Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sons of Kong?: The Ape Man (1943)

Another Lugosi Film is far more preferable than another Mantan Moreland Film!  Poor Bela- the man was never bad.  For whatever reason, Universal was just so non-committal with him.  He arguably is the biggest reason for the rise of the company as a Horror Film giant.  His performance as Dracula set everything in motion IMHO, so seeing how they treated him is not kosher.  Is it because he turned down the lead in Frankenstein?  Is that why you did crap like hire him for only Supporting Roles with Karloff (when he could be a lead!), cut all his dialogue from his turn as The Monster in a later Frankenstein Film and just generally mistreated him?  For shame!  That leads into this Film- 1943's The Ape Man.  Instead of Universal, this one is by...Favorite Films Corp.  Ouch.  In this one, Lugosi is a Scientist who is cursed by his own experimentation and must find a way to cure himself.  The solution: killing people alongside an Ape.  That's what happened to Marie Curie too, right?  This one is pretty schlocky, but nowhere near as bad as other stuff you'll see here.  How does it fare overall?  To find out, read on...
In a Newspaper-style Exposition Dump, we learn that Lugosi has vanished...strangely.

As for me, I want to know what the results of that 'Job Survey' were.  Were they good?
The other Doctor brings Brewster's wife to his home and she sees...Ape-Man Lugosi.  Ouch.
To keep the Story going, we have two Reporters.  In a dated bit, the guy has to explain that he's not a 4-H and has permission to stay stateside during the War.  Okay.
After hiding from the Reporters, Lugosi escapes.  You see, he needs something to make his cure: spinal fluid.  According to this Film, taking it would kill someone.

Okay- either Medical Science has advanced GREATLY since 1943 or they didn't know shit!
As a side-effect of his Altered States-like transformation, Lugosi now controls this Ape to help him.
They kill enough random people to get the stuff, but the other Doctor smashes the vial...and pays!
In traditional fashion, it ends up that Lugosi has captured the lady Reporter to harvest her spine!
However, a struggle occurs between him, the Ape and the Police that finally arrive.  Bad guys die.
Before you go, here's the actual final shot of the Film though.  Neat.  The End.
Silly, cheesy and...not that bad, really.  There are some obviously-dated aspects of the thing, but they don't take away from the Film.  It is just nice to see one of these that is neither in the Jungle (with 'Natives') or 'old-timey Racism.'  This one is just about a Mad Scientist, a transformation and an Ape.  Nice, wholesome fun.  Good stuff.  Mind you, it is not that great of an actual Film, but it is what it is.  Lugosi embraces the role and really just goes for it.  He makes this work, even if the Story is complete bull.  The old-timey banter between the two Reporters is fun too.  Is it shallow?  Yes.  There are a bunch of silly, little things here that make it extra fun.  The fact that they have to disguise the sounds of an Ape being whipped in the basement- good.  The fact that they try to cover it by claiming it is a recording of a ghost- great.  The fact that Lugosi somehow has a close-circuit TV view of the door- excellent.  This is a great example of what fun, schlocky Movies of the day were like.  You'd go to the Theater every day and pay a penny to watch this kind of thing (plus the War Update and the Cartoon).  Quality-wise it isn't that great...but who cares?  I sure don't.
Next up, I jump to the future- in more ways than one.  At Maynard's request, I review a Film he likes- will I though?  Stay tuned...

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Twin Piqued: May the Giant Be With You

After last week's super cliffhanger, we return to the deadly Town of...
In this Episode, we see the aftermath of all that chaos and get information for Lurch...
Important Stuff
Like the Pilot, this one is feature-length (over 80 minutes), so there is alot to cover!  Big breath...

- Cooper recuperates (no pun intended) and gets a vision of Lurch from The Addams Family (or he would be soon).  He gets three cryptic clues, one of which he manages to decipher this week.
- The Teen Detectives are split up by the arrest, but the remaining two on the outside keep working.  Meanwhile, the kid that got one of them locked up is getting more brazen.

- Audrey narrowly-escapes unintentional incest at One-Eyed Jacks...for now.  Still stuck though.
- Miguel Ferrer is back (yea!) and the actual Detectives continue to work the case, now with more donuts and evidence.  The key thing: they know that there is a Third Man from the Crime Scene.
 - The injured, but not shot recover...while the poor girl who's been comatose since Episode 1 wakes up to freaky visions/memories of the night of the murder.
That can't be good, right?
The big theme this week is Consequences.  After everything that happened in the Finale, most of this Episode is dealing with what happened.  You also see it clearly with Audrey, who's big plan to get info and get out with Cooper's help was messed up by him being shot and not seeing her note.
There is also the theme of Moving Forward.  Cooper, for example, doesn't even wait to be cleared from bruised ribs (thank you, vest) to work the case again.  The deceitful Horne Brothers are pushing forward with their plan, as are the Teen Detectives.  In a more twisted example, Leland's hair has turned white overnight, but he's moving forward in a very manic manner.  He's way too happy in this one, right?
Weird Moment(s)
This is one of the few ones Co-Written by Lynch and Frost, so it is naturally going to have more than a couple!  Leland singing at breakfast and dinner certainly qualify, but not as much as him dancing with the Horne Brothers in their Office...for some reason.  Gif please...
As insane as that is, nothing tops The World's Worst Room Service.  This guy seems a bleeding Cooper on the floor of his room and...hangs up the phone for him...and gives him his milk.  He even bends over to have Cooper sign the receipt!  This guy is hilariously-bad at his job!

To make things even sillier, this is the first Scene of the Episode.  So, after months of waiting and tension, Lynch opens with this bizarre Comedy routine (after 90 seconds of Credits).  Trolling your audience back in 1990- Lynch is a trailblazer!
Oh man, this was weird and good.  In the wake of all that happened to force ABC's hand on renewing the Show, it does return to form.  The fact that you basically get a double-dose (in terms of Episode length) is just a bonus.  The last time they went extra long, it was to set-up the whole Story, Town and the Characters.  This time it is all about giving you lots and lots to talk about.  For example, we learn about why that lady has an eye-patch.  The fact that Ferrer's Character has to control his laughter during the Story is just a bonus.  The Giant is a nice update to the 'Cooper's freaky visions' collection.  It was interesting to see that the ring taken by him during the 'dream' was gone when Cooper woke up.  The whole thing is just chock full of neat little moments.  As a side-note, by not explaining what Don S. Davis' Character does at this point, all I can assume is that he is working on building the Stargate in a Base nearby.  Am I the only one?  There is not as much moving forward of the Narrative this Episode, but there are so many Character Moments that you can't complain too much.  I'll leave you with a Twin Peaks reference from a source that you probably didn't expect: Darkwing Duck...
Next week, the mystery continues anew as I desperately-avoid SPOILERS.  Will there be more death?  See you then...

Friday, April 17, 2015

New Flix: Under the Skin (2013)

Alot of Style, but not much Story.  Today's Film is Under the Skin, a 2013 Sci-Fi Film Directed by Jonathan Glazer.  This one comes with a lot of Critics citing it as 'great' and 'mind-blowing.'  Is it though?  The Film tells the tale of an alien lady coming to Earth with dark ooze.  Yeah, I got nothing.  There is nary a Plot here, so just enjoy the weird visuals and Scarlet Johansson staring aimlessly.  It isn't a bad Performance...but I don't know what it is supposed to be telling me.  Is being 'an Art Film' an excuse to not really tell a Story?  Is the kind of thing I would have dumped on Bob if it didn't have a topless Scarlet Johansson in it?  Will I offend anyone with my disinterest in this Film?  To find out, stare on...
After random shots of the sky and lights, this Biker takes a dead body to a Van.
In said Van, a naked Johansson takes the woman's clothes.  I guess shopping was out of the question on the Holodeck here.
Now with clothes, the mysterious lady begins to wander around Scotland.  Are you beginning the invasion in Edinburgh?  Alright then.
She picks up a guy from a Club and they go back to a dark Room.  They walk forward and...well..
He sinks into the dark void of...something.  He spots another victim in it and, well...
He kind of falls apart and his skin floats away.  Explanation?
Oh and I guess their guts on going on some sort of conveyor belt to...somewhere.  Neat and all...but confusing as all hell.
She later picks up a disfigured man (no make-up here, folks!) and takes him for the process...but then
...nah, I won't SPOIL it.  Instead, I'll leave you with this super-arty shot.  The End.
It can be pretty.  It can be visually-interesting.  It can seem like it has a Plot at times.  Sadly, the good moments make up maybe 20 minutes or so.  Other than that, there is alot of silent staring,   Alot of silent staring.  Staring.  Staring.  Staring.  We get it, Scarlet- you are trying to be deep.  If there is nothing behind the attempt though, it just seems silly.  There is definite potential here.  Unfortunately, I'd rather see someone else do this Story.  Nothing against Jonathan Glazer personally, but he just drains the life out of the Story for me.  It is already a big change for the Book- which has 2 Aliens for starters-, so it is not like he was keeping the thing accurate.  There has to be a middle-ground between schlock like Species (as fun as it can be) and Under the Skin.  Right?  Oh right- there's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (like 10x).  Admittedly none of them have this...
Next up, I jump back to the Sons of Kong set.  Bela Lugosi makes his second appearance here so this is already better.  Stay tuned...

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Sons of Kong?: Law of the Jungle (1942)

How can a man that I'd never heard of 6 months ago inspire so much trepidation now?  The Film today is 1942 Law of the Jungle.  It's Star- Mantan Moreland.  Cthulhu dammit!  After King of the Zombies, I was just too burned by this experience.  I really wanted to just give this one a short Review and not endure it.  Since Bob would have shamed me otherwise, I endured.  The Film involves Naziis, a Lounge Singer, Moreland doing his best to shame future generations and an especially-clumsy Love Story.  This is a mix of bad Comedy and serious Plot, so it is better than some of the efforts here in that regard.  Unfortunately, so much terrible undermines the efforts.  I really hope I'm done with Mantan Moreland Films...but I doubt it.  I pray that he only shows up this once in the Set!  To find out if I'm making much ado about nothing, read on...
A Cafe Owner in Africa is conspiring with some Nazis.  Damn you, Peter Lorre!
A Spy tries to take their intel, but is killed.  His info is dumped in a Singer's jacket, who flees the scene when all hell breaks loose.
She runs into the Jungle and runs into...oh, shit!  My thoughts exactly, Mantan.
A Scientist who hired Moreland is, um, measuring skulls.  I shouldn't look for additional racism here, but...well, know your History.

The Singer runs into the pair and they help her hide from the Nazis and the real Authorities.
There is a budding relationship between the two, but the pair have no charisma or chemistry here.
They do their best to keep her safe, but it is not easy.
To fulfill the quota, they briefly run into an Ape in a Cave.  Nice lighting, guys!
The gang is captured, but Moreland escapes.  Their only hope is...Baron Samedi?  Wrong region?
In a bit of an anti-climax, he kind of just saves the day and our heroes get married.  The End.
This one hurt quite a bit.  The extremely casual Racism is prevalent throughout and inexcusable.  I joked after watching King of the Zombies that 'At least he didn't say ''hainted.''  He does in this Film!  Good Lord!  If the Film was anything but sub-par, you could at least go 'Well yeah, this is bad, but the movie is still good.'  It really isn't.  Nothing is really that notable about the Story, Production Values or overall Presentation.  It is just not that good, funny or exciting.  This is arguably as offensive as the first Film in the set, but for different reasons.  Aside from Moreland, there is nothing all that offensive here.  On the plus side, the guy at least got to respond to his horrific Movie Past in Watermelon Man...
Next up, I challenge the recent idea that an arty Film is good.  Bring it on, Internet!  Stay tuned...

Animondo: Hayate the Combat Butler! (Season 1)

Welcome back to Animondo, my personal platform for blabbering on and on about anime. Today, we're having a look at Hayate the Combat Butler. Specifically, Season 1. Because believe you me, you have to specify the season for this show--not for differences in quality, so much, but for drastic differences in style. The four seasons it has so far are quite a bit different from each other, and I'll aim to hit them all eventually. But for now, Season 1.

Hayate the Combat Butler is, as you might guess, a comedy involving a butler and, when it feels like it, combat. It absolutely tends more towards the comedy side, so don't go in expecting this to be some kind of parody of Dragon Ball Z or anything like that. It's's kind of an odd sort of sitcom, just packed to the brim with game and anime references and with a somewhat unhinged sense of reality.

Hayate is a down-on-his-luck teen whose parents are worthless cretins who waste any money he manages to bring in with part time jobs by "investing in their dreams" (read: gambling and losing very badly). He does his best, but nothing ever seems to go his way, and it all comes to a head on Christmas Eve when his parents flee town to avoid debts to the Yakuza, who come to take possession of Hayate as payment. They figure they can make back some money by selling his organs on the black market. No, really.

Escaping, Hayate ends up deciding that hard work doesn't get you anywhere and it's time he started acting like a bad he'll kidnap some rich kid for ransom. Enter Nagi, a spoiled middle-schooler who happens to be an extremely wealthy heiress. Hayate works himself up to kidnapping her, but takes so long other thugs get to it first...and he ends up coming to the rescue instead. One thing leads to another, Nagi mistakes his pathetic attempt at begging her to cooperate with being kidnapped for a love confession, and things rapidly spiral out of control into her giving her "savior" a job as her butler. Hayate, thankful for this second chance, resolves to redeem himself by being the best butler he can.

Thus we have the premise: Hayate, a teen with the worst luck in the world but amazing physical capabilities and a seemingly never-ending list of job skills, serves as the butler (and sometimes protector) of Nagi, the spoiled heiress with a lot of money but not much else in the way of talents. In the mix as well are the kindhearted maid Maria, Nagi's gloriously eccentric relatives and friends (including poor clueless Isumi, probably my favorite), Hayate's old female friend from school who never got the chance to confess to him, the head butler Klaus (who doesn't like Hayate at all), Nagi's talking pet tiger (who only talks to Hayate), and many, many, many more. I haven't even listed all the important characters, much less every member of the cast! This show is huge.

Hayate the Combat Butler pulls in elements from quite a variety of types of anime to make its own sort of show. It has some elements of harem shows, some from school comedies, some from battle just kind of pulls in whatever it needs and stirs it all together. What's amazing is that it actually, for the most part, works amazingly well.

I love and adore this show.

Hayate the Combat Butler is just endearing. It's funny, cute, and oftentimes weird, but features some seriously earnest and likable characters (Hayate in particular) who are just plain fun to spend some time with. It tosses in pop culture references a mile a minute, but it never seems to lose its cohesion or lose track of its plot. Characters break the fourth wall but somehow manage to stay part of the internal story perfectly well (there's even interaction with the narrator in a Rocky and Bullwinkle fashion). It seems to revel in being strange or throwing in odd twists, yet makes everything fit together and keeps the viewer interested in finding out just what life is going to throw at Hayate next.

Basically, it absolutely shouldn't work...but it does.

There are 52 episodes in Season 1 and a massive array of different running plots, so I'm not even going to attempt to describe the whole flow of events. Suffice to say, there are a few running themes. The show largely deals with Hayate's utterly awful luck and how it interacts with his pretty much superhuman capabilities, Nagi's crush on Hayate (which Hayate doesn't reciprocate, seeing her as just a kid, and in fact doesn't seem to realize she has), Maria's attempts to keep everything peaceful and make Nagi a better person, and the ever-increasing complications in Hayate's expanding circle of friendships, enemies, and actual love interests.

It bears noting that Nagi's crush is always treated as just that, a crush, and she's never portrayed in any way as a legitimate love interest for Hayate, who just sees her as a benefactor and has no romantic interest in her (something literally everyone recognizes but her). It's just a good source for comedy and occasional angst on her part.

Most episodes are reasonably self-contained, though they'll occasionally feed right in to the next episode--usually the plots won't actually connect much, other than just saying it's the next day or some such. There are some overarching plots from time to time, but the show revels in making those unimportant (the best of which is a "This Week's Butler Battle!" plot in which Hayate faces off against parodies of other battle / gaming anime characters in a plot that's supposedly the focus of the show, but in practice usually occupies thirty seconds to two minutes of the episode with no relation to anything else going on). It keeps the focus squarly on the sitcom sort of atmosphere, and for the most part you won't feel like you have to know much from prior episodes to enjoy any given episode.

This is one of those shows that I like to just watch when I want to cheer up or feel good in general. It is rarely if ever somber or anything less than outright cheerful, and while there are problems that arise, they're generally lighthearted and borne of misunderstandings rather than any actual danger or anything impossible to correct. The show never takes itself too seriously. I do appreciate, though, that for all that it is making references all over the place and breaking the fourth wall when it pleases, it manages to establish a set universe and keep consistent plots going. Characters are consistent and make sense, relationships do evolve as time goes on, and the comedy is part of the show--not the only thing that matters about it. The plots have a point--this isn't quite an utter madcap comedy. There are grounding elements to the show, and that's what helps make it so good.

There are a few nitpicks. A few episodes don't fit, such as Episode 10, which involves the characters getting pulled into an RPG but makes a few too many risque jokes considering the show's younger intended audience (it aired on a timeslot that limited what it could show, so the show frequently uses censorship of blood as a joke). Some are too out there and stretch the concepts too much, as well--normally, the show manages to establish some reasoning behind even crazy events, but every now and then things just happen because they happen and that's that. It doesn't hurt the show much, but it bears mentioning. Not every episode is gold...just most of them.

One other nitpick specifically for a Western audience--there are just going to be some jokes and references you won't get. While a lot of the referential humor of the series focuses on video games or anime concepts that Westerners will be familiar with, there are some bits that concern elements of Japanese culture that I, at least, wasn't as familiar with. It's not bad, obviously, since the show was made for Japan, after just bears noting. The largest example is a running gag used in the middle of each episode (where commercial breaks would be, normally). Each episode has a couple still shots of characters accompanied by them saying a word or short phrase. What's actually going on is that the characters are playing a season-long game of Shiritori, a Japanese word game in which, basically, you have to begin your statement with the same sound the last person ended their statement on. It's a cute running joke, but obviously somewhat lost on those (like me) who don't actually speak Japanese. There are other examples, but usually much smaller.

I also have to mention the rather odd ending of the show--not in much detail, but just in one particular light. It kind of jumps time forward a bit, putting friendships together that don't really get set up until the second season...which makes for a kind of odd overall feel for a final episode. Especially since the second season is just plain odd about how it relates to the timeline of the first, but I'll get to that when I do a second season review.

Hayate the Combat Butler is pure fun. For the most part, it is innocent, cheerful, and a bit strange--but not the sort of strange that distances you from the show. It ties things together even though there's no way they should possibly work, and you really have to pay attention to catch every little joke the show throws out there. It manages to create a fun comic atmosphere that doesn't take itself seriously at all, yet also makes you really care about the characters and get behind them. It is very self-aware and makes fun of itself frequently. It's one of my favorites. It doesn't hit right on 100% of the time...but it does so often enough that it's an easy recommendation for a lighthearted, fun-loving show.

Dubbed or Subbed? To the best of my knowledge, there is no dubbed version of Hayate the Combat Butler, unfortunately. The subbed version is very good, but I have to admit it'd be easier to catch the mile-a-minute references some episodes have if I could listen for them instead of reading. Not sure which I'd prefer if they were both available...but since there is no dub, it's academic.

In closing, a demonstration of just how much the show loves to lampshade Hayate's terrible luck: