Odysseus: Voyage to the Underworld (2008)

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For those of us of a certain age and nationality – British, mid 30s to early 50s – there’s a beloved kids show called “Jackanory”, which was basically a celeb sat in a comfy armchair reading a story, often accompanied with brief animations or re-enactments. When comedian / actor Tony Robinson took over in the mid 80s, he got rid of the armchair and all the nonsense, adapting classic stories himself and filming them on location. Perhaps the most famous of all his shows was “The Odyssey”, as he roamed over ruins on Mediterranean islands, telling enthralled kids one of the greatest stories ever.

 

Fun fact – scientists have, using an eclipse in the story that happened in real life, dated the return of Odysseus to Ithaca at 16th April 1178 BCE, which I’m only telling you because I love that they bothered to do it.

 

So, since childhood, the Odyssey has been one of my favourite stories, and I’ve enjoyed several adaptations of it (“Ulysses 31”, an animated series, remains one of my favourites). When I found out that the SyFy Channel had done an adaptation of it, I was super-pleased, even knowing how long the odds were of it being any good. Because it’s such a long story (there’s the whole thing with the “suitors” in Ithaca, and Odysseus’ son Telemachus trying to raise a crew for a ship to go searching, and the many many tall tales of his adventures Odysseus tells…it’s got a lot of ground to cover) I guessed it would just be a small section of the epic, and I was right, but enough of me pretending I’m clever! Let’s get on with the review!

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Much like the “Maniac Cop” sequels and “Earth’s Final Hours”, we’ve got an opportunity to see a typecast bad guy as the hero – this time, Arnold Vosloo (“The Mummy”) is Odysseus and he clearly relishes the chance. The story is set right at the end of “The Odyssey”, substituting his 7-year solo imprisonment on the island of Ogygia for his crew being shipwrecked on the Isle of Mists, just past where they meet the Sirens. I wonder if the boat effect was done last after they’d run out of money, because the movie was too short, but it’s absolutely shockingly bad – getting the night effect is achieved by a blanket with tiny holes in it (for real) and you never see the cast and water in the same shot.

 

Anyway, his crew have to fight seemingly invincible flying creatures, sort of like goblins with wings, but are rescued by one of the Sirens, who seems to be a good person, just wanting their help to get off the island. So, while Odysseus and his crew have their doubts, they plan an escape, and tell stories of their adventures to Homer, the young crew member who’s taken it on himself to record their adventures. Odysseus has a few dream-conversations with Athena, one of the friendly gods, and realises all is not as it seems, too.

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One part of the movie which seems like a cheap cop-out but isn’t, is the second-hand relating of stories (the Cyclops, the stones raining down on them, and so on). In the original story, these are flashbacks too, so good on the scriptwriter for figuring out a way to both save money and be true to the source. It would have been nice to have a bit more of their journey and a bit less wandering about the island, but beggars (people who watch the SyFy Channel) can’t be choosers.

 

The acting is very strong – as well as Vosloo, there’s Steve Bacic as Eurylochus and JR Bourne as Perimedes, one of whom is more cerebral, the other more physical. Randal Edwards as Homer is fine, as is Michael Antonakos as Christos (the only remotely Greek person in this movie). Stefanie von Pfetten as Persephone is really good too, keeping on the right side of being convincing while still leaving room for doubt.

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I don’t think there’s tons of point in driving holes through the historical logic of a movie based on a legend – ultimately, all it is is a story, and can be used however. But…Homer wasn’t part of Odysseus’ crew, and there’s quite a bit of doubt both about if he existed at all, and if he did, when he was alive. The smart money seems to be on him being a name for a movement of performance poets who would tell the tale in public – which also makes me wonder why the movie has the framing device of old Homer writing the story (because he never wrote it down, as far as we can tell). Given Homer has been with the crew for a couple of years by this point, they’d have probably told him all their stories already too.

 

It’s fun, if incredibly slight – not a lot really happens for way too much of the movie. While I’m glad they left some stuff out (like how he and his son have 12 maids put to death for helping out Penelope’s suitors, and how Odysseus kills all the suitors too, leaving the city he’s supposed to be in charge of with very few living adult men, bearing in mind he’s the only person to make it back from the Trojan War alive), they could have done with having a bit more left in. Or, now I come to think about it, in a movie called “Odysseus: Voyage To The Underworld”, maybe have him go to the underworld? Okay, it’s listed on IMDB as “Odysseus: Island Of Mists”, even if that’s not the name I got it under.

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Not bad, certainly, as it would be difficult to completely mess up this story, but not quite good enough.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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An Erotic Vampire In Paris (2002)

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Sadly, readers, our attempt to watch all of Donald Farmer’s movies has failed at the hurdle of 1999’s “Space Kid”. Never released on video or DVD, I was hoping to track one down (although it’s not like any of you would have been able to watch it afterwards, based on my review). It’s a shame but it seems he made several movies around the turn of the millenium which have either disappeared very thoroughly or were never released in the first place, such as “Blood And Honor” (a Civil War epic listed at 4 hours 33 minutes!), “Fighting Chance” and”Charlie And Sadie”, so forever onwards, and next in the available Farmer pantheon we find ourselves with this.

 

If you ever went in a video shop after the late 90s, then you will definitely know of Misty Mundae (who now works under the name Erin Brown). She was as famous as a person who starred in stuff like “Play-Mate Of The Apes”, “Gladiator Eroticvs: The Lesbian Warriors” and “Scary Sexy Disaster Movie” (aka “TITanic 2000”) could be. That sounds slightly dismissive – I’ve not seen any of them, they might be great – but she was enough of a draw to get her name in the title of several movies, with later stuff like “Misty Mundae: Erotic Raider” and “The Erotic Diary Of Misty Mundae”. Can you tell I’m having fun just listing all these titles? She cornered the market in softcore mockbusters, but I’m guessing the death of Blockbuster affected the business model for those sorts of movies, so she’s not been quite as busy as she was (although she’s still working solidly, in such things as garbage human Bill Zebub’s “A Nightmare On Elmo’s Street”).

 

Calling this an “erotic horror” is a bit off, as it definitely leans heavier on the erotic than the horror. Literally the first thing we see is Misty’s vagina, playing Caroline, a woman plagued by intense dreams. Well, her entire body plays Caroline, not just her vagina. Ah, you know what I mean. Anyway, as she’s walking across the room in the first scene, we’re treated to a shot of the cameraman following her, reflected in the mirror. Come on! It’s the first scene, you guys! Could you not have reshot it?

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As we get a voiceover which sounds like it was recorded over the phone, Caroline reads her diary, and we discover her Mother (who lived in Paris) just died, but she feels very worried about going there to visit her grave. Anyway, she does, and the initial scenes of her walking round Paris remind me of “Highlander: The Series”, although that show was able to close streets to film on, and this film most definitely did not. I guess no-one asks you for a permit if you’re filming a home movie, and a huge amount is shot guerrilla-style on the streets, with lots of poor French people unaware they’re in a Donald Farmer movie. They go to Notre Dame and a few famous streets, which is pretty cool though.

 

After visiting her mother’s grave (which actually belongs to a German person, if the wording we briefly see on the side is anything to go by) and having her bags stolen, she’s seduced by Isabelle (Mia Copia, also now working under her real name, Tina Krause), who we saw earlier on is a vampire. And really, that’s it. After getting Caroline, a woman she’s known for maybe an hour, to strip completely naked and eat food off the floor, the two of them then have sex more often than the stars of most hardcore porn movies. In what I suppose is a plot, Isabelle resists biting Caroline because she is in love with her? A guy (billed as “The Stalker”, played by the charmingly named Bill Hellfire) follows them round for a bit then just walks into their house, all three of them then have a bath together before Isabelle kills him; oh, and she kills the guy who stole Caroline’s stuff at the beginning too. I won’t spoil the ending, but suffice to say it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever based on what went before.

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Mundae and Copia have appeared in 13 movies together, 7 of which were directed by Bill Hellfire (who does double duty as second-unit director here – I can’t even begin to imagine what that job title really entails on a movie as low budget as this), so they’re obviously comfortable with each other, which is handy when the majority of the movie is the two of them in bed or naked. Although Mundae has appeared in 20 movies with an actress by the name of Darian Caine, so she’s not even the most regular collaborator!

 

I appreciate this is basically a softcore movie, so reviewing it like a normal one is pointless, but if the sex were better shot then it would at least be fun to look at? But it’s often out of focus, or it’ll zoom in on a bit of flesh it’s impossible to identify, or entire scenes will be in extreme close-up, or the cameraman will be in completely the wrong position to capture any decent angles, which means I don’t think it really works either as a movie or softcore “action”. But I am far from an expert on such matters.

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It just seems so amateurish. There’s a segment near the beginning where Isabelle seduces a photographer, and you see her posing for photos and then some photos appearing on screen, indicating someone got a new graphics package for their PC. But anyway, the photos we see on screen are just stills from the movie, not the actual photographs the woman is taking (they’re from a completely different angle). Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I’m complaining about a softcore movie because of the angle of some photographs!

 

There’s a strong whiff of “Virgin Among The Living Dead” and other Jess Franco movies here, with the music, the European setting, and the S&M undertones, although that is this one’s superior in every possible way. Obviously, I love Donald Farmer, he’s a huge movie buff and has made some insane entertainment, but this is just rubbish. I guess it was made very quickly and very cheaply and turned a decent profit for everyone involved, and making it coherent or fun to look at was very far down on anyone’s list of priorities.

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If anyone would like, I’ll do a series of reviews of Seduction Cinema’s other efforts, and try and do them as seriously as possible, treat em like high art? If you want to read about “SSI: Sex Scene Investigation” or “Kinky Kong”, then let me know. Actually, after 13 Witchcraft movies, I’m not sure my brain could take it.

 

Rating: very very thumbs down

Moonbase (1997)

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My entire page of notes for this movie is questions. It’s not so much that none of it makes sense, but that no thought whatsoever was put into any aspect of its creation. It’s got fun moments, I suppose, but it’s really frustrating.

 

There’s a space prison somewhere floating about, built with breezeblocks and normal wooden doors. A large group of prisoners manage to escape in a garbage pod destined for the large rubbish dump on the Moon, and when they get there they quickly overpower most of the crew. Unbeknownst to the criminals, a ship full of marines is on its way to the moon to pick up a bunch of experimental nuclear warheads that were left there after being banned by some treaty. Oh, and the boss of the dump’s ex-girlfriend, now climbing the corporate ladder, is with the marines too, for some reason.

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I let slip with one little “why?” moment in the paragraph above, but it’s a movie absolutely chock full of them. First up, do you think that when we get to deep space, we’ll be creating quite as much garbage as our future Earth society is? You can’t just pop down the shops for whatever you need. It’s not like the dump on the Moon appears to be recycling anything, it’s just sat there. Secondly, how did no-one notice about 10 people falling out of the garbage pod? And the criminals are shown in sort of home-made vacuum suits, but how lax is the security in the prison that they were allowed the materials to construct them?

 

The cast is mostly fine, although you might notice there’s a fair few people who are on screen a lot and don’t say a word (probably some cost-cutting measure, as you have to pay more to people who talk). Apart from, oddly, the two leads – Scott Plank as dump boss John, who apparently caused some environmental disaster on Earth which led to his demotion to the Moon (although it’s utterly obvious he’s hiding something); and Jocelyn Seagrave as Dana, his ex. They’re bland and a bit wooden and the lack of any tension regarding the reveal of what went on back on Earth just makes their scenes drag. But anyway, we’ve got a lot of fun performances from the crew of the Moonbase, including a great turn from Kurt Fuller, one of my favourite “That Guy” actors. There’s even a link to “Samurai Cop 2” with a tiny bit-part for Mel Novak; and to “Star Trek: The Next Generation” with Robert O’Reilly, who memorably played Klingon badass Gowron, here as a German-sounding villain (it’s nice when we Brits get a movie off from “evil guy” duties).

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As the plot develops, and you’ve got the criminals, the crew, and the marines, it not only gets implausible but boring. See if you can figure out why the military took Dana to the moon, because I certainly can’t; or if you think Kurt Fuller would go from disgruntled employee to mass-murderer quite as quickly as he does, and why anyone in a movie ever trusts a criminal mastermind to keep his word. People run about, projectile weapons are fired in an environment where one stray bullet could pierce an outer wall and kill them all, you know the drill. There’s one fun idea (the remote control that contains a hologram of a hot woman) but about a hundred annoying ones.

 

We’ve obviously seen a lot of bad movies here. I feel like an extra day or two of thinking about the consequences of the script would help so many of them – just work out if the stuff you’ve done is logical, or sensible. Being able to make movies is such an enormous privilege, it’s a real shame to see so many people treat it as a quick way to make a few dollars. Lazy is the best word to use to describe “Moonbase”. Or if you want more words “why would you be watching this when “Moon” exists?”

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Rating: thumbs down

Raw Force (1982)

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I’m going to give you a one-paragraph recap of this movie and by the end of it, I guarantee you’ll want to watch it. In fact, I hope some of you stop reading there and go track down a copy of it immediately. Anyway, here goes:

 

Members of the Burbank Kung Fu Club decide to go on a cruise to Warriors Island, in the South China Sea, where the spirits of the disgraced martial artists buried there are said to haunt the place. After some hijinks, they arrive, interrupting a long-running business arrangement between a group of cannibal monks and a criminal gang led by Asian Hitler to trade kidnapped women for jade; to escape from the island, our heroes must fight them and the zombie ninjas and samurai that the monks reanimated.

 

Are you in? I seriously can’t say enough good stuff about “Raw Force”. It’s an absolutely perfect B-movie, delivering on all its promises (how many crazy-looking movies have we seen that turned out to be boring and tame?) and is fun from beginning to end. Not a dull moment! Okay, it’s wildly sexist and they seem to forget about a bunch of characters halfway through, but it’s a small price to pay for such entertainment.

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This was the first of two directorial credits for one Edward Murphy, who was slightly better known as an actor, and it’s that sense of no-one told him the rules yet, that makes this so entertaining. Even the bits with no wild action are great – a decent chunk of the movie takes place on board the cruise ship, with its captain Cameron Mitchell (last seen by us in “Toolbox Murders”) and drunk, cost-cutting owner (Hope Holliday) feuding throughout. The rest of the passengers are a bunch of oddballs, such as the woman who, while getting ready to hop into bed with some guy, tells him she’s on the boat due to murdering her Mafia boyfriend and wanting to escape justice; or the male stripper who tells of all the things he’s had shoved in his thong by excited ladies. I like the exceptionally odd-looking barman who hits on all the women, myself, and for fans of deep ISCFC links, there’s a brief (entirely topless) cameo from a rather beautiful redhead who it turns out is Camille Keaton, formerly of “I Spit On Your Grave” and latterly of “Savage Vengeance”.

 

You might read complaints such as “it takes them nearly an hour to get to the island” and I’ve made similar criticisms of similar movies. But there’s always something happening here! There’s the least suited couple in movie history, with the wife obviously going to end up with the hero and the husband obviously going to end up dead; the husband decides he wants to go to a whorehouse while stopping off in the Philippines (where this movie was filmed) but they end up having to fight Asian Hitler’s goons, who go there to steal some women. It’s just crazy scene after crazy scene, with really weird comic relief dotted throughout. Even the beyond-cheap special effects (fog and fire) add to the charm of it all.

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When they get to the island, they walk to the graveyard of the disgraced martial artist…only to have Asian Hitler fire a rocket launcher at them! Has any movie featuring a rocket launcher ever sucked? Then, after chasing them off, our hero carries it round like a normal sidearm for the next half hour!

 

The monks are some of the craziest over-actors it’s ever been my pleasure to see, led by B-movie mainstay Vic Diaz, and even manage to shock the goons, who think they’re just taking the women to have sex with. Oh no! Eating women gives them the power to raise the dead, or whatever.

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It is almost impossible, I’d imagine, to have a bad time watching this movie. Okay, women are treated poorly (with the exception of Cookie, a cop who’s had extensive martial arts training, all the rest of them are either there to get their clothes off or be rescued) and the extremely small budget shows itself in a lot of ways (for instance, the cruise ship they’re on is never really shown moving, indicating they just filmed it while it was docked and covered their angles). Plus, they don’t quite think through every bit of the plot – an example. The people on the boat are looking at a brochure for Warriors Island, yet apart from the monks and the criminals, it’s entirely deserted. Doesn’t a brochure kind of imply some tourist infrastructure, or at the very least semi-regular visitors?

 

Anyway, this is small potatoes. Maybe the wildest of all the 80s Filipino exploitation movies, and one you should definitely see, and even own.

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Rating: thumbs up

Alien Avengers 2 (1998)

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The world is littered with sequels that didn’t quite hit the mark. “Anchorman 2” and “Zoolander 2” are both sequels to beloved comedies which failed to come close to their originals; it’s a much more common trend down at the lower end of things, though, where if a genre movie makes a bit of money, you know there’ll be at least one sequel (and occasionally, as many as 15). We’ve covered many sci-fi and horror franchises, and they’re lousy with utterly pointless part 2s, and sadly so it is with “Alien Avengers”.

 

The name confusion indicates that someone had no idea how to market either of these movies. The first, listed as “Alien Avengers”, is much better known as “Welcome To Planet Earth”; and this, allegedly called “Alien Avengers 2” (although good luck finding it anywhere under that title) is listed as both “Aliens Among Us” and “Welcome To Planet Earth 2”. I miss the good old days of companies giving releases a bunch of different titles …actually, I don’t. I’m sick and tired of every trick they use to bleed more money from people like us.

 

“AA 2” is a movie where you have to ignore huge logic holes pretty much from the off in order to enjoy it. As we’re reintroduced to our central loving alien couple, Charlie and Rhonda, there’s a little difference – Rhonda is now played by early MTV celeb Julie Brown. They make a joke about how Charlie “F’ed her head off”, and how he likes the new head just fine – a slight problem being, they’re in prison, and someone’s going to notice when one of the inmates completely changes appearance. Not in this movie! So, they’re released early – for multiple brutal murders, remember – due to overcrowding, and as they’re wandering the streets, they notice a refrigerated truck from a place called Justice, AZ. Liking the sound of the place, they stow away on the truck and head off for wacky adventures.

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The other half of the story is Daphne and Joseph, living on Daphne’s home planet. All we see is their home, straight from the 1950s, with Daphne playing the part of the perfect housewife – except for the extraordinary amount of sex they have. Joseph is bored of the routine and wants to go home, and we…wonder why not only Daphne but the other aliens they meet all look like humans, when we know their skin is just a covering over something weird and blue. So, when an embargo on visiting Earth is lifted, they go back to rescue her parents, which is a reasonable way to start a movie.

 

Their spaceship is once again designed like an old fashioned car, and when they get back, for some reason, they park round the corner from their home, in a dark alley. This is because they couldn’t film on near the house from part 1 anymore (it’s never in shot) so naturally when they go back to their car it’s been broken into and stripped of its important parts. I think it’s at this point, fairly early into the movie, when I said to no-one “they probably ought to have looked after their one way home a bit better”, that I appreciated this was almost certainly not going to be as good as its predecessor.

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Handwaved away is the way Daphne was able to rescue a huge, un-stolen tracking device from the car, and uses this to figure out her parents have gone to Arizona. So, off they go, and they don’t actually fully meet up til the very last scene of the movie. I know why this happens – it’s cheaper to film one group, send them home and then film the other group, rather than having the entire cast on set the entire time – but it’s still a pain. They get a ride from a family in an RV (which handily gives them a chance to have a sex scene, thus providing this movie with its requisite amount of exposed boobs) and their entire storyline is constant delays and setbacks, until Daphne is kidnapped by some shady Government organisation near the end. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this entire half of the story is the first ever screen appearance by future “Saturday Night Live” and movie star Jason Sudeikis, as the German exchange student “son” of the couple driving the RV. He’s George Wendt’s nephew, which may well be why he got the gig.

 

Charlie and Rhonda wind up in Justice, after killing the driver of the van (turns out he was a bad lad) but their entire storyline is far weaker and less crazy than in part 1. They barely kill anyone, deciding “punishment must fit the crime” is the best way to go – so they tie a speeding driver to the front of their car and drive him round at crazy speeds, for example. They become co-sheriffs of Justice, getting involved in some exceptionally tedious story about some guy wanting to buy up the town and turn it into a resort.

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So, most of the cast is the same, and the writer is the same. Perhaps the reason this turned out flat and boring, with comedy that tried way too hard, is down to the director? Director of part 1 Lev Spiro has gone on to a successful career directing TV comedy, whereas part 2’s Dave Payne has gone on to a couple of terrible-sounding horror movies and several episodes of the staggeringly annoying “Fred” TV show. It’s some evidence, but not enough…it just seems like nobody really wanted to do a sequel. They changed the location, removed the motivation of the central characters and took away all the decent jokes (there’s one hilarious homoerotic bar fight, but otherwise slim pickings).

 

It’s not just the script that substitutes wacky slapstick for genuinely funny acting and situations, though. It’s the slapdash nature of it all. Perhaps the best example is how ill Daphne becomes on Earth after a few days, complaining about the weakness of the sun (the aliens can now partially recharge themselves by standing pressed up against a microwave). Okay, I can accept that, even if the first movie doesn’t mention it at all, but – why is she so badly affected when her parents have made it at least a year locked up in an Earth prison, in a non-sunlit cell for most of their days, and feel fine? Did no-one involved with the movie consider this? Anastasia Sakelaris must have annoyed someone, because her part is way down from part 1, and she’s unable to show much of her great comic acting; Christopher M Brown only got duller in the meantime, sadly.

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Considering how much I enjoyed the first one, this is such a huge disappointment. Wendt has great chemistry with his co-stars in both movies, but while he had a great script and fun characters to bounce off, all he’s got here is lame jokes and a bunch of Wild West stereotypes.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Alien Avengers (1997)

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When a movie can be described as “one-joke”, it had better be a funny joke or you’re going to be in for a bad time. You know the sort of thing – what if there were a 40 year old virgin? What if a kid had the superpower of being able to fart a lot? So, as this movie progressed and I expected to get bored, I was pretty pleased that it handled its one joke remarkably well. In this instance, it’s “what if there were super-friendly aliens from a peaceful planet, who came down to earth to brutally murder criminals and lowlife scumbags?”

 

A rather unusually quiet opening, where Joseph, a young black guy, has to deal with the pull of the local drug kingpin but keep on the straight and narrow, then his mother dies and he inherits her large, run-down old boarding house, is a little more understandable when you see Roger Corman’s name on the credits. Corman is one of my heroes, a titan of low-budget cinema who’s retained a strong social conscience throughout his life, taking on the KKK in 1962’s “The Intruder”, capitalism in 1975’s “Death Race 2000”…okay, and producing the “Sharktopus” series of movies. But he’s one of the greats, and has given a ton of huge names their breaks in the business (Jack Nicholson and Ron Howard, to name but two).

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The film really kicks off, though, when Charlie and Ronda turn up. Played by “Cheers” legend (and former “House” co-star) George Wendt and TV star Shanna Reed, they’re a colourful bright parody of a 1950s couple and want to rent the top floor of Joseph’s house, despite it still being full of junk, with a leaky roof, etc. They’re clearly hiding something (not-particularly-a-spoiler: they’re aliens) but Joseph lets them stay thanks to their daughter, Daphne (Anastasia Sakelaris) fluttering her eyelashes at him. They renovate the house overnight, serve rather unusual food (a beans sandwich, for one) and the excuse they give for wanting to rent a house in the blackest, most run-down area of LA is to expose Daphne to other cultures.

 

Of course, the actual reason is Charlie and Ronda want to hunt. Their planet is crime and violence-free, so they take a vacation in the scummiest places possible and hunt other planets’ lowlifes, like parading through a back alley with a large gold watch and hoping someone tries to rob them for it. They treat this ultra-violence as a bit of sport, and it is pretty violent – at one point, they tear off a potential rapist’s leg and beat him to death with it. A lot of the humour comes from this way out-of-place couple in the ghetto, and it’s great.

 

Joseph and Daphne’s budding relationship, and her parents’ completely non-human response to them having sex, is a really well-done B story; slightly less interesting is the “I suppose we’d better have a normal plot” plot, about a couple of cops who just don’t like Joseph very much. They’re investigating Charlie and Ronda’s killings, and due to their odd values (despite liking Joseph, they’re happy to let him take the fall for them) they leave a gun with his fingerprints at a crime scene…

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A problem with movies that sound great described like this – “a couple of aliens straight out of the 50s come to earth to kill criminals” – is that they’re never quite as OTT as you want them to be. There’s always a boring normal subplot, or a valuable lesson to be learned, or something along those lines. This is no different, although it comes pretty close to just ignoring normal movie morality and going all out; it’s still an absolute ton of fun though.

 

Wendt and Reed are both brilliant, giving it their all, and while Christopher M Brown as Joseph is a bit of a wet blanket (as are the cops, and the rest of the humans), Sakelaris is wonderful as well. Her career went absolutely nowhere after this and its sequel – bit parts and one-off TV appearances, then nothing after 2007. It’s a damn shame, as she’s both crazily beautiful and gifted at comedy.

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It’s listed as a TV movie, although I can’t imagine this sort of movie playing on any TV channel in the late 90s (maybe HBO? The writer, Michael McDonald, has acted in tons of TV comedy, although I don’t suppose that information helps). Anyway, we’ve got a sequel to look forward to, with most of the cast and crew returning (Reed is replaced by Julie Brown, which is a shame although I like Brown just fine).

 

It’s a surprisingly great movie, chock full of fun and gore, and I enthusiastically recommend it, should you be able to track it down.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance (2015)

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I am pleased to be a Kickstarter backer of this movie (and not just because my rewards arrived on time and as described). I loved the first “Samurai Cop”, every single weird minute of it, with its technical incompetence, shockingly bad acting, hilarious gaffes – like Joe’s wig falling off in the middle of a fight – and general all-round accidental weirdness. It’s one of the most fun “bad” movies of all time, and in the last few years it picked up a real cult following. Thought to be dead, star Matthew Karedas resurfaced, healthy, happy and with a sense of humour about his brief time as a movie star; he started appearing at showings, and the idea of a sequel began to take hold. Most of the original cast was still alive and not too expensive, and they had a good base to market to; so all signs were positive. Sadly, no original director Amir Shervan (who died in 2006); and although villain Robert Z’Dar signed up, he died before filming his scenes (there are a couple of cops named Officers Z’Dar and Amir in their honour).

 

If you’ve seen the original and hear they’re making a sequel, you’d expect several things. Lots and lots of cameos from everyone they could dig up (this happens, to be fair), lots of seemingly irrelevant scenes starring people who paid for the top Kickstarter rewards (ditto, probably), a million jokes about how terrible the first movie was (not really), while at the same time copying most of the plot – the villain would be expected to be the child or wife of the main bad guy from part 1, for example. But then the trailer came out, and we found out Tommy Wiseau and a bunch of porno actresses were going to be in it; anyway, we’re getting ahead of ourselves slightly. Let’s do a brief recap.

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Frank Washington (Mark Frazer), the Danny Glover to Joe Marshall’s Mel Gibson, is still fighting the good fight as an LA cop. The gang war which (and I struggled to remember this) was the basis for part 1 has flared up again: Frank knows he needs his old friend Joe back, and tracks him down to a medallion factory in the middle of nowhere. Sure, why not? It’s around now we’re treated to the reason Joe has renounced violence and dropped off the grid – his wife Jennifer was murdered in seemingly random fashion back in 1991. Now, the original Jennifer, one Janis Farley, only ever acted in the first “Samurai Cop” and could not be tempted out of retirement, so she’s replaced with “adult” actress Kayden Kross, who does a surprisingly good job. Anyway, a bunch of goons attack the factory and of course Joe and Frank kick their ass; this brings Joe back into the fold.

 

So, there are three gangs, I think. Or it might be two. There’s definitely the Katanas, led by Fujiyama (Cranston Komuro, returning from the first movie) and the Ginzu, and there’s probably another one as well. Anyway, that’s not important. The main Katana enforcer is Dogge (Bai Ling, an almost restrained performance for her) and she’s got a crew of killers, including other porn stars Lexi Belle and Nicole Bailey. It’s a whole mess of fights and weird meetings and so on.

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I feel like the more I try and recap, the further any understanding of this movie gets from me. There’s a scene on a plane where Joe and Frank have to fight off a ninja attack, and Joe rescues the beautiful Milena (also Kayden Kross, wearing a black wig), only to have the scene end as if everyone’s just bored of acting; then he and Milena start a relationship, and he has flashbacks to the first movie as well as dreams which are sort of surreal but mostly just annoying. He asks her to dye her hair blonde to be more like Jennifer, which she does…for one scene, going right back to black with no mention made of it by anyone. Oh, and Tommy bloody Wiseau shows up. You only hire him if you want jaded scumbags to see your movie, and he was apparently so terrible an actor that he had to have every line fed to him from just off camera…and still managed to mess most of them up. His “character” is a mysterious masked man, who does basically nothing, and spends the entire movie on one set as I’m pretty sure he couldn’t be trusted with movement. He’s long since stopped being a funny joke and I look forward to the day when he’s no longer a thing (although the movie of “The Disaster Artist” will keep him in the public eye a while longer).

 

Director Gregory Hatanaka has previous form as a sort of gutter David Lynch. “Blue Dream” from 2013, also co-starring Kayden Kross, descends into gibberish by the end and “surrealism” is used often to describe what he does. But the problem is, it feels too often like it was made by people who use “random” as a compliment, and misunderstands what makes the work of someone like Lynch so great. “Samurai Cop 2” goes out of its way to not make any sense, so if you watch it and go “huh?”, you didn’t miss anything, it was just designed that way.

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I laughed quite a bit, as it was nice to see the references to the first movie and them trying to have a little fun with them. Frank’s insane mugging to the camera is recreated; Joe tells ladies to “keep it warm”; and as promised, they dredge up an absolute ton of people from the first movie, best of all Joselito Rescober as the ultra-camp waiter who keeps showing up. In terms of the original cast, Melissa Moore retired from acting maybe 15 years ago and has clearly forgotten how it’s done; but she’s barely in it and it’s fun to see her. Matthew Karedas could, if he wanted, star in light-comedy action thrillers like this for another decade – he’s still in great shape and is an okay actor. Mark Frazer hasn’t acted in the meantime either but he tries his best, bless him.

 

By far the biggest surprise was Kayden Kross, who, if she ever decides to get out of the porno game, could be a completely decent mainstream actress. She’s got a great femme fatale look, and seems comfortable interacting with everyone. The rest of the cast who aren’t returnees are B-movie “legends” such as Laurene Landon and Mel Novak (both of whom who look like they ought to sue their plastic surgeons); plus Joe Estevez trying even less hard than he does for “On Cinema”. Mindy Robinson is also great, even if I’ve still got no idea who her character was.

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But unfortunately, it’s got some pretty serious (and quite fundamental) flaws. The more I think about it, the more an image popped into my head, of a crew of smirking douchebags laughing at a cast full of rank amateurs, exploiting people like Wiseau. It feels like they want to mock certain elements of the earlier instalment while at the same time not having the skill to make a decent movie themselves. Remember how thoroughly miserable “Birdemic 2” was? Okay, the time between instalments was less, but I’d lay good money on your reaction being the same – a happy smile that slowly turns into a pained one, as you realise that your mocking internet posts were part of the reaction that made this possible. Because of that hardcore fanbase, they knew they didn’t have to try either, and every criticism like mine can be handwaved away with “we meant to make it stupid”.

 

Probably coincidentally, it feels more like an adaptation of “Max Payne” – the computer game – than the actual “Max Payne” movie did. The heavy dose of surrealism, the endless fight scenes in a variety of weirdly lit locations, the love interest you’re never quite sure about, the way they eventually just do away with the plot and have a bunch of fights…

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As big a fan as I am of the first “Samurai Cop”, this feels more cynical than anything else. It’s entirely competently made on a technical level, all the terrible acting choices are on purpose this time (with Kross being the only person to way outperform expectations) and it has some laughs. But it’s a massive wasted opportunity. Imagine a fourth-wall breaking Joe, “Deadpool” style, and not the occasional wink at camera we got? Imagine if it had been less self-indulgent and everyone had tried? What could have been. I read stories about the producers advertising on Craigslist to get actors on board who had their own investors, which basically means they wanted people to pay to be in the movie. They made a choice from the start to only appeal to fans of part 1, to which the question could be asked “why bother?” We were on board anyway. Is this anyone’s idea of a great second “Samurai Cop”? The number of movies that were made bad on purpose and were still fun to watch is incredibly small, and sadly this isn’t among them.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

 

Doomsday Prophecy (2011)

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If I’d been reviewing this at the time, I’d have roundly mocked all the 2012 doomsday prophecies. With the abject failure of anything terribly important to happen on December 21st 2012, I sort of hoped a little that the torrent of bilge spewed out by psychics, ancient alien theorists, Atlantis believers and all the other sadly deluded would slow down; of course, it carried on just like before. Mercifully, though, the trend for end-of-the-world movies has died down, and the good people at SyFy (and the Asylum, and other low-budget movie studios) have moved back to light-hearted giant monster movies, chasing that “Sharknado” dollar.

 

But this review takes us back to those heady far-off days of 2011, when the credulous were convinced an old calendar from some people who didn’t have the sense to not die out was foretelling the end of the world. In “Doomsday Prophecy”, it’s all to do with the alignment of the galactic equator with the solar system’s equator, or something – basically, it’s one of those cool-sounding stellar things and you don’t need to worry about it other than to know it’s happening fairly soon. The first scene shows the complete emptying of the Black Sea and some rather well done (for a low budget movie) cracks in the Earth, the first examples of this great alignment’s power.

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Add to this a modern-day Nostradamus, except this guy is apparently 100% correct in his predictions (plus, they’re actually predictions and not just cryptic poems), called Rupert Crane. After writing his bestseller book full of true predictions decades ago, he disappears, only to resurface as the events start happening. He calls a publisher and insists that they send lowly proofreader Eric (AJ Buckley) to go to the Canadian wildnerness and pick up the manuscript; Eric quite reasonably wonders why him, saying “I have a fight on Monday”- explaining why a proofreader can kick ass, nice! – but goes anyway. Crane makes one other call, to an archaeology professor called Brook (Jewel Staite), asking her to come along too. Huh?

 

To cut a long story short and not spoil anything, when they get there Crane is dead, and he’s left them a video message about how he never had psychic powers, it was all the result of a magic rod, and it’s Eric’s birthright to carry it and save the world. I may well have not been paying attention, but they give zero explanation as to why this fancy stick is magic, or why only Crane and Eric can use it. Bravo, movie! So, the two of them go on the lam to try and figure out where they need to go (cryptic clues, naturally); and at some point, the Army pick up on what’s going on and send their goons, headed by General Slate (Alan Dale) to track them down, get the rod and…well, Slate has weirdly traditional movie villain plans for it, which came sort of out of nowhere but were a fun touch.

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Much the same as our recently reviewed “Earth’s Final Hours” (one of many ways), stuff gets destroyed in this movie. New York is gone! Italy is gone! Perhaps there was a message from SyFy management that resetting the status quo at the end of the movie was not to be done any more, and I quite like it. The scene where Eric’s boss is calling him and realises he’s about to die is really rather well done, for instance. Stakes are high!

 

As I alluded to above, it’s most definitely not the most original plot. You may have a strong feeling of déjà vu with this one, and it’s not just some left-brain / right-brain trick, it’s due to it feeling an awful lot like an awful lot of SyFy movies. Purely from their movies I’ve seen so far: “Alien Tornado”, “Cold Fusion”, “Collision Earth”, “End Of The World”, “Independence Daysaster”, “Seattle Superstorm”, and “Super Eruption”, among many others. I admit I’ve seen more of these damn things than the average human perhaps ought to, but it’s beginning to feel like they’ve just got bags full of character types, locations and sorts of disasters, and just use these to differentiate their otherwise identical movies.

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Still, originality is overrated. “I, A Man” was original, and no-one had a good time watching that. While it suffers from the classic act 2 lull, it’s surprisingly good fun, and it’s certainly helped by the solid acting. Buckley and Staite are both excellent, Dale is fun and completely OTT, Hiro Kanagawa (aka the busiest man in the business, dude is in everything) is great, and everyone else is fine too. Writer / director Jason Bourque, one of SyFy’s regulars, handles everything well…technically, I have little bad to say about it.

 

Maybe don’t subject yourself to a SyFy movie every night for a week, and you’ll be fine with this one. They’re to be caught accidentally and enjoyed, not tracked down. Perhaps you’ll be able to enjoy the insane Easter Island heads ending and the weird Native American symbols and not just shrug your shoulders with indifference!

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle