Armour of God (1986)

As I said two weeks ago, tonight’s film review would be my last, and for my last film review, we have Armour of God, probably not the best Jackie Chan film, but a decent enough film for me to bow out on. The film is perhaps more known for two things. One, for its confusing release in the West (it was released as Operation Condor 2 even though it was made before the actual sequel, Armour of God II: Operation Condor). Secondly, the production of this film saw Jackie Chan come the closest he has ever come to death while trying to perform a stunt for the end of the film. All things considered, it’s a pretty good film, if mainly because it doesn’t take itself seriously, which is imperative considering its silly premise.

In this film, Jackie Chan is a former member of a Cantonese pop band called The Losers, but he became an adventurer under the name “Asian Hawk”. Later he is reunited with former bandmate Alan, whose girlfriend and fellow bandmate Lorelei has been kidnapped by an shadowy monastic cult who is holding her hostage in order to get Jackie to bring them the remaining pieces of the eponymous “Armour of God”, including the sword he found in Africa. To save her, he and Alan must strike a deal with Count Bannon, who has the pieces of the armour the cult is asking for, and allows Jackie to take them on the condition that his daughter May accompanies them. They are in for a surprise as the cultists know they are coming.

Right off the bat, it’s basically Jackie Chan’s answer to Indiana Jones and similar adventure films, with his style of action comedy. The writing isn’t great, but it’s simplistic enough that you can enjoy it, like a matinee film. My main problem is that the film tends to meander on, though only a bit.

As for the acting, it really depends on which version of the film you watch, and unfortunately, I saw the version where they re-dubbed the voices in English and created a newer, cheesier musical score (I think this is the Operation Condor 2 version, but the “Armour of God” title appears). This dubbed version is incredibly corny and at times, it doesn’t seem like it synced well with the original film. I almost don’t think Jackie here even sounded like Jackie.

But at least the film is pretty fun to watch, in the enjoyably cheesy sort of way, with decently well choreographed action scenes, and humour that falls into the “so bad it’s funny” category. That’s it from me. It’s been a good run.

  • Score: 68%
  • Grade: C
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World on a Wire (1973)

After I had seen Logan’s Run for the first time around five years ago, I stumbled upon this film in the related films section on Rotten Tomatoes, a site which describes this as “a satiric and surreal look at the weird world of tomorrow from one of cinema’s kinkiest geniuses”. It’s not so much a feature film so much as it is a TV film serial in two parts, with the combined length totalling three hours and twenty minutes, almost as long as Ben-Hur. But if you have the patience to sit through both parts, you’ll find a very engaging sci-fi film, and perhaps a good example of the style of sci-fi that was still prevalent in the early 1970’s.

The plot of the film revolves around a supercomputer called the Simulacron, a powerful computer project operated by the Institut für Kybernetik und Zukunftsforschung (or IKZ) that is capable of simulating a full reality with “identity units” serving as citizens of that world. The technical director of the project, Professor Henry Vollmer, is on the verge of making an incredible discovery, but suddenly he dies in a mysterious accident. His successor, Fred Stiller, experiences odd phenomenon, including the disappearance of a good friend name Gunther Lause, who none of the other IKZ employees have any memory of. Soon after the attempted suicide of an identity unit, Stiller is informed that the world he inhabits is in fact a simulation, and when he tells an IKZ psychiatrist of this, he is found dead, with Stiller framed for the murder in a reality-bending corporate conspiracy.

You could consider this an early precursor to The Matrix, only far longer, and requiring much more patience. You could perhaps argue that the comparatively slower, colder approach is the way that The Matrix perhaps ought to have been. Of course, taken as the whole three-and-a-half hour film, the pacing can definitely be quite sluggish, although if you’re into this sort of film, dive right in, but make sure you’ve got a lot of time to yourself, and that you don’t have to prepare any meals in the middle of it.

Since the film is mostly in German I doubt I can offer much commentary on the acting, though I don’t have much issue with the performance, and I’m tempted to say that it’s somewhere above the par of TV acting. To the producers’ credit, the film does do a good job of immersing you in a world that may in fact be an artifice. It has a distinct film noir vibe, the kind you might later see in the notably superior Blade Runner. The music is mostly synthesised, though I find it interesting that the film chooses to end with Fleetwood Mac’s classic “Albatross” (also used at some point close to the end of the second part). The film itself isn’t as dull as its length might imply, so I wouldn’t pass it up, especially if you’re a sci-fi nut.

  • Score: 75%
  • Grade: B

Trick or Treat (1986)

As I’ve frequently pointed out on this site, it’s usually a bad move to make films based purely on a musical subculture, which is usually just some excuse to get more money for music royalties. This film in particular seems silly, and that’s mainly because it was the product of a time in which there was a silly moral panic over heavy metal music “corrupting the youth”, which films like Trick or Treat cynically attempted to exploit for some easy money. The actual film isn’t bad, and it has its moments, but it’s certainly a relic of time, with much of the cheese that comes with it.

The plot is simple enough. It revolves around a metalhead teenager named Eddie Weinbauer, who is constantly humiliated and treated like an insect in a painfully typical high school setting. The one comfort in his life is the music of heavy metal superstar Sammi Curr, but that’s all torn away from him when he suddenly dies in a hotel fire. His friend DJ Nuke (played by guest star Gene Simmons) gives him a copy of Sammi’s last and upcoming album, which apparently allows Eddie to communicate with the spirit of the dead rocker when he rotates it backwards (a play on the whole “Satanic backmasking” scare). The spirit helps Eddie get his revenge on the people who bullied him, but eventually he begins to get more murderous in his intent, and eventually comes out of the record in order to raise some hell.

The story is pure nonsense, and its based almost entirely on the moral panic, but it’s also another boring teen film setting, which just as well gets you thinking about the terrible state of American teenage life in 1986, which is something a film like this shouldn’t do but it’s so repetitive and stereotypical that it does that anyway. That’s my problem with exploitation films like this – the writers think only in stereotypes. I’m not saying there’s no truth in stereotypes, but it’s just lazy. On the plus side, it is good to see Ozzy Osbourne playing the kind of person that always complains about him being a bad influence. The irony of it is entertaining as it stands.

The acting isn’t really bad, though to be fair it’s rather uncharitable to except fine acting from a low budget horror film. The characters themselves weren’t exactly works of great imagination. I’ve seen more original characters in Future Cops. They may as well be cookie-cutter characters brought to you by the PMRC.

There’s a reason this sort of film ended up in the bargain bin. It’s cheesy, badly written, and it’s much of a horror film, or even a comedy since this isn’t really a serious film. On the plus side, it does have a good soundtrack courtesy of a band called Fastway, and if you happen to be a metal fan anwyay, you’ll probably ignore everything else and just focus on the music. Given some of the reviews on IMDB, some people probably did.

  • Score: 63%
  • Grade: C

Night of the Comet (1984)

Some films don’t seem like much on the surface, and in that regard Night of the Comet seems like a B-movie very much of its time, with the sole difference being that the main protagonists are women. That is still broadly true, but there’s a certain campy 80’s charm that, far from being a dampener on the quality of the film, is something that can be worn as a badge of honour.

The plot of the film starts out eleven days before Christmas (so December 14th to exact), when the Earth is about to pass through the tail of a comet, an event that supposedly hasn’t happened in 65 million years, when it coincided with the extinction of the dinosaurs. On the night that the comet is supposed to pass, crowds of people across the world gather to watch the comet pass by. Unfortunately the comet crashes into Earth, wiping out most of humanity (except those who hid in steel-lined accommodation at the time of impact) and leaving piles of red dust in its wake and zombies roaming the Earth. No explanation is given for how a comet crash might have that aftermath.

Among the only living residents in Los Angeles are two valley girl sisters, Regina and Samantha Belmont, and a boy named Hector Gomez, and together they attempt to survive in the post-apocalyptic wasteland that Los Angeles become, but apparently the two girls can’t help but go shopping, even with zombies and mad scientists following them around.

The plot is very much a B-movie, but not so much a genre film. It has elements of sci-fi, comedy, disaster film, horror, and even teen films. The result is an entertaining pastiche of pretty much all the genres that it incorporates. My problem is that it’s not entirely believable. First of all, the setting shows a comet wiping out all human life, except that sounds more like an asteroid than a comet. Second, I find it hardly believable to think that a bunch of valley girls who seem more interested in shopping and pep rallies than survival could even have a realistic chance of making it out of this kind of scenario alive.

That said, I like the fact that they at least attempted to make the two main characters into self-reliant, heroic characters. Given the B-movie quality of the film it’s not totally convincing, but it was a noble attempt. The acting isn’t terrible, but it’s not great either. In fact, it’s the kind of acting I expect from an 80’s-era TV show. That’s perhaps one of the reasons I find the film to be so cheesy and unbelievable.

For some reason, however, I can’t quite fault Night of the Comet for being such a B-movie. It has a certain independent charm, having been made on the a quantifiably modest $700,000 budget. It’s also a good film for synth-lovers. Pretty much the entire soundtrack sounds like a Berlin school electronic album, and for the cheesy pop lovers, there’s plenty of campy, synth-laden pop songs for you 80’s nostalgists.

Overall I would say it’s a pretty decent film, definitely one for the independent film enthusiasts, and certainly for those who like some silly fare.

  • Score: 68%
  • Grade: C

Holy Weapon (1993)

For some reason, much of the Chinese films I’ve watched are quite batty. With a few exceptions, I mainly seem to find films that are balls-out crazy to us, but I suppose not so much in China. In this regard, Holy Weapon is another level of silliness entirely. It’s the equivalent of a live-action anime film, only if it were made in China and nothing made any glimmer of sense at all.

So let’s see if I’ve managed to piece the plot together. Set in China during the Ming Dynasty, the first part of the story sees a warrior named Mo Kake taking a special invincibility drug from a crazy “Ghost Doctor” (who looks like Dr. Wily) so that he can fight “Super Sword”, the most powerful swordsman from Japan. Three years later, he comes back looking for revenge. The only problem is that now Mo Kake is too weak to fight on his own, and needs the help of seven women to regain his power defeat Super Sword again using the Yuen Tin sword technique.

For the first ten minutes you’re treated to some of the most off-the-wall action scenes in the world, with flying bird men ripping the head of a horse and eventually colliding into each other, resulting in an explosion. Meanwhile, Super Sword and Mo Kake cause the ground the break apart, and fighting with bizarre powers and objects the size of buildings. That’s the fun part over. For most of the film afterward, you’re treated to a meandering comedy plot, and the comedy is initially hilarious but it ebbs as the film goes on.

Therein lies my main problem with the film. It’s inconsistent and spends what seems like eternity on a barely passable comedy plot with better jokes than writers. A lot of the plot is based on magic, with a plethora of special effects. Towards the end it’s even weirder, with the film turning into an episode of Power Rangers but with a mostly female cast. It’s almost exactly like Future Cops. In fact, it was made by the same director.

The acting is sort of all over the place, and you can never really take it seriously. Serious acting in a film like this may as well be construed as hammy acting. Fortunately nothing about the characters are serious, which is good because the entire film is a bukkake of wire fu and slapstick humour. It’s totally crazy, but if you’re into that sort of film, it’ll be an absolute blast.

  • Score: 65%
  • Grade: C

The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)

man_who_fell_to_earth_ver1I’m going to be forthright and admit that I mainly got to know this film because of its star David Bowie. I could go at length at how great of a musician he was, but for the sake of this review I won’t. Besides, we all know that David Bowie had many other great qualities, and one of those was acting. This was a film many turned to when they talked about Bowie’s talent as an actor, but it’s a film that was very much a reflection on its time, offering its take on the culture that created it. Even some of the critics who reviled the film later looked on it as an example of what is now missing in the soulless artifice that calls itself Hollywood.

The film sees David Bowie cast as an alien in the form of a man named Thomas Jerome Newton, who came to earth in search of water for his own planet, which is dying at the hands of a catastrophic drought. To save his planet he has to find a way to transfer water from Earth, and to that end he uses the advanced technology of his home world to patent numerous inventions on Earth, and becomes exceedingly wealthy as the head of a technology conglomerate, which he will need to construct a vehicle that can ship water back to his home planet. But then he meets a woman named Mary-Lou, and is introduced to the pleasures and vices of life on Earth.

I find the story to be very fascinating, and tantalising to certain degree after further exploration. Many sci-fi films featuring aliens visiting with the intent of conquering Earth and enslaving mankind have come and gone. The idea of an alien visiting Earth and falling prey to its temptations certainly made for a much more interesting premise. Think of it like E.T. mixed with Liquid Sky, only it’s far superior to both films. The main problem I have with the film is with how it seems unfocused. I get the point that the film is trying to make, but it often seems like there isn’t a lot happening, perhaps because of how cold and distant the film seems to be.

For what was his first starring role, David Bowie performed splendidly here. It’s worth noting that at the time the film was being produced, he was still using copious amounts of cocaine, and he seemed to simply throw himself into the role, giving you his authentic self, and he is virtually flawless in this role. Of course he practically steals the entire show, or he may as well because the other characters kind of fade into the background.

For all its flaws, I would not pass it up, not just for the Bowie fanservice, which you will get plenty of throughout the film, but for its depth and substance, the amount of which I would say equals the fanservice, even if you had to wait through the more indulgent parts of the film.

  • Score: 77%
  • Grade: B

Hour of the Wolf (1968)

I’m told that it would be unthinkable for anyone who’s seriously interested in films to not see this. I can’t exactly fathom why. That’s the kind of reasoning I’d except to see with regards to genuine classics like Casablanca. Nonetheless I took a gander at this Swedish art film from Ingmar Bergman, which is purported to be a surreal psychological horror film. It certainly has an experimental feel to it, and is certainly interesting, but it’s not one of the best films I’ve seen, mainly because it’s so quiet and slow. That doesn’t make it a bad film.

The plot of the film is explained in the opening title cards. An artist named Johan Borg lives with his wife Alma on the island of Baltrum where he is taking refuge after an unexplained crisis that took place prior to the events of the film. But he is visited by bizarre and disturbing visions, and approached by suspicious characters, and towards the end he breaks down while confronting some of his repressed desires.

At first I had little idea of what to make of this film, and that’s chiefly because not much happened at all, at least for the first half of the film. The second half of the film was where things truly got interesting, with strange occurrences, and some pretty creepy stuff. My main issue with the film as it stands is the pacing. It’s a slow buildup to the horrors that lie in wait, but before then is some fairly boring conversation. I suppose that’s supposed to reflect on the serenity of the life on a remote island that the main characters live for the first part of the film, but it is a bit confusing because you’re wondering what film you’re even watching.

The acting is actually quite decent, good even. The film is in Swedish, but there are subtitles for English speakers. I feel that Max von Sydow plays the part of the troubled artist rather well, if rather quietly, but as the film’s atmosphere becomes more tensed, he portrays more of a psychotic character, and towards the end he dissolves into a figuartive pool of cinematic madness.

That’s pretty much all I can really say about Hour of the Wolf. It was a good film if you want something that will stimulate your cinematic tastebuds, but to my mind, it seemed to be more suited to the more snobbish cineasts out there.

  • Score: 70%
  • Grade: C

Some sobering news

I have decided that I will soon retire from writing film reviews, with my last film review to be published here on Movies for Earthlings on September 15th 2017.

My reason for this is that I’m reaching a point in my life wherein I can no longer expect to blog and focus on my university work at the same time. Of course, my second year hasn’t started yet, so I’m taking the time to take care of business before it becomes a distraction. I have actually been writing film reviews more often than any other kind of writing, so this has been quite exhausting. Keeping in mind that I used to write film reviews as a user on Rotten Tomatoes, so this has been a hobby for the past five years now.

Whether or not I keep the site up is another matter for another time, but what’s clear is that I will retire in three weeks time.

Alucarda (1977)

Some films were so scandalous in controversial content that they were buried for a while until they eventually see the light of day once more. Alucarda was that kind of film, with lurid sexual content, demonic possession and exorcism (which may as well be a form of psychological torture), which you might have seen in other similar Satanic horror films, but this film was a modest cut above most of those other films, even though oftentimes its low budget shows. Given its cheap production values and its pulp fiction plot, you’d be forgiven for thinking this film is a waste of time, but it has a way of surprising you.

The plot of this film concerns two orphaned girls named Alucarda and Justine, who in short order develop a very intimate friendship. They wander off into the woods and met a band of gypsies, and then they accidentally unleash a demonic force that escapes from a casket and gradually consumes the convent. They then get possessed by the Devil, and are driven to wreak havoc on the convent and the nuns and priests that mind it.

The film has been compared to Ken Russell’s The Devils, a film that explored similar themes, but was far more well-made. That being said, some have pointed out similarities between this, and the famous vampire novel Carmilla, with which it shares similar themes. You could call Alucarda the compact, Mexican equivalent of the Ken Russell classic if you want, though that might be a disservice to this film, as it casts the shadow of an unquestionably superior film over it in your mind, and that would ultimately ruin it. That said, I like that the film is confined to a 75 minute runtime, as this makes the film quite straightforward in terms of plot progression, but at the same time, it seems like the story was quite rushed. That being said, it doesn’t take very long for the film to get into gear.

The acting isn’t great. In fact, there’s a tendency to overact, and there’s a lot of screaming that’s more annoying than it is convincing. When they’re not screaming, their performance has a kind of campy, B-movie horror vibe. Even though the film was made in Mexico, the film was originally filmed in English, so we aren’t even dealing with some sort of crappy dub like with most foreign films. The lip movements match the English dialogue.

What the film succeeds in is its evocation of gothic style, albeit in a cheap B-movie sort of way. The set pieces aren’t too bad, and the film’s soundtrack has a weirdly enjoyable prog vibe, and I say this because I swear they used a keyboard in place of a church organ. The film does have plenty of gory violence, but it’s quite tame compared to most films, and the horror scenes are quite cheesy, but the film does have some genuinely creepy moments.

Alucarda is one of those films that’s more for the people who are really into underground horror films, particularly those that have been granted a certain mystique over the years, despite the fact that they are quite mediocre. You could say it’s “so bad it’s good”, but it’s not bad. In fact, it could have been quite good, if only the producers had more money.

  • Score: 65%
  • Grade: C

The Damned (1969)

Much has been said about Luchino Visconti’s The Damned, which explored the fall of a wealthy industrialist coinciding with the rise of fascism. It tells a tale of moral decline, degeneracy, political opportunism, and eventual ruin. Although it never fails to challenge you in terms of the subject matter (some of which would have been controversial in 1969), I find that it tends to meander about the place with its two-and-a-half-hour runtime, and it’s not always easy to stay interested, however I would recommend at least trying, because what it does offer is an allegory of the twisted lust for power, and the ruination it may bring.

The film’s plot centres around the Essenbecks, a wealthy industrialist family in Germany that apparently survived the Great War and the last economic depression, but after the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, the family’s fortune and prestige comes under threat. On the night of the Reichstag fire the family’s patriarch, Baron Joachim von Essenbeck (who despised Hitler), is murdered with a gun belonging to the family firm’s vice president Herbert Thalmann, forcing Herbert to flee. The family fortune falls into the hands of a relative in the SA named Constantin, with an amoral pervert named Martin waiting in the wings, scheming to take power for himself and advance himself through the echelons of the Nazi Party.

I won’t try to mince words. The film itself is a very long and often trying film, and a tad too dismal for those who don’t have the patience for it. There is a sequence of events that is laid out rather incoherently. That being said, there is much historical territory that could have been explored in the film, but this is squandered by the mere fact that it focuses solely on the perspective of a disintegrating family, and only in the period spanning 1933 and 1934. Not that there was no dramatic potential. In fact, many scenes serve the point of the film, such as Visconti’s re-enactment of the Night of the Long Knives.

The acting is sometimes a bit hammy, but it is certainly good in terms of performance. Many critics have cited Helmut Berger’s performance as Martin von Essenbeck as one of the high points of the film, and I can arguably agree. He gives Martin the creepy personality that such a character deserves, and in a way, he is basically a personification of how the most extreme ills persist in totalitarian societies. He is the fall of a nation in one sick, twisted man, stealing the central role in a film about the fall of industrial titans.

The film’s style is very much extravagant, in a subtle sort of way. It makes use of lavish sets and costumes, presumably to heighten the sense of moral rot within the society. There’s also something to be said about the way the characters are dressed, a reflection of aristocratic prestige that’s weathered the ages but is slowly being eroded. Though the film itself disappointingly tends to meander on for quite a bit, it is a fairly well-executed drama, one that might age well after repeated viewings.

  • Score: 69%
  • Grade: C