John Jos. Miller’s CREATURE FEATURE

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TWO HITS AND A MISS

This time around I’m doing takes on three foreign movies I’ve seen recently that failed to achieve American screen time, followed by a very quick review of GREEN HORNET which probably would have been more useful if I’d posted it when we saw it a couple of weeks ago.

K-20: The Fiend With Twenty Faces (Japan)

Although in this movie, he uses only two or three.

The main characters in K-20 originally appeared in a series of stories by a Japanese author named Taro Hirai (1894-1965), who was so influenced by western literature that he took the pen name Edogawa Rampo. Also quite the fan of Arthur Conan Doyle, in 1925 he wrote the first in a series of stories about Kogoro Akechi, an eccentric consulting detective often called upon by the police to help solve baffling cases. The Moriarity to this version of Holmes was Kaijin Nijn Menso (nicknamed K-20), The Fiend With Twenty Faces, who was a non-violent criminal who committed crimes for thrills, not monetary reward. This film is based upon later pastiches by another Japanese author, which I suspect upset purists but does provide a wildly tumultuous, kaleidoscopicly pulpy roller coaster ride.

K-20 is set in an alternate 1949 Japan where World War II never took place and Japan is dominated by the Emperor and an accompanying aristocratic class. In a dazzling combination utilizing in turn noirish and futuristic sets as required for the intended mood, it opens with police inspector Kogoro Akechi hot on the trail of K-20 (who is in this version a very violent criminal very much interested in acquired immense amount of swag). K-20 meanwhile hires the naive circus acrobat Hekichi Endo to snap some innocent photos (or so Endo thinks) but really to take the blame for his latest criminal venture. The police fall for K-20’s scheme and the rest of the movie concerns Akechi pursuing Endo, in turns helped and hindered by the young princess Yoko Hashiba whom he’s engaged to, who of course falls for the initially feckless Endo who opens her eyes to the real life misery of the lower classes.

I’ll say no more about the plot, which does have some not entirely unexpected twists along the way so’s not to risk spoilers, but I’ll drop a word of applause for plot elements (including the Tunguska Incident, ginormous Tesla coils, gyrocopters, and a great abundance of capes and masks, not to mention many little devices employed by K-20 that Batman would envy), the cinematography, and the acrobatic derring-do of our hero as he attempts to uncover the truth and clear his name. K-20 clocks in at over two hours and does sag a little in the middle, but, damn, these guys have the pulp atmosphere down pat. They’d make a bitching Shadow movie. Or maybe the Spider.

Rating: 8+

Solomon Kane (UK/Belgium)

Beats me why this didn’t get a US release, as you could make a good case that this is the best Robert E. Howard film of all time. I’m sure money disputes and/or studio politics sunk this movie, though it is now readily available on eBay (for cheap) and no Howard fan (or fantasy fan in general) should miss it.

Howard created a number of great fantasy characters. Conan gets all the press of course, and I am a great admirer of those stories, but Solomon Kane, the Puritan adventurer, is deserving of some love as well. (And I would kill to see a Bran Mak Morn film. Just a straight-up adaptation of “Worms of the Earth,” please.)

Yes, in this one they had to screw around with the character but for once the screen-writers do minimal damage. Nice sets, costuming/makeup/special effects; good action sequences marred by a tendency to film them in dark-o-vision. The recently deceased and greatly admired (by me, anyway) Pete Postelthwait and the always welcome Max von Sydow (man, that dude must be like, a hundred) do great jobs in small but important roles. James Purefoy (Mark Anthony in ROME, and soon to be seen as Kantos Kan in JOHN CARTER OF MARS, and how exciting is that!) is an excellent Kane, though he is one of those odd characters who looks totally different when he has a beard or is clean shaven or has mud on his face or something.

I would like to see another Kane movie from these people, this time relying more upon Howard material, since this screenplay, which was adequate, was largely original.

Rating: 8+

VALHALLA RISING (Danish or something)

And now the miss. Actually, I should rate this one WTF?, since that is what I was continually thinking while watching it.

Intermittently visually interesting, this film has no coherent story whatsoever. It starts somewhere in Scandihoovia, where, despite the fact that it looks really cold all the time, the bad guys keep our hero, the one-eyed man (you never learn his name, or anything about him) outdoors in a cage made of sticks, which, actually, wasn’t much worse than the hovels they lived in themselves. They let him out occasionally to chain him to a pole so he can pit fight guys from the burg on the other side of the mud hole. Naturally, he eventually escapes, slaughtering all his guards except for the kid who used to bring him his daily ration of slop. He just ignores the kid as he walks off, but the kid follows him because, face it, they’re trekking through no man’s land and the kid just couldn’t turn around and walk home. Or maybe he was just tired of the hovels, too.

Soon they run across a band of the dumbest Vikings, ever. The one-eyed man also doesn’t speak (No problems learning his lines in this one!), but he kicks some Viking ass, so they let him trail along on their quest to free the Holy Land from those awful Mooslims. I say they’re the dumbest Vikings ever because, a) they set out on their crusade on like a twenty foot long boat with no cabin, no storage below decks, and NO FOOD OR WATER, and then, b) they apparently turn right instead of left at England, because after an interminable while JUST SITTING ON THEIR TINY LITTLE BOAT, they end up at Prince Edward Island, or Nova Scotia, or some damn place, where they’re stalked by Indians and picked off one by one until all that’s left is ol’ One-Eye and the kid, standing on the shore all alone. Until the Indians (who all look Samoan, by the way) show up. One-Eye puts his hand on the kid’s shoulder (you never learn the kid’s name either, but why should you since you know nothing at all about any of the characters in this film except that they’re brutal, stupid, crazy, religious fanatics), smiles, and just walks up to the Indians who clunk him in the head with their long wooden clubs and beat him to a pulp, leaving the kid to grin at them nervously. Then they all go away.

But wait. THEN, there’s this mystical music and all of a sudden someone who could be One-Eye is a big figure in the sky looking down at the Earth! Wait a minute — I saw this movie when it was called 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Apparently, One-Eye becomes Odin, or something. But wait again. Odin had been around a lot longer than this guy who’s living during the Crusades. Oh well. The End.

Rating: 3, for the beautiful scenery

SPECIAL BONUS CAPSULE REVIEW:

The Green Hornet

There’s a fine line between lovable rogue and annoying asshat, and this movie not only crosses it, it obliterates it. Good Kato. Cool Black Beauty. Utterly gratuitous Cameron Diaz who appears in this film so Seth Rogan can have a seemingly endless opportunity for more asshattery. I wish the TV show was available on DVD.

Rating: 5

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