Cyber Monday: Project Shadowchaser Trilogy

Frank Zagarino dies hard!

Cinemasochism: Black Mangue (2008)

Braindead zombies from Brazil!

The Gweilo Dojo: Furious (1984)

Simon Rhee's bizarre kung fu epic!

Adrenaline Shot: Fire, Ice and Dynamite (1990)

Willy Bogner and Roger Moore stuntfest!

Sci-Fried Theater: Dead Mountaineer's Hotel (1979)

Surreal Russian neo-noir detective epic!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sci-Fried Theater: KING OF THE STREETS (1986)

Writer-producer-director Ed Hunt is hardly a well known name amongst genre fans and that is a shame because the man makes well made and enjoyable movies.  Hunt was born in the United States but found his initial filmmaking success in Canada, just like the band Heart.  Ah, Canadians know talent when they see it, eh.  He started in the early 70s with soft-core titles like PLEASURE PALACE (1973) and DIARY OF A SINNER (1974).  Both low budget productions were successful and allowed Hunt to tackle films about his true passion – science fiction and UFOs.  This resulted in films like POINT OF NO RETURN (1976) and the cult classic STARSHIP INVASIONS (1978).  That late 70s/early 80s saw Hunt mature with the virus thriller PLAGUE (1979) and the kids slasher flick BLOODY BIRTHDAY (1981).  Before bowing out of the film industry to take care of a sick relative, Hunt returned to sci-fi with the THE BRAIN (1988) and KING OF THE STREETS (aka ALIEN WARRIOR; 1986), a goofy genre blender that plays like STARMAN (1984) meets SCARFACE (1983).

The film opens on a distant, unnamed planet where a man (Brett Baxter Clark, of DEATHSTALKER IV fame) is told by his wizard looking father that his brother has failed his mission and, in order to be a leader, he must defeat great evil.  This means he is zapped by some lasers and then sent to Earth (nude, of course), where he will surely encounter great evil. Looks like their calculations were perfect as he lands in downtown Los Angeles and quickly stumbles upon a drug deal going down.  No joke, the dealers van is for a rental company called Snow Biz with the logo “there’s no business like snow business.” Subtle.  Anyway, he catches the eye of top drug dealer/pimp Mr. One (Reggie De Morton, looking just like Laurence Fishburne, more on that later) and when asked if he is great evil, Mr. One responds, “Yeah, I’m the greatest, sucker.”  Foe and mission selected. Wandering around town, our alien warrior adopts the name Buddy (after being yelled that as he wandered into traffic) and quickly finds his calling when he saves Lora (Pamela Saunders) from being raped by some stock Hollywood cholos. Lucky for her, Buddy is a badass because he can quickly absorb anything he sees and he just happened to walk by a karate school earlier.  To thank him, Lora offers to put our homeless hero up in her struggling inner city reading center (“Learn to read, read to learn” is their slogan) and she quickly learns his secret.  You see, Buddy is also clairvoyant and can sense your pain.  In fact, within minutes of meeting Lora’s boyfriend, he tells her he is nothing but a money loving asshole.  This guy really is psychic…or he just noticed how obsessed the boyfriend was about his precious Mercedes.  One of the gang members, Gonzalez (Nelson Anderson), shows up to shoot Buddy, but he is found out and Buddy brings him in to make him cry about people calling him a “stupid Mexican.”

Meanwhile, in a completely different movie, Mr. One is wheelin’ and dealin’ in the Los Angeles criminal underground. We see him at a club scouting a girl who he quickly turns into a prostitute for his clients.  And these seedy types are high profile cops and politicians so Mr. One is making sure to record all of these trysts for blackmail purposes. (It should be noted that one person on his list is named Marty.)   Mr. One seems hell bent on keeping the ghetto down, which will obviously bring him in direct conflict with Buddy.  Our hero Buddy has been helping everyone he can.  He tries to get a hooker off the streets by telling her she is going to be killed soon; he resurrects a random girl in a coma in the hospital; he converts Gonzalez’s gang by having them read books and build him a tricked out super car; he befriends a homeless black kid who dreams of being an astronaut (“but that’s just for rich kids” he says) and takes him to see a space shuttle landing; he gets a shy little girl to overcome her mean stepmom by having her visualize stretching her nose and playing the National Anthem on it (!); he breaks up an extortion/protection gang by punching a stop sign and shouting “no more” in slow motion; and he saves the aforementioned hooker from a psycho taunting her with a power drill and snake (guess she didn’t listen to his advice).  Yep, Mr. One won’t take kindly to all that positivity (he seethes when he sees graffiti that reads “be temperate”) and kidnaps Lora to settle the score in a junkyard showdown.
If you were one of the millions disappointed that STAND AND DELIVER (1988) lacked aliens and martial arts fights, then this film is for you!  KING OF THE STREETS is derived from about a billion other movies, yet somehow turns out to be one of a kind.  I’m not quite sure who this was marketed for because you’ll have one scene with a kind, positive message.  Ten minutes later you’ll have a woman stripping after being beaten by her pimp.  Then you get a reaffirming “dream it and it can happen” speech from Buddy.  Ten minutes after that you’ll have a bloody as hell shootout outside of a Plato’s Retreat-style club that culminates with Mr. One shooting crazy in the street clad only in his underwear.  It is a movie of mixed messages, like when Buddy first meets the cute homeless kid and offers him a ride.  “Okay, but if you try any faggot shit I’m gonna cut your balls off,” replies the kid to this kind gesture.  This movie has it all, from Tony Robbins-style cheese to cheap T&A to blaxploitation style sleaze. Damn, maybe I was the target audience because I enjoyed the hell out of all of that mix.

Hunt clearly had a message here (I wondered if the brother mentioned in the opening was supposed to be Jesus), but it doesn’t appear thought out.  That is somewhat confirmed by the goofy ass ending where Buddy is completely powerless during the final fight and it is up to the people brought down by Mr. One to be the ones to kill him.  Wait…wasn’t Buddy supposed to be the one to defeat great evil?  He didn’t do anything and just stands by watching as everyone else did his work for him.  Hmmm, on second thought, that probably does qualify him to be a “great ruler” by today’s standard.  Of course, what am I doing deconstructing a movie that ends with the hero floating up into space while waving goodbye to his girlfriend (an ending so powerful that Russell Mulcahy ripped it of for HIGHLANDER II: THE QUICKENING).

Obviously the alternate title of ALIEN WARRIOR is far more apt for this film. KING OF THE STREETS obviously invokes a crime drama and I vividly remember someone complaining about this film when they rented it from the video store. Even funnier is Xenon Entertainment Group’s 1995 VHS re-release that tries to pull one of the funniest and boldest switcheroo on customers.  They plastered a picture of villain Reggie De Morton on the cover with a still of him at his most Fishburne-esque (see below).  Below the title reads “with the star of WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT and DEEP COVER” and the back says “the star of DEEP COVER and WHAT’S LOVE GO TO DO WITH IT has never been more controversial than as Mr. 1 (sic).”  WHAT!?!  The sad thing is I can’t determine if that is sheer promotional ballyhoo or the folks at Xenon watched this and really thought that was Laurence Fishburne without reading the credits.  Either scenario is entirely possible.  Poor De Morton! As if doing a shootout in his underwear wasn't embarrassing enough, he gets his breakout role and is confused for someone else.  He does get the honor of saying the film’s best line though as he chastises his right hand man with: “You’re so lazy that you’d use my dick to get laid if you could.”  I’m not quite sure how that embodies laziness as it seems like more work, but, hey, he said it menacingly. Let's do a little cover comparison.

Xenon VHS cover:

Hmmmm, this reminds me of something:

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Even before Daniel Craig took over the role of James Bond in CASINO ROYALE (2006), everyone knew James Bond needed to be reinvented for a modern era. So many spoofs and parodies later (ironically the first being 1967s CASINO ROYALE), Bond lacked credibility. You'll get more raging nerd debates over which is the worst Bond flick than the best, and for my money, Bond still hasn't been brought up to speed. In Bond's wake many imitators have tried to update Bond and ditch the goofy villains and quiche-making camp of the Roger Moore days and make something more realistic. Most recently THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2008) re-invented Robert Ludlum's trilogy of intricately plotted espionage thrillers and turned them into a vision of what James Bond would be without the MI5 safety-net in a completely butchered plot.

The Scandinavians took it one step further and figured out how to reinvent Bond, cleansing him of pretensions and gimmiks like field-stripping a SIG Sauer pistol. While we've had an exceptional example (if not totally traditional) in Anders Nilsson's Johan Falk series starting with ZERO TOLERANCE (1999), the most famous and iconic would have to be Jan Guillou's series of 12 novels about Swedish secret service agent Carl Hamilton. Loosely defined as a Swedish mirror-image of Tom Clancy (Guillou being extreme left and Clancy extreme right), Guillou used decades of experience as a journalist to create his ice-cold, highly efficient killing machine, code-named Coq Rouge. Film adaptations started three years after the publication of the first book (Coq Rouge, 1986) with Stellan Skarsgård in the lead in CODENAME: COQ ROUGE (1989). Following that Hamilton has been portrayed by pre-BECK Peter Haber, Stefan Sauk, Peter Stormare, and finally post-BECK Mikael Persbrandt.

The Swedish intelligence service has no agents who are licensed to kill. It must not happen under any circumstances.
Unless it's in self-defense or... In the Interest of the Nation

Using the title, themes and parts of the third novel in the series, Hamilton finds himself working undercover with Russian arms dealers who are set to sell some stolen Swedish Sky Shadow missiles to a terrorist group on the border of Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. After setting a tracking device on the truck, everything goes pear-shaped when a squad of paramilitary mercs, lead by Rob Hart (Jason Flemyng), turns the exchange into a bloodbath, slaughtering everyone except Hamilton, who narrowly escapes with his life. All this is before the title hits the screen.

Hamilton finds himself frequently on loan to other departments, and after being chewed out by his new boss (Peter Andersson) for losing a shipment of deadly weapons into the hands of terrorists, his old boss (Lennart Hjulström) supports him, but needs to evaluate the situation and check out his resilient girl-friend. Meanwhile an American security firm with ties to the CIA, named Sectragon, is working covertly for Dallas military arms corporation to undermine the thread of political stability in the Middle-East by committing terrorist acts and framing terrorist organizations in an effort to create a boom market (so to speak) on weapons sales and contract mercenary groups. When a Sectragon merc, Benjamin Lee (Ray Fearon), conveniently for the good guys, decides to bail from the operation due to the killing of innocents, he and the Swedish weapons company liaison, Martin Lagerbäck (Gustaf Hammarsten), find themselves on the wrong side of the border, in a Somali prison. Hamilton is tasked with cleaning up the mess and in the process uncovers a greater plot to destabilize the free world.

That is actually only half of the plot for the film. While many grumble and gripe about the fact that the 1988 book was actually about the Soviets building sub-oceanic military installations, and the movie is about rogue American paramilitary terrorists, I have one thing to say: get over it. Screenwriter Stefan Thunberg crafts a great, twisting plot that is complex without being complicated, taking Hamilton's character, themes and subplots and working them into a mainstream action/espionage thriller that is exactly what the James Bond movies should have become. Interestingly the James Bond films with Daniel Craig (particularly the trailer for SKYFALL), actually feel a little more like Hamilton than they do Bond. Bond is now a rather Scandanavian-looking, ice-cold killer with emotional scars that drive him forward. Flemming's books had some of that, but most of the films sidestepped the baggage for a lighter touch. Thunberg also smartly eschews Guillou's strong political views and steers straight into the waters of modern action/espionage thrillers, not only reinventing the James Bond mythos, but reinventing Carl Hamilton as well.

I also like the fact that Danish director Kathrine Windfeld isn't afraid to let things get bloody in the tense action scenes that she sets up and she likes to shoot big shots that use a wide frame. She doesn't envision a TV screen, she's thinking cinema and it shows in the cinematography and the big panoramic shots of the multiple global locations. I also liked how the female characters are handled, something many action films fumble with, either trying too hard to prove that have the politically correct point of view by making the character essentially an alpha male with a woman's body or being a total wallflower waiting to be bagged and tagged and carted off as someone's trophy. Nothing really wrong with either one of those, but Windfeld is able to get solid performances out of the three women in the film that is in line with their characters without feeling forced. Jordanian actress Seba Mubarak plays Hamilton's contact in Beirut, where there are moments of an implied deeper connection, is not only very easy on the eyes, but plays the action and the brief, but obligatory, pathos equally well without going overboard as would be demanded by Hollywood filmmakers. Kind of refreshing, for a change.

If I had to pick a few things to bitch about, one would have to be the casting of  Jason Flemyng. I've never been a big fan, and here he does nothing to win me over here. He plays the same paper-thin, snarling villain that he's played many times before, without any attempt to bring an added dimension to the role. It's particularly jarring here, as the Swedes love understated acting (the kind that Americans used to embrace, pre-1980s) and Persbrandt manages to convey quite a bit through subtle facial expressions while playing a cold, stoic character. The other big gripe is Windfeld's constant use of the much-loathed hand-held camera and zoom lens. Granted, her use of it isn't anywhere near as obnoxious as say, THE EXPENDABLES (2010), but it does get a bit trying at times, particularly since they actually take the time to set up some great sequences. For example, the hand-to-hand fight scenes have a bit of the Hollywood tight-shot / quick-cutting school of filmmaking which is a little disappointing. Persbrandt went to train with the Navy Seals in San Diego and the Karlsborgs fortress with the Särskilda Skyddsgruppen (the Swedish Delta Force) to prepare for the role, and it seems a shame not to properly show off his mad skills with wider shots and longer takes. Even so, it's a minor quibble. What we have is still massively entertaining; this is the movie I want to see on a hot summer night in a cool, air-conditioned theater with a spiked slurpee (What? Oh, like you've never done that). Fast paced, and action packed, but with an engaging plot and most importantly, no pandering to the teen crowd. Is that too much to ask? There's even a plot twist early on that damn near made me take a header out of my chair, but you'll get no spoilers out of me, see it for yourself.

Being shot as a trilogy with the awkwardly titled HAMILTON 2: BUT NOT IF IT CONCERNS MY DAUGHTER (2012), and HAMILTON 3: IN HER MAJESTY'S SERVICE (2013), even with all of the hubub over this film overseas, it will probably never see the light of day here in the States. Of course, if it does flirt with US cinemas I'm sure it will be one of two scenarios: either the Weinstein's will buy it, cut it to pieces, and then sit on it until their rights expire or someone will buy the remake rights, changing the villain's ethnicity (British, I'd guess), add lots of yelling and cast Mark Wahlberg and Eva Mendez in the lead (not that there is anything wrong with Eva Mendez, physically). Dammit.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Cinemasochism: THE THEATRE BIZARRE (2011)

Horror anthologies have always been a favorite of mine. Honestly, what is better than getting one good creepy story?  How about 4 or 5 creepy stories crammed into one film?  (I’m sure a short attention span might factor into my love of anthologies as well.)  Like most people my age, the first anthology I ever saw was the legendary TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975) and I was hooked. Shortly thereafter I got to see Romero’s CREEPSHOW (1982), NIGHTMARES (1983) and the Amicus TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972).  Man, talk about being spoiled at an early age.  The anthology format is great when used properly. However, it is also the refuge of chaos, where filmmakers think they can just throw a bunch of shorts together to assemble a film (does Paul Smith stink eye towards CREEPTALES). Sadly, new horror anthology THE THEATRE BIZARRE falls closer to the latter.

When first announced, THE THEATRE BIZARRE (you know they are serious because they use the European spelling of theater) sounded promising as hell. The producers said 6 directors (7 if you include the wraparound) would be given free reign to create a short film inspired by Paris’ legendary gore-infused Grand Guignol theatrical group. “They must deliver a short film of 10-20 minutes inspired by the term ‘Grand Guignol.’ No other creative restrictions exist. We’re expecting great things from six of modern horror’s most distinctive writers and directors,” said producer Daryl Tucker in 2010.  Damn, maybe they should have imposed a few restrictions like – I don’t know – telling an interesting story?

The film kicks off with a wraparound segment directed by Jeremy Kasten that starts with SE7EN (1995) style credits (are we still aping that in 2011?).  A young girl (Virginia Newcomb) is scribbling on the wall in her apartment when she notices a theater outside her window.  You can tell she is disturbed because there is a shot of a creepy doll in her apartment (sigh). Anyway, she heads into the empty theater to be entertained by a wind up toy-human hybrid (Udo Kier) onstage. With his toy-human marionettes, he goes about introducing each story. Well, really Kier just mumbles something vague and we cut to each segment.  The stories unfold as follows:

THE MOTHER OF TOADS (D: Richard Stanley) focuses on a couple (Shane Woodward and Victoria Maurette) vacationing in France who encounter a mysterious woman (Catriona MacColl) in a town market.  She lures the young man to her cottage in the nearby mountains with a promise of showing him the real Necronomicon.  Turns out she is really the Mother of Toads and uses an elixir to make him think she is beautiful so they can do it froggy style.  Eventually his girlfriend comes looking for him.  As the title suggests, this is heavily inspired by the “Three Mothers” trilogy by Dario Argento, with some Lucio Fulci thrown in too (look for the Eibon symbol cameo).  This segment is nicely shot with some good spooky location shooting.  The music, by Stanley regular Simon Boswell, is also really good.  Unfortunately, the story really lacks any punch.  I didn’t know it at the time of my initial viewing, but this would be the best the film has to offer.

I LOVE YOU (D: Buddy Giovinazzo) showcases the end of the relationship of paranoid Axel (André Hennicke) and his wife Mo (Suzan Anbeh) in their apartment in Berlin.  He wakes up covered in blood and then has flashbacks to where she confesses to cheating on him at every opportunity and that she is planning on leaving him.  Gee, I wonder how this one is going to end.  This entry is almost completely pointless and you'll figure it out way before Buddy G. hopes you will. Hennicke is an interesting actor though and his performance is good.

WET DREAMS (D: Tom Savini) has Donnie (James Gill) visiting a shrink (Savini) to talk about his horrible dreams of his wife (Debbie Rochon) chopping off his penis.  Of course, he is also having an affair with the shrink's wife.  This one is overly convoluted with too much dream-within-a-dream shenanigans on display.  However, this does succeed in at least the Grand Guignol aspect as a woman has her arms and legs torn from her torso while stretch out on a rack.  Other than that moment, not much is going on here.  Gill is spectacularly awful as the lead (his maniacal laughs in the end are hilarious).

THE ACCIDENT (D: Douglas Buck) is the shortest of the bunch and centers on a young girl asking her mom about death after they come upon the scene of a motorcycle accident on a back country road.  This is the artiest and most poetic of the bunch, leaving me scratching my head as to what it is doing here. I mean, I liked this one but it seems more appropriate for a Atom Egoyan wannabe festival.

VISION STAINS (D: Karim Hussain) has a young homeless girl (Kaniehtiio Horn) kill a bunch of down on their luck women. Why?  Because she has found that by removing fluid from their eye at the moment of death and injecting it into her own, she can see their lives and write down their stories to give them a voice.  Easier than just interviewing them I guess?  This has perhaps the best idea of any of the segments, but Hussain ruins it by not really fleshing it out. He also opts for a truly laughable ending.  No joke, the girl’s voice over says something along the lines of "now that I have lost my sight, I can truly see." *slaps forehead*

SWEETS (D: David Gregory) has love struck Greg (Guilford Adams) upset that his honey bun Estelle (Lindsay Goranson) wants to end their relationship.  He loved that she was plumping him up on sugary foods, not knowing she belongs to a group that likes to feast on guys like him.  The gross out factor is high here and the body dismemberment in the end is Grand Guignol worthy.  It is well shot with good performances and cult actress Lynn Lowry has a small role.  However, you'll figure it out within seconds since it is basically a Brothers Grimm fairy tale wannabe., subtle
With all the stories wrapped up, we then cut back to the theater as the presentation ends and – shock of shocks – the girl in the audience has now morphed into the new storyteller. I seriously wonder how the hell something like that gets funded.  Like, if you are doing an anthology, wouldn't you want the stories to be top notch attention grabbers? Outside of the Stanley segment, these all seems like ideas the directors had halfway scratched out on a piece of torn paper. Zero attention is given to presenting a clever story or twist in most of the segments.  It is like the producers felt it would just succeed by having something shocking/gross happen in each segment and the rest would just mesh on the reputations of the filmmakers contributing.  Sure, that’ll get you applause at some place like Fantasia, but its just not working here.  Is it as bad as something like GEORGE A. ROMERO PRESENTS DEADTIME STORIES?  No.  But it is pretty darn close.  I'd recommend only the Stanley and Buck segments.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Listomania: Thomas' Otroligt Jättebra Viewings for May 2012

No two ways about it. May was serious cinema crunch time, wading knee-deep in an onslaught of awesome Scandanavian movies. No joke, a total of 21 out of the 32 films viewed were from either Sweden, Norway, The Netherlands, even Iceland and Finland. Unlike Russia, Sweden and their frosty bretheren are (for the most part) uninterested in producing bastardized Hollywood films and it makes for some really riveting cinema. Here are the highlights from this round. [edit: For the nitpickers, I realize that The Netherlands is not really part of Scandinavia, but their films and attitudes have a lot more in common with Scandinavian films than Germany or France - fair enough?]

EXECUTIVE PROTECTION (2001): Anders Nilsson's gripping sequel to Johan Falk's first outing ZERO TOLERANCE (1999), again starring Jakob Eklund as Sweden's coolest cop. Here we get an expansion of the story arc set up in the first film and it is a real corker. Falk quits the police force after being assigned to a desk job and decides to go to work for an old colleague who is running a securities firm. The firm has been hired by a Swedish company who is being threatened with a very hostile take-over by German terrorists who have been buying up Swedish companies and using them for laundering huge sums of cash. This is the second of the Three Waves of modern terrorism and when I first read the plot synopsis on the IMDb, I thought "how could this possibly be entertaining?" Oh man, was I wrong. Not only is it massively entertaining with tons of suspense, chases, shoot-outs, cool high-tech gadgets and great acting, but it's probably one of the most entertaining action thrillers I've seen in decades. The only thing better than this is final sequel in the trilogy, THE THIRD WAVE (2003). A big thanks goes out to Fred over at Ninja Dixon for suggesting Nilsson's recent efforts. I loved his old stuff, but I never would have guessed that he would make films this great.

THE THIRD WAVE (2003): Anders Nilsson and Jakob Eklund return in this pulse-pounding final chapter (well, at least until the 2009 GSI series). After all the troubles in the first two films, Falk has been out of work for two years and is thinking maybe a simple life in the country is the way to go. Since this is Johan Falk, you know that's not going to happen! After being coerced into have a meeting with his former boss, who is now the head of a European anti-terrorist task force, Falk finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time (though this time it's not because his girlfriend was hungry). Caught in the middle of a firefight in Holland's red-light district, he ends up saving a woman who knows way too much about a massively complicated international terrorist plot for the procurement of missiles. Not only is Nilsson's direction perfectly on point, but his collaboration with writer Joakim Hansson is at a pinnacle here. A gritty, real-world plot, excellently orchestrated action and some exceptionally clever twists, particularly during the finale in Munich, that amazingly in the 10 years since this was made, has never been ripped off by imitators. Definitely one of the best films I've seen this year and quite possibly one of the best action-thrillers ever.

MEN WHO HATE WOMEN (THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, 2009): Yes, I finally got around to seeing this, prompted by some nudges from Will, the plethora of Swedish actors, the fact that it is completely unavoidable if talking about Scandanavian cinema, books or even just thrillers. That and the fact that NetFlix now offers the full-length, uncut versions with English subtitles for instant viewing. I'm not sure how they managed to cut over a half an hour to make the movie versions, but it must be some really tight editing! In case you have been living under a rock (or just have been ignoring the hype), aside from all of the window dressing involving rape, tattoos, piercings, bi-sexuality, and the politics of running a magazine with journalistic integrity, it is essentially a straight up Scandinavian murder mystery about a missing daughter and a serial killer who has been at large for half a century. It's a pretty good mystery at heart, but in the pantheon Scandinavian mystery thrillers, it's not exactly best in class. The cast (including a post-BECK Peter Haber) is great and best of all, sports ZERO TOLERANCE's Peter Andersson being sleazy as hell and looking disturbingly like Richard Harrison with that little mustache.

MURDER IN ECSTASY(1984): If you are looking for old-school detective yarns with a smidgen of updating, then this Dutch adaptation of A.C. Baantjer's 1982 entry in his series of 70 (yes, seventy) "De Cock" detective novels, is for you. "De Cock" is Dutch for "The Cook" which was amusingly changed to "DeKok" for US editions of the books. Inspector De Cock ("that's C-O-C-K" he says) finds himself investigating an armored car robbery in which one of the perps clearly got greedy and killed all of his accomplices and witnesses, except one. That one witness, the armored car driver, is sure of one thing: the robber-turned-killer was his boss! Things get complicated from there with homicidal junkies, over-sexed models, hospital assassinations, bodies in junkyards, hot headed police chiefs, drinking on the job and all the stuff that makes old-school crime fun. The disillusioned De Cock (Joop Doderer)is of the old guard and feels like his city was a playground for cops and criminals, and is now is just a violent jungle. When his young partner asks him why he doesn't carry a gun, he says "Two reasons: Because I use my brain, and because I'm not in America." If you want your cops to be under 30 (or at least pretending to be), wearing skinny suits with bed head haircuts and flashy cell phones, don't come knocking in this neighborhood. We've got gritty atmosphere, dry humor, real car stunts and girls who haven't known the indignity of a plastic surgeon. You wouldn't like that.

JAR CITY (2006): Quiet, brooding adaptation of Arnaldur Indriðason's series of Icelandic detective novels, from witer-director Baltasar Kormákur, who is currently (groan)working on an English language remake. Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson stars as Inspector Erlunder, a somewhat depressed (he is Icelandic after all) cop who is something of an expert when it comes to missing persons, and quite the opposite when it comes to non-missing ones. JAR CITY is really difficult to synopsize as Indriðason's novels are a latticework of converging plot lines from different eras. Here Erlunder tries to figure out how two dead children, 30 years apart are connected and what, if any,relevance a murdered man in a squalid apartment has. The only thing that makes him think he is on the right track is the reluctance of anyone in a small town to talk about any of these things. Stunning cinematography and a deliberately unhurried pace landed this squarely in the art-house market with plenty of awards to its credit. Don't let that put you off though, in addition to the unusually complex plot, the acting is excellent (in that subdued Scandinavian fashion) and the Icelandic scenery is amazingly grim. Also, I found a lot of entertainment value out of seeing someone order a half of a boiled sheep's head at what appeared to be a burger-joint drive-through. I can't imagine what banality will replace this in the US remake. Pizza with anchovies, I guess.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008): Thanks to Will's nudging, I finally got around to seeing this outstanding, laconic chiller. Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), a young, frequently bullied boy with some repressed anger issues is befriended by a young girl, Eli (Lina Leandersson), who is, unbeknownst to him, a very old vampire looking to replace her current human protector. The subtle manipulation of Oskar, who is the product of a failed marriage between a hysterical mother and an alcoholic father, is so delicately laid out and unfolded, that some viewers have, like Oskar, been left feeling as if this relationship is nothing more than true love. Writer John Ajvide Lindqvist (who adapted his own novel) manages to make something moody, dark and visually arresting without an ounce of pretension and is completely in sync with director Tomas Alfredson who is in no hurry to tell his story, but never makes the film feel slow. The acting is excellent on all counts, particularly considering the age of the leads. I can't really think of a single thing to nitpick, except maybe that the swimming pool scene at the end was maybe a bit unnecessary. Yeah, you heard it, I said that maybe it didn't need a gory finale. Either way, it is without a doubt one of the best horror films I've seen in a very long time. A horror film from Sweden, no less!

HEADHUNTERS (2011): Great Norwegian thriller that takes a long time to work up a head of steam, but is well worth your patience. A slick corporate headhunter, Roger Brown(Aksel Hennie), obsesses over his diminutive height and steals fine art from his clients to pay for his lavish lifestyle and his rather tall wife's love. After finding out a recent transplant and head of a rival tech corporation is in possession of a priceless painting, he sets up the schmoe, Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), even after he discovers that this particular schmoe is really a lethal ex-special forces, former mercenary badass. The first 45 minutes is set-up for, mostly, the main character Roger Brown and while I'm not sure that the film really needs all of that exposition, it crams so many twists with a really clever sense of jet-black humor that all is forgiven after Brown discovers that he is suddenly on the endangered species list and a bloody cat and mouse chase leaves a trail of corpses all over the country. Very well crafted scenes and an excellent cast - particularly Eivind Sander as a securities guy who's idea of a good time is playing naked cops and robbers with real guns and a Russian prostitute. Oh and, yes, there has been talk of a completely unnecessary US remake with Mr. Funky Bunch, Mark Wahlberg expressing a lot of interest. It had to end on a down note, didn't it?

SLEEPWALKER (2000): This Swedish thriller is easily the best videocamera thriller ever made... well, at least for the first 80 minutes. Make that, best thriller ever. Seriously, I cannot think of the last time I was completely riveted to a thriller the way I was glued to this one. The outside world melted away and I was sucked into Ulrik Hansson's (Ralph Carlsson) nocturnal world of terror. A mild-mannered family man, Ulrik, is over stressed at work and resorts to knocking back prescription sleeping pills with red wine every night to get some sleep. One morning he wakes up, covered in blood and completely alone in the house. After finding out that the blood is not human, the police figure his wife took the kids and left him. Ulrik decides to keep taking the pills and wine, but this time straps a video camera to his shoulder to see what happens after he goes to sleep. Writer Johan Brännström creates a stunningly clever plot that twists and turns so many times that the viewer is constantly thinking and re-evaluating Ulrik's situation, trying to figure out what really happened to his family. The awful truth of the matter is that the film completely crashes and burns in the final 10 minutes. A gut-wrenching implosion with resolution that is pasted in from a completely different 70 year old US film. It is extremely disappointing since the first 80 minutes were so exceptionally good.

RARE EXPORTS (2010): I like a good, subversive Christmas movie. I don't really consider CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989) to be subversive, yes, there are some funny parts, but it's still just as mainstream as A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983). SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT (1984) is probably the classic example, even though half of the reason it's so subversive is that whipped the Christian extremist groups into a lather resulting in all manner of fallout (ummmm, did they not realize that Santa is freakin' pagan?). Maybe GREMLINS could be considered slightly subversive, but it still is mostly cute. RARE EXPORTS is a Finish film that walks on the lighter side, but is not afraid to get dark and creepy in between the laughs. It is the only film that I can think of that boldly claims that Santa Clause was in point of fact an ancient horned giant who would kidnap naughty children and eat their succulent flesh! This could have gone in so many directions, but writer-director Jalmari Helander is dead on target with this morbidly tongue-in-cheek tale in which geologists unearth the real Santa Clause, who has been trapped in a glacier mountain for centuries near a remote hunting village in Finland. After finding their reindeer slaughtered and some children go missing, the hunting community blames the scientists (yep, science is always ruining everything, including Christmas). Of course, the only person to really figure out the score is 8 year old Pietari (Onni Tommila). As fun and funny as the film is, there are some genuinely creepy moments that make it something that may not be any where near as extreme as SILENT NIGHT, but is definitely not going to garner the enthusiasm of the CHRISTMAS STORY crowd. Is the ending a tad anti-climactic? Maybe a little, but it's excellently acted, deftly written, lots of fun and it is going straight into my Christmas rotation.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Adrenaline Shot: COURIER OF DEATH (1984)

If you haven’t figured it out already, we’re big fans of regional flicks here on Video Junkie.  Be it action, horror or sci-fi (no low budget comedies or dramas, thanks), we’re always down for some lo-fi cinematic madness. Of course, this is probably why we hate ourselves in the morning as more often than not they end up sucking.  But every now and then you will pop in a flick that manages to push past its budget restraints and somehow entertain the hell out of you.  A perfect example is COURIER OF DEATH.  Made in Oregon by director Tom Shaw, this is the type of not-so-good action cinema that was produced on a budget that was probably 1/20 of the cost of craft services on AVATAR. But would I seriously watch this over some bloated James Cameron epic?  Every freakin’ day, my friend!

COURIER OF DEATH centers on top-notch deliveryman J.D. Blackman (Joey Johnson).  You know his life is hectic as the film opens with J.D. and his partner Frank in charge of delivering 7 million dollars and getting ambushed by some dudes who apparently all bought the same sweat suits outfits at Sears. To let you know what kind of movie COD is, the villains stand in plain sight when J.D. and Frank land at the airport and one of them is even on a walkie talkie right as the courier van zooms past them.  Luckily for them our couriers aren’t as observant as the bad guys are obvious and the sweatpants mob isn’t noticed until they start open firing on the road.  J.D. and Frank make it to wooded area and a firefight breaks out. Frank, who we barely got to know, buys it, but not before J.D. blasts a few dudes for good measure (Tom pointed out a particularly hilarious bit where a guy dives off a roof, but gently puts down his gun before falling off).  Despite the villain’s snatching the secure briefcase (by blasting off Frank’s hand), J.D. manages to get it back thanks to his cannon of a gun that is as big as his head.  Ah, such is the life of a courier.

You know what they say about men and their guns...

Back at home, J.D.’s wife Julie (Joan Becherich) is worried about her husband’s dangerous occupation and voices her concern to family friend Katie (Barbara Garrison).  After all, how will all this killing affect his family life with his young daughter Kat around?  I guess we’re about to find out as the courier service calls with a “priority one” for J.D. Damn, no time off after you blow away a dozen bad guys and watch your partner get killed?  Or is the courier service running that low?  Anyway, J.D. takes the job, which entails him taking a “priority four” to San Francisco and returning with a “priority one” from Reno.  Wow, I think he really might be the only dude on the payroll.  The bad news is crime boss Bigelow (John H. Schmeer, also the film’s DP) finds out about this and has his goon Carver (Mel Fletcher) kidnap the courier service secretary Nancy (Diana Bauer) to get the where and when info. For good measure they also kidnap Julie so when J.D. arrives for the “priority one” delivery, they can use her as a hostage to get him to hand over the briefcase.  Once they have the delivery, the bad guys shoot and kill Julie on the spot.  Man, J.D. has had a rough couple of days on the job!

Sweatsuit Team...Activate!
No doubt hoping to relax, J.D. is at home with Katie when he gets a call from Colonel Johnson, his old boss from ‘Nam, with instructions to meet him in an hour.  Seems the contents stolen were $76 million dollars in bonds that the bad guys are using to fund their fascist army.  That’ll buy you a lot of sweat pants.  Johnson wants J.D. to track down the leaders and eliminate them, with full protection from the governor’s office, of course. Johnson hands over some incredibly detailed files with the name of every person involved in the organization.  Haha, just kidding.  He gives J.D. four black & white Polaroids and says they believe one of these men is the ringleader.  Uh, thanks?  Luckily, J.D. knows how to find bad guys and, with Katie tagging along, hits all the seedy bars in town.  He quickly finds one guy, whose name we are never privy to, at a strip club.  Apparently he is the type of law breaker who’s never heard of sticks and stones as he says, “You don’t come into my part of town and call me names.” When he doesn’t give J.D. the info he wants, our hero blows away the guy and his two henchmen in front of everyone (“Wrong answer, dude!”). Damn, J.D. is certainly taking advantage of that “no prosecution for bad deeds” deal.

Somehow this encounter leads J.D. to the house where Nancy is being held hostage.  After freeing her from some more guys in sweats, she tells him that he needs to get Hayden.  J.D. quickly locates this guy in a bar and proceeds to beat the crap out of him before Hayden says J.D. should locate an unnamed man in Ocean City.  Good deal, J.D. will let you live.  Oh, that is until Hayden bursts from the bar with a gun and J.D. shoots him in the crotch.  The next day J.D. gets ready to fly to Ocean City with his pilot buddy (director Shaw, who uses his own plane in the film).  The Colonel gives him another B&W picture and says, “This lady’s a direct link to the top man. Our intelligence indicates he’s one of these three.”  Wait a sec…first the Colonel gives him four photos and J.D. kills one of the guys.  Then the Colonel says his intelligence says it now one of these three men?  Man the only thing worse than this Colonel’s “intelligence” is J.D.’s perception skills.  Anyway, J.D. meets up with this chick Angel (Amy Sachel) and she proceeds to kick him in the balls a few times before J.D. kills her by inadvertently making her drink some poison champagne she had set aside for him. Jeez, am I still summarizing this movie?  Okay, I’ll speed it up.  J.D. gets the bonds back from Bigelow, who quickly dies of heart attack; J.D. contacts the Colonel and finds out he was using J.D. to get the bonds (shocker!) and the Colonel and the bonds are blown up in a car due to the briefcase being loaded with a bomb; finally, J.D. and grudge holding henchman Carver have a big ol’ fight on a mountain and J.D. wins.  But not before an innocent family gets held hostage and shot.  Damn, seems like J.D.’s luck is rubbing off on folks.

Okay, where do I start with a movie like this? I guess the lead is probably the best place. Joey Johnson as an action lead is quite amusing. He is about 5’2” on a good day and looks like the lovechild of comedian Paul Rodriguez and Alex Winter.  Not only does he not encapsulate the 80s standard for action heroes (think Stallone or Schwarzenegger), but he also doesn’t get it on with the ladies.  You read that right – he does not try to seduce the leading lady.  I’m thankful for that because 1) I didn’t really want to see him in a lovemaking scene and 2) it gave audiences this glorious dialogue exchange when J.D. says he is going to take a shower.

Katie: “Can I join you?”
J.D.: “I’m not ready for that yet, but when 
            I am you’ll be the first one to know.”

I haven’t laughed that hard since Leo Fong turned down the advances of a topless Playboy Playmate in one of his flicks. day...ever!!!
Yes, the dialogue and wonky staging are integral to this movie’s entertainment factor.  For example, when J.D. confronts the femme fatale Angel, she asks if he would hurt a woman and he responds, “I don’t see one.  All I see is a (dramatic pause) greedy slut.” When she gets the upper hand, she says, “I’ll kick both your eyes out!”  Damn, both?  This chick is hardcore.  The film’s finale also encapsulates the zaniness on display.  Carver chases J.D. onto a bridge that leads to an island.  Instead of giving chase, Carver says, “That island’s a dead end. I’ll be right here in the morning.” He then proceeds to plop down and fall asleep before we show it is dawn.  So he wasn’t worried J.D. might pull some sneaky move like step over his snoring body?  And then we have that poor family that just happens to wander into the middle of a fight between two government trained assassins.  Not only does the little girl get held hostage, but Dad takes a bullet in the leg and mom has to help kill the villain by beating him with a stick until he falls onto a knife J.D. is holding.  This poor family is regretting they said, “Today would be a great day for a picnic!” Of course, this is what makes the film so damn entertaining.  It is never boring and you can always enjoy some crazy ass dialogue and action bits.  Simply put – the COURIER OF DEATH delivers (ah, boo yourself)!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Sci-Fried Theater: THE INHABITED ISLAND (2008/2009)

Like a good western, good science fiction should be rife with allegories and metaphors, transcending the basic standards of the genre, but providing visceral entertainment at the same time. In other words, it should deliver the thrills, but also subtly explore some intellectual themes. In the realm of science fiction literature, brothers Boris and Arkadiy Strugatskiy are undisputed masters of their craft. Like other science fiction masters, say Philip K. Dick, the adaptations of their thought-provoking works of alternate realities run the gamut from the stunning to the silly, but the beauty of their works is that no matter how silly the adaptation, they are always compelling in some way due to the brilliance of the source material.

Set in the year 2157, Earth has evolved to be peaceful, prosperous and healthy. So healthy in fact that everybody is genetically superior; physically beautiful, strong, and err, bullet proof. Humans heal so quickly that unless they are shot in the head, they are essentially unkillable by firearms. Damn, Leatherface would have a field day in this new era. One van of teenagers would last him for months!

Prettyboy Earth dude Maxim (Vasiliy Stepanov) accidentally crashes his intergalactic graduation present on a desert planet and after running into some wolf-ape creatures is captured by a filthy nomad, Zef (Sergey Garmash), and handed over to a military camp in exchange for a can of meat. The military camp is an outpost for a country that is perpetually at war and uses sonic towers to transmit a mind control energy wave at specific hours of the day that causes the mass public to fervently praise their totalitarian leaders. More importantly, it causes painful epileptic seizures in a small minority who are labeled degenerates and traitors and are then tortured, executed, or forced into military service for cannon fodder. The catch is that the ruling elite, a cloistered group of section heads called The Unknown Fathers, are actually degenerates themselves. While they live in luxury, plotting wars and engaging in personal politics, the people live in tiny little apartments watching television programming that is a transmission of the imaginings of insane minds. At one point Maxim is floated in a bacta tank - err, I mean some sort of amniotic fluid filled glass container, and his brain recordings are of a giant lizard attacking some biohazard suited guys that look like they escaped from a Bruno Mattei film.

When Maxim is being hauled in a prison transport back to the city, one of the transmission towers is attacked, pinning one of the guards, Guy (Pyotr Fyodorov). Maxim saves him and is given his new name, Mak Sim, when Guy loses something in translation. The Unknown Fathers realize that this tall, grinning savage who appears to be perfect for a part in POINT BREAK 2, has untapped potential as a pawn in their never-ending war games. Mak finally has enough of this, breaks out and saves the virtue of a cute waitress, Rada (Yuliya Snigir), from what appears to be an escapee from a Tim Burton set. The back alley fight between Mak and a gang that has seemingly modeled themselves after rejected Mortal Kombat fighters is the movie's first and biggest stumbling block. Rehashed MATRIX-lite fight scenes that we've seen done a million times since 1999 and that, quite frankly, causes the enthusiasm level to drop faster than a Facebook share.

As it turns out Rada is coincidentally Guy's sister and this allows for some bonding that leads to Guy talking Mak into joining the military where he gets an inside view of the cruelty of the Fathers. After refusign to execute the "dissidents" who include resistance fighter Zef, Mak is left for dead. Of course since he can't be killed by body shots, he uses this presumption of death as cover to try to organize a rebellion with the grudging help of Guy, who still is reasonably certain that everything is fine and there is nothing to see here.

Yuliya Snigir's talents laid bare

Got all that? My favorite synopsis was from a guy on a message board who said that the film was "a Russian PITCH BLACK". Whaaaaa?? I think that is the one sci-fi film it doesn't borrow from, but more on that later. Spread out over two installments, the first feature runs close to two hours and is essentially the first two acts, leaving the final film to be a massive 80 minute third act, which means the second film is almost wall to wall action. Even with over three hours of running time, this film is clearly trying to pack in way too much of the book to make a coherent film with the time alloted. I understand the epic scope that the filmmakers were going for, but it actually may have played better cut down to a two and a half hour single movie, or if you are going to do two movies, flesh it out to two full 120 minute films. When epic works are pared down for cinematic adaptation the screenwriter is going to have to pick and choose what is important to the telling of the story and what can be omitted. Here, it feels like a shotgun approach with scenes popping up that feel completely unconnected to the story, as if the screenwriters had favorite bits that they didn't want to cut and just sort of stuffed them in edgewise.

For example: While trying to figure out how he's going to get his revolution in gear, Mak asks Guy if he believes in The White Submarine. Mak says he believes it exists and he will find it. Why? Not a clue. What for? No idea either. They stumble across the (presumably) legendary white sub without much effort and while Guy freaks out (as usual) about it being contaminated and "weird", Mak goes inside to explore. He finds a working radio, what appears to be human experiments and a bridge that has monitors running war atrocity footage. They then leave the sub and get back to their main objective. I get the point of the scene (I think), that soldiers are conditioned for war, but this point is made many, many times through the film already and it doesn't seem to serve much purpose in the film. It's cool, but I would guess that it was probably much more integral and made a lot more sense in the book. Another bit shows that Mak can lay his hands on the degenerates, stopping the seizures. This is a quick bit that, again, I'm sure had much more relevance in the book. Purists may disagree, but it could have been left out entirely and made for a less cluttered film that could have been a good, solid 2.5 hours.

Directed by the son of famous, award-winning film director Sergey Bondarchuk, Fedor Bondarchuk starterd his directorial career with the big-budget, highly controversial 2005 Afganistan war movie 9TH COMPANY. While I haven't seen the film, it was considered controversial due to it being rather Oliver Stone-ish and glossing over facts from the Russian invasion in the '80s, and cranking up the drama quotient. THE INHABITED ISLAND also has similar issues. It reminds me a bit of Schwarzenegger's TOTAL RECALL (1990), it's a great story slathered in molten velveeta.

Turning Point: The Fall of Good Gaming
The city itself is a fully realized world, layered with detail that verges on BLADE RUNNER-esque. It's all pretty impressive looking, but somehow has a sense of sameness. The city is a bit like METROPOLIS (1927), BRAZIL (1985) and that disappointing video game TURNING POINT: FALL OF LIBERTY (2008) which envisioned the Nazi's occupying America in big Nazi blimps (sorry, airships). Nothing evokes BRAZIL quite like the interrogation sequence where Zev is encased in a body suit that is then pumped full of scalding steam. Some of the steam-punk design not only echoes BRAZIL, but feels a bit like CITY OF LOST CHILDREN (1995) as well. The baroque quarters and formal dress of the ruling class are simply stunningly detailed, but are somehow reminiscent of DUNE (1984). There's a car chase that feels like it is lifted right out of TOTAL RECALL (1990), a character who looks like THE FIFTH ELEMENT's Zorg (Gary Oldman) created a mini-me, and so on. As richly visual as it is, if you've seen any science-fiction films from the past 30 years, chances are you will see something that will remind you of something else.

Boasting one of the largest budgets in recent Russian blockbuster history ($30 million), THE INHABITED ISLAND sets out, like previous Russian epics such as NIGHT WATCH (2004), to bring Russian cinema toe-to-toe with Hollywood. The cold war has turned into a cinematic rivalry, even if the US is blissfully unaware that anyone else is even trying to compete. Like the propaganda rhetoric of the old days, Russian film scholars proudly boast that they are beating the US at their own game. Unfortunately the reality of it is that in same year, 2008, we produced IRON MAN with state of the art CGI effects that make THE INHABITED ISLAND look like it was made in 1998. That is not to say that I am casually dismissing the technological achievements in the film, particularly with $30 million budget, which is a mere fraction of what it would have cost Hollywood to do the exact same thing. Nor am I dissing Russian pop-culture cinema. I really enjoyed D-DAY (2008), a massively entertaining almost scene-for-scene rip-off of Schwarzenegger's COMMANDO (1985), from 9TH COMPANY veteran, Mikhail Porechenkov. However, this perfectly illustrates the real issue with Slaviwood cinema...

Russian film scholars claim that American audiences just don't "get it". They claim that we think that the Russian soul is too foreign and strange, and this is why, even though they have special effects and action, that the films don't do well over here. I hate to break it too you, but that's just not true. Why do you think your arthouse films do well and your bubblegum films don't? Obviously your Russian soul isn't to blame, but more so the fact that we are really tired of seeing yet another fight scene badly pilfered from THE MATRIX. I loved the beginning of NIGHT WATCH, but you lost me completely when cars started driving on buildings and guys in sunglasses got into slo-mo, 360, superhuman martial arts fights, dodging fists and sliding backwards from super-punches. The Russian soul got a thick chocolately-flavored coating and a crunchy candy shell. The center is complex and intriguing, but the outside tastes like cheap crap that can be had better elsewhere. The sad thing is that if they dumped the carbon copy mentality, I believe they would be producing some of the world's finest genre cinema and Hollywood would be beating down their doors for the remake rights. Ironic, nyet?

While Bondarchuk may be spending too much time stealing ideas from Hollywood films, as an actor, his turn as one of the two rivalling Fathers, Prokuror, is one of the really good things about this film. All of the Fathers play politics, but Prokuror and Strannik (Aleksey Serebryakov) are the only ones who realize the potential of controlling Mak Sim in their own way. While Strannik wants to dissect him, Prokuror wants to use him as a pawn in his own power play. In order to do that he has Rada arrested, and tries to play the good cop/good cop game to get her to allow him to "help" Mak. It's a great sequence that not only shows off Bondarchuk's skill as an actor, but Yuliya Snigir's as well, since in the rest of the film she really isn't given much to do other than be flirty or scared.

One of my favorite scenes in the film has Mak Sim visiting a sorcerer who lives in a bat cave for advice at the behest of the mutants. The dialogue that they have happens late in the film, but adds quite a bit of depth in context:

Sorcerer: "Your reason is clouded by conscience and you are unable to distinguish true good from imagined good. Your conscience is spoiled. Reason must subdue it, overcome it."

Mak: "Conscience gives us ideals, which reason seeks a means to achieve."

Sorcerer: "Means never fit in within ideals. Then the ideas must be widened or conscience narrowed."

To me this scene is a great example of the limited grasp I have of Russian philosophy, but don't try to wrap your head around it, because the conversation only makes sense once you reach the end of the movie and you get one of those moments of clarity when everything comes together and it makes the groan-inducing MATRIX crap a little easier to brush aside.

Now that I've said all that, you know what? I actually really enjoyed THE INHABITED ISLAND for what it is. It certainly is not even remotely on the level of STALKER (1979) or DEAD MOUNTAINEER'S HOTEL (1979), but then again I didn't really expect it to be. Because of its source, it has a lot more going on than most and while it often feels like the plot is a total clusterfuck and you will eventually want to slap the grin off of Maxim's mug, it's still an entertaining, richly detailed sci-fi film with a some genuinely great moments.