November 5th, 2009

MONSTER FROM A PREHISTORIC PLANET (1967) ***

The publisher of Playmate Magazine is about to open a new resort called Playmate Land.  Now before you get all horny and shit; you should know that this magazine isn’t one of those Playboy rip-offs.  It’s actually more akin to National Geographic and the theme park the publisher is opening is more in line with Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  I know it’s cruel of the filmmakers to cocktease us like that but oh well.  Yes I know how you feel.  I wanted to see hot naked centerfolds being attacked by a giant monster too.  As a great man once said though, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

 

Anyway, the publisher sends out a research team to find some unusual animals for his new theme park.  It doesn’t take long before the explorers find an uncharted volcanic island populated by nothing but stereotypical natives who worship “Gappa”.  Pretty soon, they find a dinosaur egg that hatches forth a giant pterodactyl-looking beastie.  The explorers cage it up and take it back to Japan to show their boss, unsuspecting that it’s very large and very angry parents are following them.  Once in Tokyo, Momma Gappa and Poppa Gappa (Man, that’s fun to say!) just about level the city while looking for their Baby Gappa.

 

Monster from a Prehistoric Planet comes in the proud tradition of Japanese Big Ass Monster Movies (or BAMM’s for short).  Now, some people hold these movies with a certain reverence.  They even go so far as to call them by their original Japanese name, Kaiju Eiga.  I say IT’S A GODDAMN MAN IN A GODDAMN RUBBER SUIT FOR FUCK’S SAKE.  It’s not like we’re talking about Akira Kurosawa Samurai movies or something.

 

What I liked about Monster from a Prehistoric Planet was that it got down to business rather quickly.  There is a tendency in this particular genre to get bogged down with a useless “plot”.  However, this one showed the monsters fairly early in the picture and from about the 45 minute mark on, it was one big non-stop monster mash.  Most BAMM’s that don’t feature Godzilla or Gamera are usually weak (heck, even if Godzilla or Gamera are in the movie; you’re still not guaranteed it will be any good) but this one was a notch or two better than I expected.

 

Monster from a Prehistoric Planet borrows heavily from a lot of other BAMM’s.  The flick swipes heavily from Godzilla (Gappa destroys the city using their fire breath and enormous tail), Rodan (Gappa flies by Tokyo and causes a lot of destruction with it’s wings), King Kong (it steps on a lot of island natives), and Gorgo (parental units come looking for their spawn and wreck a big city).  This is a good thing though because BAMM’s is a genre that actually thrives on derivativeness.  Spotting all the flicks Monster from a Prehistoric Planet rips off only adds to the fun.

 

Special Note:  Given that the explorers find Gappa on an uncharted island and the fact that there are three monsters in this movie instead of one, the title should’ve really been Monsters from a Prehistoric Island.

 

AKA:  Gappa, the Triphibian Monster.  AKA:  The Triphibian Monster.  AKA:  The Giant Beast Gappa.

A LIFE OF NINJA (1983) ** ½

After a lengthy Ninja training sequence, the plot begins.  A Good Ninja gets hired to be the bodyguard for an industrialist who has been getting death threats from an evil clan of Ninjas.  Meanwhile a spunky teenage girl hounds our hero into teaching her the Ninja ropes.  It all ends with a big ass Ninja duel between the Good Ninja and the Bad Ninja.

 

If my plot description seems a little sparse, it’s because this movie really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  There are plot twists that negate other plot twists, flashbacks that seem like they came from other films, and the “surprise” ending is rather convoluted.  We also get some bizarre little asides (like the fight with the wrestler in a parking garage) that don’t add much to the overall film.  The fight scenes are frenetically filmed but it all gets a bit numbing after awhile.

 

There is however some good stuff here that makes A Life of Ninja sorta fun.  Like the opening training sequence.  It features all the usual Ninja jazz (like snuffing out candle flames with a bow and arrow) but it also contains an extremely random female mud wrestling match.  I’ve seen a lot of Ninja Movies in my time, so I’m a bit of an expert when it comes to Ninja training, but I had no idea that mud wrestling was on the Ninja Final Exam. 

 

There’s also a cool death in a shower where a Ninja sneaks in and stabs a chick with a poisoned icicle then leaves it in the tub to melt.  I also enjoyed the female assassin who killed men while fucking them and the Bad Ninja that used a prostitute as a human bullet shield too.  A Life of Ninja also gives you all the requisite scenes of Ninjas flying through the air and tossing Ninja Stars in people’s foreheads you’d expect from this sort of thing.

 

All of this is fun for awhile until it devolves into the standard issue Good Clan vs. Bad Clan clichés.  The finale also suffers from way too much slow motion.  Still, I had fun listening to the score, which steals memorable themes from Rocky 2 and countless other movies.

 

AKA:  The Deadly Life of a Ninja.

NIGHT WATCH (2006) **

Medieval knights locked in an ongoing battle.  Witches that perform spells for a price.  Toys that turn into spiders.  Psychics that can track down vampires by drinking pig’s blood.  People that can change into tigers, bears, and owls at will.  A cursed virgin that will bring about the downfall of mankind.  A vortex that threatens to destroy humanity.  The powers of good and evil fighting over a young boy that will decide the fate of the human race.  All of these premises just by themselves could make for a compelling movie.  When all of them are blended together and jam-packed into a bloated, overlong, and meandering mess, it gets on your nerves after awhile.

 

Basically what we got here is the powers of good protecting the world against the powers of evil.  The good guys are a bunch of psychics and were-tigers who look depressed and hungover all the time.  The bad guys are represented by vampires and ugly Euro-Trash.  Our hero is annoying and gets beat up a lot and generally fucks everything up.  No wonder the ending is such a bummer.

 

Night Watch was directed by Timur Bekmambetov, the guy who made Wanted.  If you remember the overly caffeinated quick-cutting and hyperactive action scenes from that movie, you may know what to expect.  While Night Watch is visually impressive and has some truly wicked camerawork, Bekmambetov’s idea of storytelling is hopelessly muddled at best and totally schizophrenic at worst.  He does give us one great vampire brawl in an abandoned barbershop though.

 

I think the thing I liked most about the movie was the subtitles.  Everybody speaks Russian in this flick but the subtitles are not just mere translations.  They actually get involved in the action.  Sometimes they pause for dramatic effect, other times they hide behind objects, and on occasion they will hurtle at the screen when someone screams.  That was really cool.  Then again if the coolest thing about your Medieval knights/witches/psychics/vampires/Ani-Morphs/cursed virgin/ultimate battle against good and evil movie is the subtitles; then you got serious problems.

 

A sequel, Day Watch followed.

DAY WATCH (2007) **

Sometimes a sequel comes along that outshines the original. Road Warrior, Bride of Chucky, and Friday the 13th Part 3-D are all great examples.  Sometimes a sequel comes along that’s just as confusing and convoluted as it’s predecessor.  Such is the case with Day Watch.

 

This time around, Anton (Konstantin Khabenskiy) is training his girlfriend Sveta (Mariya Poroshina) to be a Night Watcher when they run into his son Yegor (Dima Martynov), who has become a serial killer.  The villain frames Anton for murder and instigates a war between Good and Evil that will bring about the apocalypse.  The only way to stop the end of the world is to find the Chalk of Fate; which gives it’s user the ability to literally rewrite history.

 

Day Watch starts out fairly well.  The scenes of Anton training Sveta are fun; as is the amusing subplot where Anton’s brain is switched with a sexy female operative.  (This leads up to a near-lesbian scene with Sveta.)  I also dug the cool flashback showing the insane Chinese warlord fucking up Iran in order to get the Chalk of Fate.

 

Unfortunately, the flick kinda falls apart after the brain-switching thing.  While the first 45 minutes or so are rather enjoyable, director Timur Bekmambetov eventually starts in with a lot of brainless incomprehensibly edited action sequences.  There are a few fun moments sprinkled here and there (like when a chick drives up a wall of a building or when the bad guy gets hit by a bus) but mostly it’s just a bunch of overkill for overkill’s sake.  Wanted showed that Bekmambetov can make a great action movie.  Night Watch and Day Watch both show that he needs a script that actually makes sense to do so.

 

Sveta gets the best line of the movie when she tells Anton (while he’s inside the chick’s body):  “If you give her a fat ass, she’ll give you a fat lip!”