A change to the rating system from this issue. Since I only watch movies I think I’ll enjoy, this meant a lot were scoring 7 & 8, and I found myself having to give significantly different movies the same mark. So I’ve re-scaled things, and now grade A+ to F-, with a C being about equivalent to a ‘7’ on the old scale.
Angel II and III (Teresa Woo) – Ok, we cocked up. In TC9, I claimed ‘Iron Angels’ was the third in the Angel series. I was wrong, it’s the first .And the best, as neither of the other two supply the same standard of manic slaughter. ‘II’ is set in Thailand, and contains such delights as a brief documentary on the production of palm oil, wrapped round a plot where an old friend turns out to be planning to overthrow the government. There’s a massive gun-battle at the end. ‘III’ has Moon Lui going undercover in a Thai terrorist group who specialise in suicide missions (I’d just wait for them to die out…). The main entertainment value is because ‘undercover’ means beating up a lot of people. Meanwhile, the rest of the team are getting involved in tedious sub-plots about kick-boxing. Three guesses what there is at the end. A clue: it’s massive. E+ and D.
A Chinese Ghost Story III (Chung Siu Tung) – A priest and his pupil take shelter in a temple only for the latter to meet and fall in love with a ghost. Together, aided by a powerful swordsman, they struggle against the forces of evil to try and allow the spirit to rest in peace. Sound familiar? Yep, this is virtually a straight, pointless, re-make of ‘A Chinese Ghost Story’. About the only twist is that there’s more than one incredibly cute ghost but apart from one lovely scene which implies a sapphically incestuous sado-masochistic relationship (phew!), it doesn’t have anything new to offer. D-
Drop Dead Fred (Ate de Jong) – It’s something of a coincidence that Phoebe Cates has Rick Mayall as a made-up pal here, as I’ve got this imaginary friend called Phoebe Cates, who comes to my bedroom every night and… Anyway, Phoebe’s marriage falls apart and her psyche resurrects D.D.F. to wreak havoc. Feels a bit like “Beetlejuice”, especially at the end when the psychological aspects take over; apart from that, there are some flashes of genius from Mayall worth waiting for, and Cates keeps an admirably straight face. It could (and maybe should?) have gone further, however, and remains generally too tastefully schmaltz. C
Eve of Destruction (Duncan Gibbons) – The latest entry in the ‘fetish thriller’ sub-genre (check out the video cover!) has Renee Soutendijk playing both a scientist and the robot, Eve, she’s developing, loaded with her memories. After being shot in a bank robbery during testing, Eve goes AWOL and starts re-enacting her creator’s life the way it ‘should’ have been. Gregory Hines is the army man called in to track Eve, since she also happens to carry a ticking nuclear device. Lots of good touches: Eve’s shredding of any man who uses the word ‘bitch’ (fortunately, she doesn’t meet Ice T), Hines’ nicely cynical edge, and Soutendijk (as Eve) brings much the same weirdness to her role as she did in ‘The Fourth Man’. While these parts doesn’t really gel to anything more than entertainment, I’ve seen a lot worse. C+
Fists of Fury ’91 – Missed the first five minutes of this, so I’ve no idea who was involved. Perhaps this is no bad thing, as it’s one of the dumbest movies I’ve seen in a long time. Not, of course, that this stops it from being entertaining, as it sweeps majestically from sleaze to melodrama. It starts (at least, the bit I saw starts) with a snot-battle, the two heroes – yokel with megablast right hand and streetwise town rat respectively – gobbing frantically at each other. It works up to a savage beating of the yokel after he thinks he’s killed his teacher, administered by the real murderer. Predictable stuff, albeit done with a lot of style. B-
The German Chainsaw Massacre (Christoph Schlingensief) – Part not-very-subtle political satire, part splatter movie, set in the first days of a reunified Germany as a family of po’ white trash (if such a term is applicable to Europeans) use the flood of Eastern refugees as raw material for lunch. The director denies being a genre fan, but this mixes elements from both TCM & TCM2, then adds in ‘Psycho’ and some very cheesy gore to provide an experience closer in spirit to Hooper’s original than either sequel. It’s certainly got the ham acting and the screaming heroine, plus Udo Kier (briefly), drawing a CND logo on the wall in his own blood. According to some German critics, this is art – presumably, these are the same ones who thought “Nekromantik” was, too… C-
Ghostly Vixen (William Chung) – Wildly deviant film about a female ghost that needs the sperm from 100 virgins born at 10 o’clock to attain eternal life. Her score ticks up to 99 and most of the film is about her prospective 100th victim, who’s trying REALLY HARD to lose his virginity. The problem is, he’s betrothed to an ‘ugly’ girl (she didn’t look too bad to me!) whom he can’t bring himself to make love to. For example, when he attempts to rent a hooker, she punishes him with a four foot long dick. He straps this to his leg, only to find all the girls in his office wearing short skirts. You don’t want to know any more, believe me. C+
Jacob’s Ladder (Adrian Lyne) – This bombed in the States, and I can see why. It must have been a shock to the audience, given Lyne’s past record of wimpokinky stuff and boiling rabbits, to find their heads being fucked with quite so savagely. ‘Videodrome’ or ‘The Fourth Man’ seem influences, as a Vietnam vet suffers increasingly bizarre hallucinations and finds his world cracking at the seams. The visions are handled very well – perhaps too well, as ‘reality’ seems dull by comparison. But where is reality? The cause at first doesn’t seem to live up to the effects, then the plot twists for an n-th time and, well, I haven’t enjoyed a nose-bleed so much in ages. A.
King of New York (Abel Ferrara) – After his brief vacation for ‘Cat Chaser’, Ferrara returns home for a study in the psychosis of power, as displayed by Christopher Walken, a drug dealer just out of jail. His old gang rapidly drag him back up the ladder, painting rooms Drug-Dealer Red on the way (if you get my drift), and making no friends on either side of the law. Vicious as ever, Ferrara remains morally neutral – Walken perceives himself as a man of honour, concerned for his city. The film doesn’t tell us anything new, but it’s great to see Walken back on top form after the depths of ‘Communion’. It’s not often the guy on the popcorn stand suggests you’ve wasted your money on a movie – fortunately,he was well wide of the mark. B
Legend of the Dragon (Danny Lee) – I’m not sure whether this is a pisstake of heroic bloodshed movies or not; it’s got all the dark glasses, slow-mo action and meaningful posing of things like ‘A Better Tomorrow’, but it’s all about…snooker???? Our hero, an accomplished player and not-so-accomplished martial artist, is lured to town by his uncle who sees a chance to make a betting fortune. Through the kind of events that only happen in this kind of movie, they end up losing the family land and our hero has to beat Jimmy White (yep, THE Jimmy White) to regain it. Let’s give the director the benefit of the doubt, since he throws in things (the hero falls asleep at midnight no matter where he is, a very clever bit where you’ll think you fell asleep and missed 20 minutes!) to suggest tongue is not far from cheek. C+
Liquid Dreams (Mark Manos) – This low-budget American movie spends 80 minutes successfully generating sleazy atmospherics, only to throw it away in the last five, with a plot twist that’s badly fumbled by all concerned. It’s a futuristic tale of a girl going undercover in a dodgy media network to find her sister’s killer and it works well enough, thanks to plenty of flashy visuals, a thumping electronic soundtrack and not an insignificant amount of female flesh. Mink Stole & Paul Bartel beef up a just about competent cast, and the cheap sets add to, rather than detract from, the film. Then you get the ending, which drags it down from C+ to D-.
The Magic Crystal (Wong Ching) – Deep breath. An archaeologist in Greece finds a jade crystal with very odd powers, wanted both by KGB spy Richard Norton (billed in the atrociously dubbed UK version as ‘Ivan, all-Russian karate champion’!) and Interpol agent Cynthia Rothrock. The archaeologist is KGB-napped, but slips the jade into the case of a friend’s son who discovers the crystal is a telepathic creature that’s fond of ice-cream before he’s also abducted by Norton; will Interpol and his father get there in time? There’s more that I mustn’t give away, but it’s a good example of the way HK can cram humour, drama and action together to great effect, and would be fine even without the martial arts (Norton’s prowess with the sai would make a Ninja Turtle weep). Any story which combines UFO’s, school bullies and the birth of Venus must have something going for it. A-
Naked Tango (Leonard Schrader) – Schrader demonstrates much the same eye for stylish, kinky sex his brother did in ‘Cat People’, and the plot is even more ludicrous. Apparently, the way to win a girl’s heart is to force her into prostitution, slap her about a bit, have sex on the remnants of a broken windscreen and occasionally dance the tango with her, ideally in an abattoir. Still, it’s all very lush, with lots of reds, and Mathilda May (remember the space vampire in ‘Lifeforce’? Same girl) is undeniably gorgeous as the bored wife who takes over the identity of a suicidal mail-order bride from Poland. As pure sexual schlock goes, it’s far better than ‘9 1/2 Weeks’ and you get a neat, knife-through-throat scene, too. I can’t really recommend it but, boy, did I enjoy it! B-
Noce Blanche (Jean-Claude Brisseau) – Roughly translatable as ‘White Wedding’, or perhaps more accurately as ‘unconsummated relationship’, the film promises much: a French teenager (Vanessa Paradis, looking a lot better than in her puppy-fat encrusted, ‘Joe le Taxi’ days) and the lure of drugs, prostitution and teenage sex. However, the posters fail to mention that they all happened some time before the movie starts and is now engaged in a deep relationship with a married, 50-year old teacher of philosophy. So there are long scenes of them explaining very carefully how they feel, and the film only kicks into gear in the last fifteen minutes when the spurned Vanessa turns nasty. E
Once Upon a Time in China (Tsui Hark) – Hark’s latest historical epic feels like an acidic version of ‘Project A’; Master Wong (Jet Lee), a local militiaman in China, is seeing his country carved up by the super-powers, but can’t do much about it as all his actions bring him into conflict with the authorities. The Americans and their henchmen are shipping off the locals as cheap labour for the California gold-rush, but when they kidnap Jet’s true love (Rosamund Kwan, cute), it’s time for him and disciple Yuen Biao to kick gwailo ass. For any film to keep me utterly engrossed for 135 minutes is an achievement, especially when it portrays us “foreign devils” as being at best stupid and at worst evil. However, the politics doesn’t affect the entertainment value, my only quibble being the occasional fantasy element that sneaks in – Hark should go all the wayor not at all, as they detract from the “realism”. Otherwise, it’s hard to find fault – acted very well (special praise for Jackie Cheung), directed very well (as you’d expect), an ambitious attempt to combine many genres, and could win over many new fans. A
The Outlaw Brothers (Frankie Chan) – Car parks rival restaurants as favourite settings for mayhem in Oriental films, since they provide much glass to smash and things to leap off, plus you have the chance to drive round at high speed, something not permitted in most takeaways. There’s ample opportunity for such scenes here, as the title characters are two car thieves, specialising in Porsches & Ferraris. They get into, and out of, trouble with girls, the cops (Yukari Oshima is on their tail) and local mobsters, but the fan is really hit when they steal a car packed with drugs belonging to Michiko Nishiwaki. Needless to say, she’s not a happy budgie when she finds out. Our heroes strike a deal with Oshima, whose character hates Nishiwaki (the rumour is that art mirrors real life – Oshima’s “close personal relationship” [Ahem!] with the director supposedly allowed her to boost her role and shrink Nishiwaki’s. The pair have been playing Bitch Wars ever since) and we’re ready for a megafight with chicken-, broom, fan- and scarf-fu. It’s slick, it’s fast and it doesn’t tax the brain in the slightest. B
Point Break (Kathryn Bigelow) – While everything I’ve seen about this film has concentrated on the surfing ‘n’ skydiving. this is only a small part of the movie: the rest revolves around FBI agent Keanu Reeves going undercover to catch surf-dude and part-time bank robber Patrick Swayze (who gets to take his shirt off again – he must have it written into all his contracts). Reeves is good, almost parodying his “Bill & Ted” persona, but the real highlights are the action sequences, notably the parachuting, an FBI assault on a house and a superbly filmed chase on foot. However,the much touted surfing may have been awe-inspiring in California in July, in London with 5 weeks to Christmas, I kept thinking of ‘Old Spice’… B+
Prison on Fire 2 (Ringo Lam) – This film falls a little bit between two stools. Part of the time, it’s almost trying to be like ‘Porridge’ with Chung Ting Ching (Chow Yun Fat) a wisecracking survivor very much like Ronnie Barker’s character. However, there are some pretty brutal scenes establishing the tensions in the prison: not just between prisoners and guards but between Hong Kong and Chinese inmates. After the wrath of an especiaily sadistic guard descends on Chung for escaping to visit his son, he finds himself forced to team up with the head of the mainlanders. Make that betweeen three stools, as the movie then slides towards “odd couple” territory. Individually, each of these work well, together, they’re less than the sum of the parts. C
Prison Stories (various) – An HBO produced woman-in-prison story in three chunks, directed by Penelope “Suburbia” Spheeris, Donna “Desert Hearts” Deitch and Joan “er…” Micklin Silver. As you’d expect from female directors, it’s notably low on T&A, but despite the earnest approach, you still get drugs, catfights, a shower scene, etc. The strong cast – Rae Dawn Chong, Talisa Soto, Anabella Sciorra – helps, even if it might have been nice to have a male character who wasn’t a drug dealer or thug. It’s not exactly cheery stuff, with no real happy endings, but then again, neither is life. Sober stuff, yet perversely, still entertaining. B-
The Sect (Michelle Soavi) – One day, I hope to see an Italian horror film that doesn’t suffer from “atrocity overload” or “camera vertigo”. This one, as you might expect, takes the latter path, though for the first quarter, it’s storyline bravely fights back, aided by sterling work from Herbert Lom. Reminded me of “To the Devil a Daughter”, with a girl being chosen to bear the son of Satan by a devilish cult. The last quarter is at least intriguing, but the middle hour succumbs to the usual: woman-in-peril, kitchen knives, strange things happening for no apparent reason, dumb plot twists (“I’m a doctor, too!”) and a very familiar interest in insects. Save a psychopathic bunny, it’s all very ho-hum. D-
Valmont (Milos Forman) – See ‘Dangerous Liasons’ for the plot; it was based on the same original source, and so ‘Valmont’ was held back for a couple of years to avoid comparisons. Not that this will stop me from comparing the two, though ‘Valmont’ does go a different route. DL was a two hour bitch war between Glenn Close and Steven Malkovich, Forman has expanded ‘Valmont’ to flesh out the other characters. Probably wise, as Peter Firth and Annette Bening aren’t Malkovich & Close, though they’re by no means bad. Their lack of years also makes them less overtly evil, suggesting youthful high spirits, instead of malicious boredom at having “done” everything. I didn’t like the ending, which seemed flat, even if on reflection it’s no less downbeat. Overall, though, while ‘Valmont’ is more ‘A Hazard of Hearts’ than ‘Dynasty’, it’s none the worse for it. C+
V.I. Warshawski (Jeff Kanew) – The subtitle, “Detective in High Heels” ,tells you more about this film, Kathleen Turner playing the title role of a P.I. who finds a babysitting job (c’mon, a girl’s gotta live!) getting very deep when the father of the child is blown up. The director seems uncertain whether this is ‘Dirty Harriet’ or ‘Brenda Starr’, which leads to some jarring moments, but mostly he treads the line between the two well. Turner is excellent, as ever, and the rest of the cast are just as solid, helped by snappy, crackling dialogue. While I wonder whether we needed QUITE so many shots of Kathleen Turner’s feet(!), the 90 minutes absolutely flew past with never a dull moment. B+
Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael (Jim Abrahams) – Based around a young girl’s fascination with the legendary title character, who left home and made good, and her conviction that she’s Roxy’s daughter, this makes most sense if viewed as a part of Winona Ryder’s career. It slots in nicely between ‘Beetlejuice’ and ‘Heathers’, and could be an explanation of how she changed from the doom-ridden Gothette of the former, to the relatively well-adjusted teenager at the start of the latter (which is also set in Ohio). Apart from that it’s probably not really satisfying – while WR is good as ever, playing yet another teenage misfit, the other characters are neither plausible enough to be real, nor weird enough to be parodies, and the ending smacks of a tack-on. Nice soundtrack, though. D-.