Monday, April 30, 2012

i SPY EUROSPY: Hot Enough for June

Hot Enough for June
Director: Ralph Thomas
Year 1964

Hot Enough for June, AKA Agent 8 ¾, is a fun comedy/spy hybrid that features an excellent cast and a story that allows the viewer to get lost within this entertainingly slick espionage romp. Many Eurospy films have delved into comedic waters, and Hot Enough for June is one of those efforts that comes out the other side resulting in a thrilling and funny experience. With its beautiful visuals and equally eye catching cast, Agent 8 ¾ is a cinematic wonder that never fails to put a smile on your face and an emphasis on intrigue.

The film follows a down and out writer named Nicholas Whistler, who reluctantly takes a job for an international glass manufacturing company when his benefits run their course. Unknown to Nicholas, the company is actually a front for British Intelligence and because of Whistler’s fluency in Czech, he is sent off to a glass factory in Prague to make contact with another fellow agent there who is in possession of some sensitive information. Thinking that this theatrical display is all at the expense of industrial espionage, Nicholas plays along, until he begins to realize that this line of work is far more dangerous then he was first led to believe. With a warrant out for his arrest and the full force of the Czech police hunting him down, Whistler finds safety with the most unlikely person imaginable, a beautiful young Czech agent named Vlasta Simoneva, who is also the daughter of the chief of police. Constantly on the move and evading the Czech police force at every turn, Nicholas is determined to make it to the British Embassy and leave this action packed super spy lifestyle in the dust. Hot Enough for June is a spy spoof that is a real treat for fans of the genre.

Dirk Bogarde plays the role of Nicholas Whistler, the clueless Czech speaking writer that finds himself in hot water and unfamiliar territory. Bogarde does an amazing job with the character, which at first comes off as forgettable, but as the film progresses along becomes an endearing centerpiece that ultimately drives the movie forward at a tremendous pace. The overwhelming situation that the character of Whistler finds himself in provides such a sympathizing scenario for the audience to latch itself onto, that Bogarde milks it for all it’s worth. Dirk slowly reveals the character’s charisma so to gradually make us feel comfortable with him and ultimately get to know him as the story moves along. It is this technique that eventually pays off in full when Whistler finds himself a wanted man, painfully struggling to get to the safety of the British Embassy. We root for him all the way, hoping against hope that he makes it and comes out victorious over the insurmountable odds. The character of Nicholas Whistler is unlike any that we’ve seen in either traditional Eurospy films or the comedic centric efforts that sprung from the genre, and in that respect Bogarde was able to bring us an unexpectedly brilliant turn as a mistaken secret agent without turning the role into a cartoon-like farce filled with pratfalls and slapstick humor.
Taking on the role of Vlasta Simoneva the exquisitely beautiful Czech agent is the breathtaking Yugoslavian born actress, Sylva Koscina. In Hot Enough for June, Sylva has never looked better and her character is so likable that you can’t help but fall in love with her right alongside Nicholas Whistler. Whenever she appears onscreen, the film just pops to life allowing for some outstanding visual moments that both showcase her physical beauty as well as her more tender and timid sides. The chemistry between both herself and Dirk Bogarde is ever present went the two are shown together, and that connection perfectly establishes their relationship throughout the movie. This is a good thing to, because Sylva’s Vlasta Simoneva is essential to the progression of the story, seeing that she provides the only friendly face for the fish out of water character of Whistler. The trust between this cinematic couple is exceptional and it contrasts to great extent the metaphorical overtone of mistrust that their two countries possess in the film. Sylva Koscina’s presence in this movie only adds to the appeal and longevity of this fun little espionage gem.

What can mostly be said about the atmosphere in Hot Enough for June is that it is succinct in balancing both the edge of your seat thrills with the whimsical nature of the cinema world that it creates for itself. For a Cold War era story, the movie is rather light hearted and free, but at the same time it has a sense of dread splashed here and there as the story progresses into more dire territory. When Whistler is being hunted by the police, we get a taste of the alienation that he feels and the loneliness that he deals with while trying to gather his bearings within a culture drastically unlike his own. These moments are unsettling and highly effective in capturing that paranoid mind set of a person on the run and with nowhere to turn. Hot Enough for June nails this difficult balance of both traditional espionage elements and comedy driven narratives, making for an interesting combination that looks absolutely mesmerizing.
The visuals are a real treat in this production, showcasing the tremendously retro style of the time period. We get glimpses of colorful restaurants, historic cityscapes, ritzy hotels, and gloriously groovy water parks, all shot with a cinematic sheen that begs for repeated viewings. The cinematography of Hot Enough for June is also commendable, providing so many well lit and beautifully composed shots that you’d be hard pressed to find a more pleasing presentation of a Eurospy spoof. With its attractive chemistry-filled cast, its balancing act of the serious and the silly, and its overall brilliant visual style, Hot Enough for June is an espionage tale that seems to perfectly capture the inspiring elements that make this niche genre so damn enjoyable.

Hot Enough for June is a remarkably fun film, which manages to roll with the tried and true formula of placing an ordinary man in extraordinary situations just to watch him squirm, yet the filmmakers do it in such a manner that it feels fresh and new. The enjoyability factor of this movie is through the roof, fantastically displayed so that our eyeballs threaten to burst from our skull.
With a cast as spectacularly presented and hand picked as this one, you’d be kidding yourself if you didn’t find something to hold your attention. Dirk Bogarde is the perfect everyman, bringing the sensibilities that are needed in order to convince the audience of his hapless nature and inevitable destiny to overcome any obstacle no matter how insurmountable. Sylva Koscina just scorches up the scenery, looking as ravishing as she ever has in her long line of cinema roles. I’d be lying to myself if I said I wasn’t as smitten with her as our dear old Nicholas Whistler. The film, simply put, is just plain old fun providing all of the aspects of a spy spoof that you’d come to expect from the genre, yet amping up the fun factor of it all a hundred fold. There’s a magic to this simple film that catches me off guard every time I view it and I’m willing to bet that it will sweep you up just the same. If that doesn’t float your boat then what can I say, this flick was…..

Don't they have any Playboy mags on this flight?

Keep your dollar sir. I'm not a whore!

Get out of my dreams, get into my car.

Dirk is struck dumb by Sylva's sexiness.

Hubba Hubba!

What's this pervert looking at?

Cheer up Charlie.

Too sexy! TOO SEXY!

Dirk... you badass.

Take that you stupid spine. Try selling that on Amazon now you bastards!

Sir, I believe you have my Mr. Snuggles stuffy.

Have you seen this dickhead?

Damn I hate fat gingerhead kids. Shit... there's one right behind me isn't there?

Way to blend in asshole.

Let me get this straight. You're a milkman and your last name is Milk? Uncanny!

God you're sick.

Look! It's the happiest guy on the planet!

What did I tell you about this book learnin shit.

REVIEW: Shogun Assassin

Shogun Assassin
Director: Robert Houston & Kenji Misumi
Year 1980

Shogun Assassin is a unique edit of a combination of two better films, but surprisingly the enjoyment that you’ll get out of this hybrid is exceptionally astounding. Comprised of highlights from the first two movies of the Lone Wolf and Cub series, Sword of Vengeance and Babycart at the River Styx, which were both directed by Kenji Misumi, Shogun Assassin is a quick moving revenge story that remarkably sweeps you up into the blood drenched world of an unchained and vengeance-filled samurai. With its epic narrative and pop culture integration, this film manages to rise above the mediocrity of a condensed storyline in order to bring us a vivid retelling of a classic tale, only summarized.

The film follows Ogami Itto, a former decapitator for the Shogun, as he is labeled a demon by his paranoid and senile ruler and then hunted down by every manner of ninja, samurai, and hired hand the Shogun can muster. After the murder of his wife by the hands of the Shogun’s ninja spies, Ogami and his infant son Daigoro set off to avenge the death of his wife by roaming the countryside in search of the fiend responsible. Revenge is a dish best served cold and this violent meal of a flick is frozen to the bloody core.

Tomisaburo Wakayama plays the role of Ogami Itto, the unstoppable Ronin who is so focused on revenge that it threatens to drive him as mad as his quarry. The downward spiral that Ogami takes, which slowly begins to change him into this hate embroiled demon that we see in the majority of the film, is fascinating to see unwind. The character’s concentration and determination to avenge his fallen love is hypnotizing to say the least and Wakayama’s performance is absolutely intense through and through. With little to no dialogue between fight scenes, Wakayama captures the dangerous nature of this world to perfection and you can see the strain and toll that this violent journey takes on his character as the film progresses along. There is not one moment in this film where you feel a sense of peace for Ogami and his son, and this tense atmosphere only seems to grow as they push themselves onward to the end goal of revenge. Wakayama is absolutely sensational as the rogue samurai and his screen presence and movements within this film are so succinct and calculated, that you really have to commend both the actor and the fight choreographer for elaborating such magnificent set pieces that showcase the raw power and mastery that this warrior possesses. Wakayama definitely brings this legendary character to life.

Akihiro Tomikawa takes on the challenging role of Daigoro, the infant son of the Lone Wolf and the only pure thing left in the fallen samurai’s life. For a young actor, Tomikawa does an amazing job of immersing the audience into the character’s innocence and overall helplessness. Some of the moments in this film are cringe worthy, but in a good way, as we see all the near death situations that this child takes on and survives through in the worst of times. The character of Daigoro is integrated into the story line in a number of clever ways, with one of the most obvious being the focal point of many of the attackers’ advances. Daigoro is seen as a weakness for Ogami’s character and the enemies try to capitalize on this notion a number of times, but are quickly and fatally reminded that both Ogami and Daigoro have come to terms with their deaths and have nothing left to fear. Daigoro doesn’t have the benefit of being a big, hulking samurai like his father, so we don’t see that defiance in his character like we do with Ogami, but Tomikawa is able to project his young innocence and determination to aid in his father’s battles and does so in a more subtle capacity. There is one interesting moment where Daigoro is left to his own devices and is forced to find a way to care for his wounded father. The scene is rather moving and the young Tomikawa does an excellent job with the pinnacle moment.

Now let’s get down to the specifications of this re-edited concoction that is Shogun Assassin. The combining of the two full featured films of Sword of Vengeance and Babycart at the River Styx, is something that I would normally shy away from and write off all-together, but the way that this reiteration of these two classic stories is put together enables the overall film to be quite enjoyable. First of all I have to tell you upfront that I was initially introduced to this movie by way of sound clips used in Wu-Tang Clan member GZA’s debut album entitled Liquid Swords. During the intro track of this album, we are given the wonderful narration that is told by the young Daigoro in the beginning of the film and after hearing this amazing run down of sequences from the movie, I knew that I would already be hooked to this cut, even if it is just a summarized version of a more superior entity. Since hearing this intro prior to seeing the film, I felt that I already had a sort of connection with what was behind those words and this in effect allowed me to be more persuasive and open to the English dubbed version’s charm. It also doesn’t hurt that the voice work in this dub is just excellently done. The various characters that inhabit this film are so expressive and intense that it’s hard to separate the original actors’ vocal tracks from this re-edited production that was created a good eight years after its initial release, nor is it possible to ignore the overall atmospheric charge that the synthesized music brings to this re-imagining.

The score for Shogun Assassin is just haunting in an overbearing sense, mirroring the hard trotted journey that both father and son have to travel in order to obtain justice for the death of both wife and mother. With the same collaborative effort of mixing portions of the original film with newly created elements, Mark Lindsay and The Wonderland Philharmonic blend their Moog Modular synthesizer sound with a few select portions of the original soundtrack to make an entirely different feel for the film. With a brooding bass induced tremor of thunderously provocative tones, the soundtrack adds another highlight to the changes that this new edit brings to the table. While never treading on the original’s integrity, Shogun Assassin is a nice alteration to an already accomplished cinematic wonder. In all its Americanized glory, Shogun Assassin does a great job in summarizing the splendid moments of the first two films, while giving us an excruciatingly tantalizing tease on where the original series eventually heads.

Shogun Assassin is a unique film in the sense that it is born from another filmmaker’s mind and then adjusted to fit a certain demographic in an entirely different country. Now this isn’t unheard of, but the end result is, because what we end up with is a highly entertaining reiteration of a classic story that actually works on its own merits. The same mesmerizing performances are captured in this version, only summarized to better establish a free flowing narrative that literally sweeps you off your feet in its urgency.
The inclusions of both the wonderful vocal work and the ethereal soundtrack are an added bonus and the fact that this film has been sampled by some of the most experimental and poetic minds of the music industry is another example on how far this re-imagined version has traveled on its blood soaked journey for redemption. From the very first time I heard that famous narrative spoken by young Daigoro and accompanied by that haunting synthesized score, I knew that I had experienced something special. It was only till I witnessed the amazing visual work that was established by the films’ original director, Kenji Misumi, which truly validated that initial thought. Here’s to a cinematic gamble that actually paid off. Shogun Assassin is a……

Don't mess with this man and his baby.

And the Worst Father in the World Award goes to.....

What a grump!

Put the baby down sir!

What a beautiful time to lose one's head.

Line it up boys. They're just dying to.... well DIE!

Look out! It's the baby cart of death!

Someone's gonna have a splitting headache in the morning.

So what do you think of our kick ass hats?

Why couldn't I just have been adopted?

Is that a beautiful mirage?

Bow down and worship my kick ass hat!

Ogami likes to split open heads like watermelons.

Get back here you shitheads!

Just another day on the job.

Hey check it out! There goes my childhood.

It's a deadly game of red light, green light.

Can you folks at home believe this shit?