Thursday, December 30, 2021

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (2021)

 








PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *good*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, metaphysical, psychological*

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

--T.S. Eliot, THE LOVE SONG OF J. ALFRED PRUFROCK

I was only moderately entertained by the first two MCU/Sony collaborations on the SPIDER-MAN franchise, and I had no reason to think that Number Three would be any different. When I heard that advance sales were breaking records, I tended to put it down to a lack of competition in U.S. theaters. But I started hearing positive reviews from sources I respected, so, despite having boycotted ETERNALS and SHANG-CHI among others, I queued up and bought my ticket. SPOILERS apply throughout, naturally.

One review asserted that the Sony people may have been more in control of the script than the MCU/Disney people. That alone might be one reason as to why WAY provides a massive crossover of all three live-action movie versions of Spider-Man-- Tobey Maguire from the Sam Raimi trilogy, Andrew Garfield from the Marc Webb duology, and Tom Holland from the Jon Watts neo-trilogy. In addition to bringing together all three versions of Spider-Man-- in what might be considered a GOOD version of SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE-- WAY also brings together five villains from the earlier franchises: the Lizard (Ryan Ifans), Electro (Jamie Foxx), Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), and the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe). The effect is that the Holland-verse gets a much needed infusion of Classic Spider-continuity, though since all five villains come from other heroic universes, they probably won't come back for encores right away.

The means by which the continuities become interwoven is probably partly derived from MCU's concept of "rewriting reality" in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, and partly from the ending of the first IRON MAN, in which Tony Stark impulsively reveals his superhero identity to the public, in marked contrast to the comic book series. It's arguable that the entire arc of the previous MCU film, FAR FROM HOME, existed to set up this Big Reveal, in which the villainous Mysterio, dying from self-inflicted wounds, unveils Spider-Man's secret identity to the world and attempts to frame the hero for murder.

The second part of Mysterio's plan doesn't have the slightest effect upon Peter Parker's life, and this major plot-hole is one of the things that most reminds me of an MCU film. The viewer never knows why none of the legal agencies ever show the slightest interest in investigating the alleged murder. There's a sequence in which a government agency arrests Parker, his girlfriend, his best friend and his Aunt May, but their only concern is whether or not the four of them had anything to do with appropriating government-tech-- and that concern evaporates with ridiculous ease because it would have interfered with the important part of the story.

Even when the law-dogs lay off, Parker's life turns to crap because everyone knows of his double identity, and it also affects the lives of his high-school buddies. Since Parker doesn't have the resources of a Tony Stark, who could insulate himself from the public with his money, he eventually gets the idea of "rebooting" his reality, since he saw it done twice in his AVENGERS films. He seeks out help from Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who tells him that it's a stupid idea. Then Strange comes up with an idea almost as stupid: to cast a massive forgetfulness spell designed to eradicate the public's knowledge of Parker's identity. (One wonders if the spell had the ability to erase Mysterio's original broadcast and the multitudinous recordings of news broadcasts resulting from the Spider-Reveal.) But in another display of MCU goofiness, Strange and Parker manage to muck up the spell by not preparing the parameters in advance. This scene is almost like a Laurel and Hardy routine, though it's somewhat saved by the opposition of Holland's nerdiness with Cumberbatch's waspish hauteur. 

The accidental side-effect of the botched spell is that it penetrates into alternate universes and spirits into the Holland-verse other characters who know of Parker's double identity-- which means the aforementioned five villains and, later on, the other two Spideys. (There were early plans to have Kirsten Dunst show up as the first Mary Jane, though this didn't work out.) Doctor Strange collaborates with Spidey and his two friends to capture the five villains and send them back to their own universes-- which, as far as it goes, sounds like any number of routine "get rid of the illegal aliens" trope.

But the script then takes a radical new turn. The Holland Spidey has been represented as somewhat more innocent than either the Maguire or the Garfield versions, and even the spell-mucking scene draws upon that concept, since Holland-Parker messes things up due to not wanting to lose his connections with the people he values. Once Parker learns that all of the otherworldly villains became corrupted by their mutations, he gets the idea that he ought to give them all a "second chance" by curing them of their respective manias before sending them back. Doctor Strange disagrees, but Spidey manages to trap the magician in another dimension following a suitably mystic contretemps between the two classic Lee-Ditko characters. 

Parker briefly manages to convince the five villains to let themselves be cured, though Electro and the Goblin seem to be high-risk types. In fact, moments after Parker and his friends manage to cure Doc Ock, the other villains rebel, resulting in a chaotic melee in which Aunt May perishes, and then all of them flee. It's only after that Parker's buddy Ned accidentally summons Maguire-Parker and Garfield-Parker into the Holland-verse, and all three Parkers unite in the mission to give the villains their "second chance"-- including the Goblin, who was responsible for May's death-- which means that there has to be a ton of hero-villain battles at the conclusion before the universe can be stabilized. And on top of all this, Holland-Parker not only loses his aunt and his new "brothers," everyone in the Holland-verse does indeed forget the true identity of Spider-Man.

And at last I can reveal my reason for quoting Eliot at the start of this review. Other Spider-Man films, particularly the first SPIDER-MAN, correctly translated the sense of the original comic:


... the script for SPIDER-MAN seems acutely aware that Peter Parker’s seemingly accidental acquisition of spider-powers functions in the story as a Gift from Above. He abuses that gift by not using his power in the public interest—i.e., to prevent a criminal from escaping the law—and he pays for his neglect when the same crook murders Parker’s beloved Uncle Ben. In both the comic and the movie, Parker is chastened by this development, but goes further by taking on the role of a crusading superhero. The role is not without its perks—Parker even out of costume becomes more appealing to girls, and he continues to enjoy the thrills of spider-powered athleticism. But his great power doesn’t just create a sense of responsibility. The costume sometimes becomes more of a hair-shirt, as bad luck frequently dogs his steps, often making him think of his abilities as an ongoing curse.

However, one thing that WAY does that other Spider-flicks don't is to suggest that Parker's psychological struggle to redeem himself is also a search for a "way" to act properly in a world where even the best intentions can lead one to perdition. Prufrock asks if he dares to disturb the universe, and that's the dilemma with which Holland-Parker struggles when he considers the possibility of giving a second chance to men who largely don't seem to deserve it. I've seen my share of superhero films in which heroes jump through hoops to redeem characters I didn't particularly like, ranging from the Ghost in the MCU's ANT MAN AND THE WASP and the Asian kid in DEADPOOL 2. But in NO WAY HOME, the viewer is obliged to contemplate whether the act of villain-redemption is worth it when it has so many negative consequences. But WAY does have a more substantial reason for having the hero suffer from his hair-shirt: he purges himself of his own negative nature and embraces his fate as a redemptive hero. The worst thing about WAY is that I really don't know where the series can go from this, since further iterations may start to seem like "It's a Wonderful Life, Part 2."


Wednesday, December 29, 2021

RAW FORCE (1982)








PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical*


Although all the parameters for RAW FORCE-- phenomenality, mythicity, mythos-type and function-- are exactly the same as for the previous review BEASTMASTER 3, the 1982 cheeseball flick is far more entertaining in terms of its kinetic appeal. While BEASTMASTER 3 plays it safe, FORCE matches its name by throwing kitchen sinks galore at the sensation-hungry viewer.

The "metaphysical" content is even the same as the one in the other flick, for in FORCE there's a whole cult of vaguely Asian sorcerers who sacrifice people to gain immortality. But the immortality belongs to a bunch of long-dead martial artists, buried on some Caribbean island and deemed to have disgraced themselves in the eyes of decent martial artists, whoever they might be. The cultists pay a Hitler-lookalike go-between, name of Speer, to transport lots of nubile naked girls to the cultist's island, and whenever the girls are sacrificed-- which always happens offscreen-- the dead martial artists come to life as zombies. I'm not sure what the cultists get out of this, but being able to summon zombies to fight good martial artists comes in handy.

The good martial artists are a bunch of American amateur competitors, most of whom belong to the hilariously named "Burbank Martial Arts Club." They take a Caribbean tour on a ship commanded by boozy Captain Dodds (Cameron Mitchell), and on their way the tourists learn the legend of the forbidden island. One might expect the foolish Americans to trespass on the island and get in trouble, but instead the ex-Nazi Speer sends some of his henchmen to abduct the tourists for future sacrifice. 

Though the action isn't especially well choreographed, and the violence is rather muted for an eighties zombie film, writer-director Edward D. Murphy keeps up a steady stream of boobs and battles. In addition to the generally pleasing Mitchell, FORCE also boasts two other luminaries of junk-entertainment: karate-kicking Jillian Kesner, who in the year previous had made an excellent kung-fu revenge-flick, FIRECRACKER, and Vic Diaz, a perennial presence in low-budget Filipino-made trash-films. FORCE is not even a minor junk classic, but in terms of holding the attention of thrill-hungry viewers, it more than fulfills its modest goals.


BEASTMASTER 3: THE EYE OF BRAXUS (1996)

 







PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical*


Long after the 1982 BEASTMASTER, directed by Don "Phantasm" Coscarelli, debuted in theaters, the saga of the barbarian Dar, who fought for justice in his fantasy-otherworld, got a couple of sequels. As I remember, the 1991 BEASTMASTER 2 was at least watchable, despite cutting costs by letting Dar wander into a time portal that took him into 1990s Los Angeles.

The second and last sequel is not improved by keeping the hero on his own turf. Though writer David Wise had distinguished himself with some decent scripts for American animated teleshows like the seventies STAR TREK and the nineties BATMAN, EYE OF BRAXUS is a lazy, by-the-numbers example of a sword-and-sorcery tale. There are a couple of other S &S movies that are even worse than BRAXUS, but maybe no more than a half dozen.

Dar (Marc Singer), now accompanied by a lion rather than his standard tiger, accepts a mission from his king-brother Tal (seen in the first film, though here he's played by Casper Van Dien). Dar must seek out the evil sorcerer Lord Agon (David Warner), who sacrifices innocents to prolong his life, and who plans to release the evil god Braxus from his prison in a mystic gem. On his way to take down Agon-- whose name is Greek for "contest"-- Dar picks up a handful of helpers, played by such familiar faces as Tony Todd, Sandra Hess and Lesley Anne Down. And that's pretty much the whole plot.

I might not have objected to such a formulaic scenario had director Gabrielle Beaumont, who'd been directing TV episodes since 1974, had given the fight-scenes any heft, given that this is what S&S fans particularly want to see in the genre. But all of the brawls are low-energy, even from Sandra Hess, who distinguished herself not only in more expensive productions like MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNHILATION but also minor B-movies like the 1994 ENDANGERED. 

Lesley Ann Down tries to add a little humor as a wisecracking sorceress, but her jokes just underscore that everyone in this fantasy-world talks like their last residence was in Encino. Aside from star-spotting, pretty much a total waste of time.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

JAMES TONT: OPERATION UNO/ OPERATION DUE (1965/1966)

 






PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *comedy*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological*


The many James Bond knockoffs often get deemed "cartoonish" even when they're not intended as comedies. However, I doubt if any of the knockoffs embrace the total craziness of animated cartoon shorts. 

JAMES TONT OPERATION UNO (the hero's name references the Italian word for dumb, "tonto") starts off with the sort of sitcom absurdity seen in the GET SMART teleseries. After an early encounter with "Eric Goldsinger," the film's spoof of the Bond-villain Auric Goldfinger, Tont (Lando Buzzanca) chats up a pretty young thing and gets her to meet him in his hotel room. In contrast to the everlasting cool of the Connery Bond, Tont acts like a loon with his hunger to get laid. This makes it easy for the girl, who is one of Goldsinger's agents, to dope him and cover him in gold paint. The only thing that saves Tont is that the girl runs out of paint and doesn't manage to cover all of his pores.

So far, just like GET SMART. But a little later, as Tont pursues the villain in an effort to learn his plans for "Operation April Fool," Goldsinger (Loris Gizzi, a close physical match for Gert Frobe) traps the agent in a room with a ceiling designed to descend and crush him. Tont is saved by the intervention of a talking mouse who leads him to safety. When he expresses incredulity about this event to fellow agent Barbara (Evi Marandi), she explains that the mouse didn't really talk; she was just a ventriloquist-- as if that made the matter more logical.

Though UNO is certainly never subtle, it does manage to spoof a lot of the superspy-tropes at least as well as GET SMART. In the inevitable "briefing with the weapons maker" scene, the film's version of Bond's Q-- called "Z," of course-- happens to be a ramrod-stiff Prussian whose weapons-tests keep killing off his assistants. Tont fares better than the lab guys with some of the weapons he takes into the field, such as a car that drives underwater (with the goofy spy singing to the "fishies" as he goes along). But as soon as Tont returns to land, he's captured by a dozen or so bikini-banes with machine guns as well as by "Kayo," the film's version of Oddjob. 

Like most Bond-imitations, this one is slackly plotted, as Tont veers from one episodic peril to another (though the film does give us a comic version of GOLDFINGER's "no, Mister Bond, I expect you to die" scene). Director Bruno Corbucci and Giovanni Grimaldi (also the scripters) don't make Tont much of a fighter, even within a comedy context, but he does qualify as a combative figure thanks to his use of super-science weapons like a teargas gun and rockets that launch him into the sky. In fact, his aide Barbara outshines him in physical power, albeit once again in cartoony fashion. Not only does she knock out the powerful Kayo with a half dozen karate chops-- Kayo, who impassively endured a couple dozen blows from Tont earlier-- Barbara even gets a stalled plane to get moving by pushing it along the tarmac (with one hand, yet).

Operation April Fool proves to be a plot to destroy the United Nations with a vinyl record that emits deadly sonic waves. Tont performs his best feat here, flinging the record up so high that it blows up the helicopter in which Goldsinger is overseeing his operation. This too gets a cartoony cutaway, as Barbara pictures Tont in the costume of a discus-thrower. The movie ends with another appearance of the talking mouse.



The second and last Tont exploit was only available to me in the Italian language, even though many years ago I saw an English-language version entitled THE WACKY WORLD OF JAMES TONT. However, from what I call tell, the "anything can happen" aesthetic of the second entry, based on both THUNDERBALL and YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, remains in force. Buzzanca returns as Tont, while Loris Gizzi, who was Goldsinger in the first film, essays the role of a villain who's compared to THUNDERBALL's Emilio Largo. None of the characters from the first film appear, and in place of the Prussian weapons-maker "Z," the bad guys have a scientist who's code-named "Y." Cartoony events include a man being flattened to a papery image of himself by a mechanical presser, two grown people being carried into the air by a small balloon, and Tont helping his new girlfriend escape her prison by gnawing through the metal bars with a pair of beaver-teeth inserted into his mouth.

I give both flicks a mythicity rating of "fair" because they do a decent job of taking the "straight" tropes of the original Fleming stories and playing them for lunacy.


Monday, December 20, 2021

GHOULIES IV (1994)


 





PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *comedy*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical, psychological*


GHOULIES IV, the last in the series, remains in the same comedy-mythos as the third flick. Yet strangely, director Jim Wynorski and writer Mark Sevi mold the flick to resemble the first film in many respects, which as I said in my review had largely borrowed its plot from Lovecraft's THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD. This partial fidelity may come from Sevi, who from the years 1992 to 1995 worked on SEVEN sequel-flicks in addition to this one.

I argued that the first GHOULIES emphasized the magician (Michael Des Barres) who summoned the titular demons as part of a plan to possess his grown son (Peter Liapis) for a power-enhancing ritual. The daddy-magician is never directly referenced, though a couple of archival shots of the Des Barres character are included, and the specific circumstances of the Liapis character, Jonathan Graves, are altered in many respects. Thus the guy who almost got possessed by the spirit of his dead father is now a guy who mucked around with occultism in earlier years, partly because both he and his then-girlfriend Alexandra (Stacie Randall) were both into it. But in a barely coherent backstory, somehow they unleash an evil version of Jonathan from the same other-dimension where the Ghoulies live. Alexandra likes Evil Jonathan better, has sex with the evil double, and then is sent to an asylum when she tries to kill Good Jonathan.

All this is revealed toward the end, as if Sevi didn't really want to bother with such details. When the film opens, Alexandra, dressed in sexy bondage-wear, has escaped the asylum and is seeking to make possible the rebirth of Evil Jonathan, who for some vague reason has taken the classical name "Faust." (A subliminal reference to "the Great Fausto" in GHOULIES II, maybe?) In order to revive Faust, Alexandra sacrifices a bunch of innocent victims, but she can only bring Faust into the human world with the help of an amulet, the Jewel of Knowledge. She tries to do so, and bungles the ritual, losing the amulet and also bringing two benign Ghoulies into her world. The two demons, this time played by little people actors, just want to go home, and they go looking for Jonathan for help.

Jonathan by this time has hung up his horned hat for a badge. He's also much more of a stud than the first version, for he's broken up with hot policewoman Kate (Barbara Alyn Woods), who is now his superior on the force, and he currently dates a hot prostitute. While investigating the recent deaths, he stumbles across Alexandra but doesn't immediately reveal that she's an asylum escapee. He and Kate argue about procedure while Jonathan investigates the murders on his own. Alexandra ambushes Jonathan with a mesmerized cop, and Jonathan reveals that he hasn't forgotten his occult past, since he shoots rays from his fingers and banishes the possessed cop to the otherworld.

There's a lot of aimless episodic stuff that happens before Jonathan somehow intuits that Alexandra, having recovered the amulet, is going back to her old asylum to perform a ritual for summoning Faust, Kate, still in love with Jonathan, follows. Jonathan and Kate dole out some good fisticuffs, but Alexandra still manages to allow Faust to possess Jonathan's body. Oh, and the Ghoulies putz around for a while before making a slight contribution to the happy ending. There's also a sequel hook at the very end, which happily did not lead to any more entries. 

The script is without doubt cheesy, but thanks to the pulchritude, the fight-scenes and a (very few) funny lines, it's more palatable cheese than GHOULIES III. My only other observation is that whereas Jonathan Graves got sidelined to the evil magician in the first movie, this time he's the main character, inconsistent as he is.



GHOULIES GO TO COLLEGE (1990)

 




PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *comedy*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological*


Empire Pictures sold the GHOULIES franchise to Vestron Video, and the filmmakers began following the more antic aspects of the GREMLINS concept. Possibly they had no great faith in the property, for the script was assigned to one Brent Olson, who evinces no other writing credits on IMDB, while the director's duties were assigned to John Carl Beuchler, in charge of makeup effects for the previous two GHOULIES entries.

There's a jot more continuity with the first film in that the Ghoulies, who were just out and about in the second flick, again must be summoned from their otherworld in order to wreak havoc. The fact that the ritual of summoning is encoded in the pages of a comic book also indicates that no one was too worried about the credibility of the plot. A moronic college student-- one of many on campus-- takes the comic with him into one of his classes, and it's confiscated by Professor Ragnar (Kevin McCarthy). Ragnar really hates the free-wheeling ways of the students, particularly those who unleash chaos with "prank wars." Ragnar accidentally performs the summoning ritual, and up pop a group of murderous Ghoulies. Ragnar doesn't have literal control of the fiends, but he possesses the comic, and if it's destroyed, the demons have to go back where they came from. As with the funhouse in GHOULIES II, the mean munchkins insert themselves into college life in order to covertly murder people. (This seems to be their only raison d'etre, despite the fact that for the first time the little monsters can talk-- although the level of their discourse is that of the Three Stooges.)

One of the main prank-guys is leading-man Skip (Evan MacKenzie), who's a little less stupid than most of the students, though Skip does want to win the prank wars against a rival fraternity. This silliness pisses off Erin (Eva LaRue), the girl Skip wants to win, though he also alienates her by showing too much attention to other nubile college girls. Skip is the one who eventually figures out that the pranks have got out of control, and so he and Erin become temporary heroes out to de-ghoul their place of learning.

The Ghoulies' antics and their supposedly funny use of human expressions are stupid, and the only actor who acquits himself fairly well is McCarthy, even though the part requires him to mug ferociously. Since GHOULIES II upped the ante for its climax with the creation of a "giant ghoulie," Beuchler does something similar at the conclusion, having Ragnar turned into a monster via a merger with the demons, though this seems to come out of nowhere and doesn't add any great thrills. Number Three thus gets the lowest grade of any film in this negligible series.


GHOULIES II (1987)




PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical, psychological*


In my review of the first GHOULIES, I observed that, in contrast to the GREMLINS series, the emphasis wasn't placed upon the nasty little titular characters, but upon the evil magician who summoned them. Director Albert Band (one of the producers of Empire Pictures, which helmed the first two ghoul-flicks) goes back the other way, giving the ghouls center-stage. What's surprising, though, is that the script by Charlie Dolan and Dennis Paoli gives the human opponents of the little monsters a nice level of complexity for a DTV movie.

There's no attempt to line up the events of GHOULIES II with its predecessor. For some reason the diminutive demons are on the loose, though a couple of them get captured by a priest who tries to destroy the pair, only to be killed by other Ghoulies. This short sequence exists only to cause the malevolent muppets to cross paths with a traveling carnival-troupe.

The four major characters of the troupe are a young guy named Larry, his sottish uncle Ned (formerly a magician called "the Great Fausto"), Larry's love-interest Nicole, and Shakespeare-spouting dwarf Sir Nigel Penneyweight. None of them are even aware that the demons have hitched a ride on their trucks, for Larry in particular is worried that the carnival may go under for lack of funds. In addition, the owner, yuppie prick Hardin is also putting the movies on Larry's object of desire. 

Uncle Ned is the first to see the mean munchkins, and he gets the idea that he somehow summoned them up. The demons pay no attention to his orders and take up residence in the carnival's horror-house, "Satan's Den," and it's not long before they knock off some of the customers, just for fun. The Ghoulies conceal their murders at first, probably to prolong their ability to sucker in new victims, but they finally get tired of Ned's delusions of being a modern-day Faust and kill him. This development leads Larry, Nicole and Nigel to start investigating the suspicious disappearance of customers. Ironically, though no one in the film makes any Faustian bargains, Larry and Nigel have to play the role of magicians in order to send the Ghoulies back to perdition.

Though this is the first time that the Ghoulies star in a film with their name above the title, their deadly pranks aren't overly inspired, and the puppetry involved in their animation is forgettable. But Royal Dano and Phil Fondacaro, who respectively play Ned and Nigel, provide some strong character moments, and even though the young lovers aren't all that distinctive, Nicole has her own character-arc, in which she has to overcome a deeply held fear in order to help banish the demons. This ranks with many of the "funhouse gone deadly" films, which as usual achieve a level of irony when uncritical customers think they're only seeing playful carnage, but this schtick is less interesting than the script's ability to portray the often tedious existence of the carnival-players, creating exotic illusions but still stuck in the downbeat carny life for all that.

 





Friday, December 17, 2021

DICK TRACY VS. CRIME, INC. (1941)




 







PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological*

The only reason I graded the last of the Dick Tracy serials as "fair" in mythicity is that the script makes an interesting use of an "invisible man" villain as a world-beating villain. H.G. Wells' original unseen predator talks a lot about taking over the world, but he's too crazy to organize a criminal empire. The Ghost, however, has exactly the right amount of moxie to do just that, and though he's not as spectacular looking as some other serial villains-- the Lightning, Ming the Merciless-- his mask gives him an imposing quality, if only because it remains, even when he's issuing orders to his minions, as motionless as a death-mask.

As in the other three serials comic-strip hero Dick Tracy is essayed by Ralph Byrd, who's back to being a city policeman after a brief stint as a G-man. The first serial from 1937 was noteworthy for giving the hero a "super-villain" before the character had encountered any in the relatively mundane comic strip, while the next two serials made more circumspect use of metaphenomenal elements. When CRIME INC debuted in American moviehouses in December 1941, Chester Gould still hadn't introduced very many of his signature villains in the strip, with the exception of the Mole in September 1951. The Ghost's use of an invisibility ray machine is far more outrageous than anything seen in the strip, yet in one sense the serial-villain has more background than most such world-conquerors. While some of his activities include finding better ways to menace the world-- the first chapter opens with his attempt to destroy New York City with an artificially induced earthquake-- the Ghost's more personal mission is to eliminate all the members of the crime commission responsible for the legal execution of the villain's equally criminal brother. Further complicating the situation is that Tracy comes to suspect that the villain is one of the council, though I was never clear if the Ghost was impersonating a staunch citizen or was simply a corrupt businessman from the word "go."

Though the Ghost is the main source of the serial's mythicity, the hero once again conveys the hard-nosed desire to extirpate all criminality. There's less byplay between Tracy and his various subordinates than in previous serials, though lead female June Chandler (Jan Wiley) contributes some telling assistance with her expertise in sound technology. There's also some good suspense generated by the fact that none of the heroes know that they're dealing with an invisible man, because the Ghost kills everyone who finds out about his powers. There are only a few scenes in which the Ghost invisibly intrudes upon his victims, which are considerably spookier than the average serial-murders. 

The guilty councilman is eventually revealed to be Ralph Morgan, who proves excellent in conveying the Ghost's emotions despite having his face covered all the time, The serial does make some use of stock footage, and only a few of the cliffhangers-- like the one entitled "Beheaded!"-- are memorable. But if CRIME INC isn't in the top ten of the best serials, it should have no trouble making it to the top twenty.

ADDENDUM: I always thought that the 1963 comic DOOM PATROL got its name from spoofing the name of a movie, THE DAWN PATROL, which debuted in 1930 and was remade in 1938. However, one chapter-title of this serial shows that the TRACY writers got the pun out there first:




WARLORDS (1988)


 





PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological*


There are probably a few post-apocalyptic flicks worse than Fred Olen Ray's WARLORDS, but it probably would still make the list of the ten worst. The nicest thing I can say about the film is that star David Carradine is at least in better physical shape than he was for a similar effort ten years' previous, the soporific DEATHSPORT.

I don't see any mention of WARLORDS being connected to Roger Corman or any of his companies, but director Ray-- who in one online interview calls Corman his "role model"-- certainly crafts his future-flick with all the elements Corman relied on over the decades: fast cars, lots of gunfire, a smattering of tit-action (just enough that it can be snipped out for sale to broadcast television if possible), and the occasional rape-attempt. Ray, whose best film IMO is 1988's HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS, stitches together all of these elements into a tedious concoction, aided by writer Scott Ressler, a cameraman with a whole TWO writing-credits on IMDB.

It's another post-nuclear desert-film, which means we never see what's happened to the big cities and their inhabitants, only a smattering of people wandering around the wide open spaces. It's a small blessing that we don't get the usual "Mad Max" schtick of the wandering hero who helps some settlement fight off bandits. Instead, the heroic Dow (Carradine) is looking for his wife, taken prisoner by a warlord known as "The Warlord" (Sid Haig). But wait, there's a complication. This is not the same Dow who distinguished himself in the wars that devastated the world, as a helpful interlocutor explains. This is a clone of that other Dow, one who is also some kind of "super-soldier," though as I recall the only "super" thing he does is survive getting shot down.

Being a clone, how is it that New-Dow remembers the beloved wife of Old-Dow? The script does not explain this tidbit, but the fact that New-Dow is so devoted to his lost wife proves like catnip to a skeezy young female scavenger, name of Danny (Dawn Wildsmith, real-life wife of Ray). Though she seems a fairly tough and independent woman, Danny attaches herself to Dow's quest for no stated reason, though implicitly she's warm for his form. 

There's a lot of low-rent action, and an unsurprising conclusion to Dow's quest, and then it's over. Wildsmith, by the way, gets to dress in slinky leather outfits while she's being menaced by a potential rapist, so that's at least diverting. A few lines here and there are amusing-- Danny tries to discourage her rapist by telling him she has bad breath-- but you can more seriously wacked-out dialogue in the Italian Max-imitations, so that's not much of a recommendation.



THE EXTERMINATORS OF THE YEAR 3000


 






PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, sociological*


Perhaps because so many MAD MAX clones aren't even able to produce adequate copies of the original, I give slight props to Giuliano Carnimeo's EXTERMINATORS OF THE YEAR 3000. The movie is extremely derivative of the 1981 ROAD WARRIOR, but at least the filmmakers understood the appeal of the thing they sought to imitate.

It's yet another post-apocalyptic world, in which people still drive 1970s cars over a thousand years later. Early in the film, the risibly named hero Alien (Robert Iannucchi) makes his appearance in one such tricked-out car-- which he calls "the Exterminator"-- as he uses his ride to kick the asses of a couple of corrupt (and apparently decomissioned) future-cops. Concurrently, there's a small settlement of plucky farmers who are trying to locate water to nurture their remaining crops. Seeing his community in dire straits, a young boy named Tommy (Luca Venantini) goes in search of water, just as his missing father did in weeks previous. Tommy never finds his father as I recall, but he does come across Alien, and after lots of verbal sparring, Tommy convinces Alien to help him look for some fabled source of water.  

Their search is complicated by a band of desert marauders in their own tricked-out vehicles (which apparently never need to have their radiators refilled). The raiders' leader is Crazy Bull (Fernando Bilbao), who gets a lot of raucous lines where he calls his subordinates "mother grabbers." Bull's lieutenant is a sexy black woman with a claw-hand (Beryl Cunningham).

The film's other major character is Trash (Alicia Moro), an old lover of Alien's. Given that Alien left her alone in some desert-- commitment issues, right?-- their reunion is something less than amicable. Nevertheless, Trash allies herself to Alien and Tommy and joins the quest in search of water.

There are some decent if unexceptional fight-scenes and chase-scenes, and a little more conflict between the stoic (and sometimes insufferable) hero and his allies than one usually gets in the genre. It's certainly never good drama, and the resolution, which involves a band of cultists hoarding water, seems plucked out of nowhere. But as long as one keeps one's expectations low, EXTERMINATORS is an OK diversion.


THE BLIND SWORDSWOMAN (1970)


 





PHENOMENALITY: *uncanny*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological*


One of the few online English-language reviews for this film comments that it appears to be a Taiwanese knockoff of the popular Japanese ZATOICHI film-series, which concerned the adventures of a wandering masseuse, who displayed formidable swordfighting skills despite being blind. I don't usually mind a knockoff as long as the filmmakers show at least a fair grasp of what elements made the original appealing to audiences.

SWORDSWOMAN is without a doubt one of the worst knockoffs I've seen in recent years. The makers might have done better just to grind out a typical revenge-themed chopsocky, but this flick makes the mistake of trying to emulate the dramatic texture of the Japanese series. Though not all of the Zatoichis are stellar, even the weakest I've seen are at least decent melodramas. 

If indeed writer-director Lung Chien was indeed imitating the storylines of the blind masseuse, the filmmaker seems to have become fixated on the notion that good melodrama depends on lots of characters springing surprises on one another (which we do get in some Zatoichi flicks, though not to the point of absurdity). The central character, comely young Han Ching-Ching (Li Hsuan), has the misfortune to see an evil man, Mister Lee, slay her father before also wounding Han so that she goes blind. At some point Han receives sword-training from a wandering swordsman, who may (if the dubbing can be trusted) be Han's cousin. Han also encounters yet another blind girl who is related to Lee, but who befriends Han for some reason. After a lot of talking-heads scenes between various characters, most of which have little dramatic point and scant physical action, there's a climax in which Han avenges herself on Mister Lee and meets the mother Han thought dead. 


The fact that the film ends with the reunion of a heroine and her mother is about the only thing that distinguishes the movie from a billion other chopsockies, but it's not enough to make up for deadly dullness. Li Hsuan had made about a dozen films before this one, some of which seem to be in the kung-fu genre, but in her few swordfighting scenes she seems well coached but not actually fluid in the art of fake-fighting. I don't recognize any of the films in her repertoire or in that of director Lung, but that may not be a reflection of the overall quality of those films: they just may be works not often packaged to American audiences if they were produced in locales other than Hong Kong.




Thursday, December 16, 2021

GREEN LANTERN: MANHUNTER MENACE (2012-13)

 







PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *good*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, sociological*


I mentioned in my review of the first half of this one-season animated series that the producers might have bifurcated the 26-episode series into two distinct (albeit interdependent) story-arcs largely to facillitate DVD packaging of the series. But this division proves valuable to me as well. Instead of judging the series as a whole, in which case I would probably give it only a "fair" mythicity rating, here I can evaluate each story-arc independently.

The first arc of the series, in addition to introducing any new viewers to the cosmos in which the Green Lantern of Earth exists (the corps of law-enforcers to which he belongs, the Guardians who empower their mission), also concentrates on depicting the Lantern Corps' new competitors in energy-manipulation. One group, the Red Lanterns, is openly hostile to the Green space-cops, while others, of Blue and Violet persuasions, are largely benign. In the original comics from the late 2000s, nine color-coordinated power-users were finally established, and the second arc add just one more hue to the program, in the form of an Orange Lantern. But once the nasty Red villains are defeated in the first arc, the second arc begins by largely de-emphasizing the "color guard" aspect of the cosmos takes a back seat to the status of artificial intelligence in this fictive universe.

To be sure, the early introduction of the Aya character foregrounds this later development. When Hal Jordan (the Earth Green Lantern) and his alien comrade Kilowog begin their quest to thwart the Red Guys, the sentient navigational computer aboard their starship decides that she wants to emulate their heroism, and so forms her own robotic body (which Hal dubs "Aya" for "AI.") When this three-person ensemble expands to include Razer, a remorseful Red Lantern, the two new kids on the block evince muted romantic feelings for one another-- thus setting up one of the main story-threads of Arc II.

In place of the first arc's employment  of multi-hued ring-wielders, MANHUNTER MENACE dovetails two separate opponents from DC comics serials, linked only by some association with the Guardians of the Universe. The titular Manhunters follow the basic rudiments of their comics-counterparts. All are super-advanced robots invented by the Guardians to serve as an intergalactic police force, only to be mothballed when the Guardians realized that the Manhunters, lacking emotion, could not execute an even-handed justice. The second opponent, the Anti-Monitor, was in the comics an extra-dimensional being devoted to the idea of exterminating all life. His signature appearance was in 1986's CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, wherein his existence is loosely linked to an even earlier act of hubris by one particular Guardian, name of  Krona. This Guardian is obsessed with learning the forbidden origins of the universe, as elaborated in the 1965 Green Lantern tale SECRET ORIGIN OF THE GUARDIANS. In MANHUNTER MENACE, Krona is briefly referenced, but his hubris is confined to creating yet another super-robot, the Anti-Monitor, which immediately dedicates its existence to wiping out organic life. Episode 14 of the GL series establishes that the Anti-Monitor, for a time banished to another dimension, has returned to Hal Jordan's cosmos and has enlisted the Manhunter hordes as its agents.

Though I felt rather iffy about the series duplicating the Frankensteinian motif for both the Anti-Monitor and the Manhunters, the writers managed to sell it by relating their mechanical opposition to life to Aya's forlorn struggle to attain humanity. When Aya expresses love for Razer and is rejected-- largely because Razer is a widower and doesn't feel capable of loving again, much less loving an artificial being-- she ends up becoming bonded with the Anti-Monitor. Thus the super-robot's quest to extirpate inefficient biological life becomes Aya's drive to eliminate the painful sphere of human emotions from existence-- even to the extent of rewriting "the Big Bang," using imagery patently copied from the above SECRET ORIGIN comics-tale.

Like the previous arc, MENACE intersperses its long-range plot with short, more-or-less self-contained stories. These are usually no better than fair, even when they introduce plot-threads important to later stories. (For instance, in "Blue Hope" Razer attempts to assimilate the disciplines of the Blue Lanterns to sublimate his ferocious emotions, and this gives him a technique he uses to good effect in the next to last episode.) Most of the standalones seem oriented toward introducing other characters from the comic book mythos for possible later use had the series lasted longer, including not only the aforementioned Orange Lantern but also versions of Sinestro and Guy Gardner. Carol Ferris makes her only appearance in this arc in "Love is a Battlefield," but though she once more transforms into the show's version of the comics-character Star Sapphire, her character in both of her identities proves underwhelming.

Nevertheless, the master story-thread of Aya's status as a AI looking for love, and rediscovering both her true nature and her inner potential in the final episodes of the arc, and so, even without the chance to further develop this cosmos, it still ends on a high note, and may be the best thing to have come out of the misfire of the 2011 live-action film.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

SPY SMASHER (1942)


 







PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological*



Of the various comics franchises adapted for serials, the two "best dressed" of the batch both hailed from the long defunct Fawcett Comics: Captain Marvel, portrayed by Tom Tyler, and Spy Smasher, incarnated by Kane Richmond. Compare the shoddy treatment of Batman in the 1943 serial, and one can see that the two Republic serials evinced a lot more quality control as to the hero's physical depiction.

William Witney co-directed the Captain Marvel serial alongside frequent collaborator, but he's the only credited director for SPY SMASHER. Witney keeps the action much more frenetic here than it was in CAPTAIN MARVEL, not even bothering to give the hero an origin. Though it's been said that during filming the script didn't initially start out by specifying the nationality of the protagonist's enemy spies, it was reworked to reflect the U.S.'s embroilment in the war in Europe. So viewers never find out how Alan Armstrong-- whose past is largely a blank, except for having a twin brother named Jack-- happens to don the regalia of Spy Smasher. He's first seen barreling into a Vichy stronghold for reasons that are never clear, and though he's doing what most comic-book superheroes could get away with, he's captured right away. The sight of the bare-chested hero being subjected to whipping-- albeit off-camera-- still resonates with the fears of Americans for the fate of "their boys" overseas.

Spy Smasher escapes a firing squad thanks to the help of a member of the French underground, and for the next eleven episodes he pursues a number of anti-spy activities-- foiling a Nazi counterfeiting ring, destroying an experimental Axis "bat plane," rescuing the same French underground guy who saved him. The only thread connecting all of these activities is a spymaster known as the Mask (Hans Schumm), also a regular villain in the Fawcett comic-series. I haven't read a lot of the original Spy Smasher comics, but the Mask comes off as a weak villain. He's usually seen giving orders to underlings, usually without the use of his signature face-mask, but he doesn't come off as having any real personality.

In contrast, though Spy Smasher has no real background, Richmond gives the hero an aura of fearless derring-do equal to the best of Hollywood's A-level swashbucklers, as well as giving a distinct feel to the character of twin brother Jack. (That character's full name, by the bye, is the same as that of a 1933 radio-serial hero, who wouldn't get his own serial until 1947). The SPY SMASHER review at FILES OF JERRY BLAKE provides the info that this was one of the last serials to use actual locations as backdrops for the action, and the staging of the action on these memorable sets is also as good as anything in the A-films.

The serial's female lead Eve Corby (Marguerite Chapman) is also taken from the comics, but in the serial her only function is to be the fiancee of brother Jack, so the actress has little to do. Few of the other characters stood out for me, and the best I can say of the talking-head scenes is that Witney disposes of them efficiently.

In addition to the aforementioned "bat plane," there are a couple of other super-science gimmicks that move this serial into the realm of the marvelous-- for instance, a two-way television-communicator aboard a submarine, through which the Mask speaks with his Axis commander. There's a strong but not overbearing patriotic vibe throughout the story, particularly when a particular character sacrifices himself for the cause, and this gives SPY SMASHER a bit more gravitas than the average chapterplay.

Monday, December 13, 2021

THE 18 BRONZE GIRLS OF SHAOLIN (1983)


 





PHENOMENALITY: *uncanny*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *sociological*

This Taiwanese flick was probably conceived as a quickie knock-off of Hong Kong's two BRONZE MEN films from 1976, reviewed here. Some data suggests that it was completed as early as 1979 but didn't get released until 1983-- which is about the most comprehensible thing about GIRLS. There are a lot of wack-a-doodle kung fu films out there, and GIRLS is just another one of them, a plotless melange of stunts and meaningless espionage.

An introductory voice-over makes reference to the invention of kung fu "thousands of years ago," though the action of the film must be post-1636, since that was the year in which the Ching Dynasty began. The heroes are apparently rebelling against the Chings, though there's no mention of any rival dynasties, and only one of the main characters is given a motive for being a rebel. This is the character played by Doris Lung Chung-erh, who may or may not be a person named "Pai Yu-fei," since at least two characters claim to be this person, and by the end of the film no final identification is made. Since Pai is motivated to fight the Chings because they killed her family, and since Lung's character opposes the Chings, there's a fair chance she was meant to be the "real Pai"-- though I don't think the writer cared about providing anything more than the sliver of motivation.

The Chings may or may not be behind the activities of an evil monk, Chi Kong, who wants to steal the training manual from a monastery where a one-eyebrow monk is training 18 female fighters, all of whom wear golden (not bronze) clothing and have their skins painted gold.  I guess the bronze girls somehow fall under Kong's control, since they end up fighting the good guys at various times, including a big crazy-fu climax.

In between stunt battles, the writer tosses out various dopey comedy scenes, mostly involving people masquerading as the opposite sex, or as differently abled, all for no real purpose. There are a few good stunts at the conclusion, and Lung's fighting is usually worth a look. The diabolical devices, like those of the BRONZE MEN, are mostly chambers outfitted with deadly devices, including huge artificial roses with thorns!

Thursday, December 9, 2021

GREEN LANTERN: RISE OF THE RED LANTERNS (2012)


 






PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, sociological*


GREEN LANTERN THE ANIMATED SERIES enjoyed only one season, thanks in part to the disappointing box office of the 2011 live-action film.  However, one interesting aspect of the show's 26 episodes is that they show a neat bifurcation, devoting the first 13 episodes to one principal menace, the "Red Lanterns" of the title, while the next 13 are devoted to a pair of interlinked menaces, the Anti Monitor and his robot servants the Manhunters. This may have been intentional for purposes of DVD packaging.

I can't compare the first 13 episodes with their source material, since I have not read most of the various "rainbow of Lanterns" storylines introduced by DC Comics in the 2000s. In these stories, the members of interstellar Green Lantern police force, who administer justice through the "green power" in their rings, learn that there exist a literal "spectrum" of other power-wielders attuned to other color-manifestations. RISE only depicts three of these competitors, a group of Red Lanterns, who are motivated largely by rage, a coterie of Blue Lanterns, who empower themselves with hope and tranquility, and a planet of all-female Violet Lanterns, who center their energies on the emotion of love. 

The Reds, led by the Big Bad Atrocitus, supply the main plot-action by launching a series of sneak attacks on individual Green Lanterns. Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern of Earth, shows himself to be a brash alpha male by launching his return strike against the enemy, quite without the approval of the Green Lanterns' perceptors, the immortal but slow-to-act Guardians. At first Jordan, who swipes a ship from the Guardians, is joined in his quest only by his old trainer Kilowog. However, the ship's computer, an AI with a feminine personality, becomes sufficiently invested in their struggle to manifest her own android body to aid them. In addition, the two Lanterns encounter Razer, a Red Lantern suffering remorse from having almost slain a planet in the name of Atrocitus. Jordan senses heroic potential in Razer and eventually brings him into the fold.

Some of the episodes are virtual stand-alone stories, occasionally modeled on comic-book originals, while the other entries pursue the course of the four-person crew tracking down Atrocitus and foiling his plans. Since the Big Bad is defeated in Episode 13, this makes for a certain closure before the next story-arc. Overall the scripts attempt to keep the mood light amid all the star-spanning action, but without neglecting the potential for outer-space "sense of wonder." No single episode in this arc stands out as particularly mythic, though Episode Nine comes close to the mark. In this story, the all-female Violet Lanterns attempt to suborn the Green Lanterns to serve them. When this doesn't work, their queen-- whose name is a play on one Greek word for love, "agape"-- summons Hal Jordan's Earthling lover Carol Ferris and transforms her into Star Sapphire. In the comics, Star Sapphire, who alternates between her ordinary "Jekyll" persona and a forceful "Miss Hyde" attitude, is one of Jordan's strongest opponents. In this series, though, Star Sapphire only appears twice, and the elements of her feminine psychology are not rendered with as much imagination as in the comics.

SUBSPECIES IV: BLOODSTORM

 







PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical, psychological*


The streaming version I watched bore the title SUBSPECIES THE AWAKENING, but I've defaulted to the earlier title with the "blood-word" in it just to match my other recent reviews of this oddball series.

The last "Subspecies" film came out roughly four years prior to the third movie in the series, which suggests to me that funding for this effort didn't manifest right away. Writer-director Ted Nicolaou certainly left the gates open for another installment at the end of BLOODLUST, for even though evil bloodsucker Radu Vladislas seemed to have been definitively destroyed at the climax, Nicolaou shows some of those little blood-manikins (the barely-used "subspecies" of the series-title) roaming around-- which apparently account for Radu's rescue from perdition next time round, though the actual resurrection is not depicted.

Nicolaou certainly didn't bring the series back because of any investment in his support-cast. In the last scene of BLOODLUST, Radu's perpetual target Michelle (Denice Duff) is seen being driven away by her sister and the sister's friends, but in a quickie car-crash, all of these characters except Michelle are slain out of hand. Romanian nurse Ana (Ioana Abur) happens across the crash-site and becomes Michelle's de facto caretaker, protecting the young vampiress from the rays of the sun. Ana takes Michelle for examination by her former teacher, Professor Nicolescu, without knowing at the time that Nicolescu is also a vampire, though he's been able to control his bloodsucking urges with chemistry. Upon interviewing Michelle, Nicolescu learns of that plot-device the Bloodstone, and he covets it.

Meanwhile, Radu, who possesses the Bloodstone, is still bent on recovering Michelle. He travels to Bucharest to obtain funds from a former fledgling, Ash and his partner Serena, who had appeared the year before in the stand-alone spinoff movie VAMPIRE JOURNALS. Serena makes an attempt to play the two male vamps against one another, but this doesn't add much to the plot. When Radu tracks Michelle down to the professor's home, Nicolescu catches the vamp in an impalement trap. Michelle, implicitly still somewhat bound to Radu since drinking his blood, falls under his control and frees him, after which both flee to Radu's crypt. Serena tries to get Ana to do her dirty work by ambushing Radu, but when Ana and Nicolaou arrive at the crypt, Radu kills the professor. Echoing the end of BLOODSTONE, Radu tries to make Michelle kill her new friend, but Michelle wounds the vamp and Ana finishes him off. Ash and Serena are then waiting in the wings to pick up the pieces, but by chance they're forced to flee a blast of sunlight, which presumably leaves them alive for their (slightly later) execution in VAMPIRE JOURNALS.

There's not a lot of resonance to all these back-and-forth struggles, and Nicolaou missed his chance to end the series on a high note by letting Michelle extinguish her unwanted pursuer, who is also the slayer of her true love (even if the latter gets scant mention in later installments). Nicolaou might have had Michelle decapitate Radu once and for all, bringing her character-arc to fruition. Instead, when Michelle is given a scythe to destroy Ana, she only partly cuts Radu's throat, making it necessary for Ana, a relative stranger, to finish the job. But at least BLOODSTORM ends with no further intimations of additional chapters, and that's closure of a sort.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE (2010)


 






PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, sociological*


 I suppose the “afterlife” of the title is meant to describe the life the heroine experiences once she loses her virally enhanced super-powers. Despite the return of Paul W.S. Anderson to writer-director status, AFTERLIFE is a mixed bag. On the plus side, the film boasts action-sequences as strong as those in APOCALYPSE. On the minus, the plot seems even more unfocused than usual, and the film suffers for not having a strong villainous presence throughout.

 

A year after EXTINCTION, Umbrella CEO Albert Wesker is the target of an attack by Alice and her obedient clone-army. Wesker escapes the attack as such in a plane, but the original Alice overtakes him. The evil CEO, however, has not only injected himself with T-virus so that he’s begun to mutate, he also manages to zap Alice with a fast-acting anti-virus that removes her superhuman abilities. Just as Wesker prepares to execute his longtime foe, the plane crashes. Alice survives despite her lack of powers, while Wesker goes missing.

 

Later Alice seeks to find the handful of survivors she helped in EXTINCTION. She’s attacked by one of those survivors, Claire (Ali Larter), but only because an Umbrella device was used on the woman to make her into a berserker. Once Claire is back to normal, the two females join up with a bunch of new characters, one of whom is another game-entity, Claire’s brother Chris. However, for reasons never made clear, Umbrella operatives are busy unleashing zombies on the survivors. After many redshirt-deaths, Alice tracks down the Umbrella malefactors and find out that Wesker is still calling the shots—leading, naturally, to another big battle.

 

The battles, as stated, are visually pleasing, but at times Alice doesn’t seem all that de-powered, since in the climactic scene her arm is impaled all the way through by a knife, and she still manages to fight and defeat the evildoers. I get the feeling that Anderson wanted to introduce her “humanization” for a quick character bit, but that he didn’t really want it to get in the way of major havoc.  

 

                   

                            


RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION (2007)

 







PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, sociological*

 

                   

 

Once again Paul W.S. Anderson handles only writing chores on an EVIL sequel, with Russell Mulcahy in the director’s chair. Since Raccoon City is annihilated at the end of the first sequel, Anderson decided to up the ante by having the virus go global. The T-virus, like Alice and her friends, successfully escapes the city, and within five years, the world undergoes a full-on apocalypse—which makes one wonder if the two sequels ought to have exchanged subtitles. In addition to the usual winnowing of humanity into isolated enclaves of survivors, the virus has also mutated other forms of life enough to change the geosphere, though Anderson’s script doesn’t spend any time explaining the fine points of this transformation.

 

Further, the opening sequence reveals that Umbrella has a new bolt in their technological quiver: that of cloning. Alice appears to die in the setup scenes, only to disclose that this martial female is one of many Alice-clones being put through their paces by the new bad guy, Professor Isaacs. The clones, despite developing telekinetic abilities, just don’t seem to share the mojo of the original heroine, which makes it imperative for the mad scientist to find Alice.

 

Alice—who also now sports telekinesis among her other bio-engineered attributes, is seen wandering the desert on her own, with no explanation of how she parted company with the surviving escapees from APOCALYPSE. Jill Valentine will show up in a later entry, but after assorted adventures the wandering warrior happens across a convoy of trucks seeking a haven from the viral effects. This convoy just happens to include two of the survivors from the first sequel, Olivera and L.J., while also introducing to the film-franchise another game character, Claire Redfield (Ali Larter). Alice’s new talent comes in handy to dispel an attack by mutated crows—one of the few animals seen having been victimized by the outbreak—and thereafter the heroine seeks to help the survivors find a safe haven.

 

Isaacs sends zombies to attack the caravan in order to capture Alice, but though most of the innocents die, Alice and a few others escape and mount an attack on the villain’s facility. Isaacs escapes after being bitten by a zombie, and by the time Alice arrives at his facility the mad scientist has become a mutated monster. The heroine naturally triumphs and then gains control of Umbrella’s stock of still viable Alice-clones, promising to use them against Umbrella’s higher-ups.

 

EXTINCTION is not nearly as strong as APOCALYPSE in terms of its action-sequences, and the decimation of the world here is little more than an excuse to provide the fighters with a new environment. This entry is an okay timekiller, nothing more.


Monday, December 6, 2021

RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE (2004)


 





PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, sociological*

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

 

The first sequel to RESIDENT EVIL is directed by Alexander Witt and scripted by the first film’s writer-director Paul W.S Anderson. Whereas the original film focused on action within a relatively cramped space, APOCALYPSE displays the franchise’s propensity for big splashy action-scenes. This is because in between the first and second entries, the evil Umbrella Corporation decided to experiment on their former employee Alice (Milla Jovovich) with their T-virus. While the virus usually wreaks unpleasant mutations on its subjects, not to mention turning human corpses into hungry hungry zombies, Alice alone enjoys a beneficial mutation, even if she feels alienated at having been turned into a genetic freak.

 

APOCALYPSE is also much clearer about the genesis of the T-virus. Whereas the Umbrella Corporation was known to most citizens for benign pharmaceuticals while secretly working to produce bio-weapons, the creator of the destructive virus, a scientist named Ashford, originated the virus for a benevolent purpose: to provide disadvantaged people, like his crippled daughter, with a way to regenerate certain organs. This revelation makes it slightly more believable that Alice’s physicality is enhanced by the virus, since the virus does have a similar effect on Ashford’s daughter, though apparently on no one else. (The character of the daughter appears in the story but none of the Umbrella evildoers seem particularly interested in studying her, in comparison to their leaping through multiple hoops to test Alice.

 

In the first flick Alice only had one significant helper, activist Matt Addison, but here she gathers a more significant cast of support-characters. One is a news reporter anxious to get the straight dope on the viral outbreak, while three others are based on figures in the video game: Olivera, a rogue Umbrella operative, cop Jill Valentine, and an Umbrella supersoldier, Nemesis. To be sure, character interactions are not very important in this series, beyond providing a sense of common ground as Alice’s allies come together to resist Umbrella’s ruthless actions. The depravity that is only adequately depicted in the first film gets much stronger treatment here, particularly in an opening sequence in which the corporation’s goons forcibly confine the inhabitants of Raccoon City to their infected city. Later they arrange to launch a nuclear strike to wipe out the city and thus cover up the evidence of their transgressions. Alice’s mission becomes dual: to get her allies out of the city before they’ve either overwhelmed by zombies or slain by a nuclear blast, and then to expose Umbrella’s perfidy. At the same time, one of Umbrella’s head men, name of Cain, hopes to use their chaos as a means to take Alice’s measure, the better to research her new abilities.

 

The simple plot makes it easy for Anderson and Witt to focus on the big battle-scenes—one involving Alice running down the vertical side of a building to take a coterie of guards by surprise, another being a death-match with Nemesis, who turns out to be the vanished character Addison, mutated by Umbrella. Cain arranges the match with almost Nietschean glee in the exercise of power, and he’s one of the series’ best villains, albeit not any stronger as a character than anyone else. The conclusion shows the corrupt corporation winning out over the reporter’s attempt to expose them, though by the next film, their successful cover-up becomes irrelevant to the franchise’s direction.


Friday, December 3, 2021

ARTHUR'S QUEST (1999)


 





PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *comedy*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical*


I've screened other "King Arthur" films that I liked less than this one, but this is still a pretty blah DTV flick. To be sure, one has to judge QUEST by what audience it was seeking to reach-- and to judge by the script, the writers knew that they were aiming at fairly undemanding middle schoolers. 

The quick breakdown: back in vague Arthurian times, Pendragon's (never seen) military forces have just been defeated by an equally vague force, "the Dark Knights." Pendragon, seeking to protect his six-year-old son Arthur, summons his two magicians, Merlin (Arye Gross) and Morgana (Catherine Oxenberg). Merlin intends to project Little Arthur through a time-portal into the 20th century, instead of just sending the kid to be raised by some bucolic couple. Maybe Merlin visited the 20th century earlier and got really taken with reading Mark Twain's A CONNECTICUT YANKEE? Anyway, Morgana, Merlin's lover, is also the power behind the Dark Knights, a whole two of whom show up to foil Merlin's schemes. Nevertheless, despite being caught with his pants down, Merlin still manages to send himself, Little Arthur and the sword Excalibur back through time, though Pendragon gets himself killed. 

Merlin stays near Little Arthur only long enough to see him adopted by a worthy young woman, and then he takes off to hide both himself and Excalibur. For no good reason he keeps hidden while Arthur grows to be an average American teen-- which naturally makes it very tough later on to convince young "Arthur Regal" (ugh) that he's really the heir to the throne in sixth-century England.

The writers knew their audience would want lots of silly humor, and so even the characters from the sixth century talk like modern-day TV comics. Just as Merlin reaches out to Teen Arthur, Morgana shows up in the 20th century as well, having considerately waited ten years in order to let Teen Arthur grow to the proper age. This MAY have had something to do with Arthur's fitness to inherit Excalibur, but I can't be sure the script ever makes that much sense. Morgana doesn't even do the logical thing-- immediately abduct Arthur's adoptive mom to ransom the magic sword-- but instead she mucks about pretending to be the principal of Artie's school. Eventually, after a lot of juvenile messing around, there's a desultory sword-fight between Teen Arthur and Morgana (who as shown above dresses like a Comicon booth-babe). After Morgan's defeat, Arthur decides to return to ancient England with Merlin, his mom and his girlfriend.

If I had to say something nice about this farrago, there's just one good line. Late in the film Merlin asks Morgana why she doesn't just stay in the 20th since she's adjusted to that world with ridiculous ease. She claims that there's just too much evil in the modern world, so that her villainy just wouldn't stand out as it does back in the sixth century. And that's the best I can do with this querulous quest.