Angel’s Egg (1985)

I’ve long been a champion of animation, if not here then on Stef’s Cave, where I have a history of expounding the supremacy of animation over live-action filmmaking. This is one of those films that proves that I am right. What live-action film is there that is like this in terms of strange brilliance, sense of adventure, and ambition? Only the Czechoslovakian rendition of Alice in Wonderland is comparable, but this is an even greater mystery. We have in our midst a film whose meaning can, no, must be deteremined by the viewer, as not even the film’s creator, the famed anime film director Mamoru Oshii, seemed to have any idea what the film was about.

Here’s what I can get out of the film. An unnamed girl is travelling a vast, decrepit gothic city searching for food and water, all while carrying a large egg, seemingly with an intent to look after it. She eventually crosses paths with a boy carrying a wooden cross, who accompanies her for the remainder of the film. Neither seem to have any clue of how the world got to the way it is, but while they’re together, they reflect on their amnesia and discuss the bizarre few things they recall seeing.

The film’s most obvious trait is that there is little if any dialogue. In fact, out of the film’s entire 71-minute runtime, there may as well only have been about a few minutes worth of dialogue. The rest of the film is tension building and ominous atmosphere, all seemingly without a linear plot. You would think that I would be repelled by such a prospect, but the director seems to have done a good job of creating a film that sucks you in despite the lack of a clear plot. It makes you wonder about the world the film explores, and you ask yourself how long it might have been around in the context of the film, wondering whether it has been around forever or is the product of someone’s imagination.

The characters, though they don’t talk much, still have you invested in them. You want to know if the girl will ever see the egg hatch, and you want to what the boy’s true intentions are. Some questions are answered, but the most obvious ones are left unanswered, adrift in a sea of religious symbolism. Speaking of which, Oshii left a number of surreal, evocative imagery throughout the film. Why is the soldier boy carrying a cross? Is he the messiah, or perhaps a false prophet? The boy recounted his own, fatalistic interpretation of Noah’s Ark, and later on the entire city is flooded. Is the film’s plot a surrealistic version of Noah’s Ark? It’s worth noting that Mamoru Oshii used to be a Christian, but lost his faith before the film was produced. This has been called Oshii’s most personal film, and by that token, is this perhaps a reflection of his lost faith? An allegory of belief?

Given the lack of a coherent plot and sparse dialogue, the film has been treated as a work of animated art rather than a conventional film, and that fits because the film is a triumph of animated art. The art style is distinct in its brilliance, with characters and illustrations by the one and only Yoshitaka Amano. The dark and dreary colours represent the ominous mood of the film, which is captured by a beautiful, spare music score. The film itself leaves a great deal of answered questions in its wake, and a shock ending, but it’s very much worth it as a piece of bold, avant-garde animation. If you insist on only watching anime films for your whole life, please make this one of them.

  • Score: 86%
  • Grade: A

Demons (1985)

Demons have been a fairly frequent subject in horror films, and they’re always depicted in roughly the same way, as interchangeable horror monsters but with notably more intelligence than zombies. This film isn’t too different in that regard. In fact, at times it tends to resemble a zombie film. That being said, however, it is better than the vast amount of demon-related horror films out there, and I should give it credit for being the first demon-related horror film I’ve seen that’s actually passable as a horror movie for once, and is much better than that in terms of its execution.

Set in Berlin, the film sees a university student named Cheryl, along with her friend and several other people being handed tickets from a mysterious masked man to the screening of a new film at a recently refurbished cinema. One of the attendants wears a mysterious mask that leaves her with a cut on her face after she takes it off. They watch a film that features a mask like the one they saw in the foyer, and depicts events eerily similar to what would eventually happen in the film. Sure enough, the scratched woman eventually turns into an undead, bloodthirsty demon that can infect the living into one of them. The rest are trapped and killed off and infected one by one, and the survivors are left in the unfortunate position of surviving long enough to find their way out.

The story isn’t bad. In fact, it benefits from a suspense heavy approach. My main problem with the story is the lack of explanations given. The masked man never talks in the whole film, and thus there’s no way of ascertaining why he went through the trouble of trapping a bunch of random people in a movie theatre, so you’re left to use your imagination. Also, there are a few scenes featuring four other characters that don’t become part of the main plot until later, and these scenes are put between the rest of the story, which sort of disrupts the flow.

The characters aren’t the most important thing about the film, though the acting isn’t exactly the best, at least with regards to the English dub. Don’t get me wrong, the acting could be better, but it’s not the terrible kind of cheesy. The thing that really annoys me is that the characters tend to be completely stupid, sometimes ignoring common sense. This seems to be a running trope in horror films, and sadly this film is no different.

But that’s alright. After all, the film is certainly well presented, with an atmospheric music score that sets the right tone throughout the film in the style of its time (along with a range of selected songs from various recording artists). Also, the film sports commendably visceral special effects, and it’s great that the producers opted for practical effects instead of computer generated effects. Most obviously, the film is one of those gore horror films, so if you’re not a fan of incredibly violent horror films, this probably isn’t for you. I’m usually not jolted by most horror films, but evidently most of the other horror films weren’t that good at horror.

All in all, it’s not the greatest of all horror films, but I would put it into the category of the more well-done horror films, and you simply don’t get this kind horror film anymore. Most of today’s modern shock horror films are completely fake, and we all know it. The old Italian horror films, meanwhile, are in a totally different league.

  • Score: 74%
  • Grade: C

Weird Science (1985)

movie_poster_for_weird_science_1985Weird Science was very much a film that was emblematic of the bizarre excesses of Hollywood in the 1980’s. It’s ridiculous, it’s loaded with kitsch, and the story seems to be over the place. Sometimes that can make a film so goofy that it’s downright irresistible, but that’s not the case here in Weird Science, which simply hasn’t aged that well compared to other films from the mid-80’s.

The plot is essentially a typical teen comedy, revolving around two awkward teenagers named Gary and Wyatt, who have no luck with women, but they’re swooning over the girlfriends of two boorish Neanderthals who consistently humiliate them. Disappointed with their lot in life, they use Wyatt’s computer to create their ideal woman, who is brought to life after a lightning strike. The woman, who comes to be known as Lisa, begins to teach the boys self-confidence, but not without a slew of zany shenanigans ensuing along the way.

It’s not too much like John Hughes’ other films (which I tend to be sharply critical of), but like the rest, the film revels in Hughes’ consistent romanticising of the dreaded teen phase. As if teen films weren’t already unbelievable, this film pretty much demands suspension of disbelief, as much of the plot raises several questions that I’m sure none of the writers will have any answer for aside from “it’s just a stupid movie”. Nothing about it makes sense, but I’m quite sure that it’s not supposed to. At least this film had the good fortune of being made in a time where you could get away with it.

The acting certainly doesn’t help the cause by much. The actors aren’t particularly bad, but they aren’t exactly high-calibre performers either. They’re essentially actors stuck in a brainless genre that limits their potential. I should give some kudos to the film for using actual teenage actors in the lead roles, unlike the majority of teen films which use actors in their early 20’s, or older for all I know. The characters themselves aren’t particularly likable, and Lisa is perhaps the least convincing character by her very nature as an artificial woman.

If the film has any redeeming virtues, it’s that it at least had good production, as John Hughes films generally did for their time. The film also made wildly liberal use of special effects, and they become more common towards the end of the film as the more nonsensical scenes play out. Of course, the film isn’t bereft of humour, which is fortunate for a film that’s supposed to be billed as a comedy film. It’s not as funny as it perhaps ought to have been, but there are parts of the film that are rib-ticklingly funny, but those are few and far between.

In conclusion, this is a film that very much belongs in its time. I remember hearing that there was a remake in the works, but nobody would really want it. It just wouldn’t work in my time, not just because it’s too cheesy, but also because Hollywood doesn’t know how to write comedies anymore. I dare say that a modern Weird Science would turn out to be even more juvenile than the film we got, and more reprehensibly irritating as a result. This film, thankfully isn’t that bad, but it’s age shows in too many ways.

  • Score: 58%
  • Grade: D

Mr. Vampire (1985)

MrVampirePosterAs far as vampire-related films go, this film is definitely a rare species. Though not as compelling as others, this one is definitely more bizarre than many others, and is certainly a hilarious alternative. Apparently popular enough to spawn a line of sequels and spin-offs, and though its not the first of its kind, the film’s popularity effectively kickstarted a trend of Chinese comedy-horror films. Though it essentially plays out like a genre film, it takes its chosen genre in a creative and interesting way.

The film’s story is themed around the jiangshi – the hopping corpses in Chinese folklore that are sometimes described as vampires. In the film, a Taoist priest named Master Kau is given the task of removing the father of a wealthy businessman and rebury it. However, the exhumed body reawakens as a savage hopping corpse, threatening the safety of the other villagers, so it’s up to Master Kau and his two inept disciples to stop the bloodthirsty corpse.

When I first saw the hopping corpses I thought they were part of the comedy, until I read up about the folklore and this began to make sense. Of course, the way the hopping corpses are depicted is hilarious. The story is pretty much written much like a typical horror film, but in a very irreverent way. I saw a review where this film is compared to one of my more recent picks, A Chinese Ghost Story, where the reviewer say that Mr. Vampire is more demented by comparison, and that would certainly be accurate. The story is a bit muddled, but it’s mainly action-driven, with a blend of slapstick humour and martial arts, and its packaged neatly into a fast-paced film.

Right off the bat, the characters come across as goofy, but then, I think I ought to blame the badly translated subtitles, some of which were hilarious anyway. The acting is already, and the performances are suitably camp, which kind of works for this film for some reason. From what I can tell, the actors weren’t necessarily trying to be serious, and that’s the point. It’s not necessarily a serious horror film, in fact it’s irreverent tone is what makes this film so enjoyable in the first place.

The only thing I criticise would be the special effects, which look pretty cheap, or maybe it aged badly, or maybe its quality I’ve seen the film at (note to self, I should stop using low-quality videos online for too long). In a way, the special effects sort of add to the comedy, but if you’re a fan of the frenetic craziness of Hong Kong action films, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the film’s ably choreographed action scenes, which are very typical of this kind of film. All in all, I’m not as much of a fanatic about this film as others are, I did enjoy the film, if mainly because of its silly take on vampire horror, and the charmingly irreverent way in which this unique approach was executed.

  • Score: 69%
  • Grade: C

Spies Like Us (1985)

spieslikeusGiven that this was made by the same man who made Trading Places, I was hoping this would at least be a somewhat decent film, but it turns out that the director is only occasionally good at what he does. Spies Like Us is a case of the director and the cast resting on the laurels of their previous successes and assuming that the same approach will consistently work again and again, but the problem here is that the film seems horribly rushed, and there are many ways in which it shows.

It was made in the same time as Rocky IV, during a time where everybody thought Russia was the big bad wolf, and sure enough, much of the clichés of the Cold War are prevalent here, where the producers have flaccidly tried taking them into a comedic context. That’d be alright were it not for the fact that the jokes don’t work at all, either because they’re outdated or because they simply weren’t funny in the first place. That in itself seems somewhat odd when you consider that the main people involved in the film have done better in previous films. For example, Dan Aykroyd was amazing in Trading Places and Ghostbusters, but somehow he can’t make it work in this film. Am I the only one who thinks that’s slightly odd? Then again, it’s hard to take it seriously when you inevitably look at it from a contemporary perspective.

The story is a completely stupid concept, but in a comedy film it should have worked. It revolves around sending two incompetent boobs as proxies on an undefined mission to distract Soviet Russia from a team of capable agents, whose mission is to capture a mobile ICBM launcher. That should have been a funny plot, but it wasn’t very believable, probably not even for its time, and the film does a very poor job at hiding this. As for the acting, there’s quite a lot of overacting, and it’s painfully apparent that nobody who was involved had any semblance of enthusiasm for the film at all.

On the whole, it seems as though the film-makers were cutting corners everywhere, even when it comes to the look of the film. This was made in 1985, and yet it looks as though they used the cameras they used for National Lampoon’s Animal House (which, in case anyone forgot, was a poorly written caricature of American youth). Perhaps that is rather fitting, considering that this is clearly one of those films that nobody wanted, and yet somebody decided that it still had to be made. It seems to suffer a problem that’s common in American comedies – they assume that every little thing should be a joke, and when a joke misses, they try to make up for it by making the next joke louder. Sometimes it works, but most of time, it’s just plain obnoxious. Either way, Spies Like Us was simply awful, both as a comedy film and as a star vehicle.

  • Score: 23%
  • Grade: E

Ladyhawke (1985)

Ladyhawke_ver1In terms of fantasy fare, Ladyhawke is an inoffensive and fairly standard film, not much when compared to some of the higher standards set by other fantasy films of the era like The Neverending Story or Conan the Barbarian, but what it does have is a certain kind of arrestingly likeable charm that makes this medieval fairy tale worth watching, especially for those who appreciate fantasy films.

The premise is intriguing to say the least. A young thief escapes from the dungeons beneath a bishop’s castle, and after being saved from capture by a former captain of the guard, he stumbles on a mysterious woman, and a tale of romance and jealousy. The driving force behind the plot is a former captain of the guard named Etienne Navarre, and his lover Isabeau d’Anjou. The latter is cursed to turn into a hawk when the sun rises, and the former is turned into a wolf when the sun sets. Apparently the Bishop of Aquila was so jealous of their love that he made a pact with Satan in order to curse them.

The writers seem to have used this curse in order to illustrate the idea of being always together and yet eternally apart. The story itself is pretty simple, yet it’s strangely compelling because of how well it’s told. The film’s avoidance of a fully serious tone works to good advantage, because with its kind of story, Ladyhawke would be very boring if it tried to be an overly serious film.

The characters seem to be rather hit or miss, at least in terms of the way they perform. Matthew Broderick’s performance seems to suit his character, but he’s pretty weak as an actor, which is why I found it odd that he got the lead role. Rutger Hauer fares much better as the true hero of the film, despite his often frosty personality, and Michelle Pfeiffer performed well as Isabeau, the role that she was an ideal fit for. Okay, the casting wasn’t particularly solid. They have the low-budget equivalent of Jeremy Irons playing the main villain, but on the whole I’d say the acting was very good.

Like many fantasy films of the 1980’s, Ladyhawke can easily boast fine visuals, sometimes to the point of scenery porn. Seriously, the film looks fantastic, except for those cheap-looking special effects. When you see close-up shots of Rutger and Michelle transforming, it looks as though they seriously cut corners in the SFX department. One notable aspect of the film is its famously synth-laden soundtrack. Sometimes it can be cheesy, but I actually like it. Then again, I have a major soft spot for synthesizers, even if the synths are sometimes misplaced.

At the very least the film has a good balance of romance, story, and swordplay (which there is a lot more of towards the end of the film). As a fantasy film, it isn’t as ambitious as it could have been, but on the other hand, it clearly benefits from not having too many ideas above its station. Even though it’s not as good as it could be, all the elements that are there seem to be in harmony with each other, and it’s generally a good film all-round.

  • Score: 72%
  • Grade: C