Monday, 26 August 2019

The Barbarians (ITL/US, 1987)

Right so here we are with what appears to be, judging by the quite amazing poster, the He-Man movie we all wanted? I mean come on, look at that poster! Drink it in my friends. Allow your eyes to slowly guide up and down the full length of this phenomenal piece and take in its majesty. Glorious, utterly glorious.

But who the hell are these guys? Who is making up this duo of perfectly moulded glazed muscularity? Well the two leads are identical twins Peter and David Paul of the USA. These guys jumped on-board the trendy new muscularity bandwagon which was kicked off in the early 70's by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, and Sylvester Stallone. As we all know Arnie and Sly virtually created the action-man-muscles gold rush of the 80's and this led to many many many clones and knock-offs, both in terms of movies and stars. Some took off (JCVD and Dolph Lundgren), and some did not. 

The Paul brothers (actually known as 'the barbarians') somewhat took off (briefly) with a little trio of tacky movies that were your typical tongue-in-cheek comedy trash that mainly focused on their massive size. 'Think Big' in 1989, 'Double Trouble' in 1992, and 'Twin Sitters' in 1994. It doesn't really take a genius to tell what these movies are all about, the clue is in the titles. Naturally all their movies required them to get topless for the most part...because muscles. Without this there is no movie. What I find amazing is how many of these muscle-bound stars have done flicks about looking after kids.

So what happens in this low budget Italian Hyborean rip-off world? Well as youngsters the heroic duo are adopted by a gypsy-esque tribe (the Ragnicks) who are led by a Queen (Virginia Bryant) and guided by a weird-looking spiritual type called Ibar (Franco Pistoni). Then along comes the baddie warlord Kadar (Richard Lynch) and his stereotypical minions who slaughter most of the tribe because he's after some magical mcguffin that belongs to the Ragnicks Queen. Anyway the only reason for all this is simply Kadar wants to gain more power and...take over the world? Standard baddie plan really. The young duo are then dumped into slavery where they grow up into massively powerful barbarians, as you do. What follows is obviously the barbarians getting revenge on Kadar, oh and getting back the magical mcguffin and saving the now enslaved Queen. Standard hero plan really.

 Now I'm not gonna berate this movie completely, yes we all know its trash, but there are some positives here. Firstly The Paul twins do admittedly look really good in this movie. The fact you have twins who are identical in massive muscular physique is actually pretty unique, or was (everyone's a meathead these days it seems). These two really do look good dressed up in their barbarian attire. As already mentioned they do actually look very He-Man-esque with their chunky body armour and large weapons, more so than Lundgren did surprisingly. They could easily fit into any larger scale, more well-known fantasy flick with ease, visually anyway. And let me be clear, their bods do look highly impressive to boot. Not up to Arnie standard but its damn close if you ask me.  They aren't as 'cut' as Arnie, Arnie was huge but with a narrow action-figure waistline. But in terms of solid bulk and bicep size, they are a sight to behold, especially when they both stand next to each other.

I must also point out the general look of this movie, again its actually pretty good. The sets are clearly sets for sure but they still look quite good. Clearly much time and effort was spent in creating these sets and it shows. The slave arena and quarters inside of Kadar's city naturally look very Roman/gladiatorial in style but bugger me it all works, it all looks good. I laughed at the large raised platform that Kadar has his throne on which for some reason seems to be supported by slaves in a highly unstable way. Secret tombs and some forbidden land sets also look really atmospheric in a nice Sam Raimi kind of way. There is some good use of locations to add some much-needed depth to the proceedings; and the Ragnicks general appearance, attire and makeup wise, was also well done. I noticed the attire/headpiece for Franco Pistoni's character of Ibar is very familiar. Did George Lucas steal this idea I wonder?

And finally kudos on the few monsters we see here. Firstly there is a wolfman warrior guy for some reason. He doesn't last too long and obviously the effect is basic but hey it's all makeup, prosthetics, and a bodysuit. It's real and not some shitty CGI effect, and bottom line it ain't half bad either. Then there is the dragon sequence. Now again it's basic but bugger me, credit where credits due, they tried and it's a good effort. A full-scale creation that looms out of a murky swamp? Yes please. The duo defeats the beast by cutting open its belly and going inside to reclaim the mcguffin (which the dragon had consumed with some baddie henchmen). Great stuff.

But alas there is a multitude of obvious issues with this movie which can't really be listed for time purposes. But off the top of my head, why does the King and Queen of this fantasy realm roam around like gypsies? Why not actually set up shop with a proper Kingdom? Because they value entertainment for the people over security and riches? What a load of do-gooding crap! Kind renders the need of the magical mcguffin pointless too because surely Kadar can just wipe all these clowns out without magic. But wait! The magical mcguffin is basically a gem that enables power and entertainment? What?? A powerful gem passed on down from Queen to Queen that stores the skills of all who perform near it which in turn makes it even more powerful. Say what?? So why does Kadar want this again? To dance his troubles away?

Also, whilst in slavery the heroic duo are unaware of the fact each has an identical twin. The baddies want it kept that way too just to be on the safe side. Yet the Dirtmaster (Michael Berryman) decides to have the duo fight each other for a grand spectacle (cos they are the best). So at no point did it occur to him that they might recognise each other? Yes they're wearing helmets but helmets can come off mate. Baddies are dumb, but in this movie the heroic duo is dumber (although on purpose).

Anyway you get my drift here. Overall the movie is most definitely bereft of genuine quality but certainly not charm and enthusiasm from the all involved. Of course the plot is a cornball mess of overused cliches and stereotypes from the clone ridden barbarian/fantasy genre that was exhausted back in the early to mid 80's (Kadar has an evil mystical witch, played by Eva La Rue, as his second in command. Standard practice for all baddies). Of course the main leads can't act, but they know this and are clearly having a blast trying their best. Of course the movie cannot be taken seriously, but again everyone knows this and is on-board for the ride. Of course the Paul twins are soaked in oil for literally every minute of the movie. Of course George Eastman makes a cameo (standard practice for Italian rip-off flicks). And of course one of the Paul twins makes that really bizarre and annoying animalistic howl from his throat. What the feck is that about? Is that his calling card?

This movie easily fits into the 'so bad it's good' category. Not exactly a must-see flick for regular moviegoers, but for any barbarian/Hyborean/fantasy fanboys out there it's well worth a butchers. And of course for any low budget Italian rip-off fans, it's probably worth a look also. Its better than 'Deathstalker' put it that way.


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.