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Death Race 2000 Review

Posted by Josh Samford On May - 27 - 2010
It took me a little longer than I expected, as I had to go through the many special features on the disc, but here is my review for Death Race 2000 at long last! I hope it is enjoyed!

The Plot: In the year 2000 the world has made a turn for the more violent side. The president no longer lives within the country and instead rules from afar. The worldwide media has taken on a fanatical obsession with the Transcontinental Road Race that leads contestants across America in a homicidal race for worldwide recognition and fame. While making this trip contestants are encouraged to score points by running down any bystandards who stand in their way. Along for the ride is “Machine Gun” Joe Viterbo (Sylvester Stallone), “Calamity” Jane Kelly (Mary Woronov), Nero “The Hero” (Martin Kove), Matilda “The Hun” (Roberta Collins) and the returning champion: Frankenstein (David Carradine). Frankenstein is said to have lost the majority of his body parts during previous races and is now more machine than man. Placed with a new navigator named Annie Smith (Simone Griffeth), Frankenstein will have to deal with both his opponents in the race as well as Annie who is an undercover agent for the rebel movement against Mr. President.





CONTINUE READING THE REVIEW HERE

Death Race 2000

Posted by Josh Samford On May - 27 - 2010
The Plot: In the year 2000 the world has made a turn for the more violent side. The president no longer lives within the country and instead rules from afar. The worldwide media has taken on a fanatical obsession with the Transcontinental Road Race that leads contestants across America in a homicidal race for worldwide recognition and fame. While making this trip contestants are encouraged to score points by running down any bystandards who stand in their way. Along for the ride is “Machine Gun” Joe Viterbo (Sylvester Stallone), “Calamity” Jane Kelly (Mary Woronov), Nero “The Hero” (Martin Kove), Matilda “The Hun” (Roberta Collins) and the returning champion: Frankenstein (David Carradine). Frankenstein is said to have lost the majority of his body parts during previous races and is now more machine than man. Placed with a new navigator named Annie Smith (Simone Griffeth), Frankenstein will have to deal with both his opponents in the race as well as Annie who is an undercover agent for the rebel movement against Mr. President.




The Review
Death Race 2000 is a movie that I have been familiar with for years, but have unfortunately never really sat down to take in. I have caught bits and pieces on television before and we actually had a showing of it at a VCinema gathering, but in a situation like that you find yourself talking more than watching. So, when contacted by the fine people of Shout Factory! about reviewing the film and their latest special edition DVD for their Roger Corman Cult Classics line, it seemed like a fine time to give the movie a spin! I’m glad that I did, because Death Race 2000 exemplifies the grandiose charm that cult cinema can deliver. Directed by Paul Bartel, the film shows that some times the smartest thing you can do when attacking a situation or a theme is to make fun of it. A raging satire, the film proves to be both an intelligent look at violence and its effects on our society as well as a truly over the top piece of comedy that takes shots at everything from politicians to the media. Before watching the film, I decided I would put forth some thought as to why this film has survived after all of these years. Although it isn’t the biggest cult film ever made, it has developed a relatively large audience and has even prompted a Hollywood remake. So, what is it that draws viewers to this movie? Upon watching and really examining it, I don’t think there is any one single answer to that question. Like most things, the answer is complex and there are a multitude of reasons but the combination of rising star power and the truly bizarre nature of the movie are the key elements for me.

Made in a time when David Carradine was known primarily for his TV work on Kung Fu, it seems that the jump to the silver screen with Death Race 2000 proved to be a very bizarre choice. A campy, violent and over the top satire – one wonders why Carradine picked this project ahead of any other potentially more serious fare. Regardless of his reasons (let’s be honest, it had to be the money…), the choice to do this movie was a brave one indeed. Featuring what for the time had to be considered a tremendous amount of violence as well as frequent bouts of nudity, Carradine jumped into the offbeat cinematic world head first. His co-star, a then unknown Sylvester Stallone, comes to the screen in a larger than life portrayal of your most basic villain. In the year that followed the original release of Death Race 2000, Stallone would score huge with his own film Rocky and of course we all know his career following that. From then on out Stallone would be properly placed right up top alongside Carradine on any promotional materials for Death Race. So as the years have went on, you have these two popular figures from American entertainment in what can only be described as an absolutely bizarre piece of science fiction like no other. Of course audience members are going to be dragged in by that! Still, that doesn’t explain why the fans remain. In the same way that filmmakers such as John Waters have retained an audience, there is something peculiar and fun about watching a film go so completely over the top that it no longer constitutes any semblance of reality.

Placing the picture in the near future (well, for us it is now the past) and painting such a strange cultural landscape, Bartel and Corman did well in establishing the film as being something alternate to reality. They also establish so many changes to the world without ever delving into any kind of drawn out exposition. In this world we are now the United Provinces of America, which paints the future as some kind of dystopian land where perhaps Canada has been absorbed into the US. The president, who has no name other than President, rules our country from houses he owns in foreign countries. What has happened to the constitution up to this time is not known. All we know is that free elections have been outlawed and our governing bodies have outlawed dissent. It almost doesn’t even matter that they have, since the majority of Americans would apparently rather sit back and watch “The Race” instead of possibly fighting back against this totalitarian regime. Technology is shown to have made some progress, with mentions of three dimensional television sets, but for the most part everything except for the fashion seems to have remained the same. Automobiles still apparently run on fossil fuels and people still work in very every-day situations. The morality has changed however, which is infinitely more dangerous than technology proves to be.

The obvious explanation for this lack of digitalization is the budget for the film. Roger Corman, who is infamous for his penny pinching, obviously couldn’t afford to really set the stage for a science fiction blockbuster. The special FX are pretty hokey from the start. The opening moments which show obvious matte paintings that are supposed to represent the thousands in attendance at the start of the race help showcase this. Along with the paintings are pieces of animation that allow us to see some kind of Tram system circling the skyline. Even for 1975, I am quite confident no one fell for this little trick. This adds to the charm of the movie however and simply places you in the cheap world of this film. The special FX may not be of the highest caliber (aside from the moments of gore, which were fun and surprisingly intense), but the performances of the cast help to sell them. Almost every member of the cast is as over the top and unforgettable as any actor could be. David Carradine manages to provide a more subdued attitude for his role and while playing next to someone like Stallone who simply rips the lid off of things, it actually seems to work very well. The two often bounce off of one another throughout the movie, despite their not spending much time together on-screen, their bitter rivalry creates a chess match between scenes and creates a tempo for the movie. Stars such as the media journalists who are consistently giving their play-by-play of the race help to sell the movie and its over the top attitude better than anyone else however. Lines are shouted at all times, one liners are repeated over and over again and a blatant attempt at a Howard Cossell impersonation simply can’t help but to entertain. That is the name of the game with Death Race 2000 though: entertainment.

The DVD
Shout Factory is releasing this classic on DVD and Bluray as part of their Roger Corman’s Cult Classics line. The film has been transferred with great care and the result is a beautiful looking version of this classic. I highly doubt you’ll have ever found a better looking version of this movie! Shout Factory also delivers a tremendous disk that is packed to the brim with extras. Featuring two commentary tracks, the first with Roger Corman and actress Mary Woronov and the second with assistant director Lewis Teague and editor Tina Hirsh. Corman and Woronov is the instantly noticeable track here as the two are having a lot of fun walking down memory lane. Along with the commentary tracks there are also several featurettes. A featurette looking back on Death Race itself, a featurette on the general design aesthetic of the film, an interview with costume designer Jane Ruhm, an interview with Roger Corman hosted by Leonard Maltin, an interview with Paul Chihara on the creation of the films score, a detailed interview with author Ib Melchior and a short interview with the late David Carradine on his career and Death Race 2000. Aside from the featurettes there are several trailers, radio and TV spots including a trailer with commentary provided by John Landis and the good people of Trailers From Hell. This cult classic has been treated with the utmost respect and care by Shout Factory and should prove hard for them to top in their jam-packed schedule of other Roger Corman classics that are coming down the pipe line!

The Trivia
  • Based upon the story “The Racer” by Ib Melchior, it of course does not resemble that story in the least. Melchior was at first very disappointed with the direction the movie took, but when watching he decided that in its own way the project was of its own incredible value and retained his overall message.

  • The largest budget expenditure for the film was David Carradine himself. The cars, which were mostly VW’s that had new bodies built for them, were actually relatively cheap to make.

  • Roger Corman hired Sylvester Stallone for his role after seeing him in The Lords of Flatbush. He thought he would make a tremendous “heavy” and that would be his main role in film. His wife at one point said that the young actor even had what it took to be a leading man, but Corman was adamant that playing the supporting “heavy” was what the actor was born to do.


  • The Conclusion
    Although it has its problems, I don’t think anyone would pretend that this of all things is a “perfect movie”, I do have to admit I am now a fan. Grandiose in its delivery of atmosphere, Death Race 2000 is something wholly unique and one of the better pieces of wacky science fiction you will ever see. It is smart, accusatory and witty in its satire of both we the audience and other filmmakers as well. Violence is shown as a laughing matter. Is the movie ridiculous? Sure, but it has a point. I absolutely recommend it as if it needed saying. A four out of five, for this nice piece of cinematic insanity!



    Vengeance is Mine Review

    Posted by Josh Samford On May - 20 - 2010
    Hey everybody! It’s a little late but I managed to finish it up! My take on Imamura’s classic Vengeance is Mine! Look forward to more coming in the next few days, including a review for the immortal Death Race 2000!

    The Plot: Vengeance is Mine tells the story of Iwao Enokizu (Ken Ogata), a psychotic killer who commits several murders while on the run from the law. Raised by Christian parents in Japan during the great war, Iwao rebelled from his parents early on. Deciding that to turn the other cheek was the wrong way of handling nearly any situation. As he grew into a man he found himself getting in trouble with the law more and more.











    CONTINUE READING THE REVIEW HERE

    Vengeance is Mine

    Posted by Josh Samford On May - 20 - 2010
    The Plot: Vengeance is Mine tells the story of Iwao Enokizu (Ken Ogata), a psychotic killer who commits several murders while on the run from the law. Raised by Christian parents in Japan during the great war, Iwao rebelled from his parents early on. Deciding that to turn the other cheek was the wrong way of handling nearly any situation. As he grew into a man he found himself getting in trouble with the law more and more.

    When finally released from his first prison sentence he found himself with no real direction and soon takes to murdering and bamboozling women for their money. Traveling from town to town pretending to be other people, we watch the final 78 days of Iwao Enokizu as a free man and we try to figure out this unrepentant and dreadfully evil man.



    The Review
    Shohei Imamura is a filmmaker that I unfortunately have very little personal experience with. His work has been well documented within various Japanese cinema circles, but he has also been acknowledged amongst various other accredited arthouse masters. I can’t even pretend at this point to fully understand his style or even what to expect from further works, having only seen this one feature, but I will say that something like Vengeance is Mine would speak volumes within any directors oeuvre. Although not a perfect feature in my opinion, it is a brutal and discomforting look at a serial killer (based upon real life murderer Akira Nishiguchi) who essentially has no real reason for the things that he does. He is man’s greed multiplied by his own selfishness, with no ultimate goal or sense of reality.

    Clocking in at two hours in length, it is an epic look at the latter part of this man’s life from the point of his first killings on through the 78 day manhunt that would lead to his capture. Although it is not an exploitative film by its nature, it is a gripping and powerful look at a world that is unforgiving in its societal depravity. With that focus on social perversity, it does step into waters that will challenge viewers. Although the violence is brutal, especially one particularly sordid murder sequence that turns into a bloodbath, much of the killing takes place off camera. When giving showcase to what little violence there is in the movie, and showing its tremendous impact, that feeling of extreme violence carries on throughout the feature.

    Imamura takes a step back from the story and reserves judgment. We are never sure just what his intentions are nor what he thinks about this utterly despicable man. In the same way that we never get inside the mind of Iwao Enokizu, we can never fully gather where the filmmaker looks to take us. Keeping the film in a very documentary-like format, not surprising as the filmmaker was working in the documentary field for several years previous to this feature, Imamura keeps us grounded in reality. Shaky cameras are the tool of the day as well as subtitles that read across the screen, often callously reading off the police report on various victims.

    The film offers no melodrama in dealing with this situation but instead offers us intrigue as we take a brooding look at an unrepentant man. This is essentially the crux of the story, as the character of Enokizu is what holds the entire film together and provides us the most insight into society at large. He is a man who offers no monologue as to why he did what he did, he gives us no detailed portrait inside of the world that lies within his mind, he simply is who he is.

    The character of Iwao Enokizu is what holds the entire film together, both on a obviously structural level (he is the lead character after all…) and also on a entertainment level. Perhaps entertainment isn’t precisely the word I am looking for here, but it will have to suffice. He is an enigmatic character that we watch and try to figure out along the way. We try to see at what point he will crumble, show his fear of death or divulge his secrets. Aside from being raised in a Catholic household within a country that is predominately Buddhist, we are never given the idea that he had a childhood any different from the ordinary. When we do see glances of his childhood, we see the violence had already built up inside of him even as a young boy. So, in that regard this character comes off as quite contrarian to what we know of the common serial killer, which gives the film an air of unpredictability.

    Aside from his base motivations (his extreme selfishness does fit the general profile) the character does fall in line with other serial killers in the fact that his killing does not come from a sexual need. Although most killers are often sociopaths, which is what Enokizu is a text-book version of, there is usually that added edge of childhood drama or sexual repression. This proves not to be the situation with Enokizu, making the character all the more allusive. Dealing with one of Japan’s earlier documented serial killers, the story may not have been familiar to Japanese audiences at the time but the story is certainly familiar for US audiences. Iwao Enokizu himself has all of the blatant familiarities physically that we have come to know from various serial killers. He’s not a physically impressive specimen, is very mundane and has no visual qualities that differentiate him from your average businessman. With his glasses on, he gives the appearance of your average nerdy father. When people expect to find a monster, they do not turn to the average salaryman. This was how he was able to allude the law for as long as he did, but he just couldn’t hide the psychosis so prevalent in his personality.

    The performance of Ken Ogata in the lead is quite simply spectacular. It is an out of control personality that really only requires him to either play things up with anger or in silence, but he makes this horrible man seem real. Through his booming laughter and his fast-talking charisma, which allows him to scam the women that ultimately give him money, he gives this heartless character traces of humanity. Through his portrayal of the physical violence and his remorseless confessions in jail however, which we cut to throughout the film, we see the real serpent that lies beneath the skin and Ogata nails the role down perfectly. A physical and mental role for the actor, he delivered a performance that ultimately holds the entire film on its shoulders but never tilts for nary a moment. Without question, one of the most intriguing portrayals of a serial killer ever committed to film.

    The Trivia
  • During the scene where RentarĂ´ Mikuni spits in the face of Ken Ogata, the sequence was improvised and not scripted at all.

  • Although following the novel, which was told in a documentary style as well, director Shohei Imamura flew to Kyushu in order to get his own feel for the story and do his own investigation during pre-production.


  • The Conclusion
    I did say however that it wasn’t a perfect film, and I stick by that statement. I think that at a few ticks past the two hour mark it perhaps goes on a bit long for the point that it intends to drive home. The subplots dealing with Enokizu’s family and the love triangle that blossoms there could be much of the reason for the length. I suppose I understand the reasoning, as without it we would be watching this man kill and abuse humans for the entire length of the movie. However, the movie does start to lose a bit of steam at points because of the length. The documentary style of filming also becomes a bit tiresome over the long haul, but once again that could just be because of the length of time we wade around in the format. Still, with those things said, Vengeance is Mine is a masterful look at some incredibly dark material. It is something that all film fans should search out and appreciate at some point. Released through the Criterion Collection, it’s available and beautiful to look at. Hopefully you’ll find some time to give it a spin if you haven’t at this point. I give it a four out of five.



    Re-Working Old Reviews

    Posted by Josh Samford On May - 17 - 2010
    Hey everybody, sorry no update last week! I have my writing finished but unfortunately I didn’t have time to do the graphic work necessary to get it out last week. So, between Wednesday/Thursday I’ll have my review for Vengeance is Mine posted up and I should have a review for Death Race coming down the pipeline shortly as well.

    Currently I am in the process of editing my older reviews and placing them in the correct format. If you have looked recently, most of the older reviews are formatted in a very strange way. Why this happened, I am not sure. It has something to do with WordPress and its automatic paragraphs. However, I am fixing these awkward line breaks and I am going over the reviews and adjusting grammatical errors along the way. I won’t catch everything of course but these will hopefully be of more use! You can see the start of my project just by going through the review alphabetically. I should be finished with the A’s and B’s by tomorrow some time.

    Hope you guys appreciate the effort and I hope I finish the project in short time!
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    Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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