APES ON FILM: Mr. Roberts and The H-Man Battle In Outer Space!

Posted on: Feb 8th, 2021 By:

by Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

 Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

 

 

ISHIRO HONDA DOUBLE FEATURE: THE H-MAN & BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE (1958-59)
3.5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Yumi Shirakawa , Kenji Sahara , Akihiko Hirata  / Ryô Ikebe , Kyôko Anzai , Minoru Takada
Director: Ishiro Honda
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Eureka!
Region: B
BRD Release Date: November 16, 2020
Audio Formats: LPCM 2.0 Mono
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p HD
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Run Time: 79/90 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

If you’re a fan of giant monsters stomping Japanese cities flat, then you know the name Ishiro Honda, the man who directed GODZILLA, RODAN, MOTHRA, THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, and most of the rest of Toho Companys’ kaiju faire from the 1950s up through the year 2000. Now two of Honda’s other pictures for the studio have gotten the Masters of Cinema Blu-ray release treatment from Eureka! Video in the UK. One is a monster film of a different stripe, the other a sci-fi actioner whose tropes were later refit for a beloved British children’s television series.

THE H-MAN is essentially a proto-psychedelic noir/procedural about radioactive snot monsters invading Tokyo and dissolving the population. Hey, who doesn’t love a good snot monster, am I right? Starting at sea and moving into the city via the sewers, the snot gives the local gendarmes a run for their money but are (of course) defeated in the end. Or are they? This was 1958, before that particular trope was so overused as to have become offensive. I feel that cinematographer Hajime Koizumi’s highly-saturated color motifs may well have influenced Mario Bava, at a nascent point in his directing career but already well-respected as a cinematographer himself. A few of the sequences look as though they might have been shot by Bava himself – an impossibility, of course. Though director Honda and special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya were already masters of the visual, the lack of suspense during a slog of a second act brings the film down a notch in comparison to much of their kaiju work.

BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE has much to recommend – Tsubaraya’s effects are front and center from frame one, and rightfully so. Compared to much of the American sci-fi cinema of the time, the model work here is of the highest quality and the recipient of Koizumi’s deep, colorful lighting, making it stand above the pack. Strip-mined for premise as well as art direction by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s CAPTAIN SCARLET AND THE MYSTERONS (1967) television series, the film is honestly a joy visually, but suffers a similar fate as THE H-MAN when the second act unfolds. Both films are stuffed with what author and film commentator David J. Schow calls “shoe leather;” unnecessarily long shots of mundane action, dialog that could easily be excised, etc. Essentially, padding to expand the running time of the film which adds nothing to the viewing experience. BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE does accelerate once the U.N. forces reach the moon and attack the alien base there, however.

I do recommend this set, even though both films would benefit from the editor having a stern talking-to by say, Akira Kurosawa. It comes in an “O” card slipcase for the first 2000 copies and includes both Japanese and English versions of each film, presented across two Blu-ray discs. Other extras include a brand-new audio commentary with authors and Japanese sci-fi historians Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski on THE H-MAN, as well as one on BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE with film historian and writer David Kalat. Further, included are stills galleries and a collector’s booklet featuring essays by Christopher Stewardson and Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp.

The Masters of Cinema package by Eureka! is definitely worth a pick up if you’re in the UK or Ireland, or have a region-free player.

 

 

MISTER ROBERTS – 1955
5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Henry Fonda, James Cagney, William Powell, Jack Lemmon
Directed By: John Ford, Mervyn LeRoy
Studio: Warner Archive Collection
BRD Release Date: December 15, 2020
Region: A, B
Rated: Unrated
Audio Formats: DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1 – English (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: New 2020 1080p HD Remaster from 4K Scan of Original Negative
Aspect Ratio: 2.55:1-16×9 LETTERBOX
Run Time: 121:00 Minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

Some films are classics because of writing, some because of their performances, or direction, or cinematography. MISTER ROBERTS is a classic for all these reasons and more. Based on the play by Thomas Heggen and Joshua Logan  (itself based on Heggen’s novel), the film is simply a masterpiece of cinema and of storytelling.

A character study of a man desperate to be a part of something bigger than himself and to make a real difference in the Second World War, the film features Fonda‘s pitch-perfect performance as Lt. (j.g.) Douglas Roberts, stuck aboard a dreary naval cargo ship in a Pacific backwater, far from the fighting. At constant odds with his Captain (Cagney in bravura performance of pure, hilarious evil), Roberts takes solace in his relationship with Powell’s Doc, a sympathetic veteran too tired to complain any longer, and his bunkmate, Ensign Frank Pulver (Lemmon), a braggadocious schemer who never quite follows through on his plans. Executive officer of the boat, Roberts is also popular with the crew for his passive-aggressive war with the Captain, who terrorizes them regularly.

It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like on the set of this movie, but man…what an amazing place it must have been. Fonda was on the upper curve of his peak, with 12 ANGRY MEN a mere two years in the future; Lemmon gives his breakthrough performance as Pulver. Powell, Cagney, and Ward Bond  were all on the downward slide and past their leading man days but give wonderful performances…and imagine the tales they had to tell. Rounding it all out is a cadre of young actors playing the ship’s crew, many of whom were on the way to distinguished careers, like Ken Curtis , Tige Andrews , Buck Kartalian, and a wide-eyed and fresh-faced Nick Adams , whose future looked very bright, but would fall short of his expectations and end tragically. Rumor has it that director Ford was replaced after socking Fonda in the jaw during a heated discussion, though it was more likely due to emergency gall bladder surgery.

Warner Archive Collection’s Blu-ray presentation is absolutely breathtaking. Remastered from a new 4K scan, the picture is truly one of the best I’ve ever seen in this format, with little to no film grain visible throughout, colors balanced and saturated well, and deep blacks supporting a generous midtone range. The only flaws I saw were minimal focus issues near the vertical screen edges occasionally, artifacts of the original CinemaScope projection process most likely. Sound is also above expectation, and a real joy in 24-bit 5.1 surround. Extras include the original theatrical trailer and a scene-specific audio commentary by Jack Lemmon, carried over from a previous release.

Honestly, this is the best restoration I’ve seen all year on a film that I recommend everybody should own. Do yourself a favor and grab it while Warner makes it available. You never know when they might decide to go to an all-streaming model and ditch traditional media sales.

 

 

 

Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video*WatcHDog, and more.

 *Art Credit: Anthony Taylor as Dr. Zaius caricature by Richard Smith

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

APES ON FILM: Death Scrambles Some Eggs; Plus – MOTHRA!

Posted on: Nov 30th, 2020 By:

by Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

 Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

 

 

DEATH LAID AN EGG (SPECIAL EDITION) – 1968
3 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Gina Lollobrigida ,Jean-Louis Trintignant, Ewa Aulin
Director: Giulio Questi
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Cult Epics Press
Region: Region Free
BRD Release Date: November 10, 2020
Audio Formats: LPCM 2.0 Mono / English & Italian Language with optional English Subtitles
Video Codec: Fully Restored 2K HD Transfer, MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:00
Run Time: 105 minutes (Director’s Cut)
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

DEATH LAID AN EGG is aptly titled. Translated from the original Italian, of course, but right on target for a film that never makes up its mind about what it is; Giallo? Sex Melodrama? Science Fiction? Murder Mystery? Psychodrama? Parody of all of these? All of these genres are present and as a result the film squeaks past as viewable for its cast, some interesting attempts at breaking stereotypes, and for being the only movie I can recall seeing that was so damned concerned with the politics of chicken farming.

Yes, chicken farming. The radiant Gina Lollobrigida and Jean-Louis Trintignant own a high-tech poultry ranch, where cousin Ewa Aulin comes to stay, creating sexual tension for all three. Gina admires her body, Jean-Louis falls in love, and Ewa has an affair with Trintignant intending to alienate the couple, then murder her cousin and frame her wayward husband for the crime with the help of interloper Jean Sobieski who knows Trintignant’s dirty secrets. Or does he?

The movie suffers from an utterly awful musical score. Composer Bruno Moderna attacks a piano like a two-year-old with a broken hand trying to make the viewer feel uneasy. This works for the first few seconds but ultimately becomes annoying. Few interludes of actual music occur, and I ended up thankful for the silence most of the time. The brightest light that shines is the gorgeous Ewa Aulin, who should have been a bigger star in the US. Can she act? Who knows? She’s not given much of a chance here, but she’s ultra-appealing.

Cult Epics’ presentation is beautiful to look at and is packaged nicely. The director’s cut has been edited from several element sources and switches back and forth between the English dub and Italian with English subtitles, which can be jarring. I thought I had received a flawed copy until I did a bit of research and got the whole story. Supplemental materials are plentiful and quite good, including a Director’s Cut audio commentary by Troy Howarth (Author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films vol. 1, 2, 3) and Nathaniel Thompson (Author of DVD Delirium and founder of Mondo Digital), a review by Italian critic Antonio Bruschini, Giulio Questi: The Outsider – the last video interview in HD (2010) (13 mins), “Doctor Schizo and Mister Phrenic” (2002) a short film by Giulio Questi (15 mins), English & Italian language Trailers in HD, and more. The packaging includes a reversible sleeve with original Italian poster art and slipcase printed with fluorescent inks, both limited to first 2000 copies.

If nothing else, DEATH LAID AN EGG is a unique viewing experience, and one you’ll likely never forget. Recommended for Giallo lovers and chicken farmers of all ages.

 

MOTHRA (Limited Edition Box Set) – 1961
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Furankî Sakai , Hiroshi Koizumi , Jerry Itô
Director: Ishirô Honda
Studio: Eureka Video (UK)
BRD Release Date: November 16, 2020
Region: B
Audio Formats: LPCM Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Resolution/Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Run Time: 191 minutes, 90 Minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

All kaiju movies owe a debt to the American films that inspired them (such as Ray Harryhausen’s THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS), but none more than MOTHRA, which was heavily influenced by KING KONG. Both films involve expeditions to a mysterious island, which result in a smarmy capitalist kidnapping fantastic beings in order to exploit them for entertainment purposes back in civilization; in KONG it’s the giant ape, in MOTHRA, it’s a pair of diminutive fairies who turn out to be high priestesses of a giant monster goddess who comes to rescue them from captivity. In her nascent form, Mothra even attempts to climb Tokyo Tower, Empire State Building style.

The film does fall back on some classic kaiju tropes – the ship in distress in a typhoon, a giant monster wreaking destruction on the city (Tokyo and New Kirk City in this case, in the fictional nation of Rolisica, the filmmakers’ combination of Russia and America), scientists of all stripes expounding theories – but deviates from the formula set by earlier Toho offerings by delving into questions of religion, humanity, and offering a decidedly feminine point of view not only via the fairies – adorably portrayed by the Peanuts, a popular singing duo at the time in Japan – but also via supporting characters, and even Mothra herself. Not affected by the radioactive fallout from atomic testing that everyone keeps talking about in the first half of the film, Mothra is actually a goddess that’s been around for thousands of years; a departure from the Toho kaiju norm. The overall tone of the movie is lighter than its predecessors as well, making for a fresh viewing experience.

Unconventional leading man Furanki Sakai (also a standout as Lord Yabu in the SHOGUN television miniseries from 1980) shines as Fukuda, a journalist set on getting to the bottom of the island’s mysteries, as does Jerri Ito in an over-the-top performance as the villain Nelson, so set on capturing the fairy twins that he’s willing to gun down an entire village of innocent islanders (played by Japanese actors in dark body paint, which would certainly be frowned upon in modern times) in the film’s darkest moment. Hiroshi Koizumi plays the stoic leading man, Dr. Chujo with the same look of knitted-brow concern throughout the film.

MOTHRA features some great special effects work by Eiji Tsubaraya and his team as well, including a large amount of optical effects combining miniature work with real crowds and other live action footage. These effects help convey to the viewer that the wholesale carnage happening onscreen is affecting real people and are used well to this end. Fukuda’s rescue of a baby in peril is especially effective.

The giant moth became so popular that she appeared in many of Toho’s other kaiju eiga, and even got her own trilogy of films in the 1990s. She proved to be a highlight of the American GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS as well.

Eureka has gone all out for this limited edition which comes in a hardbound slipcase with reversible art featuring the original Japanese poster art, the American art, as well as the original Japanese version of the film which runs 101 minutes and the 90 minute U.S. cut. Also included is a brand-new commentary with writer David Kalat, and a commentary with authors Steve Ryfle and Ed Godzizewsky, which has appeared on earlier releases. Anno Dracula author Kim Newman weighs in on the history and legacy of MOTHRA as well, and the first 3000 copies include a 60-page collector’s booklet. The package is Region B encoded, so make sure you have a region free player or live in the UK.

All in all, a very robust package and worth the price of admission. MOTHRA is a wonderful film and always worth a watch…or a re-watch.

 

 

Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video*WatcHDog, and more.

*Excerpts from the MOTHRA review first appeared in Screem Magazine #38.

*Art Credit: Anthony Taylor as Dr. Zaius caricature by Richard Smith

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kool Kats of the Week: Pillage & Plunder, the “Musical Mad Scientists” Rock The Earl While Promoting Raucous Reptilian Love With Gamera and The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Posted on: May 19th, 2014 By:

by Melanie Crew
Contributing Writer

Pillage & Plunder, “weaned on the teat of comic books, video games, jazz, mathematics, punk and prog” will be rockin’ to the tune of Turtle at The Earl this Friday, May 23! It’ll be a night of mischief and mayhem with a celebration of the release of their debut LP, “The Show Must Go Wrong,” out August 5, along with Atlanta’s Slowriter and Mice in Cars, in conjunction with World Turtle Day! You won’t want to miss Pillage & Plunder’s rockin’ reptilian ruckus at The Earl this Friday!

Pillage & Plunder, Atlanta’s indie-prog/jazz-punk trio is made up of Gokul Parasuram (guitar/bass/vocals), Hsiang-Ming Wen (bass/guitar/vocals) and Noah Kess (drums/vibes). In no way are they newbies to the indie, pop-culture scene, having shared the stage with Tennessee’s indie, “rock n roll fablers” and Mega Man fanatics, The Protomen and Paper Route. They’ve also been rockin’ around town delivering their “rock magic” and “beautiful chaos” at several of Atlanta’s rockin’ venues: The Star Bar, Under the Couch, WonderRoot, Smith’s Olde Bar, 529, the Masquerade, the Inman Park Festival, just to name a few! And they’ve been busy recording since 2009 [2009 – “The Artisan/Blue” single; 2011 – “Look Inside For The Prize” (EP); 2012 – “Summer Days/Hit & Run” single; 2013 – “Goodnight Jack” (acoustic EP)]. Pillage & Plunder is a rockin’ band and chaotic force you won’t want to miss!

ATLRetro caught up with the fellas of Pillage & Plunder, for a quick interview about their rockin’ retro sounds, their love of all things geeky, the importance of the preservation of our 200-million-year-old turtle pals and their August 5 debut of their LP, “The Show Must Go Wrong”.

And while you’re takin’ a gander at our little Q&A with the band, take a listen to Pillage & Plunder’s “Summer Days” here.

ATLRetro: What’s in a name? Pillage & Plunder sounds more swashbuckler than comics, retro video games, jazz, math and punk. Is there an adventurous story of rock behind the name? Does “X” really mark the spot? Come on and fill our readers in on how you earned such a name!

Gokul: When we started, we had trouble thinking up good names. Every week, I’d bring new band names to a buddy of mine who’d always laugh at our ideas. This friend always suggested (jokingly) that we name ourselves Pillage & Plunder. It sounded corny and had no obvious connection to our music at the time, but we honestly couldn’t come up with anything better. Ten years later, nothing has changed.

How did you rockin’ dudes come together as a band? Was it rock love at first sight or was there a little shakin’, rattlin’ and rollin’ along the way?

Gokul: Let’s go with rock and roll love at first sight. Hsiang-Ming and I sat together in our eighth-grade history class. We became buddies. Watching movies led to video games and anime conventions, which led to guitars and ultimately to writing/recording demos in our bedrooms. Early Pillage & Plunder rehearsals comprised of covers and jams, but we picked up some momentum as original material started entering our repertoire. We gigged around with a drummer who was a high school friend until 2011, when Noah joined the band. I would describe Noah as rock and roll love at first phone conversation.

How would you describe your sound? We’ve seen the band described as paying homage to ’50s martini lounge, ’70s psych-prog and ’90s pop punk. What should our readers expect when they come to your show?

Gokul: We pay homage to these sounds and more on a nightly basis! It’s the byproduct of having three genre-hopping musical hoarders in the same band. Generally you can expect a lot of variety at our gigs, but all of our songs tend to have at least one big heavy riff moment. Look out for the big heavy riff moments!

We see that you ‘navigated the dreams of Frank Zappa and King Crimson’.  What about these artists influenced you the most?

Gokul: The most captivating thing about the music of bands from that era is this sense that both anything can happen and that almost everything does happen. It’s fun to see artists explore what they can and can’t get away with, and that mindset is more prevalent in experimental forms of music.

Tell our readers a little about how you navigated the music scene.  What drew you to music? Have you always had a desire to play in front of big crowds or was it something you came to love later in life?

Hsiang-Ming: We each come from different backgrounds of music. Gokul started out learning jazz guitar from an early age, Noah was a marching band geek playing percussion and I was an orchestra nerd playing violin from elementary school onwards, eventually diving into guitar and bass in high school. Music is something we all are extremely passionate about and feel comfortable communicating in. We love playing live and definitely feed off the enthusiasm and energy of the crowd. Shows are like a dialogue, and it’s no fun talking to a wall. Or maybe I’m just not talking to the right ones.

In celebration of ‘World Turtle Day’ we see that you’ll be rockin’ out alongside some classic turtle-lovin’ cinema.  We at ATLRetro love our vintage Kaiju flicks, so of course we’re super giddy you’re including 1969’s GAMERA VS. GUIRON, and it’s totally tubular that THE TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES will be making an appearance as well! We think it’s pretty rad that you’re  not only promoting your rockin’ tunes, but are also promoting the preservation of some rockin’ descendants of prehistoric creatures.  Can you tell our readers about your love for turtles and why you’re interested in promoting and preserving them at this show?

Hsiang-Ming: YES!! This is going to be a great show! I don’t have a really good reason for loving turtles other than the fact thatthey’re AWESOME and have been around since over 200 million years ago! I just learned about World Turtle Day this year by chance and I think any event or organization that promotes the preservation of an endangered species is a cause worth talking about. We decided to do a show about it to have some fun and shed some light on a topic that is largely out of the public’s mind. The TMNT and Kaiju films are an added bonus that we tagged on not only for their pure entertainment value and because they’re amazing, but also to give people something to relate to, because kicking Foot Soldier butt and being an oversized tortoise is clearly something we’ve all dealt with in life. You can learn more about the American Tortoise Rescue and donate to their cause here. 

Can you tell our readers a little about your debut LP, ‘The Show Must Go Wrong’ coming out in August?

Hsiang-Ming:The Show Must Go Wrong” is our debut LP that we’ve been working on since 2012 and we cannot be more excited to finally release it in August! The title comes from an episode of the TV show “Parks & Recreation” that we felt reflected the songs and general mood/state of the band during the making of this album. From parting ways with our original drummer, getting all of our equipment stolen at SXSW and coping with failed relationships along the way, we’ve hurdled through a decent share of obstacles to realize that life will always throw obstacles at you, but you just have to keep on chugging and push forward, even if you make a fool of yourself in the process.

Any special plans for your show on the 23rd at The Earl?

Hsiang-Ming: Yes! We will be playing with fellow locals Slowriter and Mice in Cars who are both amazing bands if you’ve never seen them. Aside from the music, as you know, we will be screening the original 1990 TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES film along with GAMERA VS. GUIRON (1969). Local turtle-loving brewers Terrapin Beer Co. have also generously teamed up with us to donate a few cases of free RecreationAle to attending guests [Supplies are limited so come early!]  Also, if you come to the show wearing green we’ll give you a little souvenir to take home with you! A portion of the proceeds from the show will be donated to the American Tortoise Rescue as well. You can RSVP to the event here.

What’s next for Pillage & Plunder?

Hsiang-Ming: After our World Turtle Party on May 23, we will be doing a mini regional tour during the month of June and part of July, prior to our album release in August. Afterwards, we will tour more extensively to promote the new record. On top of that, we are also working on finishing our first music video and have started demoing some new songs for our next album.

Can you tell our readers something you’d like folks to know that they don’t know already?

Hsiang-Ming: Before Noah joined the band in 2011, Pillage & Plunder‘s original lineup competed against his old band Colorblind aka Colourblind in a traditional high school Battle of the Bands.

What question do you wish somebody would ask you and what’s the answer?

Hsiang-Ming: Q: “Why didn’t Noah Kess answer any questions?” A: “The voice of Noah Kess is too awesome for the universe to handle and has been known to cause black holes. For further inquiries regarding “He who has not spoken,” please e-mail pillageandplunderband@gmail.com”  

 

 

 

 

 

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