Category Archives: 51-60%

Planet of the Apes (2001)

IF

“Rule the planet”

Directed by Tim Burton
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Roth

USAF astronaut Leo Davidson (Wahlberg) works with trained apes aboard the space station Oberon. Attempting to rescue one of his apes, Pericles, during an electromagnetic storm, he crash lands on a strange planet, where he finds a primitive human culture subjugated by intelligent apes. Using his arrival as a catalyst, General Thade (Roth), the leader of the ape armies, launches a massacre of the humans, but the kindly ape Ari (Bonham Carter) tries to help him escape and learn the truth of the planet’s origins.

What’s wrong with it?

In remaking The Planet of the Apes, Burton quite deliberately avoids sticking too closely to either the original novel or to the 1968 adaptation starring Charlton Heston. Unfortunately, what he manages to do is jettison most of the point in favour of dumb action.

In both earlier versions, the apes live almost exactly as humans do, and vice versa; the humans of the planet are literally dumb animals, incapable of speech and devoid of sophisticated facial expression. In the film they still don’t speak, although they do wear clothes. The apes, meanwhile, have mobile, expressive faces and language, as well as an advanced, scientific culture. The point of it all is not that the apes cruelly oppress the humans they falsely cast as inferior, but that they with the positions reversed, they treat the human animals exactly as humans treat apes.

In this version, the humans are obviously intelligent and sophisticated, and Thade’s father (played by Charlton Heston) specifically describes their power as lying in technology and invention, of which apes are incapable. The apes, meanwhile, are animalistic and instinctive, able to craft hand weapons and clothes and domesticate horses, but lacking any actual science. The role of chimp scientists Zira and Cornelius are replaced by equal rights campaigner Ari, replacing the central issue – the treatment of animals – with a far less controversial anti-racist slant.

The film throws away supporting characters pretty much willy nilly; Krull (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa)’s final duel with his errant pupil Attar (Michael Clarke Duncan) is a pitifully one-sided beat down that does nothing to advance either plot or Attar’s character, while Erik Avari as a ‘house human’ (in case we hadn’t got that this is about slavery) is offed with barely anyone noticing.

The normally watchable Wahlberg phones in his performance, including the worst rousing speech before Kristen Stewart in Snow White and the Huntsman, and Estella Warren is completely forgettable as his disposable love interest whatshername. Bonham Carter and Roth turn in game performances as the good chimp and bad chimp, but she is saddled with a bizarre love triangle with Davidson (replacing Zira’s “I’d kiss you, but you’re just so damned ugly”) and he with a series of bad wire-work temper tantrums.

Speaking of which, the apes are saddled with some of the clunkiest wire-work yet seen in a mainstream movie, defying gravity rather than leaping convincingly, as well as displaying superhuman strength well beyond that of an actual ape.

The climactic battle is completely enshrouded in dust, but this is not used to much dramatic effect. That the fight is then ended by the arrival of Pericles’s space pod is a flagrant Zaius ex machina.

The ending, in which Davidson returns to Earth to find it ruled by apes – these ones with cars and guns, but revering Thade as their founding father – is just nonsensical, and yet speaks of a better movie that wasn’t made.

What’s right with it?

The set and costume design is lavish, and the ape actors give polished performances, at least when their feet are on the ground.

How bad is it really?

It’s just a mess, which squanders its platform for social commentary by turning the apes into senseless oppressors. Davidson’s claims of human superiority should come across as racism, but the truth is that the apes in this version of the film are inferior, dominated by instinct and driven by rage and cruelty. Ari’s appearance is notably more human than any other ape – more like the make-up of the 1968 version than that of the others in this movie – which serves only to emphasise the human good, ape bad overtones.

It might not be so bad, but the final scene makes the whole thing so nonsensical that it’s hard to interpret the film as anything but a near-death dream before Davidson’s final plunge into an ape-ruled Hell.

Best bit (if such there is)?

The film is perhaps at its best when calling back to the original (“Get your stinking paws off me you damn, dirty human”, “Damn you all to Hell”), but it’s a reflected glory.

What’s up with…?

  • The mighty ape leaps? Apes don’t leap as if they were on wires. They’re also not strong to the point of tossing humans around like rag dolls.
  • Attar’s sudden face turn? He kills his mentor and revels in it, but one sight of Pericles and he’s willing to believe everything Davidson says about the arrival of the first apes.
  • Ape culture? They build houses, make clothes, forge steel cages, but can’t put together a rudimentary bow and arrow?

Ratings

Production values – The production, as you’d expect from Tim Burton, is gorgeous, although points off for the laser pistol that turns into an automatic between takes. I presume that the automatic was used as a working blank gun for long shots where the gun had to go off, but it appears in close ups as well. 3
Dialogue and performances –  While a number of the actors are giving it their all, Wahlberg and Warren drag the standard way down, and the material only sparkles when riffing from the 1968 film. 14
Plot and execution – The film works hard at putting across a message that doesn’t need to be put across, as no-one who still thinks that rounding up and either enslaving or murdering ethnic minorities is bad is likely to be swayed by a Tim Burton movie, and by going all out it loses any impact on the issues of animal rights or even of the more insidious racism which still affects society. Sadly, at the same time it fails to be an effective movie in its own right. 15
Randomness – Most of the film’s failings are fundamental, but there are a few moments of random failure as well, including a minor sub-plot where a young man tries to prove himself and stuffs it completely, forcing Davidson to abandon his position to save him, as a result of which… well, nothing happens at all. And then there’s the ending; most of these points are for that ending. 10
Waste of potential – The earlier movie was better, the more recent remake was better, and Tim Burton is a good movie maker on his day. This cast, with that director and that basic brief could have made so much more. 16

Overall 58%

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Legion (2010)

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Few critics were ever much enamoured of Warhol’s religious period

“When the last angel falls, the fight for mankind begins.”

Directed by Scott Stewart
Starring Paul Bettany

In the end time, the Archangel Michael descends to Earth to battle an army of possessed killers in defense of a remote diner. His allies are a band of strangers, each in their own way lost; his goal is to save an unborn child who will restore God’s faith in his creation; his enemies, every other angel in Heaven’s army.

What’s wrong with it?

Legion is a crazy mess of a film, full of action scenes which are mostly just guns being fired off screen, and a lot of very confused exposition. The characters are pretty stock: The bitter father and his optimistic son; the single mother; the religious older black man and the good-hearted banger; the uptight middle class couple and their slutty rebel daughter.

What’s right with it?

The climactic battle between Michael and the Gabriel is actually pretty well done, and the film allows each of its characters their chance to shine, albeit mostly in death; apart from the uptight middle class couple, who are uptight and middle class and, therefore, the devil.

How bad is it really?

Legion is not terrible, but it’s not very good either.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Gabriel, a full on angel with wings and everything, and his fight with Michael are actually quite beautifully done. It’s no Avatar, but for the budget it’s impressive.

What’s up with…?

  • The woman who believes that she can make a deal with the army of the apocalypse? I mean, this is pretty well outside of what life prepares you for, but dead-eyed, ceiling-crawling possessed freaks are a sign, yo.
  • Evil demon children? In general. Yick.

Ratings

Production values – It’s not exactly summer blockbuster standard, but for what it is, the visuals are well done, and the production professional. 4
Dialogue and performances –  The performances run the gamut from staunchly professional to actually pretty decent, but the material they are given to work with is frankly a confused mess. 14
Plot and execution – Legion is… confusing. It’s essentially pretty straightforward, but drops bits and pieces around without really developing its underlying principles very well. 15
Randomness – As noted above, Legion keeps it simple, but still manages to be confusing. That’s impressive. 11
Waste of potential – So, this is basically what Gabriel could have been if it sucked less. It’s still pretty sucky, but not Gabriel sucky. 8

Overall 52%

Transformers (2007)

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“Their War. Our World.”

Directed by Michael Bay
Starring Shia LaBoeuf and Megan Fox, with the voices of Peter Cullen and Hugo Weaving

High School loser Sam Witwicky discovers that his new car is actually an alien robotic lifeform, and becomes embroiled in a battle between the heroic Autobots and the monstrous Decepticons (and some Marines, a dodgy government agency, a number of extras who then disappear for no adequately explained reason, and Jon Voigt.)

What’s wrong with it?

The short answer is that it’s the people. Transformers is a film about brave American badasses and some robots what help them, more than it is about the robots themselves. To take an example, during Ironhide’s heroic slow-mo barrel roll, the camera’s focus is on some random hot chick who plays no other part in the movie. Did Bay really not think anyone was there to watch the robots?

Also, despite the quality of the CGI, the action is often too cluttered and frenetic to follow.

What’s right with it?

This film has the best plot of the franchise, as little as that is saying, and manages to only be crassly insensitive towards fat people, Asian call centre operators and black nerds, which by the standards of the series is pretty good going. In addition, the Transformers themselves look awesome, and the stompy robot bits are actually pretty damn good.

John Turturro and Jon Voigt know pretty much what the film is worth and are good fun to watch because they are clearly having fun with it.

How bad is it really?

Transformers is a lot of fun, provided you aren’t looking to engage your brain too much.

Best bit (if such there is)?

The arrival of the Autobots is a well-done montage that builds tension and expectation for the awesome that is never quite delivered on.

What’s up with…?

  • Optimus Prime shanking a Decepticon through the skull-pan with his energy sword? This is way more commitment to a philosophy of total war than I was expecting.
  • All the bloody humans?
  • Bumblebee peeing on John Tuturro? Seriously, that was not needed.
  • The evac run into ‘Mission City’? Why arrange to evacuate a mission-critical object, by chopper, from a heavily-populated area with many tall buildings, under enemy fire, rather than, say, just running flat out until you can meet up with an armoured division coming the other way?

Ratings

Production values – Okay, fair play, the effects are magnificent, if occasionally a little too busy. 6
Dialogue and performances – Lamentable comedic episodes punctuate the necessary and slightly leaden exposition, with Jon Voigt occasionally providing a voice over when the film itself is not entirely clear. The actors give the material a hundred times what it is worth. 12
Plot and execution – In all fairness, this film has a plot which mostly makes sense, at least on its own terms. 8
Randomness – Robopee. The gratuitous city run. The comedy call centre operator. In fact, any of the comedy. The people. Stick with the robots. 14
Waste of potential – There could have been more focus on the Transformers, and should have been. On the other hand, we can clearly demonstrate that it could have been worse. 12

Overall 52%

Solar Attack (2006)

Solar_Attack_(widescreen)_DVD_cover

“Prepare for the Apocalypse”

Directed by Paul Ziller
Starring Mark Dacascos, Joanne Kelly and Lou Gossett Jr.

Billionaire science maverick Dr Lucas Foster (Dacascos) is attempting to prove that greenhouse gases are a thing when his manned space plane is destroyed by the impact of a massive coronal mass ejection from the sun. Working with staff at the Solar and Near Earth Laboratory, including Foster’s ex-wife, Dr Joanna Parks (Kelly) and sacrificial ethnic Patel (Sugith Varughese), Foster must convince the President (Gossett) of the danger and then persuade a Russian submarine commander to launch nuclear missiles at the polar ice cap before the CMEs set fire to the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and turn the Earth into a fireball.

What’s wrong with it?

Solar Attack is unbelievably silly. It’s science is terrible and its politics laughable, surpassed only by the cheapness of the effects. Substantial chunks of the film’s hour and half running time are given over to pointless set pieces intended to drum up the tension, including a submarine chase, the partial destruction of SNEL (in which the film’s only Indian becomes one of only two named casualties; the other is, admittedly, a white man) and a stand-off inside the sub in which the poor man’s Tony Stark inexplicably busts out some of Dacascos’s kung fu.

What’s right with it?

It’s only ninety minutes long and never has a chance to get slow.

How bad is it really?

It’s disaster movie knock-off filler, really; neither any good, nor bad enough to be interesting.

Best bit (if such there is)?

The hilariously overdone submarine chase.

What’s up with…?

  • Coronal mass ejections causing… well, any of the things that they cause in this film?
  • Submarines tapping into phone cables at unsafe depths?
  • The gratuitous action scenes? It’s not as if they’re any good even.

Ratings

Production values – Shockingly bad, from the CGI spaceplane to the almost cringeworthy sight of orange slow-fire creeping in a steady, even front across the sky. 18
Dialogue and performances – The actors pretty much hit their marks and pick up their cues; more than that is hard to say. The writing is blandly bad, with the pointlessly hostile head of SNEL as a stand out. 14
Plot and execution – The plot is ridiculous, but at least the film sticks with it for the most part and eschews random sex and violence. 14
Randomness – The film is completely at odds with all real-world science, but sticks to its own premise well enough. 8
Waste of potential – For bargain cable fare, this was entertaining enough. 3

Overall 57%

Death Race (2008)

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“Get ready for a killer ride!”

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring Jason Statham,  Tyrese Gibson, Joan Allen and Ian McShane

Following the complete breakdown of the US Justice System in 2012, prisons are now for-profit organisations showing pay-per-view blood sports, the most popular of which is Terminal Island Penitentiary’s Death Race.

With ratings falling and masked fan favourite Frankenstein dead, prison director Hennessy (Allen) has former driver Jensen Ames (Statham) framed for the murder of his wife in order to bring him in as the new Frankenstein. Despite his reluctance, and with the help of pit boss Coach (McShane), Ames must try to win just one race to earn his freedom, but for the prison there is no profit in the loss of their star driver.

Faced with hostility on and off the track, and the inevitable double-cross from Hennessy, Ames struggles to emerge the victor of a game with no winners.

What’s wrong with it?

Originally conceived as a remake or sequel and eventual pitched a s kind of thematic prequel to Death Race 2000, the already broad satire of the original (think of an episode of Whacky Races, but one where the course ran through populous areas and Penelope Pitstop scored points for every civilian she ran over) is boiled down to ‘they bet on people dying, yo’ under Anderson’s deft hand. In addition, by switching from a cross-country to a circuit race, the film loses much of the variety of the original, and sacrifices tension for close-up action.

Apart from the blood and rust coloured graphics of the Death Race online coverage – which kind of makes you wish they’d included form Starship Troopers-style infomercials and newsreel to break the monotony – the palette is extremely grey, and unless you’re a pretty serious gear head there isn’t much to pick between the various armoured, led-spewing cars on the track. Only Machine Gun Joe’s (Gibson) immense Dodge Ram really stands out.

The female navigators – of whom only Case (Natalie Martinez) has any character, or indeed lines – are there purely to sex things up visually, which would be bad enough, but when they are then shot, gored, crushed or burned to death during the race, they are left as nothing but voiceless, dead sex objects. A major plot point revolves around Hennessy suborning Case with the promise of her freedom, but this is not developed by giving them any scenes together, leaving the film to fail the Bechdel test on all levels.

Finally, the other drivers don’t really go much beyond stereotypes: Angry black guy, cool Chinese guy, neo-Nazi thug, crazy Latino etc.

What’s right with it?

The race scenes are okay, with the driving bits significantly better than any part where the cars are shooting at each other, where the film signally fails to present any kind of ‘dogfighting’ in favour of lots of straight lines and flying brass.

The plot, although ludicrous, is pretty consistent and, with a couple of exceptions, makes sense in its own mad world.

The main cast is well put together. Statham is typically likable as Ames, McShane’s institutionalised Coach makes for a great mentor  figure and Allen is an effective and nicely atypical villain.

How bad is it really?

There’s a fair bit of dumb fun to be had with this film, but for the most part we’ve seen it done before, and better. It’s not terrible, but it doesn’t quite earn its nastier moments and the hypersexualisation of the mostly-doomed navigators is uncomfortable to say the least.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Realising that he is dead, Triad driver 14K, whose previous dialogue has all been in dubbed Chinese (which language or dialect, I could not say), lets loose with an English language ‘Fuck me’… which is subtitled into Chinese . What can I say; I like subtitle humour.

What’s up with…?

  • Case getting her release papers in advance of her betrayal? It hardly seems Hennessey’s style.
  • The sudden introduction of the Dreadnought into the race? It’s like throwing a tiger onto the ring in the middle of a heavyweight boxing match. Sure, it’ll liven things up and probably get you a short-term boost to your ratings, but it’s not going to please the fans, especially the betting public.
  • Mask aside, anyone mistaking a curvy, five-foot-eight Latina for Jason Statham?
  • Likewise, anyone not checking a package being sent to the warden of a prison from the inside, before putting the bomb on her desk?

Ratings

Production values – Moderately slick, with some good explosions, but the muted palette confuses at times. 11

Dialogue and performances – The main cast are solid, especially Allen and McShane, but the support is highly variable. The absence of dialogue of any kind for the background female characters is telling. 14

Plot and execution – The plot is extremely basic, but largely consistent. The execution falls down on the lack of variation in the race scenes and in particular the failure to do anything with the shoot-outs that isn’t having one car drive in a straight line behind another car driving in a straight line. 13

Randomness -Surprisingly sound. There are no complete left-field moments and nothing completely incomprehensible. Only Hennessy’s uncharacteristic and ultimately self-defeating generosity towards Case, and the complete failures of security in the last part of the film stand out. 12

Waste of potential – Well, the pedigree isn’t great. Death Race 2000 is a cult classic, but not all that good of a film. It is a shame that we couldn’t get more satire from such a rich vein as pay-per-view and the morality of viewing dangerous sports, but ultimately if this film has an overall sin, it is in being just okay in a much duller way than 20009

Overall 59%

From the Archive – X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

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“Take a stand.”

Directed by Brett Ratner
Starring Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart and God knows how many other people (see ‘What’s wrong with it?’)

In this third and final installment of the X-Men films, a company produces a ‘cure’ for mutants, to the horror of Professor Xavier and the outrage of Magento. There follows a series of flashy set-pieces and some vileness from Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil, while Jean Grey reappears apparently alive but psychotic, we discover that the Professor has no scruples and new guy Beast deals with politics. There’s a flying bridge and a big fight, Rogue wonders if she wouldn’t be better off with the cure and Vinnie Jones…is.

What’s wrong with it?

It’s a mess.

I mean, really, there’s just too much going on and the director fails to make us give a toss about any of it. When Professor X gets vaporised halfway through the film I thought: holy crap. Then I realised I’d thought it, not felt it. Professor X just got vaped and I didn’t care. When we find out Scott’s been killed, I could hardly muster a cheer!

The removal of the Phoenix Force from a version of the Dark Phoenix saga also creates serious problems within the film. I understand why it was done; the Phoenix Force introduces a huge amount of backstory, too much for a single movie. Unfortunately, the consequence of removing it is that instead of Jean Grey being a woman fighting – with the assistance of her mentor – against the influence of an external force that wants to manipulate her powers and personality for its own alien purposes, she becomes a woman unable to control her own strength without her (male) mentor performing psychic surgery on her without consent.

This is not good for her character, and it is not good for Professor Xavier’s character; she is made weak, he is made… well, pretty damned evil.

What’s right with it?

Well, it looks pretty, I guess.

How bad is it really?

Not terrible, just really, really disappointing. I liked the first two; I really did. This was just…blah.

Best bit

Meh.

What’s up with…?

  • Professor Xavier carrying out impromptu psychic surgery to make people be the way he wants them to be? Um…why is there a problem with the acceptance of mutants if he can and will do that?
  • Professor Xavier turning out to be a complete monster, rearranging people’s brains and possessing people to extend his own life? That was a bit left-field.
  • All the bloody plots? Were they worried we’d get bored? They were right, but…
  • Rogue’s big dilemma? Would you be better without being an uncontrolled psychic vampire who can’t kiss her boyfriend without killing him? That might have been a big struggle, if she hadn’t been cranked into training with a field team, where her powers were of no use whatsoever.

Ratings

Production Values: No complaints, if a little over-reliant on spectacle. 3

Dialogue and Performances: Decent to good performances can’t hide a pretty cliche ridden script. “I’m the only one who can stop her!” Blah. 11

Plot and Execution: That big scene where Magneto makes all the trucks pile into one another. That’s your plot that is. 17

Randomness: Split personalities? I mean, okay, you’re trying not to talk about the aliens, but still. And the flying bridge? 10

Waste of Potential: Did you see the other films? 18

Overall 59%

From the Archive – Darkman III: Die, Darkman, Die (1996)

Darkman

 

“One fights for justice. The other for power. Only one can survive.”

Directed by Bradford May
Starring Jeff Fahey and Arnold Voosloo

Faceless vigilante Darkman – aka Dr Peyton Westlake (Voosloo) – crosses paths with ruthless mobster, Peter Rooker. In revenge, Rooker’s henchling-cum-mistress, Dr Bridget Thorne tricks Darkman so she can implant him with a pain inducing device, in order to study him and find out why his tactile insensitivity  gives him superhuman powers.

There are some fights and stuff, culminating with a warehouse battle to save Rooker’s wife – with whom Westlake has fallen in love – and daughter. Then Westlake sacrifices his chance to look properly normal by using his only sample of perfected synthetic skin to repair the kid’s face, which was burned by natural gas in the fight. Bless.

What’s wrong with it?

Die, Darkman, Die is a ham-fisted follow-up to a ham-fisted follow-up to a Sam Raimi film that wasn’t exactly subtle to begin with. Voosloo chews on the scenery like he’s trying to stop his incisors growing down to pierce his own chest, and sad to say he’s the actor in the bunch. The plot also lacks tension and is overly sentimental.

Once again, I’m having real trouble remembering the character names in this one.

What’s right with it?

The basic premise of Darkman remains good: A scientist hideously disfigured and isolated from the world uses a talent for mimicry and masks of synthetic skin to fight crime, aided by the psychotic strength granted him by the severing of his central nervous system.

How bad is it really?

In parts painfully bad, mostly during the surprise birthday party scene, where Darkman – disguised as the villain – confuses Rooker’s party guests by acting like a decent human being. Bless.

Best bit?

Darkman’s beat-up old maintenance train that he uses to zip around the subway.

What’s up with…?

  • The kid’s face being burned by natural gas? Note that the gas is not on fire at the time. She simply gets a face full of vapour from a tank marked ‘natural gas’, and comes away all disfigured.

Ratings

Production values: Not so good. Some decent makeup on scarred Darkman, but mostly he’s just wearing a scarf. The rest is all bullet sparks and some cut-rate wire-work. 9

Dialogue and performances: Oh my lord. Voosloo lays out each and every line as though it were a Shakespearean soliloquy, including lines like ‘My name is Dr Peyton Westlake’ and ‘Hello’. Fahey just snarls like a rabid dog and the rest of the cast are utterly forgettable.19

Plot and execution: Rattles on well enough, but without much energy and an excess of mawkish sentimentality that slows the film right down in the touchy-feely scenes. 14

Randomness: Solid. Nothing ridiculously out there once the premise is established, aside from the heavily acidic natural gas of course. 4

Waste of potential: As with the Turtles, Darkman could – and did – make a better film than this. Even for number three though, this was not a great success. 10

Overall 56%

From the Archive – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991)

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Directed by Michael Pressman
Starring Paige Turco and David Warner

“Cowabunga; it’s the new Turtle movie”

Following their victory over Shredder the Turtles are ‘resting’ in April O’Neill’s (Turco) apartment (she seems to have bought pants since the last time at least). Then Shredder and the Foot Clan return, stealing the last sample of the ooze that created the Turtles and using it to make two monstrous – if endearingly dim – minions. With the aid of the scientist who accidentally created the ooze (Warner), the Turtles demutate the minions, battling them through a club to a Vanilla Ice soundtrack (Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go!) then tackle a giant, mutated Shredder in the sewers to some kind of conclusion.

What’s wrong with it?

Well, for starters, having left it a week before writing the review, I can’t actually remember very much of the film at all; it were that gripping.

I do recall that the acting was flat, the fight scenes greatly hampered by the Turtle costumes (imagine the Tellytubbies trying to do kung fu) and the plot pretty much non-existent. Then there’s the gratuitous cute, scrappy kid, the terrible Turtle dialogue and the Ninja Turtle Rap. Sheagh!

What’s right with it?

David Warner provides his usual performance as serious person in a silly film with some dignity, and the film has a tiny spark of zany energy, although the Turtlosity was wearing out by this point. The sets – especially the abandoned subway lair – are pretty keen.

How bad is it really?

Bad, no; just not very good.

Best bit?

Shredder preparing to subdue his new minions encourages them to attack him. The giant wolf and snapping turtle run forward, throw their arms around him and cry: “Mama!”

What’s up with…?

  • The scientists just abandoning the ooze that makes things really big? Surely they could sell it to the military even if they didn’t try to use it to solve world hunger, with predictably disastrous results.
  • Vanilla Ice? What is he doing here? Was his career already so far down the crapper that TMNT II seemed like a life-saver? Oh wait; it was.

Ratings:

Production values: Some of the sets are actually really nice and although they hamper the ninjitsu, the turtle suits look okay. However, the snapping turtle and wolf monsters are crappy. 11

Dialogue and performances: Really no-one but David Warner was walking away form this with any dignity. 16

Plot and execution: I have big monsters. Go big monsters; chase the Turtles. Quickly Turtles; fight the big monsters. Ladies and gentlemen; the plot. 17

Randomness: Vanilla Ice. Other than that it all makes sense given that we have four big terrapins as the central characters. 7

Waste of Potential: Considering the mine had already been tapped more than dry by the first film, this one didn’t do too badly. 6

Overall 57%

From the Archive – The Peacemaker (1997)

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“This is not a test”

Directed by Mimi Leder
Starring George Clooney and Nicole Kidman

When a Russian general steals ten nuclear warheads, a US nuclear smuggling adviser (Kidman) and an Army Intelligence officer (Clooney) must retrieve them, running roughshod over the silly old Russians in order to do so. Then they must track down the Serbian diplomat who plans to blow up the UN building during a peace summit as a warning against international interference in the former Yugoslavia.

What’s wrong with it?

The Peacemaker is actually a rather unpleasant film, in part because it offers crassly simplistic answers to difficult questions. The fact that Clooney’s gun-ho antics not only override Kidman’s caution but also almost invariably prove to be the right thing to do is symptomatic of the basic problem, which is that the film is glossing over the very complex and scary issue of stolen nuclear weapons. The important issue raised by the terrorist’s motive – he blames the enforced creation of Yugoslavia post-WWII for the current troubles, and not without cause – are breezed over by the fact that he ends up a mad-eyed whack-job trying to nuke Manhattan. The fact that Clooney is willing to order a sniper to shoot through a five-year-old to stop him is not dwelt upon.

Only once is there any implication that this problem goes beyond running around and hitting people, when Clooney’s jovial Russian contact is shot, but after a few minutes confusion – in his line, such things would not normally be done – Clooney is up for invading Russia. Moreover, no-one seems to bat an eyelid at the detonation and irradiation of a large part of the Ukraine; the threat of fallout is mentioned, but not even a ‘poor sods’ is uttered in memory of the locals.

Were this a James Bond film this all might be acceptable, but it isn’t. The film aspires to a more serious level, and by so doing exacerbates its own offences. The cack-handed romantic sub-plot – which boils down to nothing more than the fact that Clooney and Kidman are both attractive – likewise serves only to trivialise the proceedings.

It’s also not a good sign that I can’t remember the name of a single character in this film. The contact might have been Vasiliy or Vladimir or Viktor and I think the General was Alexander something.

What’s right with it?

Well, this is the real problem. Extensive thought the film’s flaws are, they aren’t really that bad by the standards of the Bad Movie Marathon. However, this film has fewer redeeming features than almost any other movie ever to gain a  theatrical release. The best that can be said about it is that it is professionally made, but nothing about it shines. Not a goddamn thing.

How bad is it really?

The Peacemaker is a tedious and petty little film, in which the might of America abuses the sovereignty and dignity of all and sundry to save the world for democracy. It’s really, really no damn good.

Best bit?

See above re. nothing shines.

What’s up with…?

  • The spetnaz night vision goggles? I mean, presumably the idea is to give you an advantage by letting you see the enemy in the dark, but he can see you too because your eyes are glowing red.
  • A US Army Colonel smashing and shooting up Vienna with no repercussions?
  • The militant Serbian piano teacher?

Ratings:

Production values – Solid, professional work, but nothing ground-breaking or spectacular, even when the Ukraine is getting nuked. 3

Dialogue and performances Dull dialogue and phoned-in performances down the line. No one seems very interested in what they’re doing here and I just can’t blame them. 13

Plot and execution – Trite, lazy, ham-fisted and uninvolving. There’s a desperate man carrying a nuke around New York in a backpack, and I can’t seem to care. 15

Randomness – More-or-less under control, save for the extreme swiftness with which the leads criss-cross the world and change their clothes. That and the utter lack of consequences for their blatant disregard of other peoples’ sovereignty. 8

Waste of potential – A stolen-nuke action thriller should really be more action-packed – one raid, one car chase, one fight and one foot chase is pretty lame – and more thrilling than this offering. Moreover, the utter lack of good points in this film means that I just have to give it maximum points here. 20

Overall 59%

From the Archive – End of Days (1999)

Days

 

“Prepare for the end.”

Directed by Peter Hyams
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Byrne, Robin Tunney and Kevin Pollack

A girl born under the sign of the Occulus Dei (Eye of God) is prophesied to be the chosen bride of Satan, mother of the antichrist, blah, blah, blah. While the Vatican debates whether to try and save her or kill her, the international Satanic conspiracy are all over this business like ugly on an iguana, setting one of their own as the midwife and consecrating the kid to the Dark One within minutes of birth.

Twenty-some years on, on the eve of the millennium, young Christine York (Tunney) is plagued by visions, and a Wall Street broker (Byrne) gets possessed by an invisible angel and goes strange. Now the devil incarnate, he goes forth to gather his minions, get laid and claim his bride in the hour before midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Enter Jericho Caine (Schwarzenegger), suicidal but still-mighty ex-cop turned bodyguard and his sidekick, Chicago (Pollack). Hired to protect the broker, Caine’s day goes weird when a priest named Thomas Aquinas takes a shot at his principal. Pursuing the case for no reason whatsoever – especially since the principal has already gone missing – and hampering police investigation in the meanwhile, Caine tracks down Christine and saves her from a pack of Renegade Vatican Masonic Ninja Jesuits.

There follows a series of Satanic shenanigans in which Caine repeatedly refuses to accept that his puny mortal weapons have no effect on the Devil. He resists the temptation to hand over the girl in exchange for his murdered family’s restoration, but is suckered when his detonated buddy appears miraculously unscathed and thus gets himself crucified.

Recovering very quickly, Caine takes out a temple full of Satanists with heavy weapons, blows up the Devil’s host body and faces his true form down in a church. The Devil possesses Caine, but by asking God to give him strength Caine is able to throw himself on the incredibly sharp sword held by a statue of St Michael just at the storke of midnight. As he dies, he sees his family beckon to him.

Aww.

What’s wrong with it?

End of Days’ main problem is its sheer, unutterable stupidity. The plot hinges on everybody, from the Pope to the head Satanist to Jericho Caine being a big dummy. The Vatican, despite vast funds and an international organisation, are way behind in this game. The Satanists, despite years of preparation and a massive head start, can’t complete the relatively simple assignment of getting one girl to the right place at the right time. Even the Devil, despite having all the moves, can’t score.

I guess part of the Satanists’ problem is that they’re too busy being gratuitously evil – seducing children, corrupting justice and generally doing the metaphysical equivalent of pissing in the font – to have any really good contingency plans, such as say escape tunnels. It’s also never explained why – for example – since they’ve been raising Christine throughout her period of moral education, they didn’t just teach her that she was the predestined bride of Satan and Queen of the World. Even if she had to be some kind of innocent, you’d think they could have worked it so Satan rescued her from the Renegade Vatican Masonic Ninja Jesuits, after which he’d be in like Flynn.

Oh, and the whole 666=1999 was a hoot.

What’s right with it?

In a word, the usual suspects. Byrne and Pollack are the real top billers here, but the supporting cast is wonderfully sincere and even Arnie comes off well. The acting here is really very good, so it’s just a shame the script is so very, very stupid.

The effects are also pretty good, with the highlight being the Devil as a floaty, invisible angel and the nadir the Devil as unconvincing horn-ed beasty.

And did we mention: Renegade Vatican Masonic Ninja Jesuits?

How bad is it really?

Well, to be fair this was one of the real gems of the pre- and immediately post-millennial boom of ‘Book of Revelations’ Y2K movies. Now, in part this is because all the rest were so appalling, but End of Days rattles on at a cracking pace, never seems to take itself too seriously, and besides; where else can you see Miriam Margolyes beating the tar out of Schwarzenegger?

Best bit?

The clergy explain to Jericho that in dreams numbers often appear upside down and back to front, so that the Number of the Beast, 666, actually refers to the year of his release; 1999.

Apparently numbers in dreams also miss off the ‘1’.

Alternatively the Renegade Vatican Masonic Ninja Jesuits busting into Christine’s house to kill her and insisting on giving her the Last Rites first.

What’s up with…?

  • Everyone being so mind-bogglingly stupid?
  • Caine killing himself? The devil’s time is up. Even if he got control of Caine’s body, he couldn’t get his pants off in the time left before New Year’s Day.
  • Caine seeing his murdered family waiting for him, wrapped in heavenly light, as he dies? Since the film clearly shows that the Catholics were right, isn’t Caine going to hell as a suicide? Is this saying that he has once more failed as a father and will also be missing his daughter’s school play in the afterlife?
  • The Renegade Vatican Masonic Ninja Jesuits? Masonic Order of the Vatican Knights? Do these people know what Freemasonry is? Are they high?
  • No-one – not one – paying the least attention to the fact that the dead, tongueless, sniper-cum-seer priest is called Thomas Aquinus? Why is he called that anyway? Did they not know there was a famous one?

Ratings:

Production values – Top-notch, with the exception of the crappy devil at the end there. Almost scrapes in very low indeed, but there’s just that element of naffness which can’t be ignored.6

Dialogue and performances – A number of rather talented people – and Rod Steiger – give it their all in this movie, acting their little hearts out, bless their cotton socks. Even Arnie can be seen – once or twice – to emote. Sadly, the script isn’t quite up to this standard, but it’s better than your standard action flick fare, and at least Arnie doesn’t dispatch Satan with a corny kiss-off line. “Hey Satan; go to Hell!” 9

Plot and execution – Oof. What gives here? The plot is a flimsy tissue held together by coincidence and rank stupidity on the part of pretty much all concerned. Still, the direction maintains a certain pace. 14

Randomness – Remember how I said the plot is held together by coincidence? Well, there’s your randomness. Plus, if Renegade Vatican Masonic Ninja Jesuits aren’t random, I don’t know what is. 16

Waste of potential – As noted, one of the very best apocalyptic action thrillers of its time. If only they’d given it a little thought. 7

Overall 52%