Witchville (2010)

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Directed by: Pearry Reginald Teo

I don’t want to step on Mark’s toes by dipping into his SyFy domain, but I was recommended ‘Witchville’ by a buddy who described it as terrible enough for my consideration. He of course was right, ‘Witchville’ is atrocious. However watching it took me back to an innocent time, when I would find myself hypnotized by the TV, watching a host of fantasy sword and spell programmes that used to clutter the schedule in the mid to late nineties on Sky One. Imagine something akin to the flashback scenes in ‘The Cable Guy’ when a young Chip Douglas would be wowed by the goggle-box.

Yes, ‘Witchville’ takes me back to days when I would watch Kevin Sorbo strut around in ‘Hercules: The Legendary Journeys’ and become rather fascinated with the “are they or aren’t they” sexual tension between Xena and Gabrielle in ‘Xena: Warrior Princess’. The fight scenes were rather tame in those shows and there was a smattering of CGI which looked tacky back then, but when you consider back then was the nineties, when most things were tacky, now these effects almost look like medieval kitsch.

A typical fantasy adventure, ‘Witchville’ begins with a band of men who look destined to go on some kind of quest. You’ve got the handsome prince-type with good morals, the brutish slightly tubby enforcer and the Will Scarlet role, the boy who’s on the cusp of becoming a man, yet played by a twenty something actor who hasn’t been a boy for about a decade. You also know that Will Scarlet will either get captured or double cross the other men somewhere down the line.

So three men are in an inn, knocking back grog; one of them is Malachy played by Luke Goss, who lest we forget was once in the eighties machine known as Bros. In what is a very quick piece of character development, Malachy is told by his tubby buddy that his Father is ill and could really do with a visit. Mal gets all petulant and doesn’t want to travel home to see Papa. So tubster and Mal have a swordfight. Tubster gains the upper hand, and Mal reluctantly agrees to visit his Dad.

Sadly when they get to Malachy’s house, which is a castle, they find out that Mal’s Dad is dead. Malachy then becomes king, and rules a kingdom that’s on the verge of ruin. Sombre Middle Eastern music plays, which doesn’t seem particularly appropriate. Around this point in the film a lot of lines are delivered grandiosely, such as when Tubs McGee says “These people need a leader, they need you”. But where are the people? The town seems deserted; could they not pay for any extras?

Ah, next scene the people are here in their… well, there’s less than ten people knocking around this village and they seem quite hungry. Malachy and co fight a few of the peasants. The trio bump into Heinrich Kramer, a man who has an interest in witches. He tells them that Malachy’s Father was killed by evil witches, they doubt his claims, and Kramer demonstrates how his Book of Witches weeds out who might a witch. It certainly proves to be a more effective way of discovering a witch than the ducking stool, as the book works its magic and roots out a possessed villager revealing a mysterious red mist. The witch is captured, killed and witches blood rains down from the sky. Ol’ tubby boots says “I still don’t believe this charlatan”.

After twenty four minutes we finally catch a glimpse of someone who might be a witch, she’s blonde, dressed like the guy from the Assassins Creed computer game franchise and is able to turn into a crow. There’s no hubble, bubble toil and trouble, warts, broomsticks or pointy noses.

The film then becomes rather messy, the trio of adventurers don’t need to travel too far to find the witches, and when they do everything goes a bit silly. Mal gives an impassioned ‘Braveheart’ speak to his small band of villagers, there’s a Vadar & Luke big shocking family reveal and Will Scarlet unsurprisingly gets captured.

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Luke Goss isn’t bad in the lead role, and shows a semblance of charisma. Trouble is, the sorcery story is awful and the special effects are typical of what you might expect from a SyFy movie. Though some may be purring for the beauty of MyAnna Buring, who plays the warrior witch Jozefa, there isn’t really too much else to get excited about. ‘Witchville’ certainly didn’t put a spell on me.

– RJW
3/10

Witchville on IMDB

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Youtube Film Club: Return to Sleepaway Camp (2008)

We finally come to the end. I’d like to say it’s been a fun ride, but it’s not – they’ve been almost uniformly rotten, and if I’d just watched the first one and never looked it up online to see all the sequels, I’d have never encountered them normally. But we’ve had one film which appears to be a classic just because it’s old, then three sequels which managed to get worse as they went along, and now a series reboot, made in 2003 but left on the shelf until 2008. They should have just kept it there.

We’re at yet another camp, that isn’t Camp Arawak from the original. It’s owned by Big Pussy from “The Sopranos”, cast rather oddly; Lenny Venito, last seen on sitcom “The Neighbors”, has a small part; and the cook is played by Isaac Hayes! I can’t believe no-one thought of playing his part for laughs, due to his South Park connections, but it’s done pretty straight – also, sadly, this is his last listed role, released just before his death in 2008.

The campers are, without a doubt, the most unruly group of kids ever captured on film. Most of them should really be in prison – they think nothing of squaring off against burly adults, hurl abuse round like it’s going out of fashion, and play pranks on the fat kid which seem to be just assaulting the poor fella with a smile on their faces.

The fat kid in question is Alan, and as much as the film can be said to have a central character, it’s him. Now, here’s where the film sort of falls down, again. Often, films will expect you to sympathise with the bullied character, but he’s literally impossible to like. A liar, a cheat, a thief, bullies smaller kids himself…the film sort of hints he’s disabled (somewhere on the autistic spectrum, possibly?) but he mostly just seems like a horrible, vicious little bastard who happens to get mercilessly bullied by all the older kids – his one redeeming feature, his admiration for frogs, isn’t enough to make up for the rest of his character. My notes read “endless scenes of fat and annoying Alan being fat and annoying”, which indicates how much I liked it.

He’s also a bit of a red herring, as nothing in the film really revolves around him. The murders that are committed don’t seem to have much relation to him, like in previous films Angela would kill people based on how they treated her or the one friend she’d managed to make. He and Angela share no screen time, and the indication is he probably dies at the end too.

You’ll spot Angela almost immediately, even though she doesn’t reveal herself until the last few minutes of the film. It’s so absolutely obvious that you’d expect them, again, to play it for laughs, but no-one ever does. Is it supposed to be a subtle joke? Possible, I suppose, but if it is it falls really flat. I remember thinking it was almost too obvious, but evidently the film didn’t credit me with that much intelligence.

"No, this is just how my nose is naturally"

“No, this is just how my nose is naturally”

The one thing you should take away from this film is that everyone is really bloody horrible and they all deserve to die. The moral choices Angela made in previous films appear subtle and complex by comparison, but in this one you’re cheering her on. The body count is extremely low in this film, too – when Big Pussy gets his, thanks to a 1984-style rat cage at around the 1 hour mark, he’s only the third death. I’m not sure the plot and characters are enough to carry this film, is what I’m saying.

What lessons can we take away from this five-film series, where films 2, 3 and 4 are ignored by part 5 (and should be ignored by all sane movie-goers)? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I remain baffled by the films that slasher fans will allow to continue to exist, thanks to their money – aside from a pretty creepy if over the top ending to film 1, not a single second of this enterprise has been funny, interesting, scary or worthwhile. “Return to Sleepaway Camp” is at least an appropriate ending to the series, because it’s boring, stupid and nothing remotely exciting happens at any moment.

So, I’ll see you all for when the series reboot is released next year, yeah?

Sleepaway Camp 4: The Survivor (1992)

This film is a joke. Not a funny ha-ha setup-punchline sort of joke, but a joke played by the filmmakers on the readers of “Fangoria” magazine and other horror fans all over the world. “What’s the least amount of effort we could put in,” they said, “and still be able to milk the fans of this bizarre and pointless franchise for money?”

 

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A bit of history. Sleepaway Camp 4 was being filmed in 1992, but the production company went bankrupt and filming was halted, with only 34 minutes of usable footage completed. Fast forward 20 years, and one of the special editions of the box set of the first three films had a bonus DVD with some of that footage on it. The webmaster of fan site www.sleepawaycampfilms.com decided to edit this footage together with footage from the first three films to create a fourth film, and this was released in 2012.

 

For those of you who’d like to read the reviews of parts 1, 2 and 3, you can find them here – “Sleepaway Camp”, “Sleepaway Camp 2: Unhappy Campers” and “Sleepaway Camp 3: Teenage Wasteland”. There’s also links to Youtube, where each film has been put up there in its entirety, so there’s no excuse not to watch them (unless you like good films or something like that).

 

I feel bad reviewing this film in the same way I felt bad reviewing “One More Time” because it’s barely a film. It’s 70 minutes long and features even less new material than “One More Time” (I’d say it contains maybe 5 minutes of original footage, at a push). But I’ll try. Allison, who survived one of Angela’s massacres, is seeing a therapist who told her she should go back to the Camp, now federal ground, to liaise with a park ranger, in order to exorcise her demons. We’re given this information in a scrolling info dump at the beginning of the film…but the wording is really weird. “I advised her she was the survivor…” Now, I’m no genius, and know little of the working of the world, but I would think one of the very few survivors of what must be America’s most notorious and prolific serial killer would be a slightly bigger deal than all this.

 

Allison goes back to the camp, and spends most of the first two-thirds of the film lying down by a lake in her bikini while a voiceover recorded in a wind tunnel plays over seemingly randomly picked footage from the first three films. Now, Wikipedia tells me that the footage is grouped by experiences, like one of them is about how Angela doesn’t like water, but that sounds like balls to me. Unless you’re the world’s biggest fan of these godawful films, you’re not going to pick up on that stuff. So, a few seconds of girl in a bikini every five minutes or so while we get the end of part 2, followed by a bit in the middle of part 1, followed by the end of part 3, followed by the beginning of part 3 followed by the end of part 1. The idea that you’d visit the site of multiple murders which you barely survived, and immediately put on a bikini and go for a sunbathe, isn’t even the weirdest thing about this segment.

 

The next bit of original footage is Allison getting very friendly with the park ranger, but she’s not comfortable with how fast it’s going, and runs away, only to be found by a guy out hunting. Here’s where it gets weirder still. It’s painfully obvious that this footage was not shot to be used in this way, because Allison then pops back to murder the hunter, then threaten the park ranger, then have what looks like a fairly friendly reunion with him before murdering him too. And that’s the end!

 

The editor of this footage has done his best to make it look like “Allison” is actually Angela, including a few hints dropped in an early voiceover, and editing bits of Allison together with similar stuff that Angela did. The problem is, I’ll eat my hat if that was the original intention of the footage that was filmed.

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The more I think about it, the more I think this film just wasn’t intended for me. The first three films had fans, for what reason I can’t possibly fathom, but it had them. This film is like a fan-club release, only intended for the faithful, for those who wanted to see the fourth film’s footage, no matter how trivial it might seem to an ordinary horror fan. If you’re a completist writing reviews for a brilliant little website, then yes, watch it, but otherwise just stay the hell away.

Can I make it through “Return to Sleepaway Camp”, the 2010 film which is a direct sequel to part 1 and ignores 2, 3 and 4 altogether? You mean I could have just skipped them? CURSE YOU

Witchslayer Gretl (2012)

Once again, you fine ISCFC readers are not to be disappointed – while not entirely inaccurate, the title is really misleading. Gretl is in it, but only shows up as a character in her own right a few minutes from the end, and while she offs one witch, it’s not what I’d call the main thing of the film. Imagine a film called “Private Ryan Escapes From The Nazis”.

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This is the latest installment in our long-dormant Hansel and Gretel film review series, following on from Asylum’s “Hansel and Gretel” and some other poor studio’s “Hansel and Gretel Get Baked”I’m doing it this way so the big-budget version with Jeremy Renner will appear more entertaining when I finally get to watch it, because it must be said that this is right down there with those two in terms of quality. Feel free to stop reading now, as to get the root of this film, I will need to use some spoilers. 

 

No messing about with this film, as it gets right down to it. An unnamed man, known only as the Witch-Slayer, wanders upon a woman in the forest, knowing she’s a witch, questions her and kills her. He has a companion, Lara, a former witch who helps him with his slaying activities. Now, they both seem cold and emotionless, which makes it hard to believe they’re the people we’re supposed to be cheering on in this film. Everyone talks in that faux- Olde English manner that bad American filmmakers think is authentic (my ancestors swore like troopers, I’m sure).

 

The rest of the cast is made up of the baddie warlock, Abyss; the evil witch queen who’s obviously Shannen Doherty, even though the film tries to obscure her face for her first few appearances; and Ehren, the beautiful innocent who discovers her witch powers after being kidnapped by Abyss (who also killed her Dad). Ehren is tied to some magic stake thing in the woods, and it seems no-one gave her any lines but told her to just shout, as she just repeats “let me free!” and “who are you?” twenty or so times. Luckily there’s tons of makeup in the olden days, as Ehren and a few of the cannon-fodder members of the evil coven have plenty of eyeliner and lipstick. Perhaps it’s a spell.

 

Anyway, Ehren is rescued and she, Witch-Slayer and Lara go against the Queen, Abyss and the Queen’s gargoyle-looking familiar. There’s a rather brilliant scene where Wi…okay, his name’s Hansel, there’s zero dramatic tension in that reveal…Hansel tells Ehren about their tools and weapons. They have bullet-proof vests (which just look like bullet-proof vests), magic tazers, visors just like Geordi’s from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and necklaces that act as walkie-talkies. There’s a weird problem with magic at the end of this film, in that the central quest is to get rid of it, but our heroes use it all the time for their own ends. I don’t know, maybe that bit of circle-squaring was left on the cutting room floor.

 

So, it’s revealed to the surprise of no-one that the Witch-Queen is Gretl, Hansel’s long lost sister. We’ve got a few stories coming together – can Ehren control her power and use it for good? Will Hansel and Gretl be reunited? Will Abyss take over the coven for himself? Unless you’ve had a head injury recently, you’ll know the answer to all these questions. But the problem comes fairly close to the end, when Hansel and Ehren are trying to kill the witch-queen’s original body and free Gretl from her possession. Ehren gets possessed too, and Hansel just kills her. It’s jarring because it doesn’t fit the film – Ehren is the Luke Skywalker of the film, the small town kid who gets thrust into big battles after tragedy at home, realising she has great power along the way and trying to use it for good. Imagine “Star Wars” where Luke dies ten minutes before the end, and how much that ending would suck. Han (Hansel), Chewie (Lara) and Leia (Gretl) have a few more adventures before the end, in one of those cases of a film seeming to finish 4 times before it actually wraps up.

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Is this SyFy Channel movie worth trying? Of course not, don’t be silly. But my cat was sat on my lap and I didn’t want to disturb her to get the remote. Seriously, I want to find the advertisers who allowed their products to be sold during this film and slap them, because it’s their fault this dross gets made. SyFy Channel, do something interesting please.

 

 

The “Cabin Fever” films (2002 & 2009)

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The Cabin Fever films sat there on my shelf for a few years, daring me to watch them almost, and some time off work has given me the excuse I need. Two of the biggest names in modern horror direct (Eli Roth for the original, Ti West for part 2) and my knowledge of their work is pretty much non-existent. So let’s see if they’re any good!

It’s a sign of how good the first one is, I think, that my brain stopped going to the “Cabin In The Woods” comparisons after the first twenty minutes. Five college kids, for some reason, hire a cabin in the woods. Do horror films not exist in their universe? The archetypes are all there, but this lot don’t get into any trouble thanks to something in their basement, they get into trouble thanks to the Fool of the group ignoring the pleas for help of a man with a mysterious skin condition. Rather than a demon, ghost, merman or whatever, the villain in this film is a disease (and humanity, of course, but that goes without saying).

Mercifully, the kids understand what’s going on fairly quickly and try to take measures to protect themselves, while odd characters wander into and out of their lives – Eli Roth himself, playing just some guy out camping; a very odd Sheriff’s Deputy who is much more bothered about drinking and hitting on women than he is in doing his job; the unfortunate patient zero; and the residents of the local store, straight out of every redneck horror film you’ve ever seen (but with a few pleasant twists). The question of whether the kids will stop the outbreak or not is sort of answered by the existence of its sequel, but it’s still an absolute blast to watch.

This was Eli Roth’s first directorial effort, after a lifetime of making super-8 films with his friends, and it’s pretty amazing. He’s one of those people who went through the things you’re supposed to go through, almost – love of film from a very early age, film school, short films, feature debut. As well as being a decent actor (particularly in “Inglourious Basterds”)…he’s an annoyingly talented fella. The cast are all strong, too, especially as they’re all people who you’ll have seen in sitcoms, not so much in features. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and will be checking out the “Hostel” films next, although I’m pretty sure I won’t have quite so good a time with them.

The sequel was directed by Ti West, who’s gone on to make a lot of fascinating films – this wasn’t his first, but it was the early part of his career. His opinion of “Cabin Fever 2” can perhaps be measured by the fact he wanted his name taken off it (which he was unable to do, not being a member of the Director’s Guild), but it’s really not that bad. The linking thread is the Deputy, as well as a very brief cameo by Rider Strong who starred in part 1 too, and this film is set in a local high school. At the end of part 1 we see “Down Home Water” taking their supply from a creek which has been poisoned by the corpse of a disease victim, and the beginning of part 2 sees them delivering the water to a local high school.

Part 2 is, in a lot of ways, a more straightforward film than part 1. The people you expect to die, die, in fairly gruesome ways, and the ending is the same old “whoops, let’s leave the door wide open for a sequel” that has ruined more film franchises than I care to count. John loves Cassie, but she’s going out with the biggest douchebag in the school; John’s friends are a loveable group of nerds who’d much rather sit around and watch horror movies than go to prom. Thanks to the water, prom night is a mass of blood and death, especially when a group of government agents start killing everyone to contain the spread of the disease.

The things that made the first film so good are present, but in a garbled form. Because you know how it’s going to end (at least half the main couple will survive, as will the comic relief, at least until the end, and the final shot will show they didn’t manage to contain the disease after all) it lends the last half hour of the film a sense of slightly boring inevitability. It’s not quite as funny as the first one, even though some of the ways the disease is transferred are pretty cool.

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Ultimately, it’s a committee trying to recapture what made Roth’s original so good, and kind-of failing. Apparently, Roth wrote a draft of a potential sequel screenplay which was abandoned in favour of the thing we ended up with, and West was hampered at every turn – I mean, that draft may have sucked and West’s ideas may have been impractical, but it still would have been fun to see what they came up with. I also presume Rider Strong had a weird clause in his contract from the first film, as he’s first billed in the sequel despite being killed very early on in the film and playing no further part.

Ultimately, I’d recommend both these films, with more qualifications on the sequel than the original, but still. It’s interesting to see a horror film where the only real villain is a disease, and to have a horror film which can have laughs which come naturally from the characters and not just lame gags. A cut above the average, for sure.

Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn (1983)

I know what the ISCFC’s readers like, and that’s films where the title bears very little resemblance to the action contained within. There’s no storm, metal or otherwise, in this, and the destruction of Jared-Syn? Well, I’ll leave that to you to find out.

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This film, rather unsurprisingly, feels like a mashup of many different films – we get scenes “inspired” by Star Wars, Dune, Mad Max, sword & sorcery movies, westerns, and many others. This mashup appears to extend to the plot, which is so confusing I had to look it up on Wikipedia to see how close to right I was with my initial guess (not very). Deep breath…

A guy called Dogen is venturing across the galaxy to track down a super-criminal called Jared-Syn, who’s ended up on the desert planet of Lemuria. Syn is now, for some reason, in charge of a race of one-eyed fellas who apparently gouge their eyes out in some ritual or other; and his son, a green-skinned chap with metal all over his face and an arm which is actually a weird gun that shoots green gloop (I know), is wandering the desert trying to…seriously? I can’t believe how dumb this plot is. The son is trying to start a war with the human miners of some precious substance, also on this planet, in order to get all the warring alien races together, so Jared-Syn can become their ruler, kick the humans off and get all the lovely mining rights for himself. Unfortunately, the people who made the son’s make-up / mask didn’t think of making one that could move, so he keeps the same expression throughout and all his dialogue appears as if it’s telepathy.

Apart from a few minutes right near the end, none of this has any relevance at all to the film. In case you were wondering.

This is one of those early 80s films that got lucky with its casting. Kelly Preston plays the daughter of a prospector who finds a huge crystal, only to be killed by Syn’s son. Preston, wandering and grief-stricken, is found by Dogen, and the two of them find they have some super-powerful bond that gives Dogen some weird strength and energy boost (but does nothing for the woman, of course, she is a prize to be claimed and not an actual character!) They both want Jared-Syn dead, but get separated blah blah blah.

On his way back to her, he hooks up with a drunk old hunter called Rhodes, played by Tim Thomerson. It appears the director (Charles Band, the guy responsible for the Puppet Master series too) liked Thomerson enough to make him the star of his “Trancers” series a few years later, as well – man, I love the “Trancers” films. I might have to review them soon. They encounter, fight and then befriend Hurok, played by Richard Moll from TV’s “Night Court”…okay, it’s not the greatest cast of all time, but it’s rare to find a film like this that features people on their way up the ladder.

Never mind this lot, the real star of the movie is Jared-Syn. He reminds me of Bennett from “Commando”, with his extremely camp but psychopathic performance, and he steals every scene he’s in comfortably. You kind of want him to win just because he’s so much fun, even though you know he won’t.

You magnificent bastard

You magnificent bastard

There are lots of driving scenes in this film, from the POV of the front bumper of the car. As it’s a desert planet, there are dune buggies everywhere, but these are crappy dune buggies with thin wheels. I know nothing about cars, but I know cars in the sand need wide wheels, so they don’t just sink. During one of the numerous chase scenes, tons of the bad guys die through sheer incompetence, driving off hillsides or just crashing into other bad guys – and their cars are made of petrol, because the slightest nudge and they explode.

There are lots of fun things to notice about this film too. Dogen manages to look different in every shot, which is weird – just the light or a slight alteration to his hair, and he’s 10 different actors. Maybe he’s just got one of those faces? Also get ready for a pre-Lethal Weapon “I’m getting too old for this stuff” (he doesn’t swear, sadly) and some genuine old-school 3-D effects. An arm gets torn off and thrown at the camera, that sort of thing.

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As you may have guessed, I had a blast watching this film. It’s stupid and makes no sense, but everyone’s having a good time (and there’s a strong sense that none of the main actors are taking it that seriously) and it rips along. Charles Band clearly gave more of a damn here than he did about the Puppet Master films. It also bears a weirdly strong resemblance to the film “Roadhouse” in terms of the beats of its plot, one almost too strong to be a coincidence (even though it definitely is). Seriously, check them both out and tell me I’m wrong.

Two enthusiastic thumbs up from me for this one. I recommend tracking it down and having yourself a good time.

The Exquisite Corpse Project (2013)

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Following on from my review of “Coffee Town”, the first film from College Humor, comes the first from Splitsider. It’s an interesting time to be a comedy fan, as the cost of making a decent looking film comes way down and ways of directly marketing to your consumers open up. As well as allowing established comedy names to make their own projects, websites with huge numbers of visitors have a ready-made audience they can sell to. So, did Splitsider do well to pick this?

Exquisite Corpse, to any British readers who wouldn’t know (me included) is a parlour game where three people draw a body – one draws the head, one the body and the third the legs. None of them see what the others are drawing, so the results can be bizarre and, hopefully, funny. This film follows roughly the same principle, featuring the multiple members of comedy group Olde English.

Olde English were a sketch comedy group in the early days of internet video. A few of their videos were pretty big hits, getting mainstream airplay – my first exposure to them was this film, but I never tended to venture outside Funny or Die for internet comedy. The first thing I feel it’s important to say is…they’re not all that great. Their videos are a bit “okay, I see what you’re trying to do, but when does the funny stuff happen?”, even though their popularity would indicate I’m in the minority. They split up around 2008, it would seem (although there’s no announcement of such on their website or Wikipedia page), drifting apart as they were beginning to get more serious and make more money from comedy, although most of them seem to still be in the business in one way or another.

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Founder Ben Popik decides to get the gang back together again – the core group and two of their regular collaborators / former members, for a project. Each will write 15 pages of a film script, and the person who writes the second section will only be able to see the last five pages of the previous script (including a cast list of the main people); and so on, down the line. Popik will direct but not write.

Some of the fun of the film is seeing the way one will set a little challenge for the next writer, and how he deals with it (or not), but the end results are, as should be expected, a mixed bag. Some people really go with the last five pages and spin it in interesting ways; others just go “nah, can’t be bothered” and end the “cliffhanger” almost immediately to tell a fairly different story. Each section is handily delineated by changes both subtle and massive – subtle- the way the characters dress and hold themselves; massive – lighting, film and editing style, and it all looks great (apart from the second section, which may have been shooting for some bright heightened reality, but ends up looking like washed out home movie footage.

For a film from a comedy website, marketed as a comedy, some of the sections just aren’t funny at all. The first, written by Chioke Nassor, is more a short story about the ups and downs of a relationship than it is a film opening, and the last, from Raphael Bob-Waksberg, is sort-of about a long-broken-up couple meeting again after many years (kind-of, ish) with a few surrealist touches.

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But there’s lots to like about the middle, a story about a surprise picnic that turns into a sexy thriller that turns into a poisoning / snake ghost epic. Lots of laughs, and the writers seem to really gel with each other. Marc and Adayit are a young couple in trouble, then not in trouble, then not a couple at all, then maybe a couple again; Marc’s friend Todd introduces them to Stephanie, who becomes a stalker, then a sweet friend, then Marc’s girlfriend, then a snake demon, then forgotten; a guy briefly glimpsed in the first section as Hipster Moustache Guy becomes Marc’s brother and dies in the process of rescuing Adayit; and the boss of the Korean convenience store drops in and out of the story.

Mirroring this action is Popik interviewing the writers, and them talking about the writing process – described as having the special features for a DVD run alongside the feature. It’s a little over half film, and a little under half documentary, and the final interviewee makes text what had been subtext before, that this about a group of friends that came from all over, and then their working methods started to sync up, but then by the end they’re all in different places. Even though they all still seem to be friendly and comfortable with each other, the end of friendships is a big theme running through it.

Well, it’s a unique idea. I’d love to see a regular comedy show do something similar, with a regular cast of characters being taken through all sorts of twists and turns by a rotating group of writers (I’m sure this has already happened somewhere on the web, but it’s a decent idea for a mainstream show). The film sections work mostly, even if I thought the beginning and end were slow, but it’s the documentary sections that caused more of the problems. Popik seems to have an idea of this being a big get the band back together sort of thing, like Pixies reforming to make new material and go on tour. The problem is, they’re just not Pixies. It’s like that decent local band you sort-of liked disappearing off the radar because they were never going to make it, then deciding to record an album and then do a local tour a few years later before going off to get normal jobs. If it were a narrative film (and I’m absolutely positive there’s a layer of meta-something in there, with the writers playing up their parts and manufacturing differences for the film) then there’d be some reason you’d want to care about these characters getting together again to do what they do best. But because of their weird respect for the documentary format (or because I was completely wrong about the meta thing), the end result seems to be a group of friends, who maybe weren’t quite as close as they were but are still totally comfortable with each other, hanging out for a bit. Ultimately, the stakes of the documentary are so low that they should have probably got them to reshoot a few interviews, talk more about the creative process and less about their really rather trivial differences.

I’m glad I watched it, and I really hope Splitsider continue to do this. I could even stand them doing the same format with a different group of comedians – either a loosely linked bunch (something like the Childrens Hospital / NTSF:SD::SUV crew) or a comedy group that’s still a going concern, so we get less of the drama and more of the comedy. Overall, an interesting and flawed, but still decent fun, film.

City Hunter (1993)

city-hunter2

Directed by: Wong Jing

Adapted from a popular Japanese manga series ‘City Hunter’ is about a womanizing private detective with a silver tongue and wandering hands. Dressed like an extra in a Miami Vice episode, or perhaps more accurately like a man who had raided the wardrobe on a Duran Duran music video set, Jackie Chan proves quite adept at playing the lecherous creep. Although his catchphrase is clumsy, it does also fit his persona “The City Hunter is my nickname, fighting crime’s my game”.

In the comic book Chan’s character Ryo is described as a pervert. But I think on screen he plays the character more like the playful sex pest. The kind of guy who you might softly slap in the face after a wolf whistle, as opposed to the bloke who needs a restraining order because he’s on the lookout for a ‘mokkori chance’ (Google it. Trust me, it’s worth it). There is a point in the film when a gun toting streetwise female police detective exclaims “he is reputed to be an infamous sex fiend”.

The film itself requires real a period of adjustment. Before the action moves to a cruise ship the colours are garish, the dubbing is ridiculous and there is a naff scene involving skateboarding riding hockey players. For a while it is like being stuck in a dream like loop of endless eighties pop videos parodied in the crazy mind of some J Pop impresario. At one point a Japanese pop band does actually dance around for a few minutes interrupting the film’s flow like Vanilla Ice did when he mimed ‘Go Ninja Go’ in ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze’.

City Hunter is given an assignment by a wealthy business man to track down his estranged pretty daughter, much to the chagrin of Kaori, the cousin of City Hunter’s late partner. The regular joke of the film is that Kaori is always jealous of City Hunter’s womanizing. There’s an early scene when a group of attractive women attack City Hunter. These women are revealed to be wives of all the people he’s arrested. City Hunter is able to literally beat the clothes off these women (though this is captured off camera by flying lady garments).

When the action does eventually move to a cruise ship it initially looked like we are set for the worst movie set on a Cruise ship since ‘Speed 2: Cruise Control’ (‘Boat Trip’ also runs it close). City Hunter smuggles himself aboard the ship by hiding in a laundry bag. Having waited around for a while in the bowels of the ship he is feeling awfully hungry. Whilst searching for something to eat he gets discovered by some crew members who chase the starving stowaway. Chan revels in his Kung Fu Buster Keaton role.

Terrorists (rather different in the early nineties to how they look today) are also on board, Though it must be said this isn’t a ‘Captain Phillips’ situation. The terrorists led by a suave bloke called Mac plot to rob all the millionaires on board and throw anyone who gets in the way to the sharks. The film really picks up when the bullets start to fly, and there are two particularly brilliant fight sequences; one which takes place in a cinema, with Bruce Lee’s ‘Game of Death’ playing in the background. When you think back to that movie, it is remarkable to see Bruce Lee fighting basketball legend Kareem Adbul-Jabbar, the equivalent today would be Jason Statham taking on Kobe Bryant.

The second notable fight scene is masterful, one of the most innovative, hilarious fight scenes I’ve ever seen, as Jackie Chan faces off against a blonde haired Karate expert in an arcade. Chan gets tossed into an arcade machine, and in the process gets electrocuted. After the shock he then transforms into several characters from ‘Street Fighter’. I won’t spoil it by telling you which ones.

‘City Hunter’ is a flawed film saved by two wonderful fight scenes. Although Chan makes a solid dragon’s fist of his comedic role, the attempt to make the movie a live action cartoon is a tad jarring. It isn’t too surprising that a sequel was never made.

– RJW
6/10

City Hunter on IMDB