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 5, 2014

Abyss-mal Cinema: LEVIATHAN (1989)

Hollywood is like a daycare center. Lots of excessive mood-swings, temper tantrums and self-indugent behavior in a noisy microcosm of the real world. The introduction of a virus to the population will run like wildfire through that microcosm. In Hollywood ideas are viral. People talk, scripts are read, concepts are pitched and after a while everyone is in love with the idea, they are not so much so in paying the guy who came up with it. Thus we get a year or two that are stuffed with movies that have similar concepts and even completely identical plots and characters.

In the late ‘80s trade papers and movie magazines were suddenly brimming with info about yet another sub-aquatic genre movie going into production. DEEPSTAR SIX was the first of the cycle and inspite of being touted as a new horror film from the creator of FRIDAY THE 13 (I can see Sean Cunningham coming up with that himself), it quickly sank off the radar in the January no-man’s-land of 1989. A few short months later another film quickly surfaced. Behold LEVIATHAN, an entry in a crowded genre (at least for that year), that to this day is the Rodney Dangerfield of aquatic horror films. No respect at all.

The crew of a sub-oceanic silver mine have only three days remaining before the end of their 90 day shift. We are told this right upfront, which is pretty much like introducing a cop who is about to retire. You know someone is going to have a very bad day.

The crew consists of a diverse group of miners including a sensitive Latino, DeJesus (Michael Carmine) who is having trouble with his suit, we know this because his suit has a red, built-in warning light in the shape of a skull and crossbones that flashes at the wearer when they are about to run out of oxygen. Aside from the fact that I’m sure that some engineer thought this would be extremely helpful information, I really don’t think telling someone that they are about to die because their oxygen is low will actually help conserve air. It probably would have been a lot more helpful to have a bright green message saying “everything is fine, there is nothing to worry about,” but I guess that wouldn’t make for very interesting cinema. Geologist turned project lead, Beck (Peter Weller), finds that the burnout Doc (Richard Crenna), is nowhere to be found during this emergency and also panics, but since it’s Peter Weller, you can’t really tell. Love the guy, but there is a reason he gained fame as an emotionless cyborg police officer.

Rule #1: Never trust Meg Foster
The disaster averted, we discover that the rest of the crew consists of a gruff shop steward, Cobb (Hector Elizondo); a white-trash horndog, “Six Pack” (Daniel Stern); the token brotha, Jones (Ernie Hudson) and the way too hot to even remotely be miners, Williams and Bowman (Amanda Pays and Lisa Eilbacher). Their only contact with the outside is via the Tri-Oceanic Corp corporate liaison, Ms. Martin (Meg Foster playing the part with the oiliest of gusto). You know she is an ice-cold corporate backstabber because she goes by “Ms.”

Right before some well-deserved down time, Six Pack manages to fall off of a seacliff into a nest of “sea-worms” (hell if I know). For some reason in spite of being the sleaziest douchebag to ever work in manual labor, the crew decides to mount a rescue team. Seriously, his workplace sexual harassment could put an entire floor of HR reps into cardiac arrest with his excessive leering, groping, and foul-mouthed shenanigans. Fortunately for him, the local babage are well practiced in the art of thin-lipped smiles. The rescue team finds Mr. Pack strolling around in a sunken Russian ship that he stumbled across, The Leviathan. Once back in aboard the Nostromo – err, I mean the mining shack, the crew digs into a strongbox that has remained sealed under the sea.

As they discover, the ship has clearly been intentionally sunk, and the strongbox has some unusual contents including the files of several deceased crew members and a videotaped captain’s log. Conveniently the Doc is fluent in Russian and discovers that a virus had spread through the ship before she sank. Presumably this virus was not a script for an underwater horror movie. Because there is nothing better than alcohol that has been aged in a pewter, Six Pack manages to sneak a hip flask out of the contents of the strongbox with only Bowman being the wiser. One can only imagine how much more obnoxious he is after getting a high-pressure buzz going.

As it turns out, Beck is more of a geologist than a leader and his difficulty with his crew, including the Doc who could give a rats ass about pretty much anything, is very well trodden ground, and I don’t just mean the obvious connection to ALIEN. That said, because of the solid b-list cast, the build-up never feels strained, Daniel Stern’s scenery chewing notwithstanding. Speaking of which, Six Pack high-tails it back to his bunk to knock back the contraband hooch with Bowman who suddenly, like most single folks  realizes that alcohol will blunt the annoyingness of present company. Sure enough this turns out to be the worst idea since Hitler invaded Russia, and suddenly Six Pack has come down with a horrible infection that is causing his skin to break out and become scaly. It isn’t very long before things take a nasty turn and peeps be mutating faster than you can say “Who Goes There?”

Naturally this all leads to a creature stalking the spaceship-esque corridors and the crew being picked off one by one. Fortunately the company provided them with some much needed equipment for underwater mining, like… flamethrowers. I can’t think of anything more useful when underwater than a flamethrower. Perhaps a screen door, but barring that flamethrowers will do. Presumably the flamethrowers were needed to toast marshmallows. Hey, what is more comforting than making s’mores when you are out in no-man’s land? Gotta keep moral up. The station is also equipped with hyper-modern chainsaws which would be used for… uhhhh… defending yourself against any hostile aquatic species that manage to get past the airlock, I guess. The company must have been planning ahead.

To draw the parallels to ALIEN (1979) and THE THING (1982) even closer, there is a scene in the commissary where a toothy, snake-like creature burrows into a character’s chest (not out of, which would be completely different) and a scene in which the remaining crew discover that the creature has raided the blood supply. These moments, in all honestly, do add up to a pretty plagiaristic outing. On the other hand, director George P. Cosmatos (who Roger Ebert once called “George P. Comatose” due to the high body count of COBRA), brings a surprising amount of energy and slick visuals to the production. Also the writers, David Webb Peoples (BLADE RUNNER) and Jeb Stuart (DIE HARD), create a script that is not slacking when it comes to keeping the action moving and giving then-superstar FX man Stan Winston plenty of opportunity to throw in lots of grisly monster effects, all of these elements which DEEPSTAR SIX sorely lacked.

Back in the day I remember liking Stan Winston’s work, but feeling that he derived perhaps a bit too much inspiration from H.R. Geiger and Carlo Rambaldi’s work in ALIEN in nearly every movie he made. Ironically, both of Winston’s top monster men on LEVIATHAN, Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff (who also wore the suit), went on to do the creature effects for the filmed version of ALIEN 3 (1992). This is also a point of criticism for modern fans; the script is like a cocktail recipe: 2 parts ALIEN, 1 part THE THING (1982) add a generous splash of seawater and shake vigorously. The creature mutates its victims into an amorphous blob of parts which can separate and chase after the cast members. It’s pretty ballsy to filch from a flick that set the bar for latex creatures for decades to come, and if you are going to do it, you better bring your A game. Winston’s work is good, but can’t hold a candle to the lower budgeted John Carpenter film. Also incurring the bizarre wrath of modern fanboys is one of the other great things that DEEPSTAR SIX lacked; the fetching Amanda Pays of “Max Headroom” running around in her underwear. Granted not every film can achieve such greatness, but it is truly appreciated here. Why some trolls have a problem with that I'll never know.

Rounding out the top-shelf genre crew, Dino De Laurentiis’ cousins Luigi and Aurelio produced the film and brought no shame to the family name. In addition to hiring two of the best genre screenwriters of the ‘80s, a cool cast, a top-notch effects crew and a hugely successful action director, but they also had the smarts to bring on the legendary Ron Cobb (who had worked on 1979’s ALIEN) to do the production design. Of course Ron Cobb was also hired by James Cameron to work in the art department as a conceptual designer for THE ABYSS (1989) which would be released five months after LEVIATHAN. Because of Cobb’s involvement, we get some of the best looking lived-in, slightly futuristic sets since Peter Hyams’ gritty science fiction actioner OUTLAND (1981). Clearly the set designers at Italy’s renowned Cinecitta, where the interiors were shot, were allowed a free hand as there is detail in every nook and cranny. From chotchkie's on computer monitors to strange pieces of art in the back ground, every inch of the sets can stand up to freeze-frame scrutiny.

Budgeted at a whopping $24 million, compared to DEEPSTAR SIX’s paltry $8 million, LEVIATHAN completely mopped the floor with the competition in every way, except at the box office. Sure it made more money than SIX (which pulled in just over $8 million) and hit #2 at the box office for one week, but at just under $16 million in grosses, LEVIATHAN actually took a serious beating. SIX broke even, but LEVIATHAN, in spite of being the better of the two films was a major flop. A large part of the reason for this can be attributed to “ALIEN Rip-off Fatigue” (or “ARF”). In 1989 a massive amount of genre films lifted plots, characters and most importantly creatures from both ALIEN (1979) and ALIENS (1986). If you were like me, you thrived on the ALIEN knock-offs, and less so on the ALIENS ones which became gratingly irksome well into the new millennium (thank you Guillermo del Toro). Like them or not there were a massive quantity of these movies clogging videostore shelves and mainstream movie goers were growing weary of what seemed to them to be endless rehashes. The other major factor is the “once bitten” factor. This usually happens with sequels (such as those of the JAWS franchise), but even in general trends, a real stinker can lead to a disillusioned audience. After DEEPSTAR SIX bummed on everyone’s high, it was tough to get people back into the theaters for another round of the same.

The only reason THE ABYSS (1989) made a splash was due to massive marketing hype (mostly centered around the then cutting edge CG effects), and very strong word of mouth accentuating the soppy sentimentality of the love story, appealing to moviegoers who would not normally go see a genre film. LEVIATHAN’s producers toyed with the idea of changing the film's title, concerned that it might not convey the right message to a fickle audience and they may have been right. THE ABYSS had a simple title, a simple concept, and a complex visual effect. Oh yeah, and it had Ed Harris, who was for some inexplicable reason quite popular at the time. Essentially ABYSS was a watercooler film where another ALIEN rip-off, no matter how solid, never would be.

Derivative, sure, however the sum of its parts adds up to a fast paced, highly entertaining sub-aquatic monster film that deserves a lot more respect than it gets.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Abyss-mal Cinema: DEEPSTAR SIX (1989)

Welcome to our newest “Theme Week” (guaranteed to last a month).  Yes, we’ve recovered from covering Bud Spencer and his EXTRA LARGE world that we felt we could handle another run of quasi-related reviews.  We’ve been all over the map with regard to our choices in the past, so we figured why not hit the biggest location of them all: the ocean.

Covering 70% of our little globe (thank you, Google) the ocean has long been a source of human nightmares.  From the Ancient Greeks to JAWS (1975), we’ve always found a way to scare the hell out of ourselves thinking about what lurks in the deep blue sea.  While it would be foolish for us to lay the genesis of cinema’s obsession with all things aquatic at one thing, we’ll do it anyway.  Jules Verne’s 19th century novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea will always bee seen as a crucial point of oceanic fantasy authority. The book’s profound influence on the shaping of cinema can be seen early on as Georges Méliès adapted it into a ten minute silent short in 1907; a feature length silent version from Universal emerged nine years later in 1916.  Most folks, however, will cite the 1954 Disney version 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA as a defining moment in combining science fiction and the sea.

It is precisely that combination that has spurred filmmakers ever since and what has drawn us to covering this world. (Okay, I’ll be honest.  It was a badass Thai poster for DEEPSTAR SIX that got us on this topic.)  While planning this, we had few basic rules.  First, a majority of the films had to take place underwater.  This will keep aquatic beasties who come to land like CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) or HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1980) out of our overview.  Second, an underwater station as the main location was preferable.  Finally, the most important rule, Tom had dibs on reviewing J.P. Simon’s THE RIFT (1989), even though we already reviewed it.  Anyway, if you feel like throwing on your wetsuit and going for a plunge, join us as we dive into Abyss-mal Cinema.  Just make sure you come up slowly as you don’t want the bends.

Naturally, a great place for us to take our first plunge is in the waterlogged year of 1989. Now think what you want about James Cameron, but there is no denying he was a powerhouse at the time with THE TERMINATOR (1984) and ALIENS (1986) being considered insta-classics.  Being huge box office hits didn’t hurt either.  So when the sci-fi wunderkind announced in 1987 that his next project was going to be about aliens found underwater, everyone quickly followed (wet)suit.  Every producer suddenly had an entry in submerged cinema under development; from big studios like MGM to the ever reliable exploitation master Roger Corman (our review of his 1989 entry LORDS OF THE DEEP can be read here). First to make a splash theatrically was Sean S. Cunningham of FRIDAY THE 13th (1980) fame as he got DEEPSTAR SIX into theaters in January 1989.

The film drops the audience 5,200 fathoms (approximately six miles) into the deep sea at Deepstar Six, a state-of-the-art underwater construction facility tasked with building missile platforms for the U.S. Navy.  After some gorgeous underwater credits, we open with submarine pilot McBride (Greg Evigan) in bed with Joyce Collins (Nancy Everhard) as they discuss the relationship that has blossomed between them in the six months they’ve been down here.  Care to guess which two characters are going to survive the events of this film? McBride is quite a charmer, telling her she wouldn’t like a loner type like him and no doubt knocking her off her feet by saying, “You’re like one of the guys.”  We quickly meet the other members of this cranky, eleven member crew.  There is Dallas played by Tom Skerritt and Parker played by Yaphet Kotto…ah, crap, wrong film.  We have station captain Philip Laidlaw (Taurean Blacque); project head Dr. John Van Gelder (Marius Weyers); marine biologist Scarpelli (Nia Peebles); other sub pilot Jim Richardson (Matt McCoy); Russian geologist Burciaga (Elya Baskin); Navy mechanic Snyder (Miguel Ferrer); underwater construction dudes Hodges (Thom Bray) and Osborne (Ronn Carroll); and doctor Diane Norris (Cindy Pickett). Pop quiz – looking over that cast, can you tell me who is going to be the asshole who finally snaps under the pressure?

The plot kicks into motion when a cavern is discovered right where the team is supposed to place a missile platform.  Of course, Van Gelder freaks out for some reason and wants those missiles in place “by the end of the week.”  And you thought your job was high stress?  The team decides the best course of action is to blow up the cavern to see how deep it is.  Get used to the idea of these supposedly smart folks doing dumb stuff. Hodges and Osborne send in a remote camera and promptly lose the feed.  So what do they do?  Disengage their sub and go after it against orders.  Bad news as we get a recreation of the “they’re closing in” monitor scene from ALIENS as the duo’s sub is taken out by something huge. Collins and Burciaga are in the monitoring post when they lose contact and then were get a second recreation of that ALIENS scene as something huge rams their station.  Back at Deepstar Six, they can’t reach either team so Laidlaw and McBride head out to investigate.  Once again, we get the ALIENS blip scene for the third time in fifteen minutes as something huge comes charging at their mini-sub, but backs off when they kill the lights.

Docking with the teetering observation post, Laidlaw and McBride find Collins and Burciaga up to their necks in water.  Oddly, McBride never asks a simple question like “what happened?”  Burciaga shows his flair for Russian dramatics as he dies the moment the rescuers arrive.  During the rescue Laidlaw gets nearly split in half when a metal door collapses on him.  He screams, “Save yourselves” before opting to flood the entire vessel.  Jeez, was he trying to “out drama” the Russian guy?  And, yes, there really are buttons on the wall that say FLOOD and PURGE on them.  McBride and Collins make it back to the mini-sub just in time and you just know he is finally going to ask her what happened.  Nope!  He gives her his wet sweater to warm her up and they hold hands and talk about how much they love each other.

Back at the main base, Collins finally tells someone what happened.  Naturally, her description of something huge attacking their vessel piques the interest of Scarpelli and she suggests it could be a phenomenon where aggressive fish are drawn to bright light.  While getting checked out by the doc, it is revealed that Collins has two different heartbeats. “What was that,” wonders the dense McBride. “That was our baby’s heartbeat,” Collins says.  Oh Jesus. Like bubbles through the snorkel, so are the days of our lives. Can we have somebody get bit by a sea monster now? With four casualties in one afternoon, the group gets the go ahead to abandon their work and head topside.  Of course, Van Gelder is pissed.  He tells Snyder to secure the missiles and this leads us to perhaps the greatest/stupidest plot contrivance every put on film.  I’m not kidding you.  I’ve seen a lot of films and this one is a doozy.  In typing up the commands to secure the missiles, Snyder is prompted by the computer for a reason.  He is given three options for the missile shutdown: 1. Repair or removal 2. natural forces or 3. an act of aggression.  He calls Collins to re-verify her story and ask what he should put in.  She says it was aggressive so he goes with choice three.  This results in the computer stating that all the nuclear missiles will be detonated.  Let me repeat that – all the nuclear missiles will be detonated!  Snyder somehow doesn’t feel the need to confer with anyone about this and within a minute they have several nuclear missiles exploding about a mile from them.  The resulting shockwave rocks the station and, naturally, incapacitates anything they need like oxygen or the decompression unit on the escape pod.

Hey, didn’t the poster for this film say something about underwater aliens on it? Finally, sixty minutes into a ninety minute movie, we start to get some crustacean creature action.  They send Jim out in a big ass diving suit in order to repair a broken line or something.  He says he thinks he saw something (you and me both, pal) before losing contact. They pull him back into the loading area and – finally – that big ol’ monster leaps in and chomps him in half. Well, we assume that is what happens as he is whole in one shot and in half in the next as the scene obviously got ravaged by the MPAA.  As they struggle to shut the tank, no one notices this big monster sliding in.  Soon it makes a meal of Scarpelli (Italian food is the best) and our five remaining survivors safely lock themselves away from it.  That is until they realize they need to repair an air line…in the same room the monster is chilling in.  Armed with shark darts and shotguns (your guess is as good as mine as to why they have shotguns), they reenter so that McBride can fix this hose. Of course, the monster pops up and Snyder proceeds to chicken the fuck out.  He accidentally stabs Van Gelder in the back with a dart, causing his chest to explode (another victim of MPAA cutting).  And now we are down to four as you the remaining folks must find a way to defeat this monster and deal with Snyder cracking up.

Sorry if this review is a little more plot point by plot point centric, but there really isn’t much to talk about in terms of action in this film.  I saw this theatrically back in the day and during my revisit the memories of why I didn’t like it came – pardon the pun – flooding back to me.  For a majority of the film, nothing happens!  In the race to be the first underwater action/sci-fi on the block, Cunningham seems to have forgotten the basics when it comes to making an action movie.  Filmed as DEEP 6, the script, written by Lewis Abernathy and Geof Miller, was first mentioned in Variety in October 1987.  The interesting thing is that this wasn’t just some pre-THE ABYSS (1989) cash in as Abernathy and Cameron were diving buddies.  Apparently Cameron got pissed at Abernathy for making something similar and it caused a – wait for it – rift in their friendship.  (Things got patched up when Abernathy, a Titanic historian, gave Cameron a script about that boat’s sinking; funny how that works.)  According to what Miller told Fangoria, they had written the script to be a low budget feature ($100,000 - $200,000) to make but it grew substantially when Cunningham got involved and made it an $8,000,000 movie. Unfortunately, the script wasn’t fleshed out enough.  Time after time, you will see these character who are smart people do the dumbest things.  Yes, nothing can top Snyder thinking it was okay to detonate nuclear missiles (“I was just following protocol,” he screams in his defense), but some of the stuff is just downright embarrassing.  If you are a fan of actors screaming random techno-babble though (“The cooling primary to the reactor was destroyed. It will go super critical in a few hours!”) this is for you.  Also, if you have a fetish for shots of screens displaying technical stuff, this is a veritable orgy of pixel pornography.

Cunningham claimed he wanted to move away from the slasher mold, but this is nothing more than that with slower pacing.  It also doesn’t help that he ends the film with a FRIDAY THE 13th-esque scare moment. To be fair, there is some good work on display here on the technical side.  The photography by the always reliable Mac Ahlberg is gorgeous and Mark Shostrom’s team has constructed a great creature. Sadly, we never get to see it that much.  Audiences responded in kind when DEEPSTAR SIX came out. It opened in eighth place the weekend of January 17, 1989 and promptly sank like a stone in the following weeks with a final box office haul of $8,143,225.  The next underwater feature to surface was LEVIATHAN (1989) a few months later in March.  I’ll let Tom handle that as I have to get this water out of my ears.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Aus Deutschland mit Scheisse: FOG 2 - REVENGE OF THE EXECUTED (2007)

Let’s get the bad pun out of the way right off the bat.  I have the foggiest memory of this film back in 2000 or so.  Some horror news site had a tiny blurb about the Germans making THE FOG 2 and Andreas Schnaas was someone involved.  My brain somehow concocted this image of a gory-as-hell flick with cool looking rotting sailor zombies; something along the lines of the cheap-but-entertaining ANTHROPOPHAGUS 2000 (1999).  My brain is messed up.  This was before I knew the depths of how bad German shot-on-video cinema could be.  And it was before I knew the name Oliver Krekel.  Shot in 1999 but not released (unleashed?) upon the public for several years, THE FOG 2 (technically the title is FOG², which makes no sense) is nothing more than a glorified home movie that will make you question the stereotype of Germans being efficient with solid craftsmanship.

The film opens with six Nazi soldiers being executed on a beach and their bodies being left to the sea.  We assume this was in the past since it was in black and white.  Director Krekel then cuts to shots of the ocean with a quote about fog credited to one C. Newport.  Once again, the viewer is left to assume.  This could be English seaman Christopher Newport (and I only know about him because Christopher Newport University is just down the road from me) or it could be Chet “Slim” Newport, black sheep of the Newport cigarette empire.  That will give you a hint of how Krekel doesn’t give a damn.  We then jump right into a dream sequence as Jenny (Nadine Nigge, soon to be Krekel’s wife) is haunted by six guys shown in negative image who bellow stuff like, “Du hast uns getötet” (“You killed us”) while pointing swords at her.  She wakes up from her nightmare to find she is safe and sound inside a car.

Her companions are driver Philipp (Krekel), Lukas (Martin Brunnett), Lisa (Katja Clobes) and Tom (Wolfram Saathoff).  Damn, you just know the guy named Tom is going to be the troublemaker.  It appears this motley mannschaft is heading to the beach in Klitmoller, Denmark for a vacation.  The group stops for a bathroom break and we learn that Tom is a prankster as he scares Lisa while wearing a Jason-style hockey mask.  Knew that guy named Tom would be trouble.  Anyway, they arrive in town and find the village empty.  They bang on a couple of doors to see if anyone has a house for rent (apparently pre-planning a vacation is a no-no), but eventually get a place for a guy I’ll just call random dude (Haiko Herden).  The five friends decide to head down to the beach and check out the bunkers left over from World War II.  Bad news as the second they are down there another random dude runs out screaming about money before taking out a gun and shooting himself in the head.  Philipp and Tom run to find an authority to inform and we get first random dude’s brother who I will call randomer dude (Olaf Clobes).  He tells them to go back to the house and not worry about it.

Back at the rental house, Jenny argues that they should leave because Lisa is in shock and nothing spoils a vacation like a random suicide. They decide to stay the night, which allows for another dream sequence for Jenny.  The next morning Philipp and Tom head off to return the keys while we get a riveting scene of luggage loading.  Their plans to split are foiled though because random dude has left a note on his door that he has gone night fishing (never mind that it is still daylight).  The group decides the best course of action is to go back to the beach to find him so they can drop off the keys and pay this dude.  Yes, much more logical than leaving him a note and envelope at his home.  Once again, the beach proves to be a place of death as they find him with his throat torn out.  They get randomer dude on the scene and he declares it was selbstmord (suicide).  Two days, two dead bodies on the beach.  Worst…vacation…ever.

Naturally, these guys think something is up and decide to search random dude’s house with the set of keys Philipp boosted off his corpse.  This leads to a riveting house searching scene. Watch Lukas open a cabinet and then another cabinet and then another cabinet.  The lone item from this haul is a key that opens the indoor fireplace.  Inside they find a book.  This book must be important as random dude returns from the dead with his brother’s severed head. The group splits but not before Philipp gets stabbed to death and random dude gets a pick-axe in the gut and his hand lopped off.  The four remaining folks make it to another house and decide the best course of action isn’t to try to call for help.  Nope, they need to read this book. It is apparently a diary from 1942 and details the preparation of six German officers as they concocted a plan to assassinate Hitler.  Hmmm, I bet one of them is named Tom.  Anyway, the diary also contains a newspaper clipping that says “Attentat Erfolgreich Verhindert: Verrater Executiert” (Assassination Successfully Prevented: Traitors Executed).  Also included is a piece of paper about the killings and Jenny freaks out when she sees the signature of the person who signed off on them.  Turns out it was Erich Hansen, her grandfather.  For some reason Lukas and Lisa head to the town’s lighthouse and the keeper (a slumming Andreas Schnaas; yes, slumming) tells them more info about how the town’s mayor hid some money in the bunker and the dead guys want it back.  Life in the afterlife ain’t cheap.  Finally, around the 43 minute mark, the fog rolls in and it is a race to find the geld and appease these pissed off spirits.

Gott im Himmel!  If you are wondering why I keep saying in my review that someone named Tom might be trouble it is because it’s true.  I was living a quiet and peaceful existence until two weeks ago when VJ co-blogger Tom sent me an email that said “you should totally review this.”  Inside was a link to THE FOG 2.  Knowing my weaknesses too well, I soon found myself with a copy (courtesy of Tom, that sly bastard!). That combined with no life creates a scary situation.  It is as if Tom wanted me to suffer the same pain he endured during Krekel’s later ROBIN HOOD: GHOSTS OF SHERWOOD (2012). A multi-hyphenate of the lowest order Krekel did almost everything on this film from the driving to the editing to the computer FX to the directing.  I’m sure it is him hiding behind the Mr. Magoo credit for the music (really!).  So when it comes to laying the blame at anyone’s feet, we can only blame Tom…er, I mean, Krekel!

Krekel has maintained this was only a fun exercise in filmmaking with friends not to be seen by the public.  That would hold water…had he not released it publicly via his Astro label. Hiding behind a “for the fans by the fans” shield, Herr Director hasn’t so much created a film as he has a glorified home movie.  Now I’m not expecting mind blowing camera work or state-of-the-art effects.  My anticipation is nil when it comes to shot-on-video flicks, but this fails even my realistically low expectations. Hell, we can’t even get proper lighting in this thing (see pic to the right).  Truth be told, I’ve shot better home movies.  The only difference is I didn’t release them to the public to try and make money. And this is not to say that Krekel didn’t have ample opportunity to make something worthwhile.  For example, the town of Klitmoller is a very cool looking place and the idea of it deserted is appropriately atmospheric.  But he can’t capitalize.  Same goes for the abandoned bunkers on the beach.  That is free production value, but he can’t bother to exploit it properly.

Let us not forget the shameful exploitation of John Carpenter and his 1980 horror classic. As if having unimaginative Hollywood hellbent on remaking his entire filmography weren’t bad enough, now he has to contend with leeches with video cameras (honestly, the porn versions of HALLOWEEN had more substance and style).  It is doubly painful when you realize this all had potential if it had a budget and competent filmmakers.  The concept of Nazi zombies haunting the waves is some that has been proven popular both before (SHOCKWAVES) and after (the unmade WORST CASE SCENARIO) this film.  But here is it D.O.A. as our baddies are guys literally wearing the cheapest skull masks you can imagine (you can clearly see their non-rotting human necks where the masks end) while sporting perfectly fine human hands.  It was too much hassle to find gloves?  No, apparently not as some scenes have them wearing gloves. That is just lazy.  Even the gore department, where Germans usually thrive, is poorly done.  This simplicity is matched by the script, which was so basic that I could even follow it with my German being rustier than a undetonated WWII bomb stuck in the dirt. Is there anything positive I can say about the film?  The good news?  It only runs 60 minutes.  The bad news? It exists.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Spy Who Flubbed Me: THE KREMLIN LETTER (1970)

I don’t think I’ll get any argument if I say John Huston is a cinematic legend who has made some of the greatest American films of all time. It sort of goes without saying, even though I just said it. He has adapted works from some of the best writers in America such as Dashiell Hammett, Tennessee Williams and Herman Melville, to name a few. Hell, he made Stockton, CA look tragically romantic.

In the ‘60s due to government scandals, presidential assassinations and a rising interest in transparency, cold war thrillers flourished. Spurred by the international success of some guy named James Bond, the public was inundated with often intricately plotted examples of the genre. The gritty, twisty Michael Caine vehicle THE IPCRESS FILE (1965) became the high-water mark and the razor-sharp Patrick Magoohan series THE PRISONER (1967) turned it all upside-down.

So now we have John Huston, two years before the classics FAT CITY and THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN, making a cold war thriller with the likes of Richard Boone, Nigel Green, Dean Jagger, George Sanders, Orson Welles and Max Von Sydow! This has to be a work of genius, right?

A naval officer with a photographic memory, Ward (Patrick O'Neal), is abruptly discharged from service by unnamed people in the highest echelons of government power. As it turns out, he is essentially fired from his job so that an unnamed government organization (presumably the CIA) can offer him a job to go recruit some aging spies to impersonate Russians and infiltrate Moscow to retrieve The Kremlin Letter, a letter that people will kill to obtain. To help him in this mission, a grizzled spy (Boone) is brought in to show him the ropes. Of course this takes damn near an hour to roll out. Ward needs a lot of cajoling and once we get through that, he has to laconically overcome the resistance of his potential recruits.

Why is this letter so important as to get some grumpy old men out of retirement? As we find out later in the film, it is a letter from the CIA promising assistance to Russia if China obtains nuclear weaponry. Uhhh, yeah. I guess the CIA no longer wants to help out the Reds, so they need to get it back. Why they can’t just tell the Russkies that they’ve changed their mind, or why they really need to send a bunch of old codgers in there instead of an elite team of navy seals is not explained. Unfortunately little else is either.

Often I feel that the use of the phrase “muddled plot” is applied to pretty much anything above an 8th grade education by American critics and moviegoers. If the movie doesn’t spoon feed the audience every detail of the story, then it is branded a confusing mess and the screenwriter is clearly a hack. On the other hand, there are films like this in which the phrase is completely appropriate, though the screenwriters were Huston and his long-time assistant Gladys Hill, the pair of whom also wrote THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING (1975). They must have honed their chops in the five years between the two because here scenes drag on and on with seemingly little point other than to give all of the cast a predetermine amount of screen time, with little focus on actual plot.

Metaphor you say?
The movie feels like a series of vignettes leading up to something big, but when we get to the “big” thing, it seems rather small. Even worse, great actors are squandered in thankless roles. The worst example of this is the late, great George Sanders (as "Warlock") who is given nothing to do except an embarrassing drag routine as a female impersonator in a tacky gay bar. There must have been a pack of alimony lawyers nipping at his heels that year. Orson Welles plays a high-ranking Russian official, but really only has one interesting scene, in which he humiliates the top KGB agent (Max Von Sydow) at a formal dinner in front of his new wife, who he married after having her husband killed. Mandatory espionage mainstay Nigel Green's big scene is being shown shirtless in Mexico running a stable of prostitutes who he has fight each other in the dirt for a cash prize. Oh, and his secret agent name is, without a hint of irony, "The Whore".

The only meaty roles in the film are given to O'Neal and Boone who are fine, but not exactly riveting. O'Neal has a deadpan demeanor that exhibits all of the charisma of wall-paper paste, with women swooning at his feet in spite of sounding like he is in desperate need of a lozenge. Even Christian Bale is in less need of a Ricola. Boone is just plain miscast, playing the role as a good ol' southern uncle (even calling O'Neal "nephew") with a hint of menace, there's nothing about him that says "international operative". Granted this would might be a good cover in the real world, but it utterly fails to give this film the gritty, epic feel that it desperately wants to have. When I stumbled across this movie I thought to myself “how have I never seen this before?” Now I know.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Cyber Monday: THE COMPANION (1994)

The early to mid '90s was a testing ground for modern television. The networks knew sci-fi and action could pull in a younger audience, but there was a lot of stumbling around trying to figure out how to do this. TV movies were a good way to test the popularity of certain subjects without committing to a full series. "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (1987) was hugely successful by providing topical TV soap opera melodrama with some snappy sci-fi uniforms. The human-esque robot genre was hugely popular in the entire decade of the '80s, and in the early '90s the yuppie nightmare subgenre became a major trend with films like PACIFIC HEIGHTS (1990) and SINGLE WHITE FEMALE (1992). Now if only there was a way to wrap that all up into one package and deliver this big, bankable boffo concept to the slavering masses. Armed with these influences writer Ian Seeberg (previously only credited with the 1975 nudist "documentary" THE NAKED PEACOCK), second-time TV director Gary Fleder and the USA network did exactly that. I'm sure it sounded good on paper.

Set in the future, a successful romance novelist, Gillian (Kathryn Harrold), finishes up her virtual book tour in which she promotes her latest novel (which are now on CDs that are read via a tablet PC) on a holographic talk show (hosted by Earl Boen). After arriving home to find her man Alan (an unfamous Bryan Cranston) in the sack with a girl half her age, she decides that a retro-retreat is in order at a 20th Century mountain cabin. Presumably this choice of location is all about the isolated atmosphere condusive to the plot and not at all related to the fact that this will save the production quite a bit of money that would have had to have been spent on more blue fluorescent lighting. Remember, this is the future! Blue fluorescent lights are the future.

Her publisher Charlene (Talia Balsam), is concerned about her isolation and emotional break-up and convinces her to buy a "companion" to take along for the ride. In the future, a "companion" is a common android assistant, popular for menial labor. However, the new models can do everything from sports to intellectual discussions to... taking care of other needs. As the slippery salesman (James Karen) tells her with a leer "they are fully functional". Though making pasta al dente is troublesome, it can detect speedtraps a mile off. What more could you want? Naturally Gillian doesn't want all that extra programming stuff, just a man-like object to be there for her when she needs him. Sort of like a life-sized emotional vibrator.

Once in the mountains, Gillian meets up with an artist couple, Ron and Stacey (Brion James and Joely Fisher), who have their own relationship issues expressed by Stacey's insecurity and Ron's alcoholism. Because it's the future, Ron is a sculptor who creates his statues out of huge blocks of stone with a VR headset linked to a futuristic shotgun. I don't know much about art, but I know what I like to blow up!

Soon the bloom is off the vine and Gillian becomes dissatisfied with the way her new companion, whom she has named Geoffrey (the prolific Bruce Greenwood). She has decided that he acts too robotic and subservient. After fumbling through the manual (in the future instruction books are still made of paper and women still can't understand them), Gillian manages to re-program the "personality" setting from zero to 100% and even splurges for the "slang" option. Instead of this, as you might suspect, turning him into a nasty stereotype, such as a womanizing lounge lizard or a white rapper, it turns him into a good stereotype. A yuppie. You know a "normal" man who all women would love. Soon Gillian is not content with just using him to blot her tears and save her from falling off cliffs and ups his "sexual" programming from zero to 30%. It appears that 30% is good for back rubs and kissing, which apparently is good enough to get Gillian to crank it up to 100%. Instead of turning him into a slim, hairless Ron Jeremy, it turns him into an emotional yuppie who delivers some very slow, gentle missionary position lovemaking accompanied by soft violins. I guess when you are stuck in a desert even tap-water tastes pretty good.

Soon she has him saying "I love you" and reading her romance novels to understand how "real" men behave when in love. Suddenly a crass, aggressive Alan (who somehow managed to find her in the mountains) jealous of Geoffrey, tries to take him down a notch, and that's when the cracks start to appear. Alan gets a broken nose but is stopped before he can really put the boots to the douchebag. As if that wasn't enough, Ron who gets all sleazy after a few drinks, wants to offer her "the real thing". Geoffrey, who presumably doesn't realize that he probably means a bottle of Coke, proceeds to kick his ass too. Of course, this is nothing to be concerned about and Gillian decides that not only is she going to mess with his programming even more, but that she needs to make him be "a fascinating and unpredictable man of mystery". Yeah, that sounds like a great idea. Take someone with a violent temper and make him unpredictable. What could go wrong? Instead of turning into Austin Powers, Geoffrey starts behaving erratically, by way of making breakfast by throwing eggs in a bowl and jabbering about going down to the lake for a picnic at ten o'clock at night.

Worst "morning after" ever.
Finally, a full hour into the film, Geoffrey loses his shit and smashes the vid-phone (the future!) and the programming glove (the future!) and becomes a cyborg Single White Male. There's a bit of conflict with a couple of cast members who are taken out by Geoffrey in very PG rated ways, but a Sam Firstenberg film this ain't. This is aimed squarely at the "Next Generation" crowd who wants more soap than science. To the filmmaker's credit, they don't get lazy and figure since they are in a (cheap) 20th century setting that they don't have to provide any futuristic details. There are plenty of amusing touches to convey the future in addition to the ones above. I enjoyed that fact that in the future, microwaves are even more noisy than they are now and because everyone loves the doors in "Star Trek", they should be automated here and talk to you as well. Didn't Douglas Adams satirize this in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" back in 1978? Also there are the cars of the future. Gillian drives what appears to be a Datsun that hums when it is moving and although you don't see all of Alan's car in one shot, it is a red sports car with the model name "The Patriot" in white. I'm honestly surprised that Ford hasn't stolen that idea for it's F-150 line yet.

Aside from the completely uninteresting Bruce Greenwood who appears to be trying to emulate Brent Spiner, the solid cast keeps the film from becoming too tedious, but is content to waste great actors such as Tracey Walter who shows up briefly as the owner of the local "retro" convenience store and doesn't have a single line. I couldn't help but imagine how inspired the movie would have been with someone like, say Wings Hauser in the role of Geoffrey. He could have carried the film to cult status, playing both sides of Geoffrey's personality with conviction and flair. Granted THE COMPANION is much more successful in creating a science-feeling movie than say, RUNNING DELILAH (1992), but that isn't really saying much and in the end it still feels like a schizophrenic hodge-podge that is trying to appeal to a bizarrely small demographic that loves Oprah, "Star Trek", BLADE RUNNER and THE TERMINATOR and is looking for a romantic drama with bits of thriller and cyborg thrown in. I guess you know who you are.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Cinemasochism: DEATH KICK (1998)

There is nothing we love more than a good ol’ vanity project.  Film itself is a self-centered medium, so there is something doubly alluring/repulsive in a person taking the time and money to publically pat themselves on the back while riding on their own shoulders.  From Steve Seagal’s ON DEADLY GROUND (1994) to John De Hart’s GETEVEN (1993), the vanity project runs the gamut big bucks to “here’s a quarter” budgets.  No doubt falling in the range of the latter is DEATH KICK, a low budget action flick from the Show Me State of Missouri. Damn, I wish you hadn’t shown me.

Although the DVD box and IMDb listing have this as DEATH KICK, the actual onscreen title is the super redundant KICK TO DEATH – DEATH KICK.  That is the cinematic equivalent of a “Danger! Rough Road Ahead” sign that you see while driving.  The film wastes no time getting down to business as five folks of dissimilar backgrounds meet in a tile warehouse.  They are there at the behest of leader Robert Tolcou (Jesse Bean) and despite their diversity they all have one thing in common. They all got screwed by divorce lawyer Adrian Lane (Michael Hartig).  Tolcou’s plan is simple – he and his partner, Andrew Teal (Earnest Hart, Jr.), will kidnap Mr. Lane and bring him back to the warehouse.  Each aggrieved person will then get to spend quality time with the Legal Eagle of their nightmares.  And by quality time I mean they get to have a fighter of their own choosing beat the crap out of him.  Each wronged party must give $50,000 to buy into the game and whoever kills Lane will get $250,000 (to be split 50/50 with their fighting avatar). Teal, a former cop, assures them that it will all be kosher because this warehouse was once a Fed safe house and the cops won’t bother them.

Our ambulance chaser is snatched at his home with barely any resistance and soon brought back to the warehouse and tied up.  What happens next is basically a series of the same scene over and over as Lane is confronted by his disgruntled ex-clients one-by-one and they air their grievances in the court of death kicks. All rise! Up first is Alexandria Dunavich (K.C. Carr), who is pissed that Lane cost her custody of her son during her trial.  She shows this by getting topless, mounting him, and then introducing her fighters, two black girls.  Hey, why does she get two? What she (and the audience) didn’t know is Lane, who looks like a wimpier John Astin, can kick some ass and he disposes of her two fighters. Next up is Tolcou, who is pissed that Lane exposed him as a wife beater and pedophile.  Lane tells him off by saying, “You need a ladder to get to the level of shit.” Ooooooooooooh, burn!  Tolcou’s fighter is a big black dude (Terry Cramer) who wields a mighty stick.  Lane gets him to abandon his weapon and, of course, whoops his ass. Client no. 3 is Tracy White (Corinne Malcolm), a sexy socialite whose entrance is followed by an “ohhhh yeah” on the soundtrack (really!). She is pissed that Lane’s divorce has caused her to become a social pariah in her affluent circle of friends.  Not only that, but she is still upset he “spurned my interest” and gets back at him by having a private fashion show where she drapes her naked body over him while saying how much she checked out his ass during the trial. Quick question: can you figure out whose vanity project this is yet?  Below is a video of the fight between her fighter and Lane.

Take that slow motion punch to the balls as a metaphor for me watching this film. Revenge-minded client no. 4 is Melinda “Matty” Kempt (Deborah Loveless), who says “you killed my mother and father.” Seems when she was sixteen Lane worked on a messy divorce that ended up with Matty’s abusive dad killing her mother and then committing suicide. But wait, there’s more!  Somehow after that she entered into a relationship with Lane (!?!) and she still loves him.  You see, she wants to help him out of this situation…and this somehow involves mounting him topless.  Tolcou speeds up the process and brings in her fighter (Michael Stocker) against her wishes. This results in my favorite bit as Stocker makes sure to turn his back to the camera to show off the martial arts school logo on his jacket, but it is unreadable.  Amazingly, this fight is the first time Lane opts to try to buy off a fighter, but his adversary is having none of that.  Until, that is, he tastes some of Lane’s Average White Guy Fists of Fury.  Beaten down, the fighter pleads for the deal again, but Lane says, “You opened this door, now come on in” before knocking him out with a knee to the head.  Does this guy’s lawyer card say “Adrian Lane, Attorney-at-Law and F’n Bad Ass” on it? Finally, we get Teal. He is upset that Lane uncovered some hidden assets of his during divorce proceedings and wiped him out.  Teal chose to go last because he knew Lane would persevere (“You’re like a cat, always landing on your feet.”) and Teal’s reward is not only the money, but the chance to beat up all the other fighters.  Uh, what?  Yeah, for some reason he takes on all the previous combatants and whoops them all (naturally, they all attack one at a time).  Pshaw, the real test of his martial arts mettle is Lane.  Care to guess who wins?

Your honor, request for a mistrial?  Full disclosure – I have no idea how I got DEATH KICK in my collection.  I mean, I have the DVD and inside is a receipt showing I ordered it online in mid-April for a hefty sum of four dollars, but I have zero recollection of how or why I ordered this.  I don’t even know how I heard about it! Maybe I had a THE LOST WEEKEND (1945) type moment and I was stocking up on ‘90s cheapo action flicks while drunk?  Here’s the problem with that theory – I don’t drink.  So this is a film so brutal that my mind actually tried to make me forgot just what led me to this decision to get this film.  Even worse, it took me two weeks to trudge through this.  With 95% of the action taking place in a dreary cinderblock warehouse, the film was a mental endurance test of the highest order with scene after scene of bad fights set to numbing guitar on the soundtrack.  Honestly, I’ve had cavity fillings that were more fun.  Did I finally meet my match?  A film so bad that it would make me tap out? Nah, I’m tough.  Tough and dumb.

If you haven’t already figured it out, DEATH KICK is a vanity project for Michael Hartig.  A former St. Louis police officer, Hartig is not only the lead here but also wrote and produced the film.  Even without the Hartig-centric opening credits, any astute viewer would know something was up during the first attorney/client showdown.  Not only is Adrian Lane presented as a super successful attorney, but he is shown to have a quick wit, is a badass fighter, and irresistible hunk.  This might work if say the litigious lead was Harrison Ford or Gregory Peck, but Hartig’s Lane is no Atticus Finch.  Hell, in terms of legal Lotharios, he’s not even Vinny Gambini! Sporting a terrible toupee, Hartig looks kind of like Bruno Kirby or ‘80s Sonny Bono and is about as attractive as the former and as dangerous as the latter.  So the idea that this man can not only kick ass, but literally get women to drop their panties (yes, that happens!) is ridiculous.  No joke, there are three central female characters in this film and at some point in the film all three press their naked bodies up against Hartig while cooing about how sexy he is.  The film is basically a live-action capturing of Hartig’s fantasies.

Speaking of which, I started to wonder if we weren’t seeing something on a more subconscious level.  Initially I thought Hartig must have gone through a messy divorce, but he has the bloodsucking lawyer the hero here.  Not only that, the film features scene-after-scene of Hartig being tied up.  Now I get that it works in the mechanics of the story, but I couldn’t help but wonder if Hartig is working out some serious mental kinks (emphasis on the “kink”) while making this.  To his credit, Hartig does do his own stunt work and I swear is slammed into the same warehouse door at least a thousand times.  But you just have to wonder how the hell did this get made?  Did no one have the heart to tell Hartig how silly this all looked? Regardless, I have some strange admiration for guys like this who throw it all out there, world be damned. The only thing GETEVEN’s lawyer-cum-leading-man De Hart has up on him is that he sang two songs on the soundtrack.  True story: I got very excited when a song was warbled over the DEATH KICK end credits, but, alas, it was not sung by Hartig.    I was initially sad to see on the IMDb that Hartig had passed away in 2004, but it appears to be an error as his Linkedin page shows he is still around and running his production company.  His main occupation, however, is still law enforcement. Somewhere a collection of ropes and B-movie actresses willing to do nudity breathed a sigh of relief.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Spy Who Flubbed Me: LE MAGNIFIQUE (1973)

Jean-Paul Belmondo has made a lot of movies, of which many, or most, have been huge box office hits in Europe. They have also been very popular in Asia and have influenced many Hong Kong films, including the early works of Jackie Chan. While Chan never completely plagiarized Belmondo's work that I know of, many of his early action set-pieces and lack of stunt double are more than a little similar.

Admittedly I’ve seen only a handful of Belmondo's films. The ones that I have seen, such as COP OR HOOD (1979) and THE PROFESSIONAL (1981), have been entertaining but, as far as I could see, nothing to set the world on fire. Certainly nothing to warrant the world-wide fame and celebrity status that Belmondo would no doubt himself be proud to bask in… Until now.

(Mild spoilers forthcoming) The movie opens with an incredibly bizarre, stylized scene of a US secret agent in Acapulco being whisked away in a phone booth by a helicopter, only to be dumped into the ocean where divers attach a shark cage to the phone booth allowing the agent to be attacked by said shark with blood billowing through the water. If that sequence doesn't blow your mind and hook you in, this is just not your kind of movie. Of course there is only one thing for the agency to do now! Get top agent Bob Saint-Clair (Belmondo) on the job! Super-suave, sharp-dressed and with teeth so white they almost sparkle, Saint-Clair is so flamboyant that Simon Templar would feel like a wall-flower next to him. They said he was an "agent". They didn't say anything about "secret".

Saint-Clair, bent for revenge (in an extremely Colgate ad kind of way) is hot on the heels of Karpov (Vittorio Caprioli), a megalomaniacal arch-villain with an army of black leather clad troopers who is looking to take over the world with his organization of evil. Actually, Saint-Clair spends less time chasing after Karpov than he does chasing after the ravishing Tatiana (Jacqueline Bisset), and who can blame him? Karpov is actually the one doing the chasing, desperately trying to liquidate Saint-Clair by any means necessary. Those means usually are sending hordes of his foot-soldiers after Saint-Clair only to be casually shot down by the super-agent in mid-tryst. And this is only the beginning of the film!

This completely over-the-top, occasionally surreal spoof of James Bond films works amazingly well. It is hugely imaginative, incredibly bloody (in a cartoon way) and often hilarious. Better still, (big spoiler) it has another layer. We discover that Bob Saint-Clair is actually a work of fiction, a character written in a series of novels by the scruffy, chain-smoking writer François Merlin (Belmondo, again). Merlin uses the people he sees in everyday life as characters in his novels including his sleazy, egotistical boss (Caprioli) and the lovely, book-worm college student (Bisset) down the hall.

In all of the Belmondo films that I have seen, he typically plays a hard-boiled cop with a flair for the dramatic. In COP OR HOOD (1979), he shows a bit of comic flair, but it is completely misplaced in an otherwise serious action outing. Here he is allowed to unleash his rather baroque comic talents with everything from clever wit to the campy pratfalls that the French love so much. Belmondo has professed his enthusiasm for the work of Steve McQueen, even occasionally referencing it in his films, such as the '67 Mustang chase sequence in THE OUTSIDER (1983), which was reportedly done as a tribute to McQueen who had succumbed to cancer three years earlier. Perhaps this is why Bisset, who starred opposite McQueen in BULLIT (1968), was cast. Regardless of the reason, she is perfect fit, playing the introverted nebbish and the ravishing Bond girl archetype with aplomb and is an equal partner in making this film work.

Directed by Philippe de Broca, this is considered to be a Belmondo classic and it’s easy to see why. The movie moves at a brisk pace and doesn’t come to a screeching halt, as you would expect, when the filmmakers delve into Merlin’s life of bleak drudgery. The use of atmosphere to contrast the two “lives” is perfectly executed with bright-colors and sunlight for Saint-Clair’s world and drab grays and rain for Merlin’s. Surprisingly, celebrated screenwriter Francis Veber (who has written more films that have been remade in the US than probably anyone else in history) had his name removed from the credits after Broca and Caprioli did some rewrites. Perhaps he wasn't pleased with the level of excessive violence, such as a scene in which Saint-Clair literally shoots out a man's brains, which neatly fall in a plate on a bistro table. It may not have been exactly what Veber wanted it to be, but it is a great movie that completely changed my American perception of Belmondo movies. I hope Veber can find solace in that.