Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Mayor Grom (2017)
An entertaining comic book adaptation
This is a short film based on a comic book series from Russian publishers Bubble Comics about a super-heroic Moscow cop. Packs a lot into it's half-hour running time, with a couple of effective twists, a great fight scene that's seemingly shot in a single continuous take (though there must be a few hidden cuts in there) as the camera repeatedly spins 360 degrees around the combatants, and an impressively filmed stunt sequence as Grom pursues a criminal across the very high rafters of an abandoned building. There's also a pleasing vein of meta humour throughout ("I must work on my punchlines" mutters Grom after dispatching a villain and realising he's got nothing witty to say) including a sequence that pokes fun at the TRANSPORTER franchise, and - in a nod to fans of the original comic book - a last second cameo by Grom's arch-nemesis. Recommended.
Avenging Force: The Scarab (2010)
An enjoyable effort, especially if you're a fan of Golden Age comic book heroes.
I've seen a version of the ultra-low budget superhero movie AVENGING FORCE: THE SCARAB on YouTube that was dubbed into German and clearly heavily edited (according to the IMDb, the film is 85 minutes long, but the version I watched was less than an hour in length). AVENGING FORCE was written, produced & directed by Canadian film-maker (and occasional comic book publisher) Brett Kelly, who has performed one or more of the same duties on several other superhero movies: IRON SOLDIER (2010), THUNDERSTORM: THE RETURN OF THOR (2011), AGENT BEETLE (2012) and RISE OF THE BLACK BAT (2012). AVENGING FORCE was filmed under the title 'THE SCARAB' but re-titled prior to release. It's easy to assume that this was an attempt to cash in on Marvel's AVENGERS franchise, but AVENGING FORCE was released on DVD in North America in 2010, two years before the first AVENGERS movie reached cinemas.
With the exception of IRON SOLDIER, all of Brett Kelly's superhero movies feature genuine Golden Age comic book heroes whose copyright has lapsed and now exist in the public domain. In addition to The Scarab, AVENGING FORCE also has The Woman In Red, The Black Terror, the original Daredevil (renamed 'Doubledare' to avoid any legal problems with Marvel), and Lady Satan (although a heroine in the original comics, she's portrayed as one of the movie's villains - perhaps Kelly thought a heroic character named 'Lady Satan' would be a hard sell in an America where some churches organise mass-burnings of HARRY POTTER books).
Although I'm not fluent in German, while watching AVENGING FORCE I was still able to work out the basics of the movie's plot (who was doing what to whom, and why) and I enjoyed the film for what it was. I thought the action scenes were well handled, and I was amused that the covert intelligence organization employing The Women In Red was called N.E.D.O.R., after Golden Age publishers Nedor Comics.
The Black Dahlia (2006)
A potentially good film, sunk by an unimpressive lead performance from Josh Hartnett
While THE BLACK DAHLIA fails to reach the high standard set by L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (the film it most resembles) it's still a bleak, stylish, moody and worthwhile noir thriller. In the title role, Mia Kirshner give a luminous and heartbreaking performance, one of the best I've seen since Naomi Watts's turn in MULHOLLAND DRIVE (in what was ironically a similar role). Sadly, THE BLACK DAHLIA did not boost Kirshner's career in the same way that MULHOLLAND DRIVE did for Watts.
Aaron Eckhart - in what proved to be a breakthrough part after too many years tucked away in supporting roles - also shines as a detective who's starting to crack up, and Scarlett Johansson also impresses, despite having an underwritten role as his chaste girlfriend. Hilary Swank smolders as a spoilt heiress who frequents the fleshpots of Hollywood, and Rose McGowan has an amusing cameo as a bit part actress who's interviewed by the cops while dressed as an Egyptian servant girl.
The film looks great, with terrific period detail, and cinema buffs will be delighted by references to the classic silent movie THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, which actually inspired the creation of comic book villain The Joker. Fans of director Brian De Palma will also recognise some of his trademark touches in the film, especially a heavily stylised death scene involving a stairwell and a fountain. I'll say no more, other than to report that at the cinema screening I attended most of the audience either cried out or audibly winced during that sequence.
Of course, THE BLACK DAHLIA - like every film - has it's flaws, most noticeable of which is an unimpressive and underpowered performance by Josh Hartnett in the lead. His character is supposed to be at the centre of a maelstrom of horrendous murder, forbidden love, torrid lust, betrayal, shattered dreams, forlorn hope and misplaced trust, but Hartnett never comes close to registering the emotions his character should be feeling. With this vacuum at it's heart (the entire story is seen through Hartlett's eyes), the film is thrown off-balance and never really grips you, and as a result we don't really care for the characters as much as you should, despite the fine work by the rest of the cast. There's also a badly judged and misplaced cameo by k d lang which breaks the otherwise flawless period atmosphere and caused tittering amongst the audience I saw the movie with. It's an unnecessary gimmick that wasn't needed.
The Ghost Squad (2005)
A series that nobody remembers, ironically about people who officially don't exist
I was fortunate enough to see THE GHOST SQUAD when it debuted in the UK on Channel 4 in 2005. In the first episode, uniformed police officer Amy Harris (played by Irish actress Elaine Cassidy, subsequently the female lead in American slasher series HARPER'S ISLAND) arrests a local scumbag and repeat offender for a minor crime. However, the man is subsequently beaten to death in the cells, and the police station is locked down as the UK equivalent of Internal Affairs arrive to question everyone. Harris realises that she's being framed for the murder by whoever amongst her colleagues is actually responsible, and the remainder of the episode is a tense race-against-time as she rushes around the building, trying to keep one step ahead of both the investigators and her co-workers, while desperately attempting to clear herself. Realising that Pete Maitland, a detective recently assigned to the station (a pre-ROBIN HOOD Jonas Armstrong) is an undercover mole, Harris exposes him to buy herself more time, and eventually uncovers the true killers. The episode ends with Harris quitting the police, knowing that because she handed in her colleagues, nobody in the force will trust her or work with her again. She's promptly recruited by 'the Ghost Squad', an officially non-existent unit of undercover officers who investigate reports of corruption within the police. Harris leaves behind all traces of her old life, is given a new identity and forced to adopt a rootless, friendless, nomadic existence, going wherever each assignment takes her and living in cheap and temporary rented accommodation. Her only contact is Maitland, who's appointed as her partner/handler, with both of them reporting exclusively to Detective Superintendent Carole McKay (Emma Fielding, a talented actress whom we don't see enough of on our screens), the secretive head of the Squad.
Channel 4 spent a lot of money on THE GHOST SQUAD, and each episode boasted some familiar guest stars, such as Lloyd Owen and Adrian Lester. Jason Flemyng was a particular standout in one instalment, playing a veteran Ghost Squad operative who was cracking up under the strain, giving Harris a glimpse of her potential future. However, due to it's adult content - language, violence, sex scenes and full frontal nudity - the series was shown at 23:00 on weeknights and seems to be have overlooked as a result. Critics ignored it and most people appear never to have heard of the show (I'm always met with blank looks whenever I mention it in company). It only lasted one series, and has never been released on DVD in the UK.
I have fond memories of THE GHOST SQUAD and consider it to be one of the best police dramas I've ever seen. It's a shame that it's one of those TV shows that has slipped through the cracks and been forgotten about.
Don't mention the war
'Captain America: The First Avenger' is sadly disappointing - as a flashy, popcorn action movie it's fine, but otherwise it's quite empty and there's a distinct lack of period atmosphere (especially compared to director Joe Johnston's earlier pulp-era superhero film, 1991's THE ROCKETEER). I suspect the latter is deliberate, as 'Captain America: The First Avenger' actually isn't a WWII movie: although Nazi Germany is referred to a few times at the beginning, Steve Rogers is basically portrayed as a young man desperate to serve his country in A War Overseas. And from about a third of the film onwards, the Third Reich, Hitler, the Axis powers, and the Allies' campaigns on various fronts simply aren't mentioned, and instead the narrative is exclusively about Cap and his band of elite commandos targeting the Hydra organisation. In other words, it's a movie in which covert Special Forces battle against a terrorist network - this is really a film about the War on Terror, with the WWII setting being mere window-dressing.
I suspect that the producers decided to take this current/relevant approach due to the fact that all previous superhero movies set in the Thirties or Forties - THE SHADOW (1994), THE PHANTOM (1995), SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW (2004), the aforementioned ROCKETEER, all the way back to DOC SAVAGE: MAN OF BRONZE (1975) - had undeservedly flopped.
'Captain America: The First Avenger' bucked the trend by being a box office success, but in my opinion all the earlier 1930s-period superhero films that I've listed above, together with the previous, low budget 'Captain America' movie that was released straight-to-video in 1990, are considerably better and more enjoyable than 'The First Avenger'.
Global Frequency (2005)
The Greatest TV Series Never Made
Back in the early Noughties, writer Warren Ellis created the twelve issue mini-series Global Frequency for DC Comics. It concerned the titular semi-secret organisation, created to deal with the kind of immediate, potentially catastrophic crisis-es that most of the world's governments had neither the imagination or foresight to plan for, let alone deal with. While some members of the Global Frequency were highly-trained and/or experts in their chosen field - such as ex-soldiers, marksmen, scientists, etc - many more were ordinary people living perfectly normal lives, who just happened to have a particular skill or talent, or know a certain piece of information, that might prove to be vitally important should a certain situation occur. In which case their phone would ring and they'd suddenly find themselves with an hour or less in which to save the world. Over the course of those twelve issues, the Global Frequency dealt with malfunctioning next-generation weapons systems, experimental cutting edge super-science gone horribly wrong, and the accidental activation of forgotten Cold War-era doomsday devices, amongst other things.
A pilot episode for a proposed TV series about the Global Frequency was produced in 2005, with Michelle Forbes playing the organisation's founder & leader Miranda Zero (having read the initial comic book series when it was originally published, I can confirm that the fabulous Forbes is perfect casting for the role), but the network decided not to commission it. There was a time when it was common practice to make full length pilot movies, so even if a series wasn't greenlit at least there was still a ninety minute made-for-TV film that would usually be broadcast and/or released on VHS. But from the early Nineties onwards, as a cost saving measure the networks decided to just make 45 minute-long pilot episodes instead, and those that failed to progress to a full series are often never seen by the general public.
However, the Global Frequency pilot was leaked on-line, became readily available as an illegal download, received universally positive reviews and swiftly gained a sizeable following. The pilot's fanbase hoped that it's popularity on-line would cause the network to reconsider it's decision not to greenlight a full series, but the opposite proved to be true: nowadays, downloads of TV shows are so common that most channels & networks have adopted a "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" approach, and have made downloads of their shows available on their own websites. But back in 2005 the leaking of Global Frequency was a high profile embarrassment and ran as a major news story in the entertainment press. Warren Ellis has stated in interviews that the network were so affronted that not only was any possible revival of the project killed stone dead, they have also repeatedly refused requests for the pilot to be released on DVD.
I finally got the chance to see Global Frequency in late 2011, and as a fan of the original comic book series I can report that it lived up to both it's reputation (the British newspaper 'Metro' once ran a page-long article about the pilot, in which they described Global Frequency as "the greatest TV series never made") and my own high expectations. Believe the hype.
Merlin: The Return (2000)
By the power of Greysku - Stonehenge! I meant Stonehenge!!
British screenwriter/producer/director Paul Matthews set up his own production company Peakviewing Entertainment in the early Nineties, and started out making low budget horror movies that were filmed in the UK but set in America. By the end of the decade, both Matthews and Peakviewing had graduated to slightly-larger budgeted productions (family films, children's fantasy movies, even a few westerns) that were still British financed, but mostly shot in South Africa.
Written and directed by Matthews, MERLIN: THE RETURN is probably the best known example of Peakviewing's output, and even received a wide cinema release in the UK, opening in over one hundred screens across the country during the Christmas holidays in 2000. Presumably titled to trick audiences into thinking it was a sequel to the internationally acclaimed Hallmark TV mini-series MERLIN (1998) starring Sam Neill, MERLIN: THE RETURN includes an inspired piece of left-field casting (Rik Mayall as Merlin), some familiar B movie faces (Adrian Paul, Craig Sheffer), a couple of former A listers on the slide (Patrick Bergin, Tia Carrere) and assorted unknowns who didn't go on to appear in anything of note (in particular, Julie Hartley as Guinevere).
The plot: approximately 1500 years ago, a final battle at Stonehenge ended with King Arthur (Bergin) and his knights surrounded and vastly outnumbered by Mordred (Sheffer) and his army. With Arthur already badly wounded and left emotionally shattered by Mordred's revelation that Guinevere had been unfaithful with Lancelot (Paul), Merlin desperately used the energy contained within the standing stones to cast a spell that banished Mordred, his followers, Guinevere and Lancelot to a dismal dimension called the Neitherworld. The wizard also placed Arthur and his knights in a deep slumber, from which they would only awaken if Mordred menaced the world again. Cut to the present-day, and Merlin - rendered immortal by magical means - is living as a hermit in a village close to Stonehenge and regarded as a harmless eccentric by the locals. However, a scientist named Maxwell (Carrere) is conducting experiments involving Earth's magnetic field that are weakening the spell keeping Mordred imprisoned in the Neitherworld, and thus also cause Arthur and his knights to awaken. Reunited with his king, Merlin must find a way to prevent Mordred from re-entering our world.
MERLIN: THE RETURN is an entertaining romp, if you're in an undemanding mood, and as a tale of otherworldly warriors continuing their battle on contemporary Earth, it feels like a British version of the live-action MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE movie (1987). The biggest surprise is Rik Mayall, who plays the titular role remarkably straight and emerges as the film's strongest asset. He also gets a great set-piece when Merlin single-handedly wreaks mystical havoc at Maxwell's laboratory. Taking his cue from Mayall, Bergin also takes his role seriously, while clearly being aware of the comedy inherent in having time-displaced, sword-waggling Dark Age warriors let loose in the 21st century. Accordingly, Bergin teases some humour into scenes where Arthur finds himself in unlikely situations - such as Merlin insisting that the best way to contact the Lady of the Lake is for the king to throw himself off a cliff. Adrian Paul came to MERLIN: THE RETURN having spent most of the preceding decade starring in HIGHLANDER: THE SERIES, so playing a sword-welding immortal must have come as second nature to him, and indeed he portrays Lancelot as just another member of the clan MacLeod. But it's a nicely-judged performance that catches exactly the right tone for the film. Julie Hartley makes for a spirited Guinevere, and especially looks the part when she changes into golden chainmail and armour halfway through the film. She also has great chemistry with Mayall - so much so that Guinevere and Merlin feel more like a natural couple than Guinevere does with either Arthur or Lancelot. Sheffer glowers, snarls and barks his way through the role of Mordred, and while he does have some effective moments, he often seems more like a street-corner thug instead of the regal Dark Overlord and potential world-conqueror that he's supposed to be. As Maxwell, Tia Carrere doesn't even try to explore the psyche of someone prepared to sell out the human race for her own narrow-minded personal gain, instead choosing to do just enough to earn her pay cheque, no more.
Although clearly intended to be a family film (Merlin is befriended and aided by two pre-teen children - an English girl and American boy for that all-important trans-Atlantic appeal), MERLIN: THE RETURN contains some surprisingly adult themes: Mordred and his mother Morgana (Grethe Fox) have an openly incestuous relationship; Guinevere's adultery with Lancelot is an important plot-point; Mordred surrounds himself with scantly-clad witches, handmaidens and female warriors (one of the latter is played by Lee-Anne Liebenberg, who went on to the higher profile role of Viper in Neil Marshall's DOOMSDAY) and while jaunting through the Neitherworld, Lancelot & Arthur stumble across the villain's personal harem; and at the film's conclusion, after Mordred has been defeated and Arthur & the knights decide they don't belong in the 21st century and choose to make a new home for themselves in the Neitherworld, they take Maxwell with them as their prisoner (presumably so she can't cause more mischief on Earth) and it's made clear that her future consists solely of being Gawain's unwilling sex slave.
The final credits state that MERLIN: THE RETURN is dedicated to actress Kadamba Simmons, who starred in Paul Matthews' first two movies, GRIM (1995) and BREEDERS (1997, aka DEADLY INSTINCTS), and was tragically murdered, aged just 24, shortly after the second film was completed. Patrick Bergin and Craig Sheffer later both starred in another Peakviewing movie directed by Matthews, a HIGHLANDER-style fantasy called BERSERKER: HELL'S WARRIOR (2004). At the time of writing, BERSERKER remains the last film made by Matthews and/or Peakviewing.
Something Is Out There (1988)
A short-lived and sadly overlooked gem of a series
SOMETHING IS OUT THERE was originally a two-part, four hour mini-series that aired on NBC in May 1988. Joe Cortese played LA cop Jack Breslin, who was investigating a series of bizarre murders, in which the victims had been ripped apart in seconds by a lightning-fast, super-strong killer, who was still able to remove internal organs with surgical precision. He eventually discovered the culprit was a shape-changing alien criminal, who was stealing the organs in order to study the inner-workings of the human body and perfect it's mimicry of homo sapiens (in it's natural form, the creature resembled a large insect). Breslin tracked down the monster with help from a female humanoid alien called Ta'ra (Maryam d'Ado), the sole surviving crew member of the prison ship from which the shapeshifter had escaped.
The mini-series was a massive ratings hit, and NBC commissioned a weekly series to debut that Fall - less than five months away. I remember reading an interview in STARLOG magazine with the series' producer Frank Lupo, in which he explained that he decided not to proceed with a 'monster of the week' approach in the regular series, in the belief that the audience would soon tire of such a format. Although he didn't say so in the interview, it's also entirely possible that with such a short lead-in time, Lupo thought that the quantity of special effects needed for a monster-heavy show would take up too much time and money. He may also have been mindful of the fate of the quintessential 'monster hunter' show KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER, which had lasted only a single season a decade earlier (Lupo was certainly aware of KOLCHAK - he also produced the 1988 horror series WEREWOLF in which a key recurring character was named Janos Skorzeny, after the vampire villain in the original NIGHT STALKER TV movie).
The SOMETHING IS OUT THERE mini-series had ended with Ta'ra stranded on Earth, and the premise of the weekly series had her sharing Jack's apartment, posing as his cousin, and aiding him in investigating strange and unusual crimes. The only other regular character (also carried over from the mini-series) was Jack's immediate superior Victor, played by Gregory Sierra, who knew about Ta'ra's true origins but had agreed to keep the secret. He turned a blind eye to Ta'ra's unofficial assistance of Jack, and actually assigned Breslin cases where he thought Ta'ra's alien knowledge & abilities (such as superhuman agility and being able to read minds) would come in useful.
Despite the self-imposed veto regarding monsters, the weekly series still contained plenty of familiar sci-fi and horror standards. Jack and Ta'ra tackled cases involving UFO sightings, psychic abilities, secret genetic experiments, a demonic ventriloquist's dummy, government conspiracies, Men in Black, bodysnatchers, good/bad twins, alien artifacts, and a serial killer who turned his victims into waxwork exhibits.
To their credit, the scriptwriters mostly avoided the temptation to have Ta'ra reveal a useful & convenient superpower every time she and Jack found themselves in a dangerous situation. That said, there is a very silly scene in the episode 'A Hearse Of A Different Colour' where Ta'ra is kidnapped and thrown into a closet. Ripping an electrical cable from the wall and holding it to her head, she is somehow able to transmit her thoughts so they are displayed on a video screen at a location where she knows Breslin is waiting for her (!!).
Ratings for the series started out strong, but rapidly fell away. In the STARLOG interview, Lupo said that he soon realised that monsters were precisely what fans of the mini-series wanted to see. In response, eighth episode 'The Keeper' took the show in a new direction, with Jack and Ta'ra not only battling against the vanguard of an alien invasion, but also including a subplot designed to bring about the return of the shapeshifter from the mini-series.
Sadly, American audiences never got to see 'The Keeper', as NBC cancelled the show and pulled it from the schedules with only six episodes having been aired. The entire run of eight episodes was subsequently screened in the US in reruns on channels such as Sci-Fi. In the UK, Sky (now Sky One) showed both the mini-series and the series in late 1991. Apart from an edited version of the mini-series (shortened to 163 minutes) that was released on VHS, at the time of writing SOMETHING IS OUT THERE has never been made available in any format.
Amongst the various shows that belong to the 'paranormal investigator/monster hunter' sub-genre (numerous examples jumped on the X-FILES bandwagon in the Nineties and early Noughties), by common consent KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER remains the defining classic against which all others are judged. In my humble opinion, SOMETHING IS OUT THERE is the only series that comes close to capturing the spirit and atmosphere of KOLCHAK. In it's own way, it's as much a revival of KOLCHAK as the official NIGHT STALKER remake of 2005 was.
A failed experiment
Frankenstein's Wedding: Live in Leeds is a curious beast. Instead of being either a musical or a dramatized play performed live and on location in front of a crowd of a few thousand on-lookers, it tries to be both, and the result is an unsatisfying fudge. On several occasions elaborate song & dance routines based on recent pop songs last barely a minute before being suddenly curtailed by Frankenstein's father matching on stage and ordering everyone to stop. To add to the general sense of confusion, the cast acknowledge some of the TV cameras but not others (the idea being that the wedding is a society event being covered by a news crew from Look North), and sometimes break the fourth wall to directly address the watching crowd. And the production wasn't entirely live either, with a number of pre-recorded segments breaking up the action and depicting either flashbacks or dream sequences.
As for the cast, Jemima Rooper is her usual reliable self, in a role that she's a perfect match for. In fact, I strongly suspect her part was either tweaked or substantially rewritten after she was cast, tailored to make it more suitable for her. Plus we get to see her bouncing around the stage, singing a couple of songs. Lacey Turner is simply splendid as Frankenstein's bride Elizabeth, and if her performance here is any indication, she's going to be one of the few ex-soap actors who goes onto bigger & better things instead of disappearing into obscurity. Mark Williams' portrayal of the groom's father as comic relief from Oop North makes him a jarring presence, but it isn't his fault - he's just playing the character as written. Likewise, the fine actor David Harewood is hampered by the fact that Frankenstein's creation seesaws between being a remorseful, tormented soul and an implacable, vengeful nemesis - sometimes within in the same scene.
So, in conclusion... a bit of a mess. Although to be fair, the moment when the entire crowd join in with Victor and Elizabeth's first dance is genuinely magical.
Witchville: a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to stay there...
Sword & sorcery movies are usually set during a fabled, bygone age, in mythical kingdoms populated by dragons, wizards, orcs, goblins, elves and the occasional unicorn. However, from late 2009 onwards a new wave of fantasy/action films has emerged, supposedly set in the 'real world' during medieval times, and depicting witchfinders, knights and Crusaders battling against witches and a demon or two. Examples include SOLOMON KANE, DARK RELIC, BLACK DEATH and SEASON OF THE WITCH.
Commissioned by the American Syfy channel, WITCHVILLE (awful title) appears to be an attempt to adapt to this new trend, while retaining most of the trappings of more traditional fantasy fare. Prince Malachi (played by Luke Goss) returns to his homeland after several years away, to discover his father the King is dead and the kingdom is stricken with plague, drought and famine. Learning that a coven of witches are responsible for his nation's plight, Malachi joins forces with a crossbow-welding witch-hunter and a band of warrior-thieves to locate and kill the coven's leader, the Red Queen (Sarah Douglas), unaware that he's actually being stalked by the Queen's lethal enforcer Jozefa (MyAnna Buring).
WITCHVILLE's storyline contains no surprises and it is clearly a low budget film, but every penny can be seen on screen, with impressively elaborate costumes and weaponry that seem to be inspired by those in the games ASSASSINS' CREED and WORLD OF WARCRAFT. The movie also boasts effective sword-fighting sequences and more-than-competent direction: Jozefa's entrances throughout the film are especially stylishly handled.
A common weakness in Syfy Original movies is the quality of the CGI effects failing to match the ambitions of the script, but thankfully that's not the case here. Special effects are mostly limited to the Red Queen and Jozefa hurling balls of energy at opponents, and the biggest CGI setpiece - an attack by hellhounds - is conducted with real flair.
The cast all do what's required of them, without any real noteworthy or stand-out performances, although Buring radiates a particularly strong presence as she prowls through the movie like a red-cloaked Angel of Death.
In conclusion, WITCHVILLE is a solid and worthwhile, if unremarkable, addition to the sword & sorcery genre.