Vertigo is probably one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most beloved films, from a director whose entire filmography is almost universally beloved. It’s also a film which has had the appraisal that it peaks a little too early, one that I tend to agree with. There will be spoilers in this review below the cut, because I need to talk about the last third of the film, so I need to lay out what came before.

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When it comes to horror and documentaries, in the sense of horror films that are deliberately planned to be documentaries, you have two main stripes represented by two big names. On one hand, you have Legend of Boggy Creek, a historical reenactment heavy documentary about a Texarkana cryptid that effectively recounts a variety of local myths and legends in an uncritical manner. On the other hand, there’s Haxan, the film I’m covering today, which is not only a very early work in the documentary genre, it’s also a work that is also very critical of historical accounts of witchcraft.

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Roger Corman is widely recognized as a producer who launched the careers of numerous writers, actors, and future directors. He’s also widely recognized as a producer who churned out numerous exploitation films of a wide variety of stripes almost like clockwork, on the cheap, and without much concern about the craft.

This leads to the problems with Humanoids from the Deep. Part of this film is a very well done horror creature feature, with incredibly suspensefully shot sequences, and is a film that is willing to straight up kill off a kid and several dogs very early in the film. It’s also a film where Roger Corman decided to fire the film’s original director, Barbara Peeters, because he wanted the film’s rape scenes to be more explicit – so he handed those sequences off to the second unit director, and the film is lesser because of this. (more…)

It’s been a while since I watched what I’d call a “Weird Japan” movie – a Japanese film with a degree of creativity and un-reality that is uncommon in Western cinema – and indeed is generally rejected outright in Western independent cinema (see Dogme ’95 and Ethan Hawke’s comments about superhero films). Instead, these films openly embrace science fiction, fantasy, and horror concepts in a way that Western independent cinema (outside of horror) fails to do.

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Altered Space is something of a horror film that isn’t quite a horror film. In a way, it’s difficult to describe – this is my first time watching a film by Ken Russell, but his reputation has preceded him. Specifically, his reputation for psychedelic, religious, and psychosexual imagery. All of those things are present in Altered Space in spades – with subject matter that is fundamentally horrific but is never presented in that manner. (more…)

Suspiria was what I’d describe as one of the best films Dario Argento ever made, with a tremendous visual esthetic, particularly through the use of color in the film, combined with the excellent score by Goblin. So, it’s not surprising that Dario made a semi-spiritual sequel. The second film, Inferno, introduced the thematic series that Argento named “The Three Mothers” trilogy, with the films based around three witches drawn from Thomas De Quincey’s Suspiria de ProfundisInferno aims to basically be “like Suspiria but more so,” but it doesn’t quite work. (more…)

When it comes to bad action movies, there are some names in action films that can be reasonably taken as a warning sign that the film you are approaching is a stinkburger. Frank Stallone is one of those names. Frank Stallone started his career as a musician and composer and has had a reasonably successful career at that. However, as his older brother Sylvester became one of the action juggernauts of the 1980s and ’90s, Frank kept also getting action movie roles, presumably on the basis that he looks enough like Sly, that if you put “Stallone” in large enough letters on the poster, people won’t look closer and recognize that it’s actually Frank. (more…)

Stray Dog is one of the earlier film noir styled films from Akira Kurosawa. It’s an interesting example of the genre, and it also makes for an interesting snapshot of post-war Japan. The premise has Toshiro Mifune playing a rookie homicide op whose weapon is stolen by a pickpocket while on the bus. The detective ends up being partnered with a veteran detective as they make their way through Tokyo’s underworld to find the gun. (more…)

The next Star Wars Story installment is out, and I talk about this film’s depictions of Han and Lando, and how they compare to what we’ve seen in the Legends continuity thus far – with the Han Solo and Lando Calrissian Adventures novels in particular.

Opening Credits: Star Wars Theme from Super Star Wars on the SNES.
Closing Credits: Chiptune Cantina Band from Chiptune Inc. – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvJtiGFudFlvYMfjiU1NKJg

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Eyes Without A Face is a very engaging, but bleak horror film. Not bleak in the sense of the horror exploitation films of the 1970s, where the endings erred on the side of “Nobody survived and this is going to happen again” or even just “None of our protagonists survived” as was the case of Night of The Living Dead. The film’s ending does have a true sense of catharsis, and if it was narratively framed differently, it would end on a much more upbeat note.

To get into this, I’m going to have to get into spoilers for a film from 1960. If you want to come in cold, consider this your warning. (more…)

His Girl Friday has aged poorly.

Let’s start off with the fundamental premise – Newspaperman Walter Burns (Cary Grant) has divorced from his reporter wife Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) at some point prior to the beginning of the film. She’s stopped by the newspaper to announce that she’s remarrying, to insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy), and is going to leave reporting – having been burned out by the cynicism. However, this happens on the eve of the execution of a man named Earl Williams (John Qualen) for murder. (more…)

I’m not the biggest fan of musicals. I’ve liked some of them, but I don’t really get into the genre as a whole. One of the Musicals that has always worked for me is Jesus Christ Superstar by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice – with the musical probably being one of the two’s best collaborations. The musical recently got a new stage adaptation, performed live on NBC, and I watched the archive of the show on Hulu. (more…)

Heaven’s Gate is a film that originally had a profoundly negative response – critically panned for its excess, both in terms of the troubled shoot and the film’s length, it was considered everything wrong with “New Hollywood”, even before we get into the reports that horses were killed and maimed in the making of this film to enough of a degree above and beyond earlier westerns that this movie lead to the start of the American Humane Society sending monitors to film shoots to make sure this didn’t happen in the future. Since its initial release, the film built up something of a cult following, which ultimately lead to the film getting a re-edit and re-master to fit the director’s vision for its final release a few years ago from the Criterion Collection. (more…)

Excerpt from the Poster for 8 1/2.

Fellini’s film 8 1/2 is considered his magnum opus, the defining film of his career, and a monumental work of Italian cinema. It’s also a film that, in my view, has been eclipsed by later works influenced by it, in particular Bob Fosse’s film All That Jazz. I’ll explain.

(There will be some spoilers for both films) (more…)

A while back I reviewed the documentary film The Ackermonster Chronicles – a documentary film telling the life story of Forrest J. Ackerman. The film conveyed Ackerman’s life in a way that I compared to people talking about Ackerman at a wake, telling stories about his life, and in my view it didn’t quite get across why, necessarily, Ackerman was historically important or significant. George Harrison: Living in the Material World, from director Martin Scorsese uses the same style of presentation, but gets that point across better. (more…)

The Cat Returns is, to my knowledge, the only semi-sequel feature film that Studio Ghibli has ever put out (ignoring shorts made for museums). It’s also one of the small number of films put out by Studio Ghibli that aren’t directed by Isao Takahata or Hayao Miyazaki. The film was directed by Hiroyuki Morita, as part of an initiative at Ghibli introduced by Miyazaki as an attempt to groom new directors so the studio isn’t dependant on Takahata and Miyazaki, so when they retire, the studio could go on.

If your response to that last sentence is “Didn’t Ghibli shut down when Miyazaki retired?” then you know exactly what came of that initiative. I don’t know if this was due to internal politics where Miyazaki wasn’t happy with the directors who came out of this project, Miyazaki being a general curmudgeon, or what? Takahata, on the other hand, in spite of my general comments about him and his work in my article about Akira, seems to be okay with younger animators directing films at Ghibli – as the decision to shut down seems primarily driven by Miyazaki, without any feedback by Takahata.

Anyway, as far as the film itself goes – this is probably the most conventionally “anime” film that Ghibli has ever done. This isn’t a slight against the film, by any means. It’s just that most Ghibli films, especially those from Miyazaki, tend to be more pastoral in their settings while most anime (that is set in Japan) tends to be metropolitan (even historical pieces like Rurouni Kenshin).  This film, is instead in modern Japan, and most likely in Tokyo.

Just to put an underline on how more conventional anime this film is, the opening of the film is our protagonist, ordinary high school girl Haru Yoshioka, waking up late, quickly getting getting ready for school, but not having enough time to leave breakfast. This leads to her racing downstairs, and seeing her mother eating breakfast of a fried egg on toast, with a similar dish waiting for her, setting up the archetypal anime shot of female protagonist running to school while trying to eat a piece of toast – before she decides to leave without the toast. While this is a subversion of that bit – the key is that Takahata or Miyazaki wouldn’t even go that far.

This goes on with most of the character designs as well – they have some of the slightly larger eyes you see in more conventional anime characters, as opposed to most of Miyazaki’s other films where the characters are less stylized (aside from Castle of Cagliostro, where aside from Fujiko Mine who is almost unrecognizable compared to her other appearances, the Lupin crew retained their conventional designs)

It reminds me a lot of Your Name., where that film lead to a lot of people lauding Makoto Shinkai for being “the next Miyazaki”, when all things considered, his film is a lot more conventionally anime in terms of style and settings.

Where the story kicks off is Haru sees a cat (carrying a parcel) while walking home with her friend. When said cat goes to cross the street and is nearly run over by a truck, Haru grabs her friend’s Lacrosse stick and runs in front of the truck, scooping up the cat, and evading either certain death or ending up in an isekai story. The cat then stands up, and thanks her for saving him, says that he’s a Really Big Deal back in the cat world, and she’ll be rewarded for this.

When the first attempt to reward her – by planting foxtales in her yard (which sets off her and her mothers pollen allergies), putting catnip in her pockets (which leads to cats following her to school and gets her in trouble), and live mice in her shoe locker (which is just freaky). While helping clean up after school, she complains about the gifts to the Assistant to the King of Cats, and complains about her relationship problems at the time. The Assistant offers to deal with that for her, and match her up with the Prince of Cats – without listening, she agrees.

However, once she realizes what she’s done, she’s directed to the “Cat Bureau” run by The Baron (who was introduced in Whisper of the Heart), who agrees to help get her out of this – and the remainder of the story ensues.

I really enjoyed this film – it’s a very well put together coming-of-age adventure romp, though it’s not without some faults. Haru has a lot less agency than most of Miyazaki’s other female protagonists – spending most of the film reacting rather than acting, and having to be rescued rather than rescuing herself. There are exceptions – she certainly makes choices on her own behalf, and she makes a few important observations that help lead to our protagonists extricating themselves from various situations.

However, when she gets into bad situations (whether situations that are perilous or negative), she generally has to be extricated by the actions of someone else (often The Baron, but not always). To the credit of writer Reiko Yoshida and the film’s director, there are legitimate textual and metatextual reasons for this. The textual reasons are that the means of escape are often related to information that Haru simply doesn’t have access to.

The metatextual reasons are related to the fact that the writer envisioned this story as being written by the protagonist of Whisper of the Heart about the character of The Baron. In other words, the story of The Cat Returns is as much about Haru as Big Trouble in Little China is about Jack Burton. While Jack and Haru are both one of the protagonists of their respective stories, they aren’t the main protagonist – they’re viewpoint characters. Their role is to give the audience perspective of the world’s they’re going into.

That said, I still would have preferred if Haru had more of an active role in the story – once she meets Yuki and she and the audience learn that Yuki works at the palace, I would have liked if Yuki had come onboard as an equal supporting character if not on par with The Baron, than on par with Muta, in terms of providing Haru assistance in her escape – like finding a way to provide her information about how to escape, so that Haru is looking for that opportunity when The Baron makes his appearance again.

Sadly, director Hiroyuki Morita has only directed one other work of anime – and it wasn’t for Ghibli. He directed the incredibly dark super robot anime Bokurano, before returning to working in Key Animation, most recently working with Polygon Pictures on Knights of Sidonia, Ajin, and the new Godzilla anime film series. He has worked with Studio Ghibli a few more times as an animator as well – working on Tales of Earthsea, and The Tale of Princess Kaguya.

On the other hand, writer Reiko Yoshida has a ton of other series and films under her belt, including Girls Und Panzer and its OVAs and films, the film version of A Silent Voice, and most recently the currently airing Violet Evergarden and Hakumei and Mikochi.

The Cat Returns is currently available from Amazon.com and RightStuf.

 

If the The 8-Bit Generation was a documentary that had the unpleasant habit of painting over the truth of Jack Tramiel’s run on Commodore in an appeal to fans of the Commodore 64, Viva Amiga is a documentary that makes a much more sincere attempt to appeal to fans of the Commodore Amiga, in terms of their love for the system. However, due to a runtime that goes over just one hour, it’s attempt to serve two masters – telling the story of the Amiga itself along with the story of the devotees who adopted the system and who are keeping it alive to this day – leaves the film under-serving both.

I understand that this is a documentary that was funded on Kickstarter, and you can only make as much documentary as you have money for. However, it tries to serve two masters and serves neither well. There are really interesting portions of the documentary with great development stories. There’s the story of how the Amiga almost didn’t come out, and they took out a loan from Atari – then headed by Jack Tramiel, with the Amiga Hardware and OS as collateral – and they got bought-out by Commodore at the last minute, with the CEO of Commodore personally delivering the loan payment to Tramiel just to twist the knife a little bit more (perhaps explaining why The 8-Bit Generation chose to downplay the Amiga, considering the film’s view on Jack Tramiel).

Further, the documentary bounces all over on the user side of things. There’s a few seconds discussion of modern Amiga user groups, and a few seconds of discussion of how it was used in video production back in the ’90s (with 2 seconds of footage from Babylon 5), and a couple minutes of discussion of use of the Amiga in electronic music, giving the implication that there’s room for, if not a much larger documentary, then at least more time in this documentary on the modern Amiga user scene – especially considering that part of the point of the film is that there is a modern Amiga user scene,  and that the platform is still a living, breathing viable platform.

It feels like there was enough material here a 90 to 120 minute documentary, but for various reasons, possibly in part due to the amount of Kickstarter funds brought in, there was only enough room for the hour that we got. It’s a bummer, and, honestly, I wouldn’t mind seeing a Viva Amiga 2.

Viva Amiga is available on DVD and Digital from Amazon.com.

I like retro computing – I grew up on Apple II computers at my school and an Atari 800 computer at home, with a Commodore 84 & Atari ST at the houses of relatives so in addition to watching YouTube channels dedicated to old computers and games like PixelMusement and Lazy Game Reviews, I also love documentaries about the history of computing like Triumph of the Nerds and Revolution OS (which I think I reviewed on a previous blog, but which I am currently unable to find). When I found about about this particular documentary on the history of Commodore, I was very interested in checking it out.

The 8-Bit Generation focuses almost exclusively on Commodore computers, with a perspective from within the company, and in particular from the view of Jack Tramiel and his boosters within Commodore. From the view of this documentary, with Jack at the helm, Commodore can do no wrong, and their opponents could do no right. Apple never gained any real market share while Commodore dominated the market (Wrong – the Apple IIe was solid rival for Commodore), Atari had no 3rd party publishers and actively fought them for the PC (Wrong – their main opposition to 3rd party publishers was on the video game console front, they had plenty of 3rd party developers and publishers for PC), and once Jack was ousted from Commodore, they never accomplished anything ever again (Wrong – The Amiga says “Hi!”). Particularly damning is the claim that Atari didn’t get VisiCalc until a year after Commodore did, which is clearly false.

It’s really rather disappointing. While the documentary has interviews with Tramiel himself, I get the strong impression that the reason the director was able to get these interviews in the first place because they were already a booster of Tramiel.  The majority of the interview footage comes from Commodore employees and Tramiel supporters, with the only exceptions from that being a brief interview with Howard Scott Warshaw about Atari Corporate culture (which appears to lean towards the 2600 and the home games division), and an tragically even more brief interview with Steve Wozniak.

For a documentary that bears the title of The 8-Bit Generation, and which does give a fair amount of time on the MOS Technologies 6510 processor architecture, it is a very strong disappointment that the film wears its slant on its sleeve, and I think it’s very much to the detriment of the film. I’d really have enjoyed a more even-handed take on the various systems from this computer generation, with a serious take given on, for example, the TRS-80 and the TI-99. Instead, we get a pep rally for the Commodore 64, with some flagrant mis-truths. I wanted to like this documentary, but I cannot recommend it in the slightest.

If you do decide to get this documentary in spite of my recommendation to the contrary, it is available from Amazon.com.