mythos and interesting characters. The show was well executed and was one of the highlights of 1980s pop culture.

It has gone on to spin-off a bunch of other animated series, as well as live-action films (those are atrocious though), video games, comic books and thousands of toys. The franchise, born from this animated series, is still one of the most lucrative of all-time and continues to try and reinvent itself every few years.

In the end though, there has never been an incarnation of Transformers that has been as iconic and near perfect as the original animated series. And while people consider this era, the original miniseries and the first two seasons, which take place before the animated feature film, as the peak in Transformers entertainment, I am one of the weirdos that actually prefers the show after the film.

The reason why I wanted to single out the two halves with different reviews is that the second half, after the movie, is darker and has a slew of new characters and situations. The movie changed everything and it significantly altered the show’s tone. I will review the second half of this series at a later date.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: The other Marvel/Sunbow Transformers and G.I. Joe stuff.

Film Review: G.I. Joe: The Movie (1987)

Also known as: Action Force: The Movie (UK)
Release Date: April 20th, 1987
Directed by: Don Jurwich
Written by: Buzz Dixon (uncredited)
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Larry Hama
Music by: Johnny Douglas, Rob Walsh
Cast (voices): Don Johnson, Burgess Meredith, Sgt. Slaughter, Michael Bell, Arthur Burghardt, Corey Burton, William Callaway, Brian Cummings, Dick Gautier, Ed Gilbert, Chris Latta, Morgan Lofting, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Bill Ratner, B.J. Ward

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, 93 Minutes

Review:

“I will stain my hands with your blood! No one defies Golobulus and lives… NO ONE! The last thing you will hear… is the cracking of your vertebrae… one… BY ONE!” – Golobulus

G.I. Joe: The Movie is where G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero jumped the shark. Granted, I don’t completely hate it and there are a few positives but at it’s core, this is not G.I. Joe.

This motion picture, which was originally intended to be a theatrical release but ended up being released on VHS instead, takes everything that was established in G.I. Joe and turns it on its head.

We find out that Cobra Commander is some snake dude and that he is from some secret Shangri-La like society called Cobra-La. The G.I. Joes and Cobra both get pulled into Cobra-La’s bizarre world and quickly discover a bunch of weird looking people who don’t use technology like humankind but instead have an organic type of technology. I guess it makes them similar to the alien Yuuzhan Vong from the polarizing New Jedi Order era of the Star Wars Expanded Universe continuity that Disney ignores now. Cobra-La is led by Golobulus, a creepy dude that sounds an awful lot like Mickey Goldmill from the Rocky movies.

The Cobra-La twist just really screwed G.I. Joe up. It didn’t feel right, at all. It just didn’t vibe with the great and rich mythos I had come to know before this movie hit video store shelves in 1987.

However, as I stated earlier in this review, there were some positives. So I’ll talk about those.

To start, I liked a lot of the new characters albeit not the Cobra-La ones. Lt. Falcon, who was voiced by Don Johnson, might not have had enough time to really have his story told properly, but he came a long way in this film and became a leader when it was all said and done. He started out as a womanizing, slacker douche but tragedy forced him to grow up and conquer insurmountable odds.

I also liked most of the new G.I. Joe recruits and it was cool seeing most of the old faces, as well. The scenes where Beachhead is annoyed at training the newbies makes for some good comedy.

Also, I like that the film scratched the surface with actual mortality. Duke dies in this. Well, they fixed it so that he was just in a “coma” and survived at the end (due to public backlash over Optimus Prime’s death in 1986’s Transformers: The Movie). Serpentor is also (presumably) killed when we see Lt. Falcon stuff his cape into a turbine engine, which sucks him in and grinds into his back as he screams in absolute agony and flies through the air to what should most definitely be his violent and gory death off screen. Although, he would be alive three years later in the Operation Dragonfire miniseries that kicked off the awful DiC Entertainment era.

The animation is consistent in style to the Marvel/Sunbow era of the cartoon. Although, the animation is also a bit better and a step up. That’s probably due to this having a bigger budget than the standard G.I. Joe television episodes. This would also be the last time we got the classic animation style, as DiC would take over after this film and they would turn out some really shitty looking art.

G.I. Joe: The Movie is better than the worst episodes of the Marvel/Sunbow era but it doesn’t come anywhere near the quality of the best episodes. Being that this was supposed to be the big theatrical film debut of G.I. Joe makes the end result a disappointment. It certainly isn’t unwatchable and was kind of fun in spite of its bizarre wackiness and major changes to the mythos. My mind doesn’t really consider this canon, even though it was made by the same people who gave us two great season of the show before it.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The other Marvel/Sunbow G.I. Joe and Transformers stuff.

TV Review: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero – Season 2 (1986)

Also known as: Action Force (UK)
Release Date: September 15th, 1986 – November 20th, 1986
Directed by: Ray Lee
Written by: various
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Larry Hama
Music by: Johnny Douglas
Cast (voices): Michael Bell, Arthur Burghardt, Corey Burton, William Callaway, Brian Cummings, Dick Gautier, Ed Gilbert, Chris Latta, Morgan Lofting, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Bill Ratner, Sgt. Slaughter, B.J. Ward

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, Claster Television, 30 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

“Know that I am the one you seek! I am the one born to rule, destined to conquer! Let those who fear me follow me. Let those who oppose me die! For I am Serpentor, and this I command!” – Serpentor

As I discussed in my review of Arise, Serpentor, Arise!, which was the start of this season of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, this was where a lot of new members of G.I. Joe and Cobra debuted, as well as a slew of new vehicles. The cartoon was a vehicle to sell toys; so with every new year, this 22 minute, daily advertisement had to evolve to reflect the new product that was hitting the shelves.

The fact that this was a glorified toy advertisement worked to the show’s advantage and also, in certain regards, worked against it. Season two isn’t as good as season one but I’ll explain.

For the most part, everything is the same from a style point of view. We have the same animation, the same voice actors, the same music and everything is right tonally. However, the inclusion of a bunch of new characters forces some of the beloved characters from season one to take a back seat. The show did really well in its first season developing characters and fleshing out backstories. In season two, you really wanted to see the continued adventures of many of those unique individuals but instead, they’re brushed aside. You can’t give us that great Shipwreck story that was the finale to season one and not properly check back in with him. In season two, he’s just a buffoon that shows up for comedic relief and is usually the butt of jokes for the newer recruits.

Additionally, there isn’t a whole lot of Duke, Snake Eyes or Storm Shadow. But then again, even the newcomers sort of get shafted due to how many characters are now packed into the series and because season two was really only half the length of season one. There just wasn’t enough time to tackle it all.

Even Serpentor, who is created to be the new leader of Cobra, doesn’t get much screen time. At least, he doesn’t get nearly as much as Cobra Commander did in season one and really, Cobra Commander probably still has more screen time than Serpentor in season two, as he’s always got some scheme to try and overthrow the new Cobra emperor.

Most of the episodes, at least in the first half of the season, aren’t quite the same quality of the majority of the season one episodes. In the back half of the season, things really start to improve but by the time the season finds a good groove, it’s over.

Following season two was G.I. Joe: The Movie, which I will review at a later date. Then the show was given to DiC to produce after that and it really dropped in quality. This season was the last of the great Marvel/Sunbow era and despite my complaints about it, it was still a damn fine show.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The other Marvel/Sunbow G.I. Joe and Transformers stuff.

Film Review: G.I. Joe: Arise, Serpentor, Arise! (1986)

Also known as: Action Force: Arise, Serpentor, Arise!
Release Date: September 15th, 1986 – September 19th, 1986 (first run syndication, 5 parts)
Directed by: Ray Lee
Written by: Buzz Dixon, Ron Friedman
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Larry Hama
Music by: Johnny Douglas, Rob Walsh
Cast (voices): Michael Bell, Arthur Burghardt, Corey Burton, William Callaway, Brian Cummings, Dick Gautier, Ed Gilbert, Chris Latta, Morgan Lofting, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Bill Ratner, Sgt. Slaughter, B.J. Ward

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, 5 Episodes (first run syndication), 22 Minutes (per episode), 108 Minutes (movie cut)

Review:

“There can be no negotiation, you insignificant microbe!” – Serpentor

Season two of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero started the same way as season one, with a five-part miniseries that was edited and re-released into a feature length movie. In fact, this is the fourth and final miniseries in this canon. Although, I do look at G.I. Joe: The Movie and DiC’s Operation: Dragonfire as parts 5 and 6 of the original series of feature length films.

Arise, Serpentor, Arise! was the introduction to a lot of changes in the television series and the G.I. Joe franchise as a whole. It introduced us to a plethora of new characters, new vehicles and came with a seemingly more powerful threat, as Cobra created a new leader, had android troops and seemed to be finally getting their shit together, even if there was infighting between Cobra Commander and just about everyone else in his organization.

The biggest additions to the series through this story were Serpentor – the new leader and “emperor” of Cobra, General Hawk – the real commander of G.I. Joe and ranked higher than Duke, as well as Sgt. Slaughter – played by the real professional wrestler of the same name. We also got to meet new members of the G.I. Joe team, as well as some new faces in Cobra, most notably mad scientist Dr. Mindbender, who sort of erased the need for Cobra to have a slew of generic, one-off mad scientists in every episode.

Like the other big miniseries events before this one, we see G.I. Joe and Cobra fight all over the world in exotic locations, as there are separate pieces being collected to create another MacGuffin. The MacGuffin in this story is Serpentor, a super soldier that is sort of like a mixture between Frankenstein’s monster and Captain America if he were made for evil purposes. Cobra goes to all of these exotic locations trying to collect DNA from the tombs of famous tyrants and warlords throughout history. With all the DNA, they can create Serpentor, who is a combination of all of these historical figures.

I love these G.I. Joe stories where we get to see the Joes and Cobra duke it out all over the globe. As a kid, these big miniseries events always felt like something incredibly epic and special. This story, while not as good as The Pyramids of Darkness or The Revenge of Cobra, does not disappoint. It may feel a bit rushed and crowded with characters because there is so much going on but it still works in the same way it did with the earlier miniseries tales.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Marvel/Sunbow G.I. Joe and Transformers stuff.