April 30th, 2014

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1946) *** ½

Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast has been called “hypnotic” and “dreamlike” by critics and film historians. I think that’s their fancy way of saying it’s a trippy fairy tale flick. I dug it.

It’s all about this hot babe named Belle (Josette Day) with two annoying sisters. When her father goes away on business, Belle asks her pops to bring her back a rose. Of course, he takes the flower from the garden of the Beast (Jean Marais), which is like a major no-no in Fairy Tale Land.

Now let me take a few seconds to tell you about this Beast guy. Imagine if Lon Chaney Jr. and Lou Ferrigno had a baby during a full moon and taught him to dress like William Shakespeare and that gives you the rough outline. Basically, you don’t want to tangle with this dude.

The Beast demands that Belle has got to go stay with him in his funhouse mansion that kinda looks like a Tim Burton version of Better Homes and Gardens. She goes to live with the Beast in order to spare her father’s life and every night he asks her to marry him. Eventually, he kinda Stockholm Syndromes his way into her heart, but once she leaves to visit her ailing father, things (like the plot, pacing, etc.) goes south.

I dug the trippy aspects of Beauty and the Beast. The scenes inside the Beast’s mansion were especially fun. The candlestick holders that were made from human arms were particularly groovy. I’d take that over that “Be Our Guest” shit any day.

Like I said, the flick sorta loses its way down the homestretch. And the scenes of Belle’s sisters trying to mess up her chances with the Beast are pretty annoying. On the plus side, the Beast’s make-up is badass and Cocteau’s bizarre-o cinematic gymnastics make it highly recommended.

CATALINA CAPER (1967) ** ½

Tommy Kirk is a dude from Arizona who’s never seen the ocean before. His buddy takes him to Catalina to do some scuba diving and ogle babes in bikinis. He gets hung up on this hot foreign number (Ulla Stromstedt) whose boyfriend (Lyle Waggoner from Wonder Woman) is working for a crime boss who is trying to get his hands on a stolen treasure map. Of course, Tommy and his friends get mixed up with his henchmen and they work out a scheme to return the map back to the museum where it belongs.

Catalina Caper isn’t a very good movie, but it’s at the very least, a watchable one. There’s lots of scuba diving, chicks in bikinis and bad-to-OK music on the soundtrack. The best part comes when Little Richard shows up in a gold suit and sings “Scuba Party”. (The he completely disappears.) The awful comedic relief by Robert Donner as the bumbling insurance investigator is pretty dire though.

I’m an unapologetic Tommy Kirk fan, so I probably enjoyed this flick more than most. If given the choice between watching some stupid shit and Mars Needs Women again, I’d take Mars Needs Women any day. That’s just the kind of guy I am. And because of that (and the hot chicks in bikinis), Catalina Caper went down pretty smooth.

AKA: Never Steal Anything Wet.

ZATOICHI AND THE DOOMED MAN (1965) ****

Zatoichi (Shintaro Katsu) finds himself imprisoned alongside a wrongly convicted man. Once Zatoichi is released from jail, his cellmate urges him to find proof of his innocence. Zatoichi goes around asking a lot of questions and pretty soon, a whole bunch of people are after him. Meanwhile, a guy goes around impersonating Zatoichi, which causes him even more grief.

The opening scene of Zatoichi and the Doomed Man totally rules. Zatoichi’s getting punished via caning and he keeps stopping the punishment to give the guard shit. Not only is it a quintessential Zatoichi moment, it gets the flick off and running with style.

Like all great Zatoichi movies, Zatoichi and the Doomed Man has some memorable swordfights. There’s a cool bit where he displays his swordsmanship skills by cutting a moth in half. There’s also a great scene where he shows off his archery skills too. And the flick ends with a stellar action sequence where Zatoichi takes out an army of dudes in a fog-shrouded village.

After a couple of less-than-inspired installments, the series gets back on track with this excellent entry. It’s a little more episodic than most, but the various subplots are nicely weaved throughout the flick. And the scant 77 minute running time keeps things hopping at a steady clip. Shintaro Katsu also provides us with yet another badass performance as Zatoichi, the Blind Swordsman, which helps cement this sequel’s place among the best of the entire series.

That’s going to wrap things up for Zatoichi-Palooza this month. Since I’m back to working full time at my job, I’m going to put a moratorium on movie-watching-paloozas for the time being. I’m not sure when they’ll start back up again, but I’ll definitely have the 31 Days of Horror-Ween palooza up and running in time for October.

BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY: DEADLY FIGHT IN HIROSHIMA (1973) **

A violent upstart yakuza named Yamanaka (Kin’ya Kitaoji) falls in love with the boss’ daughter (Meiko Kaji) and is run out of the clan. Pretty soon, a gang war erupts and a bunch of people are killed. Naturally, Yamanaka can’t keep away from her, which turns the city into an all-out warzone.

Kinji Fukasaku’s sequel to Battles Without Honor and Humanity features a great all-star cast and some moments of bloody yakuza carnage, but it lacks the punch the first film had. It also dawdles in places when it should be heating up. Deadly Fight in Hiroshima suffers from the same flaw as its predecessor in that it’s a little hard to keep track of all the characters. Even with their names and clan affiliations being splashed on the screen every time they show up, it’s still difficult.

Bunta Sugawara returns from the first flick and he delivers yet another cool-as-a-cucumber performance. Unfortunately, his character gets pushed to the background for much of the movie and his presence is rarely felt in a meaningful way. Likewise, Meiko Kaji’s character is never really fleshed out, so it’s a bit difficult to root for her. The flick benefits from a great sleazy performance by Sonny Chiba as the rival boss. His antics help liven up the movie whenever things slow down, but his efforts can’t exactly save the flick either.

AKA: Deadly Fight in Hiroshima. AKA: The Yakuza Papers 2: Deadly Fight in Hiroshima.

CHINESE ZODIAC (2013) ** ½

If you don’t already know, Chinese Zodiac is Jackie Chan’s highly anticipated (well, by me at least) sequel to Operation Condor (or Armor of God, depending on which release timeline you follow). This time around, Jackie is out to steal several animal sculptures for Oliver Platt. Along the way, he gets into various goofy fight scenes and scrapes. And naturally, there are double-crosses and shit, but that’s pretty much beside the point.

Let’s face it. We’re not watching Chinese Zodiac for the plot. We’re watching it to see what kind of nutty stuff Jackie Chan has come up with for his alleged swan song from action flicks (although it wouldn’t surprise me to see another Rush Hour or Karate Kid flick announced sometime soon). Naturally, Jackie is getting up there in age, and we all know he can’t do those insane stunts that made him famous for too much longer.

That being said, there are still some pretty cool moments on hand though. The opening scene where Jackie dons what can only be described as a “skateboard suit” and evades guards on motorcycles down a steep mountainside is a lot of fun. Sure, there is some CGI trickery here and there, but there’s more invention in this scene than your average action flick, so it’s hard to get up in arms about it. Plus, it’s still fun seeing Chan do a little thing like gracefully scaling a wall like only he can. There’s also a scene where he runs along a rooftop like Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief that’s kinda nifty.

Sadly, after a good start, things get bogged down pretty quickly. There’s also a lot of unfunny comic relief provided by the members of Chan’s team that doesn’t help matters. And some of the action during the second act relies too heavily on chaotically comedic scenes that are too cartoony to be effective.

But when it keeps it simple, Chinese Zodiac works. There’s a fight scene that takes place entirely on a couch that shows a bit of the old Chan magic. And the Moonraker-inspired parachute fight finale ends things on a positive note and culminates in an updating of the opening scene of Armor of God.

Of course, there’s the requisite blooper reel at the end of the film during the final credits. But there’s also a great compilation of Chan’s greatest stunts (and some of his biggest spills too) that spans his entire career. It even gives Chan a bit of time to personally thank his fans. That alone is worth the price of admission and makes Chinese Zodiac a fitting, albeit not entirely successful farewell from the master of Kung Fu comedy.

AKA: Armor of God 3.