Archive for the ‘Fishies’ Category

Raw Force (1982)


On the Norwegian Wikipedia page for the 1982 exploitation epic RAW FORCE — probably the only time I’ll ever start a sentence that way — we are informed that the movie was banned in Norway in 1984. That’s the most attention any kind of majority, political or otherwise, has paid this movie. RAW FORCE is made for almost no one, because it is apparently made for almost everyone. Nearly every convention or trope of genre movies from the first seventy or so years of the existence of film is expended in this one rickety heap of madness.




As I tried to describe on our latest podcast focusing on RAW FORCEdescribing this movie is like fighting a giant squid. Just when you’ve bested one wavy storytelling strand, another one snaps up and grabs you by the throat.


Here’s the trailer, which is maybe the most dishonest trailer I’ve ever seen:



That trailer literally sells a different movie. The clips are the same, but some of the character names and all of their backstories are totally different. The editors somehow cobbled together a cohesive story from several scenes that have no connection. This is the SHOGUN ASSASSIN of movie trailers. RAW FORCE is plenty of kinds of fun, but one adjective that does not apply is “cohesive.” This is the summary I gave on the podcast:




First, a quote from Anton Chekhov:

“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”

Okay. So early on in RAW FORCE, when a plane lands on a remote island and a character mentions that the waters surrounding the island are infested with vicious piranha, you can bet you will see those fish by the end of the movie. And if that character is a white-suited human trafficker who looks and talks exactly like Adolf Hitler, you may fairly assume he’ll be the one to meet them.




Otherwise, RAW FORCE, also known as KUNG FU CANNIBALS, completely ignores the principle of Chekhov’s gun. This movie operates under its own rules, and also it doesn’t have any rules. If you somehow managed to drink up all the movies and television shows of the 1970s and then you barfed them back up, the mess on the bathroom floor might look like this.




Saloon fights, graveyard fights, bazooka fights, hippies in warpaint, gratuitously naked ladies, karate-chopping hobbit bartenders, giggling monks who dine on human women, ninja zombies, a BOOGIE NIGHTS style group of protagonists calling themselves the Burbank Karate Club, an ornery sea captain, a kung fu chef, an extended riff on ‘Gilligan’s Island’, and the aforementioned worst person in human history: All this and more in RAW FORCE.


This was a fun episode even though I was delirious and feverish and congested and loopy. As always my co-hosts Joe and Freeman were terrific, engaging, and informative. You can subscribe and download the show on iTunes (please comment with feedback!) or you can



Here are our previous episodes, in case you’d like to catch up. We’re recording a new episode this week! Stay tuned.



Vigilante Force






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Journey to the West (2013)


JOURNEY TO THE WEST is now available to download on iTunes and to watch on demand. If you have access to New York City, it’s playing at Cinema Village. This is the brief rave I wrote about the movie when I put it in my top ten of 2013. It’s not much but I hope it makes clear how emphatically I recommend it.


Journey to the West


Journey to the West


The way I feel about Stephen Chow’s movies is the way you probably feel about Pixar’s movies. KUNG FU HUSTLE alone is literally perfection. JOURNEY TO THE WEST may not be his single best film, but it’s a, incredibly strong addition to a beautiful filmography.




Fleet, funny, broadly universal, and unexpectedly moving, JOURNEY TO THE WEST is the story of a young demon hunter named Tang Sanzang (Wen Zhang) who takes on a wild menagerie of monsters and villains, looking to get them to change their evil ways rather than simply killing them. He’s both aided and bedeviled along the way by a pretty demon hunter known as Miss Duan (Shu Qi) and her gang of killers (including the insanely cute Chrissie Chau), all of whom would prefer the more extreme option. For stone killers, they’re as adorable as it gets.




The relationship between Tang Sanzang and Miss Duan is the through-line of the movie, which otherwise progresses from demon battle to demon battle. The characters voyage through a variety of exciting environments; some inviting, like the open-air river battle against a gigantic fish demon, and others far less inviting, like the hellish domain of the nightmarish pig demon.




Most prominently featured is the Monkey King (Huang Bo), the most duplicitous of the creatures but also the most likable and enjoyable. He’s the reason for the movie’s dance sequence, is all I’m saying.





Like all of Stephen Chow’s best-known movies, JOURNEY TO THE WEST reaches heights of joy few movies can match, but it also comes packaged with moments of heartbreak. It’s an epic adventure stuffed with comedy and romance that ends up having agreeably spiritual resonance, based as it is on a classical work of literature dating back to the Ming Dynasty. But then again it also has a giant gorilla. This really does have everything you need from a movie.





Xi you xiang mo pian

Why watch a movie with subtitles?  Because if you don’t, you could miss something truly wonderful. 

In hindsight, South Korea’s THE HOST is easily one of the best monster movies of the past twenty years.  Regardless of release date, it’s just such a great example of what a great summer movie should be.  THE HOST is funny, scary, silly, vicious, politically-aware, and profound, sometimes all at once.  It’s rare that a movie can get me to genuinely care about its main characters, but rarer still is when a movie gets me to caring right from the first ten minutes, and yes, from behind subtitles.  Rarest of all is when this happens in a movie about a mutated river monster laying siege to a major city.

This movie is about a family of weirdos and dipshits (really, that’s the scientific term) who have to band together to save a little girl when she’s taken by an American military scientist’s careless mistake gone wrong.  That “careless mistake gone wrong” is a real-deal swallow-you-up monster, and it’s not one that looks much like any I’ve seen in movies before.  An original monster design that is both convincing and interesting to look at is a near-impossible mountain of a prospect — in this case it took an international crew that included New Zealand’s Weta Workshop (THE LORD OF THE RINGS, 2005’s KING KONG).

The great monster movies have a simplicity to their engine.  There’s not much to THE HOST‘s story beyond the monster’s initial attack, and then the search for the girl.  (Described in those terms, this is not too far afield of the basic plot of 1933’s KING KONG, which is a good ballpark to be inside.  Even if you’re playing right field.)  But it’s not just simplicity that makes this movie have impact — even at a full two hours, THE HOST has momentum.  It’s brilliantly filmed, acted, edited, and scored.  And the movie is really funny.  (This is why some have compared it to JAWS.)  The main characters are somewhat dopey, particularly Song Kang-ho as the bottle-blond goofball whose layers eventually reveal themselves.  To be honest, I started off laughing at them — as the director and co-writer Joon-ho Bong clearly must have intended — but as the story goes on, I found myself really invested in them, hoping they’d succeed, and worried they wouldn’t.  That’s what really great movies do, in my opinion.  Get you to care.  And if they can do that while thrilling you, scaring you, and making you laugh?  Well, then the comparisons to JAWS don’t seem quite that much of a reach. 

THE HOST is the midnight movie this weekend at IFC Center

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Whatever else you want to say about it, Piranha 3D is a movie that keeps its promises.  The trailers, the commercials, and all the pre-press promised that Piranha 3D would lean heavy on its R rating.  Its makers and its promoting swore up and down that we’d see more gore and more nudity than we’ve seen on a movie screen in recent memory, and that’s for damn sure what we got.  For plenty of people, that’s enough, and to those people I say, see this movie multiple times and encourage the making of more like it, because while I’m a guy who’s usually looking for a little more than simply sex & violence in a movie (I like that stuff as much as anyone but I need good characters too), I’m glad whenever a boundary-pusher makes its way through to multiplexes.

I love the fact that I don’t have to spend the usual amount of time setting up the plot of Piranha 3D.  The high concept is this: a swarm of prehistoric piranha are set loose by a subterranean earthquake during Spring Break season at a Lake Havasu (AZ) type of vacation situation.  The fish are hungry.  And that’s pretty much all that happens.  There are a ton of recognizable and lovable B-listers (with more than due respect) in the large cast, including the darling Elisabeth Shue and the great Ving Rhames as the town sheriff and deputy, the hard-working (if straining a little too much) Jerry O’Connell as an amateur filmmaker of the Girls Gone Wild variety, and the underrated (but increasingly less so) Adam Scott as a seismologist who comes for the earthquake and stays for the killer fish.

There are others.  There’s Richard Dreyfuss in a brief cameo as the most blatant Jaws referece of all time.  There’s Christopher Lloyd in an expository mad-scientist cameo that – I shit you not – blew up the theater I was in.  People went APESHIT when Christopher Lloyd showed up, overacting at a level that is like all three Back To The Futures combined into one histrionic supernova.  I love Christopher Lloyd, but I had no idea that the love was so widespread.  But best of all, honestly, is British pin-up Kelly Brook as one of the models who shows up at the lake to help document the debauchery.

What Kelly Brook does in this movie is nothing less than an act of great humanitarianism.  She takes part in an underwater girl-on-girl ballet that will live forever in infamy, or at least on the internet.  I wonder if Piranha 3D under-earned at the box office because its target audience is waiting to get it home.  I don’t mean to be a creep, but if you’re going to go to the trouble of writing about Piranha 3D, it’d be dishonest not to write about how astounding Kelly Brook looks.  Also, I could swear that she gives a sweet, ingratiating, good-humored performance given the fact that she’s playing a frequently-undressed pornstar, but I’d have to take another look at the movie to be sure.

Anyway, once the multiple characters are introduced and the piranha start unleashing hell, Piranha 3D sets what just have to be new levels of carnage.  This movie would make Sam Peckinpah blush.  The violence in this movie makes Stallone’s Expendables look quaint.  Even that most prominent of torture-porn aficionados, Mel Gibson, would cover his eyes during a couple moments of this movie.  In a weird way, Piranha 3D is pretty realistic.  If a swarm of piranha got to work on a lake full of half-naked people, they wouldn’t exactly be discreet or discerning about it.  They would start biting at anything and everything.  And yes, that is a warning to the squeamish (and the sane) that if you go to see Piranha 3D, you will see a piranha eat a dick.  I’m sorry if I’m revealing anything, but it’s my belief that people should be warned.  I’ll leave it there, because I can definitely make any number of jokes about dick-eating piranha, but I recognize that not everyone would be entertained by that.  I try to be considerate when I can.

The point is that Piranha 3D is exceedingly gory, though it approaches that gore with the darkest kind of humor.  I get it, and I did laugh at pretty much all of the places where the movie means to make a person laugh, but ultimately, the movie was more of an amusement park ride, an enjoyable experience (relatively speaking) that you won’t want or need to experience more than once.  In that way, it’s somewhat disappointing.  A movie that makes such obvious references to Jaws should probably understand that all the gore stunts in the world won’t make a movie memorable if it doesn’t have the characters to back it up.  This movie features talented ringers like Elisabeth Shue and Ving Rhames in prominent roles but keeps them offscreen for extended stretches of the “story.”  (This prompted a lengthy conversation with a friend about why Elisabeth Shue isn’t a bigger movie star, when she’s as talented and pretty as any of them.  Life isn’t fair.)

Instead, the bulk of the “character” moments in Piranha are monopolized by Shue’s character’s teenaged son, who has a huge crush on a girl who falls in with both a band of bullies and O’Connell’s girl-exploiting video safari.  The kid leaves behind his much younger brother and sister (who inevitably get in life-threatening trouble) to follow the girl.  Here’s the thing:  I don’t care.  Not me personally, but the general “I” – all the gorehounds and booby-chasers who paid for or snuck in to Piranha 3D.  It’s a fair assumption to make that the kind of person who is interested in this movie for what it is probably doesn’t want to see little kids running around.  They don’t want to sit through the Dawson’s Creek shit either.  That’s not what got butts in seats.

If I’d been hired to do a script revision, here’s what I’d have done:  Take the Kelly Brook character, who’s already been portrayed as the stripper with a heart of gold, and bring her front and center.  Get those little kids in the background, or better yet, write them out entirely.  What are little kids doing in a Spring Break movie?  It’s not a bad thing to give the people what they want.  More Kelly Brook, less who-gives-a-crap.  I’m not just saying this because she speeds up heartbeats – it’d be the more original choice.  We’ve already seen the movie where the sheriff or the parent has to save a bunch of endangered kids, many times over (in Jaws 2, for example.)  What we haven’t seen yet is the movie about the centerfold who has to get serious and start wrecking killer fish.  It seems so obvious that I can’t fully bring myself to believe that it hasn’t been done already, but for some reason clichéd plots persist, even in a movie as wild and anarchic as this one.

Still, I have to applaud a movie that sticks to the realism of a situation where a piranha swarm besieges a Spring Break (I’m still serious about that point), and I definitely respect the attempt to bring more unclothed bosoms into multiplexes (there’s nothing evil about boobs).  Reportedly, a sequel is already in development.  They got a lot right the first time; no reason to expect they can’t fix up the rest on Round Two.

Find me on Twitter!: @jonnyabomb