Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The ‘Surprise’ of Cinema [Apollo 18 (2011)]

From http://downloads.xdesktopwallpapers.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Apollo-18-Footprints.jpg

Dir. Gonzalo López-Gallego
Film #23 of The ‘Worst’ of Cinema

From http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-6a_AR4vVSbo/ULmOc95IzRI/

Particularly with the horror genre, once a popular film springs into existence, many other movies trying to replicate its ideas or tropes are made afterwards – slasher films, ‘torture porn’, and with this review’s film, the found footage sub-genre. Once a certain amount of these films are released however, the public become sick of many of them and many are dismissed. This is even more the case with the found footage sub-genre as its basic concept can be done as cheaply as possible, as can be attested with Paranormal Activity (2007), a low budget independent production that became a box office smash. This issue with a sub-genre becoming bloated is a pretty justifiable reason for reviewing a film like Apollo 18, which got many negative reviews when it was released. This film is certainly not a cheap looking cash-in however, and proved to be an immense surprise.

From http://img600.imageshack.us/img600/6917/76002643.jpg

Officially, the last manned mission to the Moon by the United States was Apollo 17, but what we see is the footage of the secret Apollo 18 launch, following two astronauts as they land on the Moon’s surface. As the edited together footage, taken from numerous pieces of NASA equipment, goes on however it becomes apparent that the Moon is not merely a dead satellite surrounding our planet. It is disconcerting that Apollo 18 has been dismissed as much as it has, maybe taking into consideration that I have not seen many films within the current trend of found footage films. Yes, the obvious issue one asks is how this footage could have been recovered and accessed to, but this is an abstract scenario to merely allow the film’s story to take place, suspension of disbelief as with many films for them to work. The potential issues with the accuracy of the filmic equipment used has to be pushed away as well as pointless pedantic questioning when the real core of the film is beyond this.

From http://img.rp.vhd.me/4680804_l1.jpg

The found footage sub-genre has been off-putting for me until now, mainly because I have had no interest and that, after my hope that it would be the Bela Tarr film of the sub-genre that forced viewers to watch quiet rooms for unbearable periods only to jump off their seats when the jolt took place, the first Paranormal Activity was such an utter disappointment, fast forwarding through the recorded footage up to the jump scares, defeating the point of them, and being utterly generic. I yet can see the potential in the sub genre, having admired The Blair Witch Project (1999). Seeing Cannibal Holocaust (1980) the day before this one for the first time cements the power this concept has, not only in the content of that film, but that it’s film-within-a-film nature is not only meta but evokes experimental cinema, particularly Owen Land’s Film In Which There Appear Edge Lettering, Sprocket Holes, Dirt Particles, Etc (1966), effectively using the ends and waste materials of celluloid itself and turning it into moving images themselves. Apollo 18, whether it was done with heavy post production work or was made with actual vintage equipment, evokes a material nature to the film image, the image distorted, moving and bending, and because of the lunar environment, not of the quality of a clean image let alone considering this film is set in the seventies and with its technology that was available then. While I have not handled NASA quality camera equipment in my life, to my knowledge, my volunteer work in my personal life has lead me to handle Super 8 and Standard 8 film, home movies and documents, for sorting out for filing information about them to viewing the contents. To see the scratches, the discolouration (and saturation of even preserved film), and the material nature of these capturings of real people and their lives has both effected me, even though I am happy with my digital DVDs, and emphasised how unnatural the concept of the recorded film is even if it’s a documentary. Apollo 18 may get almost festishistic with its distorted, faded film and white noise, but this fragmented collage of various pieces of footage in various states, even down to the varying frame sizes, breaks to pieces what film means. Unlike a Paranormal Activity which feels like amateur actors performing in front of cheap digital cameras, this has an ominous mood to it, of viewing something that shouldn’t be viewed and has the wear and tear, and blood, to show what has been done to it and the unfortunate astronauts who become more and more concerned with what their mission entails.

From http://www.joblo.com/newsimages1/apollo-18.jpg

The concept of the film itself, set on the Moon, is inspired too. For most of us who can only see it as a distant object in the sky, the Moon has provoked the human imagination in many ways with its unearthly appearance. It is not as fantastical as, say, Fritz Lang’s Woman In The Moon (1929), but in trying to create an accurate depiction of space travel, thanks to applaudable set design, Apollo 18 makes reality itself hyper fantastical in the look of the machines that propel people off the Earth and the bulbous space suits needed to breath and function on the satellite. The Moon’s surface itself as depicted in the film, barren, grey, atmosphere-less rock of disjointed pits and hills, is unreal, and as this film taps into, utterly terrifying in its silence and endlessness. If there is a major flaw with the film it is that there are moments where it falls back occasionally onto tired clichés expected of modern horror films– blood red eyes, disjointed faces and such techniques without spoiling the film – but it doesn’t detract from the sense of isolation felt. Even if the main force could be seen as ridiculous, having willingly had it spoilt for me before getting interested in the film, this fantastical explanation is acceptable as another abstract needed to make the film work, but one that adds a freakish edge of potential body horror and the concepts of basic evolution at the lowest levels, and what that would actually mean to the poor human being who interacts with the later. Before the horror is revealed, thought the film plays its hand too quickly with clues in the beginning, it already pushes a nerve wracking tone because of the period it is set, bringing into itself the Space Race between the US and Soviet Cosmonauts, and the paranoia that was evoked in the period’s pop culture. Filmed in such a disarming and self questioning form and Apollo 18 is stepped in an oppressive tone.

From http://img836.imageshack.us/img836/2366/screenshot4jn.jpg

Again, I was expecting a bad film like the reviews said it was, but like Halloween II (2009) and even Jack & Jill (2011), I have to wonder what environment and mindset the film critics that usually dismiss these films have and how it affects and colours how they see cinema. An overrated film like Paranormal Activity is minor in a sub-genre whose soul is something as repulsively compelling as Cannibal Holocaust, and while Apollo 18 is its own entity completely detached from the Ruggero Deodato film, it retains the dissective tone of a film being many films within itself and its setting adds a hopeless environment to escape from that taps into the sense that, like the Amazon jungle of Cannibal Holocaust, man is a small creature in a much wider existence. Despite its flaws, the film has a quality to it which completely goes against the notion of the found footage sub-genre being a cheap way to churn a film out. That the film has to go against itself by pretending to be real but having end credits may be an accidental virtue, emphasising the fact that, as film, cinema that appears to be real is actually fake, tricking the eyes and mind, and what appears to be fake is actually real.

From http://collider.com/wp-content/uploads/apollo-18-movie-image-01.jpg

Sunday, 27 January 2013

The ‘Stern Environmental Message’ of Cinema [On Deadly Ground (1994)]

From http://toloka.hurtom.com/photos/0912261542484848_f0_0.jpg

Dir. Steven Seagal
Film #22 of The ‘Worst’ of Cinema

From http://s3.amazonaws.com/auteurs_production/images/film/on-deadly-ground/w448/on-deadly-ground.jpg?1291015183

“What does it take to change the essence of a man?” Steven Seagal says in his sole directorial film. The irony is that the same man who made this film is the same one who makes the straight-to-DVD films of now, the one mocked for a persona beyond parody and with controversies in his personal life that add to the absurd nature of his career. These words spoken by Seagal in the film are gravely potent in hindsight, as while he still has a pretty healthy career in his current position, one asks whether changing his own essence would have drastically changed to trajectory of his image. This entire review could just destroy the film, but I want to resist it for most of the length. That Seagal’s character is called Forrest Taft, at one with the trees, is going to make this difficult. But that On Deadly Ground tries to have a serious message to it means that I have to be serious with it as well. It’s a film that doesn’t settle with merely emphasising its environmental message through a plot depicting the follies of mankind – from the disaster movie to sci-fi – but to make itself into a polemic which also has to cater for an action film crowd. The results are justifiably infamous but also how one’s presentation of noble and true ideas can be off-putting and self harming to the cause, a problem few have learnt from even in this decade.

From http://i2.listal.com/image/2473226/500full.jpg

Environmental agent and corporation lapdog Forrest Taft (Seagal) gains back his humanity when he realises his boss Michael Jennings (Michael Caine) is planning to use defective equipment for his new oil rig to retain a contract from the Inuit community and the Alaskan government. When Jennings plans to bump Taft off, he pushes the man into staging a one man battle in the name of Mother Nature. An immediate issue arises for me, viewing this the third time for this review, that may only be mine but is a clear one, that even if the film does at least raise the problem itself, we are still viewing the prevention of environmental pollution and damage through as equal amounts of  damage and destruction on Taft’s half. Clearly under the motto of causing harm to prevent far greater amounts of it, one has to still admit that, because Seagal still has to make an action film, the usual trope of the genre of giving out the law through one’s own hands in context of preventing the woodlands from being burned away, while noble, shows cracks in the mindset. For some reason causing this much physical harm to another person to protect Mother Nature, or even animals in some contexts, brings out an uncomfortable moral conundrum since it’s not to protect another person. Many of us feels this goes too far, in real life contexts such as with animal rights campaigners as well, even if their beliefs are ones we all agree with, as I believe in too, because of the nature of violence as a destructive force. Films have played with this idea very well with concern on the good side’s behalf or with having villains who actually are fighting for a noble cause of protecting the ecosystem, even if it means eliminating the whole of mankind of the face of the planet. Seagal was never a subtle man however, and this is not Princess Mononoke (1997) which justifies its environmental message with its subtlety. In Out For Justice (1991) he crashed into each place he needed to be and battered everyone into submission, and has continued to do so in his work now. He can fight, outsmart everyone who crosses his path, even improvise a gun silencer out of a plastic fizzy pop bottle of all things, but he cannot convey an important message without making it feel like he is punching you in the face. The existential question of his I quote at the top of this review is from a bar scene when Taft plays a violent game of slaps with an obnoxious drunk, punching his in the stomach until he pukes to making him a changed man immediately. Seagal’s desire for bringing a new age, mentally awakening philosophy of protecting nature and moral grit feels out of place, and dubious, when placed with the morally grey, and far more vivid, world of action cinema. The message is obvious but is made contradictory against the messenger saying it.

From http://megalife.com.ua/uploads/posts/2010-04/1270568969_on-deadly-ground.avi_snapshot_00.15.48_2010.04.06_19.03.20.jpg

As a director, Seagal actually had the chops to make something as good looking as other films releases that year. His problem that faulted him was that he needed to make more than a ‘good looking’ film but a good film in general, compounded by the fact that, even if you ignore the quandaries of the plot’s key idea, he sacrificed the aspect of himself that made him popular for his audience. He has scenes in this where he shows his quick and violent martial art skills, but in comparison to the films that made his name, this film trimmed the main pull of its material – his prowess – far too much. This is more important since for me, his style is more of an acquired taste, not as elaborate as Eastern martial arts films, or of his rival Jean Claude Van Damme, and in danger of not being able to save a really bland film. Reducing it further means that it comes off as less likely to save a film like On Deadly Ground even if there are still explosions and deaths depicted onscreen. Worse is that in Seagal’s attempt to create an important message he makes the same mistake as ‘important’, Oscar candidate films have that he patronises minorities, in this case turning the Inuit community, who would suffer the most from Jennings’ greed, into a merely a plot point for a mystical journey for Taft. Said mystical journey adds to this problem as it involves gratuitous, spiritual dream journey, female Inuit nudity with a Vaseline smeared camera lens, and Seagal fighting a bear only to be propelled down a waterfall in a transition comparable to how your character jumps from panel to panel in the videogame Comix Zone (1995). That Taft in a later scene dismisses the journey to stop Jennings with guns and his fists makes the whole segment pointless and makes the Inuit community even vaguer.

From http://www.imfdb.org/images/thumb/3/32/OnDeadly005.jpg/600px-OnDeadly005.jpg

The film is unintentionally humorous at times, a horrible thing to say especially since it has such an important message, but it’s unavoidable. Its cast is probably what adds to this silliness. Seagal is his usual cocky but serious self that is always in danger of making him obnoxious in comparison to his action hero peers, his egotism sadly very clear even before his straight-to-video work. The rest of the cast do not come out of the film well, with the sole exception of Billy Bob Thornton, in a small role, who has a couple of scenes where he quips about ordinary things and seems to be there for the sake of it. Joan Chen, who has a filmography that includes working with the acclaimed arthouse director Zhang Kei Jia, in the fascinating meta-documentary 24 City (2008), and the awful 1995 adaptation of Judge Dredd, if left to spout vaguely mystical dialogue and stand in the background, squandering her physical beauty and acting ability. R. Lee Ermey brings his trademark use of abrasive phrases from Full Metal Jacket (1987) with him, but doesn’t get a lot of screen time and also, along with Michael Caine, has to explain why Taft is as dangerous as he is within the final act of the film when this fact is obvious. Caine and John C. McGinley cannot justify their performances in this film unless they find the utter amusement in them looking back at the movie. Trying to be the hard case henchman, in a very tight shirt I must add, McGinley looks like he has a wooden pole strapped to his back and plays a character who, for all his threatening talk, is completely useless and bumbling. His tenure on Scrubs (2001-2010) does not help as you can see ticks in his performance to suggest that, if this character had more than that pole to prod him up, he would start belittling his minions in humorous ways that may have improved the villains’ chances of winning by kicking the members of their group up the arse for their incompetence. Caine, as well known for his infamous choice of film roles as much as iconic films like Alfie (1966), goes forth and gladly chews the scenery, obvious dyed black hair, an accent that veers from Texan (??) oil baron to his own iconic voice, and an attitude that would make him unwanted at anyone’s birthday party if he wasn’t so rich and powerful to take it over. You don’t need to put a sign on him saying he’s evil, he shouts that point across as you would creep up to attach the sign around his neck.

From http://seeexq.com/screenshots/1081.%20V%20smertelnoi%20opasnosti.jpg

And that this review can descend into this sort of talk really drives home a sobering point into my heart that this was an attempt to help humanity, exemplified by the final scene of Seagal talking about protecting the environment to a video montage of appropriate scenes, and it is unbearable to put up with and insulting to the environmental cause instead. The awful fact is that, nearly twenty years on where environmental concerns are the same and this sort of campaigning by Hollywood actors is still prominent, the attempts by these icons and celebrities to come to us the viewer and spread words of wisdom to improve ourselves is patronising and hypocritical. This month I have encountered on YouTube a subversion of recent campaign by Hollywood stars like Julianne Moore and Jeremy Renner, pushing for tighter gun laws in the United States, with images of their work showing them blasting people full of holes and into viscera with firearms in violent actions scenes, deflating their words, face to camera in sombre black and white, with the judgemental ferocity of the hand of God. That their campaign is in response to the recent school shootings makes it no longer a laughing matter, and for all my jokes in this review, seeing Seagal campaign for environmental awareness through a bloody shootout in a home kitchen gives off the wrong message without the recent events being an influence. Action films, dismissed as mere brutality, can convey far more potent and effecting thoughts on morality, as can horror and other genre films, while these serious messages that are placed within them or in ‘important’ cinematic documents die the year after their releases in people’s minds. And Seagal didn’t learn from his mistake, dragging Harry Dean Stanton in the mire with him for Fire Down Below (1997), another environmental action film, and making himself look worse. No matter how good one’s intentions are, the folly of men is that they both let their egos affect the ideas and that they try to turn them into action films lacking even a really engaging story to begin with. 

From http://planetaua.net/uploads/posts/2010-03/1269185923_015c98e22726af36081c584788ca4a4f.jpg

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The ‘Disappointing Script’ of Cinema [Van Helsing (2004)]

From http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-dy06xxbto7o/UN7SGwHus_I/AAAAAAAAAPU/f8zuBIqRwZA/s1600/Van-Helsing-2004.jpg

Dir. Stephen Sommers
Czeck Republic-USA
Film #20 of The ‘Worst’ of Cinema

From http://www.mattfind.com/12345673215-3-2-3_img/movie/q/a/p/van_helsing_2004_1920x1280_300240.jpg

It seems logical to start reviewing blockbusters like this as well as the art films and cultish (or forgotten) movies I have covered so far. I have reviewed the Nicolas Cage film Drive Angry (2011) but that was an attempt at a grubby exploitation film from the past than the phenomenon known as the blockbuster, B- (and even C-) movie material that, whether a good film or not, has the budget of an A-movie, and an illustrious choice of actors and people in the technical and production areas of filmmaking to draw from. It is ironic to say this since a lot of what these movies consist of – the explosions and action sequences, the quick pace jumps in the plot to new dangers and situations, the gratuitous special effects – are not that dissimilar to everything from old classic Hollywood serials from the Poverty Row studios to straight-to-DVD pulp. Dare I say that a lot of these films, especially with Van Helsing, are not that different from Sharktopus (2010) or even the rip-offs like Transmorphers (2007) aside from their streaks of seriousness and the fact that, with their budgets and production staff, they cannot be made cheap because of the craftsmanship behind them. That’s a pretty controversial statement to make, but if a blockbuster is great, then I will celebrate its existence. This is more of an acceptance that for all their cost to be made and their stars they are just expensive, or over expensive, B-, C- or even Z-level ideas made into movies. Some are good, some are masterpieces, but like the other grades of movies, a lot of them are poor. These ones should not have the privilege of countless DVD releases, or be the premier releases for new formats, considering today’s review was viewed on a late HD DVD player, and never to be discussed about in ways to suggest they were unforgettable signposts in cinematic history when even the ordinary public, not stuck-up snobs like myself, though they were bad on their release.

From http://image.hotdog.hu/user/sajuri/magazin/van_helsing_2004_1920x1280_823447.jpg

This is significant with Van Helsing because it was an attempt to celebrate the classic horror films of Universal Pictures – B-movies that have yet grown to become important within the canon of global cinema and pop culture, and with James Whales’ Frankenstein (1931) quite justifiably so. At the right age demographic for the film when it came out, I remember how much promotional and tie-in material was released for Van Helsing, signalling how it was one of Universal’s most important films for that spring – a videogame, an animated side story released for domestic viewing, and more interestingly, a grand scale re-release of the studio’s classic horror films on double bill DVDs. I never saw the film at the cinema, missed the tie-ins, and sadly never investigated the re-releases of the classic films until a long while afterwards. Viewing this long after its release again - a film I read about in the magazine Total Film when I still read that magazine - is like viewing something through the glass of a museum exhibit which I grew up side-by-side with.

From http://images4.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20100420182518

Without memories of his past aside from a nobility to fight for good, Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) is the top man for a religious organisation that rids the world of evil beasts, warlocks or scientific follies. Sent to Transylvania he must protect the gypsy princess Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale), one of the last of a family that have offered their souls’ ability to go to Heaven to destroy the accursed Dracula (Richard Roxburgh), while the Count himself plans to bring to life his undead offspring with the creation of Dr. Frankenstein. If one doesn’t view the film as a continuation of the classic Universal horror films, but its own reinterpretation of mythological and literary beings, then this could have worked. As with a lot of blockbusters of the fantasy and horror genre, as was the case with Son of the Mask (2005), one can see the production team – costuming, set designs, location scouts – do their hardest to make something memorable. Like many genre films thankfully, there are grains of great ideas and images within the film. One that stands out is that the organisation Van Helsing works for is not just a Christian one, but in scenes of the technological and weaponry workshop, has Muslim and Buddhist members working together,  depriving the viewer with a tantalising concept both of these religious groups, in a beautiful way, unifying together as equals against evil, and that a Christian based character like Van Helsing could have gone against Asian mythological demons and ghouls with their own set of rules and weaknesses. The look of the film feels too stuck between the classic Universal horror look and a glitzy blockbuster shine at points but in just the scope and surface look of the film, it shows what it could have been.

From http://old.rapidimg.org/images/jB28g.jpg

Sadly the film is bad, and I am blaming most of it on the script for the core flaws. I feel guilty saying this as director-screenwriter Stephen Sommers dedicated this film to his father, but his script for Van Helsing is everything wrong I have encountered in blockbusters put together. It’s far from the worst film I’ve seen generally, let alone in this season of reviews, but still another example of incredibly generic and tedious plotting, compromised further by having to match the beats and pace of a blockbuster of that period of the early 2000s. Its biggest problem is that for a film with a two hour and six minutes long length, it is empty and lacking in even basis genre tropes and pops. A key aspect of Jackman’s character, of having nightmares of a long distance past, is spoken of but never conveyed or shown at all for the viewer, making it far more egregious than even the infamous porpoise line from the Adam West, feature length version of Batman (1966) which played that moment for intentionally surreal hijinks. It may have been something looked into in the animated spin-off from the film, but considering how obscure that has become now, that would have been a terrible business decision on Universal’s behalf in leaving your audience in the dark. There are so many coincidences, logic holes and inconsistencies in the film that it’s impossible to enjoy the second or third time someone manages to crash into a room by accident to save an ally from being attacked by a monster. It’s not enjoyably ridiculous as Turkish Star Wars (1982) or Batman & Robin (1998) for myself as, justifiably, such films are closer to the intentional surreal structures of films like Luis Bunuel’s The Phantom of Liberty (1974); their random tangents just by their appearance in the narratives have an effect on the viewer even if they were unintentional and do not have the deep messages and quality of a Bunuel film. Van Helsing is just a mess without any of the fun of other ‘bad’ films which have an unexpected and imaginative, exquisite corpse nature to their haphazardness.

From http://skirmisher.com/uploads/images/van%20helsing%20vampire.jpg

The extensive use of computer animation is a severe issue as well. I am willing to give a lot more leniency now for CGI, especially if one views blockbusters as the B-movies they truly are. The problem is that, not only has it ostracised trades such as stuntmen and practical effect artists from most areas of cinema, but like other technical tools, laziness in the use of it undermines a film badly. If one has to fight against a low budget or the limits of the technology of the time, or purposely plays with the artificiality of computer effects, it is more acceptable for me. Van Helsing has great ideas, such as how men literally rip their own skin off when they transform into werewolves, but it feels at lot of times that the CGI was being used as a white undercoat on the film’s canvas than the vast array of colours and textures that need a creative person to use them effectively. Like the plot too, there are too many inconsistencies to the logic of the film, how creatures die or move, and how everything is put together. Small, picky thoughts they may be, when I should just turn my brain off and ‘just enjoy the movie’, but even the simple mindedness of pulp entertainment must have logic to it or be so dreamlike in its mood to be able to work for me. The most memorable of fiction for me, not just cinema, must have an inherent logic to it, from the truly abstract plotting of fairytales such as The Snow Queen to the flawed yet visually arresting anime adaptation X (1996). The concepts and subtexts to them all are vastly different to each other, but they must have their clear personalities to work. Van Helsing on the other hand feels compromised.

From http://www.shotpix.com/images/52505920878991389105.jpg

It is like a lot of Hollywood films that have the potential, and still have traces of a great movie within them, but feel planed down to the point that they feel brittle and collapse to pieces the moment you feel bored with them. Personal taste does dictate your opinions subjectively on films like this, but Van Helsing should have been a blockbuster that fully embraced the Gothicism of the films it was reinterpreting, even if it’s of a very different genre and tone, through mood and their supernatural mysteries. What we ended up with was a tedious film over reliant on not very good CGI craftwork.

From http://www.movpins.com/big/MV5BMTk2NDIwOTkxM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTc4NDQyMw/still-of-kate-beckinsale-and-david-wenham-in-van-helsing.jpg

Monday, 21 January 2013

The ‘Coffee Drinker’s Favourite’ of Anime [The Humanoid (1986)]

From http://cdn03.animenewsnetwork.com/images/cms/buried-treasure/21262/humanoid5.jpg

Dir. Shin’ichi Masaki
Work #19 of The ‘Worst’ of Cinema

From http://static.minitokyo.net/downloads/16/00/230016.jpg

[Note – The version watched for this review was English dub only. Since anime dubbing can affect an anime’s nature itself and one’s opinion on it, bare it in mind while reading this review and if you want to see it afterwards.]

Considering this is the third shot form anime I’ve reviewed for this season, it both shows that there are a disarming amount of begotten anime like this in existence, even if I admit I enjoy The Humanoid greatly, and that I am biased with picking this sort of thing to cover even if it sadly doesn’t have as much release here in Britain as it did in the USA. This sort of OVA or short length anime are small, full bursts of colour, ideas and optimistic promise, that of successes remembered today, the sadly forgotten, or the misguided folly. It’s beautiful, both sincerely and perversely, to look at stuff like this where they were being churned out for the Japanese video market and anything could get through. If you can get past the large eyes and the sexualisation of schoolgirls, anime, especially the older works of the eighties and the nineties, is just as much a smorgasbord of intellectual concepts to rival art cinema, and psychotronica to rival cult and exploitation cinema. It is able to have analysis of the human existence and man’s place in the world on the same shelf as sex ninjas and, in an example I would love to review one day, God as a space grub who somehow requires a spaceship to travel around space.

From http://i94.photobucket.com/albums/l115/Skellor/BT/BT2/humanoid4.png

Is something like The Humanoid of artistic merit though? To be honest, to only view cinema through an intellectual’s mindset of ‘serious’ films is as likely to be as clichéd, strained and potentially kitsch as these lesser known animations fostered upon Western distributors. To accept this gaudy material exists allows one to admit how gaudy and tacky real life can be as well and to be able to appreciate great art even more as well as things like this anime. The Humanoid is viewed by most anime fans as worthless junk. I like it though. It’s not an ugly mess like Roots Search (1986), or utterly clunky like Psychic Wars (1991). It is completely unoriginal to the extreme, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying it.

From http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-t0MOG7gbBmg/TWSx63wWkUI/AAAAAAAAACU/WrEzOJjNeA8/s1600/the-humanoid-4.png

On a harmonious planet, Governor Proud – called so for his selflessness and modesty – plans to awaken a giant spaceship to take his people back to their home world, despite the warnings of his peers of how it nearly destroyed large parts of the lush, green planet when last activated. His desire to have both keys to activate the ship will cause him to cross two Earthmen, Dr. Watson and his daughter, and his creation Antoinette, a robotic woman who slowly learns what the human emotion of ‘love’ means. At forty five minutes it trundles along and never reaches anything spectacular, pretty coloured and yet very badly animated in places. Why do I enjoy this anime despite its glaring flaws? Beyond personal taste, it’s that it is so innocent in its content – not offensive, not stupid, not mind numbingly dull – and such a product of the eighties. It’s only real contribution to anime’s history is that Antoinette’s design was by Hajime Sorayama, famous for his art involving female robots, including the album cover for Aerosmith’s Just Push Play (2001). The idea of this titular humanoid and the story of the whole anime is meat-and-potatoes sci-fi, a story of good versus evil, and the folly of one’s ego, going back to the beginnings of mankind in ancient myths, continually returned to and made into this anime. The robot learns to be human and the heroes include two space jockeys - one of which, to paraphrase the Anime World Order podcast and a quote from their review of this anime, has the hair and moustache of a black Burt Reynolds – who must go against the deluded Governor Proud and his robot soldiers. Its slightly muddled in its plotting and generic, but with its eighties synth theme about dancing in the rain, its delighting for me to watch something that came from a period, not just from Japan, where animation like this was cranked out continually. I can enjoy its one dimensional plotting, despite it being silly and one dimensional, because it never insults my intelligence or makes me want to gouge my eyes out. Its fun even if I’m one of the only people who can enjoy it. It did elicit laughter quite a few times out of me, but that caused me to embrace it even more.

From http://i.ytimg.com/vi/KXcN2cpTlmM/0.jpg

Then there is the obsession with coffee through the film. It’s not as if the English voice actors just lost their minds from tiredness and decided to worship the thing that was keeping them going, but in scenes of the anime itself characters are continually drinking coffee. Not a particular brand, but as propaganda for the caffeinated bean in general. It’s always hilarious when the dialogue goes into talking about the black gold, although one worries about the safety of this natural Eden of a planet when its populous, judging from this anime, is either between a chemical induced A.D.D. or a depressive caffeine crash. It’s always wonderful when an anime, no matter how lacking it may be everywhere else within it, can have a quirk this amusing to it, adding to The Humanoid’s charm. It is another work I’ve reviewed that is for a very acquired taste only, but I have to admire something this cheerfully empty despite the fact I shouldn’t.

From http://i94.photobucket.com/albums/l115/Skellor/BT/BT2/humanoid1.png

Now if you excuse me, I have my coffee to finish. And if you don’t believe me, here is a montage of coffee related quotes from The Humanoid someone has spliced together and has appeared on YouTube. Who knew subliminal advertising about hot liquids of a refreshing taste could be so barefaced and better for it?

Friday, 18 January 2013

The ‘Dreadful’ of Cinema [Track of the Moon Beast (1976)]

From http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-Q6CkK49-VkY/UAUV_LBGcHI/AAAAAAAAA4w/bK5qx6_OfZU/s1600/Track+of+the+Moon+Beast.jpg

Dir. Richard Ashe
Film #18 of The ‘Worst’ of Cinema

From http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_TFBFHx0gM8k/TKvtxq3s7tI/

When he is hit in the head by a small lunar meteor, a man is plagued by bed strickening headaches. At the same time, a series of gristly murders are taking place in the town, all of them connected to a strange bipedal reptile man. Track of the Moon Beast wants to be a serious drama; its tone is that of a low key, dialogue driven drama about a man crippled by fate. It is however a serious drama about a man who turns into a homicidal reptile man when the moon is out. It is fascinating on paper, seeing the film try it’s hardest to pull this off. But from its beginning its drama is not good at all, and when compounded with its B-movie premise, it becomes awful to sit through.

From http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-l3uxcnBK3Ro/TeXJEdaDYYI/AAAAAAAAGr8/kL_i2g_Rbzo/s1600/moon-beast.jpg

Track of the Moon Beast is an example of a film that tries to be unique but is let down by what it wants to be not correlating with what it should have been. Baring a few scenes of a titular moon beast attacking people, it is not a genre film at all. This could have worked, especially with the film’s unique take on how someone transforms into a beast man like in werewolf legends, but it is tedious viewing. Comparable to the other seventies film I’ve reviewed, Frozen Scream (1975), despite being a superior film from two bad ones, its large amount of dialogue sequences are not engaging, really lacking the compulsion a great actor or cast would give the viewer to hang on the dialogue even at its most threadbare. Even a charismatic actor is able to make something out of a film whether the dialogue is good or not, which I brought up with Alan Cummings in my review of Son of the Mask (2005). The other problem with this film, like Frozen Scream and a few films I’ve covered so far, is that the director merely places the camera in one spot and makes the film one dimensional in look. At least Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966) had the weird, off quilter tone to prevent this from undermining its qualities, and for anyone whose read my review of the infamous Canadian film Things (1989) – [Link Here] – they know that that film had the advantage of being so low budget that its messy, shot-on-cheap-video look actually gave it a distinct appearance even if the results would horrify some viewing it. Track of the Moon Beast has nothing really in its favour in this area or anything particularly ridiculous or memorable to latch upon.

From http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-KT13G6qQzFo/TnUmAMzfgdI/AAAAAAAADOs/uv0c7NUNexQ/s1600

The shortness of this review dictates that there is little to really write about the film. By covering this, and doing the whole season in general, I realise I have no excuse now to not review any film, no matter how bland it is, on the blog, but something like Track of the Moon Beast does show why being picky with your review choices does help for other bloggers and writers. In favour of this season though, a film like this does help me understand what a bad film actually is. It’s not a Turkish Star Wars (1985) which is entertaining and creatively in a misplaced way, but one of these long forgotten films that could have worked, like crossing a Lifetime medical drama with a monster film, but lacks the magic that could have made it spectacular even if it was still shonky viewing. 

From http://ic.pics.livejournal.com/dfordoom/3834032/1624112/1624112_original.jpg

Thursday, 17 January 2013

The ‘Dull’ of Cinema [The Ultimate Ninja (1986)]

From http://faf-media.findanyfilm.com/film_images/L_Synd4017-379635.Jpg

Dir. Godfrey Ho
Hong Kong
Film #17 of The ‘Worst’ of Cinema

From http://www.fareastfilms.com/cmsAdmin/uploads/ultimate_ninja3.jpg

I may have hinted at this with my first review of a Godfrey Ho ninja film for this season, Ninja Terminator (1985), but his and his producer Joseph Lai’s concept of taking unreleased or unfinished films made by other people and splicing into them scenes of Westerners in cheap ninja costumes could have mixed results. While able to create films like Ninja Terminator, it could also lead to bad films like The Ultimate Ninja. The film consists of two parts that tentatively connect together. The first is a good red ninja, who we know is a ninja because the word ‘Ninja’ is on his headband, trying to get a ninja statue, of British seaside store quality in its tackiness, back from evil black ninjas. We know they’re evil because they’ve got skulls on their headbands, eliciting from my mind a moment where one of them, like in a sketch by David Mitchell and Robert Webb, looks at his headband and asking another “Hans... are we the baddies?” The second storyline, the original film redubbed into English and edited, is about a gang leader who takes over a rural town, and twenty years later, has his gang of thuggish debt collectors undermined and beaten up by an increasing amount of people who either want revenge or are fighting for the good guys.

From http://www.fareastfilms.com/cmsAdmin/uploads/ultimate_ninja5.jpg

The immediate problem with The Ultimate Ninja is that Ho attempted to make a new film with the material he had but ended up making something that doesn’t go anywhere. The original footage has far too many characters, especially on the hero’s side, which could have easily turned into a twisting of Seven Samurai (1954) or a Western with a team of heroes, but merely becomes a jumble of random scenes. Certain individuals would look identical to each other if it wasn’t for their hairstyles, awkward choice of English dubbing, and especially with one character with iron head and a sleeveless pink vest, their fashion sense. It isn’t an interesting film at all, the problem with Ho’s idea of making cut-and-paste ninja films with dull material as well as that which was entertaining, with rudimentary martial arts sequences and a blandness to its look and tone. The ninja footage doesn’t help either, with only one scene connecting the two aspects together, and not really working either by itself. There’s amusement to be had with a moustached ninja meditating on a picnic bench, but like the original footage the ninjas are interchangeable to each other and don’t get to do what Richard Harrison and ninja in other films did. They got to have motorbike sword fights, fight in car parks and suburban homes, throw smoke bombs and shoot flames from their sword handles, and do gratuitous back flips; the ninja in this are just white foreigners in low cost ninja costumes playing hide-and-seek in the bushes of what appears to be a park.

From http://www.sogoodreviews.com/reviews/tun.jpg

There are much better or at least far more ridiculous ninja films in Ho’s back catalogue. For a film called The Ultimate Ninja, the content barely stands by itself let alone live up to the title. The film is tedious. The amusement is occasionally there – including a training sequence which apparently couldn’t afford to get a trampoline, which even Turkish Star Wars (1982) was wise to have, and uses an obvious low camera to show a giant leap – but most of The Ultimate Ninja is a waste of time to view. Start with Ninja Terminator and go view other Ho/Lai collaborations instead, and only view this if you’re part of a secret, die hard cult of Godfrey Ho completists. 

"Have you noticed that our headbands actually have little pictures of skulls on them?"
From http://s3.amazonaws.com/auteurs_production/images/film/the-ultimate-ninja/w448/the-ultimate-ninja.jpg?1317228346

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The ‘American Manga’ of Cinema [Double Team (1997)]

From http://cf2.imgobject.com/t/p/w500/kgFihiZdCqFYcvkc2udZ4BeTOz0.jpg

Dir. Tsui Hark
Film #15 of The ‘Worst’ of Cinema

From http://www.thefancarpet.com/uploaded_assets/images/

An assessment needs to be made on nineties action films like this. A film like Street Fighter (1994) is in no way near as awful and reprehensible as the critical view on it is, as are many other examples like the movie I’m covering today. I am spending my twenties to slowly dissect the 1990s I grew up in, starting with cinema, and I truly do not remember the decade the way it actually was. It was a decade in hindsight that was completely chaotic, a fin de siècle decade that involved decadence, pre-millennium, millennium bug fed, anxiety and Vanilla Ice. In seriousness, it was the decade where post-modernism was felt in mainstream culture as well, something you could see especially in cinema of the time. Quentin Tarantino’s rise in popularity is pretty much the flagpole to this attitude of the era, in his breakdown of genre and self reflection, but the mindset could be seen in numerous areas of filmmaking, from Iranian art house cinema to videogame adaptations. American films of the nineties, especially the critically reviled genre franchises and adaptations of videogames, comic books etc., are a misunderstood, howling mass of gaudy colours, tonal shifts and pop cultural objects that are utterly fascinating and weird at the same time. Even by the end of the decade, where we view it through films like Titanic (1997) to Fight Club (1999), there were films like Batman and Robin (1997) and this. No one thought twice about making the immortals in the second Highlander film aliens.  No one realised the giant platform jump of making Super Mario’s Mushroom Kingdom into a grubby Blade Runner-like environment with Dennis Hopper, in Frank Booth mode, as King Koopa. And no one realised the pop cultural contusions Double Team would cause by putting together Van Damn, director Tsui Hark, in an era where Hong Kong cinema would drastically American action films from then on, Mickey Rouke and basketball star, and occasionally WCW wrestler,  Dennis Rodman within the same film.

From http://www.imcdb.org/i057066.jpg

Double Team is one of the closest things I have seen to a live action Japanese manga made entirely in the US, with the great influence of Asian and Chinese martial arts cinema, not just in Hark’s direction but an action choreography that was done by the legendary Sammo Hung. Bear in mind that manga is for all ages and genders in its home country, and of all genres and uses, so I am referring to stereotype of men’s manga that flooded the West, and I know of more through all the anime adaptations of them or within the same mindset, that were made, before the drastic change in audience after the 2000s. Action packed, a protagonist or two fleshed out enough to push forward the plotline, a twist or incident each chapter or page to keep the reader on their toes and show anything is possible in the story, and a bending, or complete abandonment, of physics to allow the author to create any imaginary set piece they can come up with. This is less bloody than this sort of material, and has absolutely no sex despite having the requisite fetish and gimp clothing from a cyberpunk anime in certain scenes, but the sprinting, delirious tone of them is clearly seen in Double Team. When he fails to capture the terrorist Stavros (Rourke), Jack Quinn (Van Damme) is sent to an island known as the Colony for spies and counter-terrorists that are too dangerous to set free but too valuable to kill off. With Stravros still on the loose, who has a personal vendetta against Quinn and targets his pregnant wife (Natacha Lindinger), Quinn has to escape the Colony and get the help of the unconventional gun dealer Yaz (Rodman).

From http://watchesinmovies.info/img/f/Double-Team-JCVD01.jpg

Van Damme’s filmography, while not thoroughly cleared through by myself, is far more fascinating than almost of his action star contemporaries that became big in the eighties, working with legendary Asian action directors like Hark and John Woo, able to suddenly star in, and act his heart out within, an abstract meta-film on himself in his home country of Belgium called JCVD (2008), and make utterly insane films like this. It is impossible to take the film seriously, and despite the negative lambasting it still gets now, this film was clearly designed to be as ridiculous as possible. That it has a serious strand to it, of Stavros having a justifiable reason to hate Quinn, fleshed as much as possible in this goofy film by having Rourke act in your film in any role, just adds a peculiar dark edge to a film that is full of elaborate tangents that are completely unexpected every time. The aesthetics of Hong Kong cinema, in its elaborate and complicated set pieces, is brought here with an even more comic book-like logic to everything that takes place.

From http://i4.minus.com/iblvPqLdpNYdEX.png

Van Damme does well, and despite being a little lost at first onscreen, Dennis Rodman at least has the visual appearance and charisma to really get into the swing of the film by its later action scenes. Even his puns based on basketball seem to have a cheesy coolness to them that is far from abhorrent. The aspect that makes Double Team work even more and makes its absurdity more distinct is Hark’s direction, very solid and made with great skill, using the camera movements and visual images to heighten the action and the lunacy. Knock Off (1998) would go even further in its experimenting – including a first person of a foot going into a shoe – but it’s easy to tell how talented Hark is even if his films I’ve seen aren’t always the best. I won’t spoil anything in the film as everyone who hasn’t seen it should go into it cold, so that the effects of the abrupt moments stand out more when you see them. It is amazing how tarnished it is even more so for me on this rewatch. It is insane, silly and comedic both intentionally and not, but far from mindless garbage when it has great action and fight scenes, looks great compared to films from the era like Double Dragon (1994) that, while I enjoy wholeheartedly, are a day-glo mess, and is trying as hard as possible to entertain the viewer. There is a sense that, not only was this not viewed within its own bubblegumish context back then, but that even now films like it don’t have the legacies of Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) and its ilk, and have to deal with an internet culture that is far too hipsterish and ironic to view films like Double Team as sincerely ridiculous, especially when the films that are praised are self mocking or taking themselves too seriously. Thankfully people do love this sort of cinema too, and I won’t take back how much I love this film as well. I won’t call it a guilty pleasure either; I enjoy this film as a well crafted and great piece of cinematic bright coloured cinema.

From http://cdn2.screenjunkies.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/double-team.jpg

Monday, 14 January 2013

The ‘Trash Wunderkammer’ of Cinema [Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam aka. Turkish Star Wars (1982)]

From http://i56.photobucket.com/albums/g190/beedubelhue/blog/DUNYAYI-KURTARAN-ADAM-TURKISH-STAR-WARS.jpg

Dir. Çetin Inanç
Film #14 of The ‘Worst’ of Film

From http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_l67x5TGxBUA/TJt-1Di2WCI/AAAAAAAAAb4/T3e4CukZTbk/s1600/starwars_1.jpg

I considered films through a black and white viewpoint when I was younger. They had to have clear narratives and be well made, something which made Turkish Star Wars one of the worst films I had ever saw when I viewed it at sixteen or so in a bender of Google Video viewings. Now my views have changed, where films of immense quality become greater but I can appreciate something trashy and badly made as well, especially when I realised clear narratives can be part of tedious films and far more experimental, or haphazard, filmmaking engages me more. Unpredictability, to take an idea from the podcast Damaged Viewing brought up when reviewing the film – still available to download [here] – is one of greatest virtues a film can have; even if I know how the plot will end, a great film, or something special, will make the journey unpredictable in how it gets there. A film as deranged as Turkish Star Wars is something for me to admire than to hastily dismiss now.

From http://cache.io9.com/assets/images/8/2008/02/turkishclimax_io9.flv.jpg

After centuries of change where atomic wars have decimated most of it and pieces of the continents have drifted off into space, Earth (which suspiciously looks like squashed Death Star) is under attack by an immortal wizard. With the planet protected by a force field created from human brainwaves, the wizard needs human brains to destroy it and attack Earth, forcing two Turkish space pilots onto his own planet where they must face his bizarre hordes of monsters and stop his plans of galactic destruction. Turkish Star Wars is infamous, as a low budget Turksploitation film, for taking footage from Star Wars and using music from everything from that film to Flash Gordon (1980). The montage of attractions theory created by Sergei E. Eisenstein, brought up in my first review for this season blasphemously with Ninja Terminator (1985), is decimated by the slapdash editing of this, where even the use of music and sound clips is as hastily put together as the visuals, and yet has a drastic effect on the viewer when viewed together in this narrative. The difference is that, while Eisenstein wanted to elicit certain emotions from the viewer, this film causes stupefied amazement instead.

From http://www.randomdistribution.com/wp-content/uploads/jump.jpg

Turkish Star Wars, revisiting it, is a glorious mess, the plot synopsis my attempt to comprehend a film which can suddenly lunge forward, even into the middle of a fight, without warning you, where monsters suddenly appear out of nowhere and the theme from Indiana Jones, used behind the main hero, suddenly battles with the villain’s Flash Gordon synth. It is some of the worst filmmaking I have ever seen, but it still manages to be far greater in quality to shot-on-digital-camera-films of now at their worst, and is incredible to see, throwing you like a paper bag in the wind and dropping you off by the end confused and alarmed. It’s as much pre-existing science fiction and fantasy works, including things that weren’t directly included in the film but evoked for me during the re-viewing accidentally, as the creators of the film could cram into a single movie and made into a cabinet of baffling curiosities. With our main hero who bounces around like Taylor Kitsch in John Carter (of Mars) (2012), and his womanising friend whose famous whistle to attract women accidentally conjures up skeletal horsemen to his annoyance, as the good guys, we see them fight everything from TV headed robots, cybermen, toilet paper mummies, and to paraphrase a description my younger self used when he viewed this the first time, the bastard, feral children of Elmo from Sesame Street. It’s a film that, even when it drags occasionally, is always startling and hilarious, imaginative even when it’s stealing from everything else, and effectively a long, continuous fight where anti-war philosophy is matched with a beast having its head karate chopped off.

From http://cache.io9.com/assets/images/8/2008/02/medium_turkishbarfight_io9.flv.jpg

The philosophy and mythology in the film adds the cherry to the top of its cake, from the first few minutes in and the feverishly garbled narration trying to explain the world it is setting up. The subtitles did not help, or made it even more demented, but the film is a stream of consciousness of unconventional ideas and erratic science fiction ideas that adds to the incomprehensible but delightfully creative mass you see (and hear and read) onscreen. That it includes religion, with an Islamic subtext, adds to the sincerity of the film that makes it impossible to laugh at it nastily, as well as a cultural texture not viewable in Western films just as ramshackle. It is comparable to dreams I’ve actually had where all the anime and genre films I’ve viewed have become a constantly shifting, yet strangely logical, stream of images and plot points at rapid fire pacing. My dreams, not to blow my own ego trumpet or insult the creators of this film, are better made than Turkish Star Wars, but it is able to leave you in a joyful stupor just as powerful.  It’s as if you’ve just watched a barmier episode of Power Rangers within your brain that also spliced TIE Fighters in there too without George Lucas looking.

From http://i.ytimg.com/vi/2xt0I7GrJKw/0.jpg

Regardless of whether it’s technically shoddy, this is the kind of junky splutterings that would be a breath of fresh air if they were made more often. The vividness of Turkish Star Wars and its own unpredictability is worth cherishing even if we all admit that would never win any technical awards for quality. And this was enforced before I watched this film again too within this season of reviews. The original choice for this slot was Kevin Smith’s Cop Out (2010) with Bruce Willis and Tracey Morgan which I turned off after only a quarter of its length, the sense of wasting my life viewing it all too much to sit through it. For someone whose golden rule is always finish a film, any film, to do this, and vow never to watch Cop Out again unless I’m forced to, says so much about how lifeless it was, while even something as bad as Frozen Scream (1975), which I reviewed, never felt like a waste of time despite my detestment of it. Turkish Star Wars is far more rewarding and inspired in its utter travesty of a genre. It’s a film from this season you need to see once, even if you hate it, and now that my tastes have changed and I can see its virtues, I look back at my younger self who found it unbearable and ponder how much of a naive sourpuss he was. 

From http://images.dead-donkey.com/images/bscap0475mv.jpg