Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Change of plan

Due to tropical storm/hurricane Isaac, we will NOT be going through Louisiana. We are now in Arkansas, heading to Oklahoma, on to Santa Fe.

Details to come.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Soldier Man

Jackie Chan is getting older, not as willing to the the crazy stunts as he once was. If the result is films like Little Big Soldier, I won't complain.

Jackie plays a farmer, conscripted in the army during the Warring States period. He has survived a massacre by playing possum, using a variation on Steve Martin's arrow-through-the-head gag. The only other survivor turns out to be the enemy general, whom Jackie captures. Now, if he can deliver this general to the king, he will be excused military service for life.

And so it becomes a road picture, with Jackie, a cowardly old farmer, trying to get a captured general through the bandits and enemies to his home country, and in the process, the little soldier and the big general come to know each other.

It's a beautifully made film, full of lovely scenery, the horrors of war, and Chan's rather fine singing. It's often funny - Jackie's martial arts move here is to run away, fanning his sword behind him. There are some fine fights, but it is more thoughtful than action-packed.

This movie seems to fit right into the Hero/Red Cliff/Three Kingdoms Chinese epic, rather than martial arts movie, although on a more intimate scale. Well worth watching.

We Interrupt this Blog

This blog is going on a short hiatus while we drive across the country. Yes, the Spensers are heading home to California. We moved out to Florida just two years ago, and now it is time to return. We should be at the ancestral Spenser Estates by next Sun, if the creek don't rise.

And since we plan to be driving up the Gulf Coast of Alabama and Louisiana right in the path of Tropical Storm Isaac, there's a good chance the creek will rise. We'll see.

The plan is:

  • Lafayette LA
  • Wichita Falls TX
  • Santa Fe NM
  • Flagstaff AZ
  • Gardena CA (Hi Gyl!)
  • Home
We may or may not watch in movies during the packing and driving phase, but I definitely don't plan to blog them. Since I haven't been very good about updating this blog regularly, you may not even notice the difference. We've been watching mostly Netflix TV anyways, and some One-Shot Beaudine and Tim and Irene Ryan B movies that don't necessarily deserve a post.

But when we get back, I'm going to treat myself to a DVD-in-the-mail subscription to Netflix - no longer will we be at the mercy of streaming. We'll be watching nothing but classics! Howard Duff marathon, here we come!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Hong Kong Soul

Saviour of the Soul (1991) is a total comic book of a movie. Based on the star Anita Mui and a character named Silver Fox, I was expecting a very loose sequel to Heroic Trio and Executioners. Well, it came out 1-2 years before those movies, so that was wrong. But from the overall feel, it might as well have been one in the series.

Directed by David Lai with fight direction by Corey Yuen, it starts with supervillain Silver Fox (Aaron Kwok) busting his master Henry Fong out of prison, then killing him and swearing revenge. The fight in prison is wire-tastic, with the Fox flying around, over and through bars and barbed wire. His master is handcuffed to a wall that is not just damp, not just dripping, but covered with a sheet of constantly pouring water. The scene, lit from above and shot from below, is powerfully graphic and atmospheric. However,  it may be impossible to ignore the fact that all of this elegance can be done with little or no budget.

We meet our heroes, the City Soldiers (?): Anita Mui, her suave boyfriend in a silk suit and Panama hat, Kenny Bee, and the tongue-tied boy who also loves her, Andy Lau. Bee's teenage sister, a tomboy in a baseball uniform (Gloria Yip, totally cute) shows up and falls in love with Lau. Mui's sister (played by Anita Mui, but seemingly voiced by a drag queen), wears trashy outfits, talks like a slut and gets shot in the butt.

Carina Lau, as Pet Lady (?), world's greatest physician, shows up a few times, but it is not clear why.

There is a lot of melodrama, with Lau longing for Mui, Yip longing for Lau, and so on. The action gets more an more ridiculous - Silver Fox's big move is to inhale some weird gas, then run through his opponent, thus poisoning him. Amazingly, this is not the wackiest martial arts move, not is Lau's sword that rolls up into a yo-yo. You'll just have to watch it and see.


  • Silky, flowing billowing costumes, on men and women
  • Shadows, light, water, fog
  • Monumental buildings, concrete palaces, warehouse lofts, empty of people
  • Beautifully composed frames, looking like they came from a comic (and maybe they did)
As I said before, the low budget sometimes shows, and you may notice some weaknesses in the logic. But never any lack of imagination.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Fox and Honey

The Honey Pot, directed by Joseph Mankiewicz in 1967 belongs to a class of movie that just doesn't get made any more. It's a prestige presentation with a witty script, deluxe sets and top-rank stars, all in service of a more or less throw-away mystery.

It stars Rex Harrison as the fabulously wealthy Cecil Fox, living in a Venetian villa. Rex Harrison, how deluxe is that? We meet him watching a few acts of Volpone, in the Venice Opera House, all alone, in a private performance. Then the plot begins. He has hired as a personal assistant one William McFly (Cliff Robertson), middle-aged aspiring actor. The job includes general secretarial, and help in pulling off a grand prank.

You see, Fox will be pulling off a variation on the plot of Volpone. He will gather around him his past lovers, on the pretext that he is mortally ill, and convince each one that she is the beneficiary of his vast fortune. McFly will play the part of the Volpone's servant, Mosca. Volpone = Fox, Mosca = Fly. Very clever.

And so it goes, with literate dialog, clever plot twists and A-list actors taking it to the top, and a bit over. The ex-lovers are Susan Hayward, Capucine and Edie Adams (oil, old money and Hollywood, respectively). The standout of them all is Maggie Smith, as Hayward's nurse/companion. Of course, among all of these glamorous women, Robertson falls for her.

When one of the women is murdered, the prank takes a different turn, and Aldo Celi (Largo!) turns up representing the Policia. All in all, this movie could hardly be any more fun - my only issue would be with Cliff Robertson, who is a bit of a Tom Ewing presence: he has an air of anti-charisma that he can't shed when he becomes the focus of the plot.

This reminded me a lot of The Last of Sheila. Same kind of twisty plot set among the ritzy class, dissolving into fluff once it's over. Do they make these any more? It seems to me that now, trash is trash and prestige is prestige. Any modern examples?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Dante's Inferno

Joe Dante's Inferno, that is: Hollywood Boulevard. It seems that Roger Corman gave two of his film editors a chance to direct a film - if they could keep to budget under $60,000. These director-pupae? Joe Dante (Gremlins) and Alan Arkush (Rock 'n' Roll High School).

The movie is the story of a starry eyed girl (Candice Rialson) who comes to Hollywood to be discovered. After several mishaps, she finally gets an agent, low-budget hustler Dick Miller. He gets her a job with Miracle Pictures (you know the gag), which has an alarming rate of mortality for starlets. It also has Paul Bartels as a director and Mary Woronov as leading lady.

Let me emphasize that Dick Miller's role is more than a cameo, as well as Bartels and Woronov. If that doesn't sell you on this movie, it probably isn't for you. And if it does sell you, you've probably already watched it.

The script is pretty silly. The action sequences are all stolen from other Corman movies, keeping the budget down and padding the film. The mystery is handled pretty well, everything considered. There are a ton of in-jokes, including a Robby the Robot cameo.

Best part for me? Commando Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen have a number of songs, including a live performance of "Everyone's Truckin'" under the Hollywood sign. It was great to see the Old Commander, along with Buffalo Bruce, Billy C., John Tichy, Bill Kirchen and everybody.

In conclusion, cheap fun.