Category Archives: 91-99%

From the Archive – 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea (1996)

Leagues

 

Directed by Michael Anderson
Starring Richard Crenna, Ben Cross, Paul Gross, Julie Cox

With Atlantic shipping in the Victorian age beset by some kind of maritime prankster who delights in ramming ships, the authorities ask Professor Arronax (Crenna) to investigate the possibility that the attacker is a ‘proto-leviathan’, an unevolved deep-sea relict of a past age. With harpoonist Ned Land (Gross) on board to bag the beast, and the professor’s daughter Sophie (Cox) – disguised, not very convincingly, as a boy, with the subtle pseudonym of ‘Charles Darwin’ – the good ship Abraham Lincoln sets out. The ‘beast’ resists harpoons and cannon fire, and rams the ship, spilling everyone with a name into the water to be rescued by Captain Nemo (Cross) and the submarine Nautilus. But then you knew that.

Professor Arronax buddies up with Nemo, while the good Captain and Mr Land go nose-to-nose in pursuit of Sophie (Nemo’s opening gambit: ‘My daughter would have been the same age as you if she wasn’t dead’) and Ned tries to escape. Nemo tries to have Ned bumped off, but fails. The Nautilus sinks the Abe Lincoln as Nemo’s declaration of war on the imperial powers who invaded his small and non-specific country and killed his family.

The ship gets attack by a proto-leviathan (what, no squid?), which Neddy kills. Nemo lets his prisoners go, submerging under them just to fuck with their heads before releasing a life raft and sailing away.

What’s wrong with it?

Well, the Nautilus is a good place to start. It’s a masterpiece of retro design that looks like it comes right out of Austin Powers. When Sophie and her father change into Nautilus uniforms you can just imagine Nemo asking ‘do you like your quasi-futuristic outfits? I designed them myself’. The alarm klaxon sounds way too modern, and is in fact the exact same noise as the siren in the military base in Terminator 3. The whole thing looks less like a cool, grandiose Victorian steampunky design than like a Disney theme-park ride.

Then there’s the master of the Nautilus. The guy clearly wants to be James Mason, and is also way too English to be the king-in-exile of a conquered land, even if he was Oxford educated. Plus, the whole thing of him macking on a girl he admits is young enough to be his daughter is just a little grotesque. The rest of the cast do little better: Paul Gross is dully macho, Crenna is blandly patrician and Cox is tediously winsome.

Which brings me to the problem of Sophie. Clearly interjected to add some breasts to the proceedings, the character is a blatant anachronism. This wouldn’t matter so much if they didn’t draw attention to it by having her dress up as a principle boy and then have Ned goggle at being introduced to ‘Mr’ Darwin, since she’s clearly nothing of the kind. Her presence further reduces the ideological conflict between Land and Nemo to macho chest-beating.

The dialogue is stilted and reeks of bad rep theatre, with lines like: “Are you Professor Arronax, Holder of the Chair of Marine Biology at Harvard Universtiy?” ‘Why no,’ you feel the answer should come. ‘I’m just breaking into his lab and his assistants haven’t noticed yet’.

Finally, the film clearly models a lot of its content on the old Disney Leagues, which was a far superior film, and when a fifty year old Disney film kicks your arse in the special effects field, you know you’re in trouble.

What’s right with it?

Well, not a lot really, save perhaps that what I saw was cut down from a miniseries which one must assume contained more of the same.

How bad is it really?

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is an aggressive waste of filmstock. The action is dull, the romance bland and the human interest utterly lacking. Cross’ attempt to simulate the mannered performance of James Mason only makes you yearn for the older version, and indeed Cox’s huge eyes do little but put one in mind of Peter Lorre, who essentially played her role in that movie.

Some might miss Ned Land’s ‘Got a Whale of a Tale’ sea shantying antics, but on the plus side at least Paul Gross doesn’t get to sing.

Best bit

When the giant squid has the sub on the surface, and Nemo tells them they are about to go face-to-face with the most tenacious of all sea beast…Oh, wait; that’s the old Disney version. Never mind then.

What’s up with…?

  • The proto-leviathan? I mean, what did they think? ‘The giant squid is passé; let’s do something different’. It’s like the director who decided that the ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy had been done to death and left it out of his version of Hamlet.

  • The dinner-party introductions? ‘My name is professor Arronax.’ ‘Not the famous marine biologist?’ ‘No; I’m a plumber. I work with daleks. On a ship at sea. Yes! The marine biologist!’

  • Nemo’s appeal-to-incest chat-up lines? Yick.

Ratings

Production values: A version of the film from fifty years before kicked this film’s arse in every element of production, from design to special effects. 20

Dialogue and performances: Painfully stilted performances from wooden actors playing cookie-cutter characters. Nemo is without nobility, Arronax without dignity, Land without integrity and Sophie without…well, any defining features but the exceptionally obvious. The dialogue is the worst however; trite to the point of being insulting. 18

Plot and execution: This is a film without narrative drive. Everyone just meanders through, without goals, deadlines or pressures. The whole thing is a soggy mess, without tension or drama. What a mess. 18

Randomness: Not a whole lot, but God damnit! I want a giant squid! Bonus points for removing the giant squid. I mean, this is 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; we expect a squid. We deserve a squid after two-and-a-half-hours of this stinkburger! 16

Waste of potential: Disney did better with this classic story of gripping adventure! Bunch of Muppets. And not the funny kind of Muppets. 20,000 Muppets Under the Sea I’d pay to see, I tells ya. 20

Overall 92%

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From the Archive – Amazons and Gladiators (2001)

Inflicted by Zachary Weintraub
Patrick Bergin is in it.

Marcus Crassius (Bergin), having defeated Spartacus and got way too popular, gets banished to some obscure province, where he kills people just so he can feel good about himself. In one raid, he victimises a plucky child, then has her sold as a slave.

Flash forward 10 years, and the girl, Serena, and her friend Brianna have become a popular interpretive dance act. Then she kills a senator who tries to have his way with her, and they escape to join the Amazon freedom fighters in the woods. They train; Serena gets laid; there are some fights. Then our plucky heroines are captured trying to assassinate Crassius and forced to fight in the arena.

The Amazons bust in on the act, and Serena kills Crassius. Then she delivers a stirring speech about women’s rights, and goes off to destroy Rome, with the incidental aid of the Goths and the Huns.

What’s wrong with it?

Make no mistake: Even by my standards, this film is an execrable, dog turd of a movie. It’s like Xena without the class meets Gladiator without any of the talent.

Patrick Bergin plays Crassius – who seems to have traded Tony Curtis for Serena’s soppy tart of a sister when he stopped being Laurence Olivier – as the bastard love-child of Christopher Biggins and Chris Tarrant, only not as menacing. The Amazons – a curious mish-mash of talentless-but-busty English, American and Australian ‘actresses’ – ponce about in their battle-bras, showing such an incredible dearth of combat skill that they’d be screwed if the legions of Rome were any better.

Serena and Brianna are at times completely indistinguishable, save that Brianna sometimes has an English accent.

It’s entirely unclear which pissant backwater Crassius has been dumped in, for as much as anyone might care.

There’s gratuitous movie sex, and some half-hearted Hollywood sapphism that makes Lust for a Vampire look daring and interesting.

The acting is universally bad.

Oh yeah; and the entire film is ripped off from somewhere else. Examples include:

  • The opening massacre, where Serena is made to balance her mother on her shoulders, with a rope around her neck, is straight from Once Upon a Time in the West, less the harmonica and the talent.
  • Serena’s lover sacrificing himself rather than fight her is ripped off from Spartacus, except he doesn’t even have the gumption to take a run at Crassius while he’s doing it.
  • Towards the end, Brianna and Serena fake a fight and Brianna seems to be killed, so that Serena can get a chance to fight Crassius while Brianna frees the other gladiators. This is lifted liberally from The Quick and the Dead (which also has a ‘you have a chance to save your hanging relative’ scene, a la Once Upon a Time…), and moreover it’s a complete mystery to me where they hid the bladder of fake blood under her figure-hugging leather battle gear.
  • Half the script is boosted from Star Wars.

What’s right with it?

Bog all really.

Best bit?

Crassius decrees that Serena must continue fighting her lover until the hourglass is empty, otherwise they’ll both be shot. Serena smashes the hourglass, and points out that the glass is empty, to which Crassius pretty much ripostes by having her lover shot.

It’s not that good, but at least it gets shot of the scrawny, Shaggy-from-Scooby-Doo-alike love lack-of-interest. If only he’d shot Serena as well.

What’s up with…?

Oh, where to start?

  • Patrick Bergin’s Christopher Biggins impersonation? He grins his way through the movie, picking up and discarding random totty (and remember, this is Laurence Olivier’s character from Spartacus here; the gay one), and generally phoning it in, and when Patrick Bergin is phoning it in, you know youse in trouble.
  • The unidentified, highly cosmopolitan backwater province of Whereinthehell?
  • The Amazon battle-bra? I mean, we don’t know where they are, but it looks fairly nippy. In at least one scene, Serena is all shivery and cold, but doesn’t even close her coat.
  • In the scene where they fake Brianna’s stabbing, where is she supposed to have hidden that bladder?
  • Serena and Shaggy from Scooby Doo discussing how the Romans ripped off everything from Greece (including, it seems, their enemies; the Amazons)?

Ratings

Production values – Weak. The costumes are silly – very silly – the sets tacky, and the camerawork shoddy. Even the swords are all blatantly plastic, and everyone stabs under the cloak. When people are required to bleed, there is a trickle of blood, that apparently stains like red wine; no wonder a wineskin worked to fake a death. Even the final coup de grace on Crassius didn’t warrant any greater spending than a blood pack in Patrick Bergin’s hand. Everything about the production reeks of cheapness. 19

Dialogue and performances – This film rips off Star Wars dialogue, and makes it even more trite and pointless. It isn’t helped by the absolute woodenness of everyone in the film. Pretty much the entire cast seems chosen on the grounds of bra-size instead of acting ability; including Patrick Bergin. Absolute ‘worst performance ever’ award goes to the kid who plays Young Serena, who manages to make one yearn for the level of performance achieved by Jake Lloyd. 20

Plot and execution – Five monkeys, two typewriters; ten minutes. Actually; five monkeys, a glue stick, a copy of the script of Gladiator and a selection of cut-out quotes form Star Wars. The direction is everything that the material deserves. 20

Randomness – The whole damn film is so random. Marcus Crassius? Patrick Bergin as Christopher Biggins as Laurence Olivier as Marcus Crassius? It’s like the Comic Strip presents… gone horribly awry. The Amazons in general. The claim that the Amazons brought down the Roman Empire. The classically-educated slave dancer.
Help me; I’ve fallen and I can’t get up. 19

Waste of Potential – I’m in two minds on this rating. On the one hand, you don’t expect much from what is basically a Gladiator cash-in with more cleavage (and that’s just from Patrick Bergin). On the other, this falls so very far below even those low expectations, that a pretty decent score is earned. 18

Overall 96%

From the Archive – Hemoglobin (aka Bleeders) (1997)

Hemoglobin

It’s in the blood

Directed by Peter Svatek
Starring Rutger Hauer and Roy Dupuis

Way back when, Eva van Daam (described by the narrator as ‘one of the great narcissists’) screws her own twin brother as its the nearest she can get to screwing herself (as you do), thus getting her entire noble family booted out of Holland. They emigrate to the New World, perhaps hoping to find tolerance for their weird, incestuous ways in Fife, Alabama or something, where the family peters out and vanishes. Henceforth the movie drops any trace of potential which this premise might have held.

Flash forward to the now, and John Strauss (Dupuis) – a weird, pale, photosensitive guy with haemophilia, mismatched eyes and a mysterious trust fund – is travelling to an island to trace his roots, accompanied by his wife, a trained nurse, and presumably his full-time carer. He is dying of a congenital blood defect, and wants to find out if he has any family who know what it is and how to treat it. No one seems to know much about him, until he meets the old nurse on the island. She tells him that his family – the van Daams, natch – went into hiding underground when the islanders burned their house down because they were so very weird, but that they sent him away because he was different; because he was normal. He does however have these odd cravings, but she won’t tell him what for. She is then killed by a legless troll that leaps out of the cupboard and bashes her spine in.

Hi. This is our villain, not some sort of subhuman lackey. If you thought we were in for vampires, I have to disappoint you.

Meanwhile, the local undertaker and entrepreneur has been accused of making substandard coffins, so the entire cemetery is being dug up and shipped to the mainland for reburial, as you do. Almost immediately, people start to disappear, and the islanders – led by Dr Marlowe (Oscar-nominee and Golden Globe-winner Hauer) discover that the van Daams’ freakish, subterranean, hermaphrodite, troll-thing descendants are responsible.

It turns out that the van Daams became so inbred that they were forced to consume the embalmed flesh of the recently buried in order to survive, because of course horrific inbreeding leads inevitably to a terrible formaldehyde dependency. Now there are no more corpses in the graveyard – that’s right; I said formaldehyde dependency – they have turned to the flesh of the living in desperation – no, not blood, not flesh, formaldehyde – hence the disappearances.

As they hate light, Marlowe gets the islanders together in a lighthouse – and also saves Strauss by telling him about the formaldehyde, and giving him a pickled van Daam baby in a jar to eat – but of course the power goes out. A small number of islanders are killed, before the van Dam trolls’ tunnels collapse, leaving Strauss to rejoin his family and cop off with his hermaphrodite twin sister, and his wife to leave the island with their unborn child. She seems very excited about the pregnancy considering she’s likely to give birth to a congenital formaldehyde drinker, but I guess that’s the hormones talking.

What’s wrong with it?

Well, for starters, there’s the formaldehyde issue. Then there’s the van Daams themselves. Being a bunch of stunted, hermaphrodite formaldehyde eating weirdoes just isn’t nearly as interesting, or as frightening, or as creepy, as them being inbred, anaemic, haemophiliac vampires, and frankly they look like Yoda’s evil twins most of the time. Most of the time, you wonder why the islanders don’t just kick the across the room, since it doesn’t look like it would be that difficult. They barely even manage to be nasty; John the weirdo is a dozen times creepier, with the unknown urges, and the trying to rape his pregnant wife, and the eating of the foetus in formaldehyde.

The villagers, meanwhile, are such a pack of gripless wasters that you just want more of them to get eaten. Even when they have guns, they just stand around and watch their loved ones get dragged away.

The film ends with no real conclusion or closure, and with no explanation of a) how the trolls apparently continue to survive without the formaldehyde, and b) why the islanders don’t have them gassed like rabbits as soon as the film is over.

And there’s bad movie sex. Twice. Including the touching ‘my husband just ate a baby in formaldehyde and he tried to rape me yesterday, so I must have him’ sex scene.

Also, Rutger Hauer provides the acting highlights. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

On a more technical note, as well as the trolls looking naff, the lighting is rubbish. I suppose it’s meant to be moody, but it’s just dark really. A couple of gratuitous sweeping aerial shots aside (I guess they hired a helicopter and wanted to get their money’s worth, said fellow BMM Reviewer Simon Drake), the direction is pretty lacklustre, and while there’s a competent – if occasionally grating – score, the dialogue is so mumbled that two out of three viewers failed to note at all that the wife was pregnant, and I only picked it up by inference.

What’s right with it?

Nada.

How bad is it really?

This film is an utter and abject turd. There’s a reason that it got its own page on the original site, and that is that not even a Mark Dacascos movie deserves to be on the same page as this stink bomb. I mean, I’ve seen some real tripe in my time, but this film was just stunningly bad. The film is nasty in all the wrong ways, but not even nasty enough to get a decent squirm. It’s also cheaply exploitative, including a gratuitous tit shot on a hanging corpse for crying out loud. There is nothing about this vile piece of celluloid excrement that is done right.

Best bit?

Ba-ha! Bwahahahahahahahaaaaaa! BWAAAAAH-HAHAHAHAAAAA!

BWAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA!

Hem. Sorry. No; there isn’t a best bit.

What’s up with?

Where to start…? Oh yes:

  • The formaldehyde vampires? Not scary, guys. I mean, come on; how could you think they would be? “We have come for your embalming fluid!” Just doesn’t rate alongside “We come to drink your blood!” It’s just not as scary if it can be conveniently shop bought.
  • The doctor telling the freakish John that he needs to eat embalmed flesh, then giving him a baby van Daam in a jar to eat!? I mean, what’s up with that?
  • The gratuitous sex scene, in the middle of the whole “they’re coming to eat us” panic?
  • The title? Why not call it: Formaldehyde? It’s not about haemoglobin; and it certainly isn’t about bleeders; Strauss is the only haemophilliac in the film.
  • How come John turned out normal? And how come his twin sister looked fairly normal, even if she was actually a hermaphrodite? I mean, they were very normal, given that the rest of the family had been deformed trolls for generations.

Ratings

Production Values – Poor to barely adequate. The lighting is inadequate (no doubt they felt ‘subdued’), the sound balance is for shit, and the direction is poor. Oh, and lest we forget, the van Daam trolls look like Yoda’s evil twin. 17

Dialogue and Performances – Rutger Hauer takes the acting honours (in English), which should tell you how bad everyone else was. There’s bugger all in the way of emoting, and some half-hearted screams. Plus a whole lot of dead frames where the actors stand there and wait for something bad to happen to them, although that’s really the director’s fault, I guess. 19

Plot and Execution – If stunted, hermaphrodite, inbred, formaldehyde-drinking trolls constitute a plot, then my face is red, and this film was down there with the best of them. The execution was still off though, with the pacing being rubbish and the exposition non-existent or nonsensical. 19

Randomness – Inbred, hermaphrodite, formaldehyde-dependent trolls. Lost scions. All the corpses on the island being dug up because they were in substandard coffins. Huh? 19

Waste of Potential – Creepy inbred vampires have a lot of potential in the horror department, but the minute you make them into formaldehyde dependent trolls instead of effete, Byronesque sociopaths, you lose it all, you really do. 19

Overall 93%