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Windmills and Lances

confessions of a quixotic unicorn fanatic

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NetFlix Review: "Six String Samurai"
I'm a big post-apocalypse buff, have been for a long time. This extends to such ludicrous offerings as (the original) Planet of the Apes and the various Fallout games, so my tastes in this regard don't actually eschew a certain amount of silliness and style in the name of a story.

Problem is, Six-String Samurai (or SSS, or Triple-S, if you prefer) actually SUBSTITUTES silliness and style for story, so it suffers. Also, alliteration agony hereby achieved.

The basic plot itself is silly, but not the worst I've ever heard: the US and USSR had a nuclear war in 1957 and the last bastion of semi-civilization left is Lost Vegas, which for some reason made Elvis Presley its literal King. With Presley's death, the search is on for a replacement.

Enter our anti-hero: one of the many guitar-slinging fortune-seekers heading to Vegas, in hopes of proving themselves worthy to be the new King. For the extra rub-in pun, he looks quite a bit like Elvis Costello. As he makes his way across the tattered landscapes of the American Southwest, the Six-String Samurai does battle with barbarians and theme-costumed-gangsters along the way. He also managed to pick up the one kid in the entire world who for the most part can't speak intelligibly, instead having an annoyingly-pitched cross between whine and howl.

This is where the movie starts to break down under its own baggage.

In fairness, "Mad Max" also had themed road gangs, but they actually looked somewhat convincing in their own way. They had a given style and worked to advance it. Not so in Triple-S, where very little of the style works because there's just not much thought put into it. For example, a gang of Neanderthals has a working truck --- if barely working --- rigged with gear that if it were brightly colored would like like something out of a Sid & Marty Kroft production. Kind of like "The Post-Apocalypse Bugaloos".

And none of this kit is the least bit useful, either, with things like a catapult throwing gumballs and bumper-mounted sawblades that just fold up under even a low-speed impact. I'm sorry, but to survive as a marauder after the Bomb drops, you have to have weapons that are at least SOMEWHAT useful or at least convincing. Otherwise you're just going to be killed rather quickly by another bunch of marauders with actually-functional kit.

I suppose maybe it's supposed to be funny, and maybe it would be, if it weren't so blaringly obvious that one in the film takes their situation seriously either. Not the main characters, not the supporting cast, not even the extras. Everyone is a comic-book caricature of themselves. You know how when a comedian is constantly making bad puns and then following up with "gettit? GET IT?!" right after, they're not good at what they do? The actors in this film do that nigh-constantly, with the annoying kid presenting the only semblance of seriousness out of the entire lot.

That just doesn't work for me. Yet, this film was highly recommended by people I otherwise consider to have strong chops for moviegoing taste.

Forty minutes in, the only characters I actually found interesting were the main villain and the on-air radio voice of Wolfman Jack. Death and his cohorts I found at least somewhat engaging and believeable, as they roamed the wasteland killing off various pretenders to the throne.

Really, this movie is a comic-book --- without the budget, acting, and directing skills necessary to make a comic-book movie NOT SUCK.

Admittedly, that's hard to do. One can very easily visualize the set pieces in this film as panels from a comic book, and maybe that's how it was pitched to the producers, but comics can make for much more colorful and dynamic action than is possible in real life. You have to invest in post-production, special effects, and a good director to make that sensibility pop out in a film, where otherwise the simple realities of physics, light diffusion and everyday drabness will inevitably bleed away what made the storyboard concept so engaging to start with.

Although initially intrigued by the backstory given in the opening narrative scroll, I likewise found that sense bleeding away as well, because none of it was built upon by anything that appeared or occurred in the film. I did not get a sense that the world had ended in 1957, or that any but a few of its survivors had developed since then in any fashion, except to become parodies of themselves.

Top this off with various scenes which are literally non-sequiturs --- they have nothing to do with the story and often take place in media res, such as when we cut to a scene where a midget who appeared earlier in the film is suspended in midair by the wrists.

There is absolutely no reason he should be there. He has no connection to the main or even secondary characters. He makes enemies with no one. We never see how he got strung up, never learn a motive for why someone would do that to him. Why did the producers even waste the film and time to shoot the scene?

A great example of poor direction is how in one long battle scene, the archers who otherwise never seem to miss their marks CAN'T HIT A GUY EVEN WHEN HE'S STANDING STILL. Which would be bad enough, and isn't itself the mark of a bad director, except that it's immediately followed by a sequence where the same guy is going through acrobatics to dodge another series of arrows from the same archers in order to retrieve his sword.

The director should have cut the first part, at least the bit with the man standing still, because the effect was to destroy any sense of peril during the acrobatics. Why should this guy even BOTHER with the leaping, rolling, spinning and dodging when it's been strongly established not thirty seconds ago that he could just stroll over and pick up his sword with the same lack of risk?

The end result is a movie that's more about being pretentiously artsy than being about a post-apoc gallivant. If you took "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" and did nothing more than set it after a nuclear holocaust, you'd...hm.

I think you'd actually have a much better movie.

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I love this movie hard, and there's basically no defending its weirdness. It's a bizarre, low-budget mockery of the post-apoc genre, down to the Red Elvises not only doing the soundtrack but getting fairly major parts (they were the band from the beginning, with the nice shoes).

While you can totally choose to take it as a legit post-apoc story, the movie is really more of a confused metaphor about the progress of rock music. Buddy is pretty clearly Buddy Holly, and Death's top hat is a nod toward Slash from Guns n Roses, even though they were both separated by about 20-30 years. I've watched this film a dozen times and I still have no idea whether the choice of characters was meant to make a larger statement, or simply whether the director thought it would be awesome for Buddy Holly and Slash duke it out.

Also if you did not feel any emotion at the end sequence, it is a strong indication that you may be a replicant and should get yourself tested. :3c

See, I didn't pick up on any of that. And if someone had pitched it to me in that vein, I wouldn't have bothered NetFlixing it.

That said, IF this same movie had been done as an anime? I think it would have worked on the same levels I excoriate it for as a live-action flick.

Oh god no anyone who is telling you Six String Samurai is a serious movie is a godless liar. Roy the movie involves a spinach monster we have left Mad Max territory long ago.

Oh no, I was told that it wasn't serious. And I didn't go in expecting a serious movie.

But I do expect consistency, construction, and something I can dig into. "Airplane!" did that, as an example, despite being incredibly random.

Like I said, this movie came on to me like a comedian that keeps laughing at his own jokes.

Oh no no we're not talking Mel Brooks not-serious, I mean a Tom and Jerry cartoon not-serious. If you weren't informed of this then somebody may have done you a disservice.

Although honestly? If it's not your thing that's totally fine too! If I were getting paid to discuss the finer points of Six String Samurai with the aim of convincing as many people as I could that no really it's a good movie and here's why I would maybe press the high points a little more. But I'm not, you SAW the movie, and it's totally either a movie you can't get enough of or a movie you stare in baffled horror, wondering where exactly your 90 minutes went.

I'm just surprised other people have seen it!

It sounds almost as bad as the Casablanca remake:
"Barb Wire".

It's a comedy/satire film...yet you seem to be sort of reviewing it as if it was serious?

Comedy which constantly winks at its own presumed wittiness...isn't.

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