Monday, February 8, 2016

Wheels of Fire (1985) – Review

Wheels of Fire would be producer/director's Cirio H. Santiago follow up Mad Max rip-off to his first attempt Stryker, not a sequel just another post-apocalyptic wasteland movie, only this time out water no longer seems the major concern as this entry is more about simply maintaining power, whether that be from controlling the populace with fuel, food or terror...and of course beautiful women in tiny leather hot pants.

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The “Mad Max” of this movie is Trace (Gary Watkins), an anti-hero who tools around the wastelands in his 70s Ford Mustang with the optional rocket booster pack. The world has apparently barely survived a major global war, and one of the planet’s casualties was Trace’s personality. He's just not that likable.  When we first meet him he is visiting a local hang-out that looks like a collection of tents and parked cars. Which sadly is how most of the locations of this post-apocalyptic world look
.

bartertown

Trace has come here to find the Nomads who his sister Arlie (Lynda Wiesmeier) has been hanging out with. When Trace is introduced to Bo (Steve Parvin), Arlie’s current boyfriend, he is less than impressed, but we are not sure if it is because…

A) He only is dating Arlie because of her cool car.
B) He is a loser and will be unable to keep Arlie Safe in this dangerous world.
C) He is dating Arlie because she is the only person wearing leather hot pants in the desert.

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Playboy Playmate for July 1982, Lynda Wiesmeier.

Trace and Arlie go and sit down to watch some gladiatorial type fight between Bo and some local moron, the winner of the fight gets the losers car. Trace is tad upset because this jerk is risking his sister’s car, but my question is, “How is this a proper contest to win you a guy's pink slip?” Call me old fashion but the only way you should win a guy’s car is by beating him in a car race, not in a fight with steel batons. Arlie assures Trace that the dude Bo will be fighting hasn’t a chance, but just before the start of the fight another man enters the ring and takes the place of Bo’s original opponent. Arlie is alarmed and tells her brother, “They pulled a switch. This dude is a ringer, Trace. This wasn’t part of the deal.” So not only is this the lamest way to win a guy’s ride but the rules allow for last minute substitutions, which is fucking insane.

time out

When Bo inevitably loses Trace steps in and beats this ringer, but the ringer’s gang doesn't think this is fair for some reason, and thus we get our first car chase. Trace takes off in his car while Arlie and Bo race off in hers, and I will say that the chase is at least competently filmed, with the required amount of crashes and explosions (all cars will explode regardless of the odds of this actually happening), but after surviving this encounter Trace spots an approaching column of vehicles led by the villainous Scourge (Joe Mari Avellana).

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THE SCOURGE.

Trace wants them all to take off together, but Bo thinks it would be better if they split up. Now in the previous chase Trace suggested they split up to divide the numbers of their pursuers, and it was plan that worked, but now that Bo has suggested it the plan will fail, and Arlie will pay the price of this failure.  By "pay the price" I mean she will be raped multiple times throughout the course of the film. Arlie and Bo had stupidly stopped to have an afternoon delight when they were caught unawares by Scourge’s men, and Bo jumped right into asshole coward mode by offering up Arlie’s car and Arlie herself to the gang. Scag (Jack S. Daniels), the gang’s second in command, wants to get right to the raping, but Scourge intervenes and she is instead stripped and tied spread eagle across the hood of his car.

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The life of an Ex-Playboy Playmate is a rough one.

Meanwhile Trace had no problem taking care of the part of the gang that followed him; flame throwing and machine gunning them at will, but when he finally makes it to the rendezvous he finds a near dead Bo, having been dragged behind the gang’s cars, but with no sign of Arlie. He guns down these gang members, finds out from a dying Bo what happened to Arlie, then he shoots the idiot in the head, putting him out of his misery and ours. So now Traces races off to save his sister, right? Well not exactly as Trace seems to be one who is easily distracted, and possibly has the memory retention of a goldfish. While driving around, presumably looking for Arlie but one can’t be sure, he encounters another group of gang members trying to capture a fair haired, and totally badass woman, by the name of Stinger (Laura Banks).

baddasss

They discover they are both after Scourge, once Trace discourages her from stealing his car that is, and they decide to team-up. Come nightfall Stinger tells Trace that, “Just because we are travelling together doesn’t mean we are sleeping together.” So while Trace beds down in his car Stinger wanders off into the desert. I’m not sure what she was expecting find, a Holiday Inn perhaps, but what she does find is a sand trap. Seems she wandered into the lands of the Sandmen, a group of cannibalistic mutants who live in the dark catacombs under the sands, and she is pulled down into their domain.

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Basically the are low rent Morlocks from The Time Machine.

Meanwhile things aren’t going much better for Arlie who has been handed over to Scourge for breaking in. She is manacled, manhandled, then raped by Scourge, then when he is done she is passed into the hands of Skag for some more raping, and when he is finished she is given to the rest of the men for an old fashion gang rape. This is certainly the least pleasant element of this movie, and though the rape scenes are not graphic (apparently they were but that footage hit the editing room floor) it still isn’t something I look for in my post-apocalyptic adventure films. I will say this, Lynda Wiesmeier is a trooper, and for someone who is clearly not a professional actor she does a fairly good job with her role.

tied up

Back out in the wasteland Trace has tracked down Stinger, and he breaks into the Morlock cavern, I mean Sandmen’s caves, and rescues Stinger as well as fellow captive Spike (Linda Grovenor). Spike has psychic abilities, mainly she can hear your thoughts, and this allows them to understand a deaf little person in a Confederate cap named Pug (Gary Taylor), who they later rescue from a different group of cannibals.

Note: Just what is the major food source for the people of the wastelands? Clearly there are many people eating human flesh out there, but what about Trace and his friends, do they have access to a chain of Stuckey’s we just haven’t seen? Do Scourge and his gang have a garden just off camera? Sure gas is very important for you road warring, but that is not the most vital fuel to insure your survival.

Next we see Trace, Stinger, Spike and the Confederate Little Person arrive at a settlement run by the True Believers (and no they are not a cult of Stan Lee followers), a wacked out group of Moonie-like pacifists who are building a rocket ship. Wait, what's that you say, a rocket ship? Yes, these slap happy collections of people have been constructing a spaceship because of the discovery of planet “Paradise” a mere 20 million miles away.  This discovery happened a year before the war broke out, and now these smiling yahoos are mere months away from leaving this shitty world behind.

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Looks more like they wandered into one of the Doctor Who quarries.

It’s here that we learn about the one pseudo government organization that tries to bring law and order to the wasteland, they are called The Ownership, and they are providing fuel and supplies to the True Believers.  We also learn that Trace had once been a member before a presumable less than amicable parting of the ways. Later we find out that Trace and the Scourge also know each other and they too had a falling out.  So basically this movie hints at a bunch of backstory that sounds way more interesting than the story we are watching.

the man

Trace tells Stinger that the “benevolent” Ownership is a scam, that they provide fuel to new communities and then later jack up the price, and he will have no part of it. So Trace hops in his car and drives off. Is he finally getting back to his quest to find his snatched sister? Nope, he is just driving around aimlessly, but while he is gone Scourge and company attack the True Believer encampment. Many are killed and the rocket is destroyed.

Note: I was surprised when the rocket blew up. I was sure the movie was going to end with Trace and Stinger flying off into space to the planet Paradise, a planet that would be revealed to be the third one from the sun. “What a twist!” I guess ripping off Twilight Zone and Mad Max was too much to ask for.

Trace is tipped off to the attack by Stinger’s falcon. Did I forget to mention that Stinger has this bird that we randomly see flying above?  Well don't worry because it does fucking NOTHING!  We see it once land on Stinger’s arm, an obvious insert shot of the trainer’s arm, but the rest of the time it is just soaring around high above, screeching occasionally, and adding nothing to the proceedings. Beastmaster would be ashamed to call this thing a friend; it doesn’t claw the eyes out of a single foe. There is seriously no point to this stupid bird being in the movie.

falcon message

The leader of The Ownership army was killed in the attack and the second in command, who always wanted to take the fight to the wasteland bandits, asks Trace to join them in the fight. Trace turns him down, because he finds his sister’s necklace on one of the dead bandits, and with Scourges location provided to him by psychic Spike, he drives off to get her back on his own. How fucking moronic is that? This would be like when Han Solo first turned down Luke’s request to help rescue Princess Leia, but with the small change of her being Han Solo's sister.  Trace is an idiot and an asshat to boot.

princess

So after turning down an armies help in rescuing his sister, seriously brilliant move, Trace sneaks into the fortress of Scourge and is horrified to see that his sister has been broken into sexual submission, offering up her body for mere scraps of food. Trace’s rescue fails almost immediately and they are both captured. Scourge knows of the impending attack by The Ownership army and he has rigged explosives in “Brokedown Pass” that will annihilate The Ownership threat once and for all. Then in a nice surprising turn of events Arlie knifes a rapist and helps free Trace, and it is then Arlie who heroically fights her way to the detonator, under a hail of bullets, to set off the explosives before The Ownership enters the killing field.  She dies of her wounds, but still that was pretty badass.  Then in a complete out of left field moment Stinger faces off against Skag, he armed with a sword she with a machine gun, and she dies when Skag pushes them both off a cliff.

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Did not see that coming.

So the Ownership army makes quick work of Scourge’s gang, but what of Scourge himself? We are certainly going to get the be all and end all of fights between Trace and the man who raped his sister, right? Nope, Trace just drops a car on him. As face-offs between bitter enemies go this is certainly quite the anti-climatic letdown. We even got this cool dialogue between Trace and Scourge hinting at their history, and how Scourge is fighting for his way of life. Sure raping and pillaging is not the most noblest way of life, but Scourge does say it with conviction and this actor gives about the best performance in the film as Scourge, but no final mano a mano here.  Not even a "From Hell's heart I stab at thee!" Just a Wile E. Coyote style death.

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I’m betting this all stems from a bitter break up between these two.

With Scourge’s army destroyed, and the man himself crushed beneath a car, Trace and the survivors gather to mourn the fallen. Spike gives Trace Arlie’s necklace but he in turn gives it back for her to wear, tells the little Confederate General to take care of Spike, and with an “I’ll see ya” he drives off into sunset. We then get a final shot of Stinger’s bird soaring high above.

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Once again, “Fuck you bird.

I’m sure there are worse Mad Max rip-offs out there, but director Cirio H. Santiago fails to deliver much more than some fun action fight scenes, a couple of cool car chases and plenty of nudity, but aside from the villain the rest of the characters are less than memorable. At one point when Trace and Stinger are fighting, actually physically fighting as they roll down a quarry embankment, they are all of a sudden making love. Not since James Bond fucked the gay out of Pussy Galore have I seen anything so stupid. That’s not character development that's just sloppy screenwriting. Almost worse is that the whole sex scene is filmed in this weird collection of lap dissolves over the setting sun.

love scene

Though Wheels of Fire has a hero that is adept at driving his souped up car, using a machine gun and flamethrower equally well, and the movie does attempt a little world building, it is the treatment of the poor sister that stops this film from being one I can recommend.  Instead watch Exterminators of the Year 3000, it's not much better as rip-offs go, but it is less rapey.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Tarzan: Rules of Engagement (2003) – Review

One thing has become clear by the fourth episode of this show; this is not really much of a Tarzan series despite what the title of the show would suggest. For one he is referred to as John Clayton and not his jungle name of Tarzan, and he doesn’t go on fantastical adventures to lost cities or elephant graveyards, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. A wild man brought to civilization where he must deal with the complications of the modern world is an idea rife with drama and possibilities, but then this show could have been called Mowgli and dealt with a boy raised by wolves and now dealing with difficulties of adjusting…actually that show already exists, it was called Lucan and ran for one season between 1977-1978. So what makes this show a “Tarzan” show and not just wild boy in the big city?

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Episode 4 "Rules of Engagement"

That one of the key components is of course Jane Porter (Sarah Wayne Callies), the one and true love of Tarzan (Travis Fimmel). This is a complicated relationship as she is a New York City detective and he’s an illiterate savage wanted in connection with the murder of her fiancé. That Jane’s douchebag boyfriend’s death was accidental is beside the point as it puts her in a very precarious position. She is covering up a suspect in a murder investigation; she is even making her partner Detective Sam Sullivan (Miguel A. Núñez Jr.) keep quite thus jeopardizing his career as well.

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“But Jane, I have only six days to retirement!”

The Jane Porter from the books was from Boston high society so her falling for a jungle man was certainly nothing she could ever have foreseen, but one look at that forest god flying out of the trees to her rescue puts her emotions in control and to hell with what people will say. That is until she has some time away from Tarzan is able to think clearly and realize just how nuts the whole thing is, and she ends up engaged to Tarzan’s cousin. Eventually the class barriers will fall and true love will win out, and we are actually getting some of that in this series. At the beginning of this episode Jane is driving her sister Nikki (Leighton Meester) crazy as she re-arranges the apartment and starts making out chore lists. She is trying to gain some control over the life that Tarzan has seriously shook up.

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"If only he wore shows I could handle this better."

Jane is a mess here, she admits to her sister that she has feelings for John/Tarzan, but what kind of person does that make her when her fiancé is barely cold in the ground? This episode deals with Jane’s dilemma beautifully; the logical police detective Jane gives Tarzan a set of rules, number one being "no touching" while emotional Jane has...um...well let’s just say her “lady parts” really light up any time she lays eyes on Tarzan.

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“If I was a Southern Belle you would totally be giving me the vapors.”

So most of Jane’s reaction seem physically based, and to be honest what else besides physical attraction do these two have in common? I’m sure the show will try and develop their relationships deeper but so far we’ve seen Tarzan fall in love with at first site, while Jane’s was more of a full in lust at first site. Though Jane does also have her maternal protective side kicking in for Tarzan, she wants to save him from his evil uncle Richard Greystoke (Mitch Pileggi), and from the big bad cruel world that is New York City, and this desire to keep this innocent jungle man safe is rather sweet. I really like how the dynamic between these two is growing, and both actors do great work here, but this isn’t just a romance show it is also a police procedural and this episode has a very good B-Plot.

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Mad Sniper Strikes!

One night, after evading the loving but confusing questions of his Aunt Kathleen (Lucy Lawless), Tarzan takes to the rooftops and while there hears the screams of a woman in distress. He drops down into an alley to give a mugger a sound thrashing, but before he can even lay a hand on the guy a rooftop sniper blows the perp away. Later we learn that this is the second sniper attack and with some great police work Jane figures out that the most likely suspect is an ex-SWAT sniper (James Carroll) who is now taking out the bad guys who escaped justice on a technicality. When Jane and Sam get to the third target before the sniper does, and foil his attempt, the sniper changes targets and attempts to put a bullet into Jane.

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Ah the magical movie land bulletproof vest that prevents death and only allows a little bruising.

Needless to say Tarzan does not take this well, and once he realizes Jane isn’t dead he races off after the sniper, but the villain escapes in a car despite Tarzan’s mad parkour skills. Surprising everybody is the fact that almost immediately after apparently trying to kill a cop the ex-SWAT guy gives himself up. Things get even more interesting when Tarzan shows up at the scene of the arrest, we can assume to beat the living crap out of the guy, but upon seeing the suspect Tarzan informs Jane that this is not the shooter, that the person who shot Jane was much younger. Turns out the SWAT guy’s son (John White) failed out of the Police Academy, and is a tad unbalanced, and is now "finishing the work" his father started.  Now that Jane is getting too close he plans to finisher her off as well.

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Yeah, not going to happen.

While Jane is pinned down by this crazed kid’s sniper fire Tarzan shows up and just about tosses the guy off the roof. This is the law of the jungle. These are the rules Tarzan has lived by. Jane is able to talk Tarzan out of turning this kid into street pizza, but when he leaves to avoid police entanglements Jane realizes her life is full of lies (to others and herself) and that Tarzan has never lied to her. This epiphany looks to shake up Jane’s life even more than it already is, and I’m certainly curious to see how far it can go in just the few handfuls of episodes left.

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“O Tarzan, Tarzan, wherefore art thou Tarzan?"

Aside from the cool sniper storyline, and Jane and Tarzan’s messy love life, we get a bit of Richard Clayton’s nefarious action as he tracks down Donald Ingram (Tim Guinee), a witness to the rooftop fight that ended the life of Jane’s fiancé. With confirmation that his nephew is still alive bring all the forces of Greystoke Industries to bear against Jane and Tarzan? Will Aunt Katherine be able to stand against her older brother? Will the police eventually start a manhunt for Tarzan? All these and more will probably not be answered before this show is abruptly cancelled.

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Tarzan even has some nice fashion moments this episode.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Stryker (1983) – Review

Since George Miller unleashed Mad Max: Fury Road into cinemas last year I’ve been waiting for one thing, the inevitable rip-offs. When Miller gave us Mad Max and Mad Max II (aka The Road Warrior) back in the late 70s and early 80s we were inundated with countless post-apocalyptic Mad Max rip-offs, but we have yet to see an army of low budget Road Warriors following Miller’s latest installment.  So until that happens let’s look at the first post-apocalyptic film from one of the kings of the genre,Cirio H. Santiago and his film Stryker.

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It begins as most post-apocalyptic films do with some narration explaining how nuclear war has devastated the planet and that the key to man’s survival is the most precious commodity of all water, “For water is power, and whoever controls the water controls the world.” The search for water in an arid wasteland seems like a more important commodity than gasoline, which even Miller didn’t really address until his fourth installment. So we are off to a good start with a simple basic premise; people need water and both good and bad people are striving to control it.

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Being the 80s they also clearly needed good hair stylists as well.

The movie begins with a band of leather clad villains chasing after a beautiful woman by the name of Delha (Andrea Savio). She apparently knows where a huge supply of water is and this gang, led by the evil Kardis (Mike Lane), will do anything to get that location. She is chased off the road and overtaken at her little desert campsite, the goons discover she has caches of water and demand that she tell them where she got it from. That these escapees from a leather S&M bar seemed much more focused on getting water and not on the fact that Delha looks pretty good in her tiny leather hot pants really impressed me. I expected this movie to jump right into the attempted rape of this poor girl so this was a nice surprise, and even better is when our two heroes arrive, Stryker (Steve Sandor) and Bandit (William Ostrander), to “save the day” they seem about as interested in the scantily clad beauty as the villains were.

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“Who needs women when you have water and an open road?”

While Stryker and Bandit are great at taking out a bunch of thugs they are not so good in the spacial awareness category as they are too busy working out who gets how much water to notice Delha sneaking away to steal Stryker’s car, which she then uses to run over Bandit’s bike. That may seem like a harsh thing to do, considering these two dudes just saved her life, but really I can’t blame her it all as this isn’t the kind of world that builds trust easy, and is especially dangerous for women. Unfortunately her stolen car breaks down a little while later and Kardis’s men catch up with her. Meanwhile Stryker and Bandit, while crossing the desert on foot, run into…Jawas?

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Seriously, it’s not a Cirio H. Santiago film if dwarves don’t make an appearance.

Stryker shares some of his water with the little guys and then he and Bandit continue on their way until they come across Delha being taken away by Kardis’s goons. Don’t ask me how Stryker and Bandit caught up to Delah when they were on foot, maybe the wasteland is just really small. Also witnessing the abduction is a group of Amazon women wearing your standard Road Warrior sports gear.

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I'm betting sunscreen and hair products are more important to these people.

Neither the Amazons nor Stryker and Bandit are able to get to her in time, so Stryker goes with the plan of hijacking one of the badguy’s water trucks, crash it into their town, which creates an excellent distraction allowing him and Bandit to infiltrate the facility. Unfortunately our heroes weren’t fast enough to spare Delha from being raped by her interrogators. *sigh* Yeah, thought we had dodged a bullet earlier but that is not the case. I’m not saying a movie should never depict rape, if it’s justified by the story for sure, but in the films by Cirio H. Santiago that is rarely the case. This is clearly part of the exploitation nature of the genre and one element I could do without and we can certainly be shown how evil are villains are without this component.  I mean the guy has a hook for hand and we find out he beheaded Stryker's wife, how much badder does he need to be?

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Kardis is basically Ming the Merciless, but without the personality.

This movie is fundamentally a collection of action sequences in search of a plot. Stryker and Bandit rescue Delha, they bring her to see Trun (Ken Metcalfe) who runs a rival gang and who also turns out to be Stryker’s older brother, but Trun has been captured by some of Kardis’s gorillas and must be rescued. Cue next action sequence. Later back at Trun’s camp Delha is abducted by the Amazons, but they in turn run into more of Kardis’s men. Cue next action sequence.

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"Hurry, we are going to be late for the next fight sequence."

We learn that the Amazons are actually warriors belonging to a group that years ago located an underground spring, and their leader has been keeping the secret of this place for seven years.  Delha is the leader’s daughter and she had left the safety of the caverns to find Trun, who her father was originally supposed share the location of the spring with. She hoped to find him and his people and let them in on the secret spring because this somehow would free the people of the world from Kardis’s tyranny.  Her dickish dad was not too keen on this plan.

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Is her dad supposed to be Moses? I’m not quite sure.

The movie tries to get a bit deeper into the philosophical ramifications of power. Kardis and Trun both want power but Trun assures his brother that he’s “One of the good guys” so he won’t abuse it like Kardis does. Delha’s dad has been complete dick by hording the water all these years, but then when Trun is let in he starts to immediately take over with the “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” schtick.  A disgusted Stryker decides he can’t handle working for “The Man” even if it is his own brother and he takes a hike, but not before giving Delha a farewell kiss.  Stryker is then almost immediately captured by Kardis’s soldiers.

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Luckily the Jawas…I mean the desert dwarves show up to rescue him.

Aside from some simplistic rhetoric from a couple of the characters this is just your garden variety Mad Max rip-off with one key component missing and that would be in providing us with a likable hero or even anti-hero. Stryker is just plain boring, he is given almost no dialogue in one assumes is supposed to give some kind of mystique to his character, but really it makes him out to be a bit of a bore.  And aside from being shown to be a good shot with a rifle there isn’t much more to him. His kissing Delha goodbye is clearly something they thought was required for the story but they didn't bother putting anything in the script that would justify it.  The running time is even padded out further by giving Bandit a love interest as well, and like Stryker's it serves no purpose other than to allow Bandit to be kind of sad at the end when she dies in battle.

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We will never forget whatshername.

The movie then ends with a battle weary Stryker finding a crying baby down in the spring caverns, he picks it up and brings it out before the people…and then it rains. Seriously, it just up and rains.  I haven’t a fucking clue what that was supposed to mean. Did the sight of a baby’s innocence melt Stryker’s jaded heart and this somehow made it rain? Exterminators of the Year 3000 (another Mad Max rip-off which came out the very same year) had that same bullshit ending where all of a sudden the sky opens up, rain pours down, thus making the entire proceeding struggle pointless.  It's like the filmmakers hadn't a clue how to end the movie so they just went with, "And the rains came" roll credits.

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“Fuck it, I’m out a here.”

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Tarzan: Wages of Sin (2003) – Review

In the previous episode Detective Jane Porter’s (Sarah Wayne Callies) insanely jealous boyfriend, Detective Michael Foster (Johnny Messner), tried to kill Tarzan (Travis Fimmel), but instead he ended up taking a high dive off a ten store building. Jane took Tarzan to his Aunt Kathleen (Lucy Lawless) to keep him safe from his Uncle Richard (Mitch Pileggi) who wants Tarzan for his controlling shares of Greystoke Industries.

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Episode 3 “Wages of Sin”

This episode opens with Tarzan trashing his room at his aunt’s place, eventually breaking a window and escaping out into the night. Why is acting like a complete ass to a person who is only trying to help him you ask? Well maybe living in the jungle has given him claustrophobia, but as Katherine mentions later, “Do me a favor, if you do want to leave just…um…open the window.” So we have Tarzan acting like a petulant child who doesn’t seem to like the world he is now trapped in. Not very heroic but could be interesting. This is not the adult Tarzan as written by Burroughs, but more of a realistic take on a person with stunted maturity caused from living alone for most of his life. The one problem with this is that it makes it incredibly hard for us to understand Jane’s infatuation with Tarzan. Sure he is a hunky guy with great abs, but is that enough to win over a modern woman?

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“I wonder if Tarzan would like to join my book club.”

Tarzan stalks Jane to the funeral of Detective Foster, where he beats up a bunch of Richard’s goons, and then he pops buy Jane’s apartment where he finds her is less than thrilled to see him as she blames Tarzan for her fiancé’s death, and she tells the jungle boy to beat it. Later at work Jane and her partner, Detective Sam Sullivan (Miguel A. Núñez Jr.), are given the job of assisting the FBI in a kidnapping case concerning the snatching of a small boy, but when the ransom drop goes south Jane turns to Tarzan for help. Now how can Jane locate a wild man in New York City, one who she had just told to get lost? Well she simply wanders down the first alley she finds and calls his name. This works because he is still bloody stalking her. I’m sorry this is not romantic, and Tarzan’s attitude throughout this episode is borderline sociopathic.

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“I need you to track a kidnapped little boy, and also STOP STALKING ME!”

When Tarzan tracks the boy's scent all the across the city to where the boy was held they only find the kid’s dead dad. As it turns out the father was in on it, he had some major gambling debts, and all the family money belongs to the wife. The police procedural element of this episode is thin and generic, been used at least a half a dozen times on Law & Order, but the Tarzan tracking stuff is beyond stupid. That he could track Jane across Manhattan I chocked up to them having some kind of psychic bond, but now we see him sniff the child’s teddy bear and somehow be able to track the scent through a concrete jungle. Now the Tarzan in the book was an excellent tracker, but the idea of him being able to follow a scent through New York City is ridiculous. Even if the smog and millions of other wonderful smells of the city didn’t drown out this one particular scent it would still rely on the kidnappers dragging the child from abduction scene to their hideout by foot. Or is Tarzan also capable of tracking a panel van through the city?

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At most this would lead him to the nearest Toys R Us.

When Jane’s partner asks how she was able to find this location she responds with, “I followed some leads” which doesn’t really fly, mainly because she has no “leads” to back up such a stupid statement, and also Sullivan isn’t an idiot. The only person who could possibly have tracked that kid down would be Tarzan, and when he interviewed the prep school thrill junkies from the last episode they described being beaten up by a guy with long hair and bare feet. So Sullivan knows that Tarzan is alive and that Jane has been lying to him, and also this Tarzan bloke is somehow responsible for Foster’s death. She asks Sullivan to trust her but he tells her, “I will not lie for you.

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“I won’t lie for you, but also won’t immediately take this to the Captain.”

Jane does eventually use actual investigative skills to track down where the father’s partner has the kid, a junkyard owned by the mother’s family, but it’s up to Tarzan to sniff out which abandon car the kid is stuck in. This is apparently enough to seal Sullivan’s lips and he joins the Tarzan cover-up conspiracy, because that’s how police officers think. You help solve a crime it absolves you of one of your own. Makes perfect sense to me. Tarzan eventually returns to his aunt’s place and while wandering around the roof he discovers a skylight that leads to the room he had as a child. Apparently this is the wing of the house that Katherine closed off when her brother and his family went missing, and she has touched nothing of it since. This is also supposed to explain an overgrown greenhouse he finds, but I’m betting an uncared for penthouse conservatory would just be full of dead plants after twenty years.

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“Can I turn this place into my Tarzan Secret Lair?”

Only three episodes in and the wheels of this show are seriously wobbling. Jane is a wishy washy woman he doesn’t know what to do about these feelings she has for this strange jungle man, while Tarzan himself is an immature stalker who seems to have just fixated on the first woman he ever saw. When Jane first encountered Tarzan in the original books by Edgar Rice Burroughs she was a 19th Century woman from the upper crust of society, so when she got all hung up on a “Forest God” with the body of a Michelangelo sculpture and the strength to defeat wild beasts with his bare hands, you can understand her attraction. Yet this modern retelling gives us a Jane who supposed to be a streetwise cop of the 20th Century, a person who would probably give this Tarzan about as much attention as she would a Chippendale Dancer.

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Winner of this years Most Unlikely Couple Award is…Tarzan and Jane!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Lucifer: Pilot (2016) – Review

Having your main character of your show be the personification of evil is certainly an interesting choice for Network television, but of course the Lucifer we get here isn’t quite the one from the Bible stories but is based on the version created by Neil Gaiman for his Sandman graphic novel series. He maybe “The Fallen One” but that doesn’t mean he is all bad…or does it?

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“I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way.”

This isn’t the first DC character from their Vertigo line to make it to television, NBC attempted to make Constantine into a television series after failing to get a movie franchise out of the character, but it failed miserably due to the watering down of what is intrinsically a very dark character. Now Fox is giving it a go with Lucifer, and just going by the pilot I think they may heading down that same unfortunate road Constantine took.

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 The pilot opens with title card telling us that, “In the beginning the angel Lucifer was cast out of Heaven and condemned to rule Hell for all eternity. Until he decided to take vacation.” This is certainly an interesting idea and whether this show will explore just how he pulled this off remains to be seen (or if it will be cancelled before we find out), but Lucifer walking the streets of Los Angeles could lead to some real fun television.

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The show gets points for not using "Sympathy for the Devil" here.

We first meet Lucifer (Tom Ellis) being pulled over by a cop for a traffic violation, he is able to use his “dark powers” to get at the sinful side of the police officer which allows him to successfully bribe him. This is a playful Lucifer, more in keeping with the trickster type of god along the lines of Loki; he seems to be up here for a good time. What is equally interesting is that he is not wandering the Earth in disguise but will introduce himself to one and all as Lucifer Morningstar.  Nobody of course believes him.

Theology Note: The word Lucifer is taken from the Latin Vulgate word meaning "the morning star" so basically he's going around calling himself Lucifer Lucifer.

He runs a bar called Lux and is doing his best to forget he ever ruled Hell. His best friend Maze (Lesley-Ann Brandt) is a demon who does double duty as bartender and confidante. She seems unclear as to what her boss is doing here slumming with the mortals. We shortly meet Amenadiel (D.B. Woodside) a dark-winged angel of the Holy Host who really despises Lucifer and orders him to get back to work running Hell. Seems Heaven is concerned with what all those demons and tortured souls may be doing without Lucifer overseeing things.

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“Dad says, go to your room.”

This begs the question, “If Lucifer can just abdicate his job as ruler of Hell why did he wait so long to do so?” He was cast down there as punishment for rebelling against God, so I'm not quite sure how you can quit that gig. Which brings us to one of the major problems I see coming with this show, the dancing around of the theology of this particular version of God and Lucifer. Is this show’s God the absentee landlord we got in WBs Supernatural? Or are we going to find out that God isn’t allowed to directly influence things on Earth, which I’ve always found to be a big cop out. He can send an angel to order Lucifer back to work but he can’t force the issue himself?

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“If he wants me, he knows where to find mind.”

But this show isn’t just about The Fallen One and his family issues it’s also a police procedural, and that’s where it really falters. The “Case of the Week” we get for the pilot is the murder of pop star Delilah (AnnaLynne McCord) who Lucifer at some point in time helped her with her career. She drops by Lux to ask Lucifer if she had “Sold her soul” to become famous. How she wouldn’t know this is beyond me. Did she think she signed away her soul while in a drunken stupor? Regardless while walking out of the club with Lucifer she is gunned down by a drive by. Lucifer is determined to find out the one responsible and see that they are punished.  This is of course showing us a softer side of the Devil than we are use to seeing.

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I wonder if I called Dad he’d tell me who did it.

Now we meet the show’s second lead in the form of Detective Chloe Decker (Lauren German) who is assigned the Delilah murder case. Her ex-husband Dan (Nicolas Gonzalez) is also a homicide detective and he urges her to make this a simple open and shut case (why is never made clear other than to show he is a douchebag), but Chloe wants to do a thorough job which somehow entails teaming up with Lucifer Morningstar. And here is where the premise of the show gets really wobbly. If we let slide that a L.A. homicide detective would cruise around town with club owner, one who claims to be the actual immortal Lucifer, on a case that tangentially involves him is one thing (and that is a pretty big slide we are allowing here), but we are now expected to see her teaming up week in and week out with him on more cases. This makes even less sense than Detective Jane Porter teaming up with a jungle man to fight crime in the 2003 Tarzan series.

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She even allows people to assume she is his partner.

I may not be an expert on the criminal code but even I know that impersonating an officer of the law is a big no-no, and I’m assuming at some point her fellow officers are going to ask who the hell that guy is that is helping her out on all these cases. We learn that due to a past event concerning a police shooting she is now ostracized by her fellow officers, and thus no one will be her partner, but I’m sorry a cop cannot have a civilian for a partner. Even in the zaniest buddy cop movie both people involved were actually cops. Even Hooch in Turner and Hooch was a police dog.

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This is no 48 Hours.

At one point during their investigation they go to talk to Delilah’s psychiatrist (Rachael Harris) to find out who she was having an affair with, and Lucifer uses his super sexual powers of attraction to get the name from her and clinches the deal with an offer of powerfully sinful sex, yet at the end of the episode he returns to her for not just the promised sex but for her professional help as well. Clearly the writers were fans of The Sopranos.

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I wonder, does the Devil have a good HMO?

Now for what works. Tom Ellis seems to be having a lot of fun playing Lucifer, and his chemistry with Lauren German is quite good. How the show develops this relationship will be one of the more crucial things that will decide if the show lasts or is cancelled. At the end of the episode she is not sure how he survived being shot at because she still doesn’t quite believe he is the Lucifer Morningstar, and this kind of thing can get old real fast.  I hope by the second episode she comes to grips with who she is actually working with.

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“We can’t tell my mother, she is very Catholic and wouldn’t understand.”

Of course once she finally believes he is who he says he is the next problem will be in giving us a plausible reason for why she doesn’t grab her cute daughter (Scarlett Estevez) and run for the hills.  I’m also not completely sold on them being able to make a solid action drama when one of the main characters cannot be harmed by anything less than an act of God. Kind of takes the tension out of gun play and car chases. So yeah, I’m not quite sure this premise will work over the long haul, as likable as the lead characters are the very premise is just too shaky to function as such. I could be wrong, and really I hope I am, but if this makes it to season two I will be quite surprised.

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Unless Lucifer whammies the ratings.