Drive (1997)

Drive

Although its time has come and gone in terms of cinematic trends, the thing “everyone” said about “Drive” was it was a sleeper hit, only known of and loved by the faithful, and it deserved some of the fame of “Rush Hour” (a film which it predated by a year). What it definitely was, was the purest Western version of Hong Kong action cinema we’d seen, and even 15 years after it was released, it remains pretty unusual, a standout in a genre which seemed to live and die based on the English-language careers of Jackie Chan and Jet Li.

 

Looking at it now, it resembles Shane Black being asked to direct a sort of “Rush Hour” / “Midnight Run” hybrid, only with a much lower budget and one of the best fight co-ordinators in the world on staff. Mark Dacascos is a Toby Wong, a Chinese medical experiment who’s been given a bunch of cybernetic implants and a super-battery in his chest, which makes him the the hardest quickest martial artist in the world. Due to a fairly flimsy explanation involving a dead wife or girlfriend or something, he escapes to go to America to sell the implants to a friendly American company.

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This movie’s age is amply demonstrated by the Chinese being villains – in recent years, we’ve had stuff like “Red Dawn” where the Chinese were digitally altered into North Koreans and “The Interview” where China was shown to be a virtual paradise compared to its evil North Korean neighbours. China’s box office is worth a lot of money and they unfortunately can’t tolerate the slightest criticism of their way of life. A bit like if you want to show the actual US Army in your movie.

 

The plot is, to be kind, flimsy. Wong gets himself a sidekick, a guy who just happened to be in the same bar as the first fight involving Toby (Malik, played by the almost-a-superstar Kadeem Hardison), and along the way they get help from hotel owner’s daughter Brittany Murphy, a fantastic OTT performance as almost a trainee 1950s movie “bad girl”, but one who’s still super-kind and generous. She’s great, as are the two chief bad guys tasked with tracking Toby down (“That Guy” actors par excellence John Pyper-Ferguson and Tracey Walter).

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If you were being exceptionally unkind, however, a criticism you could level is that it’s more like a highlight reel than it is a movie with a story. Dacascos is a gifted screen martial artist, and combining his talent with the fight choreography of Koichi Sakamoto produces some truly breathtaking fight scenes. The most famous is justifiably the hotel room fight, where five guys fight in a small set, turning the tiny space into a blur of punches, kicks and stuff being thrown at people; but it’s far from the only great fight in the movie. The disused factory (thank heavens for disused factories), the dock and the final fight at the bar are spectacular too. It’s definitely best to not expect a great and complex plotline – this is fighting and comedy and fighting and fighting.

 

Kadeem Hardison is a great deal better at both comedy and acting than Chris Tucker, his corresponding actor in “Rush Hour”; and Dacascos holds his own against the by-then-aging Jackie Chan really well. His comic chops are surprising too – for instance, the karaoke scene feels like it comes out of nowhere but works really well. Given the choice between watching this again and “Rush Hour”, I’d pick this – less to get annoyed by, less Chris Tucker, and although the budget is appreciably lower, they don’t waste a penny of it. There’s also little wonderful oddities dotted around the film, and I’m not just talking Brittany Murphy’s performance. There’s a couple of in-movie TV shows that the characters watch and comment on – one where a group of underwear models beat up criminals with their high heel shoes inside a UFC-style octagon; and then there’s “Walter the Einstein Frog”, a giant frog with a brain enclosed in a glass helmet, who helps pilot spaceships and perform tricky surgeries and so on. They’re touches that didn’t need to be in the movie, and make me sad that screenwriter Scott Philips never went on to the Shane Black-sized career he deserved (based on this movie, anyway).

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A minor classic of a genre that seems to have morphed into movies like “The Raid”. Watch it, make sure you’re watching the UK director’s cut DVD, and you’ll have a good time.
Rating: thumbs up

In The Name Of The King 3: The Last Mission (2014)

Know what might have been fun? Wearing this armour in the movie

Know what might have been fun? Wearing this armour in the movie

The more you think about this movie, the more any meaning it might have slips away from you. It’s so…empty, like the shell of a movie they forgot to add anything to. I’ve got no idea who it was made for, or why; it’s not crazy like a lot of Uwe Boll’s other films, and his sense of humour really struggles to come through. For a fantasy movie, a good third of it is set in present-day Sofia, Bulgaria (the home of choice for low-budget US filmmaking for a good 15 years), too.

 

Dominic Purcell, stoic co-star of “Prison Break”, doesn’t exactly stretch his range by playing an emotionless assassin. Given the job of kidnapping a couple of children (their father is a politician or something) he does so, because he’s a badass, but then finds one of them wearing a medallion that matches a tattoo he has on his arm. BOOM! Just like part 2, he’s through a portal and into…medieval Bulgaria! But luckily, a version of Bulgaria with magic and dragons and so on. He meets two beautiful sisters who are also super-fighters and gets sucked into a rebellion against the evil Prince or King or whatever, who has the replacement medallion he’ll need to get home.

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In case you were wondering, none of this is remotely related to the events of the first two movies (which did have some continuity, after a fashion). Although the computer game that started this franchise is a distant memory, thinking of this movie like it’s a game is the only way to wrestle any meaning from it. Purcell keeps his future-clothes on the entire time he’s in the past, he cruises through both “levels” of the movie almost entirely unhurt, learns new weapon skills quickly and finds himself a beautiful “girlfriend”. It would have been game-normal if he’d got some artefact in the past which helped him in the present, but all he got was a supportive speech.

 

There’s two funny bits, which makes me sad that the person who thought of those didn’t have more control over the entire thing. With the same snappy editing that was used to illustrate Dominic’s kills, he makes himself a cup of coffee in the hotel room of the man he just assassinated (it plays funnier than it sounds); and later on in the movie, in the middle of a ton of flowery medieval speeches, the evil King says to our hero “You’ve come to kill me”, to which Dominic, not missing a beat and not changing his expression one bit, replies “Yup”. Little touches that deserve a better movie around them.

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I was ready to kill the camera operator by the end, though. I’m never normally bothered by shaky-cam, but it honestly felt like they were trying to make me sick. If you suffer at all, then just close your eyes until the sound of metal on metal stops (you won’t miss anything). Luckily, he stopped wobbling long enough to show the castle where the final battle takes place, and I’d bet £££ it’s the same castle used in one of the later “Deathstalker” movies. That’s the sort of analysis you can only expect from the ISCFC!!

 

Poor Dominic Purcell, he at least sort of tries. A bit. Every single other member of the cast is Eastern European, and the accents are pretty thick – to be fair, their English is better than my Bulgarian – which adds another annoying layer to it all. Even if you can make it through all that (and I enjoyed parts 1 and 2, sort of), there’s still that overwhelming sense of “why on earth was this made?” I was really surprised at how little I hated the Uwe Boll movies I’d seen in our recent series on him, but this one broke the trend, and hard.

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For a film that’s one third modern Eastern European action thriller, two thirds medieval wander-through-the-woods adventure, it’s…even worse than that sounds. I suppose, to a smart film fan reading this, the first thing that’ll spring to mind is “Army of Darkness”, but aside from being vastly superior in every single way to this, that spends a great deal less time in the “present”. And it linked the two eras, whereas this just doesn’t bother. If you’re desperate to watch an accidental time-travel action adventure, definitely watch that instead.

 

Rating: thumbs down

The Walking Deceased (2015)

Imagine a world where dead people could make a funnier movie than this

Imagine a world where dead people could make a funnier movie than this

In our review of “Scary Movie”, I spoke out sort-of in defence of Friedberg and Setzer and their dreadful parody movies, a defence which boiled down to “we get the sort of entertainment we deserve”. But their guilt lies not so much in their movies, but their hideous demon spawn, people who – if you can imagine such a thing – see the two of them as an inspiration. Do you remember “Not Another Not Another Movie”? “Stan Helsing”? Be glad if you don’t, my friends. To add to this list of shame, we now have “The Walking Deceased”.

 

When you long for the days of “Epic Movie”, you know you’re in trouble. Most of the parody movies follow a rough template – the main plot will be recognisably similar to something big (“Scream” begat “Scary Movie”, “Twilight” begat “Vampires Suck”, and so on); but then the plot for that movie will keep getting interrupted by skits and appearances by characters and situations from other movies. Simple, awful, but effective. What this movie does is something a little different. Three movies meet, sort of interact, then tell what’s largely an original story (well, “original” in terms of rotten bargain basement parody movies, but you get the idea).

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R (the zombie with an interior monologue) from “Warm Bodies” falls in love with the Emma Stone character from “Zombieland”, which introduces that movie’s four main characters. As they’re wandering through a hospital, they disturb the Sheriff from “The Walking Dead”, which introduces him, his foul-mouthed son and a few hangers-on, replicas of people from that series. They start off in a mall (“Dawn of the Dead”) then go for a drive (every zombie movie ever) and end up at a farmhouse (that boring season of “The Walking Dead”).

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That’s really sort of it. Much of the humour that isn’t just “hey! Remember this thing?” relies on people shouting abuse at each other – plus, they do a “29 days later” joke, a good decade after Uwe Boll did it in “House of the Dead”. Uwe Boll! But mostly it’s just a laugh-free cover version of scenes you’ll remember from better movies, with the biggest name being Dave Sheridan, the simpleton cop from “Scary Movie”. The rest of the cast are fine, and it’s not the cheapest looking movie ever by a long shot, but it’s all such a waste of time! In fact, I’m not really sure why I spent this long writing about it. I highly recommend watching some “Walking Dead” outtakes if you want a laugh, and leaving this film to fall into justified and complete obscurity.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Highlander 2: The Renegade Version (1995)

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When “Highlander 2” came out, people were mad as hell – I remember, because I was one of them. It was so stupid! Aliens? Who dreamed this rubbish up? But I find, as an older more jaded man, a film that was so completely OTT inspires fonder memories than some barely-above-average, much more sensible movie. Unluckily for me, the people behind this movie didn’t agree with me.

 

So, I’d like to give a crash course in Hollywood doublespeak. “Highlander 2” was filmed mostly in Argentina, but when they went over-budget (or, depending on who you believe, a crash in the value of the Argentine peso left them broke, a story which makes no sense) filming was stopped and the footage was taken out of the hands of the producers by the guarantors, edited as best they could manage, and released. What’s important to remember, and what the producer and director didn’t tell you in the featurette attached to the DVD, is that these insurance people didn’t write or film any new scenes. So when you see the first “Highlander” movie completely ignored to be a story about the immortals being aliens from the planet Zeist, and them handwaving away the death of Sean Connery in part 1, that was their plan from the beginning!

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The theatrical version is considered one of the worst movies of all time, so in 1995 Russell Mulcahy, to his credit, realised he’d made a horrible mistake and secured funding to get the rights to the movie back, plus all the filmed footage. He re-edited, filmed a few new scenes, and released the “Renegade Version” – although if you watched the featurette you’d have no idea whose idea the stupid alien thing was (hint: it was Mulcahy’s). Filmed interviews from the set during the original filming even have Christopher Lambert saying “none of us wanted to do a sequel unless the story was right”, which gives the lie to the whole “it was the accountants’ fault” rubbish.

 

But anyway. What’s this version like? Rather than being aliens from the planet Zeist, all the immortals are just from Earth’s far-distant past (a past that has crashed space-ships in it, but don’t let that worry you). Ramirez (Sean Connery) and McLeod (Lambert) are the leaders of the resistance against the evil General Katana (Michael Ironside), and after being captured are given a rather bizarre punishment. Because they’re immortals, which not all the past-people are, they’re to be sent to the future, to fight with all the other immortals who’ve had a similar punishment, until there’s only one left…then that guy can either become mortal or go back to the past. This makes far less sense than just saying “they’re aliens” (did they wipe their memories? Why send them all back to different times?), and has the added bonus of being much more boring.

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The majority of the film takes place in 2024, though. McLeod used “The Prize” from the first movie to become super-smart, it would seem, and goes from being an antique dealer to inventor of a giant red bubble-shield-thing which protects the earth from the destroyed ozone layer. This bubble has messed up everything, though, to the point the entire Earth looks like the sleaziest bits of “Blade Runner” (which the producers are careful to say they definitely didn’t rip off). Some environmental activists, led by Virginia Madsen, believe the layer has healed itself and the shield can be turned off; the guy in charge of the Shield Corporation, John C McGinley, naturally has another opinion. Katana sends some mean hombres forward in time to kill McLeod, but when they fail (at the same time, giving him their Quickening, turning him from an old man into prime young Lambert) he decides to go forward himself and finish off the job.

 

Undoubtedly, some of the edits and changes make it better. It’s longer by 18 minutes but that 18 minutes was needed – some motivation is fleshed out and there’s more of a sense of why people want to fight other people. It is, definitely, a more competent film. But when you’re cutting round footage that was intended to tell one story, and trying to tell another, joins will start to show. Virginia Madsen has a speech which was clearly intended, at around the halfway mark, to refresh everyone’s memory about the plot, but changing them to time travellers whose immortality is dependent on which time they’re in leaves it making zero sense.

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One of my main problems, with both versions of the movie, is the lack of prime Connery and Lambert. They bounce off each other superbly, and while we get some awesome scenes of Connery adapting to 21st century life (although how he got on an intercontinental flight with no passport is never revealed), the two of them don’t meet up til 1:15, and Connery is gone by 1:30. Ironside tries, leaving no scenery unchewed, and Madsen is good in a thankless role, but it’s not the same.

 

Okay, it’s a “better” film. But it’s still not like it’s any good, really – going from F- to D+ isn’t that much of an improvement – and the original “Highlander 2” is so odd and incomprehensible that, in a way, it’s much more entertaining than the “Renegade Version” (ooh, those millionaire Hollywood directors and producers are “renegades” now?). But if you’ve ever read a recap of the original version and felt personally insulted, this could be the movie for you.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Death Race 2000 (1975)

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Without a trace of hyperbole, “Death Race 2000” is one of the best films of the 1970s. If you think in terms of b-movies, it’s perhaps the greatest b-movie of all time. It’s got a black heart and the sense of humour of a man being led to the gallows, and represents a very early example of the arthouse meeting the grindhouse.

 

The arthouse comes from director Paul Bartel and his long-time friend and co-star Mary Woronov. He was involved in the Theater of the Absurd in the 1960s, and she was a protégé of Andy Warhol, before he turned into a hack. The grindhouse comes from Roger Corman, the exploitation movie mastermind, one of my favourite movie people, who gave breaks to people like Jack Nicholson, Bartel, Joe Dante and Ron Howard, among many others.

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Thanks to the oil crisis of 1973, peoples’ dystopian ideas suddenly became a bit less dystopian, as the West looked to a future with basically no oil. So, in the alternate history of this movie, the two main US parties have merged to form the Bipartisan Party, and the President-For-Life rules from his Summer Palace in China. To keep the masses placated, they introduce the Death Race, and by 2000 it’s in its 20th year. The Death Race is a cross-country road race, but as well as points for finishing first, the most important element is killing people. You get points for offing various sorts of folks, with the highest scores going to the elderly and infirm (as who needs them, right?)

 

So you’ve got the race, which is the majority of the movie; the hideous commentators; and the resistance, led by Thomasina Paine, which is trying to bring down the Bipartisan Party and bring back democracy. Simple, effective, no padding or nonsense of any kind.

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The racers are truly amazing. Star is Frankenstein (David Carradine), who wears a leather mask and cap in public to hide his hideously scarred face and prosthetic limbs; then there’s “Machine Gun” Joe Viterbo (Sylvester Stallone), Nero The Hero (Martin Kove), Calamity Jane (Woronov) and Matilda the Hun, fully decked out in Nazi regalia along with her co-pilot Herman The German. The competitors are magnificently over the top and treat their job with relish, in different ways – Frankenstein appears the calmer type, but he’ll run over a bunch of doctors and wants to win as badly as anyone else. Frankenstein’s co-pilot is the stunning Simone Griffeth, and their relationship is cleverly written and central to the side-plots.

 

A lot of critics seem to think that the frightening aspects of this film are an accident, that Corman’s sole desire was to churn out a quickie to hoover up some of the money that future-sport classic “Rollerball” was going to get in 1975. I disagree. Corman wrote the original treatment for the movie, and realised that his serious take on the subject wasn’t cutting it, so handed it off to be reworked into a comedy – but his support for the little guy against the right-wing forces running the USA, demonstrated in this and many other of his movies, was present from the beginning. The ending is darker than it first appears, if you think about it for more than a few minutes, and that’s no accident either – Bartel and Corman may have both taken delight in shlock, gore, wildly OTT comedy and violence, but they had a social conscience, and it’s that melding that makes “Death Race 2000” the classic that it is.

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Compare it to the recent “remake”, which is a great film, but a great mainstream one – the competitors are forced to take part (in this, they’re very willing participants); it’s more race and less death; and they feel the need to waste time with backstory (this movie starts on the starting line of the race, and is much better for it). It’s not so much that “Death Race 2000” wouldn’t get made today – although it wouldn’t – it’s that no-one in the mainstream movie business would even think of making it.

 

Why is this movie so damned good? Entirely leaving aside the fun technical aspects of it – the driving, the gore effects – we have a very nihilist core, perhaps the blackest of all black comedies. The Nazis are seen as charming good guys, for one, and that’s just an entrée to the way that killing people is now the most popular spectator sport of them all. I mentioned above how it’s a product of its time, the oil-paranoid mid 70s, but as society keeps getting worse, while our mainstream entertainment becomes ever more safe and bland, “Death Race 2000” appears more prescient and frightening than it did then.

 

Rating: thumbs up

In The Name Of The King 2: Two Worlds (2011)

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Our friend Uwe Boll decided, after losing the rights to the “Dungeon Siege” name (oh no, said no-one, ever) to just make a sequel to “In The Name Of The King” anyway, only with none of the names or locations from the first one. Throw in a money saving plot, and you’ve got yourself a “winner”.

The tax loophole that Boll had exploited to such wonderful effect closed in 2006, so despite financing already being in place for his next few movies (I’d suggest 2007’s “Postal” being the last movie to benefit), by 2011 and this movie funding had become a great deal tighter. Gone were the days of the first movie’s insane casting choices – all we get here is Dolph Lundgren, a fine fun B-movie leading man, but he’s no Burt Reynolds. Aside from a too-good-for-this-movie performance from Natassia Malthe, the only other casting choice of note is Lochlyn Munro as the King, a guy who (in part 1 comparisons) isn’t close to the level of even Matthew Lillard or Leelee Sobieski.

Dolph is basically the perfect guy. A former Special Forces soldier, he runs a dojo where he trains kids and also does a class for cops, for free (they leave donations for the young ‘uns). As he toasts his fallen comrades, a bunch of weird hooded figures suddenly appear in his home and start trying to kill him. And to let you know this movie isn’t messing around, then Malthe shows up (listed as “Manhatten” on IMDB, but that can’t be her name, surely?), helps him out and pulls him through a magic portal to Generic Fantasy World.

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Only this one is significantly smaller than that of the first film. We see a run down old castle, some forest and the odd hut – the remote Canadian locations are absolutely beautiful, but there’s not many of them. The film cleverly tries to handwave away there only being like 50 people in this entire kingdom by having a plague set loose by the mysterious Raven kill nearly everybody, including everyone who survived the first movie – they can’t refer to any names or places, but the continuity attempt is there.

Anyway, it’s double-crosses and fantasy quests and all that good stuff, with the added bonus of a 21st century guy doing some wise-cracking, questioning why he’s part of some prophecy or other. Honestly, when the word “prophecy” is uttered in a fantasy movie my brain just checks out…plus this movie uses generic fantasy speech more than perhaps any other movie I can remember. No contractions, lots of thees and thous…I hope my mediaeval ancestors swore like troopers, to be honest.

I’ll get the good things out of the way first. Dolph using modern fighting styles in a fantasy setting feels like a fresh idea, and it’s done well. He’s a fine leading man, and Natassia Malthe is great too. In fact, most of the acting is strong, apart from Munro, who seems drunk the entire time. Talking of Munro, when we first see him he’s visibly putting on a wig, but this ludicrous hair plays no part in the rest of the movie, leading me to doubt my own eyes.

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The bad is, unfortunately, everything else. The dialogue is rotten, the plot is incomprehensible and stuff that happens at the beginning makes no sense when related to stuff that happens at the end. The ending manages the impressive feat of being hilariously stupid and unsatisfying at once, and when you realise you’re watching something that rips off the Martin Lawrence movie “Black Knight”, you know you’re in for a bad time.

Still, not all “thumbs down” ratings are equal, and I’d call it an entertaining bad movie, which you’ll have fun mocking. It’s got plenty of bizarre technical goofs (elasticated underwear in the olden days? Plus, you can apparently see cars parked through the gates of the castle at a few points, but I didn’t notice them and I’m not going back to check) for the eagle-eyed or easily bored among you.

Rating: thumbs down

Lifeforce (1985)

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If you remember “Lifeforce” from your youth, chances are an image is already in your head, and that image is of Mathilda May. For no doubt vital plot reasons, she plays virtually her entire part naked…trying to describe her in some way that doesn’t make me sound like a sleazy douchebag is proving difficult, so I’ll leave it there. Anyway, this movie co-stars a nude lady, is produced by shlock superstars Cannon and is based on a book called “Space Vampires”. Are you with me so far? Then read on!

Britain has astronauts and its own space shuttle, and a distinctly low-rent Mission Control (so, quite authentic-looking). Along with one American astronaut (because movies needed American leading men then, even ones as dull-looking as Steve Railsback), they go to Halley’s Comet and discover a huge alien spaceship, full of long-dead hideous creatures…and three naked people in glass boxes. Then the ship seems to disappear until 30 days later when a rescue ship finds it, full of lots of dead bodies and the three people, still in the glass cases, and takes them all down to Earth.

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Because men are idiots, and because she’s got space-vampire mind control powers, Mathilda May is soon out of her case and off causing havoc, spreading space-vampirism wherever she goes and eventually leaping from body to body (Mathilda May is in perhaps a third of the movie). With the help of SAS Colonel Caine (Peter Firth), Carlsen (Railsback) – who made it to earth in an escape capsule – goes after her, which leads to an asylum on the North Yorkshire moors and then back to London for a hell of a denouement.

My friend Dave made a great point that a remake of this would totally work as a mini-series, with every episode being a different genre – part 1 as space adventure, part 2 as a chase thriller, part 3 as Apocalypse London. “Lifeforce” has an absolute ton of stuff packed into its almost 2 hours, and feels like three films in one, just with all the boring bits cut out. There’s a pretty interesting relationship at the centre of it between Carlsen and Space Girl too, and how she affects even the people she doesn’t drain and turn into zombie-vampire-things.

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It’s crammed with great British character actors, probably something to do with Cannon wanting solid hands but not wanting to pay too much for them (it’s filmed in the UK, why not hire Brits to play all the parts?). In main roles, as well as Peter Firth, who’s gone on to be a regular in many great TV shows, there’s Frank Finlay as the doctor who figures out they’re space vampires, and Patrick Stewart as the doctor in charge of the Yorkshire asylum. Although I’ve assumed Stewart just emerged from the ether to be in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, he was a hard-working actor (member of the Royal Shakespeare Company since 1966) for many years before. He’s great in his small role.

Considering the many behind-the-scenes roadblocks, it’s a surprise “Lifeforce” came out as fun as it did. The script credited (partly to Dan O’Bannon, genre superstar) was probably not the final script used, and there were as many as 8 writers who worked on various versions of it. There were huge numbers of casting changes, including John Gielgud dropping out of the part which eventually went to Patrick Stewart; and seemingly every actor in England signing on to play the Firth role at one time or another (Anthony Hopkins, Michael Caine and Terence Stamp being the most famous).

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But it really is rather good. Because of the quality of the actors involved, it feels a lot better developed than it perhaps was; the special effects are pretty good too, and although the alien plan seems somewhat convoluted (perhaps due to editing) it’s interesting, and their alien-ness is well gotten across. I’m honestly surprised, expecting from my childhood viewings a bit of fun trash with the stunningly beautiful Mathilda May to hold my interest when it started drifting…but it never did. Three for the price of one, plenty of luvvies slumming it in a Hollywood-financed space vampire movie, and definitely worth revisiting.

Rating: thumbs up

In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (2007)

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Wondering why Uwe Boll bothered to licence “Dungeon Siege” as the game to make a movie from is almost as much fun as the movie itself. The game was never a mega-hit, seen as the poor cousin of the “Elder Scrolls” series of games (and a weak combination of “Ultima” and “Diablo” in terms of gameplay). I assume money was involved somewhere, which may point to the $60 million budget of this. $60 million! For Uwe Boll! You might even have been surprised to learn that the movie was based on a computer game, so minor was the link (“A Dungeon Siege Tale” was much smaller on the posters); and the link was completely broken for its two sequels, which are “In The Name Of The King” movies only.

One of the main criticisms thrown at our friend Boll is his rather odd casting choices, like the people he assembles don’t really belong in the same film. This could be exhibit A in that weird pointless court case – as well as a starring role for Jason Statham, we get John Rhys-Davies, Leelee Sobieski, Ray Liotta, Ron Perlman, Clare Forlani, Matthew Lillard, and Burt Reynolds as the King. Burt Reynolds! He seems to be in that late-period Marlon Brando mindset of not wanting or having to try, just turning up being enough for him. Even though they’re a surprising bunch to see together, I don’t mind it.

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Statham is Farmer, an orphan boy who’s grown up to be a good solid adult. He farms (obviously), has a beautiful wife (Forlani), a young son, has been trained by the village badass (Perlman) to be a great fighter, basically your general all-round hero in the making. The King’s nephew (Lillard) wants the throne, as the king has no children, so he throws his lot in with evil wizard Ray Liotta; he takes over the Krug race (sort of the Orc’s poor cousin) and they try and take over the Kingdom. One of the villages they overrun is Farmer’s, one of the kids they kill is his son, so he puts down his turnips and picks up a sword. If you want an extremely detailed recap of the plot, get yourself to Wikipedia. I’m all about trying to psychoanalyse Uwe Boll through his movies.

But we must talk of my favourite “Sliders” alumnus. John Rhys-Davies and Leelee Sobieski (as the father-daughter good wizard duo) feel like they’re survivors from some previous rewrite; the JRD / Liotta fight at the end is pure Obi-Wan / Darth Vader, but none of the other characters conform to the stereotype so it all feels a bit odd and undercooked.

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Originality is definitely not one of this film’s strong suits. The primary inspiration is obviously “Lord of the Rings”, but there’s little flavours of a dozen other films in there. Why are there ninjas on the side of the good guys? Because Uwe Boll, that’s why. To anyone who says “there’s no way ninjas would be in this era / time period”, there’s also no way they’d have magic and weird gross orcs either, so quit your worrying. No-one really seems to bother about sticking to “fantasy conventions”, and while I’m quite glad about that you might not be. A conversation you need to have with yourself before thinking of viewing? Perhaps best not to think about the lots of little cul-de-sacs the film gets itself into, and you may have to just enjoy the spectacle with this one.

But the spectacle is great. Filmed in Canada, it does a great job of doubling for a fantasy kingdom, and they use the huge trees and uniquely Canadian landscape to good advantage. Boll really did a good job of making the movie look good, with nice special effects (the flying / teleporting thing is really well done) and many fairly hefty battle scenes. You can see where every penny of the $60 million went.

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Is it any good? That’s a slightly trickier question. It’s certainly better than the near-hysterical negative reviews it got at the time, which mocked everything about it, giving it Razzie nominations, a long-term bottom 100 IMDB rating, with some site ranking it in the ten worst computer game movies of all time (it’s not like there’s thousands of them, so this isn’t the worst thing in the world). The more you think about it, the sillier it seems, but Boll’s movies at the very least have a sense of humour and don’t take themselves especially seriously. Well, most of the characters do, but then you get Statham (who takes everything very seriously) vs Liotta (who realises just how big a joke this all is) and the style-clash does baffle a little.

I can sense this becoming a trend – years after the Boll mockery died away and you can watch his movies with fresh eyes, they’re…not so bad. They’re not great, by any stretch, but compared to more recent genre fare they look great – top actors, decent special effects, well-paced. I laughed with this movie way more than I laughed at it, and I think if you’ve got a relatively open mind you will too. Honestly, if the me of 2007 could see the me of now…first up, he’d be sad my beard was going grey, but then he’d mock me for saying nice things about Uwe Boll movies.

Rating: thumbs up