Monday, April 20, 2015

Exterminators of the Year 3000 (1983) - Review

In the 80s Road Warrior rip-offs almost became a genre of their own with such titles as Battle Truck, Hell Comes to Frogtown, and Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn littering the cinema landscape, but today’s entry is easily one of the most blatant.

exterminators in the year 3000

Directed by Giuliano Carnimeo, Exterminators of the Year 3000 is an Italian-Spanish production that tries its best to present a post-apocalyptic future, using the standard barren desert locations, but what it failed to provide is a decent hero or even anti-hero to walk said wasteland. In Mad Max II aka Road Warrior Mel Gibson’s character was your standard taciturn lone anti-hero, the kind that would often crop up in Westerns and who would grudgingly end up helping a group of settlers or travelers from a band of nefarious villains, but in this movie our “hero” is Alien (Robert Iannucci) and he’s pretty much an asshole for the films entire running time. During the last act he does finally attempt to do something noble, but aside from him claiming to “Have a soul” we are given no reason for his change of heart.

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Also, what the hell kind of name is Alien?

As the title states, this movie takes place in the year 3000 where after nuclear war has ruined the ozone layer mankind is finally running out of water. Bands of marauding bikers and dune buggy enthusiasts prowl the wastelands looking to steal water from anyone they come across. The leader of the vilest Exterminator gang is Crazy Bull (Fred Harris) who has a score to settle with Alien for stealing his super-car.

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Give him a hockey mask and he’s Lord Humongous but with less charisma.

The main story deals with small group of people who have managed to survive up in the mountains, but soon their crops and animals will perish as their wells are finally drying up. A member of the group had been sent out to bring back water from a secret location but never returned. Tommy (Luca Venantini), the eleven year old son of the missing man, stows away aboard one of the trucks on the second mission to retrieve water. This mission also fails as they encounter the Exterminators and are all killed, all except Tommy who remained in hiding with the map to the water’s location.

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The age old story of a boy and his hamster.

Tommy eventually runs into Alien and after the kid rescues him from a crashed car and gives him some of this water Alien just walks away, refusing to help the kid. This is Alien’s modus operandi for the bulk of this picture, where Mad Max was a total badass Alien is just an ass. At one point the two are captured by the Exterminators and Alien tells Crazy Bull that if they give him a bike he’ll tell them were the huge store of water is. He gets on the bike and then tells them “The Kid knows where it is” and motors away leaving the boy in the clutches of these psychopathic outlaws. As the gang proceeds to try and torture the information out of the eleven year old boy we are left wondering. “Are we actually supposed to like Alien, at all?” Our asshat of a hero does return to rescue the kid but only after the Exterminators have ripped his arm off while trying to draw and quarter him between two motorbikes. It’s lucky for all concerned that Tommy just so happens to have a bionic arm and Alien is able to duct tape it back on.

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Tommy, the Six Million Lira Boy.

Alien brings Tommy to an old “friend” who used to work for NASA (Allan Collins) and is able to properly repair Tommy’s bionics and even amp up the strength level of the arm. They also run into a beautiful woman by the name of Trash (Alicia Moro), who Alien once had a relationship with until he abandoned her in the middle of the desert surrounded by enemies.

The trio 
Of course I treated you like trash, that’s your name.”

That Alien agrees to join the mission to retrieve the water for Tommy’s people is only surprising in the idea that these people would actually want this guy along. And he almost immediately tries to betray them and steal the tanker truck once he finds out the location of the water. When Trash tries to stop him he chains her up and tries to leave her alone in the middle of the desert and only relents and brings her along because the tanker truck has been rigged so that only she can get it started. Just how many acts of dickishness and betrayal must one commit to no longer be considered an anti-hero and actually become the villain?

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If I killed you I’d be doing the world a favor.

This is not a good movie. This is barely a “So bad its good” movie, the acting is terrible almost across the board with the horrible dubbing not helping any. The stunt driving is maybe the films only redeeming area as some of the crashes and bike jumps are pretty impressive. Sadly there isn’t enough of it during the films 90 minute running time to make it worth the slog.

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The Duke Boys are at it again.”

What is worse is that when the story finally roles to a thudingling dull conclusion it manages to render the entire film pointless. Alien and Trash find the location of the water at this strange facility rigged with all kind of booby-traps and manned by mutants in A.I.M. outfits, but later after they fight and defeat Crazy Bull’s forces the water in their tanker truck is accidentally drained out by Shadow (Beryl Cunningham), his chief henchperson.

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She died as she lived, all wet.

When our heroes return to the facility to refill the pissed off mutants self-destruct the place… and then it begins to rain. Our heroes cheer as the clouds roll in and rain pours down despite the fact that now all that pain, death and destruction you had to endure is now moot. That’s just genius storytelling.
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Typical audience members.

That the filmmakers thought that changing the desire for gas in Road Warrior to water here was enough to give this film its own identity is a joke and the punchline of “It all meant nothing” did not help. There are no real likable characters in this movie and aside from a few nice stunts there is barely anything here to recommend. This is a film solely for post-apocalyptic future aficionados.
The age old story of a boy and his hamster.
Tommy eventually runs into Alien and after the kid rescues him from a crashed car and gives him some of this water Alien just walks away, refusing to help the kid. This is Alien’s modus operandi for the bulk of this picture, where Mad Max was a total badass Alien is just an ass. At one point the two are captured by the Exterminators and Alien tells Crazy Bull that if they give him a bike he’ll tell them were the huge store of water is. He gets on the bike and then tells them “The Kid knows where it is” and motors away leaving the boy in the clutches of these psychopathic outlaws. As the gang proceeds to try and torture the information out of the eleven year old boy we are left wondering. “Are we actually supposed to like Alien, at all?” Our asshat of a hero does return to rescue the kid but only after the Exterminators have ripped his arm off while trying to draw and quarter him between two motorbikes. It’s lucky for all concerned that Tommy just so happens to have a bionic arm and Alien is able to duct tape it back on.
- See more at: http://manapop.com/film/filmreviews/exterminators-of-the-year-3000-1983-review/#sthash.rLAEUJ6q.dpuf
In the 80s Road Warrior rip-offs almost became a genre of their own with such titles as Battle Truck, Hell Comes to Frogtown, and Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn littering the cinema landscape, but today’s entry is easily one of the most blatant.
exterminators in the year 3000
- See more at: http://manapop.com/film/filmreviews/exterminators-of-the-year-3000-1983-review/#sthash.fxUoob6X.dpuf

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (1966) - Review

When one thinks of Tarzan one doesn’t think “Globetrotting Adventurer” but in this series produced by Sy Weintraub that’s exactly what Tarzan has become, and it’s actually quite a good idea. Elephants in trouble get help when Tarzan Goes to India. In Thailand he helps put a boy on the throne in Tarzan’s Three Challenges, and now Tarzan arrives in Mexico for Tarzan and the Valley of Gold. I really like the idea of an international man of mystery in a loincloth.

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This isn’t just another jungle adventure in a different locale for it’s also pretty much a Bond movie with Tarzan replacing 007. At the behest of a friend Tarzan (Mike Henry) leaves Africa and travels to Mexico only to find a hit squad waiting for him. International criminal Augustus Vinero (David Opatoshu) has had the driver that was to pick up Tarzan killed and replaced so that the Ape Man could be driven into an ambush. Unfortunately for them Tarzan’s keen sense of smell detected the spilled blood and is on his guard. He easily survives the gun battle with the killers and ends the fight by taking out the last one with a giant Coke bottle.

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This is not how we expect a Tarzan movie to start.

I’ll just say it’s nice to see Tarzan arriving in a foreign country wearing a suit and a tie and not traipsing around the city in his loincloth. I would have given the film even more credit if he was addressed as John Clayton or Lord Greystoke instead of Tarzan while in his civvies, but I’m betting rights issues with those names were still in play. After taking out the hired killers Tarzan reports to the local authorities where he learns about Vinero and how the fiend that called for Tarzan had found out about a small boy who walked out of the jungle and could possibly know the location of a fabled valley of gold. Vinero briefly had the kid in his clutches but the boy managed to escape and now resides with Tarzan’s friend.  Tarzan is also informed that Vinero has a penchant for giving people that annoy him with gift watches that explode and kills the wearer.

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They demonstrate the device for Tarzan, for some reason.

When Tarzan is driven out to his friends compound they are too late, the place is in flames, the boy is missing and his friend is only alive long enough to confirm it was Vinero’s men who came and took the boy. Tarzan strips out of his suit and dons his trademark loincloth and along with a chimpanzee named Dinky, a lion named Major and the boy’s pet leopard Bianca as tracker he heads into the jungle.

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In the jungle where stock footage roams unchecked.

The leopard leads Tarzan and company right to the kidnappers and the group engage in a brutal battle that leaves all the kidnappers dead and sadly Bianca as well. The young boy Ramel (Manuel Padilla Jr.) doesn’t know the exact route to his home only that it is through a cave in mountains that surround his valley. They have to beat Vinero there which will be tricky, as bastard stole the kid’s map.

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Ramel is just lion around with Tarzan.

This leads to one of the most badass action scenes in Tarzan history. Vinero sends some goons in a helicopter to take care of Tarzan, but our jungle action hero unloads a Browning machine he liberated from the dead kidnappers and then when it runs out of ammunition he combines two grenades and his rope to make a lethal exploding bolas. One good throw later and the villains are down one helicopter.

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Before there was Rambo there was Tarzan, Lord of the Apes.

A little word on tonight’s villain; not only does Vinero murder people with trick watches, he kills off subordinates that look a little greedy, has a giant bald henchman named Mr. Train (Don Megowan), and when his “girlfriend” Sophia Renault (Nancy Kovack) becomes too much of a bother he leaves her in the jungle with an explosive necklace that will go off at the slightest jarring. He’s one volcano lair away from true Bond villainy.

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Do you think we could we fit a piranha moat in this tent?

Tarzan and Ramel find Sophia in the jungle paralyzed with fear because of the rigged necklace that is welded shut around her neck. With steady hands and brute strength Tarzan breaks the chain without causing the pendant to explode. We find out that it was Sophia that originally helped Ramel to escape the clutches of Vinero and so she now joins our happy group of adventurers.

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A tense moment in the jungle.

Tarzan, Sophia, Ramel, Major and Dinky head for the City of Gold and manage to stay ahead of Vinero and his army of mercenaries.  Ramel finally recognizes where they are and is able to lead them to the cave entrance, but unfortunately Vinero is right on their heels and it’s up to Tarzan to buy them some time. And by unfortunate I mean awesome as this leads to Tarzan stalking Vinero’s men through the cavern, taking out one of the goons, stealing his machine gun and then using the gun to shoot down stalactites so they fall upon more of the mercenaries.

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Tarzan Science Fact: Stalactites are light and mostly made of foam rubber.

When our group make it through to the City of Gold they are greeted quite friendly but are a bit shocked when the old chief of this lost city explain to them that they are a peaceful people and that they will not fight against Vinero’s men, “All this gold is not worth a single life.”  Tarzan thinks this is a nice sentiment but not much good against a man as ruthless as Vinero.

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Welcome to The Aztec Gift Shop.”

When Tarzan makes it clear that he has no intention of letting Vinero and his men attack and pillage this city the chief imprisons Tarzan with a trick stone door that traps the jungle man. When Vinero and his army arrive they demand all the gold and to “meet their guest from Africa”, this he punctuates with an explosive shell from a tank which kills some of the peaceful inhabitants of this lost city. The Chief releases Tarzan and has all the gold piled out in the city square but he let slips that there is one piece of treasure still inside the temple. Vinero demands to see it and is taken to the “empty” treasure room where he pulls on a gold ornament on the wall that triggers the room to quickly fill with gold dust. Vinero is slowly buried alive.

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Death by irony is one of the worse ways to go.

Though the villain suffocating to death is pretty sweet it’s not very actiony so we also get Tarzan in a hand to hand battle with Vinero’s hulking henchman who he dispatches with a fatal full nelson.

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Tarzan wrestles crocodiles in his spare time so this isn’t much of a challenge.

Directed by Robert Day (who also directed the excellent Tarzan the Magnificent) this Bond-like Tarzan adventure is pure matinee gold, with great villains, a beautiful woman and the most badass hero to ever strap on a loincloth. What’s not to love? Mike Henry makes for a fantastic Tarzan for not only is he super ripped but he plays him like the smart and sophisticated man John Clayton Lord Greystoke would be. The Sy Weintraub series of Tarzan films continually providing the best portrayal of The Lord of the Jungle to have been brought to the big screen, and it was nice to finally see Tarzan dress appropriately when not in the jungle, him killing countless thugs with guns and grenades was just a bonus. This movie is definitely a must see for Tarzan fans.

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Can I keep the lion?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Black Moon Rising (1986) - Review

I dig car chase movies and who doesn’t love a great heist flick, the Fast & Furious movies certainly prove that these are two great tastes that taste great together. So when you have a film starring Tommy Lee Jones, Linda Hamilton and deals with a prototype super car that they have to steal back from the villainous Robert Vaughn, well that’s the kind of movie I just have to watch.  Directed by Harley Cokeliss from a story and screenplay by John Carpenter Black Moon Rising is 80s action at its coolest.

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The plot follows the adventures of Quint (Tommy Lee Jones), a professional thief who is adept at breaking into even the most secure buildings. Now it seems the government has exhausted all legal procedures to get evidence against a Las Vegas corporation so they turn to Quint to break in and retrieve crucial tax information for their Grand Jury investigation.

Computer textI
f I was then I would have called Tron.

Quint has no problem getting in and finding the needed data tape but on the way out he encounters a rival thief Marvin Ringer (Lee Ving), who is currently working for the crooked company. While escaping amongst a hail of machine gun bullets Quint’s car is severely damaged and he is forced to hide the tape under the license plate of a vehicle that had been towed into a gas station. The car in question is the Black Moon, a 300-MPH prototype vehicle made of Kevlar which is hydrogen powered. This supercar was designed by Earl Windom (Richard Jaeckel), built by deaf mechanic Tyke Thaedon (William Sanderson), and driven by Billy Lyons (Dan Shor).

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The Black Moon.

Windom and company take the Black Moon to an upscale Hollywood restaurant to show a potential investor while Quint had followed them there, but before he has a chance to retrieve the hidden tape a group of professional car thieves led by Nina (Linda Hamilton) steal all the high end cars in the restaurant parking lot including the Black Moon. Quint is unable to keep up with Nina, who is driving the stolen super car, but he is able to track down where she went. The car theft ring is run by Ed Ryland (Robert Vaughn) who operates his criminal enterprises from a secret basement level under his twin tower business complex.

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Somewhere in there Gus Gorman is designing a super computer.

There is a bit of a time crunch as Agent Johnson (Bubba Smith) tells Quint that if he doesn’t get them the tape in three days he will transfer all the heat he gets from his superiors to Quint’s body. With Marvin and his goons hot on his trail, as well as Ryland insane security system now in the mix, the chances of success are very slim indeed. The only help he’s got comes from the previous owners of the Black Moon who would really like their “one of a kind” car back and invaluable information from Iron John (Keenan Wynn) a construction foreman who helped build the towers . With pressure coming on all sides Quint takes solace in the fact that he may be able to get an “inside man” if his powers of seduction can work.

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And seriously, what woman could resist that?

It’s here that the movie goes into full on heist mode as they track down blueprints to Ryland’s building, find the man who helped install some of the security methods, and then train themselves for the big night. Everything will have to go like clockwork.

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This place will be tougher to break into than the Nakatomi Plaza.”

Black Moon Rising has it all, an amazing cast littered with great character actors, a fantastically cool car of the future, all the great heist moments one expects in a film of this type; cutting alarm feeds, beams splitters screwing up cameras, recording and looping security said footage, a grappling gun launched cable from one building to another to allow Quint access, crawling through ductwork, and blowing the shit out of stuff. When Quint and Nina finally team-up we are treated to a harried chase through the villain’s lair until they make their final daring break.

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Out the windows of one building.
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Through the air with the greatest of ease to the other one.

They land safely in the other tower… well, not too safe as Marvin and his thugs are waiting, but Quint is through fucking around and beats the living crap out of all of them. Agent Johnson shows up to get the tape and Quint gets paid so that he and Nina can now retire and spend some more quality time together.
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Did I just father the savior of our future?

Much of this film rests solely on the charismatic shoulders of Tommy Lee Jones; the MacGuffin tape is a very thinly veiled plot device and the reason for Quint hiding it in the Black Moon made little to no sense but was simply required to get the story moving. Little faults aside if you are a fan of 80s action films you won’t be disappointed in Black Moon Rising.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Steel (1997)

In 1992 one of the biggest events in comic-dom happened, Superman died. He of course didn’t stay dead, but his brief absence was filled by a group of “Supermen”, one being John Henry Irons who donned power armor and high-tech weaponry and called himself Steel. In 1997 Warner Brothers made a live action movie based on this character. Unfortunately, the names were not changed to protect the innocent but pretty much every other element of Steel was.

steel-poster


This movie adaptation was written and directed by Kenneth Johnson who is mostly known for such television shows as The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman and The Incredible Hulk. Because of these past endeavors he was reluctant to do another superhero project. Producer Joel Simon talked him into it by describing the character as a “Knight in shining armor” in a contemporary world, thus the cape was ditched as well as almost every single aspect from the comic.

Steel hero 
Comic Book Version

Some comic book fans get up in arms if changes are made to their beloved characters when they make the translation to big screen, but most of us know that some things just don’t translate well from one medium to another. If you add a limited budget into the mix you’ll be lucky if it even vaguely resembles the source material.

steel 
Movie Version

We are truly spoiled these days as we have been getting a plethora of excellent comic book movies, and much of the reason for this is that those involved are actually fans themselves and not just taking a paycheck. In the case of Steel we have a respected television director trying to create a blue-collar Batman right down to him having just a steel cowl instead a fully armored head. This does not lend itself to making a good adaptation. Then, to make matters worse, they cast Shaquille O’Neal to play the title role, and I must say as an actor Shaquille O’Neal is one hell of a basketball player.

kazam 
Kazam!

In this movie we are introduced to John Henry Irons (Shaquille O’Neal) who is an army weapons designer. Along with partner, Susan “Sparky” Sparks (Annabeth Gish) they have designed some incredibly powerful high-tech toys. Also on the team is Nathaniel Burke (Judd Nelson) who, in trying to impress a visiting Senator, moves the power settings of the sonic gun they are testing way past safety limits. This results in a sonic backlash that crumbles the building they are in, killing the Senator and leaving Sparks in a wheelchair. Because this weapon has made Sparks a cripple, John Henry Irons tells Colonel Davis (Charles Napier) that he is leaving the military.

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No one told me weapons could hurt people.

For his screw-up Burke was dismissed from the military, which means he must have had one hell of a lawyer as I’m sure that actions resulting in the death of a Senator would have had a tad more severe repercussions than “you’re fired”. Burke also managed to leave with a data disk containing top secret schematics from the weapons program which he then brings to an old friend that runs an illegal arms dealing organization from behind an arcade game company front.

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Excuse me, but could I see someone about hunting and killing Donkey Kong?

Burke provides new modified versions of the weapons John Henry designed to a local gang as a sort of “marketing stunt” to attract buyers. When John Henry witnesses his weapons being used for crime he decides to “fight fire with fire” and, with the aid of Sparks and junkyard proprietor Uncle Joe (Richard Roundtree), he builds an armored power suit. He finally gets the thing built and becomes “Steel” at the 45 minute mark which is not good when the movie only has a 96 minute running time. On his first outing he stops a mugger from robbing some rich people, and to say his lumbering entrance into crime fighting is embarrassing to behold would be an understatement.

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Kind of Steels your breath away, doesn’t it?

He then responds to a call regarding a street gang fight which he thwarts with the amazing tactic of standing still while they unload full automatic weapons fire on him. He somehow manages to avoid catching a stray round in the face so I’m guessing he and Robocop must carry the same lucky rabbit’s foot. Eventually John Henry activates the electromagnet in his suit that disarms all the perps which then leads to one of the movies biggest failings, and that is “Steel vs The Police.” It’s one thing to hold off giving us our superhero until well past the halfway mark, but from here on in he spends most of the film’s remaining time fighting and running away from the authorities. Who thought that was a good idea?

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Also Shaq looks ridiculous riding his “Steelcycle”

Kenneth Johnson jettisoned all of the villains from Steel’s rogue gallery in favor of street gangs with superguns and Jud “fucking” Nelson and yet we spend more time watching Steel running across rooftops and getting into high-speed chases to evade the police. Sparks uses her computer to switch traffic lights in Steel’s favor causing traffic accidents and Steel himself uses caltrops to blow out pursuing police cruiser’s tires. Our heroes ladies and gentleman! In the comic Steel could fly, which alleviates the problem of lumbering away from crime scenes before the police arrive. Then again, Steel wasn’t a Batman type vigilante in the first place, where in this version he has a junkyard Batcave, a black Alfred and Oracle.

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Jupiter Jones and The Three Investigators want their hideout back.

Irons is eventually arrested, tossing around several SWAT members before surrendering, but when Sparks and Uncle Joe learn that Burke is holding a secret auction for his guns they break him out. Here we approach the moment we have all dreaded, Shaquille O’Neal in rubber armor vs Judd Nelson in a 90s Nauru jacket.

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Who’s your money on?

It’s not the fact that this movie is just a terrible adaptation of a great character that bothers me but that it does everything wrong with it; they hire a non-actor for the lead, jettisons all that is interesting about the character, it has a poor man’s Robocop suit and then includes a villainous plot that even Cobra Commander would have thought was lame.

Things Too Stupid Not to Mention
• They have a running gag poking fun at Shaq’s poor free throwing ability that “pays off” when he has to throw a grenade through a small hole. A grenade that apparently has a bloody 25 second fuse!
• Uncle Joe gives Steel his hammer and tells him, “I especially like the Shaft.” Richard Roundtree of course played Shaft. *sigh*
• Steel has Batman’s grappling gun.
• Superman doesn’t exist in this world but John Henry Irons has a Man of Steel tattoo.
• When John Henry asks Sparks how the buyers for the weapons will make contact he is told, “In this day in age there is only one way…the Internet!”

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“Can I go home now?”

This is the kind of movie that only exists so that the Dolph Lundgren Punisher movie can feel better about itself. Annabeth Gish is the only actor that escapes with her dignity intact as her portrayal of a woman adjusting to life in a wheelchair is quite solid, while everyone else is either phoning it in or just plain terrible.

The Eternal Savage: Edgar Rice Burroughs

Eternal_LoverThe Eternal Savage could be considered one of the more “out there” stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs as although it has many of the elements and tropes of his other books, this one comes across more Twilight Zone-ish than one might expect. The story was originally published in 1913 as a two part serial with the first titled “The Eternal Lover” and the second part “Sweetheart Primeval.” Once again Burroughs has characters crossing over from other books and for this one we have Barney Custer from The Mad King and Tarzan, because if you are going to visit Africa you’re bound to run into him.

In the first section of the book we are introduced to Nu, son of Nu, a troglodyte living a hundred thousand years ago. He is hunting for a trophy to prove his prowess and win him the fair hand of Nat-ul, daughter of Tha. He must single handily hunt and kill a sabre-toothed tiger and place its head before Nat-ul’s cave. Hee successfully accomplishes this because he’s even more impressive than Tarzan. On his way back home he is alarmed by the onset of an earthquake and goes to hide in a cave. Nu, clearly unfamiliar with the fact that earthquakes and caves don’t mix., is trapped when the cave collapses.

The story then jumps to modern times, where Victoria and Barney Custer are visiting with Lady and Lord Greystoke in Africa so as to go big game hunting with Tarzan and his Waziri warriors. A fellow by the name of Curtis has followed them to Africa so that he can profess his love to Victoria and ask her to be his wife. Victoria has never been able to take any man seriously because she has a dream avatar who is her ideal man; handsome, strong and insanely brave. So far no man she has met in the real world can match up to this. But just as she is about to give in and accept Curtis’s marriage proposal there is an earthquake that causes her to flee and faint in her brother’s arms.

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The earthquake opens the cave that Nu had been trapped in and this noble cavemen steps out into a much changed world. Meanwhile, Victoria has awoken from her faint with the realization that she cannot marry Curtis, as her dream man is out there somewhere. Nu eventually comes across the Greystoke plantation and saves Victoria, who is the spitting image of his lovely Nat-ul, from a vicious lion, but he catches a bullet for his troubles from Curtis. Victoria, with the aid of one of Tarzan’s hounds tracks the wounded cavemen down and is able to nurse him back to health, but before he awakens she is kidnapped by Arab slavers. Does this shock anyone? Nu is able to rescue her and the two of them flee into the jungle with Victoria wondering if she can give up civilization to be with the literal embodiment of the man of her dreams. Another quake strikes while Nu and Victoria are asleep in a cave and the world is in upheaval again.

The second part of the story begins with Nat-ul waking up amongst her cave dwelling family with the fading memories from her strange dream about white men who wear strange garments, while her father talks of his dream of how they all died when the restless sea poured in and drown them. (So Nat-ul and her father are both gifted with the ability to see the future). This second half is your standard jungle adventure where the hero and the heroine are constantly separated while being plagued by either savage creatures or savage people. They come so close to finding each other, but then just missing one another that it becomes kind of frustrating, and then Burroughs has to throw in a misunderstanding that has Nat-ul thinking Nu loves another. I’ve seen this plot point one too many times. Of course all will end well…or will it?

When once again Nu heads out to get his promised trophy for Nat-ul, but while she waits for his return there is an immense quake, the cliffs fall and the restless sea rushes in and all are killed. The story then jumps back to the present day where we find Victoria waking up from her original faint to find that she had dreamed everything, but when out on one final outing before going home she insists they check out the nearby cliffside and find a boulder dislodged and the skeleton of Nu and his sabretooth cat trophy that he had promised Nat-ul/Victoria.

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This is clearly a fun pulp adventure story and not supposed to be an accurate representation of early man, but that Burroughs describes Nu as a handsome Adonis which I doubt most modern girls would call the low browed hairy troglodytes is a bit off, and that our characters are plagued by great monsters of the deep and pterodactyls that were clearly extinct long before man climbed out of the trees is even more wildly wrong. I’d say this would have maybe worked better as a Pellucidar cross-over than a story across time. The “It was all a dream…or was it?” aspect of the story is interesting and the reincarnation/past life memories was cleverly handled if not making complete sense. Overall this is a fun, if extremely odd, book.

La Belle et la Bête (2014)

Bringing a fairy tale to life outside of an animated film is no easy task but director Christophe Gans is following in the steps of the Jean Cocteau who adapted Beauty and the Beast way back in 1946, and so with today’s technology it should be much easier… right?


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The movie opens with a mother reading the story of “Beauty and the Beast” to her two young children which is the films first misstep as her reading becomes the movies narration and it is totally unnecessary. Nothing she’s says could not be implied, inferred or revealed by the numerous characters in the story which makes the narration redundant and distracting. It’s one thing to have a prologue that info dumps a bunch of exposition on you but it’s worse if that exposition keeps coming and coming.

The kids 
Can you read us The Princess Bride instead?

Because this is a modern adaptation of a classic fantasy story you know you’re in for tons of CGI wonders and Christophe Gans does not hold back. Instead of finding out that Belle’s family is in dire financial straits due to their three trading ships going down in a storm through simple dialogue between characters, we get a narrated bit over dramatic CGI images of the ships going down in rough seas. I will say this the film is gorgeous, and as whole most of the CGI is very well done, but because you can do a thing does not necessarily mean you should. Some one needs to tell Peter Jackson and Christophe Gans that sometimes less is more.

The Storm 
Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip.”

Cocteau’s 1946 version was fairly close to the source material and at first it looked like Gans was going to do the same when you find out about the whole family being in financial ruin due to a shipping disaster which is right out of Gabrielle de Villeneuve’s original story, but then when we meet the family the book is pretty much chucked out the window. Now Cocteau himself made some changes, adding a wastrel of a brother as well as unsolicited suitor for Belle, but Gans adds three brothers and a den of criminals. Even stranger is the decision to change the two sisters from wicked, selfish, and vain bitches who treat Belle like a servant to more sympathetic characters that though still vain are more dim and comical than cruel. Astrid (Myriam Charleins) Clotilde (Sara Giraudeau) are quite upset about becoming poor while Belle (Léa Seydoux) seems to look forward to living a quiet life in the country.

The Sisters 
Cinderella’s stepsisters would have stolen their lunch money.

When Belle’s father (André Dussollier) gets word that one of his supposed lost ships has turned up he and one of his sons ride into town only to find out that the local authorities have seized all his cargo. Things get worse when the merchant runs into Perducas (Eduardo Noriega), a leader of the local criminal element who the son owes a great deal of money to. The merchant flees into the woods to escape them and is soon lost in the forest during a particularly nasty snow storm. It is then that he stumbles upon the magical land ruled by the Beast (Vincent Cassel) and is given food and shelter.

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A nice magical castle but a definite fixer-upper.

Before leaving home to retrieve his cargo Astrid and Clotilde had given their father a list of expensive items they wanted now that they were to be rich again, when the merchant asks what Belle would like all she asked for was a rose as she had been unable to grow them at their current residence. Now the merchant is shocked to find chests stuffed with treasure and all the items on his daughters list, all but the rose for Belle. Loading the treasure on to his horse he begins to head out of this magical domain when he spots a mountainous rose bush, he stops and picks one for Belle.  A huge stone giant’s head bursts out of the bushes and from upon it springs The Beast.

Giant Stone Head 
The Beast has an intense security system.

It is now that we finally get a good look at the Beast and I must say the design of him is quite nice. I’m just not sure why they decided to go full on CGI with it instead just using standard make-effects that have only gotten better over the years. This is a minor quibble as Vincent Cassel’s Beast for the most part is quite effective looking.

The Beast 
The Beast.

The merchant is chastised for stealing a rose, the Beast’s most cherished possession, and is told that he may go and say goodbye to his children but then he must return the next day to take his punishment. If he does not return the Beast will murder his entire family, “A life for a rose.” When the merchant relates his tale his sons and daughters are quite distraught but it is Belle who leaps into action.  She blames herself for her mother dying in childbirth and will not be responsible for her father’s death as well. So Belle locks her father in his room, takes the horse that the Beast had enchanted with the route and leaves for her apparent doom.

Belle arrives 
At least it is a very scenic doom.

Belle bravely enters the castle, finds a beautiful gown readied for her, dons it and heads down for dinner. There the Beast tells her that she has the full run of the estate but is forbidden to go out on the grounds at night and that she must join him in the dining hall every night at this time. She is also not to even think about escaping as the forest would close in on her. This is the gruff and scary Beast we expect but sadly what the movie then fails to deliver is a reason for Belle to ever fall in love with him.

dining room 
Aside from his dope pad that is.

One of the strangest additions to the story is the “Tadums” who are these overly cute CGI creations that are basically beagles with big heads and eyes and that can stand upright. At one point the incessant narration tells us that they “became her best friends” but unless there is a director’s cut out there that I am unaware as this does not happen. These magical mutant creations serve no purpose to the story and should have never existed.

The Tadums 
Make sure to spay or neuter your magical pets.

Now you can’t have a Beauty and the Beast story without the magic mirror, but because this is a big overindulgent version it’s not going to be a simple hand mirror that shows her whatever she desires to see, no this mirror is a massive scrying pool type thing that comes to her in her dreams and shows her the Beast’s backstory.

The Mirror 
There is no way she is going to fit that mirror in her handbag.

Each night she has dreams of the castle as it used to be, and of the Prince who once lived in it. He was in love with a beautiful Princess (Yvonne Catterfeld) who agreed to marry him if he promised to stop hunting this elusive golden doe, saying that his obsession with it was keeping him away from her. It comes as a shock to no one when the idiot Prince breaks his promise as he and his friends finally hunt the creature to the ground and put an arrow in it only for it to turn out that the Princess was the golden doe all along. It seems that she was a forest nymph who wanted to experience true love, and though she takes being killed by her lover rather well her father, the forest god, doesn’t.  Thus the curse is placed transforming the Prince into the Beast and his friends to giant statues.

The Hunters 
Handling in-laws is tricky business, more so when they are elemental gods.

During the day Belle continues to wander aimless around the castle until one night after dinner she has a dance with the Beast. Sadly at no point does Angela Lansbury start singing about “A tale as old as time” instead the night is eventually ruined when she sneaks out to watch the Beast hunt and gorily eat his prey. She is put off by his animalistic nature, flees the castle grounds and into the winter surroundings but she is quickly chased down by the Beast. He catches her, pins her to the ice of the frozen lake, and is about to force a kiss on her when the ice breaks plunging her into its icy depths.

The Chase

If you love something and it runs away hunt it down, proceed towards sexual assault and then almost drown it.” That’s how that saying goes, right? Also what’s with the Liberace fur coat?

The Beast brings her back to the castle where the effects of her near death experience are repaired by the healing pool in her room. I’m sorry but assault and near manslaughter is not negated by magical healing and is certainly no basis for a healthy relationship. Belle asks the Beast if she can go and visit her family as she misses them. He agrees, but warns her that if she doesn’t return the next day as promised, he will die of a broken heart. Once again I call bullshit, we have seen nothing except one measly ballroom dance number to draw any conclusion that the Beast is that madly in love with Belle. That we know he had already loved a woman in the past and accidentally killed her does not help his case.

Dead 
Yeah, this guy is totally cupid’s bitch.

So Belle goes home to find her father is ailing and her siblings hiding out from Perducas and his goons. She uses the magic healing water on her father but her eldest brothers upon finding a large jewel amongst Belle’s things decides to take her horse and head to the Beast’s castle to rob it. With brilliant thinking like this it’s no wonder the family is broke.  Along the way he runs into Perducas and offers to lead him and his men to this abandoned castle, bargaining the treasure for his family’s life. This leads to the big action finale where the gang loot the castle but then the giant stone statues and the Beast proceed to kill them all.

The Giants 
Killed by not so convincing stone giants.

Belle shows up in just the nick of time to stop the Beast from having her brother flattened by one of his giant friends and then she even asks the Beast to spare the life of Perducas. To prove his humanity to Belle he does so and is rewarded for this act of kindness by getting an arrow stabbed in his chest by Perducas, the same golden arrow that he’d used on his forest nymph wife.

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Irony thy sting is brutal.

This also causes the curse to… go nuts? Reverse? Explode? Hell I have no clue, the statues crumble and vines that looked to have escaped from the Jumanji board game chase Belle and her brothers as they bring the mortally wounded Beast to the healing pool. While the Beast takes his bath he asks Belle, “Do you think that with a little patience, or maybe out of habit, you could have… loved me?” Her response is of course, “But I already love you.” I mean he is only a dude who accidentally murdered the love of his life, threatened your entire family with murder, kept you locked up in a weird Brigadoonish castle, and almost killed you after chasing you across a frozen lake. What’s not to love?

The Dance 
That must have been one hell of a magical dance.

Now I went in hoping to really love this film as it’s a great story and it’s by the director of The Brotherhood of the Wolf which is another awesome French film, but unfortunately Christophe Gans seems to have got himself caught up in the visual splendor of this magical world he had created but then didn’t bother to include any characters we give a damn about. We spend way too much time with Belle’s idiot brothers and sisters and the gang of cutthroats when this time would have been better spent with our leads.  In this film Belle’s defining characteristic is her heaving cleavage and the Beast has even less depth to his character. He just growls and stalks his castle and we are supposed to care for him because he has a tragic backstory? At least the snotty prince in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast never shot anybody.

The End


P.S. Of course the woman reading the story turns out to be Belle, as she and the now human Beast have moved in with her father on their little farm because living in a castle is so last century.