From the Archive – Dune, the TV edit (1988)

dune

 

“A world beyond your experience, beyond your imagination”

Directed by Alan Smithee (David Lynch)
Starring Kyle MacLachlan, Francesca Annis and Jürgen Prochnow

After a long and rambling prologue, accompanied by a bunch of piss-poor watercolours, explains how men overthrew the thinking machines, and that everything is about the spice Melange that is only found on Arrakis – aka Dune – we are treated to a massive condensation of Frank Herbert’s sprawling, socio-political, Sci-Fi epic, which refuses to cut anything out, yet can not give due time to everything it needs to. The result is a shambles; a convoluted mess that makes less sense than the shorter version.

Harkonnen, Atreides, Fremen, Sandworms and Moa-dib. If you don’t know the story, I sure as hell can’t explain it without running to several hundred words. Read the book, watch the movie, or even the more recent mini-series. Just, dear God, don’t watch this one.

What’s wrong with it?

Make no mistake here: I’m not talking about David Lynch’s rambling, semi-coherent film here. This is the even more rambling, utterly incomprehensible TV mini-series extension that David Lynch refused to allow his name on (hence the Alan Smithee director’s credit). By reinserting all edited footage, the mini-series manages to say nothing more than the film, but to say it three times; literally. In general, someone will say something, then we’ll hear them think it in voice over, and then someone else will either repeat it back to them as a question, or think the same thing again, or they’ll say it to themselves.

Even the score – the great strength of the film – is here screwed up. In order to fill in the reinserted scenes – which also lack the visual effects editing that gives the Fremen their blue-in-blue eyes – it is as if the cassette was just left running, even in the pre-existing scenes, so that at times there are quite literally two separate sections of soundtrack playing at the same time! This also means that there are no tense silences, there is always a soundtrack, even when there shouldn’t be.

Also, Sting’s steel underpants, but they’re in the film as well.

What’s right with it?

Astonishingly little. The performances aren’t bad, but tend to the stilted, and I suspect Jürgen Prochnow was pretty much pissed throughout filming. The big exception comes from the Atreides retainers – well, three of them anyway, since Duncan Idaho isn’t much to write home about – Gurney Hallek, Thufur Hawat and Dr Yueh, played with great and campy aplomb by Patrick Stewart, Freddie Jones and Dean Stockwell. And then there’s Sting, who’s surely just taking the piss.

The music is keen, but annoyingly jumbled. The sandworms remain a high-point, although they have dated a little, and the shields likewise. There are some nice ideas, but with the added length they look even more lost than in the original.

Also, it is at least not the Jodorowsky version.

How bad is it really?

Well, it’s not terrible by the standards of this blog, but leave us not forget that the standards of this blog are mind-numbingly low. The big, extended Dune is really just dull, but at some three hours plus, that’s a lot of dull, and borders on the tedious; especially when anything interesting is mitigated by the mess that is the soundtrack and the repetition.

Best bit?

Probably the scene when the massive spice harvester is swallowed whole by the sandworm. It was probably the absolute bomb in 1984, and it still looks pretty good.

What’s up with…?

  • The random soundtrack?
  • The failure to edit the restored footage for SFX?
  • The crass use of recycled footage that makes no sense? The same ship docks like ten times, and there’s one long shot that it clearly a drawing.
  • The script in triplicate? “You must kill Paul Atreides.” <thinks>Why do they want Paul dead?</thinks> “Why do you want Paul dead?” <later> “Why do they want Paul dead?” <Paul psychically eavesdropping> “Why do they want me dead?”

Ratings:

Production values: Actual Hollywood standard production values, although some of the rubber suits and unexplained accordions are a little weird. This version is let down however by the crappy prologue, crass soundtracking and failure to blue the eyes in the restored scenes. 10

Dialogue and performances: The dialogue isn’t really bad per se, there’s just too much of it; or maybe the right amount repeated over and over. It’s also phenomenally serious about itself. The performances tend to be either camp or stilted, but that’s the fault of the script’s excessive earnestness. The narrator bites on a level not even matched by Virginia Madsen in the original version. 12

Plot and execution: Just to reiterate, this is an Alan Smithee film once directed by David Lynch. This is a film that was such a jumbled mess that David Lynch took his name off it! Also, the editing sucks. 20

Randomness: Mostly in the editing, but it’s here in spades. So many of the re-editing decisions seem to have come down to ‘people want a longer version, cram this back in even though it serves no additional purpose’. 16

Waste of potential: Dune is a book that would be nigh impossible to film well as anything less than an epic mini-series – and tough even then. By extending the running time, and making the film less comprehensible, this must rate as one of the biggest wastes of the time and talent of everyone involved in living history. 19

Overall 77%

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From the Archive – Out for Justice (1991)

justice

 

“He’s a cop. It’s a dirty job…but somebody’s got to take out the garbage.”

Directed by John Flynn
Starring Steven Seagal

Tough, Brooklyn cop Gino something-or-other learns that his best friend has been murdered by small-time, crack-head wannabe Richie, who is swanning around, talking about his ‘last night’ and offering merry bushels of cash to anyone dumb enough to hook up with him. With the full collusion of his captain, Gino heads off on a quest for revenge, by way of roughing up Richie’s weasel kid brother, high-class madame sister and honest, God-fearing parents, dissing the local Mafia boss, traumatising his friend’s widow, and beating the crap out of anyone who so much as looks at him cross-eyed.

Naturally, Gino eventually gets his man, but lets the mob take the credit. In passing, he also patches up his marriage – through the tried-and-trusted method of getting his wife shot at then killing half-a-dozen men in front of her – discovers that his friend was not only on the take but also cheating on his wife and on the hooker he was cheating on his wife with – in the second iteration with mad Richie’s girlfriend, which is apparently what this is all about – and saves a small puppy.

What’s wrong with it?

Out for Justice belongs to a certain class of film in which the villains have to repeatedly prove their evilness –  say by shooting an innocent woman in the head for no reason save being high on crack – just so that the ‘hero’ looks good by comparison. Moreover, it belongs to a class of action movies where only the hero knows martial arts, and beats up so many hapless, useless goons that he looks like a bully for doing it. This film is in fact entirely devoid of sympathetic characters: Everyone is either a scumbag, a bastard, a weasel or a drip. Even the innocent victim being avenged turns out to be a louse.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. You kind of feel sorry for a number of the people that Gino drags through the mud on his way past, particularly Richie’s sister and parents, but it doesn’t make the film any easier to watch.

What’s right with it?

Nowt.

How bad is it really?

Out for Justice makes for excruciating viewing. Even hardened veterans of the bad movie battlefield would do best to avoid this one, unless they are also masochists.

Best bit?

Ah…no.

What’s up with…?

  • Gino’s insistence on telling stories about his upbringing to people who were there? He has this touching story about his father, and how Richie’s dad looked after him after pappy-Gino passed on, heartbroken and destroyed by the advent of disposable scissors, that he tells to his wife…with whom he has a fourteen-year-old son! Clearly, this is why the divorce was going to happen, because they must just not have known each other, at all.
  • The fact that the mob are the nicest, most respectful people in the film?
  • The fact that people make movies this unutterably unpleasant?
  • Richie’s ‘last day’? It’s never explained. He doesn’t seem to have been dying of cancer or nothing, and although he is clearly mad about his hooker cheating on him with the dirty cop, he doesn’t seem the type to get all ‘My, My, My Delilah’ over it and kill the guy in such a bloody stupid and obvious way.
  • The carefully-posed, Polaroid photos of dead-cop Bobby and Richie’s girl having sex? I mean, really: Polaroids. Who was supposed to have taken these, and how did they not notice? Or were they just sufficiently cretinous to make a full photographic record of their adulterous, ill-advised fling? Maybe they had an album: ‘Our illicit affair’.
  • Gino’s sudden and short-lived conviction that Bobby’s wife found the Polaroids and sent one to Richie, triggering the whole nasty business? He shows up, accuses the grieving widow then drops the subject without ever apologising.
  • Gino’s outfits? He wears at one point a sleeveless top and beret combination that – with his ponytail – makes him look like a flamboyant gay socialist revolutionary or something.

Ratings:

Production values: Cheap. Cars, guns, clothes (almost all bad). The occasional blood squib, and a deeply unconvincing ‘leg blowed off by a shotgun’. 15.

Dialogue and performances: A few good actors phone it in here, but mostly they deserve the arse dialogue they are given. Steven Seagal’s Sicilian-American cop is the low point: At times he’s all but incomprehensible; the rest of the time you just wish he was. 16.

Plot and execution: Oh. Dear. Christ. 19.

Randomness: With so little plot, how can they find room for randomness, you might ask. The answer is in the visuals. Such ‘delights’ as the glossy, studio-quality incriminating Polaroids, the gay socialist ensemble and others make this film as random as any. 17.

Waste of potential: This film was pretty much doomed, but it’s a poor showing even for Steven ‘Jonathon Livingstone’ Seagal. 12.

Overall 79%

From the Archive – The Horrible Doctor Bones (2000)

Dr

 

“The Doctor is in the House” (Or sometimes in the ghetto)

Directed by Art Carnage
Starring…well, no-one really

A group of nice young hip-hop artistes calling themselves the Urban Protectors are recruited by Dr Nathaniel Bones, the not-at-all-sinister head of Boneyard records, little suspecting that he is up to something dubious that involves people’s heads exploding. He turns out to be a wacky voodoo guy who uses subliminal voice-control techniques to manipulate people, which only the song-writer/producer Jamal notices.

Bones and his moronic accomplices use the Protectors’ music as a carrier to zombify the living, but Jamal evades the effect, and smashes the hearts that control his dead zombie slaves. A year later, the nice young people get mind-controlled from beyond the grave… or something.

What’s wrong with it?

The Horrible Dr Bones truly is horrible. It’s incredibly dull, the effects are cheap and tacky; the plot is limp, and so short that the entire thing fits neatly into the trailer. The acting is dire, and not even in a way that’s funny. Dr Bones is clearly supposed to be sinister, but doesn’t have the charisma. The whole thing seems to have been put together to sell the so-so hip-hop talents of the soundtrack artists, both of whom appear as runners-up in the battle of the bands won by the Urban Protectors.

What’s right with it?

Well, it’s short.

How bad it is really?

Very, very tedious, and when it’s not being tedious, just plain annoying. It doesn’t even have any quality shambling. It’s pretty much ‘shamble lite’.

Best bit

Jamal sees Dr Bones putting his middle-aged moves on the lead singer, Jamal’s best girl Lisa. Bones turns to him, and his mouth creases back into a CG’d impossible rictus grin.

What’s up with…?

  • The mixing booth, which has a huge mixing deck, and only a single input from the stage, and a single input from the voodoo temple in the basement?
  • Bones’ club? He’s supposed to be wealthy and successful, but he seems to be putting on gigs in a school assembly hall.
  • Bones’ dream tempting of the band? It’s not like they weren’t going to take the deal; the money had them hooked pretty nicely.

Ratings:

Production Values: Lame. Really. Nice work with the rictus, but otherwise it’s all crap. Even the costumes suck, and they’re just clothes. The whole thing looks very, very cheap. 18

Dialogue and performances: Utterly terrible. None of the bad guys are sinister enough, and the zombies can’t shamble worth shit. The ‘heroes’ lack any kind of charisma. The lead singer chick can writhe some, but sadly can not lip-synch. 17

Plot and execution: The plot would fit on the back of a postage stamp, and even then would take up more space than it deserves. The direction is lacklustre, and one suspects that Mr Carnage – if that is his real name – might have been more used to directing bad hip-hop videos than bad movies. 18

Randomness: There actually isn’t enough happening for much randomness, except for the whole temptation-dream thing, which is a solid ten minutes of pure random. 14

Waste of Potential: This is possibly the most boring zombie movie ever. Even Steven Seagal in Marked for Death was better. That being said, it promises very little. 13

Overall 78%

From the Archive – Impostor (2002)

Impostor-dvd

“In the future, not everyone is who they seem to be.”

Directed by Gary Fleder
Starring Gary Sinise, Madeline Stowe, Vincent D’Onofrio and Mekhi Phifer

This film was awarded the BMM Special Award for painful lack of professional ability on the part of the military industrial complex 

Genius scientist Spence Olham (Sinise) and his wife, Maya (Stowe) – a brilliant surgeon – are the toast of a world at war with the Centaurans, where the surviving cities are hidden under huge force domes.

Continue reading From the Archive – Impostor (2002)

From the Archive – Kiss of the Dragon (2001)

Dragon

 

“Kiss Fear Goodbye”

Directed by Chris Nahon
Starring Jet Li, Bridget Fonda and Tchéky Karyo

Lui Jian (Li) is sent to France by the Chinese Secret Service – or something – to assist with a drugs bust by psychotic Sureté detective, Inspector Richard (Karyo) and the gaggle of psychopathic-yet-Clouseauesque incompetents who masquerade as his narcotics squad. But when the dealer goes upstairs with a couple of hookers and one of them stabs him repeatedly with a hair pin, it all goes to hell; and I do mean the movie.

It rapidly emerges that Richard set up the hit, and that he is a pimp and a pusher as well as a thug. He might in fact be the French connection that Lui Jian was sent to catch, but I’m not completely sure. What is certain is that he is a bad-un – shooting his own indiscrete hit-hooker and one of his goons just to prove his evilness – and that his goons are entirely useless, failing to apprehend or kill Jian despite numerical superiority, advantage of firepower, and the equal griplessness of Jian’s Chinese Secret Service bosses.

Jian escapes using his knowledge of kung fu and acupuncture, and More or less by chance, befriends the second hooker from the hotel, the drippy Jessica (Fonda), who only works for Richard because he’s got her daughter. After rescuing her from Richard’s unter-pimps – who do however manage to kill his contact in France, the hapless Uncle Tai (Burt Kwouk) – Jian learns who she is, and she helps him get the evidence he needs, in exchange for which he storms the police headquarters, and rescues her daughter.

Oh, and the Kiss of the Dragon is a forbidden acupuncture point, at the back of the neck, which paralyses the victim – in this case, Richard – and brings on a swift and especially bloody death.

What’s wrong with it?

Kiss of the Dragon is another of that rare and unforgivable breed; a really boring kung fu action movie. The actual action scenes are quite good, and avoid the slapstick trap nicely enough, but they are too few and far between – or maybe they just felt that way – and besides, with the rank incompetence of the enemy, Lui Jian just looks like a bully for beating up on them.

Almost none of the characters are sympathetic, or even interesting in their unlovely scummishness. Richard is an agglomeration of the viler traits of every character Karyo has ever played, to the point of mirthless caricature. Jessica is essentially just dull and drippy, and even Lui Jian fails to evoke any real sympathy. The only likeable character in the film is Uncle Tai, who mourns that none of the young agents sent to his safehouse have ever gone home alive before being shot dead. There’s really only one reason to like the hero, and that’s because the villain is so utterly vile.

The foreshadowing is pretty lumpen. Prior to killing the drug baron, the coked up hit-hooker repeatedly asks ‘do you want to go to heaven?’; like anyone doesn’t know what’s coming. Then Richard actually has the gall to point this out to the short of attention span.

What’s right with it?

There’s a few decent fight scenes, and dull bully or not, Li is pretty cool. That’s about it really.

How bad is it really?

Pretty tedious, and in a kung fu movie, that’s a poor showing.

Best bit?

One of the contacts in Jian’s incredibly complex chain of connections before meeting Richard is an absurdly British airline pilot. As Jian flees the goon squads, said pilot spots him, whips a pair of laser targeted Uzis out of nowhere and starts blasting away. It’s kind of a laugh.

What’s up with…?

  • The absurd secret agent routine involved in getting Jian to meet up with Richard? These are the narcotics squad, not spies.
  • The unutterable crapness of everyone involved in Richard’s operations? He can’t even contract a proper hit.

Ratings

Production values – Fair to middling. There’s no crazy wuxia, and the film is probably the better for it, but while adequately shot, there’s nothing special about this movie. 8

Dialogue and performances – An ensemble of fairly competent actors fail to breathe life into the cavalcade of caricatures who populate this movie, with the result that we never actually give a shit about any of them. On the other hand, the dialogue never sinks to the point of being memorably bad. 15

Plot and execution – Pretty leaden, and especially disappointing given some of writer Luc Besson’s other work. The whole middle section is a nothing, and the plot picks up again only by pure chance (c.f. Randomness). The direction is no more than competent, and fails to bring a sparkle to the material. 14

Randomness – Pimp-pusher cops using their hookers as impromptu – and fairly incompetent – hit women. Acupuncturist kung-fu cops. A plot that holds together only because of coincidence. Plus a couple of moments that make no sense (Richard shows the Chinese police liaison what he claims is footage of Jian killing one of his compatriots, but we don’t see the tape, and we know he never did this). Nothing outright insane, but a perpetual air of hysteria. 13

Wast of potential – A kung fu movie written by Luc Besson, starring Jet Li and set in Paris. This could have been Leon with higher kicks; instead it was Le Samourai without the laughs. 18

Overall 68%

From the Archive – From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter (2000)

DTD3

 

Directed by P.J. Pesce
Starring Marco Leonardi, Michael Parks and Temuera ‘Jango Fett’ Morrison

1914, and Bandito Johnny Madrid (Leonardi) is saved from execution, and flees from the menacing Hangman (Morrison), taking the Hangman’s beautiful daughter Esmerelda (Ara Celi) with him. With the Hangman in pursuit, Madrid lets his saviour – wannabe outlaw, Reese (Jordana Spiro) – lead him to a supposed treasure on a coach occupied by a pair of newlywed God-botherers, and inebriate atheist war hero Ambrose Bierce (Parks).

What with one thing and another, this motley crew turn up at the La Tetilla del Diablo, a seedy whorehouse in the desert. Night falls and the vampires – including barman Razor Charlie ( Danny Trejo) – come out to play. Esmerelda is revealed to be the daughter of a vampire, and their prophesied messiah: Santanico Pandemonium. With all hell breaking loose, it is up to the Bierce to pull the disparate survivors together, in the by-now-familiar struggle to last until dawn.

What’s wrong with it?

The effects in this third foray are as cheap and cheerful as those in the second film. The genre-switch device is by now a little worn, and once the set-up has been made, the hunt through the lower levels of La Tetilla del Diablo is fairly by the numbers. The appearance of real person Ambrose Bierce (best known as the writer of The Devil’s Dictionary) is also pretty weird.

What’s right with it?

This film recognises its budget limitations, and makes the best of its cheap effects, largely by not showing too much of the plastic bats. The genre switch may be old hat, but it’s handled better than in the first one, and the western section is possibly the strongest opener of the three films. The players are mostly competent and very definitely along for the ride, with a welcome return for the world’s largest living Mexican (Trejo). There are a number of genuinely funny moments, and even a spirited attempt to inject a plot twist into the wacky vampire high jinks.

How bad is it really?

Much better than Texas Blood Money, and almost as good as the real thing. Like the original From Dusk Till Dawn, The Hangman’s Daughter (named after Bierce’s ‘The Monk and the Hangman’s Daughter’) is good clean fun for all the family; or at least all of them who are over eighteen, and/or not of a nervous disposition, and who don’t mind their movies being very bloody indeed.

Best bit?

The film has some good scenes and one liners, like the blind guard shooting by ear, and Ambrose Bierce baiting the Christians (‘No madam; when Gabriel blows his trumpet, I shall be playing the tuba’). The best is a toss up between the fired-up missionary asking Razor Charlie if he can start a fight, and Charlie handing him a cudgel, or the revelation of Reese’s murderous past.

Hangman: You killed your parents?
Reese: They were poor; starving. I sent them to a better place.
Hangman: What about your aunt, uncle and cousins?
Reese: Oh. I never liked them.

There’s also a nice visual queue to the original, where the camera pulls back on the full scale of the Ziggurat, with coaches and wagons instead of trucks and coaches dumped around the base.

What’s up with…?

  • Once more, where does the clientele come from? There’s no road past La Tetilla del Diablo, yet travellers of all stripes just happen by.
  • Ambrose Bierce being in this movie?

Ratings

Production values – Low budget, but well used. This film shows it’s immediate predecessor what you can do on a limited budget. 10

Dialogue and performances – Such a vast improvement on Texas Blood Money that – having watched them pretty much on consecutive nights – they seem almost Oscar-worthy. The dialogue is also peppier, with plenty of nice one liners and routines. Not Shakespeare, but not See You Next Wednesday either.10

Plot and execution – The western plot is actually fairly involved, and carries through somewhat into the second half. The twist is not completely twisty, but is gamely done, and nicely reacted. 8

Randomness – Once more, with the exception of the big Ambrose Bierce weirdness, the film sticks firmly to its rather bizarre guns. 9

Waste of potential – For a second sequel to a better-than-average schlock vampire flick, this was Hamlet. On ice! 4

Overall 41%

From the Archive – From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (1999)

DTD2

Directed by Scott Spiegel
Starring Robert Patrick and Bo Hopkins

The movie opens with a couple of lawyers being savaged by bats in an elevator. But wait! It’s just a film within a film, and now Buck (Patrick) is being hounded by Sheriff Lawson (Hopkins) over the whereabouts of his former partner, Luther. Said partner then gets in touch, and has Buck assemble a team for a heist in Mexico.

The team assembles, but Luther runs afoul of the vampires at the Titty Twister – including barman Razor Charlie (Danny Trejo) – and one by one the gang get turned into vampires, and their blood-thirsty antics lead to a showdown of Butch Cassidy proportions at the bank where the job is going down. Buck escapes with his life, and teams up with Lawson to face down the vampires.

What’s wrong with it?

For starters, the bats. The bats in the film within a film are really cheap, but that’s okay. However, whenever you have a film within a film, it is important that the production values in said are notably lower than in the film itself. In this picture, they are not.

The acting is pretty poor, with Robert Patrick – a man barely able to out-act Arnold Schwarzenegger – providing the high-point.

What’s right with it?

The film follows the pattern from the original, opening as a heist movie before becoming a vampire flick, and does so reasonably well. The gang are an amusing pack of reprobates, especially Jesus, the psychotic dog trainer who has his fighting hound, Jaws II, on steroids. There are some nice moments, like the Sheriff warding of evil by closing an ambulance door to display the cross, and the gang sitting in their motel room having a Tarantino homage about porno movies.

How bad is it really?

Pretty lame, but it rattles along at a good enough pace you can mostly ignore the crapness. This is certainly the low point of the ‘trilogy’.

Best bit?

Probably the porno conversation, where the gang members complain about the absence of a decent story in the fuck movie.

What’s up with…?

  • Luther being menaced by vampires in the middle of the desert, and running off on foot, when the vampire’s jeep is right there, with the motor running? He thinks of it later sure enough; why not then?

Ratings

Production values – Cheap, and not done well enough to hide it. You can get a lot of mileage out of the rabid rubber bat shot if you cut it right, but if the camera stays on the bat, it quickly becomes clear that it’s made of rubber. 15

Dialogue and performances – Not great. Pretty much no-one is actually bad, they’re al just deeply mediocre. The dialogue is a bit of a pick me up, with some decent one-liners and exchanges, a few of which are even delivered with some competence. 14

Plot and execution – Slim plot, but fairly well used. The genre switch is a little less deft than in the original though. 16

Randomness – Again, the slightly off-the-wall idea is played fairly straight. 5

Waste of potential – Since both the original and the next sequel were better, clearly something went wrong here, possibly the use of a fairly similar opening genre. Maybe the film would have been better if it started as a high school movie or a romantic comedy? 12

Overall 62%

From the Archive – From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

DTD1

 

Directed by Robert Rodriguez
Starring George Clooney, Harvey Keitel and Juliette Lewis

Hot- foot on the run from the law, the Gecko brothers Seth (Clooney) and Richard (Quentin Tarantino) take washed-up preacher Jacob Fuller (Keitel) and his children hostage and head for Mexico. Narrowly evading the law, and narrowly surviving Richard’s psychotic nature, the five of them wind up in the Titty Twister, a seedy desert strip-club where Seth has arranged to meet his Mexican contact.

Which is where the film takes off, and suddenly ceases to be a Quentin Tarantino ‘bad men in black suits crack wise and do terrible things to people’ film, and becomes a Robert Rodriguez crazy-ass Mexican vampire flick, as the staff of the Titty Twister – including barman Razor Charlie ( Danny Trejo) – reveal their darker nature, and start chowing down on the truckers, bikers, fleeing criminals and kidnapped preachers families who form their clientele.

With Richard dead, Seth must join forces with Jacob and his children to survive the second wave of vampires and live to see the sunrise.

What’s wrong with it?

It’s interesting that in a criminal road movie that turns into a vampire bloodbath, all the nastiest bits of the film are in the first half. It’s like a Quentin Tarantino movie with no restraint, and the vile Richard Gecko is like a whole new dimension in unpleasantness, to the point it can get difficult to watch. Seth is also no poodle, and it is a little jarring seeing him become the hero, but then that may be the point.

The vampires themselves are a little silly in places, and as the first half of the film suffers from unbridled Tarantino, the second suffers from Rodriguez Unbound, becoming a bloodbath of such total abandon that it becomes a little hard to keep track.

What’s right with it?

All that being said, the main reason to include this film is for the sake of completeness, and as a benchmark for the ones that followed. While not exactly Casablanca, and not to everyone’s taste, the film is professionally produced and does what it sets out to do with a minimum of ham and a modicum of dignity. Jacob and his daughter, Kate (Lewis) provide an emotional hook for the audience which offsets the darkness of the Gecko brothers, and allows you to feel some interest and investment in the proceedings.

How bad is it really?

The film is pretty much unbridled fun, if – and it’s a pretty big if – you don’t mind your movie fun spattered with viscera and peppered with deeply unpleasant characters being unpleasant. The first half is a particular offender in the latter category, the second half in the former.

Best bit.

Seth takes charge of the survivors, and realises that if Jacob retains his faith, he can bless the tap water to make a weapon for them. Keitel’s attempt to get into the spirit of Seth’s leadership style provides a high point of the movie, particularly since it includes the absurd notion of Harvey Keitel being unwilling to swear.

Seth: So what are you, Jacob? A faithless preacher? Or a mean motherfuckin’ servant of God?
Jacob: I’m a mean m… m… servant of God.

What’s up with…?

  • The crowd? How come this place attracts such a massive audience if they all get killed each night. Presumably there aren’t any regulars, and the Titty Twister is in the middle of nowhere!
  • The vampires sucking so desperately? Because they do. If one thief and a preacher can cause this much damage, you have to wonder how they’ve lasted as long as they have.

Ratings

Production values – Fair to good. Some of the vampire effects are a little silly, but in general the film is well shot and you can hear the dialogue pretty well too. 8

Dialogue and performances – Pretty much to par for a Tarantino co-script, namely there’s a swear word every three seconds, a lot of inconsequential ramblings of the meaning of life, and some holier than thou criminal code stuff from Seth. Of course, the person he’s being holier than is Richard, so that’s fair. The acting is solid, with Clooney managing to go most of the film without either grinning or twitching his head all over the place. Tarantino is rubbish, but then he always is. 10

Plot and execution – Simple, but effective. The genre switch is handled pretty well, and the two halves each has a distinct mood. The latter half is far better than the first, probably because it’s more Rodriguez’ thing, and because of the absence of Tarantino. 7

Randomness – Aside from the sudden attack of the undead – oh, and the codpiece cannon – the film plays it straight. ‘It’ is horde of vampires in a strip-club/brothel set atop an ancient Mexican ziggurat, but they play that straight. 5

Waste of Potential – Probably the best crime-road-movie-turns-into-a-vampire-flick you’re ever going to see. Certainly better than those crappy non-period Hammer efforts. 5

Overall 35%

From the Archive – The Three Musketeers (1993)

Musketeers

 

Directed by Steven Herek
Starring Charlie Sheen, Keifer Sutherland, Chris O’Donnell and Oliver Platt

Swaggering young pup, D’Artagnan (O’Donnell) comes to Paris from his Gascon home to become a Musketeer, like his father before him. En route, he ‘rescues’ Queen Anne and her handmaiden from their own escort, but otherwise arrives without incident, only to find the Musketeers disbanded and reassigned to the infantry.

In quick succession, he manages to be challenged to duels with three swordsmen, who prove to be none other that the last three musketeers not to have surrendered their blades and tunics; Athos (Sutherland), Porthos (Platt) and Aramis (Sheen). The Cardinal’s guards interrupt the first duel, providing a fine opportunity for D’Artagnan to prove his mettle, and with this cursory nod to the plot of the book out of the way, it’s on with the show.

D’Artagnan is arrested by the dastardly Rochefort (Michael Wincott), a former-Musketeer made bad and chief of henching for France’s ersatz ruler, Cardinal Richlieu (Tim Curry). Angered by the increasing independence of the pubescent King Louis XIII – in part under the influence of his love for arranged bride, Anne of Austria – Richlieu sends a freed murderess, Milady de Winter (Rebecca de Mornay), to offer a treaty to his opposite number in Britain – the Duke of Buckingham. Escaping his cell, D’Artagnan overhears this plot, and although recaptured he is rescued from the block by the Musketeers, and off they run to make with the thwarting.

After several botched attempts on their lives, the Musketeers capture Milady, who spills the beans and jumps off a cliff rather than face the headsman. Learning thus that Richlieu plans to kill the king and rule in his place, the Musketeers race back to Paris, muster their comrades and speed to the rescue.

D’Artagnan foils the Cardinal’s sniper, and a battle royale between the Musketeers and the Cardinal’s guards ensues. D’Artagnan kills Rochefort, who – wouldn’t you know it – killed his father, while Athos, Porthos and Aramis chase the Cardinal through his Dante-esque subterranean lair, where the King belts his erstwhile adviser, knocking him to his – presumed – doom.

The Musketeers are reinstated, D’Artagnan joins their number, and the King and Queen are united in love. Aaaah.

What’s wrong with it?

Taking a cue from James Holloway’s old review of The Musketeer, I shan’t dwell overlong on the deviation from Dumas’ original. I do however feel the need to note that what the changes made do is rob the story and its characters of pretty much every vestige of subtlety and interest. Arch-manipulator Richlieu becomes a lecherous pantomime villain, and it’s hard to see how he got as far as he did. Rochefort does a magnificent job of snarling, but lacks the true presence and menace needed for his part. Milady suffers worst, becoming a spineless, whining underachiever, lacking even the courage to face her death with dignity, and failing miserably even to seduce D’Artagnan.

In terms of story, the conflict of love and duty played out in the conflict between the Queen’s affair with Buckingham and her devotion to the country and the treaty represented by her marriage is non-existent here, with the under-aged monarchy trading puppy-dog looks at every opportunity. The Musketeers’ precarious positioning between the good of the kingdom and duty to the king is abandoned in making the Cardinal so absolutely and unmitigatedly evil.

All in all then, the film has no depth, no layers, no subtext, and nothing much to hold the interest.

Chris O’Donnell furthermore, has all the charisma of a carrot. His love interest, played by Julie Delpie, is barely in three scenes, and it’s really quite hard to give a shit about either of them.

There’s also the excruciating ‘Aramis and Porthos teach D’Artagnan to wench’ scene, and the horror that is Paul McGann’s shrieking fop, pursuing D’Artagnan throughout the film’s quieter moments, in order to avenge some imagined slight to his sister’s fairly dubious virtue.

The whole thing also feels rushed, as the film tries to plough through a couple of books worth of plot in under two hours. The result is that the friendship between the Musketeers and D’Artagnan feels distinctly forced, and the romantic subplots are completely flat.

What’s right with it?

Some of the fight scenes are handled with competence, and while their characters are pretty underdeveloped, Sutherland, Sheen and Platt not only shine in the acting stakes but are also clearly having a whale of a time.

Some of the comedy is pretty good.

How bad is it really?

Not so bad as some. It’s quite good fun, but the plot never engages. It’s hard to care about anyone, and with that, it’s hard to get any kind of involvement with the film, however glossy. See the Richard Lester version for plot, then see the Four Musketeers. But don’t bother with Return of the Musketeers, which – sad to say – is a Bad Movie Review waiting to happen.

Mitigating a little, it does have the kind of joy that a Musketeer film ought to have (which is where Return of the Musketeers fell down).

Best bit?

Fleeing the scene of D’Artagnan’s thwarted execution in the Cardinal’s coach, Porthos discovers the Cardinal’s picnic stash, and offers a drink to Athos, who is driving.
Porthos: A little champagne?
Athos: We’re in the middle of a chase, Porthos!
Porthos: You’re right. Something red.

What’s up with…?

  • The blatant ignoring of history? Never mind the plot of the book, Richlieu, Louis, Anne; these were real people. Dumas may have taken a lot of liberties, but he kept a few things straight. In here, we have Richlieu dying when the king is fifteen. It’s like the end of Name of the Rose all over again.
  • Asian mook? Not the really famous Asian mook who tortured Mel Gibson in the first Lethal Weapon film, but nonetheless an honest-to-God, sword-swinging, kiai-shouting, kung fu-fighting oriental stereotype, in the employ of the Countess de Winter.
  • Porthos the Pirate? Not only is Porthos apparently a pirate, as well as a Musketeer, he’s so famous that he gets recognised? From where? If there were pictures, how could he be a Musketeer? And why does this fact have nothing to do with anything else in the film, at all.

Ratings

Production values – Pretty good. Nice costumes, flashy sets, and decent camera-work. The sound balance is good, and you can make out pretty much all the dialogue. If anything, it’s almost too clean. 4

Dialogue and performances – Uninspired and uninspiring, the script was plainly dull enough to send most of the principles into autopilot. Tim Curry could knock off this kind of cackling cartoon bad-guy in his sleep, and it pretty much looks as though he has done. O’Donnell is unengaging, but the remaining Musketeers at least seem to be having fun. Wincott and de Mornay are pretty flat, but they never really had much chance given the two-dimensionality of the characters. 13

Plot and execution – It takes a lot of work to successfully bring a plot as complex and sophisticated as the Three Musketeers to the screen, and this film pretty much doesn’t bother. The plot is laughably simple, even for a film from our old friends at Disney, and it’s just allowed to roll along without any degree of dynamism. 14

Randomness – Some, but not too much. This film lacks the imagination to be truly random. Of course, ‘Porthos the Pirate’ nets it a lot of points, but other than that we’re in pretty stable territory. 7

Waste of Potential – See above, re. successfully making a film of the Three Musketeers. While not dire and at least quite good fun, this attempt is overall unengaging and a waste of the talent involved.  10

Overall 48%

From the Archive – Full Eclipse (1993)

Eclipse

 

Directed by Anthony Hickox
Starring ‘Super’ Mario van Peebles, Bruce ‘Oh the’ Payne and Patsy Kensit

Tough LA cop, Max Dire (Peebles) loses his partner in a hail of bullets, only to get him back the next day, right as rain. Then the partner starts chasing cars full of gangbangers on foot, and shoots himself with a bullet cast form his lucky silver dollar.

Enter trauma councillor, tough cop and biochemist Adam Garou (Payne), who recruits Max to his team of issue-wracked cops – including the sluty Casey (Kensit) – who sleep communally, have an acute siege mentality, worship the ground Garou treads and – oh yeah – shoot up on weird shit, sprout claws and tear into drug dealers and their mistresses while shrugging off high-calibre bullet wounds.

Turns out that Garou is a werewolf – shock, horror…Oh wait, that’s his name – and is dosing ‘the pack’ with his cranial fluids to make them his little werewolfettes. Then on the night of the lunar eclipse, he plans to off them all and move on to another city. Casey goes cold turkey and dies jumping out of a high window, and come the night itself, Max faces off against Garou, who turns into a bear – I swear to God, it’s supposed to be a super-werewolf form, but it looks like a teddy bear – shrugs off Max’s silver bullets, and finally succumbs to a syringe full of silver nitrate as the moon reappears.

Then Max absorbs his power, and starts the cycle all over again.

What’s wrong with it?

In a word, it’s bollocks. The direction is stilted, the script is crappy, the cast are planks and the sound is all mumbly. The regular werewolf SFX are cheap – dodgy claws that spring from their knuckles and some facial prosthetics – and the big finale is a let down – Garou turns into a Howling-style wolf-man, but looks more like a teddy bear.

The guy is called Garou. The sign on his fucking door says ‘A Garou’ (Garou being French for ‘werewolf, if you didn’t know’).  Of course, Max’s surname is Dire, as in dire wolf.

Bruce Payne. Super Mario. Patsy Kensit.

What’s right with it?

Not much. The concept of the dodgy werewolf cop unit is okay, as is the alpha wolf offing his pack at the full eclipse. It’s just when the film moves beyond concept that it falls down.

How bad is it really?

An absolute stinker of a film. Seriously. It really isn’t even funny.

Best bit

Max sees Garou syringing his cranial fluid out, but the werewolf hears him. He drags Garou over to the mirror, and does a little routine, with ‘this is you on my brain’ in place of ‘this is your brain on drugs’. It mostly scores because you can see how they thought it would be cool, and at the same time see how it doesn’t work, and would have been cut if they weren’t so in love with it.

What’s up with…?

  • Max taking over Garou’s schtick? Garou was trusted to run these wacky units because he had a hard-won rep and like, five PhDs. Max has a badge and an attitude.
  • No one noticing that Garou leaves this trail of dead officers in his wake?
  • No one noticing – or at least no one commenting on – the rise in savage animal maulings when Garou is around?
  • No one noticing that when his silver police medal is placed in his hands, Max emits bright purple smoke?

Ratings

Production values – Shitty. The lighting is dark where is should be moody, and the sound mumbled where it should be moody. The SFX blow, and we get a real faceful of how much; none of your tease the audience mentality here. 16

Dialogue and Performances – Here’s the pitch: Peebles! Kensit! Payne! Together at last! As an opportunity for a spree killing, sure; as a movie concept, no. On the other hand, the dialogue deserves so very little more. 17

Plot and execution – A good concept frittered away on a few naff action scenes, a gratuitous shag and some needless posing in fangs and make-up. 17

Randomness – Fairly true to itself, aside from Max suddenly deciding to take Garou’s place. 8

Waste of potential – Another intriguing concept made dull. Still; at least it wasn’t the start of a long-running ‘Werewolf Cop’ franchise. 14

Overall 72%

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