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
Advertisements

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

Future Cops (1993)

There are some weird and wonderful films out there if you know where to look, and amount the more bizarre films I can find you have Future Cops. At first glance, you’re probably thinking “is this some sort of weird Chinese Street Fighter knockoff or something?”, and you’d be sort of half-right. It uses parody versions of Street Fighter characters, but for some reason there’s also a parody version of Goku in the film. The actual film is even more ridiculous than it looks.

Here’s the plot itself. In the year 2043, an evil crime lord called The General plans to take over the world, but has been arrested and sentenced to imprisonment by judge Yu Ti Hung. In retaliation, he sends his three strongest henchmen, Kent, Thai King, and Toyota on a trip fifty years into the past in order to kill the judge while he’s in his twenties, before he even has a chance to become a judge and jail him in the first place. In order to put a stop to the General’s plan, the Police Director sends three future cops, Ti Man, Broomhead, and Sing, in order to protect the young Yu Ti Hung.

The story, I’ll be blunt, is ridiculous. It opens up as a frenetic action film, with lasers and kicks flying everywhere in an orgy of action. Ten minutes into the film, however, and the film turns into a bizarre sitcom starring a young adult with bad luck. In fact, from what I’ve heard, the back of the DVD for this film says “the future cops meet a retarded boy in the past, but it’s really just our hero who happens to have bad luck”.

My main problem with the story is not that it reads like a sci-fi Street Fighter knock-off. That I can somehow live with, in fact it’s actually better than the official Street Fighter film we got with Jean-Claude Van Damme. The main problem is that it’s all over the place and it tends to meander a lot. At one point it’s an action film, and at other times it’s a rom-com. Most bafflingly, there’s a scene in which Ti-Man and Yu Ti Hung’s sister are flirting inside a budget live action version of Super Mario World. It’s hilarious to say the least. If like me you’re watching this and you don’t know Cantonese, the film is best watched with subtitles, but just hope that you don’t end up watching it with erroneous subtitles, else you get gems like “the Pope is leaking”.

The presentation isn’t all bad. In fact, the music is quite good, in a cheesy sort of way. The whole film just oozes camp, like the Cantonese cinematic equivalent of watching an episode of the 1960’s Batman TV series, except it was actually intended to be a comedy, and you’ll actually bust a gut laughing. Of course, some of the props look like they were quite cheaply made, and you’ll notice this when some of the characters are shown crashing through walls.

On the whole, Future Cops isn’t bad, and it’s incredibly hilarious if you can get your hands on it. It seems like cheap action film that uses barely disguised rip-offs of Street Fighter characters, but when it gets down to the action, this is a film that doesn’t mess around. Truly, this is perhaps one of the most ridiculous films ever made, and seemingly proud of it.

  • Score: 67%
  • Grade: C

Fritz the Cat (1972)

Oh boy, I’ve chasing this film for five years, and now that I finally managed to find it, I could now experience it in all its freaky glory…and it was amazing. I’ve said a few times on this site (and many elsewhere in life) that I’m a big fan of Ralph Bakshi, and the reason why is that unlike the other animators of his time, he was taking animation to stranger, more mature territory. Of course, he is most famous for Fritz the Cat, the first X-rated animated film, at least in America. Controversial on release, the film broke all the rules of cartoon films, and it proved that animation could explore adult themes and turn a profit, and thus a cartoon classic was born.

The story involves Fritz the Cat, a character created in the 1960’s by the cartoonist Robert Crumb, who also wrote the other characters in the film (as a side note, Fritz was one of Crumb’s most popular characters, and became a countercultural icon during the run of Crumb’s comics). Fritz is a hedonistic university student in the late 1960’s who constantly tries to get in bed with as many women as possible. After a night of sex, drugs and avoiding “the fuzz”, he drops out of New York University and embarks on a journey through New York City in order to find himself.

The film’s story was quite a wild ride. You have Fritz going through the entire city to get his funk on, and he gets chased by cops, gets caught in the middle of a riot (which he started), and ends up in the middle of the desert and hanging out with a group of dangerous revolutionaries. It’s a surreal tale of ecstasy and emptiness, with the kind of political commentary that characterises Bakshi’s classic works of the early to mid 1970’s. Fritz also offers a window into the radical time in which it was made in its own way, poking fun at both the radical left and the radical right, while painting a deliciously satirical, and poignantly accurate picture of the hippies of its time.

Fritz is interesting character, a freewheeling college student who doesn’t like the pretentiousness of the hippies (despite aping them with the whole “quest for truth” schtick). He starts out as a completely selfish character, and to be fair he sort of remains that way throughout the film. He may be crass and horny, but he’s smart in his own way. His philosophy seems to be that the only way to learn about life is to see it and grab it for yourself. In effect, he is an embodiment of the counterculture of his time, and his interaction with the world around him often leads to hilarious results.

I’ve always loved Bakshi’s animation style, mainly because of the penchant for artistic innovative he displays. In Bakshi’s directorial debut, you see a traditional sort of style, though with a looser style than one might see in Walt Disney’s films. In addition to that, the film makes use of backgrounds made with watercolour painting, and city skylines based on tracings from photographs. There’s a nice mixture of styles blended together in a way that brings out the seediness of Fritz’s world. The film also has an excellent psychedelic music score so infectiously ecstatic it that takes you into another state of mind.

The film may have garnered a reputation as a cartoon porno (which is funny considering the sex wasn’t really that graphic) simply because it was full of brazen nudity, but it’s really far more than that. It’s a satirical exploration of the depravity, confusion, hedonism and self-delusion that permeated the late stage of the 60’s-70’s counterculture. It was an innovative work of art that pioneered the concept of adult-oriented animation, and damned if I wasn’t entertained by it.

  • Score: 89%
  • Grade: A

Society (1989)

I came across a rather interesting horror flick about a year ago, one in which the premise was that the wealthy overclass literally feasted on the people below them, and I was fascinated by that idea. What other movie took the idea of class conflict and transmogrified it into a surreal, SFX-laden horror film? Alas, though the film’s ideas were solid, it’s not as spellbinding as I had hoped it would be, but it certainly wasn’t boring.

The film’s plot revolves around Bill Whitney, a high school student who’s practically got it made. He has a wealthy family in Beverly Hills, California, a girlfriend in the cheerleading squad, a Jeep Wrangler, and is likely to become class president. And yet, despite this enormous position of privilege, he is unhappy and feels out of place. His sister and parents mingle with upper class socialites, and even his girlfriend is more interested in going to parties than in his pressing concerns.

His worst fears are confirmed when his sister’s ex-boyfriend David Blanchard gives him a tape which seems to reveal his family participating in an incestuous orgy, but when tries to show the tape to his therapist, it appears to have been altered, and Blanchard turns up dead. Each second he keeps digging puts his life at risk, until eventually all is revealed to him at a formal party, and it’s not a pretty sight.

The story itself is a twisted jab at the outward soullessness of the upper class, old money types that still haunt the real world, though it’s worth noting that the film doesn’t necessarily take itself seriously, or at least not constantly. In fact, more times than not it’s a comedy of sorts. The real horror builds up until the end of the film, where the rich socialites turn out to be creatures that melt into alien creatures and suck the nutrients out of them. I might have liked for the film to go in a darker direction, but on the other hand, it’s a decent enough deconstruction of the then-popular 80’s teen flicks that were about as prevalent as Aqua Net. If you want to see a by-the-numbers teen flick being twisted, dismembered and then hung out to dry, this is probably the film for you.

My main problem is with the pacing. For a horror film, there’s an awful lot of time in which barely anything happens, though I think this is probably supposed to add to the sense of paranoia that the film relies on in. It’s a good idea, though the acting is pretty bad, and cheesy to the point of it being comical. This isn’t a rare phenomenon in horror films, particularly ones that rely on visceral SFX-driven thrills, but here I can’t help but think that it ran the risk of somehow undermining the whole message of the film by rendering the characters as stock caricatures.

The film certainly has the spirit of the opulent 80’s, complete with the synth score, but for me, the real highlight of the film is the special effects provided by Screaming Mad George, which greatly added to the bizarre nature of the film. I also like how the writers took advantage of the seemingly elastic effects to deliver a satisfying conclusion.

On the whole, it’s not as great as it perhaps could have been, but it’s not without its merits. It may have been a B-movie, but it had a kind of satirical commentary hidden beneath the layers of cheese. It’s not really for everyone, and if you’re the kind of viewer who isn’t into surrealistic gore or sadistic horror (though there isn’t much of it here), you probably won’t like it. But for the hardier cult film viewer, Society is a film for you.

  • Score: 66%
  • Grade: C

Last Action Hero (1993)

lastactionheroI’m not surprised that Last Action Hero was maligned by critics back in its day, and is still generally ignored by the public at large today. It was a ludicrously ridiculous action flick in a time when action films were just starting to go out of vogue. Of course, I’m certain this was intended as a satire of Hollywood action films (particularly the ones set in L.A.), and in that spirit it’s certainly more well-produced than a similar film named Loaded Weapon 1 (a cheesy National Lampoon parody of Lethal Weapon). It wasn’t a bad film, but perhaps it was a bit too silly for your average moviegoer.

A big problem is the ridiculousness that is the film’s main premise. A movie-obsessed young boy is given a magic ticket, and he’s somehow transported into the latest entry in the “Jack Slater” series, where he gets to see the world of a badass action hero, and Jack realises that he is just a film character. For me, the film could have been more satirical if the whole film played out like an action film that didn’t always take itself seriously, as opposed to the whole “magic ticket” approach. As it stands however, it’s essentially a matinee film with a goofy plot and wasted potential.

To be fair there’s plenty of humorous moments where the film essentially deconstructs its own genre, but that’s hampered by an often hackneyed script that, sadly, tends to rub off on the characters. Arnold Schwarzenegger still managed to play the lead role effectively, but mainly in his capacity as an action film star. The other characters seem to wilt in the background for the most part, if that is they aren’t hamming their way out of it. One silver lining I can count on is the skilful performance of Charles Dance in the role of the lead villain. A lot of times he unapologetically steals the show, even though he’s not immune to the iniquities of the film’s numerous script problems.

The way I see it, the problem with a setting that gives the characters licence to act like they’re in a Hollywood movie is that they always take it too far. To take this film for what it is requires not so much a suspension of disbelief, but a complete silence of disbelief, but that’s not to say it’s a bad film. There are many enjoyable fantasy films that constantly skirt the issue of suspension of disbelief, often to the point that they risk butchering it, but we still enjoy them. Besides, I kind of like the film’s obvious ridiculousness, which sometimes has a weird comic charm, but I think that comes from the fact that I’m familiar with it (having seen it roughly four times to date).

It also helps that the film had some good production values on its side, but I think they used way too much special effects, which lead to the film having a bloated budget so big that the seemingly plentiful box office returns could be considered a disappoint (a film needs to make more than double its budget to turn a profit, and Last Action Hero costed $85 million to produce).

In terms of ridiculous matinee fair, Last Action Hero isn’t actually as bad as people say it is. I’d say it’s mediocre, but with more than a few good moments. The problem, however, is that the producers wasted a lot of the potential that might have been capitalised on to great effect, and the end result can’t be anything better than a mildly humorous parody film with a choppy script.

  • Score: 60%
  • Grade: C

Weird Science (1985)

movie_poster_for_weird_science_1985Weird Science was very much a film that was emblematic of the bizarre excesses of Hollywood in the 1980’s. It’s ridiculous, it’s loaded with kitsch, and the story seems to be over the place. Sometimes that can make a film so goofy that it’s downright irresistible, but that’s not the case here in Weird Science, which simply hasn’t aged that well compared to other films from the mid-80’s.

The plot is essentially a typical teen comedy, revolving around two awkward teenagers named Gary and Wyatt, who have no luck with women, but they’re swooning over the girlfriends of two boorish Neanderthals who consistently humiliate them. Disappointed with their lot in life, they use Wyatt’s computer to create their ideal woman, who is brought to life after a lightning strike. The woman, who comes to be known as Lisa, begins to teach the boys self-confidence, but not without a slew of zany shenanigans ensuing along the way.

It’s not too much like John Hughes’ other films (which I tend to be sharply critical of), but like the rest, the film revels in Hughes’ consistent romanticising of the dreaded teen phase. As if teen films weren’t already unbelievable, this film pretty much demands suspension of disbelief, as much of the plot raises several questions that I’m sure none of the writers will have any answer for aside from “it’s just a stupid movie”. Nothing about it makes sense, but I’m quite sure that it’s not supposed to. At least this film had the good fortune of being made in a time where you could get away with it.

The acting certainly doesn’t help the cause by much. The actors aren’t particularly bad, but they aren’t exactly high-calibre performers either. They’re essentially actors stuck in a brainless genre that limits their potential. I should give some kudos to the film for using actual teenage actors in the lead roles, unlike the majority of teen films which use actors in their early 20’s, or older for all I know. The characters themselves aren’t particularly likable, and Lisa is perhaps the least convincing character by her very nature as an artificial woman.

If the film has any redeeming virtues, it’s that it at least had good production, as John Hughes films generally did for their time. The film also made wildly liberal use of special effects, and they become more common towards the end of the film as the more nonsensical scenes play out. Of course, the film isn’t bereft of humour, which is fortunate for a film that’s supposed to be billed as a comedy film. It’s not as funny as it perhaps ought to have been, but there are parts of the film that are rib-ticklingly funny, but those are few and far between.

In conclusion, this is a film that very much belongs in its time. I remember hearing that there was a remake in the works, but nobody would really want it. It just wouldn’t work in my time, not just because it’s too cheesy, but also because Hollywood doesn’t know how to write comedies anymore. I dare say that a modern Weird Science would turn out to be even more juvenile than the film we got, and more reprehensibly irritating as a result. This film, thankfully isn’t that bad, but it’s age shows in too many ways.

  • Score: 58%
  • Grade: D

Caddyshack (1980)

caddyshack_posterOften touted as one of the finest sports comedies ever made, Caddyshack comes across as more a typically zany 1980’s comedy film, which isn’t too much of a bad thing. In fact, it’s Harold Ramis’ brand of abstract silliness, along with intuitive input from the lead performers and good use comedic timing, that made Caddyshack a very memorable, and well-aged comedy film from back when people actually knew how to write actual comedy.

In this film, a young man named Danny Noonan becomes a caddy in order to make money for college, working for a golfer named Ty Webbs, all while a bunch of crazy characters is generally wreaking havoc and making life hell for the club owner, Judge Elihu Smails. Among the wealthy and eccentric members of the Bushwood golf club is Al Czervik, a loud, crude tycoon who harasses Smails until he decides he’s no longer welcome, and eventually challenges him and Ty to a golf match. Meanwhile, an unkempt greenskeeper is charged with getting rid of a gopher, but fails and ends up blowing the course to pieces.

A lot happens in Caddyshack, and clearly none of it should be happening in a real life golf course. The story seems a tad disorganised, and to be fair, this isn’t necessarily a film that’s focused on story and writing. It’s basically a vehicle for the comedic talents of the main cast, and in that regard, it works, offering laughs despite a plot that sometimes meanders, replete with scenes that were often built around the gags.

Only in the 80’s does this approach seem to work, though because of the way the film was written, everything revolves around Rodney Dangerfield’s character (Chevy Chase’s character doesn’t really appear too often, save for the beginning and close to the end), and he is outrageous enough that he not just steals but pillages the show, dominating with the kind of comedic personality that the. That’s not to say none of the other characters perform, like Chevy Chase, who perhaps plays a noticeable more subtle character, at least compared to Dangerfield.

For whatever reason, films like Caddyshack remind me of a more well-produced sitcom from around that time, probably because they tend to present themselves with a similar style. Of course, the film has good production values behind it, but the main point of the film is the comedy, which is composed more of gags than of jokes, and this gag-based approach is very much hilarious, and sort of defines Caddyshack. It’s pretty juvenile sometimes (and some of the film’s critics seemed to pick this as the stick with which to beat it), but it’s fun.

It’s no classic, but I would be blind not to notice that the film had aged quite well after nearly four decades. With a charming cast, well-timed gags, and a good director (and writers) behind it, Caddyshack, despite being a film of its time, performed well enough that it had attained lasting appeal and influence long afterward.

  • Score: 80%
  • Grade: B

Scrooged (1988)

scrooged_film_posterFor my last Christmas film for this year, I’ve picked out a film that I can say is a consistently good holiday film. I am fully aware that this is essentially a modernized spin on A Christmas Carol (which, to be fair, would have been quite rare back then compared to now), which is extremely familiar, but around Christmas time that’s not exactly a huge concern.

The film sees former Ghostbuster Bill Murray playing the role of Frank Cross, the meanest, crudest, most arrogant television executive out there. He’ll do just about anything to boost ratings for his network, including mounting a bizarre range of Christmas programmes, and advertising a live performance of A Christmas Carol using a shock ad campaign. He also forces his employees to work on the live production, meaning that he has to work right through Christmas Eve.

At that point, he’s visited by the three ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, all of them modernised and given a surreal twist, but the rest of the plot is pretty familiar. It’s essentially A Christmas Carol set in the high-flying corporate culture of the late 1980’s, and it works mainly because the film had good writers behind it. Personally, I think it’s one of the best versions of A Christmas Carol out there, primarily because it delivers the tale in a more contemporary style, while still trying to make it into an original film.

It also helps that Bill Murray is such a hilarious character in this film. He’s great in various other films, including Ghostbusters and Stripes, and he’s great here too. He always seems to deliver his lines with just the right timing and deadpan wit. It seems as though the script is sort of meant for him. The side characters work well alongside him, with an effective chemistry that results in laugh after laugh.

The film certainly presents itself in a contemporary style, almost similar in tone to Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, and later Batman, and I say this primarily because the film was scored by Danny Elfman (who would go on to compose for Tim Burton’s most popular films). It definitely has the whole Christmas vibe going for it, as I would expect. I’ll admit that the film does sound a little bit dated, but it has a lot of charm left over, certainly more than today’s holiday flicks, and it holds up a lot better than many critics would give it credit for. The film also uses its fair share of special effects, and it uses them well in the scenes involving the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, which took a rather surreal turn to say the least.

All in all, I’d say this is certainly one of my favourite Christmas films. I’m definitely willing to watch it again year after year (and it always shows up rather conveniently on TV listings at around this time), and that’s because it’s consistently entertaining. Though it’s not necessarily a classic (it’s definitely close to it though), few Christmas films have that much staying power.

  • Score: 82%
  • Grade: B