December 2000

The Survivor

The Survivor The opening credits of this film proudly announce that it was made in association with the Puerto Rico Investors Tax Credit Film Fund. And it shows. The Survivor is a ridiculously derivative mix of action sub-genres wrapped round a plot that has more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese.

Set in the 24th century, the film opens with our hero, Tarkin (Xavier Declie) being blasted to Earth - now a penal colony - in a steel pod. Hes been convicted of something for which there is no parole but we know hes going to be performing heroics later in the film - hes got good guy stamped all over him.

President Bradford (Richard Herd), leader of the planetary federation is flying past the Earth when his spacecraft is sabotaged and explodes. President Bradfords escape pod lands on the on the lush, jungle covered, green, oxygen-depleted wasteland (yes, I know) that is penal colony Earth. In a direct rip-off from Escape From New York the president falls into the hands of the Kyla (Richard Moll) and his medievally themed (original not!) society of convicts.

Fortunately, help is at hand in the form of President Bradfords close aides and grandson who also land on Earth in a second escape pod. This group are rescued from the tribe of savages that also live on Penal Colony Earth (where the hell did they come from?) by Tarkin, who, being a surgeon, is the only person able to survive in an environment as hostile as were supposed to believe this one is on his own. And of course, they manage to convince Tarkin to help rescue President Bradford and off they all go. Were then treated to about an hours worth of inconsistent action and terrible plot.

And thats basically it. The plot is simplistic, to say the least, and packed with cliches that have all been repeated far too many times in the past. While there are a couple of halfhearted stabs at plot twists, these are so transparant you can see them coming from a mile off. The pacing is slow and the action and effects are uninspired.

The Survivor certainly isnt gripping but it isnt quite bad enough to make me want to yank the video out of the VCR in disgust. Its inept, but not inept enough to cross the line into inadvertent comedy. Dont spend any money on seeing this film and if anyone ever invites you around to see it, make sure you take plenty of beers.

Wishmaster

Wishmaster is an unwatchably bad disaster of a film and Wes Craven must have been really struggling financially when he allowed his name to be attached to it. This film (aka Wes Cravens Wishmaster) is both uninspired and unoriginal and displays none of the humour which may have dragged it out of the bargin bins (although I doubt that anything could have saved this film from well deserved obscurity).

The premise of the film is explained via the sort of throaty voice over that has cheap stamped all over it and is then underlined with an opening scene set in ancient Persia. This tells us that the film is going to be a Monkeys Paw style take on the old Genie in the bottle stories and totally undermines the rest of the film.

Essentially, we have a Djinn, released into twentieth century America who needs to grant three wishes to the gemologist, Tammy Lauren (Alexandra Amberson) who awakens him and, indirectly, causes him to be released. Once all three wishes are granted he can release his bretheren and take over the world. He does this by wondering around granting wishes, in as twisted and vicious a way as he is able (You want to be rich, collect your mothers life insurance), to anyone and everyone who gets in his way while simultaneously scaring Lauren enough to encourage her to go and find out what is causing her nightmares. But weve already had the entire premise of the film dumped on us, so theres no tension and no surprises apart from the fact that this otherwise intelligent woman is so willing to accept that a 12th century Djinn is stalking her.

The special effects are reasonably gruesome in places, but never stomach-churning enough to put off a family audience. Theyre not shocking and theyre not original we even have aliens climbing out of peoples chests!

Wishmaster is a seriously dull film and one that I would have switched off after about twenty minutes if I hadnt wanted to comment on it here. The only positive thing in the entire sorry mess is Andrew Divoffs creepy grin when playing the Djinn in its human disguise.

The only frightening thing about this movie was when I looked it up on the Internet Movie Database and discovered that there are three sequels.

Croaked: Frog Monster From Hell

Another Troma pick-up and another example of how to sell a film by changing its title. Croaked was originally called Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake and this is the title that appears on the actual film. Croaked: Frog Monster From Hell may be a less accurate title, but it sounds a lot more fun and is more effective if setting the tone of the film.

Croaked is not frightening, not gory and is so predictable as to supply no shocks. The dialogue is cheesy, the acting is wooden, the action is stilted beyond belief and theres no sex, or even nudity. However, it is saved by its sense of humour, most noticeably in its jokey use of music. Composer Bruce Malm deserves a medal for giving several weak action sequences a comedic feel by playing lightweight tunes over them. In fact, the soundtrack is the most outstanding part of this film, not only by giving it a comic edge, but also by holding back where appropriate and allowing the background forest noises provide a suitably oppressive atmosphere - who would have thought that a frog chorus could sound ominous? Special mention should also go to Jerry Gregoris who plays Charlie, the resident hermit and a character which manages simultaneously to provide much of the exposition and (deliberately or otherwise) supply some great moments of comic relief.

The story, narrated by the now adult Kelly Morgan (Glenn Scherer), follows his experiences as an 11 year old boy when he, along with his father, their companions and several other people encountered the Rana, the lake-dwelling prehistoric frog god. Not a premise that can be taken very seriously to start with.

Wisely, the filmmakers avoid showing the monster for as long as possible. Murky water, shadowy trees and fog are all used to conceal the Rana as it stalks and - surprisingly quickly for a horror film - dispatches its victims. Again, probably more by accident than by design, the level to which the Rana is hidden does make for some suspenseful moments - especially some of the underwater scenes from the Ranas point of view which are very reminiscent of Jaws - a film which was made in the same year.

Of course, when - in the climactic scene - the Rana does finally appear in all its glory, we have a man in a rubber suit that looks like its been copied stitch-for-stitch from the Creature From The Black Lagoon.

After this scene, we jump back to the adult Kelly Morgan and his girlfriend for the shock ending which is both predictable and disappointing. That said, build up to it is superbly handled and manages to sustain a wonderfully creepy atmosphere right up to the unshocking shock.

I enjoyed this film. Its a fine piece of cheese which as far as I can tell, is no longer available on either video or DVD. But if your local TV company decides to risk a screening, tune in, grab some beers and enjoy.

The Fifth Element

Now this is what mega-budget movie making should be all about. I saw The Fifth Element in the cinema and the visual ride blew me away. So when the DVD fell into my hands, it was some trepidation that I put it into the player - concerned at how well the film translated to the small screen.

Im not going to say that I neednt have worried, but it has translated pretty well. The widescreen format has been preserved and, even though some of the scenes dont manage to generate the same feeling of vertigo as the cinema experience is able to inspire, they are still pretty impressive. And, of course, the Jean-Paul Gaultier costumes have to be seen to be believed.

The plot is a wonderfully preposterous piece of nonsense, involving a ball of ultimate evil that tips up every 5000 years to threaten the total destruction of the universe. This can only be stopped by uniting four stones representing the four elements of Earth, Fire, Air and Water with the Fifth Element of the title. But all this is incidental to the point of the film which is to present you with a visual experience that will stay with you long after the film has ended. And from this point of view, the Fifth Element DVD is good, but if you get the chance to see it on the big screen, grab it with both hands because its mindblowing.

There are some great characters in this film, including Bruce Willis as Korben Dallas - a standard Bruce Willis action character to the point where you always know exactly what hes going to do next. Then, of course the is Gary Oldmans superbly hammy multi-billionare redneck villain but what else can you expect from a character called Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg. And, of course, Milla Jovovich as Leeloo is utterly gorgeous as the alien abroad in 2257.

And I can go on Priest Vito Cornelius (Ian Holm) manages to mix arrogance and naivety in a superbly comic manner and Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker) manages to stay just on the funny side of incredibly irritating. And I cant not mention Lee Evans cameo as Fog, the bellboy.

The set design and costumes combine to give the film a unique feel of being both old-fashioned and futuristic at the same time watch the air-cars and Thais (Kim Chan) mobile noodle bar to see what I mean. Also, look out for the cigarette filters.

There are not a huge number of aliens in this film, but those that do make an appearance are all suitably strange, with the villains Mangalores being suitably ugly too.

In Short, The Fifth Element is a superb mix of action, adventure and comedy served up in a package that is visually stunning.

Thunderbirds Are GO

Thunderbirds Are GO Werent the sixties great.

Thunderbirds was a childrens TV series forged in the white heat of technology and which reflected the optimism of the time that scientists and engineers could solve all our problems. Thunderbirds Are GO is the first of two feature film spinoffs from the series and it has all the same blind faith in the future and excessive use of gagetry which connected the TV series so closely to the spirit of its time - and which makes it appear so dated now.

The plot of Thunderbirds are GO is pretty standard Thunderbirds stuff including sabotages, disasters and daring rescues carried out at high speed by the Tracy Brothers - who with their father and Brains, the boffin, make up International Rescue - a top secret agency, based on an island somewhere in the Pacific, that uses as much hardware as possible to rescue people caught in life threatening situations. The name Thunderbirds refers to their vehicles, Thunderbird 2 - the fat aeroplane with interchangable cargo pods - being the coolest and most collectable of the toys which we fought over as kids.

In fact, the film plays very much like an extended episode of the Thunderbirds TV series and it really doesnt stretch to 90 minutes. For a while its all good clean cheesy fun, but after a while it starts geting very dull and youre left with a bunch of puppets who, while having a greater range of facial expressions than the average actor in a TV movie, are simply unable to convey any sort of emotion at all. The plot is both simplistic and full of holes big enough for Parker - Lady Penelopes rough-diamond butler - to drive his employers pink Rolls Royce through.

And the big problem with using models and marionettes is that, not only do the special effects look unspectacular, but the moments of high drama are completely undermined by the fact that it impossible to actually care what happens to any of these lumps of wood. Granted, these had a lot more realism than the hand puppets which had previously been the mainstay of British childrens television, but animation techniques have seen huge improvements over the years and, compared to the claymation of Chicken Run or the detailed cel animation of Princess Mononoke, Gerry Andersons Supermarionation looks decidedly dated.

Thunderbirds, the TV series, was hugely successful in the UK. It was also one of the first TV series made with the lucrative US market in mind. The Tracy family all speak with American accents and Lady Penelope and Parker blatantly play up to American stereotypes of what the English are like. That said, my Canadian flatmate had never heard of the Thunderbirds and the expression F.A.B. meant nothing to her - so it clearly failed to penetrate as far as later and less dated attempts. But this approach reflected the understanding of Lew Grade - the Independent TV mogul who bought Thunderbirds from Gerry Andersons Century 21 production company - that the future of TV was in light entertainment and the profits were to be made from selling shows abroad.

Thunderbirds Are GO, the film, reflects the state of the British film industry at the time. As cinema audiences declined, film-makers started to hunt for new ways to get people away from their TV screens and back into cinemas. One of these was to bring already successful TV series to the big screen - the two Thunderbirds films led the way with this approach and were quickly followed by film spinoffs for Doctor Who, On The Busses and Till Death do Us Part. The problem with this approach for Thunderbirds Are GO is that, as a childrens series - even one that had managed to build a cult audience amongst adults - it was unable to attract the audiences it needed amongst the more deeply age-segregated cinemagoing public.

On the whole, I wasnt overly impressed with Thunderbirds are GO. But it did have some fun moments, including a cameo from Cliff Richard as Cliff Richard Jr. - performing exactly the sort of middle of the road pop that both contributes to Cliffs longevity as a performer and which makes him popular with the intended audiences parents. And I laughed out loud when the Band of HM Royal Maries rolled up to play the end title theme.

F.A.B.

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