From the Archive – Highlander II: The Quickening (1991)

Highlander II: The Quickening (1991)

“It’s time for a new kind of magic.”

Directed by Russell Mulcahy.
Starring Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Virginia Madsen and Michael Ironside

In the sequel to 1984’s cult favourite, Highlander, the mysterious immortals from the first film turn out to be aliens exiled by the evil dictator, General Katana (Ironside), forced to fight for the right to either return to their home planet of Zeist or to become mortal and live out their days on Earth, as Connor McLeod (Lambert) has done.

In the future, an aging Connor recovers his powers and his youth when Katana – for no apparent reason – sends two giggling incompetents to kill him. Regenerated by their Quickening and motivated by bad movie sex, he then teams up with a resurrected Ramirez (Connery), and an ecoterrorist (Madsen) to bring down the ozone shield he helped to create and save the world.

The ‘Renegade’ Director’s Cut apparently makes more sense, but may be just a myth. I certainly know no one who has seen it.

What’s wrong with it?

This film is bad on so many levels. For starters, it bears little or no relation to the first film, in which the immortals were weird and mystical, with an unknown source. The degree to which the ‘sequel’ is not trying is indicated by the fact that the aliens were exiled over a thousand years after Ramirez was supposed to have been born in Egypt.

The playing is lacklustre – even Sean Connery and Michael Ironside seem to be phoning it in; the plot is incomprehensible in parts, and drivel in others. Even the sword fighting is minimal, to say the least, with only really two scenes which can even approximate to decent duels.

Yeah, and the continuity is poor.

Also, I don’t know what the female lead’s name is. I could probably look it up on IMDb, but seriously, I ought to know from watching the film.

What’s right with it?

Nothing really.

How bad is it really?

Truly appalling. As a sequel it doesn’t work, and it lacks the justification of being a watchable movie in its own right.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Umm…No.

What’s up with…?

  • In the bit when Ramirez uses his big burst of telekinesis, why does Amazing Grace play on the bagpipes? He’s an Egyptian, and an alien. And how come his katana is stuck in the floor beside him after Connor and the woman leave, yet later on Connor is carrying it instead of his naff little Zeistian sword?
  • How come Katana isn’t dead? He’s supposed to be a mortal on Zeist. And why can’t he get better help if he rules the whole planet with an iron hand? And why does he send them when Connor is about to kark it from old age anyway?
  • Why?
  • Why, God? Why?

Ratings:

Production values – Poor. The lighting is not just muted, in places it’s hardly there at all. The fight scenes are clunky and awkward, and the SFX is pretty rubbish (a few cheap-looking Quickening rushes and an ozone shield that looks like a Los Angeles sunrise). 14

Dialogue and performances – The dialogue is unbelievably bad, even by action-adventure standards, with the standout piece being the explanation of how the whole Zeist-Earth/Mortal-Immortal gig works between Connor and the ecoterrorist chick, which plays like a badly gaffed version of Who’s On First? 17

Plot – There is no plot; only Zool. Slay evil; destroy bad machine. Fire bad; tree pretty. 16

Randomness – For starters, there’s the issue of why it’s called Highlander II, given that with the alien timewarp and so forth it has next to no continuity with the first film. Move past that, and the question of why Katana bothers to go after Connor trips you up. Also, how come none of the stuff they do in this one comes up in the first? It’s pretty out there, and that’s where it needs to stay. 18

Waste of Potential – Maybe Highlander wasn’t Citizen Kane, but this isn’t even Jeffrey Archer’s Kane and Abel. 18

Overall: 83%

From the Archive – Sanctuary (1997)

sanctuary

“From hood to priesthood.”

Inflicted by Tibor Takacs.
Perpetrated by Mark Dacascos (which readers may come to think of as ‘all you need to know’) and friends.

OK; so there’s this priest, right. Only he’s really an assassin, in hiding, after doing something he can’t face. A series of flashbacks reveal that he was part of an elite team, trained from childhood, loyal only to their commander, etc, etc. After years living quietly as a priest, they come after him, and he and his former lover have to shoot some people and reveal assorted nefariousness.

Um…That’s pretty much it. There’s probably some soul-searching involved somewhere.

What’s wrong with it?

Sanctuary is a film so dismal I can’t even be bothered to write more of a plot summary than I gave above. It’s full of dull characters, engaging in dull fights and even duller conversations. It’s very difficult to become engaged enough to care whether any of them live or die, except that maybe you want them off the damned screen. I only remember the lead character’s name is Luke because that’s my name.

What’s right with it?

Actually, nothing. Really, seriously, nothing.

How bad is it really?

Sanctuary is awesomely, mind-numbingly, stomach-churningly, soul-destroyingly bad. Only sheer bloody-mindedness kept me awake through the whole thing, and I wasn’t even tired. It’s suffocatingly boring, packed with characters who don’t even cease to be boring when they’re being cartoonishly evil or unpleasant.

Best bit?

The end credits came as something of a relief.

What’s up with…?

It’s a little difficult to write this section, mostly because in the case of Sanctuary, I just don’t care enough.

Ratings

Production Values – Poor. The dialogue is mumbled (this is a common flaw in this breed of film; they think characters who can’t speak above a whisper unless they’re screaming in barely coherent rage automatically seem deep and sensitive), and many scenes underlit. It’s all pretty cheap and dismal. 18

Dialogue and Performances – I’ve seen worse, but then I have seen some very poor performances. The dialogue is pretty poor, and unforgivably, is not even memorably poor. 19

Plot and Execution – No real effort has been put into developing or moving the narrative. Many of the primary plot junctures are ill-explained and nonsensical:

  • “I’m the new member of your team, who have trained and lived together since childhood. No way I’ll be trouble.”
  • “We need blackmail material against our new Congressional overseer; let’s trick him into killing one of our best operatives on camera.”
  • “We’ve lost them! No wait; I’ve picked them up on the plot-cam!”

In short: Dire. 20

Randomness – Aside from the above-mentioned narrative ‘eccentricities’, there isn’t a great deal of randomness. Unless you count the order of assassin-priests who recruit Father Luke at the end of the film. They’re pretty random. And the sporadic, almost spontaneous nature of the attempts on Father Luke’s life probably count. 10

Waste of Potential – This could have been a nice little thriller about an assassin in hiding, whose past catches up with him. The idea of a team trained together since childhood was a good one, but the film would have needed much more work to make something of it. 15.

Overall – 82%

From the Archive – Omega Doom (1996)

OMega

Directed by Albert Pyun
Starring Rutger Hauer and Shannon Whirry

You can hear the pitch: “It’s Yojimbo/A Fistful of Dollars. With robots!”

A gang of servo-hissing, electric, killer breakdancers engage in a good, old-fashioned Mexican stand-off against a clique of reverb-voiced, moody, lethal proto-Goth New Romantics over a cache of guns supposedly buried under a patch of post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Rutger Hauer, as a robot reprogrammed by what appears to be a bunch of druids to protect a resurgent humanity from the robot gangs, enters the fray. As an ‘Upgraded Model 5.5’ he is half-way between the older ‘droids’ (breakdancers) and the more sophisticated ‘roms’ (proto-Goths), and plays the two gangs off against each other, aided by a talking head and a robot bartender.

What’s wrong with it?

The direction in Omega Doom is pretty lacklustre. The tension-building shots are overlong and do less to build tension than to breed boredom. Perhaps an effective score would have helped here, but there isn’t one. All of the music is pretty forgettable really. Also, while the relative brevity of the film is perhaps something to be grateful for, it rather does away with the slow-burning nature of the essential story.

What right with it?

The different robot factions – droids, roms and drones – are nicely distinguished in terms of look, although the droids are never given much to do. The idea is also not without merit, and the film hides a great deal of potential behind its facile surface. As is often the case however, the presence of such potential in such a fundamentally misbegotten film is more of a points against than for.

How bad is it really?

Pretty poor.

Best bit?

There really, really isn’t one.

What’s up with…?

  • The funky energy-knife things? They seem pretty lethal; why is everyone so hung up about getting guns? Moreover, we’re never given any kind of idea what they are.

Ratings

Production Values – Not bad over all. There isn’t much in the way of special effects, aside from a few energy blasts and a bunch of mechanical hissing and reverb, but this is definitely to the film’s – ultimately wasted – benefit. The sound quality isn’t great, meaning that much of the dialogue is indecipherable, although some might see this as a redeeming feature. 7

Dialogue and Performances – Pretty naf. Oscar-nominated, Golden Globe-winning Rutger Hauer not at his worst, but certainly pretty damned wooden. Second-billed Shannon Whirry – following fellow former soft-core porno actresses Tracy Lords and Shannon Tweed in a bizarre bid to become respectable via tacky DTV action movies and thrillers – is almost completely without expression, and while Anna Katarina and William Zieggler as the Bartender and the Head show some talent, they aren’t given much to work with. The remainder of the cast are acceptable, but absolutely nothing to write home about. The script isn’t great and is filled with bizarre snippets of pseudo-philosophy, which detract more than they add to the atmosphere. 12

Plot and Execution – It’s as if having made the pitch, no further work went into the plot. There’s almost no characterisation either, so we don’t really care much who lives and who dies. The duels all tend to involve over-long staring matches (maybe not so long as in Fistful of Dollars, but then they don’t have an Ennio Morricone soundtrack, and that makes a whole lot of difference), and because there isn’t much of an effect for the funky plasma knives they fight with, they tend to be shot so that the impact point is obscured, and all we really see is a flash of light just off the screen. It might also have been nice to have some attempt to explain what these weapons are and how they work. The worst thing about the execution of the film is that it seems to be the major stumbling block for an otherwise fair concept. 18

Randomness – Well, in a lot of ways the whole damn film is pretty random, but often in a good way. While the breakdancers vs. new romantics shtick is a bit weird, in aesthetic terms it does actually kind of work. On the other hand, we are given no real explanation as to why Omega Doom was reprogrammed by druids (I mean; druids?), and in fact we only know he’s called Omega Doom from an opening and closing narration. In the film itself he calls himself Guardian Angel, which makes it sound like he should be a futuristic interceptor pilot chick in a white catsuit. 16

Waste of Potential – Hell yeah. The film has solid potential, bearing a tried-and-tested storyline, with a perfectly workable twist. And it has nothing much going for it. Could most definitely try harder. 18.

Overall – 61%

From the Archive – Lost in Time: Waxwork II (1992)

Image

Directed by Anthony Hickox
Starring Zach Galligan, Monika Schnarre, Alexander Godunov and Bruce Campbell

A sequel to 1988’s campy schlock-horror romp Waxwork, in which the usual crowd of stupid beautiful teenagers suffer a series of gruesome fates at the hands of the exhibits in a waxworks museum. Waxwork’s shtick was making the exhibits doorways into other worlds, allowing the various teen victims to be drawn into scenes homaging various horror genres and settings, before finally being gorily despatched

In the sequel, Mark Loftmore and Sarah Brightman (not the singer), after escaping from the burning ruin of the museum, are pursued by a disembodied hand, which proceeds to murder Sarah’s stepfather before being shoved down the waste disposal, leaving Sarah facing a murder charge. In an attempt to prove her outlandish story, Mark and Sarah go to the house of the now deceased Sir Wilfred, an ageing, wheelchair-bound warrior-against-evil (played briefly but gleefully by Patrick Macnee), who died helping them destroy the Waxworks, in search of evidence. Here they learn that Sir Wilfred has left Mark his collection of strange artefacts, collected by himself and Mark’s grandfather in their ‘adventures through the supernatural’.

One of these artefacts (kept alongside the hockey mask from Friday the 13th, the Nazi crate containing the Ark of the Covenant and others) is a Cartagrian Time-Door Opener, a kind of stylish wood and brass compass which opens a swirly door in a mirror. Mark and Sarah go through the portal to search for more tangible evidence, and thus begins the first main thread of the movie, in which Mark and Sarah travel through a series of short homages: Frankenstein, Legend of Hell House and Alien form the basis of the three episodes, but references to other movies find their way in. Through these travels, Mark finds himself remaining aware of who he is, a la Sam Beckett in Quantum Leap, but Sarah is sucked into various characters, forgetting who she really is when not around Mark.

After these episodes, the second main strand comes in; an elongated segment set in a pseudo-medieval England where the vile and decadent Scarabis (played by evil ballet dancer Alexander Godunov) torments his people while planning to take over the kingdom by abducting and replacing King Arthur through black magic. Mark is thrown in a dungeon, where Sir Wilfred finds him in the form of a post-modern raven (‘this was the only way they’d let me appear in this one’) and tells him that he and Sarah have stumbled into Cartagra – ‘God’s Nintendo game’ – where good and evil time warriors take on different roles to fight in battles for the fate of the real world.

Needless to say, the raven frees Mark and he thwarts the dastardly plan, engaging in a final duel in which the time-door opener becomes activated, allowing Mark and Scarabis to pass through time as they fight. In the course of the duel, they encounter Jack the Ripper (and feed him to Nosferatu), Mr Hyde, Godzilla and a horde of zombies in a shopping mall (a la Dawn of the Dead). Finally they come back to where they started, and Scarabis is killed by one of his own creations, proving that sophisticated irony and gratuitous head-being-pulled-off gore are not mutually exclusive. Sarah goes home with a hand taken from one of the zombies while Mark remains in Cartagra to be a time warrior. Once found innocent she receives a package from Ye Olde courier company containing a time-door opener, and an invitation to join Mark in Cartagra.

What’s Wrong With It?

Lost in Time is an Anthony Hickox movie, and suffers from all of his usual failings. The plot is ludicrous, the dialogue garbled, and the performances more full of ham than a pig farm. There is an excess of egregious and almost cartoonish gore (more people have their heads torn from their shoulders in the course of this movie than – probably – in all other movies in history combined), and Hickox is a little overfond of the ‘fountain of blood’ effect. If you don’t like gore, the movie can do nothing for you.

What’s Right With It?

Well, it’s fun in a gory kind of way, it has absolutely no pretensions and the cast seem to have their tongues firmly in cheek, especially Bruce Campbell in the Hell House section. It also shows a remarkable degree of invention, and comes up with an almost original premise, which could easily have been wasted on a too-serious TV movie.

How Bad is it Really?

Extremely bad, but in quite a fun way if you don’t mind the gratuitous bloodshed.

Best Bit?

In the Hell House section, John Loftmore (Bruce Campbell) has been tied spread-eagle on a wooden frame, his chest cut open to the ribs and an eagle has been pecking at his innards. Despite this, he remains very together and stiff upper-lipped. Then the possessed Elenore (Sophie Ward) starts throwing things at Mark, who dodges each, only for them to hit John in the face or ribs. Elenore hefts a heavy sack, labelled ‘Bag ‘O Salt’.

John: Oh no.
Elenore throws, Mark dodges, and the salt goes all over John’s exposed ribs. He screams. Mark knocks out Elenore.
John: Water! Water.
Mark grabs a bottle and throws the contents over John’s chest, washing off the salt. John screams louder. Mark looks, and sees that the bottle is labelled ‘Vinegar’.
Mark: Sorry.
John: (tightly controlled) It’s alright. It’s going numb.

Also, in the credits, this happens:

What’s Up With…?

It’s frankly pointless to try to pick holes in an Anthony Hickox film. The whole thing is an exercise in the absurd and the unnecessary, so pointing out its logical inconsistencies is like complaining that, even if a mouse could lift a frying pan, the cat’s head wouldn’t go pan-shaped when he got hit with it.

Ratings:

Production Values – Not great, but on the other hand the movie does manage to create at least seven fairly distinct settings. Costume and set design is actually fairly impressive, although maybe they just stole whatever was on the nearby sets. The special effects aren’t all that special, and most of that budget seems to have gone on the gallons of fake blood. 12

Dialogue and performances – In places the dialogue is laughable, in others incomprehensible. The performances are well and truly overcooked. 14

Plot and execution – When all is said and done, the plot is really an excuse for the various sections, and the sections are merely excuses for a series of in-jokes, pastiches, homages and – of course – brutal decapitations. There are attempts to weld the whole thing into a coherent narrative, but only just. 16

Randomness – A number of characters are only named in the credits, including King Arthur and John Loftmore. Much of the film makes sense only with reference to other films. A lot seems like it might have been included only because it seemed like a good idea at the time. There is little consistent sense of mood, as the grimmest scenes may suddenly veer off into slapstick with the abandon of Hong Kong cinema. 14

Waste of Potential – Not really. It’s a shlocky gory comedy, and pretty good at it too. 0.

Overall: 56%

From the Archive: The Toho Godzilla Movies

Gojira (1954) (Godzilla) Directed by Ishiro Honda

Kaiju daisenso (1965) (Godzilla vs The Space Monster) Directed by Ishiro Honda

Gojira-Ebira-Mosura: Nankai no daiketto (1966) (Ebira: Terror of the Deep) Directed by Jun Fukuda

Kaijuto no kessen: Gojira no musuko (1967) (Son of Godzilla) Directed by Jun Fukuda

Kaiju soshingeki (1968) (Destroy all Monsters) Directed by Ishiro Honda

Gojira tai Mekagojira (1974) (Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla) Directed by Jun Fukuda

Mekagojira no gyakushu (1975) (Return of Mechagodzilla) Directed by Ishiro Honda

Gojira 2000 (1999) (Godzilla 2000) Directed by Takao Okawara

Ishiro Honda’s 1954 classic, Gojira (or in the west, Godzilla), is a direct attack on American nuclear weapons testing and a testament to the impact on the Japanese psyche of the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nuclear testing wakes up and mutates the terrifying eponymous reptile, who proceeds to eat much of Tokyo. Gojira is a force of nature, and also a man in a rubber suit.

Eventually he is slain and reduced to a skeleton by the ‘Oxygen Destroyer’ (in Japanese ‘Oxygen Destroyu’) a horrific weapon of mass destruction. There’s some human interest in the form of the love triangle between the Oxygen Destroyer’s crippled creator, his fiancée, and the man she now loves, but mostly we get big lizard action and a strong anti-nuke message.

It isn’t subtle, but it’s actually pretty good.

Despite Godzilla’s advanced state of deadness, he returned for many more movies, of which I present a sample here, specifically, the ones I have seen.

By Godzilla vs. The Space Monster, Godzilla is but one of many kaiju (monsters), and moreover becomes the defender of Earth against the three-headed King Gidhra.

Again in Ebira: Terror of the Deep he defends the righteous humans against dangerous radicals and a giant lobster, while Mothra – a giant moth – airlifts the good-guys to safety, guided by two tiny women who speak in stereo.

In Son of Godzilla the Big Green becomes a family man, adopting a miniature version of himself named Minya who blows luminous smoke rings (pretty naff-looking, but they manage to throttle one of King Gidhra’s heads in Destroy All Monsters). This film also features Spiegon (a giant spider) and the Gimantises (some giant mantises); not the most awesome of line-ups.

Destroy All Monsters on the other hand has a terrific line-up. More literally translated as ‘March of the Monsters’ or ‘Attack of the Marching Monsters’, this film has Godzilla and his friends let loose from monster island under alien control to devastate the Earth, but for the main event they break loose and fight a final challenge for the fate of the Earth against King Gidhra.

Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla gives us more alien invaders, this time attempting to neutralise the Godzilla threat using Mechagodzilla, a robot impostor in a rubber Godzilla suit. The suit gets burned off though, revealing the big robot which is taller than the suit, and Godzilla teams up with King Seesar (a man in a sort of Pekingese dog suit) to put the smackdown on the metal mimic.

Return of Mechagodzilla sees aliens (again) build a monster theme park and attempt to persuade the government to kill all the monsters on monster island. Godzilla and his friend Anguirus (a man in a rubber suit walking on hands and knees) talk the problem over – that’s right, they have a conversation – then Godzilla has a barney with the reconstructed Mechagodzilla, and cements his place as the original and best.

A second series of Godzilla movies began in 1985, of which I have seen none.

Godzilla 2000 featured the Godzilla Prediction Unit, who are to Godzilla as the guys in Twister were to Tornadoes. There’s also a big alien mutating thing called Orga, which swipes Godzilla’s cells to duplicate Regenerator G1 (which apparently is what lets Godzilla keep coming back), which lasts about a minute when it comes down to the final fight. Having beaten Orga, Godzilla proceeds to smash up whatever of Tokyo Orga hasn’t already levelled. Godzilla is not Earth’s defender anymore, he just seems to feel that Tokyo is only big enough for the one monster.

What’s wrong with them?

Toho’s Godzilla movies are fairly predictable, and feature men in rubber suits swinging slow, ponderous punches at each other, punctuated by a series of cheap special-effects and bizarre screaming, roaring and chirruping sounds. 

Rodan – a pterodactyl-like kaiju – flies without beating his wings, perches without folding his wings, and makes a sound like a jet engine as he flies over. 

The dialogue is almost invariably dubbed; badly. In Godzilla 2000 a horrified shopkeeper gives a  cry of ‘Gott in Himmel’ as his livelihood is crushed underfoot. 

The plots are often pretty laughable as well. Moreover, you often only get to see the US versions, with randomly inserted American actors looking out of windows at Godzilla (whom we just have to assume to be out there). The US version of Gojira (Godzilla King of the Monsters, starring Raymond Burr) has notably less mention of how terrible nuclear testing is, and indeed dares to suggest a nuke would be more merciful than Godzilla.

Godzilla floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. Well, actually he pretty much floats like a bee and stings like a steam-hammer, but he boxes. He has footwork like Mohammed Ali (if Ali were to have boxed in a big green monster suit), which looks pretty odd in a giant lizard.

What’s right with them?

Well, for starters there’s a certain something about a man in a rubber suit stomping on buildings in Tokyo – or anywhere really, but it really has to be a man in a rubber suit. Who knows why, but it seems to work, while CGI patently doesn’t. 

The original Gojira had a real message as well, a damning indictment of all weapons of mass destruction; the maker of the Oxygen Destroyer sacrifices himself to make certain that no one can make him manufacture another, as well as to clear the way for his fiancée to be with the man she loves. It’s also the Godzilla movie most often shown subtitled, which makes it seem a lot less ridiculous.

How bad are they really?

Many of them are very bad, or at least plain silly. Gojira is actually fairly meaty, but the likes of Son of Godzilla are really just excuses to get on the monster suit and stir up some box office takings.

The Best Bit?

Godzilla’s trademark ‘tail-slide’ move.

What’s up with…?

  • That ‘Gott in Himmel’ dubbing?

  • At the end of Godzilla 2000, with half of Tokyo in flames and Godzilla about to get around to the other half, why does one scientists ask: “Why does Godzilla keep protecting us”? Moreover, why is the answer: “I guess there’s a little bit of Godzilla in all of us”?

  • If the aliens can build the death rays, why don’t they just vaporise Monster Island from orbit?

  • The tiny stereo women in Ebirah? Not that anyone in the film mentions this. It’s like: ‘We must wake Mothra and go to rescue our people’. ‘OK; let’s go.’ Rather than: ‘Excuse me, but did you know that you’re two inches tall, speaking in stereo and standing in a sea-shell, and there’s a huge fuck-off moth over there?’ They were parodied on South Park.

  • Actually, this bland acceptance is a feature of the later Kaiju movies. It seems that the monsters have become such an accepted part of existence in the Tokyo of the movies, that the good citizens are past being surprised. “Oh look. Monsters.” “Again? Who is it this time?”

Ratings:

Production Values – Gojira was probably fairly cutting edge, and its black and white photography gives it a darker edge which makes it seem altogether classier than later, glorious Technicolor versions. Unfortunately, the effects technology has gone nowhere; even by Godzilla 2000 it’s pretty much the same deal. On the other hand, it still looks better than a lot of CGI. 10

Dialogue and Performances – Actually very difficult to tell. For all I know the Japanese dialogue of each film could be a single, sweeping, epic poem that makes Beowulf look like a hack-job. Still, going by the translations, it’s pretty risible. Also, the dubbing performances are invariably naff. 17 (on the basis of the translated version)

Plot and Execution – Again, with the exception of Gojira, plot is almost an afterthought in Godzilla movies; a side note to the monster fight. And the monster fights are kinda samey and laughable, especially with the Big Green’s tail-slides and pugilistic footwork. 13

Randomness – Hoh yeah. Aliens who look like humans and turn out to be giant cockroaches. Tiny women in a sea-shell. Gott in Himmel! 19

Waste of Potential – Quite the opposite. In fact, the Godzilla movies manage to make a huge amount out of sod all. 0

OVERALL 49% (May vary up to 20% either way depending on the specific movie)

From the Archive – Beowulf (1999)

“Unleash your dark side.”

Directed by Graham Baker.
Starring – if you can really call it that – Christopher Lambert and Rhona Mitra

The epic Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf tells the story of the eponymous hero; a mighty Scandinavian warrior-king of the sixth century.

The 1999 film Beowulf tells the story of the eponymous hero; a black-clad half-man, half-demon kinda guy in a weird, techno-primitive world.

In the epic, Beowulf wrestles and kills the monster Grendel, who has been menacing Heorot, the hall of the Danish King Hrothgar. He is then forced to fight and kill Grendel’s mother, an acid-fleshed water-witch. He later becomes king of his homeland, and in his old age has to fight and kill a dragon, who deals him a poisoned wound which finally sends him to his grave.

In the film, Beowulf engages in fast-cut, acrobatic combat with the monster Grendel, who has seen the Predator one too many times and is menacing the industrial-gothic fortress of Heorot, the hall of King Hrothgar. He is then forced to fight and kill Grendel’s mother, a trampy blonde in a string dress who morphs into a big, muscle-skinned CGI monster. No dragons are involved, but Beowulf does get a pumping techno soundtrack.

The poem has no real love interest, and the only major female character is the Queen of the Danes, who toasts Beowulf’s initial victory over Grendel. The vast majority of Hrothgar’s people survive the poem.

The film has the woman who modelled for Lara Croft, dressed in revealing brown leathers, as a feisty princess. Everybody except she and Beowulf get brutally killed, even the comedy sidekick.

That’s about it really.

What’s wrong with it?

The plot is minimal. The acting is poor, and not at all helped by the laughable dialogue. The techno-primitive setting looks – frankly – like it was cobbled together out of whatever came to hand. The pop-video editing is almost vertiginous at times. The fight scenes are pretty so-so. The gratuitous sex scenes are, well, entirely gratuitous. The female character is nothing but eye candy. Christopher Lambert.

What’s right with it?

The dialogue and plot are laughable enough to be fun, and you can’t entirely go wrong with a pumping techno soundtrack. Christopher Lambert.

How bad is it really?

Beowulf is eye-poppingly bad, but with the almost non-stop motion and that techno score, you almost don’t notice. It’s the cinematic equivalent of rat vindaloo; you wouldn’t eat it if you knew, but it’s hard to really taste how foul it is under the sauce.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Having previously executed a series of dazzling backflips, only to end up getting clocked in the face by Grendel at the end of it, Beowulf executes a series of dazzling backflips, only to get clocked in the face by Grendel’s mummy at the end of it.

What’s up with…?

  • When society breaks down and we revert to an industrial-primitive state, why is it that the first thing we seem to run out of is women’s clothing? However cold it might be, no female character in such films ever seems able to scrape together much more than a tight leather vest and pants; if they’re lucky.
  • And if society has broken down and all we have left is the relics of the past, how come the technically demanding skill of blacksmithing seems to be rediscovered so quickly? There can’t be more than a few hundred real blacksmiths left in the modern world; and presumably the apocalypse will scratch a few of them.

Ratings:

Production values – Pop-video level; more precisely, 80s rock video. The lighting is all over the place and the sets, props and much of the costume seems to be cobbled together from whatever the studios next door weren’t using. 13

Dialogue and performances – Laughably bad. Christopher Lambert just acts the way he always does. Rhona Mitra is not a bad performer as eye candy goes, but the supporting cast is frankly just bad. I’d like to think – because I’m charitable that way – that they weren’t really trying. 16

Plot – Well, in many ways there really isn’t one, just a series of fight scenes and the occasional gratuitous shag. 18

Randomness – An eclectic series of weapons. A monster that bears a striking resemblance to the Predator. String-dress bint. Big, muscle-flesh monster. A guillotine in the form of a giant straight razor. Beowulf’s father was a demon of some sort. Grendel’s mum trying to get it on with Beowulf (among others). Hrothgar is Grendel’s daddy (although this seems to be a popular choice). The crazy never stops. 16

Waste of Potential – Beowulf could make a stunning film, but to be honest, this was never really going to be it. 9.

Overall – 72%

From the Archive – Hellbound (1993)

“Mess with this Chicago cop and there’s hell to pay.”

Directed by Aaron Norris
Starring Chuck Norris, Calvin Levels, and no one else of the slightest consequence.

Not Hellraiser II, but a film widely considered to be one of Chuck Norris’ worst. I’ll just let that sink in for a moment.

We open with a prophecy regarding the emissary of Satan, a demon named Prosatanus, which makes sense – he’s pro-Satan – but still sounds a whole lot too much like ‘prostate’ to be really frightening coming from anyone but your doctor. Apparently a shining knight under the banner of a lion will vanquish him and entomb him for the requisite thousand years. Sure enough, Richard the Lionheart shows up, does the entombing and rescues some random princeling, then breaks Prosatanus’ sceptre of plot into nine pieces.

Flash forward to the fifties, and two greedy tomb robbers remove the jewelled daggers holding the lid of Prosatanus’ sarcophagus. D’oh!

Flash forward again, and streetwise, wisecracking, pimp-hating cops Shatter (Norris) and Jackson (Levels) are exercising their own brand of rough justice on the mean streets of Chicago when Prosatanus kills a Rabbi and throws a prostitute out of a window onto their car; as you do. Prosatanus escapes despite being shot, and what with one thing and another the two cops are told to escort the Rabbi’s body back to Israel. The usual warnings from authority figures not to get involved are given and ignored.

Shatter and Jackson hook up with the requisite love interest – a pretty archaeologist whose boss turns out to be a demon – and the requisite cute street urchin.

Prosatanus gets his sceptre back and tries to sacrifice the love interest. He is introduced to a world of hurting via the sharp end of every Chuck Norris joke there is, and a mysterious bearded man gathers up the bits of sceptre to hide again.

What’s wrong with it?

The dialogue is poor. The acting is for the most part wooden, or at least bad. The plot is fairly minimal, without even a decent quota of fight scenes to pad it out. The demon is called Prostate, and just isn’t that scary. Chuck Norris’ character is almost a parody of himself in the extent of his world-weary, unflappable pragmatism.

What’s right with it?

Well, not much really. It has a few unintentional laughs, but not enough to make it a ‘so bad it’s good’ film. I suppose at least there isn’t any bad movie sex.

How bad is it really?

Not that terrible actually. Hellbound manages to scrape in as mediocre.

Best bit (if such there is)?

[Jackson examines the body of the murdered Rabbi]
Calvin Jackson (horrified): Oh shit! His heart’s gone!
[Shatter points to the floor beside Jackson]
Frank Shatter: No it isn’t. It’s right there…

What’s up with…?

  • When will the forces of good learn to seal the unspeakable evil into its coffin with regular iron nails? If the ritual seals weren’t always gold, they wouldn’t keep getting stolen by greedy and stupid thieves.
  • Why does evil always hire a cheap, stupid prostitute, and then kill her out of hand? If you were a creature of darkness, whose only goal was to recover your sceptre of power and sacrifice a child of royal blood to release Satan from Hell and usher in the coming apocalypse, would you jeopardise your situation by casually murdering people to get your rocks off?
  • When you divide up the artefact of ancient evil and scatter it across the known world to be hidden for all eternity, why keep a list of where all the bits are? It’s supposed to be hidden for all eternity; why would you ever need to know?
  • Why is there so little security in an Israeli police station when the heroes break in? Israel wasn’t noted for the laxity of its security officials the last time I checked.

Ratings:

Production values – pretty good really. Not much in the way of special effects, but the film is decently lit and framed, even if the direction is a little static. 7

Dialogue and Performance – The dialogue is pretty naff, but nothing exceptional. The performances are middling to appalling. The prostitute is the worst (I’m guessing the producer’s girlfriend or something), with all the acting skills of a plank, and not that really talented plank from the short film of the same name either. 17

Plot – Sparse, and only barely explained. Of particular note, streetwise Chicago cops apparently have no trouble processing the fact that they’re going up against nameless and ancient evil. 14

Randomness – Moderate. for the most part the film follows a constant – if contrived – flow of cause and effect. Who speaks English and how well seems to follow plot more than logic though, and the small street urchin with the perfect English moreover has an oddly comprehensive knowledge of local geography and holy sites. 10

Waste of Potential – Well, this was pretty much going to be bollocks, wasn’t it. The ancient evil could have been a little better thought out, but that’s about it. 7

Overall – 55%

From the Archive – Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (1999)

“Every generation has a legend. Every journey has a first step. Every saga has a beginning”

Directed by George Lucas
Starring Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman

First off, 1999? Man, I got old.

So, I figure the basic plot is probably known to most people, but to sum up:

The evil Trade Federation have blockaded the peaceful planet of Naboo. Two Jedi Knights try to mediate but are forced to flee an assassination attempt and escape to the surface as the Federation’s chirpy-voice battle droid army begin an invasion to force the Naboo to sign a treaty giving them control of the planet. They meet comedy sidekick Jar-Jar Binks, meet with the leaders of the primitive Gungans and rescue the sixteen year old elected Queen of the Naboo from the droids.

Then they all leave on a spaceship.

The damaged ship is forced to land on the planet Tatooine, where the Jedi meet Anakin Skywalker, a ten year old boy with Jedi reflexes, who tries to chat up the Queen (and that handmaiden disguise is fooling no one) and wins the money the Jedi need to repair the ship in a pod race (like Ben-Hur without the horses and coke cans). Qui-Gon Jin also wins Anakin out of slavery and they all leave – apart from Anakin’s mother, who remains in durance vile, but not before a brief skirmish with crimson-skinned bad-ass Darth Maul, apprentice to the whispery-voiced secret backer of the Trade Federation blockade.

They head to Coruscant and the Galactic Senate where – after three sentences – negotiations break down and the Queen proposes a no-confidence vote in the well-intentioned but politically vulnerable Chancellor. Meanwhile the Jedi council refuse to train Anakin, because he’s dangerous and might turn out to be Darth Vader.

Then they all go back to Naboo.

The Naboo and the Gungans team up, and attack the battle droids. The Jedi fight Darth Maul, Qui-Gon is killed and Obi-Wan Kenobi kills Darth Maul.

Anakin blows up a spaceship and stops the droids, mercifully ending the battle ‘twixt Gungan and droid, which consists largely of Jar-Jar’s relentless gooning.

Everyone is happy, except Qui-Gon, who is dead.

Oh, and there might be another Sith Lord somewhere.

Now that I read that back, for a film so utterly focused on visual spectacle, the plot is ludicrously complicated without actually ever being engaging.

What’s wrong with it?

Lots really, but I’ll start by getting a little bugbear out of the way. Jar-Jar Binks is really annoying; oh yes he is. He flaps about and gets into all manner of zoo-zoo scrapes, for all the world like the bastard lovechild of Gerry Lewis and Norman Wisdom. Ah-ha – say his supporters – but C-3PO was like that! True enough, but C-3PO was also fluent in six-million forms of communication: He did something. Jar-Jar was just the clowning.

The plot was thin, even for space opera, and much of the acting was below par, even the performances of a few usually stalwart players.

The ensemble dramatis Personae lacked any kind of definition. In the original movie, the pilots attacking the Death Star had personalities, and we cared about them. Who couldn’t feel at least a little sympathy for poor, confused Porkins? Who can forget the fatalistic calm of the doomed Red Leader (“Negative. Didn’t go in. It just impacted on the surface”), the fear of Gold Leader and the cool efficiency of his wingman. It was all there. In Phantom Menace however, the Naboo pilots are nothing. We don’t know them, we don’t care. There is also an absence of a good, solid villain. Darth Maul is a goon – albeit a very stylish one – Darth Sidious (silly name) is ephemeral, and the Trade Federation lack the presence and menace of Darth Vader as the stalking adversary. The battle droids are also no improvement on the stormtroopers, especially with their strange, nasal-mechanical voices and chirpy pseudo-soldier dialogue.

The film is overlong, and not much happens. Aside from the pod race – which is frankly padding – and the lightsabre duels, there is hardly anything to look at for much of the film. The scenes of Anakin and his mother on Tatooine are too long, and in balance the most important event in the film – the transition of power between Chancellor Valorum and the ambitious Senator Palpatine – is glossed over in a handful of scenes.

There’s no character development. At the end of the film, everyone is pretty much where they started. We’ve seen no sign that the Queen has been forced to come to terms with realities of war which she had not previously understood; Anakin is pretty much as was; Jar-Jar hasn’t overcome his awkwardness, he’s just hailed as a hero in spite of being little short of a liability in combat and ultimately capitulating to the driod army seconds before their defeat. Only Qui-Gon has undergone any major change, and he got run-through with a lightsabre. Obi-Wan and Anakin might have been sobered by the loss of a mentor, but we don’t really see that at all. Perhaps this problem stems from opening with the Jedi, where the original film followed the ingenuous Luke rather than the veteran Ben.

The film also didn’t live up to the hype, but then what could?

Midichlorians. I shall say no more.

Finally, whatever anyone says to the contrary, the film is loaded with outrageous racial stereotypes. The avaricious trade federation have slanted eyes (frog eyes certainly, but slanted), wear oriental robes and speak like the Fiendish Dr Fu Manchu. The primitive Gungans speak a kind of pidgin dialect, cementing their place as ignorant but noble savages in the classic Hollywood mould; in other words, black fellas. The greedy, sleazy, gambler-cum-spiv is so Italian it almost hurts. If it wasn’t Star Wars, they’d never get away with it.

What’s right with it?

The Phantom Menace is certainly beautifully made. The spaceships and background mattes are incredible to look at, and the pod race and the lightsabre duels are a feast of the senses. The visual and sound effects are superb, as you would expect from Lucasfilms.

Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor do well as the master and apprentice, Qui-Gon Jin and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Neeson may be phoning in his performance as Qui-Gon, but he maintains a wry dignity, and McGregor does well in a role once filled by the great Sir Alec Guinness.

Finally the score, by Lucasfilms old hand John Williams, is magnificent. Well, except for the Gungan band piece, which makes the ewok chub-nub song seem mild by comparison. Still, the Duel of the Fates, which plays under the climactic lightsabre battle, more than makes up for it.

How bad is it really?

Pretty damn bad, although a lot of that is hidden beneath the glossy production values. It’s a lazy film, content to rest on the laurels of the franchise and possessing no apparent desire to become anything more than a by-the-numbers sequel, which is a shame because it could have been pretty good. It also blew any suspense there might have been with its hype, most notably the scene in which Darth Maul faces off against the two Jedi and activates the second blade on his double lightsabre would have been a real ‘WOW’ moment if we hadn’t seen it a dozen times on the trailers.

Best bit?

The final lightsabre battle is pretty sweet, but my favourite moment is in the Gungan battle. It’s almost ruined by Jar-Jar Binks clowning around in the foreground,. but in the background one of the (CGI) Gungans has one of the (CGI) battle droids by the collar and is punching him repeatedly in the face like he’s in some sort of bar-room brawl.

What’s up with…?

  • So, are droids sentient or what? When Artoo saves the ship he gets a royal audience, a congratulation from the Queen and a personal scrubbing by a royal handmaiden. Yet three other R2 units are destroyed in the escape, and not a single tear is shed for any of them.
  • Why do the battle droids talk to each other if they’re all controlled from the central station?
  • Since when does the Force have a will? In the original series the Force is very much viewed as a Tao kinda thing – it has a flow you can follow, not a will to obey. This is a very Christian shift, but I yet hold out hopes that this – and the midichlorian bullshit – will prove to be elements of a flawed dogma propagated by the Jedi Council out of ignorance or superstition.
  • Is that an average length for a debate in the Senate? Even with tempers high, it would have been nice to have seen a bit more evidence of protracted debate leading up to the vote of no confidence. As it is, it looks as if the Republic’s politics are negotiated by whim and tantrums. The accession of Senator Palpatine to the role of Chancellor is of vital importance in the long run, but we see hardly anything.

Ratings:

Production values – Top notch in most respects. Shiny, glossy and stunningly beautiful. A few of the costumes verge on the silly though, and the ‘room full of weird aliens’ trick, well-used in Star Wars’ cantina scene, falls a little flat in the Jedi Council chamber. 4

Dialogue and performances – Alec Guinness asked that his character be killed in the first Star Wars movie so that he wouldn’t have to do any more of the trite, banal dialogue that Lucas wrote. Most people wouldn’t call it that bad, but it isn’t exactly Shakespeare. There is more of the same in Phantom Menace, but there have been far worse scripts than this. The acting is strangely stilted, and even usually strong actors like Natalie Portman seem stiff and unconvincing. Of course, in Portman’s case the enormous frocks probably don’t help. 10

Plot and execution – Dire. Despite the many convolutions, the plot is still too sparse for the length, and lacking in any kind of character development. Also, far too much time is given over to trivial factors, while important events slip by us. 16

Randomness – Too much happens in this film because Anakin does the right thing by accident, perhaps through the guidance of the Force on his subconscious, but what the hell. Jar-Jar’s every inconsequential move grates on my nerves, and has next to nothing to do with the plot. Too much also is assumed and not explained: Queen Amidala is elected? Is this a formal recognition of a hereditary monarch, or a full democracy? If the latter – and the next film confirmed that it was, and that she was not the youngest queen in Naboo’s history – then who voted in a sixteen year old? What is her role, really? Does she have any real power? Why does a peaceful planet have such a bad-ass militia and guns hidden in the throne room? Why do the battle droids have those irritating voices? 14

Waste of Potential – In many ways, the ultimate disappointment. 20.

Overall – 64% (and would be worse without 20% of the marks in production values)

Welcome to the Bad Movie Mecca

Once upon a time there was a website called the Bad Movie Mecca (the name is a reference to tea, by the way), where my friends and I wrote bad movie reviews. Now, that website has become a blog and the Bad Movie Mecca has become the Bad Movie Marathon (because I felt that the original title was potentially offensive without having a point to make) and the dream nightmare lives on.

Template

[Remember to include the release date; Poster or video cover – if available]

“Tagline”

Director
Starring [first billed anyway; ‘star’ may well be too strong a term]

A brief synopsis of the film, followed by the breakdown:

What’s wrong with it?

[Why is it bad?]

What’s right with it?

[Is there any reason to show mercy?]

How bad is it really?

[On a visceral level?]

Best bit (if such there is)?

[What stands out in the memory?]

What’s up with…?

[any observations]

Ratings

[each out of 20]
Production values – [is it at least well made – 0; someone seemingly put it together in their sleep – 20]
Dialogue and performances –  [clear and well performed – 0; mangled and mumbled – 20]
Plot and execution – [powerful and internally consistent – 0; at best an excuse for the fights and the shagging – 20]
Randomness – [makes perfect sense – 0; they shot who in the what now? – 20]
Waste of potential – [as good as you could hope for given what it is – 0; an unforgiveable let-down – 20]

Overall %

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