Commander (1988)

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Let’s discuss the subject of coincidental similarities between movies. There were a couple of zombie movies from 1980 that used the same trick – of an apparently empty, but infected, boat just drifting into New York harbour, but I think we have a far more unusual one here, after reviewing “The Commander” yesterday. Let’s see what it has in common with the subject of today’s review:

 

  • Same name (okay, there’s no “the” in this one)
  • Released in the same year
  • Directed by an Italian using an English pseudonym
  • Made at least partly in the Philippines
  • An actor (Mike Monty)
  • A mud fight
  • Boxes full of guns replaced with boxes full of rocks
  • A cobra attacks someone
  • Vietnam stock footage
  • Exploding helicopters

 

That’s a decent list, although oddly enough, the two movies aren’t all that similar in any other ways. “The Commander” was a European thriller that just happened to have some of its action take place in the Far East; “Commander” is a proper sleazy Filipino war movie, full of death, not exactly heavy on plot, but very heavy on people shooting other people.

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Part of that sleaziness is a medium-to-heavy indifference to ripping off the plots of other movies, so – as I’m sure you’ve already worked out from looking at the cover above – what we have here is a “Rambo” ripoff. “Rambo”, released in 1985, provided a very simple template for low-budget moviemakers to exploit – the lone white hero, teaming up with a handful of good Asians, slaughters hundreds and hundreds of bad Asians. Both feature traumatised Vietnam veterans, but while Rambo was in prison at the beginning of “Rambo”, here, our hero (referred to only as “Commander” for 90% of proceedings. I had to look up that the character was called “Roger Craig”) just stayed in Vietnam after the end of the war with 12 of his buddies, because they hated the Vietcong that much. Since then, he’s been rescuing Vietnamese people from prisons and blowing up as much Army ordnance as he can; as well as murdering with a great deal of impunity. He’s the hero of the locals, most of whom are of course completely unable to defend themselves and rely on the brave white outsider to help; and he has a pregnant girlfriend, Cho Lin. Guess if she survives or not?

 

ISCFC FAVOURITE THING – the wooden guard tower! We’ve mentioned it before, and you know when you see a wooden guard tower, one of two things is going to happen. Either a guy is going to get shot and fall out of it, or it’s going to blow up (or both). There’s a 0% chance of some low budget movie bothering to build one just to put in the background, so get ready for fun whenever you see one!

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So, the plot is completely and utterly irrelevant. Commander wants to go back to the USA with his girlfriend and their soon-to-be baby; so he calls his old Commanding Officer, who comes to town to help smooth the path back to the US. While he’s in town, he helps Commander kill a bunch of Vietcong and take a load of their explosives; they retaliate by killing the entire village where Cho Lin is living and kidnapping her, including loads of children. It takes a strong movie to show a villain so delighted about murdering kids, and this is apparently a strong movie. Anyway. He takes the stolen stuff back to exchange it for her, but she’s already dead, so he goes absolutely hog-wild on these Vietcong assholes and kills hundreds of them, using a truly jaw-dropping amount of high-explosive devices.

 

The final battle is just full-on spectacle, with any pretence at plot ignored in favour of just a ton of stuff blowing up, then there’s a helicopter battle which is edited so confusingly you think the hero’s friend is trying to kill him, for no good reason; then that’s it. Any movie that finishes with a guy hanging off a rope ladder off a helicopter, firing a bazooka at another helicopter, is alright in my book. I mean, he could have just stayed sat where he was, but that wasn’t badass enough! At every possible opportunity, “Commander” just wants you to bludgeon you – for example, this video estimates that Commander kills 164 people during the course of proceedings.

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While it’s a lot of fun, obviously, it’s not very good, and not just for the reasons already stated. Lead actor Craig Alan is an utter charisma vacuum, picked solely for his resemblance to Sylvester Stallone – he did a few films in the late 80s (including the amazingly named “Get The Terrorists”) then disappeared completely, mercifully for us. And it’s not like anyone else is that much better! Then there’s the matter of excessive accuracy. Every single grenade, rocket, bomb and mortar shell hits its target exactly, presumably because it’s easier and cheaper to do it that way, but when you see an already wounded guy, in the middle of the night, hurl a grenade and hit the exact dead centre of what he’s aiming for, even the least discerning action movie fan will be “come on lads, that’s a bit much”. But on the plus side, the blood-squib guy was working overtime on this one, which I liked.

 

Completely forgettable Rambo ripoff, only to be messed with if you’re in a generous mood.

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Rating: thumbs in the middle

The Commander (1988)

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We come to the end of the three movies Lewis Collins signed on to do with producer Erwin C Dietrich, and I’ve warmed to him a bit. A smile from him seems more hard-won than a smile from some other random action star, and you know he was bothered about making things look legit, from his side at least (he joined the Territorial Army and would’ve progressed further, but for his celebrity status). People who appeared in at least two of the three they made together – Klaus Kinski, Lee Van Cleef, Manfred Lehmann, Hans Leutenegger, Frank Glaubrecht, Thomas Danneberg and John Steiner – so if you’re going to watch all three (and you could do a lot worse, even though they’re all directed by the same guy and are therefore pretty similar stylistically), be prepared to think “hold on, they were enemies in the last movie, what happened?” several times.

 

“The Commander” also benefits from really being paid attention to in the first third, because it’s a touch on the difficult side to figure out what’s going on and what the various people are fighting for. But let’s have a go! The military of some unnamed Far Eastern country are selling drugs to various unpleasant Europeans, and a fellow by the name of General Dong has decided to earn himself a promotion with a bullet, and takes over the manufacturing, deciding to double the prices, which upsets the Mafia representative who’s come to make a purchase. Also, just to make sure you’re on board that this guy is definitely a villain, he rigs the Mafia guy’s helicopter with explosives and blows it up in mid-flight – no reason, other than the miniature special effects guy had a spare helicopter to use. This upsets our principal villain, Colonel Mazzarini (Van Cleef) who’s part of some cartel with the Mafia guys. Or he sold guns to Dong’s predecessor and doesn’t like the change and the price hike. Honestly, I’m not sure, because I was a bit distracted by his butler, one of the great Italian B-movie “That Guy” actors, Paul Muller (“Vampyros Lesbos”, “A Virgin Among The Living Dead”). One of the wonders of this sort of cinema is seeing people whose styles do not match at all acting alongside each other – from Ernest Borgnine and Klaus Kinski in “Code Name: Wild Geese”, to Van Cleef and Muller in this, it’s a fascinating mix.

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So, Mazzarini decides to hire super-badass mercenary Major Colby, who isn’t into being a drug dealer but has zero morals, so happily takes on the task of pretending to deliver some guns to Dong, in return for piles of drugs. The actual plan, though, is to get close to him and blow up one of his drug refineries, in retaliation for the killing of the guy at the beginning. I think. I try and keep notes on these things, but this bit was pretty confusing, as it happens at the same time as the other main strand of plot (more on that in the next paragraph). This is pretty similar to “Code Name: Wild Geese”, and even re-uses a bit of footage. Act 2 is Colby assembling his team and beginning the arduous journey to Dong’s compound – his team is a pleasantly multi-ethnic / nationality group, with perhaps the oddest choice being John Steiner (who played a Scot in “Kommando Leopard”) with a French accent so shocking that even cheesy 80s sitcom “Allo Allo” would have rejected it for being a bit too fruity.

 

Much like “Kommando Leopard”, Collins has to share leading man duties with Manfred Lehmann, who played the Priest in that movie. Here, he gets what I consider to be the A-plot, first as Mason, one of Colby’s old friends who’s killed in an anti-drug operation, then as Hickock, a spy who’s given plastic surgery to look like Mason, infiltrate Colby’s group and ensure the drugs are all destroyed (he also get the love interest B-plot).Lehmann is a totally decent actor and has had a fine career in Germany, and is the only person who really has much of an arc in this, with Colby beginning and ending the movie as a super-intelligent, super-badass soldier of fortune who’s always two steps ahead of everyone.

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Hickock’s CIA handler is none other than Donald Pleasance, who does most of his scenes in a nondescript office building (wonder if he was annoyed that, for instance, Van Cleef got a free holiday to the Italian Riviera to do his?), and he’s the most obvious comic relief in the movie (although there are others). Talk about a style clash, as Collins smiles twice and is otherwise utterly serious – whether he’s charisma-free or just has a different sort of charisma is a question I shall leave you to answer, dear reader. The comic element is the most obvious difference between this and “Kommando Leopard”, which had no laughs or levity at all. It’s a bit jarring to go from jungle fighting to Pleasance clowning around with a cigar, but it’s not boring, I suppose.

 

Add a really entertaining final fight, as our “heroes” storm the drug compound, and this is a solidly entertaining slice of action. It’s not all perfect – a cobra kills someone virtually instantly, when it would take ages normally; there’s a weirdly choreographed mud fight that goes on forever, and there’s also an enormous “haha all our friends are dead” near the end. But still, it’s a decent, entertaining movie. Great cinematography as well, although none of the sets are as good as the ones they found for “Kommando Leopard”, which I think is my favourite of the three.

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A final word about Lewis Collins, for whom this was his last starring role – he’d go on to a few smaller TV roles after this, and often did regional theatre work, but largely retired from full-time acting in the late 90s. While “The Professionals” is still a huge part of the British national psyche (to people of a certain age), these three movies see him as a pretty wooden leading man, and one who, after losing the James Bond gig in the early 80s, probably stopped trying. I’m not saying Antonio Margheriti was the man to pull a great performance out of him, but while stoicism might be a good thing for actual military people, it’s not all that useful for B-movie action leading men.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Kommando Leopard (1985)

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What’s with all the red?

Dear reader, I’m emigrating in a few weeks, so until I’m done and settled at the other end, reviews may become a little more infrequent and random, as I work my way down the pile of DVDs I haven’t seen yet, or wasn’t sure about taking with me. Today’s top of the pile is the second movie made in the three-movie deal that British TV star Lewis Collins signed with producer Erwin C. Dietrich, following the not-terribly-good “Code Name: Wild Geese” – returning from that, along with Collins, are director Antonio Margheriti and co-star Klaus Kinski.

 

It’s also one of the final entries in the “Macaroni Combat” genre (which definitely doesn’t slide off the tongue as easily as “spaghetti Western”). From the 60s to the late 80s, mostly Italian produced, filmed either there or in the Philippines, war movies were made for the international market, but unlike the westerns, none of them are well-remembered or particularly beloved today. Perhaps “Hornet’s Nest” with Rock Hudson, or “Anzio” with Robert Mitchum and Peter Falk? But anyway, the genre died a death in the late 80s and we’ve been there to cover it with “Strike Commando” and “Strike Commando 2”.

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Lewis Collins, the Englishman, is Enrique Carrasco, who evidently moved away from the unnamed Latin American dictatorship at a young age and lost the accent (I was about to say he lost the skin tone too, but it seems this country has a very random racial base, mostly Filipino-looking though). He’s back, though, and is now a beloved guerrilla commando (the “Leopard” of the title, possibly a reference to the 1963 classic “The Leopard”, with Burt Lancaster), and we meet him blowing up a dam with his buddy, the Scottish soldier Smitty.

 

They’re fighting against the military dictatorship of “The General” and his sidekick Silveira (Kinski), and I can’t help but think they could have done with just a smidgeon more explanation as to who everyone was and why they were fighting. You assume that the English guy is a mercenary but he’s a beloved local figure; and when, later on, the sole female rebel, Maria (Cristina Donadio) throws a guy out of a hospital bed so one of her troops can have the space, it’s reasonable to think that the rebels must be scumbags too (it turns out the guy she was throwing out was a Government soldier, but we certainly weren’t told that at the time). Although, when Silveira’s men slaughter an entire village, the lines become a little clearer.

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There’s a curious splitting of the duties of the “lead role”, with Collins doing all the fighting, and Manfred Lehman as Padre Julio, the guy in charge of the hospital in the bombed-out village where most of the action takes place. He has the romance subplot and the dramatic sacrifice and is a pretty decent actor; it’s almost at the stage where you think it was a whole movie about him but they brought Lewis Collins in at the last minute for some machismo.

 

A lot of stuff happens in “Kommando Leopard”, and when it comes to a crescendo at the halfway point, it’s a similar amount of plot and action as most movies we review manage in their entire running time. There are twists and turns of plot, arrests and escapes, and the tactics used by the Government to defeat Carrasco are actually smart – they trick him into attacking the wrong plane, but when he smells a rat, blow it up themselves (with 185 kids on board!), blame it on him and do a leaflet drop in his jungle heartland telling everyone what he did. But is that too far for the country’s other military leaders?

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Collins emotes a few times, but he’s still way too much of a blank slate to be much of a leading man. He reminds me of Sam Worthington, in terms of “how did that guy get all these leading roles?” Kinski, allowed to use his own voice in this one (he was dubbed in “Code Name: Wild Geese”), isn’t as wild and OTT as you’d hope, but is still the most fun thing about it. Lehman is excellent, and “That Guy” extraordinaire Luciano Pigozzi is fun too.

 

The locations are fantastic – looking on IMDB, it was partly filmed in Maracaibo, Venezuela, although that seems to be a bustling metropolis, so the worn out looking villages and buildings they filmed in must have been Pagsanjan, Philippines. Kudos to the person who found the incredible-looking disused church, authenticity on that scale makes a low budget look gigantic (Pagsanjan was also the location for some of “Apocalypse Now”).

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And a quick word about the miniatures, some of the finest miniature work I’ve seen in anything other than the biggest-budget Hollywood fare. The only one that looks even a bit dodgy is the plane that blows up at around the 1-hour mark, as its angle and speed look completely unnatural; but everything else is superb. The dam at the beginning and the oil refinery at the end are really well done – apparently, something like half the movie’s budget went on those effects, and it shows. There’s also some underwater explosions, and it’s such a cool visual that it makes you realise how rarely you see it done in this sort of cinema.

 

If, for instance, your friend James brings round all three 80s Lewis Collins macaroni combat DVDs and insists you watch one, I’d go for this.

 

Rating: thumbs up

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OSS 117: Lost In Rio (2009)

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Last year, we were extremely complimentary to the first OSS 117 movie, “Cairo, Nest Of Spies”. It was genuinely one of the funniest films I’d seen in years, multiple laugh out loud moments, as well as having a real feel for the genre and time it was spoofing (Eurospy thrillers of the 1960s). And I’m happy to report that the sequel is every bit as good, and the sole less-than-happy thing about it is that director Michel Hazanavicius and star Jean Dujardin only made two of them.

 

To recap the character – OSS 117 is a French institution, predating James Bond by four years and still hugely popular. Subject of 265 novels and 10 films, he’s Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, an American from Louisiana who works for the French intelligence agency OSS as well as the CIA (his being American is completely ignored in this movie, however). A dashing spy, his adventures were largely serious affairs, but more than a decade after the the last new novel or movie, he was brought back to both pay tribute to and parody that whole era. “Cairo, Nest Of Spies” also starred Berenice Bejo, who’d go on to marry Hazanavicius, but OSS 117 isn’t a man to be tied down, so she doesn’t return for the sequel.

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Jean Dujardin is so good, right from the first scene (which is a shootout between him and some Chinese gunmen, where his guests, a bunch of beautiful women, are mown down with neither side being remotely interested about saving or protecting them); and it just keeps on getting better. He’s asked to go to Rio to hand over $50,000 in return for a microfilm with a list of French collaborators with the Nazis, and Bath’s response – “must be a micro-sized list” – shows how completely naïve he is about both history and international relations, things he’s supposed to be an expert in. The knowing look of his superior officer also indicates that Hazanavicius, who was born and brought up Jewish, has a point he’d like to make through all the jokes.

 

ASIDE: the literal translation of the film’s French title is “Rio Is Not Responding”, a reference to a 1933 sci-fi novel by Clifford Siodmak, “F.P.1 Is Not Responding”, about a man-made base in the middle of the Atlantic, which was also made into a movie with Peter Lorre in it. If I can find the English language version, get ready for a review soon.

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Bath meets an American agent (the wonderfully named “Trumendous”) in Rio who helps get him acclimatised at the same time as insulting him in extremely graphic English. Admittedly, I don’t watch tons of non-English cinema, but it’s interesting how rarely you hear “foreign” language spoken by an American with an obviously American accent; especially compared to the heavily accented English spoken by many foreign actors. Perhaps it’s more common than I realise, but it’s still pretty cool to see.

 

The most important thing about Bath, and “Lost In Rio”, is how spectacularly racist and misogynist he is, with an added dash of anti-Semitism, and how lacking his view of other countries and cultures is. When he meets up with Mossad to discuss bringing some Nazis to justice, he says that Jewish people can’t go undercover because Nazis would recognise them by their noses; when the beautiful Mossad agent Dolorès Koulechov (Louise Monot) compliments his career and says she’s looking forward to working with him, he says “what a pretty secretary!” When discussing the treatment of Jews by the Nazis, he says “obviously, you’re a little bit responsible”. It’s jaw dropping and it’s said by a character that, for all his enormous character flaws, you’re really supposed to like.

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This is what cloth-eared comedians like Ricky Gervais have tried to make a career of, done effortlessly and in the space of 90 minutes. It’s not enough to say racist or sexist things and then do a cheeky grin at the camera; Dujardin does it all completely convinced he’s right, he lives in an utterly sheltered world of self-confidence, and experience teaches him he’s wrong. It’s done with such cleverness and such perfect timing, I laughed out loud over and over again.

 

I’ve not even mentioned how he goes to a hippie commune to find the son of the former Nazi who’s selling the list of collaborators, takes acid and gets involved in an orgy with him enjoying the company of both genders; the two luchador assassins and their gunfire gag; the running joke with Chinese revenge squads who try to get him back for what happened at the beginning of the movie; the Nazi party and their rendition of “The Girl From Ipanema”, or a hundred other things. It’s bloody brilliant, is what I’m trying to get across.

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Also worth mentioning, how perfectly Hazanavicius and his team recreated the cinematic era, with its cheap back-projection during driving scenes, its colourful locations and characters, and its fast-paced plot. But most importantly, it’s really really funny. Would that Hollywood could so skilfully navigate the bounds of good taste in such a charming way! But enough from me. If you’ve ever listened to a recommendation from me before, this is the time to listen again. Check this series of films out, you won’t be disappointed.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Assault On Dome 4 (1996)

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“Die Hard” in space. You don’t really need to know a ton more than that to make a decision on whether to watch this or not. Heck, even IMDB’s first line is “low-budget Die Hard clone”! Along with “The Most Dangerous Game”, “Die Hard” is one of the most enduring templates for low-budget cinema, because it’s an enclosed location and a limited number of actors and the plot is fairly standard. But even in a genre lousy with clones, “Assault On Dome 4” really tries to set itself apart from the pack by being as similar to “Die Hard” as possible. Cop not supposed to be in a location? Check. Wife, unaware of his presence? Check. Charismatic psychopath criminal boss? Check. Need of particular location for some nefarious criminal purpose? Check. Cop fights guerrilla war against almost insurmountable odds? Check.

 

ASIDE: There’s a whole website devoted to the “Die Hard scenario” and its many iterations, so if you’d like the complete list, it’s HERE.

 

Add in Bruce Campbell, and I imagine most of your decision has been made for you, one way or the other. The B-movie legend plays super-criminal Alex Windham, who manages to escape from the apparently most secure prison in the galaxy and bust out a load of his criminal cohorts too. Now, before we get going, you might look at the alleged super-prison, and think it looks a bit like the top level of a normal car park. You might wonder why it only has three guards in it, and how Windham’s plan to escape is pretty much just “overpower a guard and steal his gun”, and how the galaxy’s most secure prison would probably have one or two more safeguards in it to stop this thing happening. But if you wonder these things, it’s going to be a long evening.

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We have yet to come to the hero of proceedings, the guy for whom the movie is named in some markets. Chase Morran is a cop, whose wife works on Dome 4 – Dome 4 is a scientific base on a far distant planet, but all terraformed and quite nice (hence, in the brief outdoor bits, you can see clear blue skies). He’s decided to go and surprise her for her birthday. Guess which Dome our band of criminals need to go to, to get ingredient X for their secret plans? Anyway, Morran is played by a fellow called Joseph Culp, perhaps best known as the son of Robert Culp, or maybe for a recurring role on the early seasons of “Mad Men”. To say he doesn’t look like an action hero is putting it mildly – he’s a skinny, relatively uncoordinated chap who doesn’t exactly light the screen up with his presence, and if I didn’t know better I’d say he was the money man behind this movie because it seems genuinely insane that anyone thought he could hold his own against Bruce Campbell.

 

He also has the habit of explaining all the things he’s doing, as if the actor was trying to remember, and combined with the completely drama-robbing framing device of the alive and well Morran defending himself at a tribunal about the assault on Dome 4, you feel like you’re being told about the action rather than shown it.

 

A couple of other decent names pop up – first, the great Brion James as the Chairman of the United Government (you might wonder about why Morran is having to go to court, when his “mission” was approved by the most powerful person on Earth…); and Jack Nance as some old guy who’s completely unconnected to the rest of the base, and whose job seems to be repairing old computers. In deep space. Anyway, this is possibly the last movie Nance ever made, as he died in odd circumstances in 1996, and it’s a damned shame.

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There’s quite a lot of fighting, which is a curious choice for a leading man who wasn’t any good at it. When Morran’s old friend, the General, shows up to help out, it’s a veritable skinny white guy apocalypse. Were actors who looked like they knew what they were doing on strike that week?

 

One final scene discussion before we wrap this up. The base’s cops are being held hostage, so Morran decides to bust them out and even up the odds. However, his crappy plan just gets them all killed, but the movie seems uninterested in pointing to Morran’s guilt in these deaths – they were all safe and sound before he stuck his oar in, lest we forget. For such a nothing actor, this movie really does love him; the end of his “court case” is absolutely pathetic.

 

I thought perhaps the other work of the crew would give us a hint as to why this movie is so empty of fun and interesting stuff. This is director Gilbert Po’s only English-language movie (and one of only two he ever made); and writer Hesh Rephun (made up name, surely?) isn’t much more prolific, with only this, a teen raunch movie so terrible even I’d never heard of it, and an early Mark Dacascos vehicle to his name. Why was this made? Who thought it was a good idea? Why was it renamed “Chase Morran”? If the character’s not famous, and the actor playing him certainly wasn’t, what was it supposed to achieve?

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Bruce Campbell is always watchable, and Jocelyn Seagrave as Chase’s wife is fun too (she was also in “Moonbase”, so must have briefly specialised in the 90s in sci-fi films with escaping criminals in them). But pretty much nothing else is. Lazy and pointless and, I discover, a very early SyFy Channel original movie (when they were still Sci-Fi). Start as you mean to go on, guys!

 

Rating: thumbs down

The Ice Pirates (1984)

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My “Awesome Movie Monday” group of friends celebrated Christmas with…well, it’s got ice in it, and ice is more common during the winter months? Should you pop it on over this festive period, you could be forgiven for abandoning it after 10 minutes as the folly of some coke-addled major studio executive – “pirates! In space! Everyone dresses from random eras of Earth history! We’ll borrow bits from every famous sci-fi franchise of the last decade! Romance! Comedy! Action!” – but should you force your way further into it, you might even have a good time.

 

It’s the distant future, and a group called the Templars (oh no “Ancient Aliens” was right) have destroyed almost every planet with naturally occurring water in the galaxy, turning it into the most valuable resource. If you’re looking forward to seeing what the filmmakers did with such an interesting concept, you’re out of luck as it’s just a backdrop – ice is valuable, people want to steal it. Our pirates are led by Jason (Robert Urich), alongside Roscoe (Michael D Roberts), Maida (Anjelica Huston, one year away from the Oscar for “Prizzi’s Honour”), Killjoy (former NFL player John Matuszak) and Zeno (a very young Ron Perlman). And robots. Lots and lots of robots. It’s very obvious someone wanted this movie to get a PG rating, so the enormous majority of deaths are robot ones – I think someone gets crushed under the wheels of a car, but that’s about it.

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They find the gorgeous Princess Karina (Mary “daughter of Bing” Crosby, a TV regular throughout the 80s and 90s) in some sort of cryogenic suspension, but after failing miserably to steal any ice, decide to take her with them for some potential ransom, only they’re captured pretty much immediately. But there’s a look between Karina and Jason! Sparks are flying! Anyway, some of the pirates escape but Jason and Roscoe are to be turned into castrated slaves – no, they don’t bother mentioning why they need slaves in a galaxy full of robots, especially as slaves need water to survive – only be to saved at the last minute by…Princess Karina! She wants them to find her Dad, who went searching for the mythical “Seventh Planet”, covered in water.

 

It’s just a riot of styles and “homages”, really. You’ve got that very 80s action (think Indiana Jones / Romancing The Stone); lots of “Star Wars” borrows, from music to graphics to scenes (there’s a bar where I was just waiting for the Cantina music to kick in); and very broad comedy, all pratfalls and weird accents and lowest common denominator stuff. The bit with the castration machine is quite funny (as well as being stupid and OTT), as it’s just a conveyor belt and a pair of serrated metal teeth. There’s “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior”, with a brief detour being made to a desert planet. There’s a sprinkling of “Alien”, as they accidentally allow Space Herpes to hatch on their ship, which looks a little like a penis with teeth but does try to attach itself to both Jason and Roscoe. There’s even a “Sleeper” (the Woody Allen movie) riff in there.

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This is quite unlike most of the movies we review here, despite being set in outer space and being sort of obscure these days. It’s got real major studio money behind it (MGM, in this case) and a cast full of decent-sized names, for the time at least – as well as the people we mentioned, there’s John Carradine as “The Supreme Commander”, who does his entire part laid down, which might be a new ISCFC record for laziness; and Max von Sydow, who makes a brief cameo. Then there’s Bruce Vilanch. If you know of Vilanch at all, it’s as the guy who writes the scripts for the Oscars  – I’ll take a brief pause while you all update your “if I was a billionaire” assassination lists, now you know the name of the guy who supplies those dismal hacky gags.  His career has been writing “jokes” for the stage shows of people like Bette Midler and doing the Oscars, but he tried for a while to act, I guess, and he’s a disembodied head here with all the snarky comebacks you’d expect from such a naturally likeable, quick-witted fellow (SATIRE).

 

“The Ice Pirates” has a campness to it that feels like a holdover from the disco era, which is partially explained when you see the name of the co-writer, Stanford Sherman. He got his start writing for “The Man From UNCLE” and “Batman”, two of my favourite shows, and this was his last ever script, following on from “Every Which Way You Can” and “Krull”. That’s pretty much the definition of going out on top, for the sort of writer we encounter anyway. Director / co-writer Stewart Raffill also made the original “Philadelphia Experiment” the same year (we covered the SyFy Channel remake) and is still working today. It was apparently originally going to be a drama with a high budget, but then the decision was made to turn it into a comedy and drastically cut back on the cost.

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What’s perhaps easiest to say is that it doesn’t really feel like a movie. It doesn’t end so much as find a convenient place to pause (the climactic battle, a time-dilation masterpiece where the characters all age 50 years in a few minutes, while really well done and a lot of fun, doesn’t really resolve anything); and it’s more a series of sketches round the theme of space than it is anything else. I like the idea that space travel is boring and ordinary and everyone does it and all the ships are falling apart and the robots are knackered, but that was covered better and earlier in “Dark Star” so it’s not a recommendation in itself.

 

But…some of the jokes work, and Urich and Crosby have tons of chemistry (as do Urich and Roberts, not one of the decade’s most memorable mixed-race partnerships, but good all the same). It’s definitely tolerable, although I’d recommend a stiff drink and an animated group of friends to enjoy it with.
Rating: thumbs in the middle

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Angel Of Reckoning (2016)

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It’s a warm welcome back for Len Kabasinski, friend of the site and low budget filmmaker extraordinaire. He’s been entertaining us since “Swamp Zombies”, and we recently did a great interview with him. Full disclosure: I got this DVD by taking part in the crowdfunding campaign for Len’s latest movie, should you demand rigorous lack of bias from your low-budget reviewers.

 

After working in every genre under the sun, he’s turned to the grindhouse and the sleazy 70s revenge flick. Rachel (Jessica “Wife of Len” Kabasinski, making only her second significant appearance) is a soldier, coming home for a holiday. She meets a group of people who appear to be her family and friends, despite coming across a bit like they’re vague acquaintances; then goes home to her girlfriend Reagan (Lisa Neeld), although you could be forgiven for thinking they’re just roommates or sisters until she brings Rachel a glass of wine in the nude. Why didn’t you pick her up from the bus station? What sort of crappy girlfriend are you? There are hints that under Rachel’s calm exterior, dark things lurk, as she’s woken up in the middle of the night by uneasy dreams of her military past.

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The revenge element comes from Rachel’s niece Jamie (Khila Freeman). She has a boyfriend who looks nice and clean cut but is actually a cocaine fiend (check out the lines he snorts, they’re huge), and one evening he decides a good idea would be to film a sex tape. Jamie is sadly easily convinced, and when the boyfriend can’t afford his next fix, he gives the sex tape to his dealer James (Mark Kosebucki), who sells it to amateur pornographer Billy (Jawn Gross), who puts it up on a site I neglected to write down, but is something like “xxxtremeteen.com”.

 

Now, I was thinking about this. My neighbours could be porn stars, but I’d never know not only because I’m not into porn, but because there’s millions of sites out there with millions of videos. Is there enough of a market for sex tapes featuring completely ordinary people? Is this a thing that the jaded pornography consumer likes? Anyway, everyone immediately finds out that Jamie was in a porno, which causes her to kill herself.

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Rachel discovers this in a scene where she finds Jamie’s phone and the distraught messages on it. I felt for the poor girl’s pain, even if it was being projected on the screen in text-speak, and I bloody hate text speak. Anyway, it’s like a switch flips in Rachel’s head and she becomes the titular angel of reckoning, going undercover as a stripper, and working her way up the food chain, through low-level dealers to pornographers finally to Beverly (Donna Hamblin), the kingpin of the town. Lots of scenes where “Angel” (as she calls herself) is gyrating around in very little, as well as making friends with the much older Bobbi (Debbie Dutch), who shows her the stripping ropes.

 

The porn “studio” scene is a weird one, as underage girls are drugged and coerced into group sex with ugly guys – again, is there really a market for this stuff? It feels like a scene from the 70s, honestly, as today there seem to be no end of willing participants who don’t need to be lied to about the work they’re getting into. Although, it made me feel unclean, so grindhouse job done!

 

I’d like to lead off with a huge positive. Kabasinski is always willing to learn, and you can see that he has done. “Angel” is cleanly shot, lit well, the sound is fine and the effects are excellent. He’s a director who is, I think, ready for a decent budget and some proper actors – I’d love to see him with SyFy Channel money and stars. “Kabasinski keeps growing as a filmmaker”, if anyone would like a pull quote.

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The “er…” comes in the shape of the acting talent assembled, but I’m not going to criticise someone who had zero money for actors. Kabasinski herself is fine, as is Frederick Williams as Detective Trufont, who’s trying to track down the person killing all the town’s lowlifes (with an honourable mention to his partner, Dave Johnson as Detective Campbell, who does a lot with his little screen time). Jasmine St Claire, who appeared in a couple of Len’s movies way back when, is decent too in her few scenes, but everyone else is presumably a complete amateur and it shows. No biggie, if you’re reading reviews on this site you’ll have seen worse, and as long as you know what to expect it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. It makes it a bit difficult to figure out the motivation of some scenes, is all.

 

Now, I think there’s a negative, but I always thought the 70s grindhouse movies had the same negative, so it might just be Kabasinski aping that style. The editing is pretty bad, I think, with the first action scene taking way too long to come along, and some scenes just going on for ever. One example – at a wake, we see a woman pull up in her car, walk across the lawn, go into the house and put a bowl of food on a table, before wandering into the background. This entire thing could have been done in 1 second – we see a woman putting a bowl of food on a table at what’s obviously a wake – but instead goes on for 30.

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The running time is another one – the thing with grindhouse movies is they often came in at like 75 minutes, barely ever longer than 90. “Angel of Reckoning” is over 100 minutes, which I think is perhaps a bit too long – rather than have Rachel come back just to come back, it could have been for the funeral of her niece, cutting out that entire introductory section? But I’m not an armchair quarterback, so no-one cares about what I think the movie should have been, sorry.

 

This movie does have one of my favourite things in it, though – the scene where actors are watching one of the director’s older movies – in this case, “Skull Forest”. The cinema seems packed, too! So, kudos, and “Angel of Reckoning” wins an “ISCFC Self-Reference Award”!

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While Len gets the mood exactly right, and his technical abilities have come on in leaps and bounds, I can’t call this one a complete success. But, even a non-success from a guy like Len is better than 95% of the studio product currently out there, so I’d definitely recommend supporting independent filmmaking and giving this a try.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

 

PS – Len has the rights back to his older movies, and is offering them on his site at http://www.killerwolffilms.com/ for a low price. Read our old reviews and see if anything takes your fancy, but I’m sure you’ll find something decent among them.

Youtube Film Club: Tough And Deadly (1995)

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If you saw one half of “Tough and Deadly” and one of “Back In Action”, you could be forgiven for not realising you were watching two different movies. I mean, you’d have to not be paying very close attention, but when stars Billy Blanks and Roddy Piper, just after meeting in odd circumstances, start fighting each other, a fight which counts as character development (a virtually identical scene in both movies), it’s enough to make you wonder.

But the good thing is, they’re both loads of fun and definitely come recommended. Piper is a private eye by the name of Elmo Freech (ah, the 90s and their wackily named characters) and Billy Blanks is…well, for most of the movie he’s known as John Portland, a CIA agent who suffers amnesia after getting involved in a gun battle, being kidnapped then injected with some weird cocktail of drugs. Freech is ambulance chasing down at the hospital and sees Portland brought in, covered in blood – even though he was tied up and drugged, he was still badass enough to kick the ass of everyone in the car with him and crawl away from the wreckage.

 

ASIDE: The main difference between the two movies is the treatment of cars. You only had to look askew at a car in “Back In Action” and it would explode in comically over-the-top fashion, but in the intervening two years someone evidently learned cars don’t really do that. Thank you!

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Anyway, Freech rescues Portland from an assassination attempt at the hospital and the two of them start working together. We even get a training montage as Portland learns to use his muscles again, although way later in the movie he says angrily “I spent two years learning to use my body again!” Two years? There’s no way! If that’s not enough for you, let’s discuss the monstrous coincidence that powers this tale – Freech was a cop who was kicked off the force for trying to bust a drug dealer called Milan. Milan is working with the CIA to run drugs, including Trekkler (the great Phil Morris, “Seinfeld”, voice actor extraordinaire), who also worked with Portland and wants him dead! Really? You couldn’t have thought of a better way to weave these two tales together?

 

If you ignore all that nonsense, then “Tough And Deadly” delivers in spades. Fight after fight after fight…Freech does his good old fashioned bar-brawling style, and Portland does more spin-kicks than anyone in any movie ever. They even bust some front businesses of Milan’s, a similarity so close with “Back In Action” that I really hope they were made by the same company or someone should be suing.

vlcsnap-2015-05-23-20h14m11s421_grandeThird-billed is Richard Norton, the awesome Australian martial artist who we’ve enjoyed in “American Ninja”, “The Salute Of The Jugger”, both “China O’Brien” movies and “Mad Max: Fury Road”. He’s Milan’s main goon, and is sadly underused here, but he and Piper do have a similar haircut and shirt, so it’s only Piper’s stubble that tells them apart in long shots. James Karen, who you might remember from “Return Of The Living Dead”, is good guy CIA agent Winston Briggers. It’s a very male movie, with the only woman with more than a cameo being Lisa Stahl as Freech’s secretary (she’s 9th billed, indicating just how much of a sausage-fest it is). Talking of Stahl, when our heroes have to hide out at her place, she lives in a mansion, full of huge rooms and tasteful furnishings. All I can say is Freech must pay a little too well. Saying that…when we see Freech’s home, he’s got a tiny apartment with the only decoration being a poster on the wall that simply says “pasta sauce”. Huh?

 

I think this a slightly better movie than “Back In Action”, though. The two stars come together earlier, and seem much more comfortable with each other. Blanks even…dare I say it…acts a few times! Piper is really good, and I wish he’d lucked into something like a Shane Black movie back in the 90s and become the star he deserved to be. There’s not quite as much fighting, which is a good thing (you can only stand so much before your eyes start to glaze over), the acting is overall better and while the plot isn’t exactly taxing, it’s not like any of us would approach a movie with Billy chuffing Blanks in it called “Tough And Deadly” and expect more than what was given.

Is this necessary? Really?

Is this necessary? Really?

After complimenting the treatment of cars, we do get one of the biggest explosions in the history of B-movies, near the end, as a helicopter armed with a rail-gun blows the crap out of a drug-warehouse. No effect, either, they really blew up a massive warehouse. On that crescendo, I highly recommend this, it’s available for free and is plenty of fun.

 

Rating: thumbs up