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!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Gotterdammerung Epics: THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG (2004)

Chances are, when you think of the word "opera" a portly woman in a ridiculous quasi-Viking armor making glasses shatter while belting out something tragic about love. Everybody knows the image, taken from early productions of one specific opera, "Der Ring des Nibelungen."

Written over the span of 26 years (twenty six!) in the mid-1800s, German composer Richard Wagner used the epic 13th century poem "Nibelungenlied" as well as some Scandinavian and Greek mythology as a springboard to create an, at that time, unparalleled entertainment spectacle that originally ran for 15 hours over one night and three days. It has been performed lavish and impoverished, and like the myths that it's based on, it inspired a wealth of modern material from modern authors such as Robert E. Howard, George R. Martin, and even Gary Gygax. Oh, and of course, J.R.R. Tolkien, who famously wrote that his epic, four-part trilogy "The Lord of the Rings," centering around the concept that death and misery are the only things that come out of greed, had absolutely no basis in Wagner's epic quadrilogy. "Both rings are round, and there the resemblance ceases," said Tolkien, and since Wagner was busy decomposing at the time, he really couldn't argue the point. This is a shame because I feel opera has a lot to offer, if you can get past all of the singing.

Appreciated by such luminaries as Chuck Jones and Adolf Hitler, Wagner's magnum opus is so firmly embedded in global pop culture that even King Arthur wouldn't be able to separate the two. Interestingly, it (or its source) appears to have only been made into cinematic form only twice before. The celebrated Fritz Lang filmed a massive, lavish two-part, five-hour version in 1924, titled DIE NIBELUNGEN, that altered some of the themes and concepts to fall in line with Lang's own philosophies about fate and destiny. It is this version of the story, that has permeated all subsequent adaptations. The infamous Harald Reinl directed a  remake in 1966 clocking in at over three hours, with an export title of WHOM THE GODS WISH TO KILL. It played around the world, but it is his follow up to the success of this huge-scale epic THE TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM (1976) that seems better remembered. There are also couple of send-ups. One of which, Dave Friedman's soft-core THE LONG SWIFT SWORD OF SIEGFRIED (1971), might be the only exposure to the story that most Americans have ever had, unless you count the Bugs Bunny cartoon "What's Opera, Doc?" The other is a 2005 German spoof, SIEGFRIED,  seemingly in the Farrelly / Wayans brothers style in which, among other things, Siegfried learns how to kiss via a flatulent swine. Seriously, only the Germans would make a low-brow comedy out of a 6th century legend.

A six year-old Siegfried wanders the castle ramparts, watching with calm wonder as an invading hoard floods into the castle, claiming the lives of his parents. Having been set adrift on the river, Siegfried ends up in the care of a humble blacksmith Eyvind (Max Von Sydow), who works for King Gunther (Samuel West) of Bergund (basically where Austria and Southern Germany are now). Now, apparently the oldest 18 year-old in cinematic history, Siegfried (32 year-old Benno Fürmann in a wig that would make Ator jealous) witnesses a meteor falling from the sky. Upon investigation he discovers that it's a strange metal of the likes of which he has never seen. Also falling into the category of things Siggy has never seen, he fights off a bandit who turns out to be the queen of Iceland, Brunnhild (Kristanna Løken, fresh off of TERMINATOR 3 and preparing to descend into the Boll's of hell for BLOODRAYNE). Because the runes had foretold Brunnhild's affair with the one man who could best her in combat, she and Siegfried hit it off under the stars, right next to the crater. Say, where did those blankets come from? She tells him that she will wait for him in Iceland to rule by her side. Seems simple enough. What could go wrong?

Meanwhile the dwarf Albrecht (Sean Higgs), gives the King's adviser Hagen (Julian Sands) the idea of raiding the dragon's lair for the vast treasure of the Nibelung. As soon as Siegfried picks up the meteor the next morning, the dragon awakens and sets about trashing villages as dragons are want to do. After the king is wounded and his best men killed while raiding the dragon's lair, Siegfried decides to use the metal from the meteor to fashion a sword with which he will slay the dragon and avenge the king's disgrace. After a fierce battle with the dragon, Siegfried discovers that in addition to an awesome peyote trip, the dragon's blood makes him invulnerable to weapons. The only hitch is that when he bathed in the blood of the dragon, there was a spot where a leaf had fallen from a tree onto his shoulder.

After slaying the dragon, Siegfried finds the fabled Treasure of the Nibelung; a vast hoard of gold that can only be owned by the one who possesses the Ring of the Nibelung. Just as Siegfried is about to hit the "loot" button, ghosts appear before him and they regret to inform him that he cannot have the treasure because it isn't his and it's cursed. If he would like to see what the curse does, he should look no further than Albrecht, who was banished from the ranks of the Nibelung and cursed to shrivel and turn ugly. Of course Siegfried ain't afraid of no ghosts and quickly grabs the preciou - err, the ring and cheerfully skips out of the cave. After being attacked by Albrecht, Siegfried agrees to spare his life in exchange for the Tarn Helm, a mask that will make him, not turn invisible as in the other adaptations, but change shape in order to look like someone else.

Siegfried, now considered a hero of the kingdom, is given a magic potion that will make him fall in love with the king's sister Kriemhild (Alicia Witt, looking much like Jennifer Jason Leigh in FLESH + BLOOD). In addition to that, King Gunther talks Siegfried into using the mask to best Brunnhild (remember her?) in combat since he is a complete wuss and she will only marry someone who can wrestle her to the ground. I imagine it gets very cold in Iceland and they have to come up with some way to keep warm. Of course all of these lies and treachery lead to a more and more tangled web of deceit that can't help but fall into a death spiral.

German TV director Uli Edel, who previously gave us the Shakespeare reworking, THE KING OF TEXAS (2002) with Patrick Stewart, does a serviceable job remaking Lang's seminal silent film. Clocking in at just over three hours long, this sucker moves like a downhill freight train, frantically trying to stuff ten pounds of epic into a five pound bag of holding. This is with the script only adapting what is essentially only one part of Wagner's opera, "Gotterdammerung". Edel directs the film with a solemnity that almost makes it feel like a '60 period epic in its earnestness. This is a double edged sword because on the one hand, the production believes in its telling of a great, centuries old masterpiece, unlike say CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010), in which it felt like those involved with the production just wanted to get it over with so they could go home. On the other hand, that sort of intentness of purpose is undermined by egregious miscasting of Benno Fürmann, who, to be fair, does have a sign of life, unfortunately that sign reads "out to lunch". Not only does he look a little creepy, but his reading of certain scenes are bordering on juvenile. Perhaps it's due to the fact that he is supposed to be playing a part that is half his age, but it comes off like he is a mentally disabled side of beefcake and it's hard to see why these beautiful women are throwing themselves at him. Actually, come to think of it, that is pretty much true to life.

The three credited screenwriters Diane Duane, Peter Morwood and Uli Edel, seem to want to say a lot of things about some heady subjects such as the conflict between the still relatively new-ish Catholicism and the pagan gods, who are here identified strangely by their Greek names. After a voice-over narrator tells us of this clash is continuing in the last place on earth where Christianity hasn't dominated, there really isn't much made of it after that. At one point Siegfried's adopted father Eyvind off-handedly remarks "the Christians... they're a strange lot." In another scene, during the celebration of the dragon's killing, Eyvind puts the moves on a Christian woman, who likes the way he swings his hammer and tells him that she will be a pagan that night. Forget the whole "my Maserati is parked out back" routine, the "Thor is my god" line works like a charm! Other than that, the profound statements seem to have gone missing somewhere along the line. The other thing that seems to have been lost along the way is Siegfried's complicity in his own downfall. Here Siegfried is a pretty nice guy who may let things go to his head a bit, but when it comes to all the dirty work, Siegfried is persuaded by others instead of coming up with the ideas himself. It heightens the tragic aspect, I guess, but it also hobbles the morality play. It's also interesting that the details are fudged a little bit to make it more like LORD OF THE RINGS. The golden circle is complete.

Released in a variety of markets under other interesting titles such as CURSE OF THE RING and SWORD OF XANTEN, surprisingly, the film did get a Stateside DVD release via Sony Pictures under the most interesting title of all, DARK KINGDOM: THE DRAGON KING (huh?). Not surprisingly this version is cut by over fifty minutes of footage. Yes, that is almost one third of the movie that hit the cutting room floor. I actually considered watching this version so that I could discuss what was cut out here, but considering my synopsis above really covers only the first half of the movie, I think it's pretty obvious that the cut version would be an incomprehensible mess and I'll leave it at that.

The first Brünnhilde and the latest.
The cast, Fürmann not withstanding, is actually reasonably solid. Julian Sands (in what appears to be a modified '50s era wig) actually underplays a role that is normally fodder for extreme scenery chewing, leaving that to Higgs' Albrecht. I'm actually really surprised that Kristanna Løken hasn't been snatched up by HBO for GAME OF THRONES, as she shows some real talent whenever given anything remotely physical to do, whether it is hogtying the king on their wedding night or furiously battling Siegfried in the middle of a feast. Also, I guess it should be noted that Robert Pattinson has a supporting role as the Prince of Bergund, and in spite of what I thought the releases titled KINGDOM IN TWILIGHT are purely coincidental  The fight scenes are surprisingly well staged for a TV movie, even though it appears that many are staged in front of a rear-projection screen (damn, I thought those went out with button shoes) and while some of the CGI are a bit archaic, others, such as the dragon, are quite well done. In spite of its shortcomings and occasional cheeseballery (such as an aging Max Von Sydow dual-wielding broadswords to fend off two Saxon soldiers) I enjoyed this adaptation quite a bit and hope that it will help get another, bigger adaptation in front of the cameras in the future.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Cine M.I.A. #6: Roberta Findlay's BANNED (1989)

Roberta Findlay has certainly had an interesting career.  Born and raised in New York, she started her film career in the 1960s helping her husband Michael Findlay direct/produce/write/film their debut, TAKE ME NAKED (1966).  They then produced the vaunted FLESH trilogy, where she again served as the producer, cinematographer and co-writer.  The 1970s proved no less exciting as the Findlays attached themselves to one of the most controversial films of the decade, SNUFF (1976).  The rest of the decade saw Roberta abandoning the world of softcore for the fertile fields of hardcore pornography, where she produced and directed over a twenty XXX films.  Sadly, the decade ended with the death of Michael (by then her ex-husband) during the infamous Pan Am helicopter accident in New York City.

Roberta continued kicking out adult films under various pseudonyms into the 1980s before journeying into the R-rated exploitation field with an action picture (TENEMENT [1985]) and several horror pictures (THE ORACLE [1985], BLOOD SISTERS [1987], LURKERS [1988], and PRIME EVIL [1989]). She had one final cinematic trick up her sleeve though as she ended her eccentric career with something she had never done before – a flat out comedy in BANNED.  And this may have been a bad thing as the film has still not been released.

BANNED opens with a “10 years ago” scene as the band Rotting Filth is recording their latest album.  Guitarist Teddy Homicide (Neville Wells) is frustrating the hell out of everyone as he can’t hit a lick.  When a pizza delivery guy accidentally interrupts the recording session, Homicide loses it.  He lives up to his name and whips out a machine gun and mows down the pizza guy, his band mates and the engineer.  Feeling somewhat remorseful, he then heads into the bathroom and commits suicide by sticking his head in the toilet and drowning himself.  Cut to the “present day” and we see the band Banned (haha, get it?) toiling away for change down in Times Square.  Barely making enough to cover their rental fees, the band – consisting of lead singer/guitarist Kent (Dan Erickson), keyboardist Chelsea (Brent Trish Whitney), gun nut bassist Willie (Roger Coleman) and sex hound drummer Serge (Fred Cabral) – opt to spend it wisely by drowning their own sorrows at the local dive bar.  It is here that Willie reveals his uncle Rod (Glenn Mitchell) has recently purchased the studio where the massacre occurred and they can record there cheap.  “Provided Impulse studios doesn’t turn out to be the recording studio from hell,” says Kent.  Gee, can you see where this is going?

Your reviewer at this point
We then get a bunch of stuff regarding Kent and his domestic life.  He visits his girlfriend Rachel (Amy Brentano) and they talk about her crazy brother who was a “plumber who wants to be a priest.”  Jeez, I feel like I have Google Maps in my head because I know exactly where that is heading.  They go to see a one-woman stage show by Chelsea where Rachel gets pissed at Kent for yelling “Show your tits!” She dumps a plate of nachos on him, which somehow causes him to tumble out the back door, down some stairs and into an alley where a bum eats the nachos off his head.  On the way home he apologizes profusely to Rachel but falls down an open manhole.  Then we get a scene of him being berated by his rich, alcoholic father (played for laughs as alcoholism is funny).  Man, will he get possessed by the ghost of Teddy Homicide or what?  C’mon, let’s get this show on the road, Roberta!

Back in the studio, the kids get ready to record some badass jazz rock (can jazz rock be badass?).  Sid Wiesenthal, the boss of their label Broken Records (haha), shows up to make sure things are okay.  In one of the film’s odder moments, Sid offers Rod what looks to be cocaine, but he explains it is finely ground beef adrenal tissue from Austria (do what?). Sid does a couple of lines and it turns him from an old Jewish guy into a hulking black guy.  Do whaaaaaaaaaaaaaat? Seriously! Anyway, the group gets into a fight regarding time changes in Kent’s song (“People be boppin’ around trying to get into the rhythm then we hit them with these triple breaks,” says jazz rock visionary Kent) and he heads into the bathroom to cool down.  While taking a piss he hears a voice coming from the toilet and leans closer to investigate, getting sprayed in the face with demon toilet water.  Now we’re looking at ALL OF ME (1984) minus the stuff like laughs.

Kent’s Teddy Homicide side doesn’t make his first appearance until that night’s gig.  Kent screams “Fuck you, you assholes” into the mic, rips off his shirt and smashes his guitar.  Hey, it worked for Sid Vicious.  Inexplicably, this drives da kidz wild and the band Banned becomes a smashing success.  Well, a lot of people crowd into their dressing room.  Of course, Teddy Homicide wants more than just fame as he starts putting the moves on Chelsea.  He takes her to an outdoor restaurant, but his rough courtship skills are interrupted by some Libyan terrorists who shoot the place up.  Yes, really. Kent/Teddy’s response is to give the terrorists tips and tell them to go rob Tavern on the Green. Ha?  Back on the home front, Kent/Teddy shows he is a wild man by jumping on the bed and knocking picture frames off shelves.  Such insane rock ‘n roller behavior would earn him a place in the band Sorcery!  He has a wild sex session with Rachel and then they hit a disco where he hits on all the women.  Heading home, Kent tries to apologize for his unwitting actions…but falls down an open manhole.  Okay, let’s wrap this up – Kent/Teddy continues his wild ways until Willie and Serge chase him across Central Park while firing machine guns and rocket launchers at him.  Meanwhile, Rachel has her plumber/priest brother Perciville exorcize the toilet and Teddy Homicide is sent down the toilet for good.  Got to be some symbolism regarding Findlay's career there.

"Ashes to ashes, flush to flush."

So BANNED is unreleased?  Ya don’t say!  I can’t ever imagine why.  Actually, I can because it is really bad.  It is a shame Findlay capped off her three decades long career with this as it is rough, rough stuff.  Now her films have featured comedy before (both intentional and unintentional), but she’s never gone full blown comedy and I can see why. Sadly, she seems to have all the comic timing of a broken clock with Dane Cook’s picture on it.  The film’s one major running gag is that the drummer Serge is always late because he is busy having sex with girls and he always throws his clock against the wall when he finds out he is late, resulting in a pile of broken clocks on his floor.  Another example is when Serge starts going into some born again rant and doesn’t snap out of it until someone holds a surge suppressor (haha, get it?) against his chest. *slaps forehead*  It is a shame as screenwriter Jim Cirile’s screenplay does have promise.  Who doesn’t want to see a body switch movie involving a rock musician and a Sid Vicious-wannabe?  That is actually ripe for funny scenarios (at least in the late 80s it was), but not in the hands of Findlay.

So does BANNED do anything right? Well, Roberta does fill it with some nudity to keep me awake.  Also, the cast is probably one of the better assembled by Findlay.  Lead Dan Erickson – who previously worked for Findlay on BLOOD SISTERS – has a William Ragsdale sort of appeal to him and he is actually funny in some bits when he switches back and forth between his two personalities.  His British accent is a bit over-the-top (homicide is pronounced “Home-eeee-side”), but the film only benefits from going in that direction.  The film is also rife with late 80s NYC locales (look quickly for a THEY LIVE poster plastered on a street wall) and it is captured in Findlay’s trademark style.  She also inexplicably stages one bit on the deck of the U.S.S. Intrepid.  I’m guessing someone got access for that and Findlay wasn’t going to give it up no matter what the project.  And, believe it or not, this film features the only blue screen work Findlay has ever done in her career (maybe that drove her to hang it up?).  The finale with folks running all over Central Park actually echoes back to the FLESH trilogy days too, so you kind of get see Roberta’s career come full circle.  It is too bad the rest of the film couldn’t match her earlier standards.

As of today, BANNED is still unavailable anywhere.  I can’t really say the world is missing too much.  Here is the film’s trailer, which is about as close as you can get (and would ever want to get) to the film.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Gotterdammerung Epics: IMMORTALS (2011)

Do you like movies about gladiators? Actually, I don't. What I do like are crazy reworkings of the Greek legends into a testosterone-driven sword n' sorcery outings with plenty of myth-inspired monsters. Basically my ideal movie would be JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963) with the production design of FLASH GORDON (1980) and the bloody action of CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982), written and directed by John Milius. Oh, and 99% practical effects (I'm leaving that 1% in for stuff like erasing the cables that are hoisting up the massive kraken on Pinewood's 007 soundstage). This movie almost delivers that. Almost.

Essentially a rip-off / mash-up of CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010) and 300 (2006), director Tarsem Singh (who went on to direct MIRROR MIRROR in 2012), takes a rather routinely scripted, very loose retelling of the legends of Theseus, and turns it into a surprisingly operatic spectacle on what is clearly a limited budget. Well, if you can call $75 million a limited budget. In this movie Theseus (the vapid Henry Cavill) is a peasant who is being trained for greatness by Zeus, disguised as an old man (John Hurt). King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) is royally pissed (sorry) about losing his wife and son to disease after he begged the gods for help. So as any loving husband and father would, he decides he's going to amass a giant army to crush the entirety of Greece, ensuring that every pregnant woman is put to death so that one way or another his legacy will live on. To aid Hyperion in this subtle plan, Hyperion hunts for the Epirus Bow, the one thing that can release the Titans from their cage in a volcano near the city of Helena and ensure his victory.

That's actually the nicer side of Hyperion whose idea of a passtime is putting people in a Brazen Bull and listening to their screams of torment... I guess if you want to be technical, the Brazen Bull hasn't been invented during the time period this is supposed to have taken place in, but whatever, a minor detail. Of course Theseus is determined to bring down Hyperion, not necessarily because Hyperion wants to destroy heaven and earth, but moreso because Hyperion personally slits Theseus' mother's throat right in front of him. So classic hero he is not. Aiding him in this adventure is the virgin oracle Phaedra (Freida Pinto), who decides at one point that orgasms beat out oracles any day and hops in bed with Theseus. Then there is Stavros the thief (Stephen Dorff), who attempts some pointless comic relief in a modern vernacular. Ummm... yeah. Fortunately he barely has any screen time and mostly just stands around with his shirt off.

The script runs pretty much like writers Charley and Vlas Parlapanides (now working on Shane Black's American remake of the Shusuke Kaneko's 2006 film DEATH NOTE) took a Cliff's Notes on Greek Legends and threw it in a blender and then poured it into a script, filling in parts that went missing out of their hip pocket. Wait, in Greek legend wasn't Hyperion a Titan? And weren't Titans a giant race that were the intellectual equals of the Olympians and - oh, never mind. Actually, I really don't have a beef with that except for the fact that they decided to leave out almost all of the monster/creature stuff from the legends, except for the battle with the Minotaur. This is even more annoying because Singh lets his production team run wild with concepts for costumes and sets (even if the sets are mostly digital) and the Minotaur is something that I thought was an interesting twist. A CG bullhead on some random dude would have not only been pretty lame, but out of character with Singh's creative streak. Here the Minotaur is a giant feral man with a bull-head helmet seemingly made out of barbed wire. It sounds a bit odd, but I thought it worked and would have liked to have seen more in that vein. Speaking of costumes, I realize some folks are pretty miffed at the fantasy take on ancient Greek armor, but who cares, it looks fantastic. Like they were lifted from some gaudy ultra-modern opera. Hyperion's forces look suitably evil in a variety of strange almost Italian post-apocalyptic masks and armor, and Hyperion's own bizarre armor actually reminds me of something from Japan... hmmm... what could that be?

Mickey Rourke is Baltan!

Mt. Olympus:
You don't have to be gay to work here, but it helps.
When I saw 300, I felt a bit like I had accidentally walked into the wrong bar and had to back out mumbling apologies. This is similar, but not quite as over-the-top. There is so much hairless, bare manflesh on display that it becomes absurdly hilarious. I mean, it's gotta be frickin' cold up in that mountain village right next to the ocean, Mediterranean climate or not! It would be nice if equal time were given to the ladies, but ancient Greece is a man's world baby... or rather, in this case, a hairless pretty boy's world. Even the Olympian's are all waifish twinks. What happened to Sir Lawrence Oliver as Zeus? Oh yeah, he was old. Can't have that. Here Zeus is played by Luke Evans, who instead of sporting the familiar bushy white beard, is going with the Scooby and Shaggy look.

Another contentious issue is the bloodletting. First off, don't believe all the crying on NetFlix where people of a fragile disposition are losing their minds decrying this film as a wall-to-wall orgy of torture and gore. Ok, so it ain't MARY POPPINS (1964), but it sure ain't HOSTEL (2005) either. Let's face it, ancient myths, legends, (*cough* bibles *cough*)... they are horrifically violent and gruesome, this doesn't even come close to the bloody atrocities of the original stories of old. Sure it is a pretty bloody affair, but the gore is mainly CG and let's be honest, most of it looks like a video game. During the climactic battle where the Gods fight the hyper-active zombie-creature Titans (don't ask, I don't know) it is so over-the-top that it's impossible to take seriously.

In the end we have a mixed bag that was almost great, but still enjoyable. Singh's visuals are, in my opinion, far superior to Zach Snyder's, and I enjoyed this substantially more than 300, which felt like a 20 minute tech demo padded to feature length. Mickey Rourke is flawlessly cast and completely owned the role of Hyperion taking it to levels that almost rival James Earl Jones in CONAN. Plus it is great having people like Stephen McHattie and John Hurt pop in for smaller parts. Granted it misses the longship several times over, but it still manages to be a good time if you are in an undemanding frame of mind. Sadly, this movie's quick demise to the bargain bin probably means it will not see a sequel. It's too bad; a trashy sequel is just what this flick needs: fewer pretensions and more monsters.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Listomania: Thomas' December Decimation 2012

TOTAL RECALL 2070 - MACHINE DREAMS (1999): Surprisingly impressive made for Shotime pilot movie of a short-lived series that is sort of a re-imagining of Philip K. Dick's "We Can Remember it for You Wholesale" through the eyes of BLADE RUNNER (1982) on a cable show budget. At first glance you'd think this was a recipe for disaster, but in fact, it is really quite good.
Set in the distant future where crime and violence in general has been minimalized to the point of inconsequence  a couple of CPB (Citizens Protection Bureau) detectives are investigating a break in at the mega-corporation Rekall only to find themselves being shot at by three laser-wielding beta-class androids (who look just like humans except they bleed blue blood). Detective Hume's (Michael Easton) partner is killed, which means his irate (black) captain is going to hand him a new partner who is just a little too good at combat and thinking and not so good with the social skills. Ok, so you can see where that is going, but it's only a minor subplot in a larger web of kidnapping and the use of memory implants to facilitate corporate greed. The BLADE RUNNER influence is really heavy, to the point of being a rip-off; the score is very Vangelis, the androids are off-planet workers, they have a beef with their creators, Detective Moralez (Damon D'Oliveira) is dressed up just like Gaff, the CPB drive VTOL vehicles that fly around like Spinners, and so on. This coming out of a '90s era cable network might be a pretty painful thing, except for one major point. It was made by Italians (ok, so it was produced in Canada).
Director Mario Azzopardi (who technically was a Canadian at this point in his life) and writer Art Monterastelli (who is actually American born and went to San Francisco State) both have a pretty solid pedigree of genre TV work prior to this show. Instead of taking the easy way out and making a quick and simple cash-in, Monterastelli and Azzopardi really dig in deep and submerse the viewers in a proper alternate reality (even if it's a bit pillaged from the Scott classic) and then have the audacity to create a complex and involved crime thriller that actually requires the viewer to pay attention. Monterastelli reportedly spent two years developing the series and it shows. That is not to say that MACHINE DREAMS is all heady sci-fi, perish the thought, in fact we are treated to some impressive nudity before we even hit the three minute mark (with a neat little twist). That has to be a record. Plus there are bloody shootings, an android autopsy and some amusing melodrama with lines like "it's not dying that I'm afraid of; it's living without memory." What more could you want?

RED RIDING - IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 1974 (2009): Trying desperately to be a gritty Scandinavian-style serial killer thriller, this made for UK TV movie is merely the opening gambit for a trilogy that seems to have gotten some acclaim. A young buck reporter (the not-so-AMAZING Andrew Garfield) is kicked up north to Yorkshire after fumbling a story back home. Once on the local beat, he uncovers a string of bizarre and gristly child rape/murders that have been going on for decades unsolved. Truth be told, he spends most of the time getting his ass kicked by the local fuzz and getting laid by a mother of one of the missing children. Unfortunately the mystery part takes a very far back seat to soft-focus interpersonal drama, particularly after he comes on the idea that a local construction tycoon (Sean Bean) could be at the center of it. So thinly plotted that it's not even a whisker on Henning Mankell's chin, the movie becomes rather tedious, trying desperately to squeak by on it's smoke-stained, mock-'70s atmosphere and the dubious romantic charm of the leads. The film has so little substance, in fact, that I'm amazed how many people actually found the film confusing. Unless the long dry bits between plot-points cause memory lapses. Not the worst killer-thriller ever (nice to meet you, IRENE HUSS), but crushingly pretentious and vacuous at the same time and if you are expecting what it's promising, you are better off taking your business north of Germany.

YOUNG WARRIORS (1983): After decades of procrastination, I finally got around to watching this revenge yarn from Lawrence D. Foldes. For some reason I could never get through the first third of the movie, which is essentially a bad ANIMAL HOUSE rip-off. Wait - were there any good ones?
A group of college kids (including James Van Patten and Mike Norris - son of Chuck) like to drink beer and let a pre-boob job Linnea Quigley sleep naked in their room. One day a bunch of evil bikers rape and kill a couple of their friends and now they're mad! Of course it takes over a half an hour to get to that point. The cops (Ernest Borgnine and Richard Roundtree) wring their hands and shake their fists and say the usual things like "there's nothing we can do" and "our hands are tied". Pretty soon the guys will be forced to do something about it. Like drink more beer! Yeah! After another half hour, Kevin (James Van Patten), the most bitter and angry of the bunch finally manages to talk the guys into forming a vigilante squad to take to the streets and do what the cops can't. Oh man, this sucker is hurting for entertainment value up until now. Sure, you'll get a giggle out of the fact that Borgnine is allegedly married to Susan Day George (yeah, you go Cabbie!), and one college student has an entire army surplus stash of weapons and explosives in his closet. Like that would happen!
Actually this brings about the most interesting part of this film. Essentially this movie is about a college student who can't cope with his stress and coerces others into arming themselves with high-power weapons and orchestrating mass killings that escalate in brutality. And the first half of the movie is a comedy! Watching the movie right before the Connecticut school massacre was uncomfortable, thinking about it afterward is sobering and unpleasant. Granted the intent of the filmmakers was to condemn societal violence and they let no opportunity pass without beating its morality play into your thick skull, so much so that it becomes more than a little like a hyper-violent ABC After School Special, while at the same time, blowing up an entire car dealership and drenching sets in blood from bullet hits. I'm not saying that the film shouldn't have been made or anything like that, but I am saying that it would never be made today and it is amazing that it was able to get by Jack Valenti with all of the bloody shootings, when most films could not. An odd bit of conflicted filmmaking that will definitely make you think a lot more than it should.

VARES - KISS OF EVIL (2011): Jussi Vares returns in a new, much more lithe and sharp-witted incarnation, Antti Reini. While it's still pretty flashy, almost all of the annoying crap from the original films has vanished in place of more straightforward detective thriller, echoing the similar Norwegian series VARG VEUM. We know this one is going to be on the right track as the movie opens with a white-trash dude picking the locket off of a torso that's been wrapped in plastic and half-buried in a shallow grave. Vares is hired by the mother of a missing girl, but there seems to be a lot more at play here than at first perceived. In typical Scandinavian mystery fashion, the family has some deep, dark secrets to hide and Vares is going to dig them up, whether they want him to or not. The plot is really familiar if you've read any Scandinavian detective novels or watched any of the adaptations. In fact, the whole package is so similar to VARG VEUM, that it could easily be seen as a rip-off. Antti Reini even looks a bit like Trond Espen Seim. The plot relies largely on convenience (Vares knows everybody and all of the people involved in the mess interact with people that Vares knows), on the other hand, the seediness of the whole thing, rife with junkies, strip-clubs, illicit affairs, and so forth, make for a good gumshoe outing. Plus you get some good bits of pulpy narration: "...a police officer can't let something like innocence get in the way of arresting people. My sense of justice started crying out loud. It cried for a beer."

DEAD EASY (1982): Wildly erratic, but highly entertaining Australian crime flick from Bert Deling, the director of the cult junkie flick PURE SHIT (1975). A low-level street hustler, George (Scott Burgess), is hanging out at his favorite whorehouse trying to get something going with the new girl, when a mob professional runs in busts out some wicked karate and torches the place... and why does he know George's name? So begins George's surreal descent into a life of organized crime that turns to terror after being used as a pawn in by rival mobsters. This film is all over the map. Some times it is a sleazy back street crime flick (ok, most of the time), sometimes a romance, and sometimes an action flick, with bits of low-key humor thrown in. Trying to actually summarize the plot is nigh-on impossible with some of the weirdest stuff coming out of left field, such as the bizarre disco sci-fi sex party and an ex-cop's massive boar-hunting supertruck that has a roll-cage that actually rolls the car back on to it's wheels if it gets flipped. One of many great scenes is when George and somewhat unwilling girlfriend (Rosemary Paul) are having a serious, plot-pivotal conversation while she is at work. Thing is, she's working as the dominatrix in a cheap dungeon with piped in screams for atmosphere. The scene plays perfectly because the actors run the scene as if they were in a diner, or an apartment, playing the scene completely straight, unaware of the absurdity of it all. Oh, and there's a rivalry between mobsters, dirty cops, lesbian affairs, smack withdrawals  painful looking stunts, gritty tough-guy dialogue, some really weird musical cues, and lots of urban sleaze in King's Cross, that could easily double for '70s Manhattan. Add to that Tony Barry and Max Phipps, and you have something that's great fun if you don't mind being whipped around like a ragdoll by Deling's script.

A NUDE FOR SATAN (1974): Virtually plotless exercise in atmosphere and nekkidity from the infamous Luigi Batzella, also responsible for THE DEVIL'S WEDDING NIGHT (1973) and THE BEAST IN HEAT (1977). A doctor (Stelio Candelli) on a late night house-call tries to help a victim of an auto accident. After dragging her out of the completely undamaged "wreck" (cars are expensive!), plopping her in his passenger seat and slapping her about the face, he declares that she's "all-right" and heads off to his house-call. Once there he leaves her in the car and discovers all sorts of weirdness including an alternate version of the girl, Susan (Rita Calderoni), who seems to think he is her long lost love. When Susan comes in from the car, she finds an strange man in a cape, similar weirdness and alternate version of the doc. The bulk of the film is dreamy seduction sequences desperately try to mimic a lesser Jean Rollin outing, and sometimes succeeding. If you have the hard-core version, there is some added amusement from the inserts that are clearly made for the film, but have different (though similar) actors and sets. For example, the scene where Susan is seduced in the bathtub by a dark skinned girl clumsily cuts to a scene in a similar-style bathtub with a similarly dark skinned girl and a stand in for Calderoni who looks absolutely nothing like her. This may actually heighten your enjoyment of the film, if you are the kind of person who gets a snicker out of that sort of thing. Ok, don't everyone raise your hands at once.

Seamless! No one will ever know.

DOCTOR WHO - THE MOVIE (1996): This is  the TV movie that was designed to revive interest in the Doctor's adventures after the BBC ran the series into the ground in the '80s. It did it's job, but damn is it a big Christmas package of missed opportunity. Set at the turn of the millennium  The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) is carrying the remains of The Master back to Galifrey. Of course The Master's gooey snake-shaped remains get loose and send the Tardis crashing to Earth - more specifically San Francisco, which would be amazingly cool except for the fact that they felt no one would know the difference if they shot in Vancouver. After being injured in a gang shooting, the doctor is killed and returns in younger form (Paul McGann). Meanwhile The Master steals a body named "Bruce" (Eric Roberts) and sets about opening the Eye of Harmony to cause the destruction of Earth. In order to save the Earth, The Doctor and his new friend (Daphne Ashbrook) must steal the atomic clock being used to count down the new year. Uhhhh... right. This is largely considered a mess by all concerned and it is. It's not without its moments, I actually liked it quite a bit when it first came out, but so many years later, its flaws are writ large. McGann plays such a mousy insecure Doctor and Roberts is simply trying to prove that he can tow the line and not cause any trouble that the two leads, who should have been utterly amazing, utterly fail at being as cool as they should have been.
Then there is the script. This project went through more incarnations during the seven years it took to get off the ground (at one point it was going to be a big budget Spielberg production), and there was so much politicking from both sides of the pond, that the final result was the film being drawn and quartered by guys in suits playing tug-of-war with the concept. The final straw came when they had to remove days from the shooting schedule to save money and all of this becomes very obvious on screen. It doesn't make a lot of sense, it isn't very interesting, and makes some very bad decisions (why is The Master a literal snake in human form with venom and funny-looking eyes?), including the a fore mentioned decision to set the film one of the world's most iconic cities and then shoot in Canada. I guess I finally know what it's like to be a New Yorker. On the plus side, at least it doesn't have Steven Moffat's gratingly self-indulgent LBG soapboxing and incessant sobbing scenes. Big points in its favor.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


I am not going to screw around here. No beating around the bush. The Swedes have let me down. Hard. HAMILTON 2 is an absolutely terrible sequel to one of last years big surprises and quite possibly the disappointment of the year.

Hamilton (Mikael Persbrandt) finds himself helping out during a small crisis in Stockholm where a known terrorist is clumsily attempting to assassinate a visiting Palestinian politician. After Hamilton helps to foil the most dunderheaded of assassination attempts with a simple clothesline, the press starts attacking Ewa Tanguy (Frida Hallgren), the head of Säpo (the Swedish secret service), with the help of propaganda from Abdul-Rahman (Milind Soman), the head of an Al'Queda-esque terrorist network. The terrorists decide that if they can undermine confidence in Ewa, they can achieve something that is not made terribly clear.

Predictably enough, Ewa's daughter is soon kidnapped by some ex-SAS operatives and Hamilton is on the case. Even more predictably, this time it's personal, as Hamilton is the godparent of the kidnapped girl.

Writer Stefan Thunberg, who also wrote the first HAMILTON (2011) movie and THE HUNTERS 2 (2010), stumbles through this non-adaptation of the novel, with almost no action, canned dialogue and the most simplistic of plots artificially made complex by lots of pointless scenes that do little more than pad out the film. Matter of fact the script is so disjointed that I'm not even really sure if Hamilton does anything very effective, except perhaps rescue a cat, and it doesn't even focus on a villain for him to face off with. Yes, I said "rescue a cat".

Even James Bond never rescued cats from trees.
Made quiche in a tux, yes, but never a cat from a tree.
The main villain is Abdul-Rahman, but he is only in a few scenes and while he is something of a pompous prick, he hardly seems villainous in the James Bond sense. Sure, he kidnaps a little girl, but he has no intent to harm her. He merely dresses her in a burka and has her read some of his religious propaganda. Granted this isn't very nice and there are better ways to navigate cultural differences in the modern world, but this puts him in the category of "religious creep" rather than, say "Ernst Blofeld". When it comes right down to it, Abdul ain't even fit to sharpen Rosa Klebb's shoe.

Obviously realizing that the villain is rather weak, Thunberg decides to throw in a few minor villains who have even less of an impact, such as a CIA agent who is supposed to be working with Swedish intelligence, but is in fact working with the terrorists. Why is this? Thunberg seems to be using the Bush family's relationship with the Saudi bin Laden family, but in a completely and totally fictional way. Why is that being brought up again with Bush Jr but a distant memory? Who knows? It doesn't bother me if they are going to make the CIA the bad guys, hell, we do it in Hollywood movies all the time, but at least offer some sort of reasoning for it. I'm guessing it's an oil connection, but the script never even hints that might be the case. Perhaps it is simply because The Royal Film Commission of Jordan was involved in the financing of the film, which would explain why the whole Arab terrorist sections of the plot are not only soft-pedaled, but presented as the slightly more aggressive side of a perfectly reasonable political agenda. I'm not saying Islam should be painted in broad strokes, what I'm saying is that there is nothing wrong with making a bunch of violent men with military hardware who kidnap little girls bad guys that a hero (or anti-hero) can prevail against. If your script has only the vaguest pretensions of depth, just leave Islam out of it and make a popcorn movie. There is no shame in that.

The cast seems to have not been handed a copy of the script as there are long pauses during the dialogue, that I'm assuming are substitutions for real drama, where the actors seem unsure of what exactly is going on in the scene and could at any moment break and call for the line. Some of the actors actually seem lost, as if they were not even sure what movie they were in, much less what scene. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that their actions made little sense (one of the kidnappers who Hamilton previously beat up, is now being paid by Hamilton’s boss to help with the rescue mission) and several of the returning characters, such as Mouna (again played by Jordanian pop-star Saba Mubarak), are simply used as window dressing. In the last film Mouna was a dynamic character, every bit Hamilton's equal. Here she gets the wallflower treatment, existing mainly to be framed for shots that look like advertisements for "50 of the World's Most Romantic Melodies" and gaze fondly into Hamilton's eyes whenever the sun sets. I'm beginning to think that Danish director Kathrine Windfeld had more of a hand in the first film's script than she is credited with.

 "Right," I hear you say, "it doesn't have to be all about characters and plot, it's an action movie!" You would think that, wouldn't you? The only action to be found in the film are two hand-to-hand fight scenes and both were over in two seconds and contained so many hand-held close-ups that were rapidly edited together that I have no idea what happened in them. I think there were some kicks and punches, but I can’t say for sure. The only other action is a really brief firefight during the finale which is started because Hamilton makes a rash, out of character decision to fire a shotgun at a terrorist who is within arms reach during a stealth raid, instead of taking the guy out silently. Hamilton, the ne plus ultra of special intelligence agents, puts the entire operation in jeopardy, but if he hadn't, we would have never had a shootout. Not that it actually matters because these three action sequences are so badly directed that they end up being completely unexciting, uninteresting and not in the least bit engaging in any way. The firefight at the end is a few flower-pots short of an '80s TV show.

Instead of keeping Windfeld on board after the success of the first film, for some inexplicable reason the producers decided to hand the sequel over to the Swedish Tobias Falk whose most recent work was on the reasonably-well received video game "Battlefield: Bad Company 2" (2010). Yes, they ditched the class act and went with a video game guy. Everything about this sequel seems like a cheap rush job, that I suspect was shot back to back with part 1. With so little production time between movies (less than a year), I suspect that script pages were falling like the autumn leaves of the September release date. This would explain the script, which feels as composed as a Jackson Pollack painting, and the complete lack of production values (not even a foot chase to liven things up). Fortunately HAMILTON 3: ON HER MAJESTY'S SERVICE, which went into production in August of 2012 with a new writer, has a release date of 2014. Fingers crossed that the producers realized what a turkey part 2 is and are going to use that extra production time and new writer (Petter Skavlan who wrote the acclaimed 2012 film KON-TIKI) to do some serious justice to the series. They have a lot of good will to make up after this stinker.