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Another nail in coffin of the sword & sorcery genre
NOTE: This review has SPOILERS
The 'sword & sorcery' genre had been around for many years, but it was 1982's 'Conan the Barbarian' that really gave the genre another big push, sparking all sorts of imitators, some good but most bad. By 1989, the revival was pretty much dead, with late stragglers like 'Time Barbarians' and 'Barbarian Queen II' embarrassing themselves upon entry. That said, there's something about the genre that has an appeal no matter how generic the product might be. Maybe it's the uniqueness of the time frame and setting, allowing for escapism from the modern times, or maybe it's the ability to have at its disposal all sorts of interesting ways to move a story thanks to elements of fantasy, adventure, and magic. That's why I watched 'Avalon', since I am a sucker for such things. I could not have prepared myself for what it would actually turn out to be.
The movie starts with what any red-blooded American (or, in this case, British) sword & sorcery flick would start with: a virgin sacrifice by druids! (Note to self: Avoid druids at all costs!) Along comes our muscular main hero, Owen (Stephen Harris), who frees a captured thief and the damsel in distress from the druids in a very laughable fight scene, resulting in the trio fleeing to the shoreline. That's where we learn about them: Owen is a warrior from a distant land that is searching for the mysterious island of Avalon, said to be a limbo for dead souls and ruled by an enchantress named Morgana (Debbi Stevens). Legend has it that the corpse of King Arthur had been taken there to rest "until the world needs him again". We learn MUCH later that this means if the sword Excalibur is placed in the dead King Arthur's hands his ghost will wipe out all the magic in the world. The rescued woman is Clotilde (Abigail Blackmore), who is also seeking Avalon as her beloved Edwin went there to also find King Arthur and never returned. The thief is named Keiran (Rob Bartlett), and he decides to tag along in the quest because he's got nothing better to do, and to get his hands on the treasures of Avalon. While chatting on the beach, they are overheard by none other than Merlin the Magician, who offers to help them in their journey. At first it was hard to tell what was wrong with Merlin when I first laid eyes on him. It seemed like a bad makeup job, but then I realized that the actor (Patrick Olliver) was wearing a bad old man mask, hence why his mouth was not moving when he spoke and it appeared he had no eyeballs. Using his magic, Merlin turns himself into a strapping young man. He later says he can only hold this form for a short time, but he doesn't actually switch back until the end of the movie, which is the first of many signs that Merlin is just full of it. Owen spies a boat on the shore and suggests taking it to the island, but Merlin uses magic to make the boat vanish, claiming it is a trap set by Morgana to lure them to the island (which makes no sense . . . after all, the DO want to go to the island!). Merlin instead suggests that they SWIM to the faraway island.
Once there, Merlin departs, saying he has something he has to do. That something is to visit the Lady of the Lake to retrieve Excalibur. Merlin and the Lady were once a romantic item, and Merlin sleeps with her before continuing on his quest, obviously feeling no need of urgency in the matter. The Lady of the Lake says that Merlin may have the sword provided he returns it and he himself must remain with her forever, spoken like it was some awful final destination. I think any elderly man would be ecstatic for such an eternity. While Merlin is fooling around, Morgana's minions quickly capture Clotilde and make her a mindless slave. Owen and Keiran plan on rescuing her by entering a fighting tournament Morgana just happens to be holding. This leads to scenes of Morgana and her female apprentices trying to seduce our heroes in between fights. Merlin eventually shows up, inserts himself into the tournament, and uses magic to instantly cheat his way through. This leads to more scenes of the heroes, this time Merlin included, getting seduced before some more chicanery involving sword fighting, lame magic, and an absolutely silly climax.
There is a lot more absurdity going on than I am willing to divulge. While my heart goes out to the filmmakers that were really trying with their $75 budget, I can't help but call a spade a spade. This is a movie to sit down with friends so you can point and laugh at it. Zantara's score: 1 out of 10
Flying Feet (1969)
Roland and Rattfink Race It Out
"Flying Feat" is the first of three Roland and Rattfink shorts directed by Gerry Chiniquy, who directed many of the brilliant The Inspector cartoons. In this one, Roland goes off to college and wants to try out for the track team. The coach's top runner is a no-show, so he forces Roland into the race against the rival school's top runner, a continually smoking Rattfink. The outclassed Rattfink, naturally, attempts to cheat a victory.
This isn't a bad short at all. The pacing is fine, unlike many R&R shorts that would come later. It's just that the gags aren't quite as good as they could have been. The funniest moment comes when the starting pistol is fired and Rattfink grabs a hold of Roland's shorts. The other gags aren't great, but they at least aren't lame, either, so the episode finds itself in the middle of the pack. Still, it's worth seeing. Zantara's score: 6 out of 10.
Hurts and Flowers (1969)
Down with the Hippies!
"Hurts and Flowers" was the second Roland and Rattfink short to be released by David H. DePatie and Friz Freleng, but I suspect it was probably the first one produced. I say this because of the absolutely unusual nature of the short, one which bears no resemblance whatsoever to the shorts that would follow. Clearly set in the time produced and not 1901, Roland is a flower child that loves all flowers and cares for all people. Rattfink is just a sourpuss that hates flowers and flower children to the extreme, and he spends the entire short trying to hurt Roland and his plants, but each time Roland forgives Rattfink and offers him a flower.
It would not be unusual for Rattfink to harbor so much hatred for Roland just because they are polar opposites. However, the violence committed to Roland, which is normally amusing, comes off as just plain nasty this time. It is most likely because, unlike every other Roland and Rattfink short, this one has no dialogue from the main characters other than their screams. The biggest laughs often come from Roland's overly corny rhetoric and Rattfink's snide comebacks. But those are absent here. The background, too, is an ugly shade of puke green with little to decorate it beyond flowers and far unlike the rest of the series. It isn't a terrible cartoon, as it does have a few amusing, though not hysterical, moments. Zantara's score: 6 out of 10.
Hawks and Doves (1968)
Decent First Entry in the Roland & Rattfink Series
"Hawks and Doves" was the first Roland and Rattfink short released by David H. DePattie and Friz Freleng, though it was most likely the second one produced. The concept of Roland, a goodie two-shoes that is too nice for his own good, and Rattfink, a low-down dirty scoundrel whose greed always backfired on him, squaring off in various settings, usually circa 1901, is a great idea. Sometimes, though, the execution wasn't always as good, which I believe has led to the duo being one of the most obscure of the Pink Panther offshoots. This short has Doveland resident and pacifist Roland being forced into war with Hawkland's war mongering Rattfink, with the two doing battle in their biplanes.
This is a good introduction to the two characters, though it sadly does not do them enough justice. I think if there hadn't been so much time devoted to the set-up of the two going making and going off to war, there would have been more time for the amusing scenes up in the skies. The pacing is certainly good when those sky scenes are happening, and the ending is very funny, concerning the taxman taking the spoils of war from the victor and using it as rehabilitation aid for the loser, which was no doubt a criticism over real-life war situations which certainly make little sense to the layperson on side of the victor. The duo would get better, but they would also get worse. Zantara's score: 7 out of 10.
Face of the Enemy (1989)
An Amazing Low Budget Film!
A security guard (George DiCenzo) sees a woman that he immediately recognizes as the terrorist that imprisoned and tortured him ten years earlier when he was working as a U.S. agricultural agent in the Middle East. Still reliving the horrible torture, he flips out and kidnaps her, locking her in his basement with plans to deliver the same treatment that she gave him. But he can't bring himself to do those same acts of violence.
With virtually no budget to speak of, it is amazing that this movie turned out so good, but the powerful messages, expert direction, and strong cast make for a truly harrowing experience. George DiCenzo, usually a great character actor, really gets a to do a fine job in a lead performance. I was lucky enough to catch this film on a local TV station about ten years ago. With all sorts of things seeing the light of day, and with all the political unrest that has occurred regarding terrorism since then, I hope this movie sees a DVD release sometime soon. Zantara's score: 10 out of 10.
Personal Vendetta (1995)
Mimi's Final Stab
I can't believe it has been ten years since I watched and reviewed "Beyond Fear," my first viewing of a film starring professional wrestler-turned actress Mimi Lesseos. Lesseos was a wrestler for the great, now defunct LPWA. Obviously always yearning to be a leading lady, she started her own production companies and starred in a string of action-oriented movies. A few months ago, I finally got to see the rest of her starring vehicles (I had already seen the disappointing "American Angels") after a decade of waiting. The wait was not worth it, sadly. "Pushed to the Limit" was incredibly standard and poorly written, while "Streets of Rage" was entertaining but poorly directed. Now I have sat through "Personal Vendetta", and this was nothing like I was expecting.
I thought this was going to be another attempt at an action thriller, but it was really a dramatic piece. That would be just fine, but it suffers from the same things Lesseos's other films are plagued by: low production quality, poor direction and writing, and much boredom. This saddens me, since I went into every single one of these films with an open mind. Anyhow, the plot has Lesseos playing wife to shady businessman Timothy Bottoms(!) who gets mad at her following a dinner party and gives her a severe beating. The police show up, something they say they are used to doing at this address, and Lesseos finally agrees to press charges. Lesseos winds up in the hospital and Bottoms winds up in jail. While recovering, one of the cops, Bill (Bill Douglas) befriends her because he feels sorry for her and Lesseos is encouraged to beat her fears and become a cop herself. While training at the academy, she moves in with Jackie (Lisa Marie Hayes), and old friend who is a bit plump, which the film likes to constantly remind us of by having Jackie complain about it and always be on screen eating. Slowly, Lesseos goes from timid cadet to the top of her class, and she is assigned experienced officer John (Mark Wilson) to be her hot partner. As Lesseos gets into her new trade and starts feeling attracted to her new partner, she still can't get the thought of Bottoms out of her head. She's consoled by Bill, Jackie, and John, and any smart viewer knows that Bottoms will eventually get released and remove one of these pals from the picture. What's stunning is that this important plot point doesn't actually happen until the movie has about twenty minutes left to go, which is far too late for it to arrive and relieve our boredom. And when it does happen, it's a rushed and silly mess.
That said, the performances are all okay. Bottoms is the standout, as he portrays the crazy husband completely over-the-top. The best scene in the movie is when Lesseos goes to pay Bottoms a visit in prison to announce she is divorcing him, leading to a stunning rant by Bottoms with plenty of spitting. More scenes like this would have helped, but would not have guaranteed success with the paper-thin plot. Zantara's score: 4 out of 10.
Thus so ends the acting days, other than stunt work, of Mimi Lesseos . . . or at least it did until 2009, when she must have saved up enough money to return in a movie I have not found called "Double Duty". Will it be good? Well, her co-star is none other than Tom Sizemore! I will not be holding my breath.
Lost at War (2007)
The Return of David A. Prior!
It's hard for me to believe, but, after nearly six years, I am writing another review of a movie from David A. Prior, starring his brother, Ted! Back in 2004, I speculated he had quit making films, but then I found out about Zombie Wars and Lost At War and I just had to see them to complete my Prior viewing (though I still haven't seen Hostile Environment). Eight years after Prior's last film, he came out of nowhere to make these little films. If you are not familiar with the films of the Prior Brothers, they made a lot of direct-to-video films in the late 80's and early 90's during the big VCR boom for a company called AIP (American International Pictures). I wonder if Prior cooled off because the VCR boom had ended and the market was saturated with tons of titles, and now that the same market (that being video rental stores) is crashing, a new market (Internet rental sites like Netflix) are demanding more and more titles, giving Prior a chance to return? There are plenty of reviews on Zombie Wars, and most of them are negative. I assume that this is because those viewing it don't appreciate certain aspects of low budget film-making and are also judging it in an environment that is already saturated by numerous, repetitive zombie movies. I enjoyed Zombie Wars, finding it entertaining and better than some of the cheesy louses I have seen in years past. I wasn't expecting to like it, but I did. Similarly, I didn't get what I was expecting with Lost At War, either.
During a war (presumably one in the Middle East), Captain Briggs (Ted Prior) is in command of four soldiers: Turner (Jack Vogel), Falkner (Jim Marlow), McCune (Adam Stuart), and Smith (James Brinkley). Briggs is assigned one last reconnaissance mission before he is allowed to return home to his family, and he and his men hit the woodlands for their mission. But something strange happens when they pass through a bamboo tunnel. They reach their rendezvous point, another base camp, and find the place deserted. Furthermore, strange beings in black are present, circling the five men but never actually attacking them. Briggs gets orders from his commanding officer that they are to wait at this base camp until help arrives, and the soldiers quickly get into conversation, leading them to start yearning for good food. Then, magically, they start to get whatever it is they are wishing for. It seems too good to be true, and Turner begins speculating the various supernatural possibilities that may be occurring. Eventually, each soldier has a flashback concerning incidents back home. As each flashback happens, we see that they are somehow interrelated. Also, when a soldier has a flashback, a realization comes to him, and he departs into the woods and vanishes.
Prior has mixed unusual elements into his action movies before, and it often works great. I refer to films such as Night Wars and Lock 'n' Load. This film is odd in that it isn't really any genre. I mean, you think it is an action movie, but most of the action is done in the first ten minutes. Then it switches to a Twilight Zone-esquire story which was more cerebral than anything else. For me, I enjoyed what was unfolding and I liked the performances and the dialogue. Marlow and Stuart were in both this and Zombie Wars, and they each have a nice screen presence, as does Brinkley. Of course, Ted Prior and Jack Vogel are old regulars with David A. Prior, and it was great seeing them again. I particularly liked the conversation about destiny and choices that the two actors had later in the movie. And I liked the build up to the ending. The ending itself is another matter. MAJOR SPOILERS COMING!!!!!!! The ending of the movie is either so deep I can't muster the brain power to comprehend it (which I don't think is the case) or is simultaneously clever and flawed. Turner draws the conclusion that they entered some sort of Purgatory and, when they are ready, they will cross over to the other side. Briggs, however, refuses to accept this fate because he is not ready to die. The film's final three seconds seem to indicate that this means the soldiers ALL have to go through the entire ordeal again until each accept his demise. Since they must forget the fact that they have done this over and over, won't Briggs make the same refusal every time? This also calls to my attention the flashbacks, of which I won't delve into. There is no way that it could be a coincidence that all five of these guys with the past link joined the army and got assigned to the same troop two years later. That means either: 1. The flashback is a lie, meant only to serve as a lesson, or 2. The war itself a lie, and some unknown force placed these guys in this strange simulation after they all died for some bizarre reason. Don't bother wasting your time like I did trying to figure it all out because I don't think there is a way to add two and two here. It's as if Prior overshot the mental limits his idea could withstand. You just have to take it all in and accept the ending as a serious misstep in an otherwise entertaining story. END OF MAJOR SPOILERS.
You can't go into this film with expectations. If you expect a war movie like Prior used to make for AIP (and you shouldn't want that since his straight war movies were his worst) you won't get it. If you yearn for a nail-biting suspense movie, you won't get that either. Still, for me it was exciting to see David A. Prior making a nice little film once again.Keep 'em coming, Mr. Prior. I'll keep watching. Zantara's score: 7 out of 10.
The Trident Force (1989)
Okay, so I decide to punish myself one day and rent a movie I had never heard of starring no one I have ever heard of, right? That's a normal response for a masochist in all of us, isn't it? It's something every one of us does, right? Right???? Okay, fine. I guess I am the only one who does stuff like that. Anyway, I stumble across a film called "Trident Force" at the video store. Having no David A. Prior war movies to watch and nothing better to do, I decide to rent it. I am not usually fond of the war genre, but I figure it can't be all that bad. I mean, I have suffered through some really bad things before and I can take it. But how wrong I was. How very, very wrong.
The movie starts out in an unnamed, war-torn country somewhere in Southeast Asia. A female reporter is visiting a military camp of the non-evil side and given a bodyguard, who ends up being the hero of the film. Since I really couldn't be bothered with learning the characters' names, I'll just call him Hero (for the record, Hero is named Rashid). While Hero and Reporter are outside of the camp, they spot the enemy army hiding behind a sand dune, ready to strike. They do and we get a very, very long battle scene on the world's largest beach between the good guy army in white against the bad guy army in black. To their credit, the filmmakers do a good job with this battle. The main problem is that we don't care. We know nothing about these armies, or even the background of Hero, so it doesn't matter to us who wins. After many die, the evil army retreats, licking their wounds and the good army celebrates. Next we go to Moscow where we meet out villain, currently enjoying the violation of a teenage boy. Villain is interrupted by Head Henchman, who informs him of the bad news concerning the battle. Then we are suddenly in Mongolia, where Villain and Head Henchman meet with a female clad in black leather. She's given her orders, and silently she hops on a motorcycle for a long drive to a public shopping center where she will commit a suicide bombing. That's when something phenomenally unbelievable happens. What is this amazing thing? This thing that shocked my system? It's the opening credits. Why is this so astounding? Because the opening credits happen a full TWENTY MINUTES into the movie! By that point, I had forgotten about not seeing them, but when they appeared I checked my VCR timer and, sure enough, the first three scenes lasted over twenty minutes.
But really the beginning credits could have went on until the end credits and the rest of the movie would have been tolerable. Instead, we are treated to an hour and ten minutes of puerile cinematic flatulence. The British government decides that taking out Villain once and for all should be the number one priority. But, they reason, getting at him is going to be difficult so they have to assemble a big group of commandos to fight through Villain's men. I'd like to point out that this seems very stupid because they already have a man inside Villain's organization. He's Hero's Brother, and he has already ascended to third-in-command, so why couldn't they just have asked Hero's Brother to do the job? Or just air raid the compound since it is no secret where Villain is at. I'll answer my own question: Then there wouldn't be a Trident Force! Oh no! The British government decides to send Hero and a bunch of other soldiers to a training camp (I think it was supposed to be in Canada, if I was following it correctly) where they can prepare to defeat Villain. Trident Force is composed of a whole bunch of diverse people from around the world, all with the usual stereotypes you'd expect they would have, and its so annoying that you become embarrassed to be watching the movie. Worst of all is the obnoxious Australian, who is one of the camp's trainers. He does every dirty trick in the book to try and make Hero fail and not be accepted in the group, but in the end he suddenly insists to join the group and they just go ahead and let him. I couldn't believe my endurance at that point because here is the movie's nadir. We wait . . .and wait . . . and wait . . . and wait for the training to end. Meanwhile Hero's Brother is found out and killed by Villain, giving motivation for Trident Force to storm the camp and me motivation to shut the movie off on a high note. But I kept watching until the end, hoping to be surprised but knowing I wouldn't be. And I wasn't. The acting is pretty bad, especially by Reporter and Australian Bully. Beyond the first twenty minutes, the action is bad, as the so called climax is a bore and not worth the massive amount of time spent at the training camp. The writing is the biggest bane: Not only is it rudimentary and boring, but characters seem to jaunt from country to country and back again with no explanation.
With the immense popularity of the DVD revolution overwhelming the few of us remaining with rusty VCRs, the few copies of "Trident Force" still existing won't be around for much longer. This is a rare case where that is a good thing. Well, except for us masochists out there. What's going to happen to us when VHS is no more? I know what I'll be doing: Trying to erase the memory of this movie from my mind but being unable to because I'll have nothing else to torture myself with. Zantara's score: 1 out of 10.
The Trouble with Dick (1987)
The Trouble With This Movie....
(This review has some minor plot spoilers, but nothing much)
I heard about this movie years ago. Having seen and absolutely loving the horror film 'Popcorn,' I was very interested to see a movie starring Tom Villard that was a sci-fi comedy. But the movie was nowhere to be found. Years later, I bought the film online and have finally watched it. Was it worth the wait? Was it as good as I hoped it would be? No. It wasn't a bad movie, either. It's a curiosity to anyone that might find the premise neat.
Villard plays Dick Kendred, a frustrated science fiction writer. He has taken his most recent book to various publishers with the same result: No deal. In fact, his most recent attempt found publisher Jack Carter telling him that his work was too serious and missing the aspect science fiction writers crave: scantily-clad women. (I'd like to give filmmakers a brief note: If you are going to cast comedian Jack Carter in your movie, don't waste him on one brief scene and not have him deliver at least one joke, like in 1998's 'The Modern Adventures of Tom Sawyer'). Confused, Dick goes home to console with his girlfriend Susan Dey. However, he doesn't get much help here, since Dey is too focused on her job. In hopes of creating something better, Villard decides to find a room to rent where he can be alone and at peace. Dey gets him a room in the home of her friend Sheila and Sheila's daughter Haley. But the two women prove to be the worst distractions of all, constantly hitting on him behind each others' backs.
Does this sound like a funny situation comedy? Sadly, it is not. The biggest problem is that Dick doesn't do what he should to make this funny, and that is resist the two women. He too easily gives in to their advances and forgets Dey exists, which makes us unsympathetic to his struggles and wish the movie to end. When the movie does end, you are left half depressed at the whole situation. Really, if he would have not so easily have given in to infidelity I would love this film. There is one really big highlight, though. Between Dick's women issues and occasional hallucinations (which aren't clever enough to be amusing), we are treated to visual glimpses of Dick's current science fiction book. These segments follow the book's hero, David Clennon, as he roams a strange desert planet and must tackle obstacles like little alien parasites and evil alien vixens. One wishes that the bulk of the movie would follow Clennon and only occasionally revisit Dick and his writer's cramp.
Tom Villard died in 1994, so we'll never know just what he could have accomplished. I'll always have the wonderful 'Popcorn' to enjoy and the distant memory of this should-have-been-great comedy to remember him by. Zantara's score: 6 out of 10.
Killing at Hell's Gate (1981)
Decent Deliverance Clone
Minor plot Spoilers within.
I have been recently gathering as many Brion James movies as I can just so I can watch as many movies that he was in as possible. 'Killing at Hell's Gate' was one of these titles. I had heard a little about it, that it was a lot like 'Deliverance' but not as good. That statement is true. The movie seems very similar to the 1972 film, about a river trip that gets terrorized by the crazed locals hicks. This time it involves politicians and lumberjacks. A congressman (Joel Higgins) decides to visit a small woodcutting town on his campaign trail and asks another politician (Robert Urich), once a sports hero that resided from this small town, to accompany him. Thanks in part to the congressman signing a bill protecting wildlife, the local mill is closing down and most of the town's lumberjacks are out of a job. The congressman, in an attempt to settle the hostile feelings, decides to do some grassroots politicking by accompanying his colleague on a rafting trip. Halfway through, three very unhappy and now unemployed lumberjacks (George DiCenzo, Brion James, Mitch Carter) come across the group of rafters and start shooting. They accidentally kill one of the five people rafting and conclude that they will have to kill them all to keep it quite.
This film was originally made for television. Had it not been for the fade outs for commercial breaks, I wouldn't have noticed this fact. The locations are gorgeous and the camera-work is terrific, like in 'Deliverance.' The film spends a lot of time setting things up, but when the, pardon the pun, deliverance occurs, it feels very rapid. As soon as the lumberjacks start shooting, it feels like the film gets the Hurry Up Machine treatment. There is a wonderfully suspenseful scene with Robert Urich on a dilapidated bridge, but after that his confrontation of the shooters is disappointing. It's still a good movie, but a better movie (aside from 'Deliverance') that is along the same lines is 'Southern Comfort,' which came out the same year. Ironically, Brion James is in that one as a local hick, and he's much better in that film than this one, too. Zantara's score: 6 out of 10.