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Short Circuits

Deadly Outlaw: Rekka  
Japan | 2002
Directed by: Takashi Miike
Written by: Shigenori Takechi
Starring: Riki Takeuchi, Kenichi Endo, Ryosuke Miki, Mika Katsumura
| 96 Minutes | Not Rated

- By KamuiX

Trouble is brewing in the world of hotheaded Yakuza Kunisada. His boss has been brutally murdered and while all he can think about is taking out revenge, his clan is entertaining thoughts of a truce with the very gang that laid waste to their leader. This obviously doesn’t sit well with Kunisada and he takes his frustration out on anyone that crosses his path. Much to his delight however, once his new boss settles in, he has a change of heart and decides Kunisada is the man to snuff out the opposition’s boss. Little does Kunisada realize is that all of these events have been carefully planned behind closed doors to eliminate both clan's bosses in an effort to bring in a new regime that would work together to rule Tokyo's underworld. And with Kunisada’s uncontrollable temper and tendency to cause trouble, he’s next on the hit-list. The odds certainly aren’t good for him and the one man that’s been standing by his side, but who needs an army when you have a rocket launcher?

Takashi Miike and Riki Takeuchi teaming up generally means good things, and Deadly Outlaw: Rekka is no different, one of the better surreal Yakuza films Miike has helmed. While it’s not as off the wall as something like Gozu or Ichi the Killer, it certainly falls right in line with the original Dead or Alive and City of Lost Souls as rather serious Yakuza fare with occasional flourishes of hallucinogenic moments. As serious as this film is at most times (and having been written thanks to input from actual criminals from Japan’s underground, it’s not surprising), there’s always a little nuance right around the corner, whether it be a dead man’s hands having to be sawed off since they won’t release their grip from a gangster’s neck, a naked dude walking down the street totally oblivious to the fact that he’s swingin’ in the wind, or a singing detective, it’ll never take too long in reminding you that you’re watching a Miike film from his most gonzo period of filmmaking.

The action and gunplay on display in Deadly Outlaw: Rekka is among Miike’s best, including an amazing opening sequence, a visceral one-on-six parking garage showdown with a crowbar thrown in, and an amazing finale that sees not only big explosions, a rocker launcher, and millions of bullets, but also a laser-sighted Gatling gun that looks like it was stolen from a futuristic cyborg. And in amazing compliment to all of this is honestly one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard, courtesy of Japanese prog rock band Flower Travellin’ Band. Forget all of that Tarantino homage approach bullshit to scoring gangster action flicks; this right here is how it’s done. If you have a keen eye, you’ll not only recognize Flower Travellin’ Band frontman Joe Yamanaka as a pimp with a heart, but also the legendary Sonny Chiba as a Yakuza boss. It’s only a cameo, but it’s cool to see him in a Miike flick regardless. All in all, while Deadly Outlaw: Rekka isn’t generally on the tongues of those that speak about Miike, it probably should be. Chalk it up to Yakuza overload (this was at a time when Miike was cranking out at least 1-2 genre flicks a year), or just being under-seen by the masses, but this lyrical celluloid violence is completely worthy of the director’s legend. Arrow Video’s recent release sees the film presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and looks very similar to Media Blasters release from some years back. While Arrow said this is a fresh transfer, it’s likely they used the same print, which means it doesn’t look great, but it gets the job done. If you’ve seen other Miike film’s from this period of his career, you’ll know what to expect. It should be noted that the transfer is interlaced as well as a NTSC->PAL standards conversion, but it isn’t nearly as bad as some I’ve seen. In fact, I only noticed the general symptoms of this practice (stair-stepping, jerky camera panning) a few times throughout. The included Dolby Digital 2.0 track is in great shape, and the new translation for the English subs is well done. Extras include the exact Miike interview and trailer from the Media Blasters release, but exclusive to Arrow’s offering is a 30 minute interview with the director entitled “Deadly Outlaw: Miike”, where he touches on specific topics in regards to the film, such as the music, working with Sonny Chiba, and those once involved in criminal activities that turned to the entertainment world later in life. While not included with my screener, the retail release comes with some amazing reversible cover artwork as well as a booklet featuring an essay by Tom Mes, author of Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike.

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The Demon  
South Africa | 1979
Directed by: Percival Rubens
Written by: Percival Rubens
Starring: Cameron Mitchell, Jennifer Holmes, Zoli Marki, Craig Gardner
| 94 Minutes | Rated R

- By KamuiX

A small community realizes it’s being stalked by an unnamed, faceless killer after a number of murders and a kidnapped teenage girl whose fate is unknown. After months of police investigations coming up empty, the girl’s parents call in psychic Col. Bill Carson (Cameron Mitchell). While he tries to find a lead, two young nursery school teachers who live together have attracted the mysterious killer’s attention, and appear to be next on his list. As Col. Carson’s psychic talents begin to reveal clues about the murderous madman, it starts to become clear that what they’re dealing with may not be human at all…

The Demon begins in grand fashion, with an attempted homicide, a kidnapping, and a grisly murder all occurring within the first 10 minutes. Sadly, neither the pace nor the thought of a solid story hold up, and the film becomes mired in awful pacing and a terribly scattered plot. It’s a shame too, because they cast a winner in Cameron Mitchell, and not only is he fun to watch, but his character is by far the most compelling of the film. Sure, he’s your usual clairvoyant in many respects, but he has some techniques that I for one have never seen before. I can’t deny that watching him sniff bed sheets and pieces of clothing to get a clue wasn’t a bit creepy to watch. But this was something different, and at first seemed to set the scene for an ESP-blessed investigator/unknown killer showdown.

But then, the teachers show up. I completely understand wanting to establish a number of cattle for the maniac to slaughter that have a back-story, but neither of the girls are particularly engaging, and its more glaringly so when they basically take over the entire film and Mitchell’s character is hardly ever seen from again. In fact, by the end of the film his story thread, which initially seemed to be the meat of the plot, has been written out in the most hilarious of fashions. I have to wonder what happened with this script; was it written on the fly as the film was made? Was it patched together from more than one unproduced or unfinished manuscript? Or does all the blame land in the editing room? Because I cannot for the life of me imagine this was how the film was supposed to turn out from the first day of production. The only thing I can figure is Mitchell was crowbarred in at the last minute to give the film a bit of star power, but if that is indeed the case, he shouldn’t have been the focus of the first 20 minutes, and the girls, who turn out to be the film’s actual nucleus, should have been introduced much earlier.

And lest we forget, the idea of the killer being some sort of supernatural force needs to be touched upon. This is a neat little device to spice up an otherwise run-of-the-mill “killer on the loose” flick, but you’d think they’d actually explore the idea a little more than just mentioning it on the fly. Col. Carson makes multiple mentions that it’s an evil unlike any seen before (and the similarities to Halloween are uncanny; was this film REALLY released in 1979 when all signs point to a 1980’s home video release?), yet all we ever see is the killer breathing heavily, staring at and tearing up pictures of young, pretty girls while doing push-ups, and occasionally blinking in and out of existence. Sure he’s got crazy strength too, but there’s a place called the gym to achieve that trait. The ending seems to hint at something, but man is it ever half-baked and will leave viewers scratching their heads. Subtle is one thing; completely underdeveloped is another. I almost want to recommend this for a pretty fantastic scene that sees one of the hot teachers with an incredible body dressing for a date as well as the pretty great nude chase scene that closes things out, but I’m almost positive that’s why they make porn today; so you don’t have to watch shitty movies to see the goods. VCI’s recent release presents the film in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen print that I’m pretty sure was culled from a video source (it’s also interlaced, for those that have equipment that doesn’t properly convert the signal). Who knows if a 35mm print still exists, and if so what condition it might be in, but this has all the hallmarks of a video master, from murky dark scenes to oversaturated colors and contrast. It’s watchable, and you can make out just enough during the darker-tinged scenes to make sense of what’s going on, but any fans of this film will likely be disappointed with this “remastered and restored” presentation. The Dolby Digital mono track is surprisingly pretty good, and while some high-pitched sounds such as screams can be piercing, no dialogue is muffled and any background distortion is kept at a minimum. There are no extras on the release outside of a VCI promo real that showcases a number of their recent horror releases.

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Astonishing X-Men: Gifted  
USA | 2009
Directed by: John Cassaday & Neal Adams
Written by: Joss Whedon
Starring: Mark Thompson, Gregory Abbey, Eileen Stevens, Erica Schroeder
| 80 Minutes | Not Rated

- By KamuiX

A motion comic adaptation (word for word, panel for panel) of the first 6 issues of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men, Gifted picks up following the events of Grant Morrison’s three year run on New X-Men which saw core X-Men Cyclops, Emma Frost, Wolverine, Jean Grey and Beast hang up the superhero tights and take on the role of teachers at the Xavier Institute. Of course in the world of the X-Men, there’s always a problem around the bend, and in the aftermath of Morrison’s duties Jean Grey is assumed dead, Beast’s mutant gene has mutated, leaving him more animalistic than ever, the isle of Genosha has been destroyed, and Professor Xavier has left the team in the hands of Cyclops and Emma Frost as he attempts to rebuild the island nation.

Even with all of that happening before this story begins and isn't particularly important to the story being told, it is basic information that anyone not familiar with it will surely be interested in since they'll be wondering why this is beginning with iconic X-Men members teaching classes instead of kicking ass. But worry not, as the story contained here is all about the X-Men returning to form. With the newly returning Kitty Pryde, Cyclops and Emma have decided its time to take the team back to its roots, donning their iconic, albeit redesigned suits once again and playing the superhero angle to prove to the world at large that they’re no different than any other superhero squad just because they’re mutants. This decision couldn't have come at a better time, as a geneticist named Dr. Kavita Rao has just gone public announcing the discovery of a possible cure for mutant genes. The team thinks this is nothing more than just another ploy to wipe out mutant-kind, and they may very well be right when an alien warlord named Ord is connected to Dr. Rao. It also comes to light that Dr. Rao is experimenting on someone very close to them…

I’ll admit it: I’m an X-Men fanboy. I grew up on them, devoured every “X” title in existence, owned countless action figures and basically lived day-to-day in anticipation of the next issue. To put it into some perspective, I experienced what I’d later learn was probably something close to drug withdrawals when I had to wait nearly three months between the two-part pilot and the next new episode of Fox’s X-Men: The Animated Series; yes, I was diehard. So even though I had already read the Gifted story arc and knew this would be the exact same thing, I went into things really excited to see a newly animated X-Men story, even knowing the limitations of motion comics. I must say, I was not disappointed. Everything hits the right note, from the artwork and the subtle-yet-effective animation, to the excellent voice acting and the amazing score that honestly feels as if it was ripped straight from my head while I was in the middle of reading an issue. Maybe it’s just nostalgia talking, but as I watched this I really was reminded of the halcyon days of my childhood and the magic that was watching the original X-Men: The Animated Series.

If there’s any caveat, it’s that Gifted is specifically geared towards fans that read the comics. While Joss Whedon is pretty dead-set against crossovers and likes to create his own little universe when he gets to play in already established comic book sandboxes, this story came hot on the heels of some major shake-ups in the X-Men world, and as such there are references to things that non-readers likely won’t understand. To combat that, Shout! has smartly included a bonus feature that will bring you right up to speed, and I have to say it’s a must for anyone that’s not entrenched in X-Men lore. So even if you’re not up to snuff on current X-events (or at least those during the first half of the past decade), this short history lesson will enable you to enjoy Gifted just as much as the hardcore fans. If you grew up on X-Men: The Animated Series, I highly recommend giving this a look. The story is so good that the limited animation won’t matter a bit after a few minutes. Just one word of warning: the final minute here sets the wheels in motion for future storylines, and without any confirmation of more episodes on the horizon, you might be bitten by the comic buying bug to see this version of the team’s continued exploits. Shout! Factory’s release presents all 6 episodes in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and there’s little to complain about quality-wise. Cassaday’s art pops and colors are lush and vibrant. The Dolby Digital 2.0 track is pretty lively, but a bit too much so as during the last episode in particular, the sound effects and score drown out a few lines of dialogue. There’s also a bit of background buzz and hiss that pops up infrequently. In addition to the aforementioned “History of the X-Men” featurette, you’ll get an interview with Marvel head-honcho Joe Quesada and comics legend/director Neal Adams who talk about the ideas behind doing the motion comics and what it may mean for the future. Also included is a short behind the scenes featurette where Adams and other artists on the project talk about how some of the effects are achieved while keeping the integrity of the original artwork. Some goofy episodes from Marvel Online’s Robot Chicken send-up Marvel Superheroes: What The--?! are also included, as well as some stills of Cassaday’s artwork. Rounding out the extras are a Gifted music video as well as trailers for this and upcoming Marvel Knights Animation releases (Black Panther and Spider-Woman look great!) Also worth noting is a neat little marketing strategy that sees this being released in a digipack that comes in a re-sealable wrapper that simulates the mylar sleeves all of us geeks keep our most important comics in. A nice touch!

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Not of This Earth poster  
USA | 1988
Directed by: Jim Wynorski
Written by: Jim Wynorski & R.J. Robertson
Starring: Traci Lords, Arthur Roberts, Lenny Juliano, Roger Lodge
| 81 Minutes | Rated R

- By KamuiX

The vampiric aliens are coming! The old, decked out in suits, sunglasses-wearing at all hours blood-sucking aliens are coming! And like any good diabolical alien life-form that needs blood from Earth to survive because their home-world has been ravaged by nuclear war, hot, big-breasted whores and strippers are by far the best source of the much-needed life blood. This is the exact predicament Mr. Johnson (ha!) finds himself in; he’s dying and needs blood to survive. Of course he isn’t accustomed to the ways of Earth, so he hires a number of people to work for him, including Dr. Rochelle, who analyzes his extra-terrestrial blood but is hypnotized to never say anything about his findings, a thug named Jeremy that’s looking to reform so he happily takes the job of being his housekeeper and chauffer, and young nurse Nadine (a 20 year old Traci Lords), who moves into the house to administer daily blood transfusions for his strange disease. Having Nadine and Jeremy move in may not have been Mr. Johnson’s wisest decision considering he has a hunger for bringing home young women that are never seen from again. But with Traci Lords on the case, we have nothing to fear!

A raunchier, bare skin-drenched remake of Corman’s 1957 sci-fi classic, Jim Wynorski’s take on Not of This Earth is a hell of a lot of campy fun. For one thing, you have an absolutely awesome performance courtesy of Arthur Roberts as Mr. Johnson. He plays things so dry and naïve yet with a bit of otherworldly disdain for all of these puny humans that you can’t help but like the guy. His interactions with the street walkers and ditzy strippers are hilarious and I’d honestly have loved to have had a couple more thrown in for good measure. It also works that while things are obviously strange about him, no one except for outsiders (you can never fool Blind Date's Roger Lodge, dammit!) seems to care enough at first to vocalize it. Dr. Rochelle has been hypnotized to never say anything that may implicate Mr. Johnson, plus Nadine and Jeremy are getting paid $2000 a week to work for him; yeah, I wouldn’t ask why he wore sunglasses 24 hours a day until things started getting really weird either. It’s sort of nice to see such an obvious quickie (as this is, since Wynorski bet Corman he could make the film faster and with the same budget as the original) have a bit of logical merit.

The real shining star of this though is Traci Lords. Fresh off her controversial stint in pornography, Not of This Earth was her first legitimate film, and her charm is undeniable. She’s witty, has fine comedic timing, and is an altogether very likeable leading lady. This obviously wouldn’t work in a serious film, but here it’s perfect, and it would have been nice if this lead to similar roles in comedic horror or sci-fi fare; if she had been a bit older and jumped into non-pornographic films a few years earlier, it’s not a stretch to imagine her gaining cult status by starring in films such as Night of the Comet or Night of the Creeps. Sure, the film really is nothing more that escapist, mindless entertainment, but how can you argue about getting to ogle a 20 year old Traci Lords for 80 minutes? This is the final time you’ll get to see her nude anywhere, and this is without question among the hottest I’ve ever seen her look. Those lips are amazing; the things she could probably do…uh….yeah, so Shout! Factory has graciously given Not of This Earth a nice little edition on DVD that sees the film get an all-new 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer. It looks really good, with little print damage and good color reproduction. The Dolby Digital 2.0 track is a bit uneven in the volume department, at times alternating between too soft and too loud, but you’ll never drop any dialogue and background hiss is kept at a minimum. Two commentaries are on hand here, one featuring just director Jim Wynorski from the old DVD release, and a brand-new track where he’s joined by Traci Lords. There’s a lot of entertaining reminiscing that goes on, with Wynorski talking glowingly about Corman and their time working with one another and Lords speaking about how much fun she had. Traci also appears in a 12 minute sit-down interview (still looking very bangable) where she speaks about seeing the film for the first time, how much she appreciates its impact on her budding career at the time, and how after this she deprived us all of any further nude scenes. Rounding out the extras is a trailer for the film, a stills gallery, and the usual clear case that features an insert and reverse artwork on the cover.

Please feel free to discuss "Not of This Earth" here, in our forums!

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