Blu ray Review #1: King Kong Escapes (1967)

I thought I drop a review on some of the blu-ray DVDs I’ve picked up lately, and I figured I’d start things up with this fun little number. King Kong Escapes was not, as you might expect, based on the original King Kong (1933) or the popular King Kong vs. Godzilla, which I think still ranks, adjusted for inflation, as the most profitable Godzilla movie in the franchise.

KKEscapesNo, this movie was based on the cartoon series The King Kong Show, which hit American small screens between 1966-1969. It, like the movie, was produced by Rankin/Bass, which is perhaps better remembered for the many stop-motion animated holiday TV specials they produced, including Rudolph the Red-Nosed ReindeerThe Year Without a Santa Claus, and the movie Mad Monster Party.  This was a co-production between the company and Toho Studios, much like The Green Slime and The Last Dinosaur. 

Most people look at King Kong Escapes as probably the worst Kong movie every made. And mainly they’re looking at that atrocious gorilla suit. Much like the aforementioned KK vs. G, there wasn’t a lot of money spent on the primate star of the movie. Even Bob Burns’ legendary and somewhat ratty suit would’ve looked better on screen then the plasticine-faced monstrosity we were shown. You can see seams a-plenty, flaccid lower arm extensions that often make it look like Kong has two elbow joints, and a flap on the back of the head that has a tendency to flutter when the hero gets tossed around too much.

But if you discount that suit, this is actually not a bad movie. The special effects are really top notch for a G-rated movie, the sort directed at kids – it’s head-over-heels better then most of Daiei’s Gamera output of the same era. The miniatures, for the most part, are as good in any of the good Godzilla movies, and even the green screen work is exemplary.

This film was the first appearance of the monster that would later become known as Gorosaurus. He’s pretty much just a dinosaur, though with a kangaroo-like predilection for jumping and kicking opponents. The suit is one of the best dinosaur presentations of the pre-CGI era, and looks really good.

The acting is hammy and on a kids’ level. Dr. Who, played by Eisei Anamoto, is dubbed by the inimitable Paul Frees, star of many dubbed kaiju flicks over the century. Rhodes Reason stars as UN Commander Carl Nelson,  and does a good job as the square-chinned male lead. He appeared in an episode of Star Trek and in a barn full of action oaters. He was the younger, nearly identical brother of Rex Reason, perhaps best remembered for This Island Earth.  Linda Miller was a model who worked in Japan, and this was one of only two movies she appeared in (the other was The Green Slime). She’s pretty, but really dull as a performer. Akira Takarada portrays the other male lead, who appeared in loads of kaiju flicks for Toho. The sultry Madame X was Mie Hama, who appeared in numerous Japanese films and hit international shores in the James Bond vehicle You Only Live Twice and the dubbed Woody Allen film What’s Up, Tiger Lily?

I know the film kept me rapt when I saw it on the CBS Late Night Movie back in the seventies.  It’s just a fun little monster flick. The highlight of the movie was the Robot Kong that Who created from Nelson’s plans. When I first saw the movie, I was amazed at how cool the robot looked, and the opening sequence where Robot Kong attempts to uncover the Element X deposit was spellbinding on a 9-inch black-and-white set. Yeah, I was easy to please back then. Oh, and while every source seems to note this, the robot was never called MechaniKong, no matter how cool that name might sound.

The Blu ray DVD of King Kong Escapes was put out by Universal Studios in 2014. The print they use of the film is pretty good – at least I didn’t notice a lot of film scratches, and I didn’t see any pixelation or any problems with the playback. The disc is barebones, having only a commercial for Ultraviolet (which, naturally, doesn’t cover THIS movie), and nothing else. No trailers, no behind-the-scenes…not even a menu. But with Amazon Prime, it only case me $8.99, so it wasn’t a big loss or expenditure either way.

I love monster movies, and this one is no exception. Many people will grind it down for the Kong outfit, but any viewing that chooses to go beyond that will see a fun, kinda goofy movie, with some otherwise pretty good production values. Definitely something every kaiju fan should see.

Review: Rama II

Rama II
Rama II by Arthur C. Clarke
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Very disappointing, especially from a science fiction author the caliber of Arthur C. Clarke. This sequel to Rendezvous with Rama is bogged down by unnecessary characterization, back stories, and Big Brother/Survivor-esque politics. Now normally more characterization is better, but when the characters are cardboard stereotypes and the back story does absolutely nothing to change that, it’s a waste of ink and ether.

This book should’ve been so much better – the science fiction aspects of it really don’t kick in until nearly two-thirds of the way through, which does improve the story from then on, but until that point it’s mostly a boring telenovela.

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Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondō
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My wife had heard a lot of good things about this book, so I decided to buy a copy and see what the hubbub was about. While the book has a few good ideas, and ones we may try in the near future, the majority of it is just a paean to the author’s enforced OCD as a child.

She touts how she organized things as a kid for basically a lack of anything else to do, which is supremely weird to me. We all like putting things in order, but it’s not the first thing we think about every day, nor does it dominate our thoughts.

The basic precepts of getting rid of clutter is, of course, something we can all avail ourselves of, and for the better. And some of the ideas here, like putting all your clothes out on the floor at once to be sorted, are good and useable. But to do the same with your electronics, your knick-knacks, or even your books? That’s often physically impossible (without help) and getting rid of books for no good reason seems a very lame concept to me. Some of us have accumulated libraries of information and interesting stories. I’m not going to arbitrarily remove volumes from my shelves unless I need to rearrange things for more space – I’m not worrying about whether something gives me “joy” or not. ALL books have some measure of joy in them. Even this one.

If you live in Japan and have extremely limited space, or have a borderline OCD, then you might want to read this. Other than that, just get rid of your real junk and enjoy what you have!

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Review: Paul Kupperberg’s Secret Romances #1

Paul Kupperberg's Secret Romances #1
Paul Kupperberg’s Secret Romances #1 by Paul Kupperberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Because everyone’s wanted to do it! Nah, not really. Paul Kupperberg just managed to work in an major selling point for a comic book with a masterfully crafted story. Don’t tell him that, of course. Raptor Jesus knows who he’ll kill next.

He’s done the same with Charlton Neo Media’s newest title, Secret Romances. This book is what Charlton Comics would be doing if there were still in business and the loan sharks needed to be paid. The artwork is top-notch, especially leading with the cover by comic book industry legend Jose Luis Garcia Lopez. The stories are almost what you’d find in the long defunct romance comic genre. But not quite. These are updated tales for a new century; each one is a well-written and staged little vignette into true modern romance, and Senor Kupperberg’s managed to cover all the angles. I think the text story is my personal favorite from the issue.

This is a good, old-fashioned comic book. Sure, it might be a little more on the adult side in the situations, but I heartily recommend this one to ANY and everyone!

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Review: Faith: Book 1 of Crossroads and Canines

Faith: Book 1 of Crossroads and Canines
Faith: Book 1 of Crossroads and Canines by Leland Dirks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is definitely one of the best indie novels I have EVER read. There’s a quirkiest about it, combined with level of mundane normalcy, that’s a simple pleasure to read. Imagine Hooterville combined with Twin Peaks and you might come close to understanding what I mean.

The characters are very well-written and very natural. You can like them all (and kinda hate one of them) without any sense that you’re being played or being talked down to by the author…Mr. Dirks has created some very real people for this story, and some very real animals as well.

I’m not going to describe the plot at all here, other than to say it builds up slowly. My only complaint is that while we’ve probably seen all we really need to see of these lives, I really want to see more of these characters. That’s what a really good book does for a reader. A good book is like a good British TV show; their oddly (to Americans) short seasons make you want so much more. So much so that when you actually sit back and think about it, you realize that any more might be too much and dilute what you’ve already seen. “Faith” hits you in the face with this realization.

I am sincerely looking forward to the rest of this series. I don’t know if the same characters will be back, but I want back into this little universe.

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Review: Ripley’s Giant Believe It Or Not

Ripley's Giant Believe It Or Not
Ripley’s Giant Believe It Or Not by Ripley Entertainment Inc.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An interesting collection of Believe It or Not panels and tidbits, just a lot more of them than they usual BION mass market paperback. Most are pretty arcane by trivia standards, but this one has mostly the original artwork by Ripley and Norbert Pearlroth, so it’s got a lot of intricate detail – much more than you’d usually find in a daily panel strip. A good read for anyone who likes this oddities and strangeness.

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Review: Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the ’80’s

Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the '80's
Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the ’80’s by Hunter S. Thompson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent book! Hunter S. Thompson at some of his most acerbic in the no-drug days of the Iran-Contra hearings and the fall of the Reagan Administration. This is a good look at a lot of the things going on behind the scenes when some true swine (North, Poindexter, Bush, Reagan) tried to subvert the Constitution and run a war for their own personal gain.

Thompson is one of the few writers who could make reading about politics and true crime interesting from start to finish.

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