Tag Archives: Albert Pyun

Summer of Lovecraft: H.P. Lovecraft’s Cool Air (2006-2013*)

Below are words with which I seek to disprove this poster's thesis.
Below are words with which I seek to disprove this poster’s thesis.

“Death comes coldly**”

Directed by Albert Pyun
Starring Morgan Weisser, Crystal Green, Jenny Dare, Norbert Weisser and Wendy Phillips

The Story

A penurious writer explains his aversion to cool breezes with a story of the time he took lodgings in a cheap boarding house full of low-grade Spaniards (oh, Lovecraft; you old racist) where a chemical spill and a heart attack lead him to the acquaintance of Dr Munoz, a medical genius who insists on having his room kept exceptionally cool. When the refrigeration unit breaks down, Munoz demands ice while it is repaired, but despite the narrator’s best efforts he degenerates completely, leaving only a written confession that he had been dead for 18 years.

The Film

A penurious writer named Charlie Baxter (Weisser) explains his aversion to cool breezes with a story of the time he took lodgings in a boarding house in Malibu, with a defunct animator named Deltoid (the other Wiesser, the father of the first), his landlady (Phillips) and her autistic daughter (Dare).

summerattemp2

Continue reading Summer of Lovecraft: H.P. Lovecraft’s Cool Air (2006-2013*)

Captain America (1990)

799_captain-america-90-1341178136

“The Original Avenger” (I imagine this one was added for the rerelease)

Directed by Albert Pyun
Starring Matt Sallinger, Scott Paulin and Ronnie Cox

Huge, but polio-crippled patriot Steve Rogers is enlisted for a special programme and injected with a special serum, developed by Dr Maria Vaselli, transforming him into Captain America. After Vaselli’s murder by Nazi agents, Cap is sent to take out a war rocket built by Nazi super soldier Red Skull, an Italian piano prodigy kidnapped and injected with an early version of the formula. Cap proceeds to get beaten like a red-headed stepchild and tied to the rocket, managing to deflect it into the arctic ocean and becoming frozen until the 1990s. Waking, he has to battle the Red Skull again, now working as an agent of the military-industrial complex to sabotage a major environmental treaty.

What’s wrong with it?

Captain America is a big hero, for big stories; like punching Hitler in the face. After a brief foray into his WWII adventures, in which we discover that Captain America went on one mission, which he royally screwed up, this film pits him against the Red Skull and… a bunch of hip Italian Mafia slackers led by his evil, but personality-free daughter, working for a group of industrial magnates who might as well be battling Captain Planet as Captain America.

Pitching towards the more family end of the market, it nonetheless opens with the brutal murder of a family, and the agonising transformation of a young boy into the Red Skull; pretty strong stuff, even if not shown in graphic detail. It’s also harder to hate the Red Skull when his evil is due to a flawed formula, and correspondingly harder to admire Cap when the implication is that his heroism likewise derives from the perfected serum, rather than his own courage.

As we go on, Steve’s ex-girlfriend and her husband are killed, as is President Ronnie Cox’s best friend, and just about anyone else that crosses Cap’s path without being the leader of the free world or the designated love interest. This would be bad enough if not for the fact that most of them die because Rogers can’t be arsed to stick around and protect them, wandering off to some plot dump while they get butchered.

Did I mention that Red Skull’s legion of doom is five hip young kids who seem to have escaped from a Madonna video?

What’s right with it?

Environmentalism was topical at the time, and it’s interesting to see a film at least in which America leads the way in that regard. The WWII section is actually a highlight as well, and its a shame they didn’t go all historical.

How bad is it really?

Man, this is bad, and all the worse for seeing what could be done with the material.

Best bit (if such there is)?

On seeing the Cap for the first time, Red Skull declares that he is delighted to have a chance to practice his English. He then proceeds to kick him around the room while reciting his language exercises: “Where is the pen of my aunt? The pen of my aunt is on the table!”

What’s up with…?

  • The Red Skull’s ineffectual mod squad goons? Who thought that would be threatening?
  • The environmental slant? I guess it was super topical at the time, but it’s an odd choice for Captain America.
  • The Red Skull being an eleven year old piano prodigy from Italy instead of a committed officer of the German Reich and HYDRA member?

Ratings

Production values – The historical costumes are not terrible, but the fight scenes suffer for their budget and the villains lack menace due to their hip, modern get-up. 15
Dialogue and performances –  The dialogue tops out at nothing special. Most of the performances are adequate, but Matt ‘son of JD’ Salinger in the central role is both a low point (although apparently he’s a shit-hot playwright; who knew?) and the bulk of the screen time. The love interest fails to be remotely memorable. 14
Plot and execution – Shambling, shambolic and inconsistent in tone, with a poor sense of purpose not helped by the tacked on environmental message, which could honestly be a pace-holder for any issue. Moreover, the film simply has no real stakes, the ultimate threat being that things stay much the same as they are already. 18
Randomness – The mod goons; the Italian piano prodigy; the string of deaths which Cap barely even seems bothered by. The fact that the President managed to snap a shot of Captain America flying past on a rocket on the camera he had in 1943, when he was eight16
Waste of potential – In spite of its limited budget, any comparison to the recent Captain America films show this to be inferior, not only in terms of special effects, but of plot, characterisation and fundamental grasp of what might make a superhero film interesting. 18

Overall 81%

Bad Movie Superstar: Albert Pyun

Opinions on director Albert Pyun are varied. The Independent Film Channel says that “(he has) carved out a unique niche as a director of low-budget, high-concept genre films starring actors past their prime”, while others call him the new Ed Wood and his frankly gushing IMDB bio (by ‘anonymous’) likens him to Jean-Luc Goddard and Sergio Leone while mourning the butchering of his unique vision by studios and producers.

For me, none of these descriptions quite fits the bill – well, apart from the bit about actors past their prime – and the best comparison to be drawn is actually with B-movie legend Roger Corman. Like Corman before him, Pyun does not have the power to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but does know how to bash out a sow’s ear purse for even less than the little he can sell it for, while simultaneously making a second purse from the same ear on the other side of the lot.

Sword

Beginning his career in his native Hawai’i, Pyun interned with Akira Kurosawa’s cinematographer in Japan before making his directorial debut with The Sword and the Sorcerer, arguably his best movie (although still not very good). His IMDB filmography shows the recurring themes of martial arts and cyborgs (as in 1989’s Cyborg, with Jean Claude Van Damme), but he has also worked in fantasy, contemporary action (Blast, Hong Kong 97) and even the superhero genre (with 1990s Captain America). Brainsmasher… A Love Story is a rare digression into comedy, with Andrew Dice Clay’s bouncer battling some dubious Shaolin monks over a rare flower.

And how bad is he?

Well, here’s the thing. I am convinced that Albert Pyun knows how to make a good film, he just can’t seem to actually do it. Maybe the IMDB reviewer is right and he really is an avant garde genius whose work is routinely butchered by producers, but having seen Nemesis and Mean Guns, I don’t buy it; not completely, anyway. Every so often, he puts a shot together really nicely, but he always seems to manage to screw it up; if not by the end of the shot then in the next one. 

Blast
It’s the ‘with Rutger Hauer’ credit that makes it art.

Pyun has something of a stable of regular actors, including fellow son of Hawai’i Mark Dacascos, Rutger Hauer and Tim ‘Trancers’ Thomerson, who also has a long and fruitful collaboration with of another doyen of the Corman school, Charles Band, under his belt. His film-making trademarks include the money-saving ‘shoot offscreen’ technique (requiring neither expensive GSW effects nor any retakes for fluffed timings) and heavy use of coloured filters.

Also cyborgs; lots of cyborgs.  He uses a particularly notable number of cyborgs for a man who has claimed to have no interest in cyborgs.

From the Archive – Nemesis (1993)

Nemesis (1993)

Nemesis

“In the future, it pays to be more than human.”

Inflicted by Albert Pyun
Starring Olivier Gruner, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Tim Thomerson and Brion James

Right. Alex is a cop, see, and he’s hunting these terrorists called the Red Army Hammerheads. The RAH are cyborgs. Or maybe they don’t like cyborgs. Anyway, Alex gets shot up by them and has to have even more of his meaty bits replaced with robot parts. He pursues his quest for vengeance to “Baja, New America,” where he guns down the people who shot him up. He then confronts the LAPD types who follow him, and tells them he’s quitting.
Good so far?
More time passes, and we find Alex eking out a mercenary lifestyle in the “New Rio net.” He gets bushwhacked by a cyborg and taken to confront his LAPD boss (Tim Thomerson) and his inexplicably European minions. They tell him he’s got a bomb in him and send him off to Java or somewhere to track down some terrorists. Or something. A chip with his ex-girlfriend’s personality (Personality is a pretty strong term for it – The Prophet) on it comes into it somewhere. Surprise surprise, Tim Thomerson was the baddie all along, being in actuality an evil cyborg who replaced the real Tim Thomerson and who now chases Alex and this girl he just met all over hell and gone, shooting at them with an arsenal of high-tech waprons.
Yes, waprons. Goodness defeats wickedness, hurrah hurrah.

What’s wrong with it?

Olivier Gruner fails to bring the necessary tenderness and humanity to his role as a none-too-bright robot. Special effects are crude, fight scenes are stilted and dull, and the love interest was obviously sleeping with the director, which just goes to show that if your name is Albert Pyun, even being a Hollywood director is not enough to get the really pretty girls. He’s going to have to start dealing coke.

What’s right with it?

 Uh, some of the scenery is kind of nice, I guess, when they’re in the south pacific. And Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa is funny as a tropical gangster. But he’s not in it for long.

How bad is it really?

 I saw this movie with Happyfett and our friend Tim, and those hardened veterans were ready to gnaw their own legs off to get away. And Happyfett wasn’t even drinking.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Alex and girl-he-just-met fly away from robo-Thomerson in a plane on strings. But the villain clings to the bottom and clambers up to attack! In the ensuing struggle (which is all done in stop-motion; it’s kind of like watching Jack Skellington kick King Kong’s ass), robo-Thomerson grabs Gruner’s head and scrapes it against the plane’s torn bulkhead, peeling the skin off his forehead, revealing gleaming metal beneath!. Course, we already knew Alex was a cyborg, so it’s really not that big a deal.

What’s up with…?

  • “cyborg” meaning “robot” in this world?
  • the New Rio net? It’s totally inexcusable that this was not called “neo-Rio.”
  • “Baja, New America?” “Baja” just means “lower.” Baja what? I mean, yeah, OK, people call Baja California “Baja” for short, but that’s still not its name.
  • the LAPD’s incredible expanding jurisdiction? Not only do they send Alex to chase crooks in Bora Bora or wherever, but when he gets there the crooks are hiding from the LAPD.
  • the haircuts? Whenever Pyun needs to tell us that time has passed, he changes Alex’s haircut, from Moe-cut to mullet to low-top fade. He’s like a one-man Kid ‘n’ Play of the future.
  • the Red Army Hammerheads? I think I saw them opening for Midnight Sunstone Bazooka.
  • gunheads? The cyborg superweapon is this titchy little gun that emerges slowly from the machine’s head. Wouldn’t a pistol just be more efficient?
  • The wapron? It’s this titchy little gun that blows robo-Thomerson into robo-smithereens. Of course, he gets back up, but it’s a very big blast for such a small wapron.
  • Albert Pyun’s strange need to dump tons of backstory on us before the chasing can begin? It’s not like anyone gives a crap about Alex’s motivations.

Ratings

Production values: Poor, even allowing for it being 1993. Unforgivable in areas like props and armoury, which aren’t that expensive. 17

Dialogue and performances: Nope. 15

Plot and execution: Remember Blade Runner? Well, imagine if it sucked. 17

Randomness: Well, if you mean “random” in the sense of “proceeds with no rhyme or reason” then, well, yeah. 15

Waste of potential: The relationship between humanity and technology has been the basis of many great stories. This is not one of them. 13

Overall 78%

From the Archive – The Sword and the Sorcerer

Directed by Albert Pyun
Starring (in the loosest possible sense) Lee Horsley, Kathleen Beller

In this sub-Conan offering from tatmeister Pyun – his very first attempt at movie-making – the evil king Titus Cromwell (I shit ye not) gains the aid of a big lizard-sorcerer dude called Xusia to overthrow good King Richard of Ehdan, then stabs him and throws him off a cliff because he’s too dangerous to keep around. I’m sure that we all know this is a big mistake. Richard’s youngest son Talon (Horsley) escapes the massacre and grows up to be a mighty – yet uncouth – mercenary, well-loved across the civilised world. Continue reading From the Archive – The Sword and the Sorcerer

From the Archive – Mean Guns (1997)

Mean Guns

 

Directed by Albert Pyun
Starring…Well, it’s got Christopher Lambert and Ice-T in it

A crime boss in ‘The Syndicate’ (like the Mob, but multiracial apparently) gathers a whole bunch of treacherous ex-employees in a newly built prison, where they are to fight to the death. The last three surviving are to split $10,000,000 between them. As the battle rages, dubious alliances are formed and broken between the killers, until finally it comes down to a four-way face off between Lou (Lambert), Moon (Ice-T), Marcus (Michael Halsey) and accountant Cam (Deborah Van Valkenburg). Pretty much everyone dies, except Cam who gets to split with the cash and the little girl who Lou snatched from her abusive father, because his real daughter was raped; or killed; or something.

It’s never really made clear. Nor is anything else.

What’s wrong with it?

The film makes no sense. Really. Even by the BMM’s standards, it’s pretty bloody random. What little exposition there is is garbled, mumbled, and contradictory. The action scenes are rubbish, largely consisting of one person after another firing a gun off the side of the screen. The whole thing is backed by a bizarre score, which seesaws between sub-Morriconne guitar jangles and Prez Prado mambo numbers.

What’s right with it?

Nothing much.

How bad is it really?

Albert Pyun occasionally shows signs that he is almost a very good director.

This is not one of those occasions.

Best bit?

Random mambo plays while Moon explains that everyone is going to die. When he asks if there are any questions, Lou asks: “Where can I get this CD?”

That really is the high point.

What’s up with…?

  • Lord. Where to start?
  • The mambo? In a book, it might be a little creepy; the idea of killers playing real, live deathmatch to a cheery mambo soundtrack. In the hands of a master film-maker, it might work to have a tense cat and mouse to same. But brutal game of death gunfights to a mambo movie score? Worst scoring decision since Ladyhawke.
  • The set-up? This is supposed to be for the entertainment of the Syndicate, yet they dump the guns on the crowd, thus ensuring a swift attrition. Surely the smart thing would be to distribute them around the playing area, a la Quake.
  • The ambush? Four people setting up an ambush by sitting in an open space, surrounded by an elevated gallery. Now, call me crazy…
  • The shoot-out? Ice-T hands out four Desert Eagles, and Lou’s isn’t loaded. A professional killer had a gun in his hand, and let someone give him another gun, and tried to use it. I don’t think so.

Ratings

Production values – Albert Pyun’s trademark bizarre use of filters (orange outside, blue inside) dominates here, and is the technical high-point. The fight choreography is non-existent, the sound is crappy and the editing sucks. All in all, it looks as if the film was put together by a bunch of monkeys on crack. 18

Dialogue and performances – Even by their own standards, Lambert and Ice-T sleepwalk through these roles. Everyone else is worse. Except the little girl who sits in a car outside the prison all through the movie, who is great. You know; assuming she really was supposed to be the secret head of the Syndicate.14

Plot and execution – More monkeys. They say that enough monkeys with enough typewriters could produce the works of Shakespeare. As my flatmate said – borrowing from something we can’t quite remember – five monkeys; two typewriters. And some crack. Same for the direction, which seems to have been of the order of: “Do this and this, we’ll wave the camera at you” (or maybe just “Ook”). 20

Randomness – Lou shot a kid. No wait, his daughter was raped. No wait, Marcus killed his daughter. What’s going on? And that’s the questions around just one character. 16

Waste of Potential – Brutal cat-and-mouse around a prison; it could have worked. Unlikely; but it could have done. 10

Overall 78%

From the Archive – Blast (1996)

Blast

 

Directed by Albert Pyun
Starring Linden Ashby, Andrew Divoff, Kimberly Warren and Rutger Hauer

Based on a story that might have been true if we hadn’t made all of it up, this is a rather tacky entry into the Die Hard sub-genre by Hawaiian bad movie auteur Albert Pyun.

Jack Bryant (Ashby) is a janitor working the pool complex at the Atlanta Olympics as work furlough after a prison spell for an undisclosed crime. But once he was a contender, a Tae Kwon Do bronze medallist in Barcelona, until an injury in his winning match sidelined him. But, fate deals him a chance at redemption when the US women’s swim team – coached by his ex-wife, Diane (Warren) – are taken hostage by mad terrorist Omado (Divoff), who has had a couple of bad missions and wants to prove to the terrorist community at large that he’s still got it. With all of the security guards dead, only Bryant can save the day, with the external assistance of European Security Consultant, Colonel Leo (Oscar-nomine and Golden Globe-winner Hauer).

What’s wrong with it?

Well, to start with the obvious, this is an absolute knock-off of Die Hard, just set in an Olympic swimming pool. Man tries to talk to his ex-wife, ends up the only man left free in a terrorist controlled building. He has to take out the terrorists one at a time, while his wife gamely tries to protect the other hostages. Damn it, we even have our hero limping around – from his old injury, rather than from walking on broken glass, but still – and the wife’s slime-ball coaching partner selling everyone out for his own freedom, then getting shot by the bad guys anyway.

Alas, Linden Ashby – while an affable and fairly charismatic lead – is no Bruce Willis (not that Willis was before Die Hard), or at least is not given a John McClane of a role (for starters it’s been done before now). Moreover, Andrew Divoff – the genie in Wishmaster – is certainly no Alan Rickman, and Rutger Hauer is in pigtails.

What’s right with it?

Good question. Not much really. This film fails to deliver on almost every level.

How bad is it really?

Bad, but not to the point of being actively painful, which is pretty much damning with faint praise.

Best bit?

Nothing is interesting enough to spring to mind.

What’s up with…?

  • The Olympic security contractors responding to terrorist threats by issuing security passes without photos?
  • The intro which claims the story is based on events which could have been true if a terrorist threat against the Olympics hadn’t been nipped in the bud, and the janitor had been a kung fu bad-ass? It’s frankly pretty silly.
  • The meticulous terrorist a) gratuitously gunning down potential hostages for shits and grins, and b) stating that the two janitors unaccounted for ‘aren’t important’? He’s rigging the whole building to explode if anyone tries the doors, and he reckons two people wandering around ‘aren’t important’.
  • The terrorist with a detonator hidden under his skin, having somehow got it in there without leaving a scar?
  • Rutger Hauer’s pigtailed euro-soldier security consultant?
  • Albert Pyun? I mean, here’s the thing: He keeps making films that are this close to being pretty good, and yet in the end they almost inevitably blow.
  • The ‘freelance terrorist’? It’s like a career for this guy, and the Olympic hit is designed to take out the President, more or less so he can put it on his CV. There’s also some concept of a terrorist community, like Al Quaeda and the Real IRA get together on weekend retreats and swap tips on bombing and AK-47 maintenance.

Ratings

Production Values – For a film about terrorist bombers, even the explosions are kind lame. The props budget was also plainly very limited, as the terrorists all run around with handguns; not an Uzi or AK-47 between them, and those things are pretty easy to get hold of… So I understand. The camerawork borders on competence in a way that really only aggravates. 13

Dialogue and Performances – Workmanlike performances fail to cover a pretty patchy script, and Andrew Divoff sadly comes off as more of a sleaze-bag than a terrifying, cold-blooded terrorist. Everyone suffers from the inevitable comparisons to Die Hard, which is the fault of the script for creating such direct parallels more than the actors. 16

Plot and Execution – The plot loses points, big-time, for being almost a scene-by-scene rehash of Die Hard, only nowhere near as good. The execution has Albert Pyun’s trademark moments of genius, punctuating acres of cack-handed misdelivery. 15

Randomness – Pretty low-level, except that the whole plot makes no damn sense. 8

Waste of Potential – Die Hard plotline, a little Tae Kwon Do; it could have been good. Not great, mind you, but certainly an enjoyable ninety minutes in which to disengage the old brain. But no. 16

Overall 68%

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%