A prison for young women has a curiously high lethality thanks to a peculiarly high density of inmates with very weak hearts; nobody seems to care much, though, until young progressive social worker Carol Adams (Charlotte Austin), new to the facility, starts to take an interest. What she doesn't know is that most of the staff consists of the original mad scientists led by a Dr. Murdock (Victor Jory) who learned at the feet of the Count de St. Germaine how to siphon young women's bioelectric energy and become immortal in the process.
Nearly two hundred years seem to have made the group complacent, though, and an attempt to get rid of Carol by blaming her for the faked suicide of the newest of their victims only brings in another outsider with the best interest of the girls at heart, this time in the 50s-manly form of psychiatrist Jess Rogers (William Hudson). The scientists' life isn't made easier by the fact that their life-prolonging life-force-sucking isn't taking as well as it once did. In fact, Eric (Friedrich von Ledebur), the mute working as the group's factotum, by now needs a new soul nearly nightly lest he meet the end that awaits all of these semi-immortals and turn to stone. And you know how difficult to find good mute servants are. At the same time another member of the coterie has grown squeamish and might just leave a detailed account of what's going on to Jess when his friends decide to act against his defeatism.
László Kardos's The Man Who Turned to Stone is an obscure and minor entry into 50s SF/horror, but it's not a film completely without interest. Unlike other films of the style The Man is quite low on truly reactionary content. In fact, writer and blacklist victim Bernard Gordon makes it quite obvious that he approves of Carol's rather more progressive ideas about re-socialisation - though he's not so progressive not to turn to Jess as the film's actual hero and leave Carol by the wayside for most of the running time. On the other hand, he gives the female victims of our scientific vampires a smidgen more agency in their own rescue than usual in these films, and while they're not allowed to rescue themselves, they do at least have a hand in their own salvation. Additionally, it's rather difficult not to interpret a film that is about a group of older, well-situated people who literally suck the life force out of the young people they are supposed to better and take care of, until other, luckier young people who try to get through the class barrier with good-will and trying to see eye to eye with their wards save the day, as at least somewhat left-leaning.
The film's science vampire idea and its execution comes right out of a pulp story of the sort you could have found in Weird Tales or just about any other magazine interested in using the old science gone mad thrills, with Eric in the end turning into the usual mute fiend who likes to carry unwilling women around. But here, too, the film has a handful of half-way interesting ideas, with the addition of occultists' favourite Count de Saint-Germaine to its backstory, the simple yet effective details of the life force sucking process, and the plain strangeness of having the not-quite immortals slowly turn to stone when they are not feeding, their heartbeats suddenly audible to everyone around.
Thinking this over, I can't help but imagine what a fantastic film could have been done with this material. What we actually get is decent 50s low budget feature that could have used a director with more visual imagination than Kardos shows (except in one or two scenes the more generous viewer might call influenced by expressionism) but that does at least pace its often very obvious outward thrills decently and features a romance which, while not exactly bound to make the viewer of 2013 happy, not makes you want to scrub your brain out afterwards.Technorati-Markierungen: american movies,horror,sf,reviews,lászló kardos,victor jory,william hudson,charlotte austin
Secret - so secret we never even learn what organization he's working for - agent Jacques Kristoff (Jean-Claude Van Damme, obviously) has a very bad day in front of him. Not enough that his people take him off his birthday vacation to help the thief Galina Konstantin (Laura Harring, totally Eastern European) escape from Slovakia carrying some very secret loot she's selling to his people, a thing sure to anger his wife (Susan Gibney) and kids (Jessica Bowman and authentic Van Damme son Kristopher Van Varenberg) who think he's some sort of business person. No, additionally, the train Jacques and Galina escape on after Jacques explodes some cars is hijacked by international evildoer Mason Cole (Tomas Arana) and his goons, Jacques's family makes a surprise visit on the train and now thinks he's having an affair with Galina, and the very secret loot turns out to be an upgraded variation of small pocks that of course is set free when Jacques starts playing Die Hard on a Train, infecting everybody on board.
Fortunately, Jacques can shoot, knows That Kick, drives motorcycles on roofs of moving trains, and is totally honourable too.
Bob Misiorowski's Derailed, produced by Van Damme's own company in cooperation with the usual suspects (I really need to get around to computing the percentage of Van Damme films involving Boaz Davidson in some capacity), is how I imagine most people not as involved in actually watching these films imagine all Van Damme movies are: cheap, dumb, and full of the sort of ridiculous action movie cheese that either leaves you giggling happily or rolling your eyes a lot (I prefer the former). Van Damme rides a motorcycle on the roof of a moving train for gods sake, and when one of his henchmen tells Cole he fell off doing this, Cole's reaction does not contain words to the effect of "wait, he drove what where?"!
Because doing Die Hard on a Train alone would be a bit too boring (one can't fall behind the achievements of Steven "The Whale" Seagal, after all), somebody involved in the production had the brilliant idea to add disaster movie clichés to the action movie clichés in a gesture I can't help but find quite daring. Not surprisingly, Derailed's interpretation of the disaster movie genre is even more low-rent than that of the action movie (or is it the Die-Hard-alike?), so don't go and expect the one-note characters to be played by Hollywood stars past their prime, or George Kennedy (a man perpetually past his prime). On the other hand, the mild melodramatic contortions the film goes through with small pocks and train engines on fire do result in a complete lack of slack in the film. When Van Damme isn't kicking people in the face, there's guaranteed to be some sort of train problem, a Texan losing his shit over the small pocks outbreak, Van Damme's doctor wife doing heroic disaster movie doctor stuff, or something else to distract a viewer from the horrible emptiness of the universe and the cold glare of the stars.
Given this, you really can't say the film isn't working hard for its money (there are also unconvincing CGI and miniature effects to admire). Sure, it's dumb, sure, it spits on your notions of logic and gravity, but it's also lacking boring attempts at self-irony, and contains lots of scenes of Van Damme doing Van Damme things; though if you're coming for nearly nude Van Damme or ass-shots of our hero, you'll probably leave rather disappointed.
Be that as it may (and heterosexual me has seen JCVD nearly nude so often, I'm starting to get confused when he keeps his pants on), I know, it's only a cheap Die Hard rip-off with disaster movie elements, but I like it.Technorati-Markierungen: american movies,reviews,jean-claude van damme,bob misiorowski,laura harring,susan gibney,tomas arana,action,disaster
Even in the rather sad state it is in right now, Hong Kong cinema can sometimes still offer positive surprises. Case in point is the anthology movie Tales from the Dark 1, which features three independent yet thematically connected horror stories by different directors (Simon Yam Tat-Wah in his directorial debut, Lee Chi-Ngai and Fruit Chan), all based on the stories of Lillian Lee Pik-Wah.
Simon Yam's story sees a half-crazed impoverished man played by Yam finally touching a spirit world he has always been closer to than he expected when he attempts to steal and ransom some urns. Lee Chi-Ngai's second story concerns an aging fortune-teller's (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) last job before his retirement and his attempt to get back together with his wife, shown in a very low key - at least for Hong Kong - comedic manner. Finally, Fruit Chan's story concerns the folk sorcery tradition of villain hitting (a link worth following, I think) and ghostly vengeance.
All three stories are moodily filmed, with Simon Yam showing himself as a director able to really get into a capital-w weird mood, and as the kind of actor you can actually put behind a camera without horrible consequences. Why, he's even rather subtly hiding away certain elements of his plot in plain sight. Everyone behind the camera is clearly well versed in the technological the state of the art of filmmaking without feeling the need to show off.
So far, so competent. What makes Tales from the Dark 1 interesting, particularly as a Hong Kong movie, is how little it tries to follow the expectations its prospective audience will carry towards horror cinema from the city. There's barely a single centipede on screen, the gore is not at all plentiful (only Chan's episode is interested in being gruesome at all), and where Hong Kong horror generally likes to wallow in cynicism and misery, all three stories here are connected by quite a different thematic angle. These are all stories about letting go (even if it means dying, or not committing an act of vengeance), about accepting change and endings, and because they are also all stories that don't pretend life as such is necessarily nice or fair, they are quite a bit more convincing at making their points than you'd expect, generally avoiding a kitschy feelgood vibe while also keeping away from mere cynicism. For a film with so much death and sadness in it, Tales' basic feeling is one of hope.
Even though I've always been a fan of Hong Kong horror's extreme nastiness, I find the approach of Tales from the Dark towards horror and the ghost story a rather enticing one, suggesting that there's still quite a bit of life in the old lady Hong Kong, at least today.
And who'd have thought to ever see a horror movie from the city that finds a ghost stopping her vengeance because she feels compassion?Technorati-Markierungen: hong kong movies,in short,horror,simon yam,lee chi-ngai,fruit chan,tony leung ka-fai
One of the beauties when digging through the kind of low budget fare I spend most of my movie watching time on is stumbling upon a film that is just that decided, if small, bit more interesting and complex than its peers, even though it is in many ways an utterly generic SF/action/horror piece.
Despite its deeply threatening title, threatening stupidity, that is, Sci-fighters is one of these films, so if you want to know what I found somewhat interesting about this Roddy Piper/Billy Drago vehicle, click on through to my column on Exploder Button.Technorati-Markierungen: canadian movies,reviews,other places,sf,action,horror,peter svatek,roddy piper,jayne heitmeyer,billy drago,tyrone benskin
Egyptologist Erica Baron (Lesley-Anne Down) is on her first trip to Egypt to keep contact with shady antiques dealer Abdu-Hamdi (Very Egyptian John Gielgud) for her boss, and do a serious amount of sight-seeing.
Abdu-Hamdi has something quite interesting to show her: a hitherto unknown statue carrying the names of Tuthankamun and Seti I., as well as that of Erica's special person of interest, Seti's architect Menephtah (in random flashbacks of dubious use to the film to be played by Behrouz Vossoughi). Unfortunately, Abdu-Hamdi is murdered before he can disclose the history and provenance of the statue. Erica's interest is more than a little piqued, and, despite her temperamentally really not being cut out for the adventuring life, she starts to poke around after Abdu-Hamdi's business and the statue. This, after all, could lead her to the archaeological find of a lifetime.
Soon the same people who killed the antiques dealer are after Erica too, as well as a black market dealer (the inevitable John Rhys-Davies) and a guy with a gun who may or may not belong to either of the factions. Rather more helpful to Erica are charming (it's an assumed trait, for he is French and this is that sort of movie) journalist Yvon Mageot (Maurice Ronet) and Egyptian department of antiquities investigator Akmed Khazzan (Even More Egyptian Frank Langella). If only Erica knew whom to trust!
Franklin J. Schaffner's Sphinx's main attraction is that not little of it was shot in Egypt itself, leading to large amounts of high quality tourist picture postcard shots. In fact, Schaffner uses so much of this admittedly very pretty footage that it more than once gets in the way of the film's actual plot of "exotic" intrigue and Victoria-Holt-style romance. Again and again, said plot is put on hold for another round of Lesley-Anne Down posing in front of prettily shot tourist attractions.
It's not as if the "Visit beautiful Egypt!" parts weren't well done, or as if the film never used them to enhance its plot, but for long stretches of the running time it becomes rather doubtful if you're watching an ad for holidays in Egypt or a movie about the adventures of an Egyptologist (who, by the way, hasn't bothered to learn a single word of Arabic). When the movie decides to be a movie, it is very old-fashioned, quite silly, yet also effective if you're like me and like rather old-fashioned adventure movies. There's even a minor thematic thread doubting the moral correctness of the European and US plundering of Egypt's cultural treasures, though the film is too distracted by gawping at Egypt to make much of it.
Despite these shortcomings I mostly enjoyed my time with Sphinx, for if it often is more of a tourism ad than a movie, it is a very attractive tourism ad which, when it gets around to it, just happens to feature some competently staged scenes of mild adventure.Technorati-Markierungen: american movies,in short,adventure,romance,franklin j. schaffner,lesley-anne down,frank langella
Avenger of the Seven Seas aka Il giustiziere dei mari (1962): Domenico Paolella's adventure movie contains just about everything one could possibly hope for in an Italian film of its type and era: Richard Harrison! Pirates! The most evil British commanding officer in a film not made in the USA! Italians in brown-face playing cannibals! A giant man-eating plant! Exciting ship battles! Exciting land battles! Torture! Romance! People calling each other traitor for the most perfunctory of reasons so that DRAMATIC EMOTIONS can result!
And while Paolella does not present any of these elements with more than the strictly necessary verve, the resulting film is still very good fun, particularly because it clearly doesn't care that not all of its elements would traditionally belong together in one film.
13 (2010): Director Géla Babluani remakes his own 13 Tzameti with Hollywood talent, so Mickey Rourke is doing is usual shtick, Jason Statham wears a hat and his aggressively grumpy, a painfully fragile looking Ben Gazzara and his fake German accent chew scenery, and 50 Cent can't act for shit. I haven't seen the original, so I can't be as offended by the remake as everyone else seems to be. Instead, I think this is a fine film that uses its organized group Russian Roulette idea as quite obvious critique of capitalism. The film does suffer a bit from a tendency to meander where it would have been more effective for it to be concentrated, particularly because the characters of Rourke, 50 Cent and Gazzara all feel grafted on because the actors were available, and do not really seem to be organic parts of the film.
Maneater aka Evasion (1973): In Vince Edwards's TV thriller made in what must be one of the golden years of TV movies, Ben Gazzara and friends get in trouble with crazy Richard Basehart who defies their city-slicking ways (and gets his kicks from seeing people getting killed; and from ranting, obviously). That would be bad enough for them, but the good man also comes with an equally crazy henchman and two man-eating pet tigers. Soon a very special hunting trip through the wilderness ensues.
What also ensues is a fine little survival thriller (possibly co-written by Jimmy Sangster, though only the IMDB, not the film use his name) full of clever little flourishes. Actor Edwards turns out to be a rather good director, keeping things tight (sometimes consciously claustrophobically so) and letting his actors do the rest. The film's only problem is one I assume nobody involved is responsible for: the version of the film floating around is of a somewhat battered VHS recording (with bonus digital artefacts), and tends to be very very dark, which becomes something of a problem in the film's final third that takes place exclusively in the dark. It speaks quite well of Maneater and its director that it is still thrilling to watch even when you can't see what's going on in it.Technorati-Markierungen: italian movies,american movies,american tv,thriller,adventure,richard harrison,domenico paolella,géla babluani,mickey rourke,ben gazzara,richard basehart,vince edwards
A group of film students want to put on a horror all-nighter in an old-style movie palace a few weeks before it will be wrecked. The films are all classic gimmick horror in the spirit of William Castle, so the students plan to go all-out with the gimmicks, leaving no seat un-electrified, and no nose not bleeding when watching THE STENCH.
Alas, doom announces itself when our heroes discover a reel of a film of film cult(!) leader Lanyard Gates, who ended his career of taking drugs and making creepy films with an attempt to murder his family live in the movie theatre. Strangely, Maggie (Jill Schoelen), one of the students and our obvious heroine, recognizes Gates in the movie, for she has been dreaming of him for months.
Maggie won't realize that there's a rather natural explanation for this recognition much later than is good for her or her friends, but the audience learns much sooner that Maggie's mother (Dee Wallace) must have been a member of the cult, and that someone or something - perhaps Lanyard Gates himself - is out for revenge. So it's not exactly a surprise when the horror all-nighter becomes the noisy and enthusiastic background to a series of murders committed by a guy in the habit of stealing other people's faces. It's too bad too, for the show would have been a great success without him.
Mark Herrier's Popcorn is a rather great horror comedy whose mood permanently fluctuates between silliness, the sort of hysteria that comedy and horror share, and an enthusiastic "best of" of all kinds of horror. Alan Ormsby's (who also started as director of the film before "being replaced") script shows a clear and obvious love of the genre it is working in, as well as a sure hand when playing with genre conventions without feeling the need to tell its audience what it's doing right now. There's clearly no need for the film to pat itself on the back for its cleverness, nor does it assume its audience doesn't get what it's doing without being told. I do like an assumption of basic intelligence in my movies, I have to say.
Watching Popcorn I found myself particularly happy about the ease with which it unifies its disparate elements, showing no trouble at all going from teen comedy through dream-like killings through the excellent ravings of the murderer and to the particularly lovingly made movies in the movie, which are often very effectively and funnily intercut with the murders.
These mini movies are a pleasure in themselves, really getting the tone needed for lovingly making fun of the kind of film that sold itself through smell-o-vision right, and clearly based on films many of my readers will have no trouble recognizing, I hope. If you've seen and written about as many films of the style as I have in the last three decades (well, the writing hasn't been going on for quite that long), you can't help but see someone involved in the production as a kindred spirit. Particularly when you add all these other shout-outs to various horror traditions: the casting of Dee Wallace, the excellent parodies of 50s and 80s horror movie romances, the echoes of Phantom of the Opera, various slasher movies, José Mojica Marins, and many a thing more obvious (like the film posters), and much less obvious (everybody should find these on their own, I believe). Even better, with all these elements around, Popcorn still feels much less than a patchwork movie than the description would lead one to suspect: the way Herrier and/or Ormsby use them, they all belong in the same movie with naturalness (as far as you can speak of naturalness in a movie that is so lovingly a movie instead of a depiction of "reality") and style.
Which of course makes it quite impossible to say how someone who doesn't share my personal predilections will see or approach Popcorn. To me, this is a delicious, comedic piece of over-the-top clever low budget horror wrapped in peanut butter of movie nerd-dom - a film impossible not to love.Technorati-Markierungen: american movies,reviews,mark herrier,alan ormsby,jill schoelen,tom villard,dee wallace,horror
It's the 20s of the last century. After various complications that unnecessarily prolong the beginning of the movie, poor American friend of orphans Chris Dubois (Jean-Claude Van Damme) takes part in a very special martial arts tournament that should provide him with a giant gold dragon that'll keep his kids and him off the streets forever. Because it is that sort of film, the tournament proceedings are also the culmination of our heroes' unwitting quest for moral clarity, so he's (alas, only metaphorically) got con artist Roger Moore (in one of his less smug performances) sitting on his left shoulder, and professional boxer James Remar on his right shoulder, pushing him into the directions of wrong and right, respectively.
Apart from that, there are only various violent encounters standing between our hero and his destiny.
Despite my love for martial arts cinema, I've never been too fond of tournament movies, a sub-genre that generates exceptionally mechanical stories even in a genre not exactly known for its variable plotting. Just take a white guy taking the hero's journey (yuck), let him fight a bunch of national stereotypes in some sort of ring while more or less rousing music plays, and you've got your whole film in the can. Frankly, I just find this boring and lacking in imagination or just simple emotional interest, so only a very few tournament (or tournament-centric) movies manage to not bore me, mostly those that either play around with the sub-genre's too obvious structure, or those who really go all out in the martial arts scenes, either via particularly great choreography (nothing all that easily done when fights happen in a ring) or via batshit insanity.
The Quest doesn't belong to any of these more inspired groups, unfortunately. While the fights are absolutely competent, there's just not enough variety in their set-ups to keep up my interest. The silly national stereotypes for their part are good for one or two laughs and one or two moments of eye-rolling but are not good or unpleasant enough to do anything more in the negative, yet are going too far to be able to provide a different sort of interest - say via characterization as actual people and interesting interactions outside of the ring.
The Film is Van Damme's directorial debut, so I'm not too surprised he went for a very safe structure, but it's exactly these particularly safe structures that need someone with experience or just a lot of talent behind the camera to become anything more than an exercise in rote repetition of clichés. As a director, Van Damme is neither. He's clearly a competent director, even competent enough that it seems a bit of a shame he never really tried to make a career out of it, during which he very well might have become more than competent. At the very least, he's an action director who knows when to step back and just let the martial artists and stuntmen show their stuff, even when it's not himself he's stepping back for, and the stuff they're showing isn't all that great.
One can't even blame Van Damme for not having tried anything with The Quest. Before the whole tournament business starts, there's a long-winded attempt to set up the film as Chris's epic story of growth into a responsible adult, but this too is mired down by a lack of imagination. It's rather as if the film were stating that it is going to explore important ideas about moral growth, and declaring its own epic sweep but doesn't quite know how to actually establish them, instead falling back on the sort of cargo cult filmmaking where a director uses signifiers from other movies whose functions he doesn't really seem to understand.
Having said all this, I do think The Quest is a perfectly watchable movie, just not a memorable one, nor one anyone should go out of her way to seek out.Technorati-Markierungen: american movies,canadian movies,in short,martial arts,jean-claude van damme,roger moore
This is another one of those independently produced films that landed itself a SciFi Channel premiere, and like a much higher percentage of those films than of the ones SciFi/SyFy had an actual hand in making, it's pretty bad, and not even in a relatively entertaining manner. Yes, I just implied that SyFy Original Movies are often actually pretty good.
Anyway, this one finds Casper van Dien as the action movie hero name carrying US soldier Hawk (no relation to the protagonist of Dragon Age II, who is a girl), traipsing through the jungle of a Central American nation to help out with the local vampire problem, and rescue his ex-wife who left him because of an earlier vampire encounter he and his men had in the same area. He has to fight vampires played by Latino actors and Ray Park, all doing white boy kung fu, as well as his freshly turned former best friend Kevin Grevioux whose acting approach is best described as "has a deep voice", while being the worst fearless vampire slayer ever. Lynda Carter and Danny Trejo pop in for a few scenes, and not much else of interest happens.
Not surprisingly, the "action" of this action horror piece is rather on the lame side, with director Kevin VanHook never getting a bead on how to make his vampires look physically threatening instead of just silly when they do random acrobatics and snarl like cute little pooches. It's also all rather repetitive, too, for no single vampire attack or fight ever adds up to even a minor set piece, or even reaches the levels of mild craziness of your most minor Italian jungle action movie. For the first two or three action scenes, this visible cluelessness is rather charming but the film quickly reaches the point of monotony.
This impression is further exacerbated by a weak script that wastes its more interesting ideas (who knew vampires are caused by the Fountain of Youth Ponce de Leon was looking for?) on an aside or two and doesn't even attempt to do anything with about a dozen opportunities to at least grab itself a theme like a real movie. Of course, Slayer is a movie that seems to miss about five transitional and expository scenes that would at least have helped to make it feel less random and not quite as unnecessarily disjointed.
But hey, Danny Trejo smiles a few times.Technorati-Markierungen: american movies,american tv,syfy vs the mynd,in short,kevin vanhook,casper van dien,kevin grevioux,danny trejo,lynda carter,horror,action
"Conan, what is best in life this week?"
"Watching an Action International Pictures movie that crosses 'Namsploitation, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Dan Haggerty. Should be more than enough to see your enemies driven before you, unless your enemy is the owner of this blog. He'll just love it."american movies,reviews,action,horror,david a. prior,dan haggerty,brian o'connor,cameron smith,steve horton
Bunshinsaba 2 (2013)
Director: Ahn Byung-Ki
Cast: Park Han-Byul, Zhi-Lei Xin, Hao-Ran Zhang
Country: China (Mainland)
Synopsis: When a group of friends discover that the new addition to their clique is cursed, something very bad happens. Before long, they start dropping like flies.
Thoughts: Since I'm a moron and didn't do any research beforehand, I thought director Ahn Byung-Ki's Bunshinsaba 2 was a sequel to the 2004 horror flick Bunshinsaba. As it turns out, this is a follow-up to Ahn's 2012 endeavor Bunshinsaba. Thanks for confusing the hell out of me, China! Regardless of my ignorance, I rather enjoyed this predictable little outing. Although it unfolds as one might imagine, the filmmaker's ability to generate a moderate amount of suspense kept me engaged for the duration. Ahn Byung-Ki brings the South Korean style to mainland China, delivering a flick that feels like most thrillers from his native country. Unfortunately for those hoping to get creeped out, the scares are sadly few and far between. Still, Bunshinsaba 2 is sure to please less discerning fans of Chinese cinema. Just don't go in expecting a direct sequel to any of the previous Bunshinsaba movies. They're not connected in any way. Damn it.
Recipe For Mediocrity: One Tired and Easy-to-Follow Plot + Not Enough Genuine Scares + It's Not a Sequel to Either Bunshinsaba (2004) or Bunshinsaba (2012)
The Film Fiend - Cinematic scribbling to stimulate your pineal gland.
For all my love of Eurospy movies, I have avoided the James Bond movies these films were merrily ripping off for two decades and a half. I only have that much patience for a series of films about a smug jerk without discernible character traits fucking and killing while travelling around the world, particularly when the films clearly have no idea how deeply loathsome their hero is.
The Daniel Craig reboot movies actually seem made with people like me in mind. Suddenly, Bond actually has a character and not just an attitude. Even better, particularly Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace are out to criticize Bond's misogynist streak, explain it, and then proceed to actually do something about it. Sure, in the end (or Skyfall), Bond's emotional morals are still dubious, and he's still much too fast solving problems by killing people, but the films add enough actual character development (and even a bit of meta-plot and thematic coherence between the movies) to make clear he's at least improving; and it's always easier to sympathize with a guy who is at least trying than one whose movies comment every murder and betrayal he commits and every death that is his fault with a loud "fuck yeah!".
Plus, the films are really much better than they ought to be at keeping the balance between deconstructing elements of the Bond movie mythology and just enjoying being part of it. And, you know, Judi Dench, or rather, Judi Dench and the films' generally successful efforts to turn the female characters here into something different from Bond fuck dolls. In fact, every film affords at least one of its female characters as much complexity as Bond possesses, which is more than I'd ever have expected from them.
If I were a pessimist, I'd probably see the changes at the end of the third film as the starting point for a regression into less interesting times, but then these last three films should be reason enough to give the series the benefit of the doubt, particularly since the next Bond film will be again directed by Sam Mendes whose Quantum of Solace shows him surprisingly great at imbuing the scenes of spectacle with meaning where Casino Royale's Martin Campbell and Quantum of Solace's Marc Forster tended to a somewhat old-fashioned solidity or the camera shakes, respectively.Technorati-Markierungen: british movies,american movies,spies,action,martin campbell,marc forster,sam mendes,judi dench,daniel craig
Not surprisingly, the attempt to adapt Max Brooks's novel "World War Z" to the script structure all contemporary Hollywood movies have to follow, lest their audience would have to think a second or two a day, is pretty much a failure. In fact, the novel is a book that fits the "one pretty white guy with a father complex saves the world with the same dramatic beats all other mainstream films that came out this year had" particularly badly, seeing as its great strength is its width of different perspectives.
That point is also the big difference between the novel and pretty much all other approaches to the zombie apocalypse, which usually concentrate on a few people huddling up in very limited locations. Turns out that Brad Pitt jetting around the world being rather heroic (though at least lacking the father complex) is no good replacement for that approach, nor is the film's reliance on the same tired old set pieces zombie media of all type have delivered since Saint Romero delivered the gospel, realized by director Marc Forster with competence and in that semi-realist style that never quite gets gritty or real enough to deliver any actual emotional punches. Pitt is after all not actually acting but starring, and every other character (including his family) is only ever there to be visited for a bit or to motivate our protagonist to continue being heroic. Frankly, it's just a painfully boring approach, and a perfect example of what's wrong with scriptwriting in Hollywood right now - and I say that as a guy who does like blockbuster cinema well enough to call Pacific Rim his film of the year.
However, even if I choose to ignore the film being just another zombie movie but with a higher budget and less guts (in every sense of the word), it's just not a very good one. It's not only that the zombies are as lame and generic as the script (by J. Michael Straczynski whose writing career is a series of wasted chances, and Drew Goddard and Damon Lindelof who both really can do much, much better yet only do better about half of the time): what World War Z is lacking seems to be conviction, a willingness not to just go to unpleasant places but to stay there, to present the end of the world with actual gravity, or to at least provoke emotions that go beyond lazy shorthand that assumes an audience so programmed to react to certain types of scenes in a certain way and therefore never seems to get around to thinking form and function of its elements through.Technorati-Markierungen: american movies,in short,horror,zombies,marc forster,brad pitt
The US military is planning to install some kind of secret experimental radio transmitter in cave systems somewhere below a Central American country. Unfortunately, they have two problems. Firstly, they haven't found an actual cave entrance yet, and the major responsible for this particular transmitter, Stevens (Timothy Bottoms), is running out of time to get the device up and running in time for a manoeuvre. Secondly, a merry trio of anthropologists (Richard Johnson, Anne Heywood and Lisa Blount) with a hankering for caves is poking around in the very same area the military is interested in.
To solve the situation, the uniforms call in mercenary with a side-line in caving Rupert "Wolf" Wolfsen (Robert Powell, of all people), who has been hating Stevens for good reasons ever since the Vietnam War. Thanks to the efforts of Wolf and the anthropologists whom he befriends where Steven went the antagonizing route, a cave entrance is eventually found, but soon the men posted with the transmitter are attacked by mysterious forces and disappear together with the device. It's time for a rescue expedition consisting of Wolf, the anthropologists, Stevens and some redshirts. But who or what is waiting for them below?
What Waits Below's director Don Sharp was always a dependable man whose films are generally highly competent and watchable, and who always could surprise one by detours into actual brilliance. The film at hand isn't one of the latter, and the former it will only be for viewers with a bit of patience. For unfortunately, before the film gets to its actual meat in form of the adventurous cave expedition, there's an astonishing amount of introductions, dithering, and pointless nothing to get through that really starts What Waits Below off in a bad way. It's five minutes of set-up - most of the character bits could have been fruitfully moved into the caves - drawn out over thirty minutes plus.
Once the film finally gets going it doesn't exactly turn into an affair full of fast-paced excitement, but the acting is solid, the caves and cave sets are fun to look at, and the film does some half subtle, very British clever things with the lost world tropes it uses. It's also a film that doesn't want to explain the obvious, so it never outright states that the albino people are the descendants of a much more technologically advanced people who now give a religious, or at least ritual, meaning to the artefacts their forebears left behind. It's not much but I appreciate it nonetheless.
The other element of What Waits Below I find worth mentioning is its tone. On a plot level, the film is of course another lost world adventure film but Sharp stages large parts of its running time - until the final twenty minutes or so - as if it were a horror film, milking the caves, the mysterious disappearances and the way the underground people are only glimpsed and not seen, as if this were a monster movie. It's an interesting approach, and while I wish Sharp had taken it even farther - once the underground people are really revealed, they're just not that frightening or original anymore - it's an interesting way to go about things that give What Waits Below a degree of individuality despite the well-worn ideas it uses.
Of course, the effect of the unknown terror turning into just people might very well have been a very consciously used one, even if it weakens the film's effect as a horror film and an adventure movie. It is, at the very least, not improbable to read the film as a political allegory where the sheer supernatural bogeyman we built our political enemies into turns in the end out to be not all that different from ourselves.
Which, come to think of it, is quite a daring thing to attempt in a film that starts out this boring and indifferent.Technorati-Markierungen: reviews,british movies,adventure,fantasy,horror,don sharp,robert powell,lisa blount,anne heywood,timothy bottoms
Nice, France. A man (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is killed after a semi-spectacular chase through the streets of the town. Curiously, the man looks exactly like local police officer Alain Moreau (obviously also Jean-Claude Van Damme). Alain didn't know it until now, but his mother sold his twin brother off when they were both just babies (times were hard, son), and the dead man is his brother Mikhail.
Understandably, Alain feels a rather pressing need to find out who his brother really was, who murdered him, and why. The trail leads him to New York where he soon learns that Mikhail was a member of the Russian mafia, practically the son of the organization's head Kirov (David Hembleu). Various people, among them Mikhail's girlfriend Alex (Natasha Henstridge), think Alain is Mikhail, which isn't all that horrible (though ethically problematic) in Alex's case, but is really rather unpleasant in case of the people who now think they didn't manage to kill Mikhail in niece, particularly slightly lower Russian mob boss Ivan (Zach Grenier). Add corrupt FBI agents and a list containing details about the Russian mafia's network in the US Mikhail supposedly possessed to the mix, and Alain has quite a few people wanting to kill him for one reason or the other. Fortunately, he is a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie character.
To get this over with right at the start: this, Ringo Lam's first movie made for the US market in the US, isn't as good as the director's best Hong Kong films, but then, a lot of his Hong Kong films aren't as good, either; no director shoots a City on Fire or a Prison on Fire with every film he makes.
However, Maximum Risk is still a film very much worth watching. While Jean-Claude Van Damme isn't Chow-Yun Fat, about 1996 when this was made is about the point when he added a degree of convincing acting to the kicks and the gymnastics, and before the drugs and his various other troubles made his performances erratic. So JCVD actually makes something of the opportunities to portrait a guy driven to uncover the secrets of his brother's past at least partly to understand himself the film gives him between action scenes. The script doesn't provide particularly deep insights here, but it's more than enough to make Alain more than just a deliverer of violence and bad puns, and give the film's action a degree of emotional meaning it wouldn't have otherwise. Maximum Risk doesn't go for lame action hero talk at all either, and so escapes the problem of somehow getting its audience to sympathize with a hero whose reaction to killing someone is a quip.
When he's not letting JCVD look oh so meaningfully into a broken mirror or have a desperate toilet sex scene with Henstridge (who doesn't do much of interest otherwise, unfortunately, but manages to keep her love interest out of the awkwardness zone he more often than not enters in romance scenes), Lam does something he's particularly good at, namely racing through a plot that isn't quite as simple as he makes it look, while providing one increasingly frantic yet clearly shot action scene after another.
Really, looking at the action scenes in what isn't even one of the man's best films is a master class in how to stage and shoot action for maximum visibility and maximum excitement, without using the crutches of ultra-fast cuts or particularly showy camera work. Here, the excitement comes from clever and imaginative staging (which is also what you use when you have to work with comparatively little money), and a director who seems to know instinctively how to shoot shoot-outs, car chases, hand-to-hand fights as well as dramatic scenes. What Lam achieves should embarrass ninety percent of directors making direct-to-video action films right now. I'm not usually somebody to shout "Look, this is how it's done right!", but: look, this is how it's done right!
Friends of JCVD beefcake will be happy to hear that he has a particularly homoerotic (it's all that wrestling) fight scene where he and his opponent are only dressed in towels (and underpants). Maximum Risk is actually a perfect example of how to provide appropriate stimulation for people of all sorts of sexual directions. Some may call it all-purpose sleaze or exploitation, I call it equality.Technorati-Markierungen: american movies,action,reviews,ringo lam,jean-claude van damme,natasha henstridge,zach grenier