Infra-Man: Glorious Cheese

Infra-Man hit American screens in 1976.  Known in China as either “The Super Inframan” or “Chinese Superman”.  My first viewing was as a little moppet of seven years old.  Even in a seven-year-old’s eyes, it’s a weird movie.  It’s a Chinese superhero movie with insane visuals, monsters and a lot of Kung Fu.

The Shaw Brothers cobbled this strange gem together, along with some Japanese help.  In appearance, the Infra-Man character looks a lot like Kamen Rider, which is probably intentional.  In fact, all elements of Infra-Man have a “borrowed” or imitative feel.  This doesn’t detract from the cheese vibe of the film, and in fact, enhances it.  It looks like a Japanese production, fights like a Hong Kong film, and has elements from American television.  The Six Million Dollar man was popular at the time and they shoehorned the “bionic” elements as much as possible.

As the movie begins, a Disco-Dominatrix-looking chick named Queen Dragon Mom (Terry Lau) appears from beneath the Earth with an army of monsters.  She blows up a bunch of Chinese cities to demonstrate her powers.  Dragon Mom plans on conquering the Earth (naturally).  The only thing standing in her way is a group of heroic agents wearing shiny jumpsuits.  And motorcycle helmets.  

Don’t overthink it.

Anyway, this group of intrepid agents is outmatched by Dragon Mom’s forces.  So their intrepid head scientist, Professor Liu Ying-de (Wang Hsieh) asks for a volunteer to become Infra-Man.  He apparently had plans for this project, but needed someone to go through the torturous process.  Our hero, Lei Ma (Danny Lee) volunteers to become the bug-eyed Infra-Man, no matter the cost.

The professor crafts Infra-Man with consummate care, which consists of sticking parts from Radio Shack on him.  Combined with blinking lights.  Unfortunately, while the professor works, one of the monsters attacks.  It’s called (I think) “Plant Monster” and looks like a combination of Cthulhu and one of the animated trees from “HR Pufnstuf”.  It plants itself and grows into a giant plant/tree/something and starts smashing up “Science Headquarters”.  The power is cut during the attack and Lei nearly dies on the table.  Intrepid agents restore the power, and Infra-Man is born!  He leaps to the attack and quickly prunes back the arboreal menace.  (Yes, I went there.)

Speaking of the monsters, these are some drug-trippy things.  Besides the Plant Monster, there are: The Spider Monster, which looks like a fat, humanoid spider and can grow to Kaiju size.  The Mutant Drill which is . . . umm, a green scaly guy with a drill for a hand.)  Long Hair Monster (which is like a troll doll without a face,) and lots of others.  There are also the obligatory faceless flunkies of the Skeleton Ghosts.  The Skeleton Ghosts wear black jumpsuits and motorcycle helmets painted up as skeletons.  Yes, I’m serious.

The movie is a series of excuses to have superhero Kung Fu fights and the plot, such as it is, is mostly superfluous.  It culminates in a giant brawl in the volcano headquarters of Queen Dragon Mom, with enough action for a sugar-dose ADHD child.

Infra-Man is gloriously fucking bizarre and cheesy.  It’s not all fun, as the movie drags in places, but when it’s fun, it’s pretty damn fun.  Go ingest your drug of choice and watch it.  Now.


Battleship: A Good B Movie

Battleship came out in 2012 and I ignored it.  I thought: “This is a movie based on a friggin’ board game.  No thank you.”  I didn’t get a chance to watch it until 2014.  Surprise!  It’s pretty good.

Don’t misunderstand me, it’s a B movie.  There is no danger of an Academy Award in Battleship’s future.  Taken for all that, it’s genuinely entertaining and not nearly as mind-numbing as Michael Bay’s tripe.  The fact that the writers and director are able to make a decent movie out of the board game Battleship ought to be an award unto itself.  More than that, they somehow shoehorned elements of the board game into the plot without making it seem completely ludicrous.  If someone never played the game and knew nothing of it, they would probably never realize it within the movie.

The gist of the plot is that mankind sends a signal to a nearby star system where an Earth-like planet is discovered.  The aliens respond with an invasion (naturally.)  Five ships are ‘warping’ (or whatever FTL hand wave you want to use) towards Earth when their communications ship collides with a satellite.  That ship crashes into Hong Kong while the other four land in the Pacific.  Three destroyers on a joint training mission investigate the ships.

Onboard the destroyers are two main characters–Lt. Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) and Captain Nagata (Tadanobu Asano).  Alex is every cliche of the ‘wild maverick’.  He only joined the Navy because his brother, Stone (Alexander Skarsgård) got him a deal to stay out of jail.  The offending incident occurred when Alex tried a stupid stunt to impress Sam Shane (Brooklyn Decker) and destroyed a convenience store.  Sam is the daughter of U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Terrance Shane (Liam Neeson).  Liam,  by the way, is completely wasted in this movie.  He phoned in this role and kept checking to make sure his check cleared.

A force field is projected from the mothership, keeping out the rest of the Pacific Fleet.  The destroyers engage the alien ships and two of them are destroyed.  Stone is killed and Alex fulfills the Young Action Hero stereotype by acting stupidly.  Despite that, the lone destroyer escapes annihilation and plays a cat and mouse game with the aliens after sundown.  Unable to find them on radar, they use NOAA tsunami buoys to track them.  This is where they shoehorn the game elements, as the destroyer must fire its missiles blind, hoping for a hit.  It’s actually not as stupid as it sounds.

Meanwhile, Sam is (coincidentally) accompanying a veteran double amputee named Mick Canales (Gregory D. Gadson) into the Hawaiian mountains.  Where (coincidentally) they run into a communications station invaded by aliens.  Coincidentally (nod, nod, wink, wink.)  They discover that they have to take out the aliens before they use the communications station to call for reinforcements.

The last destroyer sinks while destroying the final alien ship, only leaving the mothership.  Without a vessel, the survivors commandeer the USS Missouri (‘Mighty Mo’) battleship at Pearl Harbor.  The ship is essentially a tourist attraction and the destroyer crew isn’t familiar enough with the old ship to pilot it.  Fortunately, several WW2 veterans of the Missouri are onboard for a celebration and help them pilot the Mo.  What follows is easily the best part of the movie, when they fire up the Missouri and engage the mothership.

This all sounds cheesy.  It is cheesy–but in a good way.  The movie uses real veterans like Gregory D. Gadson and the Mighty Mo vets.  Any movie that shows the level of love towards vets that this one does has a warm spot in my heart.

I won’t reveal much more, since I want you to watch this movie and give it a chance.  It’s got heart, even if the brains are a little haphazard.








The Black Hole: (1979) A Very Weird Disney Movie

the-black-hole-01Okay, let’s roll the clock back to 1979 to take a look at Disney’s first PG rated film: The Black Hole.

Star Wars had come out two years earlier and every studio was scrambling to find their niche in the science fiction boom.  Science fiction adventure films were, for the first time ever, considered an ‘A-list’ commodity.  Every studio wanted their ‘own’ Star Wars. The results of this boom were rather a mixed bag, much like The Black Hole.

First, let’s talk about Disney’s state in the 70s.  They were not in terrific shape.  They’d had a string of mediocre animated and kids’ movies and were struggling to stay afloat and/or relevant since Walt kicked the bucket in 1966.  Their bread and butter consisted of re-releasing old Disney classic animation every few years.  Their main claim to fame at this point was the consistent G rating of their movies.

Then comes The Black Hole.  May seem pretty tame by today’s standards, but the idea of a PG Disney movie was radical at the time.

the-black-hole-03Critics ripped the movie and Neil DeGrasse Tyson gave it infamy by saying it has the worst science in a movie of all time (although one wonders whether Neil has seen The Core.)  To be honest, it’s not a terrible movie.  The visual designs are pretty damn good.  Costumes are decent and sets solid.  The robot designs are interesting (although a bit too cutesy with VINCENT and BOB.)  The antagonist robot Maximilian is especially sinister.  The characters are mostly forgettable, the dialogue is soap-opera-cringeworthy and yes, the science is terrible.

The gist of the plot is that the exploratory space ship USS Palomino finds the long-lost ship USS Cygnus in orbit around a black hole. ( I assume it’s named Cygnus as a nod to the black hole of Cygnus X-1, although this is mere speculation on my part.)  On board is the-black-hole-04the scenery-chewing Maximilian Schell as the kooky commander of the Cygnus–Dr. Hans Reinhardt.  He’s got a crew of robot soldiers and android workers but apparently no other human survived.  He manages to hit every mad scientist note, including having a monstrous flunky robot named Maximilian (as a nod to Schell?)  Dr. Kate McCrae (played by Yvette Mimieux) has a personal stake in the fate of the Cygnus, as her father was one of the crew. Dr. Alex Durant (played by a luckless Anthony Perkins) is the cliched naive scientist who falls under Reinhardt’s sway.  Captain Dan Holland (Robert Forster) is the square-jawed captain hero.  Lieutenant Charlie Pizer (Joseph Bottoms) is the impulsive young hero.  Harry Booth (a criminally-underutilized Ernest Borgnine) is the craven, weaselly crewmember.  Those highlights are literally all I remember about these characters.  They have as much depth as a puddle.

The other ‘actors’ are the robots VINCENT (voiced by Roddy McDowell) and BOB (voiced by Slim Pickens.)  Like Maximilian, they are hovering robots instead of walking ones.  I assume Disney did this because it looked interesting and allowed them to mimic the-black-hole-02the ‘cuteness’ of R2-D2 to some extent.  Their eyes, though, are more like anime or cartoon eyes, giving them a bit more goofiness than I think they were going for.  Maybe they were trying to balance the kind of melodrama depressing tone of the movie?  Dunno.

Anyway, turns out Dr. Reinhardt is nuttier than a fruitcake (who could have known?) and wants to go into the black hole.  Also turns out his ‘android workers’ are the lobotomized human crew of the Cygnus.  When this is discovered, Maximilian kills Durant as he tries to the-black-hole-05escape with Kate.  The rest of the crew comes to her rescue except Harry, who does the craven move and tries to escape on the Palomino and instead crashes into the Cygnus. 

The rest of the movie is the crew escaping from the haunted castle spaceship by getting on the probe ship used by Reinhardt to examine the black hole.  They try to fly off, only to discover the probe ship is locked onto the black hole.

What follows is a weird, surreal, eschatological series of scenes with Maximilian and Reinhardt merging into a Satan-like figure and the crew flying through a heavenly the-black-hole-06cathedral.

Or something like that.  It’s not as weird as the end of 2001, but it’s pretty damn weird.  The ship ends by coming out the ‘other side’ in some unknown solar system.

Again, this isn’t a terrible movie.  Mostly it’s just a lot of misfires.  There were decent ideas in it and moments of interest.  I suppose the annoying part is that there was a great deal of unused potential.

Still, it’s worth checking out at least once.