From the Archive – Godzilla (1998)

Godzilla98

 

Directed by Roland Emmerich
Starring Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Maria Pitillo, Hank Azaria

French nuclear testing – that’s right; not righteous American nuclear bombs deployed against civilian targets in Japan, but Godless French nuclear trials – creates a monster. Pursued by the US military, a team of loveably flawed scientists (including Broderick as a Greek-American expert on the mutant earthworms of Chernobyl) and a dogged French ‘insurance investigator’ (Reno, briefly breathing life into the scenes he passes through), this giant, mutant iguana wrecks a few trawlers as it makes its way to New York, where it treads on cars, breaks buildings and generally makes a nuisance of itself.

A rookie journalist (Pitillo) and her veteran cameraman (Azaria, again, a passing ray of sunshine in the bleak midwinter night of this movie) pick up the pursuit of the beast, dubbed ‘Godzilla’.

Far from the rubber-suited guy of Toho’s creature features, this Godzilla is a fast moving, slickly sophisticated piece of CGI. It crouches like an iguana, and burrows like a mad thing; floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee, and generally escapes all traps set for it by fox-like cunning as much as brute strength. Eventually the scientists discover that the big lizard is pregnant, and Broderick and Reno – really a French secret service agent – team up to track and destroy the eggs, and incidentally a baseball stadium; because its more fun that way. The four principals then lead Godzilla him(her?)self onto the Brooklyn Bridge, where (s)he gets tangled in the wires and rocketed to death.

In the closing scene, a last, ignored egg hatches, and a baby ‘zilla leaps out, with a roar which loosely translates as: “I’ll be back”.

While the threat of a sequel was terrifying, in the end this led to the all-too short-lived Godzilla cartoon series, which was… actually pretty awesome.

What’s wrong with it?

Godzilla is a giant, mutated blob of a movie. Bereft of any significant plot or interesting characters, even its flashy SFX fails to please, and the viewer is left longing for the damn thing to end, especially on video. With the exceptions of Reno, Azaria, and a few supporting turns, the acting is weak at best – with the drippy excuse for a ‘tough’ journalist a particular low – and while the huge lizard is as advertised, he’s so much less so than the original Big G.

He doesn’t even breathe fire for crying out loud!

What’s right with it?

Well, there’s Jean Reno and Hank Azaria, plus that huge lizard. Moreover, Godzilla certainly sounds like Godzilla, having a screaming roar close enough to the real thing for government work. There’s also a nice moment where the lizard gets called Godzilla because the slimy newsman can’t pronounce the Japanese ‘Gojira’; an allusion to the fact that the original film was called Godzilla in the States, because it was felt that the American public couldn’t cope with Gojira.

How bad is it, really?

Giant. Mutated. Blob.

To be fair, if you went to the cinema for Jean Reno and a huge lizard, you did get what you paid for, but the experience falls rather flat on the small screen, and even the huge lizard and the cool Frenchman can’t disguise the fact that the film is overlong and incredibly tedious.

Best bit?

Jean Reno’s French secret service surveillance team bitching about the quality of American coffee, and the dearth of croissants in New York city.

What’s up with…?

  • Godzilla being pregnant? And even if he is, then how can Matthew Broderick tell from a saliva scraping off the streets of New York? I mean, seriously; with all the crap that must be on those streets…
  • Godzilla being a mutated marine iguana? I mean, is this supposed to be more credible than a mutated dinosaur wakened from frozen stasis by a nuclear blast? Heh; and neatly I see it’s now the fault of the French rather than the Americans.
  • Matthew Broderick’s career? Seriously, the guy seesaws from excellence to the ludicrous without pause. Just look at Godzilla and Election; it’s hard to believe it’s the same guy.
  • Blowing up a stadium with air-to-air missiles? OK; I pretty much accept this as a movie fudge, but the criticism has been levelled, and I thought I’d better mention it. Military types are apparently very bothered by it.

Ratings:

Production Values – To be fair, pretty good. Some people claim that you can see the buildings through the big lizard, but I didn’t get that. My problem with the big lizard is that it’s just plain not Godzilla, but for what it is, it looks pretty spiffy. Just wish they’d spent some of the budget on flaming breath though. 6

Dialogue and performances – Ugh. Matthew Broderick in one of his career lows, and could the reporter chick be any more irritating if she tried? Generally solid support playing, especially from Reno and Hank Azaria, can’t hide the fact that the central performances blow. The script is also on the naff side, but not so much as to be cringe worthy. The performances however elevate the material to a new height of tedium. 16

Plot and Execution – What plot? Big lizard. Smash Manhattan. Killee monster. Pretty basic fare, with some added cool Frenchmen. The delivery is workmanlike and the payoff lacks any of the emotional impact of the original; or even of Destroy all Monsters12

Randomness – The giant lizard pregnancy test. The absence of flaming breath (what? was it felt that would damage the suspension of disbelief?) The iguana business. Mostly, however, it is internally consistent. 10

Waste of Potential – It’s a big budget Godzilla flick, and they screwed it up! How could they manage that? It must have taken real planning and effort. 17

Overall: 61%

Highlander: The Source (2007)

Source

“The Quest for Mortality Begins”

Directed by Brett Leonard
Starring Adrian Paul, Peter Wingfield, Jim Byrnes and Thekla Reuten

In a post-Apocalyptic future, a group of Immortals are searching for The Source; the thing that makes them Immortal. Reluctantly dragged into the quest by his mortal ex and his old friend Watcher Joe is Duncan MacLeod, now a surly man with stubble and anger.

One by one, the Immortals are picked of by the Guardian, a super-Immortal with impossible speed and strength, and they learn that as they approach the Source they are becoming mortal. Despite being basically told that if they fight over the Source they will, best case scenario, be reduced to some immobile, corpulent mockery of life, one of the remaining questers betrays the others, but Methos buys Duncan a chance for the prize, and by defeating but not killing the Guardian he proves worthy of the ultimate prize: Mortality.

That’s not a spoiler, it’s in the tagline, and also what the Prize was in the first film.

What’s wrong with it?

Once again, the principle of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is gleefully discarded. The Guardian’s superspeed replaces flashy swordfights with blurred composite shots, and the plot is almost as much of a mess. The film also uses a cover version of Queen’s Princes of the Universe for the big hero walk moment, which is pretty much unforgivable by any standard. Nothing in this film is explained, from the sudden appearance of the Source to the bizarre tactics of the questers or the treacherous priest’s extraordinary hair.

Also, the film spits on its heritage, as dubious as it is, not only by reinterpreting ‘there can be only one’, but by shattering Duncan’s trademark katana and replacing it with a pair of butterfly swords. It’s like this film is embarrassed to be a Highlander movie, which is pretty rich.

What’s right with it?

Not a goddamned thing.

How bad is it really?

In absolute terms, it’s probably not as bad as The Quickening, but it’s a meaningless  distinction.

Best bit (if such there is)?

There really isn’t anything much.

What’s up with…?

  • The Guardian taunting MacLeod by singing ‘Who Wants to Live Forever’?
  • The Source making them mortal even as it sends the Guardian after them?
  • Why doesn’t the Guardian just kill them all at once? Is the one-on-one rule in effect again? Why does the goon in the iron neck-brace care?
  • Why are they bringing the mortal along? I mean, she turns out to be the key to the whole thing, but they don’t know that.

Ratings

Production values – Shooting Eastern Europe-for-post-Apocalypse really doesn’t cut it anymore. The speed fights are poorly done, and much of the film is in this bizarre ‘trashcan fire’ lighting effect that doesn’t do anyone any favours. 14

Dialogue and performances – No-one seems to have any real enthusiasm for the proceedings, and even the old hands are phoning it in now, as you might expect when asked to speak lines suggesting that a massive shift in the orbits of the planets, substantial enough that Saturn is visible in the sky could be due to ‘orbital wobble’. Bring back Roger Daltrey; all is forgiven! 17

Plot – Thin, with far too much padding of far too little quality or consequence. The original’s succession of sword fights with a more or less foregone conclusion constitutes a better story than this. 19

Randomness – The Guardian’s weird attacks on the fourth wall and bizarre Kurgan impressions. Duncan MacLeod’s ninth one true love. Nurgle-immortal. 12

Waste of potential – By this point, we weren’t expecting much. We still get less. 14

Overall: 76%

From the Archive – Highlander: Endgame (2000)

“It will take two immortals to defeat the ultimate evil. But in the end, there can be only one.”

Directed by Douglas Aarniokoski.
Starring Christopher Lambert, Adrian Paul and Bruce Payne (again, readers may come to think of as all you need to know).

Brief Synopsis

Connor’s adopted daughter gets blown up, so he goes into seclusion and is kept sedated on holy ground, only the whole place gets shot up and the attacker – an immortal – kills a bunch of other immortals on said holy ground, because that doesn’t matter any more.

Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul) gets threatened by some guys, then Connor shows up. Flashbacks show us that Connor is being stalked by a now-immortal ex-priest named Jacob Kell (Bruce Payne, the man who understudied for the absent Julian Sands in Warlock III for crying out loud), whom he killed when they burned his mother as a witch, and that the guy’s hench-chick – one of several immortal minions who can’t do the basic maths of ‘there can be only one’ – is Duncan’s ex-wife, whom he stabbed to make her immortal without asking her first.

Connor forces Duncan to kill him so that he can gain the strength to fight Kell, who has killed 666 immortals once he offs his henchlings.

Numerous alternate versions exist, but there is little to suggest that any of them make much more sense than that.

What’s wrong with it?

It sucks. Seriously. It’s incoherent, the baddies wear these ridiculous outfits, yet have no sense of theme to tie them together and justify such an outre fashion statement; it’s just as if they all still think it’s the 80s. Nor is there any explanation as to why they a) work for another immortal in the first place, and b) just sit there and let him kill them. It feels half-formed, and none of the violations of the immortal traditions and rules are addressed in any way.

What’s right with it?

There are a couple of decent swordfights. Oh, and it completely disowns II by stating outright that none of the immortals have ever known where they come from or why they’re immortal.

How bad is it really?

Terrible, although not quite so bad as the Quickening.

Best bit (if such there is)?

The fight between MacLeod and a Chinese hench immortal is nicely choreographed, but alas cut short.

What’s up with…?

  • Even more hench immortals? And these ones seem so enamoured of their boss that they just stand there and let him kill them.
  • The incredible reviving love interest? The hench-chick is plainly decapitated by Kell, but in some versions appears alive at the end.
  • Killing on holy ground? Not fighting one-on-one? Even the bloody Kurgan followed the rules, and he was just so much more evil than Bruce Payne. Surely if the rules could be circumvented, he’d have done it? As an observation, Kell wears crosses on the soles of his shoes. Is this some insulation against holy ground? Who knows? Who cares?
  • The hench-chick working with Kell in the first place. She even seems largely immune to Kell’s allegedly overwhelming charisma. The idea seems to be that they work together through mutual hate, but they don’t really say or show it.

Ratings:

Production values – As with The Sorcerer, Endgame picks up a few undeserved points for its general production values. It’s slickly made and competently directed, with some nicely shot and choreographed action. However, it loses serious points on the editing, whatever cut you watch. 12

Dialogue and performances – Workmanlike. Lambert plods rather morosely through the picture, but Paul is a watchable lead, and shite though he is, Bruce Payne chewing scenery is always reasonable value for your bargain buck. Highlander the Series stalwarts Jim Byrnes and Peter Wingard make a good showing in rather limited cameos, but the love interest is lacklustre. The dialogue is likewise unexceptional, but falls short of risible. 11

Plot – The plot is all over the place, and suffers greatly from its attempt to combine nemeses from the two MacLeods’ histories without sufficient rationale or chemistry. 14

Randomness – Oy! Randomness we got! The film feels overfull in places, with the upshot that many, many elements are simply not explained. Ever. 17

Waste of Potential – Unlike the follow-up films, the TV series actually got to be worth watching. That just makes this abomination even worse by comparison. A chance to save the franchise, pissed down the toilet. 20

Overall: 74%

From the Archive – Highlander III: The Sorcerer (1994)

“This time it’s for eternity.”

Directed by Andrew Morahan.
Starring Christopher Lambert and Mario van Peebles

Brief Synopsis

After four centuries trapped in a cave, the evil immortal Kane (‘Super’ Mario van Peebles) – who apparently makes the Kurgan look like a pussycat – is freed by development construction. Will they never learn?

This awakening reactivates Connor’s full powers, although we learn that he survived a fatal car wreck in the highlands which dispatched the love interest of the original film, and he and Kane kill one of the latter’s hapless hench-immortals apiece, before convening for the ultimate showdown, in which Connor wins the prize again. The twist is that, in addition to his mastery of the sword, Kane also possesses the power of illusion, stolen from Connor’s second mentor, the sorcerer Nakano, along with his head and his Quickening.

Along the way, there’s also a romantic plotline with an archaeologist who uncannily resembles Connor’s French Revolution love, and Kane kidnaps Connor’s adopted son to use as live bait. At one point they fight on holy ground, and Connor’s sword explodes.

What’s wrong with it?

The Sorcerer is essentially a rehash of the original with some extra special effects, only this time it isn’t novel and different. It’s woefully short on swordfights, and ‘Super’ Mario just lacks the camp malevolence of Clancy ‘Kurgan’ Brown. Its attempts to rationalise its own existence in the wake of the events of the original are – if less crazed than II’s – still fairly stretched. Far more of the film is set in daylight, and the colouration is better than in the original, which actually ends up detracting from the overall atmosphere.

What’s right with it?

There’s some nifty SFX, and the love interest is of a slightly higher calibre than in the original (largely because there’s a small child to do the screaming incompetence).

How bad is it really?

Unlike II, this film is at least watchable. That said, it’s still pretty abominable.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Even the swordfights are pretty dull in this one. It says a lot about the overall quality of the film that the best moment is probably ‘Super’ Mario proving that Kane is out of touch by trying to eat a condom. And no, it’s not one of those things you had to be there for; that’s really all there is to it.

What’s up with…?

  • This whole power of illusion thing in the first place? Fair’s fair though; at least this time there actually is a new kind of magic.
  • Hench immortals? Why would anyone do it? You know that you’re going to end up dead.
  • The exploding sword? OK, I buy that it’s supposed to be some sort of resistance to immortals duelling on holy ground, but since Kane attacked, why does his katana remain intact? Moreover, why doesn’t he even try to finish MacLeod off while he’s unarmed?

Ratings:

Production values – Pretty good; in fact, almost too good. The whole thing is so well-shot it actually loses the gritty atmosphere of the original because of it. 6

Dialogue and performances – So-so. The dialogue is fairly uninspired, the acting is vaguely competent. Nothing outstandingly bad, but nothing more than workmanlike really. 10

Plot – At best, the plot is patchy. In places, the film feels more like a series of vignettes than a coherent narrative, and the flashbacks to the French Revolution – indeed the entire romantic subplot – feels tacked on, and rather pointless. 14

Randomness – While it has nothing on II, much in The Sorcerer goes unexplained. The exploding sword, Kane’s hibernation, the henchlings, the reincarnated lover. 10

Waste of Potential – Less shameless than the second film, as this does not abuse the mighty Sean, but even for a Super Mario van Peebles/Christopher Lambert film, this is pretty slack. 12

Overall: 52%

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%

Good. Bad. I'm the one with the blog.

WIL WHEATON dot NET

50,000 Monkeys at 50,000 Typewriters Can't Be Wrong

Writing Through Vet School

A novelist's look at veterinary school, the writing process, and all art that inspires me. Also, I now apparently review bad movies and TV shows.

Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys)

Australia based film fans - Like Margaret and David, only so much younger

The Knitting Cinephile.

She knits. She watches movies.

Want to play the Bad Movie Game?

Reviews of "so bad it's good" films

Really Awful Movies

Horror Movies, Science Fiction, Exploitation, Action, Genre Films.