Monday, June 24, 2013

Space Battleship Yamato (2010)

In the late 1970’s I was a fledgling Monsterkid. I, like just about every other kid my age, was obsessed with Star Wars. The 1977 film had taken the world by storm and primed my little brain for anything sci-fi related. In 1979, channel 27 (here in Hampton Roads, Virginia) decided to air a new cartoon that came on around three o’clock weekday afternoons. This cartoon advertised lots of space action with “Star Wars” like fighter craft and a huge space battleship that looked like…well a battleship! Upon watching the first episode my mind was blown! I had never seen a cartoon like this before. The animation looked so “real”. People looked like people and caricatures of human beings. There was a lot of action with a good amount of battles and explosions in space. This new cartoon was none other than Starblazers.

Starblazers was the English adaptation of the Japanese cartoon series Space Battleship Yamato which had debuted in Japan in 1974. The series itself was one of the first to be shown in America which carried a continuing storyline. Each episode was shown in order so you had to tune in each week (or possibly day…my mind is a little fuzzy on this aspect) to be able to follow what was going on. A turning point in American animated television and a turning point for me as a young imaginative kid.
Kodai with his spiffy space outfit.
Fast forward thirty plus years later to the year 2010. Starblazers is still imbedded in my brain but in a remote section that only seemed to show once in a blue moon. Then one day I saw where there was going to be a live action film based on Starblazers and titled Space Battleship Yamato! I was completely giddy with the idea! The only bad part was that it was going to be a Japanese production which meant it was going to take a while for me to see it. The movie slipped my mind until recently and I went online and found a DVD with English subtitles. So now I was ready. I was ready to see just how this movie was going to be pulled off. 

When the Yamato opens fire it mean business!
Space Battleship Yamato follows the basic storyline of the first season of the animated series. In the year 2199, Earth has been in a five year battle with an alien race known as Gamilas. The Gamilas have been bombarding the planet with radiation bombs. The surface of the Earth has become unlivable and the inhabitants have been forced to live underground. Radiation has steadily soaked into the Earth and now the population faces certain extinction. The Earth Defense Force has launched a “last stand” near the planet Mars but are no match for the Gamilas fleet. Only two ships remain of the earth fleet and one of them, the Yukikaze is severely damaged. The captain of this vessel, Mamoru Kodai uses his ship as a shield to let Captain Okita’s ship escape back to earth. 

Black Tiger squadron....goofy bunch.
On earth, Susumu Kodai, a former EDF pilot and brother to Mamoru, is scavenging for scrap metal when he is almost killed by an object falling to earth. He awakens to find himself rescued by Okita’s ship. The object that had landed near him was a capsule and in it were schematics and technology for warp travel and coordinates from the planet that it came from. A planet called Iskandar. On this planet there is supposedly a device that can rid the earth of radiation. Okita has the last remaining battleship fitted with this new technology so they can make the voyage to Iskandar. This last battleship, a battleship that hasn’t seen action in many years is the Yamato. The call goes out for volunteers to enlist and Kodai takes the challenge. His main objective is to find out why Okita let his brother die, not knowing the sacrifice his brother made for the good of others.

On the 148,000 light year voyage, the crew encounter more Gamilas and put the "wave motion gun" to good use. The weapon is located deep inside the ship and basically uses the entire vessel as a cannon since the mouth of the weapon is located at the nose. Kodai meets up with some former pilot buddies including his brooding love interest Yuki. Yuki resents Kodai for quitting the EDF after a tragic accident that took the lives of parents and his best friends wife. Typical space opera stuff that you always seem to find in this genre.

Yuki.....she will kick your ass.
The Yamato and its crew finally make it to Iskandar and find themselves faced with a huge Gamilas fleet. Kodai who is now the “Acting Captain” due to the failing health of Captain Okita, leads a battle force to the planet’s surface to try and disable the planets defense system and pinpoint the coordinates for the anti-radiation device. Most of the battalion is killed in the fight and what they find isn’t exactly what they thought they would find. Okita had kind of made up the story of the device but at the coordinates is an alien life form that takes possession of Yuki and grants the wish that Earth be saved from radiation. Yuki and Kodai make it back to the Yamato while the two remaining battalion members sacrifice themselves and destroy the defense system of the planet. 

Captain Okita....looking pretty close to the animated character.
The Yamato makes the voyage back to Earth only to be faced with the biggest Gamilas space craft they have ever seen. The Gamilas know what the Yamamto has and decides to destroy the Earth entirely. They launch a huge missile towards the earth and Kodai is now faced with his biggest decision. He orders the crew to abandon ship since it has taken on crippling damage. The wave motion gun has been jammed with a large object in its muzzle and firing it will destroy the Yamato. Kodai steers the Yamato into the missile and fires the last salvo the Yamato will ever unleash, saving earth and its inhabitants.

Space Battleship Yamato did a pretty good job capturing the spirit of the original animated series. There were a few plot points that were changed to make it a little more interesting but overall the essence of the series is there. Especially in the visuals. The Yamato looks just like it should and for that I applaud the film makers. The Black Tiger fighter craft look great and the Gamilas are well done alien life form that don’t look anything like the animated series. For me that was a good thing. They needed to look like alien life forms and the design is simple yet effective. The film has a few spots that drag but the action sequences are fast and furious. Sometimes too furious and if you blink you kind of miss what is going on. To me that is pretty par for the course when watching Japanese films. They can get a little confusing at times….at least to me….maybe Im slow! HA!

Yamato emerging from warp speed.
My DVD seems to be a possibly unlicensed release since it is actually as an MPEG2 and it shows. The picture is not as sharp and clear as a true blue DVD. I’m wondering if the Japanese release has English subtitles? This release did and were provided by a Chinese company. Either way it is still a very entertaining film and I think a must see for Starblazer fans!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Murder by Death (1976)

You won’t see many comedic entries here at the coffin, although many of the movies I love are pretty funny in one way or another…mostly by accident, but Murder by Death is certainly a film that deserves to be shared at the ole blog.

I first saw this on television back when I was a kid. I was five years old when it debuted in the theaters so I was probably around seven or eight when this hit the t.v. screen. Even then at my young age I appreciated the humor that was certainly geared at adults. Between Peter Sellers brilliant portrayal of Asian crime sleuth Sidney Wang and Peter Falk’s Sam Diamond (a rendering of his own Columbo character), I was in stiches to say the least. Still to this day these two characters keep me howling throughout the 90-some minute run time. 
Sellers....totally sells the role.

Now let me back up a moment. For those who haven’t seen this film, Murder by Death is a 70’s send up of mystery/old dark house films. The film boasts an incredible ensemble of actors who were well into their careers and played their roles with their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks. How can you pass up a cast that includes Truman Capote, David Niven, Peter Sellers, Estelle Winwood, Alec Guinness(pre Obi Wan), Peter Faulk, James Coco, Maggie Smith, Nancy Walker and Elsa Lanchester (The Bride herself!!)? Now throw in a young James Cromwell (American Horror Story), Eileen Brennan and Richard Narita and all is right in the comedic realm.
Quite possibly my favorite line from the film.

The film centers on a gathering of famous detectives brought together by a wealthy eccentric, Lionel Twain (Truman Capote). They all arrive at a spooky mansion complete with deteriorating bridge leading to the property, a blind butler (Alec Guinness), screaming doorbell (thanks to a sample Fay Wray voice over), falling gargoyle statues and rooms that appear to rotate and move within the walls of the mansion.
Falk, Niven and Smith (pre Harry Potter Smith of course)
Their reason for being there is that there will be a dinner and a murder. Someone will die at the stroke of midnight and they are to solve the mystery.  The winner will receive 1 million dollars (insert best Dr. Evil impression here). That’s a lot of dough for 1976…..heck that’s a lot of dough for 2013 in my book!

The moose speaks!
Lionel Twain reveals himself as the host of the event much to everyone’s surprise. He also reveals himself to be murdered at the stroke of midnight also much to their surprise. At this point the butler winds up dead as well and the deaf/mute/non English speaking cook goes missing. A majority of the film takes place in the dining room and the kitchen as the sleuths go back and forth in groups trying to figure out just what is going on. With each visit to the kitchen things get sillier. 
Sam Diamond...hard nose P.I... doesn't even trust a blind butler.

At first visit they find the butler dead, slumped over the kitchen table sitting in a chair. Upon the next visit he is naked and upon a third visit his clothes are present but no body inside them! As each group leaves and comes back they discover that apparently the dining room is rigged to possibly revolve and present an empty duplicate room for those trying to gain entry after leaving. So much of the comedy involves the actors reactions and psychical acting. However Lionel Twain does call out Sidney Wang on his broken English which is pretty hysterical. 
The moose has something to say about pronouns!

The detectives finally decide to retire for the evening where they are each faced with a life or death situation: A deadly snake let loose in the Wang bedroom, A deadly scorpion let loose on the bed of Dick and Dora Charleston (Niven and Smith), descending ceiling crush in the room of Milo Perrier and his chauffeur Marcel (Coco and Cromwell), a time bomb for Sam Diamond and Tess Skeffington (Falk and Brennan) and last but not least; noxious gas in the room of Jessica Marbles and her invalid nurse Mrs. Withers (Lanchester and Winwood). Do they die? Of course not that would make a sucky ending! They all survive the traps and one by one confront the murder who turns out to be the butler of all people…..or is it? Only one way to find out!

I shall skip the obligatory trailer and leave you with this collection of funny moments and lines from Murder by Death!!