Tag Archives: not so bad at all

The Last Legion (2007)

Last Legion

“The End of an Empire. The Beginning of a Legend”

Directed by Dough Lefler
Starring Colin Firth, Ashwarya Rai, Ben Kingsley and Thomas Sangster

In the twilight years of the Western Roman Empire, the Goths sack Rome and imprison the young emperor, Romulus Augustus (Sangster). Lead by the renowned General Aurelius (Firth),  the last of the Emperor’s personal guard, together with his tutor Ambrosinus (Kingsley) and an Indo-Byzantine warrior woman named Mira (Rai), set out to rescue Romulus from the Goths, then flee the treacherous senate and Eastern Empire to seek sanctuary with the lost Ninth Legion in Britain.

What’s wrong with it?

In terms of historical inaccuracy, this film gives King Arthur a run for its money. The legions are clad in the classic finery seen in the Asterix books, centuries out of date, and Mra is by comparison about seven centuries ahead of her time in terms of weapons and martial arts development. The reverence shown for Romulus Augustulus, in reality the teenage son of a usurper, is matched only by that given to Julius Caesar and the Emperor Tiberius (who died in disgrace, painted by his own people as the worst kind of tyrant and child-molester). The Ninth Hispana are renamed ‘the dragon legion’ and portrayed in a way that makes The Eagle look like a triumph of speculative fiction.

What’s right with it?

So, firstly, dat cast. All the leads are good, and ably supported by Alexander Siddig and all the big, grim blokes who would later find such profitable employment filming Game of Thrones for HBO (apart from the ones who were too busy being in Rome). More importantly, the film may be bollocks, but it’s fun.

How bad is it really?

Well, actually it’s pretty good. The film is basically here for its woeful depiction of a historical period which, although no-one knows what it actually looked like, can pretty soundly be said not to have looked like this. Outside of that and few hilarious bits of philosophising, it’s a good watch of a quiet afternoon.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Ambrosinus stands on the walls and hurls fireballs at Vortygn’s horde. A second shot shows that he is actually just waving his arms while onagers fire from behind him.

What’s up with…?

  • The Byzantine machine guns? Having decided to betray Romulus, the Byzantine ambassador lures the guard into a trap with rapid-firing bolt throwers in some sort of misguided nod to The Godfather or possibly The Great Escape.
  • The porta-ballista? During the assault on Capri, Aurelius uses a stockless ballista held with his feet, despite the fact that large catapults of a more modern kind would be available by then, and that any kind of bow would be more practical than a folding ballista.
  • The counter-Darcy? Mira emerges from the river like Mr Darcy, in front of the man who made the moment famous. Was that deliberate, or just a way to get the actress in a wet shirt?

Ratings

Production values – I’m in two minds about this. It’s well-shot and nicely put together, but when push comes to shove, almost every detail of the costume, props and buildings is wrong. 11
Dialogue and performances –  The dialogue is nothing special, with a few gems matched against some bits of clunky philosophy, but the acting is so good you barely notice. 8
Plot and execution – The plot is basically silly. ‘We must flee to Britain to meet up with the 9th Legion’ is a poor reason to go all that way at that time, especially when a teenage emperor would be unidentifiable anywhere outside the heart of Rome. It’s fun though, and rattles along without ever getting gratuitous. 12
Randomness – Caesar’s sword = Excalibur, the ‘Dragon Legion’, Ben Kingsley does kung fu. 10
Waste of potential – One of the best pseudo-Arthurian Romano-British romps of recent years, if far from the only one. 4

Overall 45%

Noah (2014)

Noah

“The end of the world… is just the beginning”
(Spoiler alert – it’s actually more like the third quarter)

Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone and Emma Watson

After the Creation and the Fall of man, the line of Seth keeps the way of the Creator while that of Cain rules a vast, industrial empire powered by ‘zohar’, a stone containing the energy of creation. When God decides to cleanse the Earth with a flood, Seth’s descendant Noah is tasked with creating an Ark to save the innocent creatures of the Earth. He is aided by the Watchers, earth-bound angels punished for aiding man and later betrayed and enslaved, and opposed by Tubal-Cain, last king of men, gratuitously nasty slaver and cannibal, and would be rival of the Creator.

What’s wrong with it?

The film is part apocalyptic science-fantasy and part Biblical epic, and while the mix is interesting it suffers from refusing to pick a side. The global Empire of Cain lacks the fundamental infrastructure to have ever supported it. Tubal-Cain is a truly menacing tribal king, but fails to convince as the leader of even a fallen empire.

The unrelenting gray-brown palette of much of the film is somewhat wearying in places, and the speechifying can get leaden in places.

Given the absolute desolation of the landscape, it’s hard to see where so many large ungulates were surviving all this time.

Logan Lerman, playing Ham, looks distractingly like a Name of the Rose era Christian Slater, and ironically is pretty much the only Semite in the cast.

The film ends with the slightly creepy implication that Noah’s infant granddaughters are going to be married off to his single sons (a deviation from the Bible, in which his sons were all married at the time of the flood, as well as being about a hundred years old already).

The opening crawl describes the fall of man, but kind of shoots its credibility in the foot by deciding that it needed to punctuate its account with a comedy apple-crunch sound effect.

What’s right with it?

The film is beautiful in a rather grim way, and the apocalyptic landscape of the Cainite empire is an especially potent image. The cast is strong, and wrestles manfully (and womanfully) when the dialogue gets too heavy. Crowe and Winston clash like the titans of unsubtle manliness that they are.

Elements of the filmmaking are heavily stylised, and these are quite remarkable, with sections shot almost as shadowplay against a vivid red and yellow sunset especially beautiful.

How bad is it really?

Noah is far from terrible, and in fact is probably one of the best film on this blog in many ways. There were just a few too many questions for me not to include it.

Best bit (if such there is)?

The epic battle for the Ark, in which the Watchers sacrifice themselves, and thus forgiven explode back into their angelic forms, while rain pelts down, is impressively grim.

What’s up with…?

  • The forced character conflict? Ham is put at odds with his father through an episode not only added for the film, but predicated on the fact that Ham has no wife, where in the Bible all three sons are explicitly married.
  • Tubal-Cain? Disaster movies don’t really need a villain.
  • The global empire without an infrastructure? The ruins of a zohar mine resemble the remains of a twentieth century facility, but there is no sign of rapid transit or communications ever having existed.
  • Zohar? Random magic rocks, yo!
  • The pangolin dog? I guess it and a couple of other non-species symbolise what was lost to man’s greed.

Ratings

Production values – Despite the limited pallete, this film is gorgeously made, with incredible production design. The three-armed Watchers with their clubbed, vestigial stone wings and twisted stone forms are especially good. 2
Dialogue and performances –  The dialogue is sometimes heavy-handed, but delivered well. Emma Watson may not quite be enough of a heavyweight for Epic, but she acquits herself well in the smaller emotional moments. 5
Plot and execution – The film on occasion loses its sense of self between the extremes of its fantasy aspirations and Biblical inspiration, and of course we pretty much know how it ends from the word go. It is, nonetheless, a solid story with relatively little deviation. 8
Randomness – Many of the shifts from the source material makes sense in terms of expanding the world and characters, but a few are more bizarre, not least the magic rocks. 9
Waste of potential – It’s not perfect, but you could do a lot worse, and be a lot more heavy-handed with the material. 7

Overall 31%

Santo in the Wax Museum (1963)

santo_in_wax_museum_poster_01

 

Directed by Alfonso Corona Blake and Manuel San Fernando
Starring Santo, Claudio Brook, José Luis Jiménez

Dr Karol runs a wax museum full of statues of historical figures — and, in the basement, statues of hideous monsters. When a photographer reporting on the museum goes missing, Karol calls in wrestler/crimefighter Santo to investigate. But as disappearances mount, Santo begins to suspect that it is Karol himself who is behind them. The finale is a climactic battle in Karol’s mad-science lab; you’ll be surprised to hear that the ladies are rescued, justice is upheld, and Karol is destroyed by his own twisted creations.

What’s wrong with it?

Well, it’s corny, formulaic and cheap as dirt — none of your shoddy-CGI cheapness, I’m talking about stone-walls-painted-on-plywood cheap. It’s based on a premise that hardly makes any sense even within the confines of a popcorn movie about a wrestling superhero. It keeps getting interrupted by wrestling scenes that are totally unrelated to the plot, even if they are pretty fun.

What’s right with it?

It knows exactly what it is — a Saturday-afternoon flick for a theatre full of kids hyped up on high-quality Mexican Coca-Cola made with actual cane sugar. It rattles along pretty briskly and never acts ashamed of its mad scientist lab, megalomaniacal villain or hokey monsters. It’s good clean fun with occasional flashes of inspiration.

How bad is it really?

It’s … it’s a relic of another time and place. It’s bad in the way that any Mexican wrestling movie would be bad, in that it makes no sense and was bashed out in a hurry and on the cheap.

Best bit (if such there is)?

When Doctor Karol finally gives his big villain-reveal speech, it is genuinely psychotic and over-the-top. He just starts talking about how he’s going to subject his victim to the most agony he can possibly imagine so that the combined mental and physical damage will turn them into a horrible, ugly monster, and this is the true face of humanity and blah blah blah … it’s just surprisingly full-throttle for a supervillain in a Santo flick. It’s so intense you feel bad about going “OK, wait, but what does this have to do with running a wax museum…?

What’s up with…? 

  • Doctor Karol runs a wax museum. What is he a doctor of?
  • Professor Galvan has a huge monitor thingy mounted on his wall that he can use to observe Santo wherever he is. Did he just build it himself or can you buy a Santo-Cam anywhere?
  • The Professor goes missing but Santo calls off the search because “I have to wrestle.” That dude has a work ethic.
  • A photographer and a journalist are assigned to spend several days covering the opening of the wax museum. It must be a slow news week in Coyoacan.
  • Santo fights the monsters the Doctor has created by abducting and mutilating innocent people. Once he’s given them a good thumping he throws them all in a big pile and tips the lab’s vat of boiling wax over them, presumably killing them all. I have to confess I did not expect this movie to end with Santo just straight-up murdering four people.

Ratings

Production values: 10. It looks like a Republic serial — cheap props and sets, camera standing on a box, but clean and more or less competent. Looking like a Republic serial isn’t great for 1963, but this isn’t Hollywood.
Dialogue and performances: 13. Say what you like about Santo, he can’t act, or at least not in full-face mask. Still, Dr Karol is good and everybody else is pretty OK.
Plot and execution: 13. The premise makes no sense, but the execution of that premise is pretty reasonable, apart from the occasional wrestling interlude. Lucha interlude. Interlucha.
Randomness: 17. Why a wax museum? Whyyy?
Waste of potential: 8. Like I said: for sugar-addled kids or adults who want to behave like sugar-addled kids for 90 minutes.

Overall 61%

From the Archive – The Specials (2000)

Specials

“Not as good as regular superheroes, but slightly better than you.”

Directed by Craig Mazin
Starring Rob Lowe, Thomas Hayden Church and Jamie Kennedy

The Specials are the sixth or seventh greatest superteam on the planet. They have just landed a new team member, Nightbird (Jordan Ladd), and been honoured with a set of action figures. At the launch party for the figures, the team’s mind-numbingly earnest leader, The Great Strobe (Hayden Church), discovers his wife, Ms. Indestructible (Paget Brewster), is having an affair with their long-time friend and coworker, the Weevil (Lowe), and the toys are revealed to be muscle-bound – and in some cases big-breasted – caricatures armed with deadly weapons, with two team members transformed into villains and one made black to make the team more multiracial.

Strobe announces the break-up of the team, and the other members mope about for the evening. In the morning, they defiantly assemble at their suburban HQ – all save the Weevil, who sells out and joins top-flight superteam, The Crusaders – and the fight against injustice goes on.

And that’s about it really. There’s no overall plot, and no resolution. The whole thing is tied together with documentary-style interview segments with the various specials.

What’s wrong with it?

It’s a superhero film with no plot; like a middle-period Woody Allen film with dodgy costumes. The team is twelve strong – and one of the team members, Eight, is one person with eight bodies, so the screen time given to each is somewhat limited. While the film contains many good ideas, they are a little lost without a real plot framework, and however many scenes work very well, the film does not really go anywhere or do anything. The Specials came out the year after Mystery Men and the latter is by far the slicker, tighter film.

What’s right with it?

If you get over the fact that there isn’t really a plot, then the film contains some very good ideas. The notion of a world full of competing superteams; the top team being a pack of self-righteous media whores; superheroes dealing with everyday problems and the trials of being minor celebrities (they get asked for autographs, but Minute Man – who can become tiny at will – is constantly having his named pronounced ‘Min-it’ instead of ‘My-newt’). While the whole does not always satisfy, there are a number of good scenes, and some very funny lines.

How bad is it really?

By the standards of the BMM this is a classic in the mould of Casablanca. Back in the world, it’s pretty silly, but far from appalling.

Best bit?

The film doesn’t really have any set pieces, but it has some very good lines. For example: Minute Man (James Gunn) asks Deadly Girl (Judy Greer) what it’s like to summon demons, this being one of her powers. She replies: “They do your will and it makes you feel good about yourself. Does that make me creepy?”

What’s up with…?

  • A superhero film without a plot or an action scene? Deadly Girl pops Ms Indestructible when the team find out she cheated on Strobe and at the end of the film each team member does their power once, but it’s not really what you expect.
  • Well…That’s about it really. Once you get past that central conceit, the rest of the film pretty much gels.

Ratings

Production Values – Cheap, but not tacky. The costumes are mostly lame, but then they are kind of supposed to be. The superpowers at the end are a little naff, and you can see why they did not feature more, but on the other hand, recognising that limitation scores points. 8

Dialogue and performances – Variable. The script is fairly good, and often very funny, and the performances are mostly solid and unpretentious. Thomas Hayden Church is either the second coming of Bill Shatner, or puts in a splendid showing (further viewing of his oeuvre supports the conclusion that he is good). 7

Plot and execution – The Specials loses major points on plot, since it really, really doesn’t have one. That being said, the execution of the not-plot is fairly strong. 12

Randomness – Again, aside from the overall randomness of making this movie in the first place, The Specials is pretty straightforward. 5

Waste of Potential – Would this film have worked if it had an actual plot? Could we have stayed interested if we’d seen any more of their crime fighting exploits than Ms Indestructible lamping a pterodactyl in the face? Difficult to be sure, but with what it is, the film odes pretty well. 7

Overall 39%