Monday, 28 December 2020

Time After Time (1979)

It appears I have stumbled across another Twilight Zone-esque film. Once again this feels more like an extended episode of said show (or many similar shows) which isn't necessarily a bad thing's hard to get away from thinking that. Twas directed by Star Trek's Nicholas Meyer though, one of his earlier offerings, which I found intriguing.

The Plot: It's pretty straight forward. Famous British science-fiction writer H.G. Wells has invented a time machine. Around the same time the notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper is on the loose in London. One evening as Wells entertains dinner guests police knock on the door. It appears the Ripper has struck again and might be in the vicinity. After some investigating it appears that one of Wells dinner guests could be the Ripper. But before you can say 'he's gonna escape in the time machine'...he escapes in the time machine. The Ripper sends himself into the distant future of 1979 and it now falls on Wells to go after him and bring him back to face justice. What follows is your typical out of time adventure as the British gentleman from 1893 must navigate San Francisco circa 1979 to find the hideous Victorian killer. 

Obviously despite the fact this film uses real historic people the story itself is completely fictional (duh). But I did like how Meyer fit this fantasy into a realistic timeline. I should quickly point out that Meyer's screenplay and this film is actually based on an actual book of the same name and year (1979). As I was saying, the film takes place in 1893, two years before Wells would actually write his famous time-travelling story in 1895. Thusly in this film Wells invents the time machine for real, has his chaotic adventure, and then follows it up by writing the story.

As for the chaotic time-travelling adventure, well it's a tad predictable and tame really. Wells is portrayed by a young Malcolm McDowell who, unfortunately, doesn't really pull it off in my opinion. For starters he doesn't really look the part with an obviously fake moustache, blonde hair, and he's far too slim both in stature and face. Secondly he comes across as a complete drip frankly, not that I know anything about the real Wells as a young man but McDowell's performance felt so soft and timid. On the other hand there are plenty of nice little touches from McDowell such as examining surfaces made out of new materials (to him). Trying to work out how to open a car door. Trying to understand the difference in 1979 speech patterns etc...I like that he struggled to get along for a time and had to sell bits and pieces of his attire to raise cash for food. That felt like people had actually thought about this instead of some stupid easy get-out clause (like him meeting a hot girl straight away who just takes him in and looks after him).

On the flip side the Ripper (David Warner) conveniently doesn't seem to have the same issues, that we see anyway. Maybe it's because he's the villain but things don't really seem to faze him as much. He seems more intent on continuing his killing streak in this new futuristic world. This was something that bugged me because why would he do that? I get that he's a psycho but he managed to escape from his murderous past and obvious eventual presumable capture and has given himself a fresh new start. Yet he gets straight back to killing again which would presumably land him right back in the same eventual outcome, capture and imprisonment. Many serial killers are supposed to be quite intelligent, apparently. Well this doesn't come across as a logical move to me, surely he'd be amazed by the future and wanting to discover more about that? I dunno.

Time travel is of course a very hard subject to tackle because who knows how one might react to a whole new world with new inventions. Especially from someone in our distant past because with basic things (to us now) like plastics, travel, architecture, communication etc...would be mind-blowing to them. It might not be too bad for people in our present going forward because we would be more likely to adapt to greater technology, maybe. 

Have to mention the casting of Mary Steenburgen as Wells love interest here. In all honesty her performance isn't exactly ground-breaking but it's the circumstance that's interesting. In this film she plays a 20th-century woman who falls in love with a man from the past and eventually follows him back in time. In 1990 Steenburgen played a character from the past who falls in love with a man from the future and eventually follows him into the future ('Back to the Future III').

There are many things in this film that are quite quaint these days. The main factor of course being the distant future being 1979, one year after I was born. This naturally makes everything incredibly dated to the point of hilarity whilst watching. The outfits David Warner wears in some scenes are priceless. The young girl wearing literal transparent trousers in front of Wells was bizarre as I've never seen that before myself. The fact that the US banks were happy to exchange British currency from the 1800's! Really?? All the cars and technology we see throughout the film. I also liked the obvious visual homage to the 1960's time machine with this film's time machine. Actually I thought this offering was better and had more of a sensible look really. This time machine actually had a little pod you sat in that would protect you from any possible dangerous effects of travelling through time. The fact the time machine in the old 1960's version was essentially an open sled always bugged me.

So anyway the film predictably moves along and we watch the Ripper kill various women only to eventually kidnap Wells love interest in order to obtain a special key from him. Said key is one of two special functions on the time machine. This key stops the machine from automatically going back to its time of origin, which would result in any time traveller being stranded. Without said key the machine won't go at all, I think. Not really sure why anyone would build this function into your machine. The same could be said for the second key. Apparently when you remove this important key it sends the time traveller hurtling into time and space and unable to be saved. This was something I still can't quite get my head around. I assume you have to be in the machine for this to work, but I don't get how the removal of this key sends you into oblivion. And again, why would you build this into your machine?? Seems dangerous.

Anywho overall this film is an enjoyable little time-travelling romp that any time-travelling TV series would be happy to showcase during its run. Admittedly this film would merely be seen as generic time-travelling filler for any TV series, I mean there's nothing ground-breaking here to be honest. It's a very simple story with a very simple outcome that could be retooled for any number of characters from any number of time periods. Think along the lines of 'Quantum Leap' I guess.


Saturday, 26 December 2020

Mr. Destiny (1990)

Believe it or not but there was a time when James Belushi was actually a pretty big movie star who popped out quite a stream of solid comedies. None of these movies broke the box office or anything but they were steady flicks that, for a time, consolidated Belushi's position as a decent funny man. I have strong fond memories of seeing Belushi flicks on the shelves at our local video shop and always picking them up knowing they would be a good time (hopefully). It was only in his later years that Belushi would, as most actors do, move towards more adult material, sadly.

So what's it all about? Well it's the old 'what if' scenario. What would have happened if one small moment in one's life had been different. This movie is essentially a Twilight Zone episode...which is great. Larry Burrows (Belushi) entire life has been marred by the fact that he struck out during his high school baseball championship game back when he was 15. He continually ponders about how his life could have been so much better had he hit the ball and won that game. Well on one fateful night Larry gets his wish via a mysterious bartender in a mysterious late-night bar.

I guess the first thing that struck me about this story is the fact that Larry's current life isn't actually all that bad. I think the story would have had a stronger punch to it had Larry's life been a tad harder or more miserable. I understand that he's supposed to be this average guy...but was he? He is married to a beautiful wife (a pre-'T2' Linda Hamilton), has a nice home, a decent well-paid job, and is generally a well-liked chap. OK he loses his job prior to meeting the mysterious bartender but at no point does he ever seem very concerned about it, in fact he's pretty chipper about it. Clearly he's got good enough qualifications and experience to walk into another job and has plenty of money in the meantime. So his continual yearning about that fateful game merely seems rather pathetic really, like get the hell over it man!

The next thing that struck me was how someone's life could be so dramatically different purely because they won a baseball championship back in high school. OK yes I understand this isn't supposed to be a deep movie, it's a charming little fantasy, but still. So just because he hit the ball and his team won the game his life went down a path of continuous glory? To the point that he became the President of a major company, became a millionaire, and married the hot girl in high school he lusted (and still does because he still knows her) after? Suspension of disbelief yes, but it still makes you think.

Speaking of this company, a sporting goods company, it also seems wildly unrealistic that Burrows alternative life would be SO incredibly lavish by just being the company's President. This company works in sporting goods distribution which seems like it could be a big deal sure, I'm not a business expert. But the size of Burrows house, the interior decor, his assets etc...are more on par with a member of a Royal Family! It's also incredibly frustrating to watch Burrows essentially get fed up with his newfound lavish lifestyle and eventually feck it all up. Again I can understand he would miss his actual wife and have memories etc...but come on! You are now set for life with another beautiful wife and a top job, there's no way you should screw this up, just enjoy the ride.

I have to mention the cast here because it's actually pretty impressive. This did come out in the cinema I believe, although possibly just in the US. Granted a few of these actors were pre-A star status but it's still quite surprising to see such a roster of stars. Here in the UK I think this was merely a straight to video job. Apart from Belushi and Hamilton you have Jon Lovitz as Burrows old schoolmate. Rene Russo as Burrows alternate reality wife (the hot girl he had a crush on in high school). Hart Bochner as the dastardly antagonist who is trying to take over the company (more of a subplot). A post-'He-Man' Courteney Cox in a completely pointless role. And Michael Caine as Mike the mysterious bartender, which kinda felt like a miscast to me.

Overall I did enjoy this charming tale of alternate realities and time travel. Yes the entire thing is wholly predictable and doesn't really offer anything in terms of originality. Yes some of the characters are pointless and towards the end the shady character played by Hart Bochner does take the plot a bit too far towards comic villainy. And yes it does get a bit too schmaltzy in places. But hell what do you expect here? The movie is basically a loose modern retelling of 'It's A Wonderful Life' and one of those safer cutesy 'Twilight Zone' episodes. It's a feel good flick that doesn't really need to go too deep with explanations but does get you thinking just that tiny bit.


Sunday, 20 December 2020

Sword of the Valiant (1984)

Another 80's flick that I had never heard of but was drawn in by the quite amazingly hokey looking movie poster. I mean look at it, a huge sword emblazoned across the middle with various character images hand-drawn to either side. And is that Sean Connery I see on the right? Why yes it is! The only well-drawn (recognisable) face on the poster I might add. Connery's casting elevated my interest...along with the glorious cheesiness on display.

This film is loosely based on the 14th-century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and is also the second adaptation of the poem by director Stephen Weeks. Interestingly Weeks also recast Ronald Lacey in exactly the same role in this version. 

The plot revolves around a mysterious knight clad in green armour (Sean Connery) presenting himself within King Arthur's court one winters night. The knight offers a challenge to any brave willing knight, one attempt to behead him. After that the Green Knight would have his chance. Naturally nobody steps forward...until the young squire Gawain (Miles O'Keeffe) accepts the challenge. Gawain beheads the Green Knight only to find it has no effect as the decapitated body merely picks up the head and puts it back upon its shoulders. The Green Knight then decides (after recognising Gawain is still very young) to allow Gawain one year to solve a riddle in order to save his life. And that's it! Gawain must then set off on his somewhat random quest of solving the Green Knights curious riddle in order to avoid getting his head cut off in one year.

So yes the plot is rather odd and with little explanation to anything. Alas one must expect this seeing as it's based on a 14th-century poem, albeit loosely. The most obvious question is who or what is the Green Knight? Clearly this knight is some kind of supernatural being. A messenger or tester of men from another world or beyond the grave. He presumably goes around offering these challenges or tests to men in order to see who is worthy of life...or something like that. Why was his armour green? Well after some minor research it seems in old English folklore green represented nature, mythical creatures and witchcraft. So you can see how that would match with the mysterious Green Knight. In this film the knight also has some kind of stag horns on his head which points towards Paganism and Celtic culture, I think. Again all supernatural elements.

Then you have to question the 'beheading game'. I mean seriously, what kind of game is that?! Surely it wouldn't last too long after the first bloke has a hack at the other. Admittedly after some more minor research, it appears that this insane act is merely a trope of medieval romance and not an actual leading sport from the time of yore (I think).

This film is packed with oddities and various mythical easter eggs as it were. Sir Gawain's first trial is a battle with the infamous Black Knight, a character that has popped up in all manner of material. His reward for defeating the dark knight is to be led to the hidden city/realm of Lyonesse (a mythical stretch of land between Lands' End and the Isles of Scilly consumed by the sea). There Gawain meets with another mysterious character, the Lady Linet, who gives him a magical ring allowing him to disappear. She is later kidnapped by a lustful Prince and it falls upon Gawain to rescue her etc...

Problems do abound with this feature unfortunately. The casting is in places impressive and twas clearly a coup to land actors like Connery and Peter Cushing, both of which do fit their roles pretty well. Cushing as the regal Senechal to the lustful Prince and Connery as the towering Green Knight. Both his Scottish lisp and bushy facial hair a big plus factor here. His clearly sexualised suit of armour has to be seen to be believed. On the other hand the casting of O'Keeffe as Sir Gawain felt awkward and wooden. Sure he had the bod but he definitely couldn't act too well and that blonde wig was terrible! He looked like a Ken doll. Wilfrid Brambell pops up in his last onscreen role looking every bit the scruffy medieval peasant type. And then there's the poor man's Brian Blessed, John Rhys-Davies, as a Baron.

To be honest, the film doesn't really look that good either. Whilst filming took place in various locations with actual castles used (France and Ireland) which definitely looked great, overall the film looked fake. It seemed to differ from scene to scene. There are some scenes inside castle walls which looked really authentic with old period looking wooden storefronts, flags, banners, candlelit halls, and whatnot. There are some scenes where knight armour looked pretty decent and genuinely metallic, and there were some costumes that looked realistic. But overall much of the production looks a bit tinny and plastic with stupid wigs and glittery makeup. 

The less said about the score the better methinks, talk about B-movie. And then there's the ending, it just ends, just like that. Sir Gawain rescues Lady Linet, she turns into a dove and flies away back to Lyonesse. We then get a lingering facial shot of Gawain as he looks sad, and in mid-head movement, the film stops and ends. So what happens? Dunno, but can't Gawain just go back to Lyonesse to see Linet again? The original poem is completely different here.

So overall the plot has been tinkered with to make a relatively cohesive plot but unfortunately it simply comes across as generic whimsical fluff. It seems much of the original poem's themes have been jettisoned for a more simplified, trope-laden fantasy. Whilst not a bad film, it's not particularly engaging either.