Thursday, March 29, 2012

i SPY EUROSPY: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Director: Duccio Tessari
Year 1966
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is a wonderfully fun Eurospy flick that literally takes you on a wild ride and never lets off the insanity switch. Filmed in a tongue and cheek style, and acted in similar fashion, the movie magnifies the conventions of the genre by piling ludicrous situations upon ludicrous situations, leaving the viewer’s head to spin in all the audaciousness of it all. If there was ever a Eurospy film that catered to and combined the aspects of the swashbuckling methods of Errol Flynn, or the zany antics of the most off the wall of spy spoofs, or the charismatic magnitude of a James Bond movie, than this one is it. Strap your seatbelts on, because this is going to be one hell of a crazy time.
The film follows Kirk Warren, a disgraced spy, who is about to be hanged for attempting to steal one million dollars. Luckily this happens to be this opportunistic agent’s lucky day, because he has just been pardoned so that he can take on a most intriguing mission. It seems that a mysterious man named only as Mister X, has been causing quite a stir for the agency so Warren is sent out to reveal the man’s true identity. To be able to pull this heist off, Warren must assemble a group of old friends in order to steal a secret formula in Switzerland. Together with his motley crew of felons, Kirk and the gang decide to obtain the formula, but instead sell it to the diabolical Mister X for a hefty sum. One way or another, Kirk is going to get that one million dollars, even if it almost kills him again. What follows is a series of unbelievable and wacky events that thrill as much as they entertain. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, and Thrill Thrill.

Giuliano Gemma plays the money hungry secret agent Kirk Warren, and damn does he do a spectacular job with the character. His fusion of comedic timing and expert athleticism is just electrifying, and the fact that he has such a huge amount of charisma doesn’t hurt matters either. With Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang being my first introduction to the actor, I’m surprised I haven’t come across him sooner. He really brings this film to life, sporting some stylish outfits and generating enough awe inspiring moments that it will literally flip your lid. One of the most memorable scenes of the film has him skydiving from a plane, only to land on top of a snow covered mountain, where he proceeds to strap on some skis and press on head long down the side of the mountain causing various amounts of chaos for everyone who happens to come across his unstoppable path. He eventually makes it to the bottom of the mountain, crashing into a ski resort and flipping perfectly into a seat in the resort’s lobby, where he calmly orders a drink. What a guy! After watching him perform that string of amazing stunts and to see him go all out in this silly and enjoyable Eurospy, I’ve made a personal note to keep an eye out for anything starring this dynamic actor, and I can’t imagine that this is his only role that allowed him to shine so brightly.
Matching Giuliano’s expert skills as both an actor and entertainer is the absolutely ravishing Nieves Navarro, playing the role of Alina Shakespeare. Alina’s place in this film is something of a double edged sword, for she plays a dual role in both being Kirk’s girlfriend and nemesis as the film begins to spin wildly out of control later on in the second portion of the movie. Navarro looks spectacular in the movie, and she practically steals every scene she appears in, threatening to overshadow our main actor Giuliano Gemma. With both actors having such a strong screen presence, the two make a perfect cinematic couple and it was enthralling to see the two duke it out for supremacy of each scene they shared. This is also my first time seeing Nieves Navarro perform, who often is credited by the name of Susan Scott, but it won’t be my last. I did a little digging through her filmography and I came to find that she has performed in a number of Giallos, which I own four of, and she also starred alongside Gemma again in at least two spaghetti westerns entitled, A Pistol for Ringo and The Return of Ringo. I’ll be tackling her Giallo films in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for reviews on Death Walks at Midnight, Death Walks on High Heels, and The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion. If her roles in these number of flicks are as entertaining as her portrayal as Alina Shakespeare in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, then I’ll be quite satisfied.

If those two accomplished actors weren’t enough, the film is jam packed with other equally entertaining performers and wildly portrayed characters. George Martin, who has collaborated with Giuliano and a few of the other stars of this picture, plays the role of Chico Perez, an acrobat and one of the key henchmen in Kirk Warren’s recruited gang. He has the comedic aspect of his character down packed, and has a great number of moments in the film that showcase his expert acrobatic skills and superb athleticism. Lorella De Luca plays the role of Frida Kadar, a dimwitted young girl who can’t help but fall all over Kirk whenever the two cross paths, despite her being engaged to a Texas land baron. She also has a handle on the more comedic moments, even showcasing some of her physical comedy stylings when a bed collapses in on her when goofing around in Kirk’s hotel room. Antonio Casas also gets in on the action, taking on the role of Prof. Padereski, another one of Kirk’s hand-picked heist members. His character doesn’t get too many opportunities to prove his worth, but the moments that he’s on screen are just golden.
Rounding out the memorable cast is Daniele Vargas, who plays the role of Tol Lim AKA Mister X. In this film, this guy is just a laugh a minute, doing some of the silliest things a person can imagine without having any real reason to be doing it in the first place. For instance, in one scene he is hanging out on his private yacht with a few henchmen and the beautiful Nieves Navarro, while talking up secret agent Kirk Warren. All of this seems pretty normal, until you notice him gliding around on a pair of roller skates. Why he chose to wear them at a time like this is beyond me, but the overall impression that you get from the scene is oddly hilarious. He continues with his unusual performance by next appearing in a jester outfit for no particular reason than to be a weirdo and creep me the hell out. He finally settles for a circus leader outfit during the big chase number through an amusement park, until lastly dressing down into a karate gi for the big finale.
Looking back, I’d have to say that the most interesting thing about his character is the number of wardrobe changes the man goes through in the span of the film. What makes these outrageous outfits so entertaining is not just because they look wildly inappropriate, but also because they have entirely no relation to what is going on in the film and they seem absolutely random at best. The only time his wardrobe pertains to the film, is in the closing battle between Kirk and Mister X, where the mysterious dresser gets to show off his karate skills. Though it’s extremely surprising to find out that the chubby Mister X is a martial arts force to be reckoned with, it at least makes sense for him to strip down into a karate gi. I just utterly loved the wackiness of his character and felt that he was a great nemesis for Kirk to come up against in the flick. Their epic fight at the end of the movie was the very definition of entertaining, and basically summed up the overall feel of the film.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is a Eurospy film that really doesn’t have anything to compare itself with. Sure it has the comedic flair that many spy spoofs have in the genre, but none go as far as to make their movie so off-the-wall that it often at times rides right off the rail of conventional thinking. I really dug the odd moments and felt that it made total sense in the great span of the story. The many characters of this unbelievably insane Eurospy were perfectly cast, making for some exceptionally memorable moments and unforgettable personalities.
Giuliano Gemma, Nieves Navarro, and Daniele Vargas are the big standouts of the film, giving some of the most extraordinarily entertainment-filled moments that I’ve bore witness to in many a spy spoof. With Giuliano’s mind boggling fight choreography, to Navarro’s spellbinding beauty, to Vargas’ crazy never-ending string of inappropriate attire, you really can’t deny the appeal of this flick. It is one Eurospy movie that really puts it all out there and lets the audience just simmer in the absurdity. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is……

Checking your watch when Big Ben is right behind you... Priceless.

So you had a bad day huh?

You big goof.

That's one hell of a nice autograph.

We've Kiss Kissed, now it's time for the Bang Bang.

You talking to me? I'm the only handsome man here so you must be talking to me.

She's sexy... and I think.... she knows it.

Get ready for another Bang Bang.

What a weirdo.

Take off that helmet mister. You look stupid.

Hello, room service? I didn't order a dead guy.

What a nut.

Were you the little shit who told me I looked stupid?

I guess you never have to worry about traffic.

Let me cop just one more feel before I die.

Ladies and gentlemen! It's the Ringling Brothers Henchmen Circus!

Ever have the feeling you're being watched by a group of British businessmen?

No Polly! Don't you die on me you cracker eating bastard!


Every film should end with a cleavage shot as nice as this one.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

REVIEW: Godzilla Raids Again

Godzilla Raids Again
Director: Motoyoshi Oda
Year 1955
Godzilla Raids Again is the second film in the long running Godzilla series, this time being directed by Motoyoshi Oda. This outstanding Kaiju film isn’t as robust as its predecessor, but what the movie lacks in destruction it more then makes up for by adding another giant monster for Godzilla to tangle with. With epic battles and a cast of sympathetic characters, Godzilla Raids Again ends up being a rather enjoyable sequel to a classic monster flick.
In this entry of the series, the film follows two fishing pilot friends, Shoichi Tsukioka and Koji Kobayashi, as they stumble onto an island after one of them crash lands nearby. To their surprise, they witness a battle between two gargantuan creatures, Godzilla and Anguirus, a spiked turtle-like dinosaur. After surviving the monsters’ ferocious fight, the two pilots report their sightings of the creatures to a group of scientists who then immediately try to come up with a plan to stop these colossal giants from destroying Japan like Godzilla had done a year prior. With news of Godzilla approaching Osaka, can the scientists and their rag tag group of civilian volunteers stop him from waging destruction across the countryside? With the stage set for a monumental showdown, Godzilla Raids Again shows that Godzilla still has some bite left in him.

Hiroshi Koizumi plays the role of Shoichi Tsukioka, one of the pilots that first discover Godzilla. Determined to keep his people safe from the approaching menace that is Godzilla, Shoichi fights tooth and nail in trying to help the scientists come up with a way to halt the beast and possibly bring about its demise. Hiroshi does a spirited job in bringing the character to life, and he provides a good deal of brooding moments when contemplating just what his role could be in bringing down the monster. Having appeared in a great deal of Toho productions and other Godzilla entries, I’ve come to really appreciate the acting style that Hiroshi brings to his various characters. He has a great screen presence and always seems to bring a certain spark of credibility to each role he takes on.
Minoru Chiaki takes on the role of the other fishing pilot, Koji Kobayashi. He too has the same outlook on wanting to stop Godzilla at any cost, but his character’s personality is quite different from his fellow friends. Chiaki gives the character of Koji a bit of a goofy disposition, always telling jokes and answering to the nickname of Mr. Groom, since he never seems to be able to land a girl of his own. In the film’s story, he never appears to be taken seriously and is kind of looked upon as the class clown of the bunch. Luckily as the story progresses along, we come to find that there is much more to Koji then first presented, as he makes a dramatic character turn in the final closing moments of the film, allowing for the scientists and fighter pilots to come up with a way to finally bring Godzilla to his knees. It’s an inspirational moment for his character, but like all good dramatic turns, it comes at a horrible and mournful cost.

As for the story of Godzilla Raids Again, it has a lot to live up to being the sequel of a classic monster film. With the loss of Godzilla’s original director, Ishiro Honda, you would think that this entry might be a pale comparison to that haughtily hailed masterpiece, but you’d be surprised to find out that this sequel is actually quite good. That being said, it isn’t the grand spectacle that the first one was, but there are a few magical moments that seem inspirationally plucked from the originator of the series, giving the film some much needed weight and substance. One standout moment would be when Godzilla is first approaching the city of Osaka. The sequence starts with two of our main characters, Shoichi Tsukioka and Hidemi Yamaji, as they enjoy a well deserved night out at a local dance club, when suddenly a loud speaker announces the coming of Godzilla. The whole place falls into a panic, and throngs of people rush out into the street, fleeing the coming storm. We hear again over the loudspeaker that the entire area has been put on lockdown and placed under a blackout, forcing all of the citizens to turn their lights off in order to not draw Godzilla’s attention. It is at this point where we are shown a wide shot of the entire area as the lights all begin to go out. The atmosphere during this instance is amazing, and it mirrors moments during World War 2 when air raids would render cities into a state of shock and sheer panic. This real life parallel really places this film in respectable waters, and gives the story an extra believable boost for such a fantasy driven narrative.
Supporting these memorable moments, are a boat load of fantastic effects work that bring that solid execution that Toho so effortlessly churns out. As I’ve mentioned earlier, the destruction that is shown in this film doesn’t match up to the original’s pension for mayhem, but when it does happen in Godzilla Raids Again, it doesn’t disappoint. The battles are epic in scale, and to witness the two larger-than-life combatants go at it, is a sight to see. This entry in the Godzilla series is the first time that we are shown more than one giant monster, which in hind sight has become a staple of the genre, so for the first-time viewing audience to see something of this grand of a showdown must have been quite a shock to the senses. It admirably holds up in that Toho way, after all of these long years, and the movie makes for an entertaining watch that proudly represents that Godzilla name.

Godzilla Raids Again is a fantastic sequel to one of the most famous monster movies of all time. Having lost a bit of luster with the absence of the film’s legendary director Ishiro Honda, the movie still holds up as an unprecedented sequel that tones down the destruction a bit, but adds a whole other new dimension with its multiple battling monsters premise. With a cast of delightful characters and an added bonus of taking real life moments, such as the World War 2 injected atmosphere, and blending them into this wild story of radioactive creatures on the rampage.

Seeing that this is an early entry in the long standing series, the tone is still kept as serious as a heart attack, and you could almost seamlessly watch the first film and branch off into this one and not notice a drastic drop in quality. The story is top notch and the effects work follows in suit. With the Japanese powerhouse Toho Company behind it, you really can’t go wrong. Time after time they prove themselves with all of the enjoyable productions that they produce in abundance. Godzilla Raids Again is another infectious entry in the success story that is Toho, and its presence in the cannon of Godzilla films is better for its inclusion. Check this one out because……

I spy with my little eye.... a big fucking lizard!

Momma put the coins on my eyes cause I sure don't believe what I am seeing!

Let's get ready to RUMBLE!

The Japanese Mark Twain really hates it when you fall asleep on him.

This is a dinosaur.

I like twinkly lights.

Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. Don't let Godzilla kill me.

Don't look back but I think the cops are following us.

I think my pants have been pooped!

Ah Christmas. I hope Godzilla brings me something nice this year.

Microphone check.... Wu-Tang Clan aint nuthin ta fuck wit!

Say hi to Godzilla for me. I think he's swell.

Man do I hate back seat drivers.

We'll draw some happy little trees on top of this happy little mountain.

Godzilla fell into the ice-maker again.


Godzilla you beautiful bastard!

We did it! Everybody Wang Chung tonight!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

REVIEW: Once Upon a Time in the West

Once Upon a Time in the West
Director: Sergio Leone
Year 1968
Once Upon a Time in the West is an epic spaghetti western that expertly uses its three hour runtime to make a film that is truly larger than life in every aspect of its production. Sergio Leone imagines a brutal and savage world filled with gritty gunslingers that fight under their own personal code of morals. Some murder in order to become powerful and wealthy, some kill because it’s the only life they know, and some extinguish life because their thirst for revenge just can’t be quenched. This sprawling journey into the harsh environment of the Wild West should not be missed and it’s a prime example on just how good this genre of filmmaking can be when pushed to the limit.
This ambitious film follows the hectic lives of a plethora of different individuals as they try to make a life for themselves in this viscous frontier of the American West. There’s Jill McBain, a recently widowed woman, who moves from New Orleans in order to find a new life that will hopefully help her forget her sordid past. Then there’s Cheyenne, a leader of a gang of bandits, who has recently been framed for a pair of murders that he hasn’t committed. Then there’s the nasty gun for hire Frank, who works for a railroad tycoon and is legendary for being cruel and unsympathetic to those that meet their end by the barrel of his gun. Finally there is the mysterious man known as simply, Harmonica, a lone gunman beckoned by destiny and gifted with the skills to accomplish his own personal goals, revenge. All of these characters collide in a flurry of gunfire that change the look of the American West, while in the process forging a new path on this wild and dangerous frontier.

Charles Bronson plays the role of Harmonica, the nameless stranger that appears from out of no where, leaving nothing but death in his wake. Bronson does an amazing job with this dynamic character by giving him a cool and conservative disposition. His subtle nuances and laid back attitude, results in a chilly performance that really snatches your attention and allows the character to steal each scene he appears in. Not unlike the other characters that Bronson has depicted throughout the years, Harmonica comes off as a no nonsense type of hero, never falling into the category of good guy, but straddling the divide between hero and villain to the point at which it’s hard to pick which side of the fence he might fall. His story is that of revenge, giving Bronson plenty of opportunity to showcase his talents in the way of swift justice. Another especially ingenious trait of Bronson’s Harmonica, is the fact that he is always introduced by an audible cue that chimes in by the sound of a wickedly creepy harmonica riff, composed by legendary film composer Ennio Morricone, that just chills the bones. This is definitely one of Bronson’s most iconic characters of his career.
Another stupendous role of the film is that of Frank the ruthless gunslinger, played by Henry Fonda. Mostly known for his more friendly and sympathetic characters, Fonda uncharacteristically brings the pain in his portrayal of Frank. This guy is the scum of the earth doing anything he can to prosper and financially survive in this wild environment. What is truly memorable about his character is that he has these cold blue eyes that Sergio Leone purposely focuses on during many of the close up shots for his character. This contrasting sight of peaceful blue eyes compared to the character’s cruel and ruthless persona is rather shocking, and Fonda makes sure to give us a performance worth remembering.

Bringing a lighter flare to the proceedings is Jason Robards as the bandit Cheyenne. When we’re first introduced to the character of Cheyenne, he comes off as a bad dude, mirroring a combination of both Frank and Harmonica, but as the movie rolls along we come to find that he is a bit of a loose cannon and highly unpredictable. Robards’ strange performance as Cheyenne has to be one of the most entertaining interpretations of a character that I’ve seen in a long while. Almost bi-polar in delivery, Cheyenne can present himself as a badass one moment and then flip that entirely, turning his personality into a wise cracking, yet dryly delivered, gun slinging comedian. There are even some action moments in the film that showcase some zany situations that Cheyenne gets himself into, like hanging upside-down outside a train window smiling like a mad man at Bronson’s Harmonica. I enjoyed the bizarre character twists of Robards’ performance and felt that his inclusion in this diverse cast melded quite nicely together.

With the male leads all giving an outstanding group performance, the sole female main character has some rather large shoes to fill. Luckily Claudia Cardinale takes this role on in stride, giving one of the most heartfelt performances that I’ve experienced in some time. Not only does she look absolutely stunning in the role of Jill McBain, the grieving widow, but she has an extraordinary gift in making us feel her character’s pain without even uttering a single word. The scene where she arrives to meet her new family, only to see their dead bodies laid out across the front yard, is heart wrenching and she expresses all of these distraught feelings through the pain in her eyes. It’s a wonderful moment that nails home the dangerous quality that this untamed frontier holds in store for our cast of characters. My eyes first caught sight of Claudia when doing some research on Jean-Paul Belmondo’s filmography and I came across a trailer for their 1962 film Cartouche. It looked absolutely entertaining and I knew that I’d be running across some of this actress’ work in the future. I’m so glad that I got to witness a role that must have truly made her a star and her portrayal of Jill McBain is nothing short of sublime.
With the fantastic cast aside, the visual look of the film is a work of genius. Sergio Leone is a master of the medium, filming some of the most picturesque wide angle photography shots that the cinema has ever seen. The panoramic views that are displayed in this film are breathtaking to say the least, and you really get a good feel for how expansive the frontier of the American West really was during this time period. The hardships of the characters and the turmoil that each one experiences in this epic, yet intimate, tale is astounding and Sergio grabs your attention the very instance the film starts and never lets you go.
The film begins with one of the most iconic sequences to ever come out of the spaghetti western genre, and that would be the almost eight minute long build up to Bronson’s Harmonica character’s big entrance. With three armed men waiting for his arrival at the train station, the anticipation is amped to the max. This super charged moment is a blast and when the confrontation hits the critical point of no return, the end result is something of a cinematic wonder. From that point on I was hooked and their literally was no turning back. From that explosive introduction to the final pulse pounding showdown during the closing moments of the film, I was glued to my seat, sitting in wonder over witnessing one of the most well established films that I’ve ever seen. The characters were raw and genuine and the story was wholly entertaining. Top that off with Leone’s expert eye, which gave the film a gritty realism and you’ve got yourself an honest to goodness classic. With Leone’s interesting combination of wide angle shots and tightly framed and zoomed in compositions, he creates a style that is truly his own. I couldn’t get enough of this three hour juggernaut of a film and I’m making it my duty to plow through the rest of his wonderful masterpieces.

Once Upon a Time in the West is without a doubt one of the most iconic depictions of the spaghetti western genre that I’ve had the pleasure to witness. Filled with all the grit and splendor that make this film classification so much damn fun, Leone hit it out of the park on accomplishing something bigger than the genre itself. Shot in a style that truly demands your attention, the film makes you believe that you’re witnessing an actual event play out, as guns start to fire and the bodies begin to pile up. Never has a more diverse group of actors come together to make a cohesive and well thought out fictitious world come to life, and the heart and soul that is felt within each actors role is unparalleled.
The age of spaghetti westerns has come and gone, but the presence of this film has been felt long after and it still maintains that same power to this day. It takes an accomplished filmmaker to pull off that timeless nature, and Sergio Leone makes it all the more clearer that he was one of those true masters of the cinema. Once Upon a Time in the West is proof that some genre efforts can surpass the confines of their respected categories and break into uncharted territory right beside some of cinemas most treasured classics. This film is a…….

Here comes the welcome wagon..... of PAIN!

Play me some sweet tunes there Bronson.

This was not a good day for a picnic.

What are you so happy about Claudia? Oh yeah, that's right.... you're hot.

Sweet sassafras! You're HOT!

Damn Bronson! You can play!

The worst welcoming commitee EVER.

The door says STAY OUT, but you can COME IN.

Let those baby blues sparkle Fonda. You look fabulous!

Hi all! Hope you're enjoying the show.

Get up you lazy crippled bastard! Damn that's cold Henry.

Money, Money, Money, Money......... MONEY!

Aint this some shit?!?!

There's only room for one badass in this town.

I love bubbles!

Turn around Bronson! There's a half naked chick behind you!

Missing out on the massacre makes Frank sad.

What kind of demented circus act is this?!?!