Steve Pick: Fantasia is one of those films that everybody knows about, but not everybody has seen. Certainly this was my first time viewing it, save for snippets of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice sequence. Disney knows how to make money, by making films scarce at times and then re-releasing them, and not having them in general distribution on TV. We lucked out, coming up with this film at a time when it’s actually streaming on Netflix.
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It’s a concept as old as the films themselves. A lone man, fighting against insurmountable odds, lets his guard down for the moment and becomes vulnerable to those out to destroy him. Before long, there’s a group of rogues out to ruin our last honorable hero. In between, there’s a damsel in distress, or a widow with a outdated mortgage, or a kid in trouble, and our lead lends a hand, which only increases his other risks.
It’s a narrative formula that’s been used in everything from sword and sorcery to Westerns, crime stories to sci-fi and fantasy. But in 1981, Australian auteur George Miller found a way to make this otherwise arcane plot come to life—motorized life. His Road Warrior remains an action epic staple, an post-apocalyptic nightmare fueled by gallons of “guzzoline” and thousands of RPMs.
42nd Street can still surprise first-time viewers who tend to think of musicals as feather-light contraptions interrupted by elaborate numbers. Most of them are, including the run of Warner Brothers ‘30s musicals that this one high-kicked off. But 42nd Street acts as a serious or least straight-faced drama for its first 75 minutes, albeit with saucy little pre-Code one-liners here and there with sexual implications. It’s put across with director Lloyd Bacon‘s workhorse combo of smoothness and punch, saving the eye-popping production numbers for the last reel.
There’s the slave-driving director (Warner Baxter) who wants to pull of the greatest show of his career before a possible heart attack; his method consists entirely of screaming at people. There’s the surprisingly human diva (Bebe Daniels) who stars in the show, thanks to the deep pockets of her besotted backer (Guy Kibbee), while she’s secretly in love with an old vaudeville partner (George Brent), who chafes at hiding and being a kept man. He says there’s a word for it, and it isn’t a nice word.
A demolition derby of a chase scene occasionally interrupted by scraps of crackpot wit and Aussie slang-strangled dialogue, Mad Max: Fury Road burns through ammunition and fuel with abandon. You would think that the characters were video-game avatars possessed of endlessly replenishable digital supplies, not the starving and sickly remnants of humanity barely surviving in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Unlike many action films, though, where such profligacy is determined by need for trailer-ready action beats, here it’s central to the film’s story and message.
“Message?” you say. Yes, we are talking about the fourth film in George Miller’s pedal-to-the-medal post-apocalyptic series that started back in 1979 with Mad Max. A swift and effective revenge flick about a cop who goes rogue after a biker gang kills his family and disappears into the Outback after taking revenge, it was also a subtle piece of dystopian fiction. Miller never identified exactly why society was collapsing, but made clear that it all went back to a gas shortage; a more savage version of the one from earlier in the 1970s that reportedly saw law and order break down in remote parts of Australia.
Massacre Gun is a widescreen, black and white, Japanese gangster movie from the era when Nikkatsu Studios was turning out dozens of such titles in the sleek “international” style they called “borderless action”.
The story is as formulaic as possible: Two brothers are members of a yakuza gang, while their youngest brother is an aspiring boxer sponsored by the boss. In the opening sequence, the oldest brother (the ubiquitous and distinctive Joe Shishido of the surgically-altered chipmunk cheeks) is ordered to kill his lover because she’s really the boss’ girlfriend. He does so, and this causes the youngest brother (Jirô Okazaki) to diss the boss (Takashi Kanda), who has the boy’s hands crushed. In other words, it’s an escalating series of vengeful ping-pong moves that can only end with lots of corpses. The “massacre gun” turns out to be a high-powered rifle used in the final shoot-out on a bridge under construction.
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