Monday, June 28, 2010

Ern's Monthly Visual Victuals (May 2010)


Wow, only two days left in June and I finally got around to writing about the films I watched in May. I also watched quite a few flicks this month as well so I should get started on writing those as well. However, I think a lot of people will not enjoy the last batch or so I reviewed because they are so bad. They are bad as in awful. But that is as should be expected - because they are all B-movies. You can tell just by looking at the picture of the packages. Just so you know, I didn't go out and voluntarily rent these wonders - they were given to me as a gift. I have a friend who runs her own company doing special effects make-up and she said she had these DVDs lying around the house but couldn't think of anybody who would watch and enjoy them, but then she remembered that I had a soft spot for B-movies. And so she gave me about twenty of them in total (and I watched every one of them!) I decided to have my very own B-Movie Festival at home, starting with a really bad Greek film. But before I started on my personal B-Movie Fest, I did watch a couple of Hollywood blockbusters and a music DVD as well. And now, on the films:

SUPERFLY : DANCING AT BUDOKAN!! (2010) – Okay, this is not a movie but a music DVD of my current favorite Japanese artist – Superfly (Shiho Ochi). Mikako and I had gone to this concert so it was fun reliving the evening by watching this. And as I’m a big fan of Superfly, I had to buy the limited edition DVD which includes a bonus DVD featuring Shiho singing with Big Brother and the Holding Company at Woodstock’s 40th Anniversary. It also includes the free show Superfly did at Roppongi Hills to promote their second full album. And as an even bigger bonus, it includes two CDs featuring the entire Budokan concert. The show itself which lasted a little over two hours, features twenty songs! She sang three songs for her encore – “Manifest”, which is the first Superfly song I heard which made me want to buy the album, a cover of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart”, and ending with a ballad called “I Remember”. I can’t wait to see her in concert again!

西遊記 [Saiyuki] (2007) – Released internationally with the English title of “The Adventures of Super Monkey” and based on a Chinese folktale. This is just the latest remake of often told story and uses the actors from the latest Japanese television drama adaptation with Shingo Katori (member of idol group SMAP), Teruyoshi Uchimura (one half of comedy duo Ucchannanchan), Atsushi Ito (star of “Densha Otoko” – “Train Man” series which popularized the otaku and Akihabara culture), and Eri Fukatsu (who co-starred in “Bayside Shakedown). I didn’t watch the television series but as this was being broadcast on network television, I decided to watch it. Fun little fantasy. If you’re familiar with the story, then you will know Sanzou Hoshi and her yokai companions – the kappa Sai Gojo, the pig spirit Chohakkai, and the monkey spirit Son Goku are traveling to Tenjiku. In this movie version, along the way, they meet up with a young princess named Reimi who wants their help in saving her parents and the kingdom which is currently run by two evil brothers – the Silver King and the Gold King.

THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3 (2009) –
A re-make of the 1974 film of the same name that starred Walther Matthau and Robert Shaw but now updated with Denzel Washington and John Travolta. A bunch of baddies hijack a New York Subway and hold the passengers as hostage demanding the city to pay them ten million dollars. For every minute pass their deadline, they would kill one hostage. Travolta plays the major baddie while Washington works as dispatcher who is currently under investigation for taking a bribe to recommend a Japanese manufacturer for the next subway car models. A pretty decent action film with lots of chasing, explosions, and general mayhem.

DIE HARD 2 (1990) – It was on tv (again), you don’t really need me to review do you?

UP (2009) - What a fun film. Carl Fredrikson is a 78 year old man living alone in his house which is full of memories of his loving wife who passed away. And he refuses to sell his house to the developers who are building large sky-scrapers all around his house. When a construction crew ruins his mailbox, Fredrikson gets in a slight disagreement with him, the court rules in the construction worker's favor and orders Carl to live in a retirement home. But Carl gets the last laugh, as he attaches a bunch of balloons to his house which then floats into the air. He was determined to keep his promise to his wife Ellie, that one day he would take her to Paradise Falls in South America. And so starts his adventure. But then he hears a knock on his door and finds Russell, a Wilderness Explorer who wants to earn last merit badge in "Assisting the Elderly". As the house in already floating in the air, Carl cannot refuse Russell's request to come in and they become to adventurers on an unknown quest.

FANBOYS (2008) - This film really cracked me up. If you're a "Star Wars" fan, that will make it even better. This reminded me of "Detroit Rock City" where four teens went on a road trip to go see their favorite band, KISS, in concert. In this flick, instead of teens, we have four guys who are fanatical fans of "Star Wars". They have an idea of how to see the latest film - "Phantom Menace", before anyone else. They plan on breaking into Skywalker Ranch and steal the master tape! The reason they do this is because one of the guys cancer and thinks he might not live to see the flick. But the cancer storyline takes a backseat to the hilarity that ensues. Too damn funny. Of course there is going to be a slight tussle with Trekkies, and even Captain Kirk himself - William Shatner, makes a cameo appearance. As well as Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, and Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes (of Jay and Silent Bob fame). Even if you're not a "Star Wars" fan, this is well worth watching.

THE MARINE (2006) – With “The Marine 2” now out as a new release at my local DVD rental store, and also seeing the previews for the first flick some time ago, I had been meaning to watch this. Well, I wasn’t missing out on anything special. Just another average action film starring yet another wrestler turned film star – this time being John Cena. As I’m not a follower of pro wrestling, WWE or whatever, I had no idea who this was. With “The Rock” now doing family comedies, someone had to step into the shoes of wrestler-turned action film star. Cena is a Marine through and through but is discharged from service after some altercation. He is not having a smooth time fitting into normal civilian life. His wife suggests that the two of them take a vacation and he can decide what to do afterwards. As they stop at a gas station to fill up their vehicle, they are unfortunately entangled with a dastardly crew and Cena’s wife is taken hostage while Cena is left for dead at the hugely exploding gas station (the explosions are really over the top in this flick). But the baddies messed with the wrong man, because Cena is a MARINE! He uses his skill to track down the baddies to save his wife. And you can pretty much guess the rest of the flick. I’m still going to rent Part 2 as soon as it loses its new release status.

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009) - Quentin Tarantino rewrites history with his latest flick which stars a very patriotic but a little psychotic Brad Pitt as the leader of a Jewish-American commando group called the "Basterds" who's only goal is to kill Nazi scum. He even orders his men to bring him back 100 Nazi scalps per person. I was a little surprised that it was my wife who wanted to watch this film even though she doesn't like the gore of a Tarantino movie. But as soon as she saw one scene where a Nazi was being scalped, she pretty much lost interest in watching the rest of the flick. The movie is told in five parts starting with a Colonel in the Waffen-SS who is known as the "Jew Hunter" interrogating a Swiss dairy farmer if the man is hiding any Jews in his home. When the man fears for his life and stares down into the floor of his home, the Colonel orders his men to fire into it. Only, the teenage daughter Shosanna escapes. The second part introduces us to the Basterds. Part three takes place a few more years down the line where Shosanna has attained a new identity. If only World War II could have ended this simply. You will thoroughly enjoy this if you're a Tarantino fan. I think it's still enjoyable even if you're not.

I EPITHESI TOU GIGANTIAIOU MOUSAKA – Starting with this movie, the next batch of movies I will be reviewing are all B-movies. A friend of mine had recently given me about twenty DVDs - all B-movies which she knew I would enjoy. There is just something about watching a bad film, with bad acting, unknown actors, and awful dialogue that I find appealing. This is Greek movie with English title of [Attack of the Giant Moussaka]. For those of you not familiar with moussaka, it is a popular Greek dish made with eggplants, minced meat, and tomatoes and is quite delicious. But this is truly a terrible B-movie. The story doesn’t make any sense at all. First, there are these hot babes (well, this is a B-movie) who are cruising around in a flying saucer and have mistakenly come to earth. And for some reason in one household, a person who doesn’t like his mother’s moussaka takes it outside plate and all and leaves it in the middle of a field. Some ray from the UFO beams in on the moussaka which than becomes gigantic and goes on a rampage throughout the town. There is even a musical number in the middle of this flick as well, who knows what the director was trying to create. It’s just silly beyond reason and you may have hard time sitting through the entire film (but somehow I managed!). Not even worth renting as a joke.

VULCAN (1997) – Which has absolutely nothing to do with the planet, Mr. Spock or any piece of the “Star Trek” franchise. What we do have is an US / Philippines production of what looks like a cheaper version of “The Water Horse” even if that movie was made ten years after. Little kid finds what looks like a big rock but turns out to be an egg of a dragon, or rather “Vulcan” which is a God to a local tribe. My original and extremely short review was thus: “Sid and Marty Kroft go to the Philippines!”. Vulcan looks like it could have came from the set of “Sigmund and the Sea Monsters” or “The Land of the Lost”. Anyway, kid makes friends with dragon, bad people hunt dragon to make lots of money, kid saves dragon, dragons kill baddies. The End. Robert Vaughan makes an appearance as a not so nice person.

NATTENS ENGEL (1998) – Next up we have a vampire movie from Denmark. Released with the English title of [Angel of the Night]. A woman, Rebecca, inherits a huge Gothic mansion from her grandmother and takes her best friend and her boyfriend there for a weekend. They find a book Rebecca’s grandmother had written, which was a history of Rebeccas’ grandmother’s father who was a minister turned vampire. Uh, okay. Still, a fairly decent vampire flick with classical and 70’s era rock as background music. Well, in what looks like a basement or whatever, Rebecca finds a special dagger that is used to kill vampires along with a scroll which is written in Latin and a coffin that contains the bones of what looks like a bat. Her friend was able to translate part of it, saying that if someone says these seven words, the vampire can be brought back to life…and do ya wanna know what happens? Well, boyfriend and friend get bored and want to go party but Rebecca wants to read up on Grandma’s book. So while boyfriend and best friend wait for a taxi to come, best friend seduces the boyfriend (hey, it’s a Danish B-movie), Rebecca falls into some trance and starts reciting the seven words, uses the dagger on her arms and drips blood onto the bones of a bat – apparently her great, grandfather who then comes back to life. So, now it’s up to Rebecca to kill her own great, grandfather (after bringing back to life – what a family), with the special vampire killing dagger. It’s a good flick for a beer or two.

AENIGMA (1987) – This is brought to us by Italy’s Prince of Horror – Lucio Fulci. But what it really looks like is a cheap imitation of Stephen King’s “Carrie”. In fact, if you didn’t know any better, you would think this was a Stephen King adaptation. Young girl who lives at a women’s college lives with her mother is a little short in the head. Anyway, these students set her up with the guy of her dream, doing her make-up, dressing her up and whatnot. And they do a really hideous job but keep telling her that she looks beautiful. The date comes pick her up and they go to wherever young lovers make out. But unknown to the girl, whatever she says is broadcast over the radio to these other parked cars and she’s made the laughing stock of the school. As she tries running away from her tormentors, she is in a tragic accident which sends her into a coma. Now, a new coed has just arrived at the school but it seems she is possessed by the woman in a coma who takes revenge on all those who wronged her.

MOSQUITO (1995) – Oh my, I think this was my favorite out of the bunch of B-movies I was given. Just by the title alone, you know you’re in for a treat. UFO crash lands on earth an includes one dead alien. Along come some mosquitoes looking for their next meal. It happens to suck the blood of the dead alien, and skeeters grow to the size of a small dog and their creating havoc in a local campground. Throw in this Air Force specialist who’s testing the ground for radiation, a couple of bank robbers – one of them being Gunnar Hansen (for those of you in the know, you would be laughing your head off when he picks up a chainsaw and says, “I haven’t handled one of these babies in twenty years”). Yep, Gunnar Hansen, or more commonly known as Leatherface from the cult flick “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is in this flick. I wasn’t in the know, I found this fact out after I had watched the movie. You can enjoy this even without beer. This falls into the “it’s so bad, it’s funny” category.

CRASH AND BURN (1999) – Excellent fodder for the now defunct MST3K! What is MST3K? Am I, who was a fan of the program now considered a geek? MST3K is of course Mystery Science Theater 3000 which showed some really awful science-fiction movies while a host and his two robot friends who do a running commentary while the film was being shown. Funny stuff. This flick could use that service, as its just plain bad on its own. I couldn’t believe the sales pitch on the back of the Japanese DVD package, which goes something like this, “From the SFX staff that worked on the hits “Titanic”, “The Mask”, “Alien 3” and “Back to the Future” comes a film with giant robot action”. Robot action? Hello? The robot doesn’t even move until the last part of the film and it only takes a step or two before falling to the ground. “Great robot action”! I sure missed that. Great robot-like acting! There was a lot of that. Oh the story, sorry. Big company called Unicom (which amuses me because that’s also a name of a publisher that produces books on learning Japanese, but never mind that), pretty much rules the world with an iron hand. They have outlawed the use of computer and robots for the benefit of humankind. But there are rebels who don’t like the way Unicom runs things. One being a manager of a local television station. When a synthetic robot kills the man, it is up to a lowly delivery guy for Unicom who takes up the fight.

Next month, my personal B-movie Festival continues. Along with a lot of Japanese films, a few Hollywood films, and maybe a couple of flicks that could be considered blockbusters. You will find comedies, science-fiction, horror, animation, and a Japanese remake of a Hollywood film.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Walk around Kudanshita (Part 2) / 九段下の散歩 (パート2)

Continuing my walk around Kudanshita / 九段下の散歩のつづき

Alas, you can finally see the shrine after going through this last gate / この門を通ると靖国神社に到着

Yasukuni Shrine / 靖国神社

Another view / 別の角度

Noh Stage on the temple grounds / 能のステージ

This pretty much covers the shrine but you would be missing out on a lot if you didn't go exploring around the shrine.


Monuments to the spirits of dogs and horses lost due to war / 軍犬と馬慰霊像

Mother Statue / 母の像

Memorial to the man who spoke out against the injustice and unfairness of the American War Crimes Tribunal

150 Pound Bronze Cannon / 青銅百五十ポンド陸用加濃砲

Monument dedicated to the kamikaze / 特攻勇士之像

I spent the next couple of hours checking out the Yushukan which is the museum dedicated to the war dead. Unfortunately, photos were only allowed on the first floor entrance area. The day I went there was a special exhibition of the kamikaze.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Walk around Kudanshita (Part 1) / 九段下の散歩 (パート1)

Last month after eating at curry at Zaza in Sangenjaya, I was headed off to walk around the neighborhood of Kudanshita. There are two popular sites near this station - the often controverisal Yasukuni Shrine and popular concert venue Budokan.


It's a long walk to the actual shrine / 靖国神社までの距離は結構長い

Getting closer to the shrine / 神社に近付いてます

A short history of the Otori / 大鳥居の説明

Another view of the torii / 別の角度で見える鳥居

Original site of the first torii / 第一鳥居

Water offering to the war dead memorial / 慰霊の泉 ~戦犯者に水を捧げる母の像~

Bronze statue of Vice Minister of War - Omura Masujiro

I can see the shrine! / やっと神社が見えてきた

Before heading to the actual shrine, there were these two large lamp posts with these incredible bas-reliefs on near the base.


To be continued...