Friday, July 25, 2014

Iron Warrior (1987)

The Ator the Invincible series is a pretty storied one. Started in 1982 as a cash-in ripoff of Conan the Barbarian (the Italians loved their knock-off cinema!) by Italian director Joe D'Amato,  and was followed by a sequel in 1984 (to coincide with the release of Conan the Destroyer). The sequel, known as The Blade Master, and more notably, Cave Dwellers, became a cult hit after being featured on movie riffing TV show Mystery Science Theatre 3000. The film is full of hilariously poor special effects and stock footage, resulting in an unintentionally amusing flick. It is pretty entertaining in its own right, though. Good? Not really, but fun.

D'Amato lost interest in the series once plans for a third Conan movie were scrapped, and other genre director Alfonso Brescia took it unto himself to make the third entry in the series-Iron Warrior. Joe D'Amato didn't like that one bit, and in response to it, he made another Ator movie, Quest for the Mighty Sword, and it's the worst of the bunch!

Today I'll be looking at what's widely considered to be the black sheep of the Ator franchise-Iron Warrior...

Wicked sorceress Phaedra is imprisoned by her fellow sorceresses for her crimes, but they are too late to have stopped her from kidnapping one of two twins prophesised to protect the future princess Janna. Eighteen years later, Phaedra's sentence is up, and with her powers back (but unable to use them to kill anyone...directly) she heads for the kingdom where Princess Janna and her father preside. She takes it over with the grown-up boy she kidnapped, now warped into the formidable sorta-cyborg Iron Warrior, and Janna escapes, seeking out the help of Ator, the other twin boy, now a warrior himself...

Iron Warrior has a reputation for being an arthouse sword and sorcery flick, and it lives up to that, in a way. While the whole film is bizarre, I never really found it to be artsy. It just felt weird. The closing lines, however, are definitely pretentious as hell! Some find Iron Warrior to be boring and interminable, but I didn't. It just felt empty to me. The symbolism and surreal style of the film felt both pointless and meaningless.

The character of Ator is very different here than in the previous entries, both in looks and in backstory, but who does that surprise. He goes through huge continuity shifts each movie! Thankfully the character is still played by Miles O'Keefe (feel free to ask me how much Keefe is in this movie), who does a decent job. He's not great, but that's because the hollow script holds him back.

The whole brother dynamic between him and the Iron Warrior is completely wasted. He never utters a word, and just fights Ator, eventually getting killed

Another thing people (and Wikipedia) like to point out about the movie is how Miles O'Keefe barely has any dialogue, but that's not really true. He's pretty talkative, and he probably has the same amount of dialogue he has in previous Ator films.

The actress playing Janna does a decent job, despite how silly she looks with her hairstyle and the one eyebrow dyed pink.

The acting is all ok. The film is dubbed into English, and while the lyp-syncing is obviously non-existent, the dub acting is quite good.

The direction is good, and some moments are filmed really well. The location work is terrible, as the same place is re-used nearly a dozen times! It's painfully obvious, and it makes the film look cheap. The effects are decent though, thankfully (albeit cheesy in the way only the 1980's could be), and the fight choreography is good. The look of the villainous Iron Warrior looks kinda silly, what with the huge red scarf he has along with his chrome half-skull mask, but it makes him look unique and somewhat interesting, in my opinion.

The score is pretty good (though original to this movie, I don't know), and great in the scene when the Iron Warrior is defeated! I guess the production didn't have much music to work with though, as the main theme is re-used in full in one particular battle scene, where it feels totally out of place.

The film's whole tone is that of oddness (I guess if you're a fan of the series who wants everything to be in perfect continuity, imagine this film a dream Ator is having after taking LSD), but one scene in particular stands out, because of how baffling it is! Ator and Janna are trekking the landscape when they're set upon by a group of four brigands, who snatch Janna and tie each of her limbs to their horses. Ator chases after them on horseback, picking up a selection of ridiculously conveniently placed spears on the ground, which are all placed so evenly that you'd think this was a dream. Then, whenever Ator hits each bandit, both they and their horses just vanish in the next shot! I guess Brescia either had to pick bad editing, or risk quartering the film's lead actress.

Also off about the scene is the effect of the actress being suspended by four horses. In a Hollywood movie, it wouldn't be real, and there'd still be stringent safety measures. This is 1980's Italy though, and cast safety wasn't a concept they had quite grasped at this point, so I have no doubt that if those horses got spooked or startled, then this film would have a much more ghoulish reputation!

So, what lesson have we learnt today? If you're sentencing an evil sorceress who wants to destroy the world, don't let her go free after a scant few years in the hopes that she'll decide to become good again, otherwise you deserve the eventual and inevitable revenge that'll be inflicted upon you...

Iron Warrior is a watchable movie. I don't particularly recommend it, and if it's sword and sorcery you're looking for, stick with the Deathstalker movies first, but if you're curious, give this a watch. At the very least, it won't bore you...

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Jack Hunter and the Star of Heaven (2009)

Treasure hunter Jack Hunter (hey, blame the movie, not me!) continues his work for the NSA to find a powerful magic artifact, the Star of Heaven, before murderous archeologist Albert Littman and his criminal associates can get their hands on it...

This is a very different type of movie to its predecessor The Quest for Akhenaten's Tomb, which threw me off at first, but I came to terms with that quickly and easily, and definitely prefer it being different to being a cookie-cutter carbon copy of the previous entry.

The plot to The Star of Heaven is entertaining enough, but not perfect. It doesn't do a good job-or any job for that matter-at establishing what the Star artifact is (until you see its use at the end), nor who Albert Littman is! I only knew the latter because I'd seen the previous film!

Ivan Sergei is still a semi-likeable Indiana Jones type (complete with the hat), and his performance is good, although one line he delivers at the start is hilariously under-emoted. Joanne Kelly continues to be good here, and she gets some more character with her added backstory, which is good. Mario Naim Bassil as comic relief sidekick Tariq is also good, but while he's in just about every scene of the movie, he doesn't get quite as much to do this time round (although he gets a great monologue at one point, and his ending is amusing, even if it is pretty obvious). Susan Ward is in Star of Heaven a lot more than the previous entry, and thankfully her performance is better.

Unlike in Quest for Akhenaten's Tomb, Thure Riefenstein's Littman is the main villain, and he definitely does the role justice, making for an entertainingly evil bad guy (although his sudden megalomaniacal turn in the climax is a bit out of nowhere).

The locale is pretty boring this time round. It's set in Turkey, but is mostly shot in the modern-day cities, rather than thousand-year old temples or ruins. There's a lot more crappy CGI here than in the previous film, and it drags it down, mainly in the climax. The gas explosion is great though! The stylish Egyptian tablet opening and ending credits are by far the laziest thing on display here, as they're completely recycled from the last film! And finally, the score is a lot less impressive than Akhenaten's.

The finale is overblown and silly, and the amount of NSA lives taken is hilariously and depressingly big!

Overall, The Star of Heaven isn't anywhere near as enjoyable as Quest for Akhenaten's Tomb, but is still worth at least a watch, and it doesn't finish the Jack Hunter series off too badly. As for me, I should get around to seeing the first entry in the series sometime soon!...

Jack Hunter and the Quest for Akhenaten's Tomb (2008)

Indiana Jones sure has inspired a whole genre of films, some more overt in their inspiration than others==. One example is the Jack Hunter trilogy. These are considered a miniseries, but only because that's how they were aired. In actuality, this is less a miniseries and more three individual but connected movies. I stumbled upon two of the three yesterday, and was pretty wary going in, but they actually turned out to be very good! I haven't seen the first film, but I won't bother tracking it down to review first before this, because unless you were looking for these movies, chances are you found them out of order, so I'm here to tell you that that's ok, and doesn't impede on the experience in the slightest.

Archeologist Jack Hunter has been forcibly drafted by the NSA to help them track down the powerful Star of Heaven artifact (said to wield extraordinary powers), and Albert Littman, a fugitive who used to be associated with Jack until he murdered his friend. Jack is called to Egypt by an associate who's discovered an ancient obelisk from the Ugarit civilization-who created the Star of Heaven-and Jack and his team desperately try to hunt down the Star before Littman and his mob associates close in...

The second entry in this series, The Quest for Akhenaten's Tomb doesn't require you to have seen the previous film, and does a pretty good job establishing everything (minus what the Star of Heaven is).

This film (and the series in general) continues the trend of archeologists being gun-toting adventurers who regularly come across supernatural artifacts, and more regularly shoot bad guys dead (though nowhere near as many as Nathan Drake in the Uncharted series). Is it goofy? Yeah, but you can't really complain about it, unless you're not a fan of the Indiana Jones trilogy, and are willing to levy the same complaints you have here against those.

Speaking of Indiana Jones, is this a blatant ripoff? Not at all, no matter what the hilariously plagiaristic foreign posters, or the DVD trilogy release's font would have you believe. The only obvious connection between the two aside from 'unrealistically adventurous archeologist' is the similar (if not identical) hat Jack wears.

The set-work here is fine, although there is some subpar CGI in places for certain effects, such as stone doors opening. The score is very good, accentuating moments badass and triumphant very well. And the Egyptian locale looks very pretty.

The acting's all good. It was off to a shaky start, but it's all mostly fine. Even the constant mispronunciations of Akhenaten's name stop after the first twenty minutes.

Ivan Sergei is pretty stoic as the main character. Jack Hunter is kind-of an asshole, but not really. He's almost likeable. Joanne Kelly of Warehouse 13 fame is very good here (even if she's not Syrian like her character's meant to be), and you stop seeing her as Myka Bering pretty quickly (although this film will probably leave you with an insatiable desire to rewatch that show).

One of my favourite aspects of this film is definitely comic relief sidekick Tariq. When he first appeared, I thought he would only appear in this one scene, which I thought a shame, as he seemed entertaining. I wished he'd be a main character...And he is! In fact, he is in not only this entry in the Jack Hunter series, but the other two as well! Some, however, find him too silly, and I can't blame them, really. He's like a human Jar-Jar Binks, just not annoying (to me at least).

Another character who also appeared plenty, just as I hoped, is the Egyptian Colonel, who's also likeable, even if the actor's soft-ish line delivery can sometimes be hard to understand (not helped by a lack of subtitles on the DVD). Susan Ward is pretty meh. Her performance here isn't as good as in other films I've seen her in, but she only shows up for a couple of short scenes, so she's not unbearable or anything.

Thure Reifenstein's Albert Littman isn't in the film much, as he's predominately a sub-villain for this outing, with the evil Cult of Akhenaten taking centre-stage. They're fine villains, even if their leader is pretty sucky (in the respect that he kills a henchman at the start for failing to capture Jack Hunter, then promptly spends the rest of the movie failing to capture Jack Hunter!).

The Jack Hunter series is no Indiana Jones, but really, what is? And it is in the same league as the Librarian trilogy, and that's a pretty good place to be. I recommend The Quest for Akhenaten's Tomb, although you'll probably want to hunt down the first movie beforehand...

Sunday, July 6, 2014

An Irregularly Schedule Grease 2 Recommendation, and The Adventures of Fu Manchu

Hi y'all. Just a friendly reminder that anyone who hasn't heard of Grease 2 and is into fun musicals needs to watch it immediately.

Also, on another note, a couple of years back, I reviewed all of obscure '50's TV series The Adventures of Fu Manchu, and those posts are among my least viewed, which is a shame, given I'm one of the very very few people on the internet who have talked about the series in any kind of detail, and I think I may be the only person to have reviewed all the episodes! (You see, most people who've seen any of Adventures have only seen a particular bunch, from those crappy public domain DVD releases the series got a few years back-Releases which only have six-or-so episodes between them, hence the only eps on Youtube are those select few). So, if you're at all interested in Fu Manchu, and/or old TV shows, give them a read when you have the time. They could do with the attention, given most of them only have about fifty views apiece (and that's over the course of two years). And also, please forgive any typos you may find. I'm in the process of weeding them out, but it's currently 12:40, and sleep calls...

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Daria (1997-2002)

Ah, Daria. One of the quintessential shows of the '90's!-A popular comedy cartoon about the high school life of sarcastic monotone teen Daria Morgendorffer. I used to watch it quite a bit when I was a kid, but I probably didn't get even half the jokes, and was all-round too young to appreciate what I was watching. Last week, I got the full series DVD out of a library, and have had a marathon of all 67 episodes! Now that I've properly watched Daria, I feel empty knowing that there are no more episodes to watch...

The show is frequently hilarious, and the only episodes that aren't very funny (minus the two fantasy ones-more on those later) are so because they're more dramatic and/or emotional. Daria portrays high school perfectly. This is a show definitely best watched post-high school, when one is able to look back and reflect on their time there, although obviously it's perfect for teens too.

The characters are all fantastic, from the acerbic Daria, her workaholic mother Helen, high-strung father Jake, fashion-obsessed sister Quinn and her fashion club, Daria's cynical artist best friend Jane, dumb jock Kevin, ditzy blonde cheerleader Brittany, the sensitive Mr. O'Neill, the constantly angry and stressed-out Mr. DeMartino, misandristic Ms. Barch, and many, many more. The characters can definitely be exaggerated at times, but they're very relatable, and many people can point and say exactly what kind of a person they and their friends were in high school by pointing at whichever Daria character they best resembled. As for me, I was definitely like Daria! (Although I was marginally more successful in keeping to myself in my later years of school than Daria ever is). I went through the same feelings as she does. Yeah, I may have missed out on some really good things by being a loner, but I honestly feel like they weren't necessary for me, and that my attitute was right...Granted, the fact that I'm part of Gen Y didn't exactly help matters. Have you ever tried talking to a Y'er about books older that ten yearsErr, I mean books period?! Etc, etc, etc, lots of Gen Y sucks-At least where I went to school anyway. But enough about me, this post is about Daria.

There are 65 normal episodes, and two TV movies-One in-between Series 4 and 5, and the other the show's grand finale. If I have to pick a favourite episode, it might be Is it Fall Yet?, the first TV movie. That's probably subject to change over time though.

There are only two bad episodes of Daria in my opinion, and they're both completely superfluous from the rest of the series, as they're baffling out-of-place fantasy stories! One's a musical, and the other is about Daria helping the holiday spirits of St. Patrick's Day and Valentine's Day capture three rogue holidays who escaped from Holiday Island! What?! On their own, they're not technically bad episodes, but they're just not funny, and unequivocally not Daria.

The animation for the show is very good, and most definitely a more visual treat than the show the character of Daria originated from-Beavis and Butthead! (Not to trash B&B in any way, mind you).

The soundtrack by Splendora is pretty good too. The main theme You're Standing on My Neck is great, as are the songs from the two TV movies. Not exactly the longest or most complexly written of songs, but that's understandable, since they're for a TV show, not an album.

And finally, Daria hasn't just been a great show to me, but its final season actually got me thinking about going to college. So Daria may have actually literally changed my life! Take that for what it's worth!

I really did mean it when I said I felt bummed out that I have no more episodes of Daria to watch, and I almost feel it'd be a crime removing the last disc from my player! I will tomorrow though...Because I'll be marathon-ing the first half of the series again! As for you readers at home, if you aren't already a fan of Daria, I wholeheartedly recommend it to you if it's your kind of show!...