Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Con Air (1995)

Right, believe it or not but there was a time (the flashy 90's) when Producer Jerry Bruckheimer (and originally Don Simpson) was king of the box office action genre. Spread throughout the 90's we had to endure a string of style over substance action vehicles that were literally all about the visuals and not much else. Kicking off with 'Crimson Tide' then followed by 'Bad Boys', 'The Rock', 'Con Air', 'Armageddon', and finishing with 'Gone in Sixty Seconds' at the start of the millennium.

So let's get down to the brass tacks here, 'Con Air' is essentially a 90's version of The Fast and the Furious franchise, albeit the later movies in that franchise. In fact you could easily have a movie called 'Con Air vs Fast and Furious' and it would totally make sense. Except 'Con Air' was far more manly than that camp Vin Diesel shit. This movie was all about plosions, guns, muscles, and quips. It was pretty much a man's man movie, no girls allowed. All the blokes in the cinemas watching this were chompin' on Yorkie bars dagnabbit! Your muscles had to be a certain size to even get into the screenings for fecks sake! Yup, this movie was all about big male balls. Total man stuff, gruff sweaty man muscles, lookin' cool, soundin' cool, and not giving a feck about anything. If any of this offended you then you were shit outta luck.

But what's funny is the plot is actually kinda original and kinda cool. Unlike the repetitive superhero crap we constantly get now or the yawn-inducing farse that is the Fast and Furious franchise, 'Con Air' actually had a neat little concept. Yeah sure it was still cheesy as feck and made no sense but the basic idea was sound. A special airline for the transportation of criminals gets hijacked by the cons, simple yet effective. Who knew there was such a thing as convict air? Not me. That alone intrigued me to find out more. So yes the premise is a simple hijacking but it still gave you something a bit different.

But aside from guns, muscles, and sweat, this movie was also the perfect recipe for a stunning cast. You've got a plane full of convicts, who can we cast? I know, lets cast all the top characters actors we can muster. Sorted. Let's make no bones about it, this movies cast is highly impressive, even though at the time most were still relatively unknown. Yes tis true, believe it or not but at the time some of these top stars were small fry. Take Danny Trejo for instance, before 'Con Air' he was merely known as that guy who starred in a few Robert Rodriguez flicks as a baddie. Ving Rhames was solely known for 'Pulp Fiction'. Nick Chinlund was merely another background baddie guy. Rachel Ticotin was the chick from 'Total Recall'.  And then you had various actors who you probably recognised from various smaller things such as M.C. Gainey, Renoly Santiago, Jesse Borrego, and Steve Eastin.

Of course the movie is ludicrous, utterly flawed in many ways. But this is what has made it something of a cult. The hyperbolic performances are one thing but the plot gaffs, cliches, stereotypes, and decisions are another. For starters, at the start these guys at the bar seem to pick on Cameron Poe (Nic Cage) purely because he's with a pretty woman. They literally act like children and start bullying Poe seemingly because they are jealous. Then later on (after school?) they actually wait for Poe (in the pissing rain) in the carpark so they can beat him up? How long did they wait?? And really?

When Poe is convicted and sent to prison, the minute he walks into the cell block all the prisoners start jeering him...because prison cliches. Also Poe has a workout routine montage...because cliches. Also Poe doesn't seem to get his haircut whilst in prison, why? Yes its prison but I'm sure there are basic facilities for things like that. Not everyone walks around with hair down to their shoulders. You'd also think he'd get it cut before leaving to see his family again.

Then there are many little touches that just beg questions. Vince Larkin (John Cusack) keeps referring to the airliner with the convicts on as 'his plane'. Is it really his plane? Like does he own it or something? He is always worrying about the plane like it's his personal property. What the hell happened to Pinball (Dave Chappelle)? He gets left behind by mistake and whilst attempting to get back on he gets sucked up by the landing gear?? He's literally running by the side of the plane and we are meant to believe he somehow gets caught up in the wheels? Later on we are shown a terribly fake Pinball/Chappelle body in the bowels of the plane all in one piece, eh??

At one point more cons are transferred onto the plane during a sandstorm which allows Cyrus the Virus (John Malkovich) and co to wear masks. But what if there hadn't been a sandstorm? What would they have done then? And how come no guards recognised Cyrus or his voice?? When Larkin discovers where the convict plane is heading he races off in DEA agent Malloy's flashy sports car (bit of obvious glitzy car porn). But where did he get the keys? Then later on in the desert the cops walk into the most obvious trap set by the cons. During the following shootout against the cops, Johnny 23 (Danny Trejo) seems to only be interested in raping guard Bishop (Rachel Ticotin). Maybe escape first, rape later? Then during one of the movies numerous big finales Swamp Thing (M.C. Gainey) must land the plane on the Las Vegas strip. How does this not cause mass chaos destruction and death?? 

And I guess I have to mention the bizarre death of Cyrus. In another one of the movies big finales, Cyrus and co escape from the downed plane in a fire truck, causing yet more chaos and destruction. Eventually they obviously crash said fire truck (into a construction site) which leads to Cyrus being, somehow, decapitated by some highly dangerous rock crushing machine. The oddity of this death is how Cyrus' body manages to get into this position of being decapitated in the first place; and why exactly a dangerous machine like this is still running at night with no one around supervising.

Then, of course, there is the total curveball of Garland Greene (Steve Buscemi) being touted and paraded around the entire movie as the most dangerous bad guy ever, only to do absolutely nothing. This guy is feared by the badass criminals because he is the killer of killers, but he does zip. Kudos for the setup but what actually is the deal with Greene? What was the point? At one point he clearly states how he once wore the head of one of his victims (a little girl) as a hat through three states. Then later on we see him getting all cozy with this little girl and we are meant to fear the worst. But he doesn't kill her, he doesn't do anything, and then we see him gambling in Vegas right at the end as if he's decided to change his life. But did he? Did he change? Or was this last scene just for laughs? (it totally was).

To be clear, this movie and all involved were aware of what the goal was here. I myself am also aware of what the aim was, what this movie was doing. And by that I mean (in case you haven't already guessed) its a nonstop thrill ride that isn't supposed to be taken seriously. Now whilst you could say that overrides all my points (which it kinda does), that doesn't mean you can't point them out and maybe mention that the movie could have been much much better had these issues been addressed. Take 'The Rock' for example, that's a very similar movie which is in my view the better movie because it's a tad more grounded, at times.

But overall, yeah, sit back, relax, grab some victuals and pop, and strap yourself in for a movie that utterly screams Michael Bay but isn't. High energy, high-octane, fast food, popcorn fodder. The movie doesn't give a rats ass and neither should you, but please take my review into consideration. The not politically correct equivalent to most modern action flicks, well anything with Vin Diesel or Dwayne Johnson in basically.


Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Hellboy (2019)

Another major movie starring Milla Jovovich, another major flop. Hmmmm.

So we have yet another Hollywood reboot, correction, we have another pointless Hollywood reboot. Yep for some reason unbeknownst to themselves the powers that be thought it prudent to start all over again with this Mike Mignola universe instead of making the third movie in a del Toro trilogy. This essentially going against what the majority of the fans wanted. That's business acumen right there folks.

So let's delve into this reboot one part at a time. Firstly the controversy (on Twitter). Ed Skrein was originally cast as the character Ben Daimio, who in the original source material is Japanese-American. Ed Skrein is of course a caucasian male which enraged and triggered the 'woke' Twitterati. This led to online protests to get Skrein removed from the project. Skrein eventually decided to quit the role in order to appease said Twitterati, a big mistake (or was it?). Funnily enough the role went to one actor who I believe was actually involved in the online protests, Daniel Dae Kim (talk about low huh). Yet what was even more amusing (and hypocritical) was the fact that Kim is actually Korean, not Japanese, but he wasn't gonna let a silly thing like that ruin his chances (insert eye-roll emoticon here).

The Opening: Yeah it's bad, really cheesy, really bad. Not only does it look like a very poor attempt at the type of visuals '300' achieved, but the narration alongside it is also just terrible. It just sounds like some bloke reading the paper. It's right here that you discover the CGI is not gonna be good in this movie. Also the opening title sequence shows us a pretty poor looking Hellboy title. This then leads into a wrestling match sequence which is basically shit and again looks bad. 'Van Helsing' levels of CGI at this point.

The Main Villain: The main villain in this movie is Vivian Nimue, better known as the Lady in the Lake from the tales of King Arthur. Only here she is known as the Blood Queen (in Blade-esque fashion) and is a baddie. It is this character that is played by the great actress Milla Jovovich, yeah. Her assistant in this movie is a big humanoid rubbery looking warthog mutant character with a Mancunian accent, for some reason. He is called Gruagach. Apparently Gruagach is Changeling, a baby fairy that is left in place of a human child which has been stolen by grown-up fairies, for some reason. Thing is Hellboy saw through this and managed to get the human baby back. This angered Gruagach as he lost his chance to become a human, or something.

Hellboy: Played by David Harbour is fine and very similar (in my view) to Ron Perlman's performance. I mean in all honesty it couldn't really differ that much could it. He was always gonna talk a certain way and his dry wry humour was always gonna be that way. He was hardly gonna be like Deadpool or Spider-Man was he. But here's the thing, his makeup actually looked worse than the Perlman/del Toro version, in my view. From a distance it wasn't too bad, up close it looked poor. You could literally see the joins and marks of the rubber prosthetics.

Giants: From the rather nice wood panelled interior of the Osiris Club we follow Hellboy and its members on a giant slaying hunt which essentially looks like something from a Monty Python movie. All these guys roam the English countryside in full regalia, with Hellboy, and no one sees this. The giants eventually turn up in one of the most awful looking CGI action sequences I've seen for some time with some of the worst looking CGI blood. Hellboy kills them all and still not one person passes by and sees anything.

Characters seem to pop up outta nowhere with no real explanation. There are three witches that sewn the dismembered Nimue (as she was left from back in her King Arthur days) back together. They just turned up for that scene then disappeared. I assume they were her coven from the Dark Ages but where did they go? Where did they come from? Where had they been all this time? Another witch called Baba Yaga turns up for one scene in another dimension or something. No real explanations to this character, she's just there and has a history with Hellboy, apparently. Although this scene is easily the best looking and most creepy. Baba Yaga is a truly shocking creature, her pale skeletal body constantly contorting in a nightmarish manner as she moves around. As said the character just seems to turn up out of the blue for no real reason but it is a brilliantly nasty sequence which could easily fit into an actual horror movie.

Merlin: Yes another character churned out for a few minutes before crumbling away. Merlin appears to be Irish in this movie...K. He also offers Hellboy one fleeting chance to take the sword Excalibur to slay Nimue. It comes across as a one time offer. But Hellboy finds it later on in a secret crypt beneath St Pauls Cathedral which was odd. Pretty sure Merlin's offer was a one time deal. Anyway Merlin also reveals Hellboy is actually a distant relation of King Arthur, because of course he is.

Jaguar-Man: Yep, the character of Ben Daimio can turn into a Jaguar. A sort of wereJaguar if you will. Apparently he was attacked and badly scarred by a supernatural entity (in the form of a jaguar) and now he changes into a super-powered jaguar when angered. So basically the Hulk...if the Hulk was a jaguar, or a werewolf. This results in very cheesy looking CGI special effects and sound effects.

The Finale: So Hellboy inevitably turns bad (or it seems) and the Earth opens up setting loads of devilish minions free to cause violent havoc. Sounds cool and you'd think it would be but once again the visual effects are pretty dire. Everything looks like in-game videogame footage from an old Resident Evil game or the latest first-person monster shooter. It all looked so fake and cheesy. It's also at this point that the fake looking CGI blood and deaths go way overboard. Humans are being killed left right and centre in really corny Mortal Kombat type ways, it's too much.

In short, this movie requires you to know quite a lot about the original Hellboy comic series. Now on one hand whilst I fully understand and support why they have gone down that route (its nice to see some true respect to the original source material), it does make the movie feel like a bit of a slog for the uninitiated. I don't know very much about the Hellboy comics so I found myself asking many questions as there was little explanation. It also felt like a huge amount of material was crammed into this one movie with tonnes of characters, nods, winks, and background details. Yes that's cool, but it's also a bit overwhelming. Still, I have to admit to kinda liking this. Overall it is a bad clustered movie with awful visual effects but the combination of myths, monsters, and fantasy with an 18 rating kept me engaged.


Sunday, 14 July 2019

The Principle (1987)

Ah the old, teacher gets sent to a shitty high school in a shitty area where all the kids are unruly and is tasked with trying to turn them around, routine. How many times have we seen this idea played out? I thought I had seen them all but up pops this James Belushi vehicle. So yeah, think along the lines of 'Dangerous Minds' and to some extent 'The Substitute' and maybe 'Toy Soldiers'. The last of which also starred Louis Gosset Jr. I might add.

OK so the plot isn't quite the same as all of those movies, they each deviate but still have a common theme. In this movie whilst out drinking teacher Rick Latimer (Belushi) spots his ex at a bar with another guy. He attacks the guy and ends up damaging his car. For his punishment, the Board of Education sends him to another school in another district where there is a crime/gang problem (and lack of willing teachers). Not really sure why he wasn't fired truth be told. Or put in prison either as a matter of fact. Anyway naturally Latimer hates this decision but once at the school decides to try and clean it up...with predictable outcomes.

So as you can imagine the school is chock full of all the classic 80's stereotypes both with the students and teachers. The students are mostly made up of minorities and range from Latino gangster wannabes, punks, sluts, extras from a Vanilla Ice gig, jocks, and rednecks. Whereas the teachers are mostly white, middle-aged, wholesome looking, weedy looking, geeky looking, and completely out of their depths (although they seemingly know how to handle the kids to a degree). Gosset plays Phillips the school head security guard. An aging man who once had a shot at going somewhere in sports but got an unlucky injury. You get the impression that Phillips being black means he would be able to see eye to eye with some of the students. Talk to them on their own level, gain a bit of their respect or trust. One reason why he has survived in the job for so long. But this trope doesn't actually come up.

You could also look into the old 'white saviour' motif in this movie, if you see it that way. You could say that Belushi plays the stereotypical white character that comes along to a poor area made up of minorities and saves them all. I mean you could look at it that way. But on the other hand, if the main character was also a minority then you wouldn't get that clash of cultures which is obviously the main crux (the only movie I know that has reversed that idea being 'One Eight Seven'). You also have to acknowledge that in reality the truth hurts, and that truth is there are many schools like this and mostly they tend to be made up of minority students. The school doesn't even have to be in a poor area to have the same issues really. The old class/poverty argument can be more of an excuse in my personal opinion. Being poor doesn't mean you have to join a gang or act like an arse in school.

Obviously things are deliberately to the max in this movie. The school (a very typical huge American high school) itself is really dated looking and in a bad state. Literally everywhere is covered in graffiti. The entire place needs a paint job. Everything looks rusty or dirty. All the equipment is dated. The place looks like a literal health hazard truth be told. I can't believe there would be any schools that actually looked like this in reality, at least these days.

As for the story and characters, well its exactly as you'd expect. You can virtually predict every scene, you know exactly what's gonna happen its that cliche. Latimer is a tough guy but manages to get through to a few of the kids. He visits one female student to try and bring her around, eventually succeeding of course. He gets into some scraps, some situations. Phillips acts more like the wise sidekick on occasion although he isn't of that much help generally. And in the end, in a long sequence that is typically over the top, Latimer must face-off against the main gang that rules the school. Although considering what has happened in schools over the years with shootings, maybe this isn't over the top anymore (it would have been when I was at school).

The real problem with this movie is the casting of Belushi. This supposed to be a crime thriller but Belushi is badly miscast. Around the time this movie was made Belushi was mainly a funny guy actor, comedies or action comedies. This type of serious social commentary, mixed with some thrills, isn't really right for a young Belushi. Every scene which is clearly supposed to serious, and at times emotional, it just gets lost on Belushi. He isn't even that good with the small bits of action either as he looks terribly unfit and sweaty. Nowhere near as cool as he clearly thinks he is. Not that this movie would have been anything special with anyone else, its a cliche fest, but Belushi was just a bad choice in my eyes. The criminal students are actually the highlight here, much better performances from the 'bad guys'.

Visually this looks quite good. I liked the sprawling ramshackle all-American 80's high school, and I liked some of the shots with the lighting effects. But apart from that its all very meh. Watching a chubby Belushi thinking he's ice cool as he rides around on his dated looking motorbike was cringeworthy to say the least.


Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Pink Cadillac (1989)

In the long long long filmography of the mighty Clint Eastwood, this has to be one of the most unusual. Unusual in the fact that whilst watching it you're wondering just why the hell he agreed to star in it (other than lots of money obviously). In short, this movie is absolute hot garbage, red hot trash, and I'm not being funny. It's just odd because this is Clint we're talking about and this movie really is that bad.

So basically, Lou Ann (Bernadette Peters) is white trash living in a trailer park (yep the stereotypes come thick n fast here). Her other half Roy (Timothy Carhart) is a member of a white supremacist group (perfect political commentary for this modern age as everyone loves white supremacists these days). The group has a large sum of counterfeit money (turns out to be real but that matters not one jot in the grand scheme of things) which Roy is supposed to look after. Alas he gets busted and Lou Ann takes the fall. 

Feeling somewhat fed up Lou Ann does a runner in Roy's pink Cadillac (ah ha!) which is exactly where he stores the loot (see where this is going yet?). So Roy and his nasty white male friends go after her. At the same time Tommy Nowak (Eastwood) is hired to track down Lou Ann and bring her back to Sacramento (I think it was) cos she skipped bail. Naturally Tommy finds her but falls in love and ends up helping her yadda yadda yadda. Oh and there's also a baby involved which probably would have been killed by the end of this story considering all the danger.

OK so firstly Clint is clearly too old in this movie. He was too old way before this but its really showing here. Yeah he looks sort of OK but he can barely move with any speed and its painfully obvious in all action sequences which don't involve simply standing still and punching someone. There are far too many obvious stunt double moments and one sequence where Tommy runs after this other guy in downtown Reno (unfortunately an aged fat bloke) is hilariously awful looking. Both guys are clearly running at a snails pace and clearly having trouble at that! It really does look very very bad.

The very first time we see Tommy bust some criminal he's been hired to track is also really stupid. Tommy is supposedly a master of disguise (oh yes) and he goes to this huge amount of trouble to set this criminal up. But in a wholly idiotic move he reveals himself to the criminal before he gets the guy fully in his car. This of course leads to a fight which totally could have been avoided. Now let's focus on Tommy and his disguises, and by that I mean Clint and his God awful acting. Yep Clint can do the steely-eyed, somewhat muted tough guy, but sure as hell can't do comedy. The scene where he's pretending to be some kind of brash casino contest host is pure cringe, 100% face behind your hands cringe. Later on he then pretends to be a slack-jawed yokel type, oh Jesus!

But wait, that's not all. The movie is titled 'Pink Cadillac' after the car they use for most of the runtime. This is completely pointless though because they could have used any car, it really didn't make a blind bit of difference. I guess it just sounded kinda cool. Much of the movie is set in Reno which I have been to and here lies another problem. Reno is a small city, the main casino strip is actually very small, just two or three rather short streets that don't actually have that many casinos (as of 2019). So it's pretty clear they must have driven around in circles to make the car chases and in-car shots look good.

And then we have the bad guys, oh boy. Now these guys are your stereotypical gun wielding, redneck, yeehaw yokels that seemingly do nothing all day but get drunk and fire guns in their homemade firing range. They all dress as you'd expect in military fatigues or jeans with big belt buckles, and they all have guns, knives, and big 4x4 trucks. Their homemade base is just like some Scout camping activity centre complete with a fake town to run around in and shoot guns. And their leader Alex (Michael Des Barres) is a short scrawny little guy with a greasy ponytail. The bad guys literally look like a bunch of dads at Scout camp trying to look cool.

Yeah so this movie will probably pan out exactly as you might expect...except for one thing, we don't actually know what happens to most of the characters at the end. Yes believe it or not but this movie isn't that violent. In fact you hardly see any bad guys getting killed at all. I would have bet my bottom Dollar on some of the arsehole baddies getting killed off but nope. But referring back to my original point, we don't actually find out what happens to most of the bad guys. Do they simply stop being supremacists? Or do they even live? Dunno. Same goes for Lou Ann's other half Roy who is a main character. No clue what happens to him. The movie just ends after a car chase just as you were expecting the boss to get killed, did he? You just hear the sound effects of a car crashing (low budget? Lack of time?).

So yeah, a cheap looking pile of poo basically. The final showdown really highlights how poor this movie is. It's like a TV show.  The only plus point that I can think of was the nice locations and backdrops. It feels like an ill-conceived comedy spin-off from the Dirty Harry franchise. A huge misfire trying to ride the coattails of another Clint hit.


Thursday, 4 July 2019

Atomic Blonde (2017)

Set in the late 80's around the fall of the Berlin Wall, 'Atomic Blonde' is yet another swish spy thriller that kinda rides on James Bond coattails but also throws in some John Wick and Jason Bourne for good measure. This film is actually based on a graphic novel called 'The Coldest City' which is something I never knew. Sounds like all the ingredients for an absolute sizzler.

The Twisty Plot: Under MI6 orders and with the help of the CIA, Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is trying to get her hands on a list, a list of spies that if it gets out will naturally compromise said spies lives. David Percival (James McAvoy) is an MI6 Station Chief located in Berlin who is assigned to help Broughton. Delphine LaSalle (Sofia Boutella) is a French agent who falls for Broughton whilst trying to help her. And of course there are various other (Russian) characters who are trying to get their hands on said list to either sell or utilise. Oh and there is also an East German secret police (Stasi) agent who originally had the list and also memorised it, so Broughton has to save his ass too.

I must also point out that this entire story is actually told in flashback as Broughton recalls her entire mission in a debriefing to both MI6 and CIA heads. Personally I thought this was a daft thing to do simply because it just gives the whole game away doesn't it. Broughton is all beat up so we know she's gonna get into some major fisticuffs. She's alive so we know she isn't gonna die at any point. She also seems to have no major visual injuries (other than cuts scrapes and bruises) so again this takes away from any possible tension. And lastly she's alone so that could indicate no one else survives. Basically this direction kinda takes away the stakes of the plot, cos you know she's OK at the end. These sequences also tend to bring the film to a halt.

But the real problem with this film is the fact it's trying way too hard with all its various little branches. There are so many twists and turns which lead to you the viewer not really trusting anyone or anything you see. It sounds devilishly cool but it isn't, it's actually frustrating. Every character has their own basic reason for wanting the list, but you don't really get much beyond that. Yeah some wanna sell it, some wanna use it, Broughton is trying to presumably save the spies on it. But despite all the spy intrigue the characters are pretty shallow. Also, as I said you can't really trust anyone so again you can never be sure what their actual motivations are.

The absolute epitome of this is the ending. Spoiler alert, this film has around three different endings and each one makes a complete U-turn on Broughton. It literally feels like the writers and director couldn't decide on which ending they liked best so they rewrote them in order to cram them all in! You think it's over...and it isn't. You think Broughton is on this side...and she isn't, or that side! I couldn't even be sure if she was actually on the side she finishes with, fully expected another twist.

Yes all the reports are correct in that the action is superb, what there is of it. Yes the action is very John Wick-esque (director David Leitch directed 'John Wick') when it happens, but this is far more of a complicated spy thriller than 'Jane Wick'. Pretty much all of the action sequences are top notch in execution (except for the odd bit of greenscreen and CGI) and highly savage. Theron trained to do the scenes and it shows. One scene in particular, in a stairwell, seemed to be one long continuous shot of non-stop bone cracking, impossible to live through, carnage. Highly impressive, highly unrealistic if you think about it, but highly engaging. Had this come before the original Wick flick then it would be even more impressive.

I don't wanna keep bringing up the John Wick franchise but considering the links here it's kinda hard not to frankly. So yes overall this film does essentially look like a John Wick film only with a lot more neon and 80's nostalgia. On one hand it looks great, on the other hand it again looks like they're trying too hard. Seriously why so much neon?? Its like Leitch tried to make the entire film look like that nightclub scene from 'The Terminator', or an early MTV music video. This also goes for the soundtrack which becomes wholly annoying. Almost every scene has an 80's tune in it for no real reason other than to remind you its the 80's. A lot of this simply felt like style over substance and overall it tries to be too clever for its own good.


Sunday, 30 June 2019

The New Barbarians (ITL, 1983)

aka 'Warriors of the Wasteland' upon release in the US.

From the infamous cult Italian director of such classic rip-offs like '1990: The Bronx Warriors' and 'Escape from the Bronx'. Enzo G. Castellari serves up yet another hot piping dish of post-apocalyptic mayhem which quite frankly borders on copyright infringement with other obvious US movies.

The Plot: In the year 2019 (ha!!) the world has been devasted by a nuclear apocalypse. All that appears to be left of humanity are small pockets of life that eek by as best they can. Yet despite the hardship and struggle these survivors must deal with the daily savage attacks by a gang called 'The Templars'. A group of psychotic morons that want to eradicate all humans...except for themselves of course. Only one man stands in their way and can save what's left of humanity, Max...I mean Snake...errr I mean Scorpion (no not that Scorpion). A former Templar thug turned good.

OK so let's just acknowledge the blatantly obvious straight away. This is a complete and utter rip-off of the classic 1981 Australia action movie 'Mad Max 2'. No ifs, no buts, this is literally the Italian version of that movie with minor changes. Pretty much all the same questions arise when watching this movie such as, how do they keep the cars fueled? Where did they get their matching outfits from? How do they keep the outfits so clean? Why wear the same colours? How does no one run out of bullets? And why are there lasers in this world and how are they kept running??

This post-apocalyptic world is a vast endless barren desert...clearly filmed in a quarry of some kind. Pretty much all the action sequences are filmed in and around this quarry. The good guys are a colony of religious types that just wanna live in peace. As said they all dress near enough the same with the same colour schemes (brown) and they always look very clean. Their home or base looks like a crude military camp on the outside whilst quite impressive on the inside (like a classy Tardis). But they all have plenty of guns and ammo.

On the other hand the bad guys...actually they look like religious nuts too. Well what do you expect with a name like The Templars? The bad guys again all dress in matching uniforms which are all white in colour and again always spotlessly clean. They have loads of guns, lasers and heavily modded vehicles (all of which are totally tooled up with medieval implements of death). Now the odd thing is the leaders, or main characters, in the baddie bunch look like contestants from Sweden's entry in the EuroVision Song Contest for the mid 70's. Seriously, its a mix of an ultra religious Christian bible basher, with a Stormtrooper, with a very camp looking Swedish song and dance act. Some serious wig work in this.

Now the lone-wolf hero, Scorpion, is your typical Han Solo clone. He wears everything you would expect to see on this type of hero from the leather pants to the low cut shirt to show off his chest. What's more amusing is the ass strap that goes between his legs to keep his gun holster in place. He is played by Giancarlo Prete and is the archetype of the Italian male (curly hair and Roman looking features). On the flipside we have good old Fred Williamson who's back for Enzo playing Nadir, a kind of tough lone-wolf anti-hero who doesn't really need to be in this film. Clearly Enzo wanted his American star back.  But yeah Nadir is like this Jedi master type who wears this super cheap looking plastic armour and is super skilled with a bow and explosive arrows. He merely teaches Scorpion to be even more badass. Oh and he porks some young girl who's dressed in transparent plastic. You know, just to show us he's all man.

Everything else in this movie is exactly what you think its gonna be without even needing to watch it. There is a somewhat badass female character who can kickass but still needs saving by Scorpion. There are of course plenty of vehicle chases and vehicle-related death sequences which are quite quite hilarious in terms of basic effects but still fun nonetheless. Every vehicle in every chase sequence is clearly cruising along very slowly (you can tell by the background and long shorts). Yet they all have really silly overpowered sound effects. All the fights are very obvious and also executed really slowly. And amusingly, all the people running from vehicles run in a straight line, like in 'Prometheus'. It never occurs to anyone to run to the left or right to evade the vehicle.

Oh and then there's that sodomy scene, yes that's right. In one quite shocking scene the bad guys have captured old Scorpion and have him strung up in their base. Now you think they're gonna torture him for info or fun, but no, they decide to bugger him instead. Yep, they forcibly bend him over and one of the main bad guys smashes his backdoors in. I kid ye not! So errr...hurrah for LGBT representation? Ahem!!

Clearly the budget was low for this, there were limitations, but you can see everyone on Enzo's team really did put a lot of effort in and that's cool. Yes the film is a total shameless rip-off and it is essentially a bit crappy. But there is a lot of fun to be had here. The deaths are ridiculously over the top. The vehicles are even more insanely over the top. 'Mad Max' up to 11! The score sounds like something from an 80's videogame, awesome. One baddie takes drugs. The wigs are...outlandish. And Scorpions final outfit is something to behold. Like the young slutty girl, he too dons a transparent suit...of body armour, complete with fake muscle structure. It's like Robocop or a Marvel superhero, but their outfit on top is transparent. The craftsmanship!

Truly a movie for the 'so bad it's good' camp. If you enjoy a good cheesy sleazy sci-fi romp with oodles of knock-off ideas that look like trash warmed up, then take a seat my friend. Only Enzo's 'The Bronx Warriors' can match this.


Monday, 24 June 2019

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (UK/HK 1974)

This was the ninth and final Hammer Horror film based around Dracula, the swan song for the studios cult classic blood-sucking series. Not only is this final entry famous for not starring Christopher Lee as Dracula, its also quite infamous for the various edits and movie titles. In the US a heavily cut version was known as 'The 7 Brothers meet Dracula'. Whilst at the same time on trailers it was called 'The 7 Brothers and their One Sister Meet Dracula'. And in Asia the film was known as 'Dracula and the 7 Golden Vampires'.

So the story goes thusly. In 1804 A Taoist monk ventures to Dracula's castle in order to ask him for help in restoring power and dominance to the Seven Golden Vampires in the rural area of China that he hails from. The Count is not too bothered at first but then decides to help the monk in exchange for his mortal body so he can leave the confines of Castle Dracula. The monk does not like this aspect of the Count's deal but the Count gives zero shits and takes his body anyway. Not too sure why Dracula would even consider this deal knowing he couldn't actually accept it without a mortal body to inhabit.

So Dracula goes off to rural China (despite not showing us how he goes about getting there or how the Count knows where to actually go in China). It's now 1904 (why? I dunno) and the Count has taken control of the Seven Golden Vampires in the rural area and is draining the local women on a regular basis (in the monk's form). Meanwhile at the local University Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) is trying to teach the locals about local Chinese vampiric legends but no one believes him (so why do they take his class?).

One of his students Hsi Ching (David Chiang) informs Van Helsing that the legends are actually true (his grandfather was involved in one of the local stories or vampire myths) and asks him to come to a small village to destroy the vampire threat. Naturally Van Helsing agrees and ventures off with his son Leyland (Robin Stewart), Hsi and his seven siblings who are highly skilled in martial arts and combat, and Vanessa Buren; a wealthy widow they saved from a rival Chinese gang not long before. From here on the movie is literally Kung Fu vs vampires...and it's hella awesome.

OK so if you've seen any of the other Hammer horror movies then you know what you're in for here. The visuals are generally a mixed bag truth be told ranging from obvious campy sets to obvious cheap little villages where all the vampire fodder lives. Admittedly there is some solid detail in the sets but they can't help but look fake; tis all part of the charm. I love how in one scene the goodies set up camp in a cave which is of course your typical perfectly sized cave for a large group of people and a riotous battle. But much like the classic 60's Batman series with Adam West many interior sets, and exterior night shots, are bathed with ugly green or red lighting and much smoke. Sometimes even the odd Dutch tilt. This is obviously to give off a nice supernatural vibe but let's be honest it always looks a bit kooky. That's not to say it all looks obvious, they did utilise locations too, although not the most inspired Hong Kong landscapes.

Natuarally a lot of this movie takes place at night because it's a horror and also probably to hide the lack of realism and bare-bones sets. But this does also help with the rather shoddy makeup effects too which are again a mixed bag. The first real taste of the undead we get is John Forbes-Robertson as Dracula who is literally caped (ahem) in makeup. They really slathered the stuff on with a trowl because it looks pretty awful and terribly obvious. Like you can clearly see where they have tried to bring out his bone structure. The actual golden vampires are slightly better with their full latex looking masks but again it's a bit shoddy lookin'. They all look like Leatherface from that 1974 horror film...but with Tina Turner style wigs on and ridiculous fangs stuck in their mouths. But I understand they are supposed to be Chinese vampires and thusly the team maybe went for a more demon-esque look.

Movie highlight has to be the few sequences of the undead rising from their graves in the depths of the night. It's not scary or anything but it is pleasantly creepy and extremely well done. Obviously the darkness will have hidden a lot but watching the earth slowly part as a skull-faced undead zombie begins to poke through is most entertaining. The nice wide shots of the scruffy shadowy graveyard and gravestones with numerous undead zombies popping up and stumbling about was nicely atmospheric. Again it's nothing original by today's standards and even at the time I'm sure it had probably already been done; but it certainly looks like it may have influenced many future horror movies.

So whilst the makeup and sets are somewhat lacking, the crazy kung-fu hijinks makes up for it. You want kung-fu vs vampires? You got it. There is no let up as we get one large battle after another. Van Helsing and his plucky band of ninja warriors (all of whom have special fighting skills with knives, axes, spears, bow and arrows, swords etc...) take down the golden vampires one at a time until they themselves eventually succumb to the undead hordes. The action is indeed pretty sweet I have to say. Sure all the weapons look fake as feck. Clearly no one is making contact with anyone. The extras in the backgrounds of fight scenes wait patiently in line for their time to fight a hero. There is blood but its sooo fake looking, far too red. And some of the death throes of the vampires are quite comical. On the plus side, I loved how the vampires all crumbled, melted, and decomposed before our very eyes once finally put down. The effects are naturally basic for sure but still highly enjoyable.

I did find it odd how these Chinese vampires didn't really attempt to bite anyone though, they are vampires after all. I should also point out that they seemed to get killed like any normal mortal when struck with a weapon anywhere. I'm gonna assume they were struck in the heart each time but it didn't look like it. But you shouldn't really look into this much seeing as this entire movie is basically an excuse to have kung-fu in a vampire flick.

I think the main problem with this movie is the fact that its only really engaging when the vampires and their undead army fight the kung-fu dirty dozen (not actually a dozen). Sure it's amusing to watch Cushing pretend to fight. Sure it's amusing to see Cushing in his exploring attire (that helmet and scarf!). And yes, it is always a joy to simply watch and listen to Cushing in full flow. But there are a lot of flashback scenes here, all chocked full of mythical exposition. And Dracula himself is hardly in the film and when he does turn up Van Helsing kills him off quickly (but with the best decomposing sequence). Really you didn't need Dracula, you could have just had Van Helsing going to China to fight Chinese vampires. Dracula was clearly only used for brand recognition but restricted because Lee was no longer involved. I'm not really even sure what Dracula's longterm plan was. Take over the monks body. Go to China and take control of the 7 golden vampires. And then...? Take over China? Take over that specific region? Was he simply trading Transylvania for China?

So yeah the entire basis of this flick is based on Hammer desperately trying to inject new blood (ahem) into their failing horror franchise. They tried it before (and failed) dragging Drac into the modern world of the 60's (at the time), and this time they were aiming for the younger generation and the new martial arts craze thanks mainly to Bruce Lee. Did it work? Umm...kinda. Despite the total absurdity of the concept the movie isn't the disaster you'd expect. Overall it looks fine, the action is solid, and Cushing helps keep things grounded which is quite the achievement really. If you think about it this is one hell of a cross-over, classic vampires and Bruce Lee action essentially. That alone should draw attention and it rightly deserves some. It lacks that classic Hammer vampire atmosphere but the star of this show was always the martial arts.