Category Archives: ★

Ragnarok (1983)

Ragnarok is a “video [comic] strip.” There’s no animation, though occasionally there are electric crackles, just panning, scanning, and zooming across illustrations while three voice actors perform multiple roles. There are sound effects–minimal ones, which sometimes works to great effect, sometimes doesn’t. There’s no credited director or editor. The illustrators get credit, as does writer Alan Moore. It’s a shame the editor doesn’t get that credit though, because they do a fantastic job. Even when Ragnarok hits the skids, the editing is good.

The video strip is split into three chapters, with the second one just a setup for the third. The first, however, is easily the most impressive. It’s this taut space Western with a prospector and his claim under attack from a gang of hooligans. Will Ragnarok–a peace-keeping regulator–get there in time to save the prospector? The voice acting on Ragnarok is never great, but it’s better in the first part, and the hooligans (and the prospector) are all awesome. Lots of personality both in the performance and in the script.

Moore closes the first chapter with some musing about the universe, man’s place in it, and even a prospector’s song. It’s kind of awesome, which makes what follows all the more disappointing.

The common denominator for trouble is the lack of banter. It’s where Moore shows the most personality with dialogue. The second chapter, which has Ragnarok investigating a distress call and finding a super-intelligent Tyrannosaurus Rex from another dimension bent on conquering the universe, has very little banter. It has some–Ragnarok mouthing off to his computer interface, which has a heavily pixelated female appearance and the moniker Voice–but the well-spoken, psychically-powered, megalomaniac T. Rex hasn’t got any chemistry with Ragnarok. They’re both playing the straight sentient and Moore writes Ragnarok as something of a buzz kill anyway. When he’s got good company, he’s fine; without it, he’s dull.

And that dullness fully eclipses all in the third chapter–except the editing, of course–as the T. Rex finds its way to Ragnarok’s home base and wrecks havoc. Moore introduces a new supporting cast of terrible characters, from an overbearing, questionably talented commanding officer called “Mother”–it’s not clear if she’s actually mother to all the regulators (the bad guy in the first chapter was called “Father”, maybe a further adventure would’ve introduced cloning backstory)–to a dimwitted female sidekick for Ragnarok. The T. Rex appropriately calls her “Simple Jane,” so Moore was intentionally playing her as a dope? Not a good sign.

There’s a lot of lame fight “scenes,” without much detail in the illustrations, and the showdown between the T. Rex and Ragnarok leaves a lot to be desired. Much like the third chapter itself.

Still, it’s competently executed and the voice cast does work at it. It’s just a shame Ragnarok never lives up to the potential of the first chapter’s writing or does justice to whoever did the rather solid editing on the video strip.

1/4

CREDITS

Character origination by Bryan Talbot; written by Alan Moore; illustrated by Mike Collins, Mark Falmer, Raz Khan, Ham Khan, Don Wazejewski, and Dave Williams; released by Nutland Video Ltd.

Voices by David Tate, Jon Glover, and Norma Ronald.


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King Kong Escapes (1967, Honda Ishirô)

Despite lacking special effects and a phoned in score from Ifukube Akira (reusing his previous Godzilla themes to various effect), King Kong Escapes has quite a bit of charm to it. The film opens with Kong enthusiasts–really, they’re sitting around drawing pictures of him–Rhodes Reason and Takarada Akira. They’re U.N. submarine guys; U.N. submarines, patrolling the globe, is a thing in Escapes’s reality. Along with a female ship’s doctor, played by Linda Miller, who later in the film screams at the sight of blood. It’s like they forgot she was supposed to be a doctor.

Anyway, the film opens with them and isn’t particularly great. Those lacking effects are imaginative–they have a hovercraft–but there’s just something off about the trio. All the chemistry is between Takarada and Miller, which is great, only for some reason Miller’s always hugging Reason. It’s even established later on Takarada and Miller are a couple. So clearly Toho (and co-producers Rankin/Bass) didn’t think the world was ready for a Japanese guy and a white girl. Sorry, getting ahead once again.

Once the U.N. submarine is established, the action goes to the bad guys and the bad guys are awesome. One of the bad guys is evil scientist, Dr. Who (Amamoto Hideyo), who wears a cape and all of his henchmen have, if not capes, something approximately capes. It’s very, very weird and Amamoto plays it for all its worth. He’s working for beautiful foreign agent, Hama Mie–she’s not Japanese, not Chinese, but from some unidentified Asian nation with enough money to fund Amamoto building a giant King Kong robot. Mechani-Kong. They need a giant robot Kong for mining radioactive materials. The movie spends like fifteen minutes on it, the need for Kong (or Kong facsimiles) to mine. Hama plays it all straight, Amamoto chews through every bit of scenery he can. Somehow, it’s a magic combination. They’re both fantastic throughout the film.

When the action gets back to the U.N. submarine, it’s when they just happen to have to stop at Kong’s island. Escapes’s Kong suit conveys this sad and lonely giant ape. He’s got big, soulful, sad eyes and dejected body language. Some of that dejected body language is because the suit’s terrible, disproportionate and haphazardly detailed enough editor Fujii Ryôhei spends most of his time just trying to cover for the suit looking bad. Lots of questionable cuts, just because the head on the suit often doesn’t match the suit.

Once they’re on the island, director Honda does a bunch of homage to the 1933 King Kong, which is pretty cool. The effects are bad, seeing an adorable King Kong violently defend Miller against the Tyrannosaurus Rex stand-in is jarring, but the location shooting is excellent (and too short) and Honda’s homage is neat.

After the island, there’s a significant lull as Reason makes an address to the U.N. only to be sent right back to the island. Before they get there, Amamoto and his goons go to capture Kong in an amazing action sequence with helicopters and gas bombs and so on. The miniatures are okay, the suit is weak, Honda’s direction is phenomenal.

Eventually the bad guys capture the good guys–and Hama starts having a change of heart because Reason is so hot, but he doesn’t make the goo-goo eyes at her. While it is a bit of a plot hole, Kimura Takeshi’s script has a lot of nonsense going on. It does ruin the one chance to humanize Reason, who’s otherwise a stiff. Amamoto can’t even give his scenes with Reason much of a pulse.

Of course there’s a fight between the two Kongs–in Tokyo, on the Tokyo Tower, amid another Kong ’33 homage from Honda with Takarada as Bruce Cabot and Miller as Fay Wray. It’s all rather well-executed, regardless of the suits. The city and military miniatures are fine. In fact, the big fight scene could’ve easily gone on a bit longer. Escapes just needed a better budget. Honda was ready to do this one.

And Reason needs to go. Or at least be less of a stiff.

Takarada and Miller are both more appealing than good. Outside their chaste romance, they’re just around to make Reason seem important.

King Kong Escapes is goofy, the suits are silly, and Ifukube’s score disappoints (though the revised Godzilla 1954 music for Kong and Miller’s love theme is great). It’s still all right, thanks to Honda taking it so seriously. And Hama and Amamoto. Especially Hama and Amamoto.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Honda Ishirô; written by Kimura Takeshi; director of photography, Koizumi Hajime; edited by Fujii Ryôhei; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Kita Takeo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Rhodes Reason (Commander Carl Nelson), Linda Miller (Lieutenant Susan Watson), Takarada Akira (Lt. Commander Jiro Nomura), Hama Mie (Madame Piranha), and Amamoto Hideyo (Dr. Who).


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The Wind in the Willows (1983, Mark Hall and Chris Taylor)

The Wind in the Willows has an undeniable charm about it. Directors Hall and Taylor send the first act of the film focusing on lovely details. Wind is stop motion, with a lot of intricate “set” decoration. And they do occasionally utilize their control over performers and location to get some excellent shots. Unfortunately, none of that ingenuity carries over to dealing with the characters and their storylines.

Some of the problem is Rosemary Anne Sisson’s teleplay. Sisson meanders from event to event. Most events involve Toad (voiced by David Jason), which is great. Toad’s ostensibly a lot of fun. Only most of his interactions with other characters are long shots in profile. Hall and Taylor are perfectly comfortable revealing the stop motion models’ lack of, well, fur, in close-ups, but they never bother to shoot anything from an angle. While some may be constraints of the sets, it’s not all.

Wind in the Willows is the story of four friends and there’s zero character relationship between any of them. Sisson’s script rushes the introduction of “leads” Mole (Richard Pearson) and Rat (Ian Carmichael) in a hurry to get to Jason. And Jason doesn’t really start paying off for a while. Eventually, Jason–and his musical numbers–hold Willows afloat, but not at the start. Sisson, Hall, and Taylor still need to get Pearson and Carmichael established.

They never really do. Sisson’s script is purely functional. All the sublime charm about riverfront life for adorable anthropomorphized British animals is from the stop motion. Outside the songs, nothing in the writing brings any of the charm. It’s sometimes so craven it does the exact opposite. As a result, Pearson and Carmichael aren’t the leads, they aren’t even friends. They don’t have enough time together.

And Michael Hordern, as wise old Badger, is a three dimensional pothole. Hordern’s characterization lacks warmth, Sisson’s writing lacks thought, and the character design is awkward. Badger doesn’t fit anywhere in Willows, not outside, not inside. Not even when he’s inside of his own house.

The Wind in the Willows coasts most of the way (and almost entirely downhill), it gets tedious when it should be exciting, it smacks of missed opportunity, but it does get through all right. Hall and Taylor end up having no idea what to do with the various constraints, though they do seem to understand Jason’s Toad songs are the best part.

Keith Hopwood and Malcolm Rowe’s music, however, is way too much. It tries so hard to be tranquil and just ends up being intrusive.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Mark Hall and Chris Taylor; teleplay by Rosemary Anne Sisson, based on the novel by Kenneth Grahame; edited by John McManus; music by Keith Hopwood and Malcolm Rowe; produced by Brian Cosgrove and Hall; aired by Independent Television.

Starring Richard Pearson (Mole), Ian Carmichael (Rat), David Jason (Toad), Michael Hordern (Badger), Una Stubbs (Jailer’s Daughter), and Beryl Reid (The Magistrate).


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The Fate of the Furious (2017, F. Gary Gray)

What is the Fate of the Furious? It’s unclear screenwriter Chris Morgan knows–it comes up in the script a little–but it’s a needless portent. The Fate is the cast sitting around listening to Vin Diesel talk about family after they’ve gone through high action and zero character development. Just because they’re all millionaires after one of the sequels doesn’t mean they can’t still have some good old-fashioned wholesome (and no longer goofily ironic) backyard cookout complete with grace. Because Diesel’s just got to get the positive religiosity into Fate of the Furious.

Which really should’ve been called F8 of the Furious or something. Because a movie where two guys flying around with jetpacks not raising any eyebrows needs a much more entertaining title. Fate of the Furious sounds serious and severe, things Fate gives up on relativity early on. The PG–13 rating might have something to do with it. It’s a little toothless.

So after a misfiring first act, which has Diesel going bad because Charlize Theron is blackmailing him, Fate gets a lot better. While Diesel is running Theron’s super villain errands–she’s a super hacker who lives off the grid because she has a private stealth jet–the Furious regulars get a chance to bond. And it works out. Though not as well as when the Rock buddies up with previous entry villain Jason Statham. Lots of likable trash talk. Fate might be the best Dwayne Johnson performance I’ve seen–apparently he just needs a subplot. And Johnson’s subplot in Fate is one of the film’s handful of laugh out loud funny moments. The character stuff is about the only thing director Gray doesn’t have to reign in, so he indulges the actors to good effect.

Even Michelle Rodriguez; she starts the movie terrible and ends up being not annoying. But maybe she gets some sympathy because even if Diesel has his reasons for betraying the team, Morgan’s script gives him a lot of other really awful gestures towards Rodriguez separate from the A plot. In way too many ways, the film picks on Rodriguez. Not for comic relief, just a dramatic drain. Though without taking any responsibility for it; Gray’s busy and Morgan doesn’t care.

After a couple awkward action sequences–one at night, one apparently an attempt at doing more CGI cars than, you know, Pixar’s Cars–Gray gets a better tone. The action gets immediately better once Diesel’s plot has its reveals, which Diesel already knew about just not the audience; it’s just Morgan trying to get drama out of deception. Because once it becomes clear Theron is just a lame Bond villain, Fate becomes a somewhat exaggerated, often comedic Bond movie. Or at least it has the set pieces of a Bond movie, only with the Furious crew running through it. And Gray does a lot better with actors than with CG.

Though Gray doesn’t seem to give the actors much direction, because someone should’ve begged Theron to show some enthusiasm for the role. She sleepwalks through the villain part, embracingly the ludicrous nature of the film instead of immersing herself. And whoever though the dreadlocks were a good idea was wrong. All of her hi-tech gang looks like mid-nineties Eurotrash villains.

So she’s awful, but she’s not really important. Diesel ends up taking the villain slot of the narrative and he’s fine in it. Since he’s constantly deceiving the audience and his costars, he doesn’t really have much to do. Just look sad, stoic, bored. It’s more bravado than performance. And thanks to Gray, it’s effective bravado. Gray might not be able to make those Theron scenes work, but he and editors Christian Wagner and Paul Rubell definitely know how to cut for sympathy.

Statham’s good. He’s fun. Rock’s fine. He’s fun too. Ludacris has his moments but his character’s weak. Same goes for Tyrese Gibson but more so; he’s initially exceptionally annoying, then Scott Eastwood starts hanging out and they bicker. It forces them to have personality, something Eastwood probably wouldn’t have otherwise. He’s Kurt Russell’s sidekick. Kurt Russell is playing a slightly less absurd than an “All My Children” super spy.

Nathalie Emmanuel seems like she should be in a much better movie. Her part’s thin–though everyone’s part is pretty thin–but she manages to make her absurd scenes and silly dialogue seem, if not believable, at least worth suspending disbelief over.

One thing about Fate is it’s real dumb as far as action set piece believability goes. Morgan comes up with this risible technology reasonings and then the special effects crew takes over. And Gray coordinates it all very well. He manages it all very well. The most impressive thing about Fate is how successful it works out given its craven lack of ambition.

And the two minutes of a foul-mouthed (well, for PG–13) and uncredited Helen Mirren help a lot.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by F. Gary Gray; screenplay by Chris Morgan, based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson; director of photography, Stephen F. Windon; edited by Paul Rubell and Christian Wagner; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Bill Brzeski; produced by Vin Diesel, Neal H. Moritz, Michael Fottrell, and Morgan; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Vin Diesel (Dom), Charlize Theron (Cipher), Dwayne Johnson (Hobbs), Jason Statham (Deckard), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Tyrese Gibson (Roman), Ludacris (Tej), Nathalie Emmanuel (Ramsey), Scott Eastwood (Little Nobody), Kristofer Hivju (Rhodes), Celestino Cornielle (Raldo), and Kurt Russell (Mr. Nobody).


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