Ninja Dragon (1986)

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In David Foster Wallace’s classic modern novel “Infinite Jest”, main character Hal Incandenza’s father is an avant-garde filmmaker, and one of the movies he makes features two different stories. Rather than converging towards the end, they get further apart; I think Mr Wallace may have been watching the films of Godfrey Ho before he wrote that particular section.

 

Connoisseurs of the “Hollywood DVD” 4 films in one box releases, which seem designed to be found on car boot sales or in charity shops, as well as readers of our other Ho reviews, including “Ninja Squad” and “Ninja Terminator” – which feature no squads or terminators, respectively – will recognise the structure. Richard Harrison’s section of the movie has him as the most successful criminal/banker in Shanghai, whose partner Ronald is murdered by the evil Tiger Kwok; Kwok  works for a guy whose name I didn’t catch, but whose “real” name is Bruce Stallion, surely the most badass actor name of all time. Harrison then goes after the group responsible for Ronald’s murder, who he knows because he won all their property off them at the beginning in a game of cards (a weird poker variant? One of those card games like canasta they always seem to play in Euro-thrillers? Who knows?) To kill these guys, he dresses up in a camouflage ninja outfit, except for the last fight when he wears black for no reason. Every fight is the same – short, boring, and accompanied with Harrison removing the face-covering part of his outfit, in exactly the same way, at exactly the same time.

 

What hideous monstrosity is that?

What hideous monstrosity is that?

Anyway, all that represents maybe a third of the movie; the other two-thirds is the Tiger Kwok part, and here’s where things get a bit odd. The link between the two sections of the movie is “Ronald”, who is the head of a large crime family, and there’s an internal power struggle, plus another gang who want to take over their turf. Tiger Kwok, despite being one of Ronald’s lieutenants, killed him because he’s a mole for the other guys; we’re supposed to be rooting for Ronald’s daughter Phoenix, I think, although it’s pretty hard to tell.

 

“Ninja Dragon” is absolutely packed with stuff. Double-crosses happen with alarming regularity, hit squads for one gang get ambushed by the other gang, funerals are invaded, people are kidnapped, and super-tense meetings are held. The main man is Dragon, Phoenix’s trusted “muscle”, a cool, sharp-suit-wearing killer who maybe, just maybe, was intended to be the star of the original version of the movie (he’s not a ninja, though, despite the title). Checking the time when I thought there was maybe 10 minutes left, it turned out we were only halfway in, and there was a ton more action after that part too (Dragon’s final fight with the baddie boss was pretty decent).

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Feels weird using a complimentary word to describe a Godfrey Ho movie, but there you go – this film will absolutely not bore you. The word you’re looking for is “confuse”. Harrison’s main villain, a mulleted white guy with an English accent (hurrah to the drunk lunatics who dubbed this movie, and hurrah to the even drunker lunatics who wrote the English script), is apparently the boss of the rival gang in the other film, despite it making no sense; Harrison wants the daughter to take over Ronald’s old empire, but doesn’t lift a finger to help her. Plus, it has one of the darkest endings I’ve ever seen – our heroine wins the day and is going to marry Dragon, but the guy she booted out of the family for betraying them (who, to this point, has been the comic relief, sweetly trying to court sister Fanny) walks into the bridal preparation room and just shoots her, dying himself a few seconds later. What the hell? Well, there’s the final Harrison fight to come, but the movie ends with Harrison just walking out of shot and “THE END” coming up, going from the bleak to the abrupt in a matter of minutes.

 

I’m genuinely amazed at having to say this, but this feels like a standard Godfrey Ho movie. All the main beats are there:

 

  1. Richard Harrison in heavy eye makeup and a ninja outfit
  2. Plot where he needs to get revenge by fighting someone every 15 minutes or so
  3. Entirely unrelated main story
  4. Two or three weird attempts to link the two films with a “conversation” between one person from one movie and one from another, never shown in the same shot (of course)
  5. Extremely dark ending to main story
  6. Richard Harrison wins his final fight and the movie just ends immediately

 

It’s either three or four of these godawful things I’ve seen which follow these six steps, and I’m sure there’s more to come (I’ve barely scratched the surface of Ho’s output). There’s method to his madness, sadly.

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Rating: thumbs down

Youtube Film Club: The Pit (1981)

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They missed an S off the end of the title because THIS MOVIE SUCKS – boom! Nailed it! I feel like I ought to do the film reviewer equivalent of dropping the mic and walking off stage, but this film is so peculiarly bad, and its status as Youtube-available means I can spoil the hell out of it, that I’ll try and make this fun for us all.

 

Sammy Snyders, playing lead kid Jamie, never worked again after 1982. That’s not curious, because he’s staggeringly terrible, but what’s curious is how he ever got work in the first place (he was one of the leads in the late 70s version of “Huckleberry Finn”). Jamie is an unfortunate kid – mocked and bullied at school, ignored by his parents, no friends. What seems glaringly obvious to the viewer of 2015 is that Jamie is autistic (actually, this is mentioned on the box of the VHS tape, even if the movie never goes anywhere near it, apparently), so with a bit of medication, some psychological professionals and lots of patience, he could live a normal life. But in the world of 1981, he’s that crazy kid who everyone hates for no reason!

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With no explanation or backstory, Jamie’s teddy bear starts talking to him; but more importantly, he finds a large pit in the middle of the woods that has a group of “trollologs” in it. They look like skinny teenagers wearing monkey outfits with weird glowing eyes, but are supposed to be trolls, troglodytes or something of that ilk. The trollologs must have fallen in  the pit themselves as they don’t appear able to move or get out on their own…in the original draft of the script, the monsters only existed in Jamie’s head, which would sort of make sense, but in the finished “masterpiece”, they’re real creatures. I’d lay money on this having been a last-minute change, perhaps even after they’d filmed most of the movie. Don’t question it, because far stupider is yet to come.

 

Jamie’s parents, clearly sick and tired of their problematic son, go off on a surprisingly long holiday and leave him with a live-in babysitter. Jamie’s only friends are the mute monsters in the pit, so he starts feeding the trollologs raw meat, but when he runs out of money he decides to kill two birds with one stone and takes people who’ve wronged him out to the woods and shoves them down the pit. This works remarkably well, but when the babysitter gets creeped out by him doing stuff like spying on her in the shower, will he feed her to them?

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The whole “he’s the creepy one” narrative is spoiled by stuff like her giving him a bath. Now, I can’t think of a single reason an adult woman should give a 12 year old boy a bath – he’s not physically disabled, they aren’t related…it’s a truly horrific scene. It’s moments like this that make you wonder what on earth they were aiming for – although it makes a little more sense when you discover that this is the only movie that Lew Lehman ever directed and the only one that Ian Stuart ever wrote (hilariously, Lehman’s wife refused to let him shoot the scenes with nudity in them, so the screenwriter took over for those).

 

Even for a site that specialises in poorly made movies, this stands out. As you’ve either watched it or will never watch it, I’ll go into a bit more detail. First up is the scene where Jamie records one side of a conversation on his Dictaphone and calls up the mother of one of his tormentors. He’s able to predict what she’ll say and gets her to take her top off in the window so he can photograph her, by claiming to have kidnapped her daughter (she walks in seconds after the photos are taken). There’s the jokey comedy music playing over scenes of kidnap and murder. But weirdest of all is the timeline.

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Jamie kills one of his classmates and his girlfriend, then what appears to be several days passes. Now, think about famous child disappearance cases in this country – the media panic, the huge searches, all of it. In “The Pit”, one policeman is mildly curious about the missing kids, and literally no-one else seems to give a damn. Jamie also kills his babysitter’s boyfriend so he can have her all to himself, and her attitude towards her boyfriend’s disappearance is slightly less bothered than you or I would be about a missing sock.

 

After he’s let the trollologs out of the pit, they kill a bunch more people then are hunted down and killed by the townspeople (who just fill up the pit and go about their business as if nothing happened, who cares about missing children). But we’re treated to a little coda, as Jamie goes to live with his grandparents, now seemingly cured of whatever was ailing him before. There’s even a girl around his own age for him to play with…and that’s when ISCFC reviewer Kilran, joining me for this gem, said:

 

“There’s going to be another pit, and she’s going to shove him into it”

 

He was right, of course. The countryside is chuffing packed with pits full of creatures previously unknown to science, but only kids can find them or something. Seriously, movie, you suck.

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It’s absolutely awful, just slow and stupid and full of bad choices, ugly camerawork, and poor acting. The truly odd thing is, how I seem to be in a minority. IMDB rating is currently 5.9, there’s a number of positive reviews by sites like this, and I have no idea what’s happening with the world. I would rather watch “After Last Season” again than this.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Friday the 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)

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In Samuel Beckett’s classic play “Waiting For Godot”, Godot never shows up, a state of affairs that has left title literalists furious for decades. Sadly, “Jason Takes Manhattan” cannot live up to that magnificent standard, but it tries, as the famous island is not reached until just after the hour, and Jason’s entire time in something that looks like Manhattan (not just Vancouver, where it was mostly filmed) is about 10 seconds.

 

The opening pair of murders is a handy indication of how little anyone involved in the making of this movie cares about providing anything remotely satisfying or entertaining. A couple (topless girl, boy who keeps his jeans on – of course) are on a yacht on Crystal Lake, discussing the legend of Jason Voorhees. Before we even get started, this isn’t the only time he’s referred to as a legend, which indicates there are so many spree-killers operating in the state of New Jersey that the indestructible mask-wearing Jason isn’t even a blip on the news! Anyway…he gives a potted history of the timeline and says it happened thirty years ago…now, have a list:

 

Part 2 (1981): they discuss Jason’s story as if it’s an old campfire tale, indicating it didn’t happen the previous year.

Part 5 (1985): Corey Feldman had time to grow up from a pre-teen into an adult from the events of part 4.

Part 7 (1988): The main character is seen in flashback, just after the events of part 6, as a child, but the movie happens when she’s an adult.

 

So, despite there being less than a decade between part 1 and part 8, at least 30 years have passed – and that’s a conservative estimate. A smarter film would have made a joke about this, but unfortunately this is not a smart film. If you’re looking for stuff which isn’t just splitting hairs, the boy plays a prank on his girlfriend by dressing up in Jason’s actual mask (same axe mark from part 4 and everything), which he evidently has just lying around. Huh?

f13-part8-jason-rennieThe majority of the film takes place on a high school graduation cruise ship, going from New Jersey to New York. By the way, New Jersey is right next to New York, and the trip would take hours, indicating an overnight cruise ship as an unlikely form of transport – although, they’ve not actually mentioned the location since part 2, so it might be further away (let’s give them a little break). Your typical assortment of teen stereotypes are there; plus there’s an old guy on the boat who does the “you’re all going to die!” speech; and a couple of teachers, one of whom is also the legal guardian of Rennie, who’s probably the star (although she doesn’t get tons more screen time than anyone else).

 

So anyway, an unpleasant group of high schoolers get slaughtered on a ship for about an hour, then a few of them escape on a life-raft and get to “Manhattan”. That they’re able to row up to the island, tie up and get out without anyone noticing them indicates pre – 9/11 security was really, really lax; but that’s peanuts to Jason, who swims there and is only a few seconds behind them. He’s a man of many talents! After a brief pause for a rare mid-movie “haha all our friends are dead”, Jason takes in the city, which mainly involves filthy back alleys, sewers and a subway set. Luckily, the subway system is set to be flooded with toxic waste (why? Because reasons) and the last shot of Jason in what was intended to be the last movie in the series – yes, that’s three times these people have tried to shut this garbage down and failed – is as a naked dead child in the sewer, as that waste washed away the barnacles that had clung to him and formed the tall, adult super-murderer.

jason-takes-manhattanIt sort of gets fun in the last ten minutes or so, with Jason providing a few laughs with his interactions with the weirdoes of Times Square, but it is way too little, way too late. Jason kills a bunch of people (although why he ignores some completely innocent people but murders other completely innocent people is sadly lost to time), gets stopped forever, see you in a few years. Although most of the murders are rubbish (one with a machete looks like bad local theatre) it does feature one of the all time greats…tell you what, here’s the video (NSFW, unless you work with serial killers):

This movie is a strong indictment of Health and Safety law. If the cruise ship had had an emergency radio on it that Jason couldn’t disable by pulling out a few wires, or had registered its route, then the Coastguard would have been on hand long before they got anywhere near Manhattan. Actually, where were all the staff on the boat? No cooks, no bar staff, no cleaners, no DJ, the only people we see are the captain and his assistant. Perhaps the school could afford to rent the (enormous) ship, but not any staff to help them out? Ah, who cares.

 

Rating: thumbs down

 

(PS – thanks to my wife for the “barnacles” bit, she was making a joke about the dumb endings these films have but it ended up being as good an explanation as anything else I’ve read)

 

Insectula! (2015)

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I don’t necessarily think it’s fair to judge extremely low-budget movies on the same scale as huge Hollywood fare. Take “Insectula”, for instance, an obvious labour of love for its cast and crew (check the number of names who do double or triple duty), where that sense that everyone was giving their all, probably working for basically no money, allows it to get away with a lot.

 

Even so…I’m sorry! This movie is aimed directly at me, a parody / homage of 1950s rubber monster movies, packed with references to classics, and it still really didn’t work. After playing the plot of “Vertigo” for laughs in its first five minutes, it then skates aimlessly between trying to recreate that 50s atmosphere, and just doing normal scenes with a weird filter on the camera (seeing a laptop in one scene felt odd).

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The clever idea it has is to present those classic monster movie scenes with a modern level of gore, and those work – but it’s an idea looking for a decent movie to build around. You can see where they’re going for comedy but it falls flat, like reading a hilarious parody of a very specific group of friends, with jokes only they would get, when you don’t know any of those friends.

 

Let’s talk ironic sexism to wrap things up. All the men in this movie are ugly, lumpy and middle-aged, and all the women are stunningly beautiful, often wearing underwear or something cleavage-revealing. Now, I’d presume the filmmakers would defend this by saying they’re mocking those old movies and the sexual politics they represented…but, the problem with that is, you’re still putting tons of semi-naked women in your movie, and giving them nothing really to do. It’s like having your sexism and eating it.

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This is writer/director Michael Peterson’s first movie, and even though I’ve been less than kind to it I think it shows promise, and I hope he goes on to bigger and better things.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Crystal Skulls (2014)

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First things first: all crystal skulls are modern fakes. All of them. Now, I know you could easily say “werewolves, vampires and zombies don’t exist either, but I don’t see you making a big fuss about that in your reviews of their movies”, and you would, of course, be right. The difference is, you don’t get a whole industry devoted to convincing people that those things are literally real, whereas you can’t wander onto a conspiracist / Ancient Alien / “fringe” site without being assaulted with multiple articles about crystal bloody skulls and all the special powers they have. But don’t believe me! I’m just a dumb movie reviewer. Believe archaeologist / journalist Jason Colavito and moderately douchebaggy investigator Joe Nickell – as Jason states, “The fact remains that not a single crystal skull has ever been excavated in a documented archaeological context, or ever documented as being in the possession of actual Native peoples.”

 

Second things second: this is another one of those movies where someone at the SyFy Channel got the synopsis completely wrong, and then no-one bothered to correct it. Here it is:

 

It is 2020 and the impending apocalypse is inevitable. Due to a rapidly growing Black Hole headed straight for the sun, Earth begins to fall into darkness, waves rise above Los Angeles, Paris is rocked by extreme earthquakes and Japan is crumbling. Governments around the world race to build massive space arks for the lucky few who will escape Earth’s tragic fate, though billions of people will be left behind. At the same time in the ruins of a Mayan temple a solution is discovered: 12 ancient skulls, that when brought together can stop the destruction. A team of scientists set out to find the hidden skulls and rescue mankind from imminent destruction.

 

Literally none of that happens. It sounds at least a little more fun than what we got. Anyway, on with the review!

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The idea that there are 12 life-size magic crystal skulls, with a special 13th to rule them all, is a 20th century invention (literally hundreds of allegedly real ones are knocking about) and it also forms the basis of this, a brand new(ish) SyFy Channel movie!  Some billionaire has paid a sleazy British guy to obtain all the skulls, and we first see him (the Brit) buying a skull and then planting a bomb in the suitcase of money he gives to the seller. What an asshole! That he, with zero character arc, becomes a good guy about halfway into the movie is one of the more curious choices it makes. The other side of it is Indiana Jones ripoff Richard Burgi, a good decade too old to be playing the character; his little brother dies on a skull-finding expedition and then when he gets back home he’s sacked from his University job, thanks to their main benefactor (Mr Billionaire) threatening to withdraw his funding (but secretly wanting Burgi to come work for him).

 

So Fake Indiana, British Murderer and Billionaire’s Daughter go back to the same cave where Indiana’s brother died, and again fail to find anything (they’ll need to go back a third time for that). Some ancient cult is protecting the skulls (stellar job on the first 12, guys) so there’s a few unexciting action scenes dotted here and there, plus the “tension” of the uncontrolled 12 skulls, finally brought together, probably destroying the world. Some NATO army guys storm the billionaire’s base in Vienna as well, although they’re the filler-iest filler that ever fillered.

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If I didn’t know better, I’d say that every person in this movie was filmed on their own and they were all digitally inserted into the same scenes. There’s negative chemistry between any of the characters, and some of them (Mr Billionaire, Army Colonel) are so bizarrely wooden that I wondered if they’d used rehearsal footage, or hired people with the same names as actors who happened to be insurance salesmen, or something. The romance between Fake Indiana and Billionaire’s Daughter looks weird due to the enormous age difference, and feels weird due to the combination of not having the least chemistry or a story that makes their romance make sense.

 

A perfect example of how absolutely shocking the script to this movie is can be found in the montages of TV news shows that pop up every now and again, to help you out in case you’d not been paying attention. They feel like people who won an “appear in a movie!” competition…I’m sorry, I’m just making the same criticisms over and over, which indicates how rotten this movie was. Nothing feels like it has any “weight” – the lines are poorly delivered and written by someone who’s never heard adults talk to each other, none of the characters seem able to decide which side they’re on (for example – the NATO army busts in and starts threatening people, despite not really having the jurisdiction to invade a legitimate business in a friendly country – and they’re supposed to be the good guys?), and the ending is incredibly stupid too. Heck, it’s all stupid.

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For sheer total incompetence, this could be one of the worst SyFy Channel movies I’ve ever seen. Nothing works, and it all feels like it was made by people who knew what movies were, but had never seen one or really knew how to make one.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Friday The 13th Part 7: The New Blood (1988)

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As if the rights holders of the “Friday the 13th” franchise” were embarrassed after part 6 to have put out a movie that was good, funny, and people enjoyed, we’re right back down in the garbage for part 7. Tommy, the kid who made it through the last three, is gone (the title, “The New Blood”, was a clue to fans that we’re back to Jason being front and centre, doing what he does best) and although this shows the same indifference to plot, character and common sense as its justifiably feted predecessor, what it doesn’t have is a sense of humour, or indeed any spark that might come from people who cared.

 

Copying part 5, we start off with someone in their early 20s waking from a dream where they were a child – in this case, Tina, who it turns out is psychic. Not one specific sort, but the whole range – she can see the future, but more importantly is telekinetic, and it’s that extremely powerful ability which she accidentally uses at age 10 to kill her Dad, drowning him in the same lake Jason is chained to a rock at the bottom of. Bernie, from “Weekend At Bernie’s”, is a psychiatrist who for staggeringly irresponsible reasons is taking the grown-up Tina and her mother back to the site of this traumatic experience.

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Is this a big thing in psychiatry? “Sleepaway Camp 4” and one of the Halloweens (I think) have similar plot devices, and it feels like something which is way more common in the movies than it is in actual sensible late 20th century mental health practice. What’s even more common in horror movies, though, is the house full of partying young adults, so to join Tina, her mother, and Dr Bernie, are a gang of beer, weed and casual sex enthusiasts, there to celebrate a birthday party. The smell of cannon fodder is strong with this group! As is the smell of lazy writing – does Tina’s mother own the house on the lake (it seems full of their stuff, after all)? They’ve not been back there for many years, and they don’t seem rich enough to own multiple properties.

 

As I’m sure you’re bored of even thinking about by part 7, this area must be pretty desperate for lake-front property. The opening voiceover pitches Jason as a legend, despite him having murdered a heck of a lot of people (although, judging by the two “I was a kid dreaming about the last movie, now I’m an adult” openings in this series, part 7 – filmed in 1987 – must be set around 2010). If I was in a group of people going somewhere for a party, I’d at least consider going somewhere else than Crystal Lake, what with the dozens and dozens of unsolved murders in the exact property I’m renting out. Or is the real crime of the dead people, the message of these movies, “check the history of properties you’re renting out”? Layers, man!

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Jason is disturbed from his lake-bottom slumber by Tina, who psychically snaps his chains for some reason. Then we’re just waiting around for Jason to chop, hack and punch his way through the rest of the teens! Most of the cannon fodder isn’t worth dignifying with a description, but the arc of one girl is interesting. She’s the nerdy girl, and as she’s upset at her friend going to get high and have sex with the boy she likes, goes to give herself a makeover. So, a hairstyling and makeup session later, she goes outside to try and win the man of her dreams…and Jason just murders her. Thanks, movie! Re: all those deaths, there’s very very little blood or gore, which sort of renders a slasher movie pointless, unless you were super-invested in the story of the invulnerable spree-killer murdering a group of people for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

 

Talking of motivation, the only fun to be had from this movie is from trying to give Jason some. After he gets out of the lake, rather than heading the 20 yards to the house full of people, he wanders off into the woods where he fortunately runs into the birthday boy, late to his own party. It makes no sense, unless you think “well, Jason’s spent 10 years or so at the bottom of the lake, he’s probably a bit rusty. These are like his Spring Training murders”. He can literally punch your heart out, so when he grabs his old favourite, a machete, it must be a security blanket of some sort (he doesn’t need it, and really doesn’t use it much for the rest of the movie).

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There are nude ladies, of course, but when a guy jumps out of bed, after being in the middle of sex, he’s wearing underwear. The pathetic fear of male nudity, but desperate desire to crowbar female nudity in as often as possible, is one of the many reasons that when someone tells you “slasher movies aren’t sexist” they’re either deluded or trying to sell you something. Blah blah blah.

 

The ending is moderately enjoyable, if only because the first hour is so dull. Tina psychically attacks Jason, he shrugs it off (due to him being, as has been stated, an invulnerable, indestructible killing machine) and then the movie gives us a sort of throwback to part 1 with one of the weirdest twist endings I can remember. Next up, even though this one gives us nothing in the “hey, he might still be alive” stakes, Jason goes to Manhattan, then Hell, then space. I hope those ones are a bit better than this! Or at least more interesting to look at.

 

Rating: thumbs down

The Marine (2006)

Please visit http://www.steelchairmag.com if you’re a wrestling fan, to see a slightly more wrestling-heavy review of this movie.

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There’s been a long-standing link between pro wrestling and acting. From Mexico featuring cultural icon Santo in dozens of movies (partly so people who lived in tiny villages could see their hero wrestle); to Ed Wood using part-time wrestler Tor Johnson; to movies like “Night And The City” and “Highlander” having pro wrestling as a backdrop for crucial scenes; you don’t need any more examples! By far the biggest link between pro wrestling and acting in the last 25 years or so, though, is pro wrestlers turning into movie stars. Hulk Hogan blazed a trail, despite not being very good, and now we have Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. No-one seems to have a bad word to say about him, he’s popular, generous with his time, and is a really really good movie leading man. He can do serious action, family movies and comedy (he’s one of the great modern hosts of “Saturday Night Live”, for example) and is now more famous as a movie star than he was as a wrestler, despite popping back in to WWE every now and again.

 

Johnson is a once-in-a-lifetime talent, though, and WWE (the world’s biggest wrestling company) at least has the sense to realise this. But they also really want to make money, so they formed WWE Films to make the sort of normal genre films everyone makes, just starring wrestlers. They’re in the hinterland between big-budget studio movies and small indies in terms of budget and cast, and don’t always work in terms of promoting their wrestling stars, but they’re often fun and this’ll be the first of our reviews of their movies. John Cena is the biggest star, both of their wrestling and movie divisions, but we’ve also got Ted DiBiase Jr, Mike “The Miz” Mizanin, Kane and HHH headlining movies too.

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Cena gets this one though (he doesn’t come back for the sequels) and he’s John Triton, a guy booted out of the Marines for being too awesome – normally, when I say this I’m joking, but here it’s almost literally the reason given. After returning from the Middle East, he gets a security guard job and is basically the perfect husband; the other side of the story is Robert Patrick and his cronies, stealing a huge pile of diamonds. Patrick is a character basically lifted from “Erudite Psychopaths for Beginners”, the same character you’ve seen in a million shows, but his crew are pretty funny; a nice gentle humour which wafts through from time to time, making it a lot easier to handle than your average low-budget action movie.

 

Assuming too little of wrestling fans, perhaps, you could sum this movie up in one sentence: “Ex-marine tracks down the jewel thieves who kidnapped his wife”. It’s mostly set in the swamp, but there’s a pretty fantastic car chase near the “beginning” (the two sides of the story take half an hour to congregate, which isn’t a bad thing but feels weird), and ultimately…it’s a nice, tight, no-nonsense chase thriller. Cena, while substantially better than most other wrestler/actors, still isn’t that great, but he’s fine, really. Patrick’s great, even if he is just one big cliché, Kelly Carlson as Mrs Marine is fine too, and is a bit more than just your average “help me, husband!” character we get in this sort of thing. Plus, if you love explosions, you’ll love this movie – best guess, they were offered a bunch of disused buildings and just went all out. John Cena dives out of more buildings as they’re in the process of blowing up than I think any other guy in any other movie, ever.

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It’s all sort of obvious, and the “twist” is telegraphed from a mile away, but that’s not always a bad thing. Director John Bonito hasn’t done much of anything since, and neither has writer Michelle Gallagher – it’s not like either of them are terrible, so maybe working for WWE was enough to burn them both out on the movie business.

 

Rating: thumbs up

The Wicked City (1992)

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We don’t mess much with anime / Manga stuff here, partly because I never really got into it as a teenager in the same way my friends did, but mostly because it’s a whole culture with its own symbols and background which can be a bit difficult to understand. Things which Western movie fans might subconsciously need aren’t there; but then Western movies have never created anything as genuinely, horrifically bizarre as “Urotsukidōji” (aka “Legend Of The Overfiend”), so there’s that too.

 

“Wicked City”, the animated version from 1987, is relatively “tame” compared to “Urotsukidōji”, but it’s very well regarded – a tale of “The Black Guard”, the group that protects the border between our world and that of the demons. The central team is the human Taki and the demon Makie, and together they fight a radical group of demons who are trying to jeopardise the signing of a new peace treaty between the two sides. There’s a disappointingly large amount of rape in it, but it’s got a lot of fans, and it was popular enough that famed Hong Kong director Tsui Hark chose to direct the live action adaptation, which is the one we’re covering.

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Hark is a well-known name in Asian cinema circles (especially to Westerners), having given us “Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain”, the “Once Upon A Time In China” series, a couple of JCVD movies, and being the producer on most of the famous John Woo / Chow Yun Fat collaborations; so even though some of the stuff that happens is a little baffling to Western brains (seriously, how did the cops get the communal ability to generate a magnetic field?) it all kind of holds together. Ish.

 

This live action movie bears, at best, a mild resemblance to its animated forebear. There are demons, but they live happily on Earth, it would seem, although there’s a small group of rebels who want to take over the world with the use of “Happiness”, a drug which…I think…is just for demons (although it appears to be deadly to both humans and demons who take it). There’s a cop called Taki, who also has an unrelated day job for reasons which are never mentioned; his demon ex-girlfriend, Gaye; Taki’s half-demon partner Ken; friendly demon Daishu; unfriendly demon Shudo; plus a few other cops, and one rather amazing demon who prefers to transform herself into mechanical objects (including a pinball machine – if you’ve never seen a demon have sex with a pinball machine before, then I highly recommend this movie).

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It’s almost all spectacle, with some amazing fight scenes, lots of practical special effects, and lots of very weirdly shot stuff. The storyline is absolutely incomprehensible, even to those people who’ve seen the anime –  there’s a magnetic field of some sort which protects the entire world from demons, whose origin or location is never mentioned; there’s the way the cops can levitate things with their minds, equally unexplained; and the relationships between the characters, which seem fluid, to put it mildly. The scene where Daishu rides a motorbike made of one of the other demons is a masterpiece of a scene which will stay with me forever, though.

 

But what it is is a relentless, colourful, truly down-to-its-bones weird movie. I’ve got no idea why it was made, though – the anime told the story and was a lot of fun, then years later they sort of used the same basis to make a live action movie?  It’s not as wild as the wildest anime or as exciting as the best live-action movies, but if you’re in a very generous mood towards Hong Kong cinema and the crazier end of things, you’ll probably enjoy this.

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Rating: thumbs in the middle