Europa Report (2013)

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In 1989, NASA launched the Galileo space probe which entered the orbit of Jupiter in 1995. Over the next 8 years, the probe completed 34 orbits, providing pretty much all the data we have on the gas giant and its surrounding moons.

The novel, 2010: Odyssey Two, the sort-of sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, was written in 1982 and focused on a second manned mission to Jupiter. In the finale to that film, Jupiter becomes a star and Europa, the sixth moon of Jupiter, an Earth-like planet capable of supporting life.

What is interesting is that the data Galileo would send back to Earth nearly 20 years later would lead scientists to theorise that Europa could actually sustain life. A fascinating coincidence that ultimately led to someone writing the script to Europa Report

Europa Report is about a privately funded manned mission to Europa to search for life. Rather cleverly, the conceit is that the film is a documentary about the mission using footage transmitted back from the cameras aboard the ship mixed with talking head interviews with the staff who were back at mission control at the time.

The found footage style of film making has been around since the 1970s (Cannibal Holocaust) but it was really The Blair Witch Project and, later, Paranormal Activity, which would popularise it. Because of the very nature of the conceit, it allows film makers to work with a low budget and still look pretty decent.

“Someone told the director of cinematography that tight camera angles hide a multitude of sins…”

Europa Report employs this technique with wild abandon, using the low quality video footage to cleverly hide low budget space walks and equally low budget SFX. Consequently, it actually holds up against big budget movies like Interstellar (and by ‘holds up’ I of course mean, ‘doesn’t look terrible by comparison’). That, unfortunately, is the best thing I have to say about the movie…

There is nothing of interest here… the story is exactly as you might imagine, the acting, being a cast of d string actors, is uninspiring (still, a damn sight better than anything Asylum or Full Moon have produced), even the score by sci-fi veteran Bear McCreary is uninspired, but it’s the script which really lets the film down.

The problem with ‘realistic space voyage’ films is that they all pretty much have the same plot points. For example, Sunshine, 2010, Interstellar, Gravity, etc are all about some people who go into space for a really compelling reason, x space disaster occurs at some point and y person(s) will have to do a space walk to fix one or more problems.

"Disaster. In spaaaaaace."

“Disaster. In spaaaaaace.”

Europa Report is no different and everything that happens here has been done better and more interestingly elsewhere.

You might forgive this film its limitations because of its budget (and questionable camera angles notwithstanding) but there is no excuse for lazy writing and certainly no film should ever be boring.

You see, these films are ostensibly are man versus the elements and there’s not much you can really do with space, unless you are a good writer. 2001 avoided this problem by having an antagonist and Moon had a mystery to be solved. So it is possible to write around these issues, if you are clever enough.

"For the good of the mission..."

“For the good of the mission…”

Unfortunately, Philip Gelatt (who has written two other movies, both non-science fiction) either didn’t want to write something clever or wasn’t asked to, so there appears to be a lot of people talking about stuff and not a lot of anyone actually doing stuff.

Ultimately, as you’d expect with this kind of film, there are a lot of noble sacrifices ‘for the good of the mission’ but because the actors don’t have anything good to work with (given the number of credits the cast have, I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt), no one actually cares when astronaut x dies because of y incident.

"Although some of SFX are actually pretty decent..."

“Although some of SFX are actually pretty decent…”

ISCFC writer, @marklongden has posited that some films get made simply to fill air time (and thereby sell TV advertising time). Films like Europa Report really do support this theory because I genuinely cannot see any other reason for it to exist: it isn’t original, it isn’t clever, it isn’t well acted nor does it bring anything new to the table at all.

TL:DR; “Someone made a low budget science fiction film which would have made a decent episode of The Outer Limits. It does not make a good 1 hour and 30 minutes.

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Final Equinox (1995)

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I know there’s a tendency for bad movie lovers to overhype some obscure piece of garbage that only they’ve seen, but this is straight up no fooling one of the most incomprehensible, bizarrely acted, shot and edited movies of all time. A grin spread across my face from five minutes in as I knew I was in for a treat, and if you can track it down you should – I’m delighted I picked this as the last in our long-running series on Joe Lara.

 

Where to begin? A guy doing an archaeological dig armed with little more than a shoe-brush finds, in a few inches of sand, a weird alien artefact that looks a bit like a sawn-off baseball bat painted silver. Then, after a caption which reads “in the not too distant future”, we meet Lugar and Piper (Lara and Robin Joi Brown) coming back from a vacation in outer space, seemingly happy, only to get back to their rather nice-looking home and immediately break up. She keeps making references to him being “dark”, and the “darkness” all around, despite that not really being a thing that people say to each other. Well, she might have explained herself but the background music drowns out bits of dialogue – a problem we’ll have throughout.

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Some sleazy bad guys led by Torman (Martin Kove, never without a massive cigar, apart from, I notice, the picture used immediately above, annoyingly) steal the artefact relatively easily and want to sell it. They’re not bothered about who – they’re happy to sell it back to “Central Intelligence” but if they don’t come through will take it overseas. Lugar, it turns out, is a cop so we’ve got the evil Torman’s gang, the moderately evil Central Intelligence, and the miserable drug addict Lugar (he’s seen puffing on some apparently narcotic inhaler at regular intervals) as our three main groups. Oh, and David Warner, during his wilderness years, shows up as a homeless super-genius who used to work on the artefact before he went mad.

 

That’s your plot, pretty much. Sort of standard, sort of dumb, just every now and again they’ll drop in some reference to them being in the future, like a box that can identify someone immediately by a  strand of their hair or something. It’s everything else that conspires to make this a so-bad-it’s-good classic, and first up is the way it’s shot. Now, this will take a bit of explaining, so apologies if you already know this.

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The way conversations are normally filmed is what’s called shot-reverse shot. It’s simple – one actor is shown in the first shot looking to the right of the camera, and the person they’re talking to will, in the reverse shot, look to the left. They’re not actually looking at each other, but it’s a visual trick and works. This movie occasionally does that, but right from the beginning it has two actors looking the same way, which irritates the brain – plus, all the angles are way off, so it never looks like two people who are feet apart are in the same room. It’s an elementary mistake not even made by  the lowest-budget filmmakers, so for writer-director Serge Rodnunsky (who’d been making movies for five years by this point) to do it over and over again is just a head-scratcher.

 

The use of sets is another winner! Best guess is Rodnunsky or one of his producers loved hunting, as Lugar’s home is covered with hunting trophies, including a gigantic set of tusks dominating his living room. There’s also what is I think supposed to be a strip club later on in the movie? Anyway, it looks like another room in Lugar’s house – mounted animal heads all round, and ugly curtains covering whatever else was on the walls. It’s not just sets that were probably owned by one of the producers, though, it’s moving between them! A fight breaks out in the strip club, which spills outside…the outside of this club being a completely nondescript office building, which then within seconds leads to a large multi-storey car park.

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It doesn’t stop there. “Central Intelligence”, presumably a big deal in the future, have as their main base a similar (perhaps the same) nondescript office building, and the boss of CI’s office looks like a low-level drone’s workstation – example? The only two books he has are a dictionary and a secretary’s handbook.

 

Before we get onto the home stretch, a few more of the gems you can expect from “Final Equinox”. An onscreen graphic talking about a space-particles of some sort is shown in shot for quite some time, but spelled “partical”; and, while discussing the artefact, one of the baddies said it was found in an underground cave, when we see at the beginning it being discovered out in the open. We’ve also got a love scene between Lugar and Piper, when she comes back and they make an attempt to patch things up, but Lugar is covered at all times whereas Piper…isn’t. Not unusual in and of itself, I’m sure you’ll agree, but when the shooting makes it look like they’re having sex in a tiny closet and has them in contortions no-one would be able to manage, purely to cover up as much of the man’s flesh as possible, then it becomes a bit more up our street.

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“Final Equinox” sort of forgets David Warner is in it for a good long while, but he shows up at the end, re-stealing the artefact which he tells us is actually an alien bomb designed to instantly terraform a planet (which is how we started, apparently, only the aliens accidentally left a spare behind). The big battle between the three groups at the end reveals more of the director’s mastery of all things confusing, and I’d bet good money on most of this movie being done in reshoots, like they added in a subplot when they realised it would only last 70 minutes. It becomes apparent when you see David Warner and the CI guy have a fight, but they’re never in the same shot, and the lighting looks completely different for both of them – in fact I wonder if all the sci-fi trappings were added in at the last minute, because they add absolutely nothing and aren’t referenced by anyone else.

 

THIS MOVIE IS AMAZING! It takes a real effort to make something this bad without listening to any of the presumably professional crew telling you “hey, director, shooting these scenes in this way makes absolutely no sense”. And the ending? Skip to the rating at the bottom if you don’t want anything spoiled, but wiping out the entire human race and just leaving Lugar and Piper alive, two people who the movie has shown repeatedly are wildly unsuitable for each other, is a bold move.

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I would love it if “Final Equinox” got discovered by the bad-movie elite and brought to a wider audience, because I want everybody to see it. It’s rare to see a film with every sort of incompetence on display, but we’ve got it here! And it’s a fitting end to our Joe Lara season. All the rest of his movies look like boring action dreck, so I don’t think I can be bothered to sit through them, but he can be remembered for some of the funnest sci-fi B-movies of the 90s, and this.

 

Rating: a million thumbs up

Ragewar (aka Dungeonmaster) (1985)

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If you’ve ever seen the TV show “Mythbusters” you’ll remember the bit from the opening credits where co-host Adam Savage says “I reject your reality and substitute my own!” It may come as a surprise that he lifted that line from this movie, a rather obscure early effort from Full Moon Pictures (when they were still known as Empire); and the sad thing is that that bit of trivia is one of the more interesting things about “Ragewar”.

 

Actually, maybe the most interesting thing is the way that 2015’s biggest tech billionaires watched this movie for inspiration too. The star of this movie is Jeffrey Byron, playing computer programmer Paul Bradford – as we see him navigate a typical day in the life, he uses things which seem extremely similar to Google, Google Glass, the iWatch and Siri. I love the idea of Steve Jobs watching this movie and going “ah, that’s what I’ll do!” This is the X-CaliBR8 system, basically sentient, and he’s got a neural interface to communicate with it. Nice!

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Paul’s girlfriend Gwen (Leslie Wing) is a little dismayed at the link he has with his computer, but she accepts his offer of marriage and things seem to be going pretty well until they’re both, for absolutely no reason, beamed out of their apartment by evil wizard Mestema (Richard Moll, just before “Night Court” would make him a star). He’s the Devil, pretty much (according to Paul’s computer) and is so bored with his Satanic existence that every now and again he’ll take one of Earth’s champions and challenge them to a duel, and because Paul has invented X-CaliBR8, which is super-good, he’s decided that Paul is the guy. Armed only with his basically magic Siri-powered armband, will he be able to beat Mestema’s seven challenges and rescue his fiancé?

 

The body of the movie, the seven challenges, are actually different segments directed by seven different people – Dave Allen, Charles Band himself, John Carl Buechler, Steven Ford, Peter Manoogian, Ted Nicolaou, and Rosemarie Turk. One would think, in a 77-minute movie (actually 72, sans credits), that this would lead to an absolute crash-bang-wallop action-fest, with the foot never leaving the accelerator for one second. But this is Charles Band we’re talking about! He’s never met an idea he couldn’t stretch out to twice its optimal length, and everything just ends up being slow and sort of dull. Best guess – he had a ton of sets left over from the other movies he was involved with and just got his friends and Empire employees to direct tiny segments to pad out his episode-of-a-TV-show-length idea. There’s a serial killer segment, a “Cave Beast” segment, a zombie segment, and oddest of all, a W.A.S.P. segment.  Yes, the thoroughly awful 80s hair metal band put in an appearance, basically an excuse to fill three minutes of the movie with one of their songs.

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Because it bears repeating as often as possible, a movie this short shouldn’t have to resort to filler like that, even though it’s a criticism that can be levelled at so many of Empire / Full Moon’s movies. It feels half-finished, like the movie was made as a money-saving venture but even re-using old sets and in-house directors, they still managed to run out of money or time. If you watched it first when you were a kid, or really like old-school special effects, then you might find something to enjoy here as they throw everything at the screen and it’s a ton of colour. Maybe?

 

Aside from the above, it does have another problem. The segments are so short, and so lacking in suspense (there’s no way he’s going to fail challenge 3, for example, he’s making it all the way to the end) that it all feels insubstantial – plus, I think it looks ugly as heck, but it’s a sentiment not shared by many Full Moon fans. Anyway, there’s no development through the stories, no sense that Paul is getting better at taking on the challenges or that Mestema is getting increasingly frustrated with Paul’s success. If they’d just had three or four challenges, or turned a couple of the segments into tiny sketches – for instance, showing him fighting a room full of zombies for just ten seconds or so – it could have felt a lot more interesting. I wanted some development from the challenges, is all.

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Add on a really awful score from Charles’ brother Richard, who’s (dis)graced many a Full Moon movie’s soundtrack, a sort of limp non-ending, and you’ve got yourself a classic Charles Band movie. You might have heard of a movie made right at the end of Empire’s relationship with Paramount, called “Pulse Pounders”, which is an anthology movie featuring short sequels to their other properties – there’s a “Trancers” segment, an original HP Lovecraft adaptation, and a sequel to this. This movie really really doesn’t need a sequel…well, it didn’t need a first movie either, I suppose.

 

Oh, just to cement this movie’s bona fides as money-grabbing garbage, you may have noticed it got an alternate title (again, not uncommon for Full Moon / Empire). Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was at the peak of its popularity at the time, so Band and co just gave it a new name for its cinema run (such as it was). But they were forced to include a “this movie has nothing to do with TSR” (the creators of AD&D) disclaimer, which both makes me laugh at the pathetic nature of it all and compare it to those dirtbags at the Asylum.

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Rating: thumbs down

Live Wire: Human Timebomb (1995)

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This is perhaps the first movie we’ve done here at the ISCFC where it’s such an “unquel” that I didn’t even realise it was the sequel to something else. 1992’s “Live Wire” is a Pierce Brosnan-starring thriller about people coated with some sort of liquid explosive being sent to assassinate politicians (I think, I’ve never seen it as it sounds terrible), and “Human Timebomb” is about brainwashed super-soldiers. No cast or crew are shared, which is just the way we like our unquels.

 

We last saw Bryan Genesse in all-time cast iron classic “Screwballs 2: Loose Screws” and he thankfully keeps the same cheeky grin from that movie, here playing wisecracking FBI agent Parker. In a pretty well-shot and fun opening scene, he’s the lead man at a huge arrest at a drug deal taking place in a real disused drive-in cinema, with a group of Cubans buying what looks like a tiny piece of gold in a small glass case with a suitcase full of cocaine. Why are they so interested in this tiny thing?

 

Unfortunately, the plot sort of falls apart right here. Arriving on the scene after the arrests have been made is CIA agent Gina Young (J Cynthia Brooks), who informs Parker that the lead Cuban drug guy is the nephew of a Cuban general, and therefore has diplomatic immunity. Fun fact: the US and Cuba had no diplomatic relations in 1995 and there’s absolutely no chance that they’d have honoured diplomatic immunity for a drug-smuggling murderer. But let’s not worry about that! Gina takes the nephew back to Cuba on a pretty small, non-official-looking plane and Parker decides pretty much on the spur of the moment to tag along, which brings us to the subject of coincidences.

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Coincidences happen in movies because it’s difficult to figure out ways to bring characters together and have them either come into conflict or fight on the same side. I understand that. But if they’re too big, too tenuous, or there’s too many of them then it becomes too stupid and takes you way out of the movie. Wonder if you can guess where I’m going with this particular review?  So, it turns out that Parker was in the military, and his best buddy was left behind in some shady operation in Cuba, missing presumed dead. This best buddy is also the brother of Gina, and she’s kind of being blackmailed by a rogue Cuban general to bring across that tiny piece of gold which is actually a chip that turns people into mindless killing machines, as her brother is still alive! And they also need Parker to become the latest chip-controlled automaton and kill a bunch of people at the upcoming US / Cuba trade negotiation, allowing the rogue General to take over!

 

I haven’t even mentioned Joe Lara yet, the sole reason anyone would possibly want to watch this movie. He’s Price, a former US soldier who went to work for the rogue General, and is in charge of his team of killers – leading to a classic “here’s my men training” montage (which “Wayne’s World” mocked so well a few years previously). To say he’s a bit evil is to say water is a bit wet, and he’s the best thing about every scene he’s in. I was sort of fooled by the publicity for this movie, expecting it to be a little futuristic, but it’s not; although it’s a great Lara performance, so it goes into his season of movie reviews.

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Parker is captured, gets implanted and becomes a killer for Price, although all it takes is banging his head on a steel pipe for his chip to malfunction and his previous personality to be restored. Hurrah! The movie spends a substantial amount of time in Cuba before rushing to Miami for the trade negotiations and denouement, and it’s amazing. Imagine in 2015 a trade deal between the Secretaries of State for two countries – think about how much security there’d be, and its location. Back in 1995, all they got was a normal hotel full of holidaymakers and a couple of security guys circling the hotel on a monorail (best guess – this hilarious image was crowbarred in because the hotel that let them film in return for free publicity demanded they show off their sweet new purchase).

 

You take what you can get from straight-to-video action/thriller movies, and this one was pretty rough in places. The plot is ludicrous, the acting is ropey, it borrows the US-to-Cuba-to-the-US timeline from one of the worst movies ever (“Red Zone Cuba”), and even if you accept its premise, it still makes no sense. Aside from all the stupid inconsistencies and plot holes and gibberish all movies like this have to an extent, the main issue is that the US is fighting to protect Fidel Castro’s regime against a coup from someone who sounds like he’d be much more amenable to Washington. Even the most undiscerning video store renter in the 1990s must have scratched their heads at the ultimate meaning of this movie.

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Add in some of the worst music ever, and one of the more unusual endings in movie history:

“You’re some piece of work, Parker”

“Yeah”

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And…well, you’ve got yourself a movie. If you’re in an extremely forgiving mood or are more of a Joe Lara completist than I am, give it a go!

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Starfire Mutiny (2002)

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Joe Lara! Our review series of his sci-fi movies continues. We could have reviewed a lot more, as before retiring from the film industry to become a country music singer, he also did a lot of dull-sounding straight-to-video thrillers about army people and cops and so on. But who can be bothered with those?

 

And I wish I’d not bothered with this one. Boy oh boy, was “Starfire Mutiny” tough to get through. It’s a classic example of half a movie’s worth of plot stretched to feature length with pointless talking scenes and guys walking down a corridor bantering about all the women they want to have sex with. Poor Joe Lara! To have this as his last credit is a damn shame. I can also only assume that he’d already mentally checked out of the business by this point, as…actually, I’ll leave that dramatic reveal for later. But if you want an indication of quality, this has no mutinies in it, and doesn’t take place on a ship called the “Starfire”.

 

It’s a couple of hundred years in the future, and the ozone layer is gone, leaving the Earth a desert wilderness. Humanity survives in cryogenic suspension in huge ships in orbit, along with a skeleton crew to keep things in order. They’ve apparently figured out a way to kickstart the ozone layer again, and all they need is a large enough solar flare to power their MacGuffin Beam – it’s probably got a name like Genesis or Gaia or something, but I can’t remember. Also, there’s a small prison left on Earth, home to General Swann, a white supremacist who was kicked out of the army for being too horrible even for them (although judging by the movie’s 100% white cast, perhaps he was successful).

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Luckily, Swann has a friend on the outside, Colonel Diana Briggs, and she busts him and a few of his men out, gets them in a spaceship, and then they’re off into orbit to put into action a plan five years in the making – using the nuclear reactors in the cryo-ships to power the MacGuffin Beam. But that will kill everyone!

 

Joe is Sam Talbot, the guy in charge of the skeleton crew. The first reason to get annoyed with “Starfire Mutiny” is, despite his top billing, he’s barely in it! He gets knocked out as soon as the bad guys get to the space station, and doesn’t wake up again til after the halfway point, and even then he doesn’t really do anything. Sorry, Joe! The lion’s share of the heroics go to Ben, the guy in charge of cryogenics (a chap called Julius Krajewski, who is so bad at acting I thought it was going to be revealed to be a joke) and the fraudster who replaced the dead Dr Miranda Blake, the head of the MacGuffin project, in her cryo-pod. She’s Elise Muller, who not only was in “Shark Man”, but has been in a Duplass Brothers movie (“Baghead”) and has a decent career going for herself; she’s the sole bright spark in this too.

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Recapping the plot seems pointless, as it’s “Die Hard” in space (damn you Die Hard for giving low-budget producers a cheap idea!), only a version where Bruce Willis does pretty much nothing and it’s down to a weird camp idiot and a female criminal to save the day. It really tries to be funny as well, with a couple of comic relief goons getting into scrapes, plus Ben quipping every time he’s on screen, but wow does it ever fail.

 

Before I wrap things up, a quick word about the rather odd lesbian scene. “Miranda” convinces the baddies she’s the real deal, and uses her female charms to fool General Swann. This makes Briggs super-jealous and suspicious (legitimately wondering why a 25 year old woman would be in charge of such a huge scientific project), so Miranda has to go to Briggs’ room (why would she have a room on a space station she’d only just arrived at? Shut up) and replace a disk with the real Miranda’s picture on it. To provide a distraction, she seduces Briggs, who after a few seconds of apprehension, agrees. Now, I know sexuality is a sliding scale and all that, but Briggs has been so obsessed with Swann that she gave up her career and is prepared to sacrifice millions of people for him, so it seems a trifle unlikely she’d just hop into the sack with the first woman who asks. Plus it doesn’t work, as Briggs rumbles her plan in the very next scene with some sweet Photoshop analysis of her photo! This scene becomes slightly more understandable when you see the filmography of director Lloyd Simandl, who’s responsible for such classics as “Chained Fury: Lesbian Slave Desires”.

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This movie is why you need a script that will last you 90 minutes. It’s s-l-o-w, full of unnecessary dialogue, and the action is almost non-existent for long stretches. There’s not a single scene that couldn’t have been improved by halving its length – while you don’t notice the editor’s craft when it’s done well, you really notice it when it’s done badly. One great example is when Swann mows down a room full of guards at the prison. Now, he starts at the left and slowly pans right, taking quite a while to shoot everyone. I can understand the first guy dying, but the tenth? Guard 10 had a gun in his hand but seemed quite content to just wait for the inevitable embrace of bullet-assisted death – editing, people! It’s important!

 

I have to assume there was some story behind Lara’s lack of involvement. By screen time, he’d be maybe fifth or sixth billed, and having two other people do the hero stuff while he’s either unconscious or just sitting in a room makes everything feel weird. Even weirder is, he has a fight near the end with a couple of the comic relief goons but loses it.

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“Starfire Mutiny” is a terrible movie, it’s cheap, ugly and stupid, and only avoids the charge of being offensive to women by being offensive to everyone with at least half a normal share of common sense. Avoid (which shouldn’t be difficult, it’s really hard to get hold of and I’ve got no idea why I track this garbage down just to tell you not to track it down).

 

Rating: thumbs down

Youtube Film Club: Total Reality (1997)

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David Bradley must have decided shortly after making “Total Reality” that the movie business wasn’t for him. After taking over the “American Ninja” franchise and doing a pretty good job of it, he’d turned from MARTIAL ARTS GUY into a decent, charismatic leading man who could also kick ass. Then, after a few movies in 1997, that was it. When there’s “actors” like Jalal Merhi and Ron Marchini who made w-a-y more movies than they should have, it’s a shame when a good actor makes too few.

Although perhaps he saw the finished product of this confusingly plotted movie and thought gardening was a more satisfying career. John Bridges (Michael Mendelson) has written a self-help book, which advocates selfishness to get ahead, and as you might have guessed, he’s a bit of a dick, as we see his ex-wife Cathy (Ely Pouget) storm into his rather sparsely attended book launch to demand the return of money he stole from their joint account. But we’re then whisked 200 years into the future! Humanity spread throughout the galaxy pretty quickly, but with the pretty evil-sounding Bridgist political party / philosophy dominant. There’s a rebel force and a war waged which kills billions of people, and we join the action as the Bridgists are about to storm the last remaining rebel ship. Bradley is Lieutenant Antony Rand, leading the Bridgist commandos.

 

Now, right about here, ten minutes into the movie, is where everything goes off the rails. I don’t think it’s always necessary, but when you’re making a cheapo sci-fi action movie, it’s often handy to have clearly defined heroes and villains, at least early on. It gives you an “in” to the movie, allows you to get acclimated before the twists and turns of the plot really kick in. “Total Reality” on the other hand, gives you something different – the Rebel leader, Commander Tunis (Thomas Kretschmann, who’d go on to a decent career, including “Avengers: Age Of Ultron”), shoots the assistant who suggests surrender to save the families on board; then Rand secures the ship, only to have his Bridgist superiors destroy it from a distance with their super-lasers. Rand shoots his superior officer and is sent to military prison; Tunis and his second-in-command escape on a small craft and go back in time to 1998.  By the way, the rebel ship is the USS Haldeman, no doubt a reference to the author of sci-fi classic “The Forever War”, which I wish this movie had borrowed more from him than a name.

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I could spend an entire review unpacking the plot holes and confusion in just this one tiny bit of movie, because it’s pretty special. The sole “good guy” is happily on the side of the evil Bridgists to this moment, and both sides seem like absolute scum. Then, thinking just a tiny bit deeper, if both sides have time travel technology, why haven’t they used it before this, the last possible moment of the war? Why did Tunis need to kill his assistant and potentially all the people hiding in the hold he blasted his time-travel ship out of? Why did Rand learn the truth about the Bridgists so early in the movie, leaving no big reveal for later?

 

From Rand’s new home on Ganymede Space-Prison, the movie then becomes a sort of reverse “Terminator”, crossed with “The Dirty Dozen”. Rand and three other inmates are given implants that will explode in 40 hours, and sent back in time themselves to capture the two rebels, alive or dead. One might think they’d at least give the four the most basic of preparation for life in the late 20th century, but no! Sure is lucky one of them can drive, otherwise this would be a movie about four people in body armour and rifles trying to hitch a ride. There’s also a smidge of “Back To The Future 2” as one of the convicts takes back a disc with every stock price movement for the last two hundred years on it.

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The Fearsome Foursome are tracking the chips implanted in the rebel leaders’ necks, because every Bridgist has one implanted. Never mind that the war has been raging for decades and chances are the two rebels would have been born outside the Bridgist sphere of influence! Just go with it! They find Cathy pretty much by accident as she’s gone to her former home to get some stuff, and the two rebels turn up too, looking for Bridges themselves. Thanks to this meeting, we get perhaps the primary stylistic choice of this movie – NO-ONE CAN SHOOT FOR SHIT. People stood in the same room as each other, with big powerful guns, are appalling aims, even worse when you consider they’re all trained soldiers. This carries on throughout, to the point when you’re actually surprised when someone fails to navigate the mostly harmless hail of bullets.

 

The thing about David Bradley is he’s a fantastic screen martial artist, so if you hire him for your movie you’d expect there to be some decent fights. Of course, if you’re the producers of “Total Reality” then you’dabsolyutnaya-realnost-scene-2 have him in no fights at all, apart from him punching one guy in the face. I’d understand that if it were a crash-bang-wallop action movie, with stuff happening all the time, but it’s really not. As well as all the comparisons above, it’s got a lot of “The Dead Zone” to it, just with being from the future substituting for being psychic, and also has a whole undeveloped plotline which reminds you of the episode of the Simpsons where Kang and Kodos replace Bill Clinton and Bob Dole on the election trail. Whoops, spoilers!

 

If you’ve got a clash of ideologies, like Bridgism vs. whatever the rebels stand for, then you really need at least one description of what those ideologies are. This movie goes out of its way to not tell you, to leave you in the dark about what exactly everyone is fighting for, and while we know Bridgism is bad we’ve got absolutely no idea what the rebels would replace it with. Their plan is, what we see of it anyway, confusing, and given that Rand should really be on their side from the very beginning, sort of pointless. To top all this off, it gives us a bizarre anti-climax of an ending, with the movie’s fourth banana the one to get the big dramatic closing speech, which isn’t actually all that dramatic at all. And what the hell was with the mysterious FBI agents? They clearly knew more than they were letting on, but why? And how?

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They must have filmed at 4:30 am on the streets and in an abandoned mall, because aside from the main cast there is literally no-one in this movie. I’d love it if it were a conscious choice, but I bet the filmmakers just didn’t want to pay any extras (the big book launch that will apparently change the universe is attended by maybe 10 people, for example).

 

I wanted to like this – time travel, sci-fi, David Bradley, director Philip Roth (who also did ISCFC favourite “Digital Man” and now produces SyFy Channel-esque movies) – there’s plenty of good elements for the B-movie lover. But it’s all so empty. Why not take out one of the meaningless talking scenes (or heavily trim the coda) and have a character explain their motivation with some clarity? “Oh, that’s why that guy shot his friend and then risked all the people on his ship to go back in time!”

 

Rating: thumbs down

Things (1989)

Canuxploitation Review- Things

My friends are hardened bad movie veterans, but this is the response I got on Facebook last night after subjecting them to this:

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“Things” is monumentally bad. I could keep rolling out big words that mean the same thing, but simply put this movie is right down at the very very bottom of the cinematic pile. “Manos: The Hands Of Fate” is Bergman compared to this. “The Room” is a gem of acting and editing. “Monster-A-Go-Go” is…actually, that might be the closest comparison in terms of quality.

We’ve seen some of the worst movies ever made here at the ISCFC. “The Pit”, “The Last Seven”, “Demon Cop”, “After Last Season”, and “The Zombinator”, among many others; but “Things” beats them all. I heard of it thanks to Red Letter Media doing a section on it a while back, and their description of the entire cast and crew being drunk at every stage of the filmmaking process is about as close as I can get to figuring out just why this movie turned out the way it did.

Okay, the plot recap is going to be fun. Let’s see if we can nail it! Firstly, there’s a guy called Doug, whose extremely ill wife has been unable to conceive. So he goes into his cellar where he asks a woman wearing a demon mask to have his baby – his desperation for a child is sadly never explained. So she removes all her clothes and tells him “I’ve already had your baby”, showing him something in a bassinet that attacks him, causing him to scream and…wake himself up! This was possibly a dream, although it’s genuinely almost impossible to tell. You may also come to ponder which one of the couple is infertile, as the movie isn’t sure either.

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Then there’s two other guys called Fred and Don. Don is Doug’s brother, and the two men are off to visit him at his rather remote home, apparently a 9 mile hike from the nearest human civilization. After what must have been an extremely expensive taxi journey, they just walk in, and rather than try and find him in the normal-sized house, decide to start drinking his beer and aimlessly looking through his cupboards to see what stuff he’s got. They find a tape recorder in the freezer which plays all sorts of slowed-down-voice style sound effects (a reference to “The Evil Dead”) and discover that Doug’s TV can apparently pick up all manner of illegal and “snuff” TV signals (“Videodrome”, maybe?) So they sit around for what seems like several lifetimes, having a very poorly ADR’ed conversation, until Doug wanders out of the bedroom he’s been in this entire time and makes sandwiches for everyone. Oh, and then his wife dies and a bunch of giant ant-looking things emerge from her stomach, plus around now Fred disappears for about half an hour, having been apparently beamed into another dimension.

If you’re wondering why I slipped the “wife dying” part out so casually, it’s because the movie treats it like that too. A few minutes after her death, thanks to giant bugs crawling out of her, the guys are back drinking, laughing, telling stories and arguing in the kitchen – leaving the only reasonable conclusion that this was edited by a maniac. Then the rest of the movie is two guys (the two change during the course of the movie) either drinking or trying to kill the super-ants. The doctor who did experiments on Doug’s wife pops up towards the end, and manages to keep a cheeky grin on his face throughout his scenes, even though he’s in a house full of corpses and mangled animal remains. Oh, Doug accidentally brains Don with a hammer at one point, to the extent a pool of blood forms round him, but after a few minutes of being dead he’s fine again.

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By the way, I wanted to point out the house isn’t locked and the people could leave at any time. They say it’s bear infested country, but I’d take my chances compared to…whatever the hell it is the bugs are supposed to represent. Hell, or something, probably.

Okay, there’s a rough precis of the plot. I don’t want to spoil too much of it for you, as despite what my two friends above said, movies this far off the scale ought to be watched, if only to make all the other movies you’ve ever seen a little better. Everything that could possibly be done wrong, is. The lighting is rubbish and doesn’t match itself (so people in the same kitchen will look different, depending on the shot); and the sound! Judging by the little behind the scenes snippet after the end of the credits, they recorded live sound, but were clearly unhappy with the background noise or something, as aside from a couple of brief outdoor scenes, everything is ADR’ed. Did no-one check any of their footage until they’d finished filming? Of course, we can add music to that, seemingly put in at random – a 5 second snippet of metal will be used in between two separate playings of the same song, for instance. It makes you feel on edge, and annoyed, and there’s no reason for it.

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Let’s talk porn! Amber Lynn, who was a big deal in “the jizz biz” at the time, is in this movie as a news reporter who the film cuts to every now and again to give us nonsensical “news” stories. You know, the sort of news reporter who stands in front of a few broken TVs and old computers because that’s what the director thinks looks news-y. Her cue cards were way off to the right, leading her to constantly glance off in that direction and giving us all the impression she was doing this at gunpoint, and it may safely be said she’s not very good at it. She also has a guy she throws to for a report, and he’s just sat in an armchair in front of a plain wall.

Why? Why did they make a film so thoroughly bad? There’s little segments where they try to, I think, insert some humour, but it feels like the jokes of an indifferent guard leading a condemned man to the gallows. When you’ve seen them check the ceiling with a flashlight AGAIN, or heard your third meaningless monologue from Don, who bear in mind wrote the script so he has no excuse, you’ll begin to think that nothing could have been made this bad by accident. Is it a test of patience? An attempt, “Hobgoblins” style, to make it onto “Mystery Science Theater 3000”? I have absolutely no idea, but I think the suggestion that any of them knew what they were doing is to do this magnificent piece of garbage a disservice.

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At the end of my second viewing of “Things”, I’m more convinced than ever that it’s close to, if not right at, the worst movie ever. It feels like someone managed to record a nightmare straight from someone’s brain, but then replaced all the monsters with crappy plastic ants, and all the people with ugly Canadians who can’t act. But no! Even that doesn’t do it justice. Considering we’re pushing 1200 words now, I’m rendered speechless, unable to fathom any of it. Is it possible they bought a thousand beers, locked themselves in a house for a week and made this movie? That’s about as good an explanation as I can summon. Perhaps it’s the cast that treat the plot as an afterthought, that they’d filmed themselves drinking, the evening getting angrier and the fun getting thinner, until they suddenly decided to grab the ant props from the car and make a horror movie, just leaving the home movie drinking footage in.

I’m sorry, dear reader, I feel I’ve let you down. I’m further away from understanding this epically puzzling movie. Still, there’s a limited edition with two commentaries on it (!) so by the time I’ve seen it two more times, I might have some answers for you. If you’re in the mood, track this down and watch it. Okay, there’s a roughly 75% chance you’ll want to kill me afterwards, but you’ll have seen “Things”, and your life will never be the same.

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Rating: thumbs disappearing into the third, fourth and fifth  dimensions

Cherry 2000 (1988)

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This review thanks to a request / dare from regular reader Dave.

What we have here is a fascinating, funny movie with a great visual style…that completely fails to answer its own central mystery. It feels like some explanation was edited out deliberately to keep us in the dark, and that particular problem will become apparent in a paragraph or so. But what it does have is one of the greatest B-movie casts ever assembled, with three ISCFC Hall of Famers (should we ever do one) gracing the screen.

It’s 2017! The lead drives a weird car with two wheels at the front and one at the back (literally all the other cars in the movie are perfectly normal, though)! Something bad has clearly happened to the world, but LA still largely functions, and Sam Treadwell (TV stalwart David Andrews) works at a huge recycling centre, where endless queues of people bring in metal, cables and suchlike in return for large boxes of something or other. Food, maybe? There’s a fun bit of world-building here, as Sam and his friends go to a bar where lawyers act as pimps for prostitutes, negotiating insanely complicated one-night contracts – the main lawyer is Larry Fishburne, before the early 90s would make him famous (also, this movie was filmed in 1985 but not released til 1988).

CHERRY 2000, Pamela Gidley, David Andrews, 1987, (c) Orion

CHERRY 2000, Pamela Gidley, David Andrews, 1987, (c) Orion

Anyway, Sam goes home at the end of a hard day to his beautiful and somewhat vacant wife, only for it to turn out she’s a robot, a “Cherry 2000” model. While they’re about to have sex on the kitchen floor, the water from an overflowing sink causes her to have a complete meltdown (a rather substantial design flaw, when you think about it), which leaves Sam alone and distraught, especially when he realise she can’t be fixed. He even goes to a robot mechanic, who offers him a variety of other robot women, but he’s all about the Cherry.

What he still has is her (apparently very rare and valuable) personality chip, a tiny CD-looking thing, and armed only with that and a knowledge of where replacement Cherry 2000 models can be found  – the no-mans-land of Zone 7 – he sets off for the Wild West town of Glory Hole to find himself a Tracker to take him into this forbidden area. Melanie Griffith is E Johnson, the best tracker of the lot, but because Sam, along with pretty much every man in the world, is a touch on the sexist side, he tries to find a “better” one and ends up with Brion James, who just takes him into an alley and tries to jump him.

He eventually hires E to take him to Zone 7, which brings him into conflict with Lester (Tim Thomerson), a psychopath who cheers his gang up with sports-coach-cum-New-Age platitudes. Lester’s girlfriend / hostess / assistant is, coincidentally enough, Sam’s ex-girlfriend, and their whole section is funny and odd and promises much. Anyway, Sam and E have to fight their way through all sorts of problems, all sorts of people, and when they reach their goal they have to fight their way back. There are some pretty fantastic set-pieces, like when they’re caught with a giant car magnet and start shooting and throwing grenades at their captors as they’re being swung across a large canyon, and if you can’t tell the ending then I would like to show you a new game called three-card monte.

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To create some very slight tension as to what that big old problem is, I’ll tell you the good stuff. It’s got an amazing visual style, with three very distinct areas – the city and its postapocalyptic, claustrophobic look; Glory Hole, like a techno-Wild West; and Lester’s place, what looks like a 1950s view of the future (along with a submerged-in-sand Las Vegas). Either they had an amazing location scout or this was a higher-budget movie than I expected. It’s also got a fantastic cast, leaving aside a not-terribly-great pair of central performances. Brion James, Tim Thomerson and Robert Z’Dar are all B-movie royalty, and have a fine time here, even if Z’Dar barely says a word and James is ditched after only a few minutes on screen. The two non-Griffith women in the movie, Pamela Gidley as Cherry and Cameron Milzer as Elaine, Sam’s ex, are excellent too.

But it’s not all amazing sets, great guest performances and an exciting, fast-paced script! That script, by the way, is the first screen credit from Michael Almereyda, who’d go on to make the amazing “Another Girl, Another Planet” in 1992 using only the Fisher Price PXL200 kids’ movie camera (it recorded onto normal audio cassettes) and is still writing and directing today. It’s got a huge great gulf at its centre, and that gulf is women.

When you discover that Sam, and lots of other people, have robot wives, the first thought that came to mind was “ah, so women have mostly died out, for some reason”. It sort of explains things, but then you see the wider world and women are everywhere! And it’s not like they’re all radiation-scarred or whatever (Griffith herself is testament to that), so one would hope there’d be a reason why so many men would choose robots without much in the way of brain power over real living women. If there is one, it was either mentioned in passing at the beginning, while I wasn’t listening, or edited out. It could have been an interesting feminist statement about the way society treats women, but it ended up just being the story of a guy who wanted a compliant, dull, sex-slave/housekeeper who finally realised by the end that he’d prefer a real woman. In fact, poor Cherry, resurrected in a new body, is just tricked and abandoned at the end because “she’s just a robot”, which seems unnecessarily cruel to someone who’s “loved” him as she has. It’s all rather confusing.

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Trying not to get sucked into the rabbit hole of understanding this movie, it doesn’t even make sense on its own terms. Firstly, there are no male robots, and the subject never even comes up, as if that would be the stupidest thing you could possibly imagine.  Sam’s decision, after having a rather fun-seeming human girlfriend, to get married to a robot, is also never explored.

But if you don’t think about any of that, then you’ll have a really good time. The sense of humour is strong and it’s pitched at just the right level; it looks fantastic; and it races along at a fair old clip. I can see why the movie company had a tough time marketing it, as it’s a pretty odd little mix of styles, and it would have never been a hit, but we still get to enjoy it.

Rating: thumbs up