Saturday, 23 June 2018

The Clapper (3 Stars)

This film has two interwoven plots. It's a love story and a social commentary on the emptiness of television.

Eddie Krumble works in Los Angeles as a contract actor for infomercials. He's paid to sit in the audience and applaud when products are described. He gets a bonus payment if he stands up and asks a question about the product. A scripted question, of course. The whole infomercial industry is built around lies and false promises. In the film's first infomercial the presenter promises that people can buy luxurious homes with an acre of land without a down payment, and Eddie asks his question. Later Eddie sees the presenter outside the studio and asks him if he could really buy a house like that for himself. The presenter gets angry and tells Eddie he's only doing his job, and if Eddie doesn't leave him alone he'll hit him.

The audiences are all hired actors, but Eddie is over-used. A talk show host recognises Eddie's frequent appearances and starts a city-wide hunt to find the mysterious Clapper.

Billboards are posted all over the city calling on people to identify the Clapper so he can be invited on the show. Eddie goes underground. His job as an infomercial audience member is all he has, and he has to remain anonymous. The whole point of his job is to look like a random man off the street.

The love interest in his life is Judy, a girl who works a gas station, saving money so she can move to Mexico and get a job looking after sick animals. I thought people wanted to move in the opposite direction. I hope Donald Trump's wall won't keep her out.

Eddie is a simple man who enjoys simple pleasures. When he takes Judy out on a date they eat a hamburger. Does he really eat that many fries?

The film has some good ideas, but I don't consider it to be well made. The back story about Eddie's wife having died of cancer is unnecessary. It's intended to show that he has suffering in his life that means he's not as shallow as the person he portrays in the audience, but it's an unwelcome distraction.

The film's best feature is the opening credits sequence, in which Eddie is shown walking to work against a cartoon background. He's a real man in a shallow, two-dimensional world. This is very effective. Even before the film itself started I knew what the film's message would be.

Those are beautiful images, aren't they? Unfortunately, the film doesn't live up to its promise. I wasn't able to sympathise with Eddie and his plight. Usually I enjoy Amanda Seyfried as an actress, but her awkwardness as Judy was over-played and unrealistic. Most of all, the film wasn't funny enough. I think it would have been better if the humour had been cut altogether, making it a serious social commentary.

Marvel Years 03.08: Aug 1963

One of my readers has complained that I've omitted the name of the inker in the list of comics in my Marvel Years posts to date. This was a deliberate omission, because I consider the person who draws the lines more important than the person who paints over the lines with ink or fills in the colours. Some artists, such as Steve Ditko and Dick Ayers, always inked their own drawings. Jack Kirby almost never did his own inking. It was usual for Marvel comics to name the inker and the letterer, but I don't want to give the full credits here in my blog. The writer and the artist are all that most people are interested in. If you want the full details, refer to the Marvel Database.

Fantastic Four #17

Title: Defeated by Doctor Doom

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Doctor Doom

Regulars: Alicia Masters

Guests: Ant-Man

First, I'd like to point out an innovation in this story. It begins immediately after the end of Fantastic Four #16 with Ant-Man leaving the Baxter Building. This makes it the closest to a continuing story that Marvel has published so far.

There are a few details in this issue that show that Stan Lee intended his stories to take place in our world, i.e. the real world, not in a fictional Marvel Universe or Earth-616.

After Ant-Man departs the Thing reads an Ant-Man comic to find out more about him.

America's president is John F. Kennedy. His face isn't revealed, maybe out of respect, but he's still recognisable. He refers to his daughter Caroline.

The Russian leader is Nikita Khrushchev, but his face is shown clearly, probably because he didn't deserve any respect in the eyes of Jack Kirby. He isn't named, except as Comrade K.

Here's yet another power developed by the Human Torch. Stan is getting carried away. Before now we saw him creating duplicates of himself as flaming images. Now he says he can paint exact pictures of anyone or anything with his flames. That sounds highly infeasible.

Susan Storm claims that Reed Richards is one of the world's greatest experts in Judo. If that's really true he doesn't need his stretching powers to defeat most opponents. It's possible that Susan just had an exaggerated opinion of him because she loved him.

This comic once more shows Reed Richards turning Ben Grimm back to his human self, but this time he deliberately takes advantage of the cure only being temporary. He does it to get him past Doctor Doom's sensors without being recognised as the Thing.

In case you're interested, Dick Ayers was the inker for this comic. For all the other comics the artists (Don Heck, Joe Sinnott, Dick Ayers and Steve Ditko) did their own inking.

Tales to Astonish #46

Title: When Cyclops walks the Earth

Writer: Stan Lee, Ernie Hart
Artist: Don Heck

Villain: Aliens from A-Chiltar III

Ant-Man and the Wasp take a vacation in Greece. There they encounter a giant robot from another planet disguised as Cyclops, the creature from Greek myths.

This issue also contains two short anthology stories.

Journey into Mystery #95

Title: The Demon Duplicators

Writer: Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein
Artist: Joe Sinnott

Regulars: Jane Foster, Odin, Heimdall

Villain: Professor Zaxton

Professor Zaxton is a scientist who has invented a duplicating ray. He creates an evil copy of Thor.

This issue also contains three short anthology stories.

Tales of Suspense #44

Title: The Mad Pharaoh

Writer: Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein
Artist: Don Heck

Villain: Pharaoh Hatap

A pharaoh awakes who has been in a deep sleep for 2000 years. Using a magical artefact he travels back in time to conquer Egypt, taking Tony Stark with him as a scientific adviser. Tony changes into Iron Man and defeats him.

This issue also contains two short anthology stories.

Strange Tales #111

Title: Fighting to the Death with the Asbestos Man

Writer: Stan Lee, Ernie Hart
Artist: Dick Ayers

Villains: Wizard, Paste-Pot Pete

Regulars: Susan Storm, Reed Richards, Ben Grimm

Asbestos Man is a flashy name for a villain who only appeared once. He's impervious to flames, but he could be defeated by indirect attacks, such as melting the floor beneath his feet.

Title: Face-to-face with the Magic of Baron Mordo

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Villain: Baron Mordo

Regulars: Ancient One (unnamed)

This is the second story about Doctor Strange, still in a five page anthology format. The Ancient One is once more only referred to as the Master.

This issue contains a further short anthology story.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Enemy Gold (4½ Stars)

"This is the greatest movie this year that features enormous breasted undercover federal agents firing off automatic weapons and riding dirt bikes through the East Texas piney woods in search of buried Confederate gold while being hunted down by a Bolivian topless bar owner and cocaine dealer with terrible dictions" (Joe Bob Briggs).

After a summary like that from the supremely eloquent film critic Joe Bob Briggs I can hardly say anything else about "Enemy Gold", but I'll try my best.

This is the ninth film in the Andy Sidaris collection, made in 1993. After the first eight films formed a more-or-less consistent series, this is a new start. The film is still about the Agency, but none of the characters from the previous eight films are featured. There's no mention of Molokai Cargo, Radio KSXY or the Abilene family. It's a new start. That doesn't mean the actors are new. Julie Strain was killed as Blu Steele in "Fit To Kill", so now she returns as Jewel Panther. Rodrigo Obregon has been killed in almost every film, so now he can return as the drug lord Santiago, only to die again. (Oops! Was that a spoiler?) Bruce Penhall played Bruce Christian in the last few films, but now he's Chris Cannon. That's strange. Usually actors have to be killed to get a new identity, but Bruce was very much alive at the end of the last film. Maybe he overdosed on spare ribs at an all-you-can-eat restaurant.

There's a reason for the change. This is the first film in the Andy Sidaris collection that wasn't directed by Andy himself; his son Drew Sidaris took over. According to an interview Andy wanted to step down and let his son take over the family business, but after a trial run of two films it didn't work out. Drew should have been directing, but in actual fact Andy was running around the whole time telling him what to do.

It's natural that self-employed parents should want their children to follow in their footsteps, whether they're butchers, bakers or film directors, but the children might not have the interest or the aptitude. There's no shame in it. Drew just wasn't cut out to be a film director. As I mentioned in my review of "Fit To Kill", Roger Moore's son quit acting after appearing in only three films. The film business isn't for everyone.

This film features the Agency operatives Mark Austin, Becky Midnite and Chris Cannon. After a successful drugs bust they're suspended by their boss for not following protocol. In actual fact the boss is angry because the drug lord Santiago has been paying him to spare his business. The three agents go camping in the woods near Dallas while they're off duty. (It was actually filmed in Shreveport, Louisiana. Is the terrain so similar?) They have good luck and bad luck in the woods. They find a map to the burial place of gold that Confederate soldiers stole during the Civil War. They can't hunt in peace because Santiago wants to kill them with the assistance of the deadly assassin Jewel Panther.

Rodrigo Obregon is one of the coolest bad guys ever. I'm disappointed when he plays a good guy.

There's nothing cool about Julie Strain. She's pure evil in every role she plays. She can out-fight and out-shoot any man.

Julie enjoys her job. She needs a boat, so she goes to talk with two fishermen. She flirts with them...

then she shoots them.

Isn't that the most evil face imaginable? Everything about her gaze says "You're next". If you're lucky she might give you a few minutes of pleasure before she kills you, but it's doubtful.

At least she didn't kill Andy Sidaris. She loved him too much. Her meanness was restricted to distracting him while he was recording his film introductions for the DVD release. His wife Arlene was in the room when the introductions were filmed, so he had to try hard to remain professional. The other two girls in this picture are Zen and Zero, better known as the Porcelain Twins. Judging by the outfits they're wearing, this must have been filmed in 2002 when they were in California to make "13 Erotic Ghosts".

Andy, behave! Your wife is watching! You'll be sleeping on the couch tonight!

But seriously, I have to ask: why didn't Drew want a life like this?

At least Drew adheres to his father's tradition of ending the film with the agents enjoying a glass of champagne. Andy probably insisted on it!

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Thursday, 21 June 2018

Bikini Airways (4 Stars)

Today I watched the remastered 15th anniversary re-release of "Bikini Airways", the second film in the Medina Collection. Most people associate remastering with Blu-ray, but the new version is still on DVD. The original DVD, which I reviewed in 2015, was in a 4:3 aspect ratio. The new version is in 16:9, and the picture quality has been improved by a new transfer from the original tapes. I can verify the improvement by comparing it with the screenshots that I made three years ago.

Most of the film takes place in the claustrophobia of an aeroplane, a Boeing 747. Terri has just inherited an airline from her uncle Hugh Janus. (Say Hugh Janus Airways aloud). The airline is facing bankruptcy, so she decides to advertise by using models in bikinis. They say that sex sells, but that's no longer true in the Internet age. Everyone wants sex for free, so men just stand watching the bikini babes and don't buy tickets.

Terri gets a second chance to make money. A rich oil tycoon wants to have a bachelor party, but he doesn't have time because he has to fly to Miami for his wedding the next morning. Terri offers to charter her plane for a bachelor party in the air.

On this flight the passengers aren't told to fasten their seat belts; the stewardesses do it for them. The girls know that all the passengers are rich, so they do whatever they can to keep them interested.

The comedy is supplied by Jay Richardson, who plays the pilot. He starred in 23 films directed by Fred Olen Ray from 1988 to 2005. He took a break from acting for a few years, but now he's returned and he's made 17 films in the last three years, but none with Fred. They need to hook up again.

I greatly enjoy this film. It makes no aspirations to be anything more than trash, but it's good at what it does.

As for sex not selling in the Internet age, my comments only referred to people in general, not to me. I'm a dinosaur from the pre-Internet age. Whatever brand of toothpaste this girl is advertising I'll buy it. I want teeth as white as hers.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Swimming With Men (4 Stars)

This is a quaint British comedy about a group of middle-aged men who want to become the world champions for synchronised swimming. They'll only be the unofficial world champions, because synchronised swimming is only recognised as a sport for women. Does that make it the world's most sexist sport? I can't think of any other sports that are restricted to a single gender.

The main character is Eric Scott, an accountant and tax consultant who's bored with his job. His wife has just been elected to the town council, chipping away at his manhood. He suspects that his wife is having an affair with her boss on the council. This isn't the truth, she's completely faithful to her husband, but Eric is so paranoid that he leaves her and moves into a hotel.

Eric only has one pleasure in his life. Every day after work he goes swimming. At the swimming pool he meets a group of men in his own age who engage in synchronised swimming as a hobby. He joins the group and finds a new purpose in life.

This isn't a film that will make you laugh out loud, but you'll smile at its subtle humour. It pokes fun at typical British prejudices, even though it doesn't cross the line of political incorrectness. If men who are barely dressed hold each other's arms and legs in the water they must be gay, mustn't they? That's what we think.

The film claims to be based on a true story. It's only a vague connection. Five years ago a group of men in Sweden formed a group of synchronised swimmers and protested about not being able to compete officially. They organised unofficial championships against other countries. The Swedish team members appear in the film, playing themselves.

Click here to view the trailer.

Even though the film was made in England it was first shown in German cinemas, a month ahead of the UK release date. It's probably because of the World Cup. The UK release date has been delayed until the begin of the knockout phase when England will already have been eliminated.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

A Hole in my Panty (4 Stars)

Ahead of me there is no road,
Behind me I'll find a path.

This is a Japanese coming-of-age comedy starring Ai Shinozaki. It was made in 2011 when she was 19. This is the only one of her films that's been released on DVD in America. She also appears in "Virgin Psychics", which has been released on Blu-ray in Germany, but she only plays a small role in that film. In "A Hole in my Panty" she's the main female actress. At the time the film was made she was a singer in the J-Pop girl band AeLL (Activity eco Life with Love). The other three band members appear briefly as schoolgirls at the beginning of the film.

The film is about three 16-year-old boys, Hiroshi, Takuro and Ryota, who want to lose their virginity in the school holidays. At that age boys are usually awkward and inexperienced, but these three boys are downright stupid. They really think they can find a woman by ringing a telephone number written on the wall of a public toilet. A man answers the phone. Well, what did they expect?

Hiroshi has been living with his grandfather since the death of his parents. His grandfather is a horny old man with a girlfriend 30 years younger than him. Hiroshi finds this embarrassing, but he overcomes himself and asks his grandfather for advice. The advice he's given doesn't lead very far.

While his two friends chase different woman, some of them married, Hiroshi meets a beautiful girl called Narumi, played by Ai Shinozaki, from whom he learns important lessons. Sex isn't necessarily desirable. Virginity can also be a thing of value. That's the significance of the poem written by Kotaro Takamura quoted above. Sexual intercourse is the end of the road. Why go on? It's better to return the way you came.

Narumi is walking the path of virginity. She doesn't want a lover, she wants a fellow virgin to walk with her as a friend. It's not a matter of remaining chaste until marriage. That would be the end of the path. She wants to remain on the path.

Prolonged virginity is a relatively new phenomenon in Japan. A poll held in 2015 revealed that 42% of Japanese men and 44% of Japanese women aged between 18 and 34 are still virgins. Takamura's poem treats virginity as something spiritual, but today's reasons for virginity are more mundane. It's been suggested that Japanese young people prefer pornography to sex, but I don't know why this should be the case. Young people in other countries use pornography as well, but there isn't a large trend towards virginity.

The film is primarily a comedy, but it's not as primitive or as vulgar as the title suggests. On the other hand, panties always have holes. If they didn't, women wouldn't be able to put their legs in them.

My regular readers already know that I consider Ai Shinozaki to be the world's most beautiful actress. That's a matter of opinion, of course. If you think anyone else looks more beautiful than her, feel free to write a comment and tell me who it is, but I doubt you'll be able to change my mind.

This film is no masterpiece, but it's an enjoyable comedy romp. It has similarities with the American teen comedy films of the 1990's, but the philosophical elements are pure Japanese. I'm hoping Ai Shinozaki will soon be offered a big role in a better film. She should be given an opportunity to show off her talent.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Fit To Kill (4½ Stars)

This is the eighth film in the Andy Sidaris collection, made in 1993. It marks a new start in his films for one significant reason: Julie Strain. She's the actress who's most connected with Andy Sidaris' films in the minds of his fans, even though she only appeared in five of his films. Other actresses appeared more often, such as Dona Speir (seven films) and Cynthia Brimhall (six films).

Julie Strain began her acting career in 1991, the same year in which she appeared in Penthouse Magazine as the Penthouse Pet of the Month. A year later Julie was told about Andy Sidaris' films by her friend Donna Spangler, who had played a small role in "Guns". After watching the films Julie began to bombard Andy's wife Arlene with telephone calls, telling her "You need me in your films". Who was this woman harassing her? Arlene invited her for an audition, and as soon as Julie walked in the door Arlene knew she was the perfect woman for Andy's films. Julie was given the role of the assassin Blu Steele in "Fit To Kill". The script had already been written, but it was rewritten to give Julie more screen time.

Julie had decided to give up modelling to become an actress, but her old career wasn't yet dead. While Julie was on the set filming "Fit To Kill" she received a phone call telling her she'd been selected as the Penthouse Pet of the Year for 1993.

The scene which introduces the assassin Blu Steele is an homage to Julie Strain's beauty, the camera generously displaying her beauty to impress the viewer. After close ups of her head and shoulders we see her flexing her muscles on top of the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas. Finally she undresses and slips into clothes more appropriate for her job as a hired assassin.

I think this small photo gallery should be enough to show you why Arlene Sidaris was so impressed with Julie Strain. She's an awe-inspiring woman.

Blu Steele's target is Kane, who we know from the last two films. He's played by Geoffrey Moore, the son of Roger Moore. He wasn't as committed to acting as his father. He retired from acting after making "Fit To Kill", and I have no idea what he does now. I hope he's happy with whatever career he's chosen.

Blu Steele fails to kill Kane, which is just as well, because there are plot twists typical for Andy Sidaris' films. After trying to kill Donna Hamilton in the last two films they now become lovers.

This film has to do with a giant diamond stolen by the Nazis from a museum in Stalingrad during the Second World War. After the war it was sold to a Chinese businessman called Chang. Chang is now sick and expects to die soon, so he wants to ease his conscience by giving the diamond to the Russian government. The Agency, in particular Donna Hamilton, Nicole Justin and Bruce Christian, have been assigned to protect the diamond at the handover ceremony in Hawaii. As you can imagine, the publicity about the diamond, now worth $150 million, attracts the attention of various thieves and their gangs. Nobody can trust anybody else. The gangs attack one another, and each gang has members willing to betray their bosses. Caught in the middle are Donna and Kane in the heat of passion. A dance leads to a kiss, and the kiss leads to more.

The KSXY radio station is back again, as the cover for the Agency. Staff briefings for upcoming missions are held in the hot tub room. Secret agents never had it so good.

Rodrigo Obregon plays a good guy again. This time he's Mikael Petrov, the representative of the Russian government sent to collect the diamond. One of the advantages of being a good guy is that he can get intimate with the beautiful Agency operatives. He ends up having a fling with Ava, the host of KSXY's loveline programmes.

The obligatory end-of-film champagne toast is enjoyed in the hot tub. With perks like that I want to be a secret agent as well. Where do I sign up?

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