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The song of death
The one-armed fighter (hardly a sword fighter, at least in this movie) Liu Yi Su (Wang Yu) wants revenge on 9 killers of the Chu clan who massacred his family and chopped off his other arm. One of the 9 killers actually offers help in finding the others, but can Liu Yi Su trust a traitor?
You guess it, that is a predictable plot line leading to at least 9 fight scenes for the hero, mostly done with only one bare hand against swords. However, since there is good variety and some bizarre ideas (a lady leading Liu Yi Su into a trap by her 'song of death', a weird monk, an attempted poisoning), it never gets boring. Different cuts of this movie are around. I watched the German dvd which runs 77:14 minutes and compared to the subtitled Chinese version running 89:18, most cuts concern gruesome fight scenes, breaking necks and spilling blood. Violent fun, but fun it is. One of my favorites among very cheap Kung-fu flicks.
The Terror (2018)
In 1845, the Franklin expedition meets their doom when searching for the northwest passage. Doom not only caused by the cold, hunger, sickness and mutiny, but also by a hideously malformed polar bear that keeps chasing them and kills expedition members on a regular basis during each episode.
A series with 10 episodes = 400 mins. which I watched during 5 hot summer days, because that is the best time to watch films about polar expeditions. Excellent actors and performances, I don't want to point out anyone in particular. Admittedly I was glued to the screen and mostly enjoyed it, maybe except the animated monster. The rest is mostly historically accurate, as far as later research could reveal, and terrifying enough without a creature. Once the natives are asking the British why do they wish to die, because they cannot imagine any other reason why somebody could come to this land voluntarily than a death wish. Adventure never sounded less inviting, unless you can watch it from safe distance.
Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
Well adapted from the manga
This was the first time in several years that I thoroughly enjoyed watching a 100+ million dollar blockbuster. 'Alita' hasn't become one of these predictable, sterile special effect operas. Although it has all the action and impressive visuals, the human element never gets lost, which is an even bigger achievement if you consider the main character is completely animated. Alita gets a new father in the doctor who found her, and she meets her love interest, Hugo - the emotions concerned work great. The story runs pretty close to the early books, even if they were adjusted a bit especially in the running order and the supporting roles.
Since I read the manga in 1996, I thought this would make a great story for a movie, but didn't expect it would actually happen. Alita is an ancient fighting machine, but due to a memory wipe, restarts with complete innocence. A superhero, dumped on a trashyard, with the face of a child. Yes, the big eyes were rather annoying in the trailer, and I thought at first what a bad idea that was, but in the movie, they seem natural after a few minutes.
When the burnt body of a woman is found on the beach, Inspector Thompson (veteran actor Ray Milland, around 70 years old by then) returns from retirement to take control of this case. His colleagues believe quickly that they found the killer, a local pervert, but as you can guess from the running time, the truth is more complicated and takes more investigative work to unveal...
The movie benefits from a very clever construction. We don't know who the killer is, that is normal for a crime story. But also the identity of the victim is unknown, and this parallel search keeps the suspense up for the audience. Due to its location in bright Australia, this never looks like a typical dark Italian Giallo, but that's making it more special.
The cast is great, including Michele Placido, Howard Ross and Mel Ferrer. The female lead Dalila di Lazzaro maybe less known, but she appeared in a weird selection of bizarre movies, ranging from Andy Warhol's 'Frankenstein' to Dario Argento's 'Phenomena' to Klaus Kinski's 'Paganini'.
Grumpy octopus walking
A Japanese team of explorers wants to take a closer look at a lonely island for possible use by a tourism company. Little do they know what they'll find: a grumpy giant octopus walking over land to kill and wave its tentacles a lot. When they find a way to fight the beast, promptly there are more dangerous creatures succeeding it, enlarged mysteriously by aliens who, of course, want to conquer Earth.
Ishiro Honda, director of the original 1956 'Godzilla' as well as many sequels ('King Kong vs. Godzilla', 'Mothra vs. Godzilla' etc.), created an entertaining monster flick here. "Nankai no daikaijû" is not outstanding in story, design or acting, but certainly not disappointing either if you like the genre. I watched it back in the 1990s and it was fun to watch it a second time now.
Monster Island (2019)
Bad, bad babies
Two employees of marine researcher Billy Ford (Adrian Bouchet) discover a giant starfish on the ocean floor which has lava for blood. Annoyed by the submarine, the starfish rises to the surface, slaps a couple of ships and then decides to head for the coast to lay eggs. Ugly little dragons are hatching from these eggs and start to puke lava at anyone they meet. Bad, bad babies! General Horne (Eric Roberts) summons the army in vain to solve the monster problem. Billy Ford, however, meanwhile simply attempts to find a bigger monster and arrange a battle of the two...
Another ludicrous 'Pacific Rim' rip-off from the Asylum factory line which was ok most of the running time (I voted 4 of 10). The actors were passable, some locations looked good, for example the Swiss cheese caves, the pacing was never lame, and the effects were what you expect from suffering similar experiences.
Tarzan's Peril (1951)
A comparatively serious adventure
After the silliness of the previous movie of the series ('Tarzan and the Slave Girl'), 'Tarzan's Peril' attempts to go back to serious jungle adventures. Tougher action, more realistic fight scenes, not as much comic relief (by the monkeys). Tarzan tries to stop an arms dealer this time. In opposite to the usual American parks and studio sets, a lot was actually shot in Africa this time. Due to this effort, 'Tarzan's Peril' is probably the best of the 5 Tarzan movies with Lex Barker. On the downside: one ridiculous fight with a man-eating (huh?) plant, and very little to do for Jane except to sit home and wait for Tarzan's return. Director Byron Haskin went on successfully to shoot H.G. Wells' 'War of the Worlds', among others.
Las amantes del diablo (1971)
This Spanish-Italian horror movie from 1971 revolves around the evil Doctor Nescu who seduces various beautiful women, until they take part in his satanic rituals. Altogether tame and very slow moving, not to say boring. It feels like half of the running time is spent by people standing around talking, smoking cigarettes and drinking wine. Then smoking another cigarette and drinking another glass of wine. If you didn't watch this movie, you didn't miss much. To mention a few positive things: Krista Nell, usually only in supporting roles, stars as Hilde who tries to escape from the Doctor's spell. She can be seen in a good lead role here. Occasionally we get some nice psychedelic camera work, and a good, scary soundtrack with plenty of organ playing is provided by skilled Italian composer Carlo Savina.
Mortal Engines (2018)
'Mortal Engines' got the subtitle 'City Wars' ('Krieg der Städte') in my country which is remarkably honest, because it actually is 'Star Wars' ('Krieg der Sterne') with cities. Luke, I mean Tom, wanted to be a pilot and see something of the world. Instead, he is stuck in one place where he has to repair trashed machines. Leia, I mean Hester, becomes a rebel hero and encourages him to become a rebel, too, and finally even pilot. The Dark Lord, read: Thaddeus Valentine, reveals 'I am your father' in the middle of a duel to the death which was definitely the most ridiculous copycat moment of them all. Rebel gliders meanwhile attack the Death Star, I mean London, before its new super weapon destroys the rebel base, I mean The Wall protecting the non-moving cities. The cyborg Shrike seems to be on a mission to kill Hester, but turns out to be an old friend - this is from 'Terminator II', not 'Star Wars', must have slipped in by mistake. If anyone compares this movie to 'Mad Max' or 'Waterworld', he probably refers to the look, not the story.
Everything you see in this movie, you have seen somewhere else before, and better. With one exception, and that's the beautiful Steampunk design. I was fortunate to watch it in 3D for maximum enjoyment. The basic idea of cities on wheels is nonetheless never convincing. If you see the chase at the beginning, the huge amount of energy London requires to move its millions of tons to chase a tiny city, makes clear that you'd spend much more energy of the chase than you will gain from the catch. Economy and physics are so unconvincing that we are talking about a pure fantasy world here, the sci-fi label is certainly misplaced on 'Mortal Engines'. This explains why you have many negative reviews from annoyed sci-fi fans here. 'Mortal Engines' can be enjoyed solely as blockbuster entertainment, but it fails completely as a vision of a possible future.
I liked the casting, some very good choices were made. Hera Hilmar is an impressive outsider, determined to her cause, trusting nobody. Robert Sheehan plays the big step from librarian to action hero very well, doesn't know how to talk to Hester at first, looking a little bit clumsy next to warriors like Anna Fang, that is perfect for the part, a character that needs to grow up to unforeseen tasks. We have an impressive bad guy with Hugo Weaving who knows a bad guy is more believable if he also has good sides, for example caring about his daughter Katherine. The script is mostly limiting him to a guy who wants the power of ancient technology just to wreak havoc - yet that's not the actor's fault. Stephen Lang picks up the seemingly impossible task to play a soulless being with a lot of soul and is brilliant at it. To cut a long story short: enjoy it for what 'Mortal Engines' is, a big show with too familiar story line.
The Widow (2019)
Three years after her husband disappeared due to a plane crash in Congo, his 'widow' discovers faint traces that he may still be alive. She flies down to Africa and starts an investigation that may be clumsy (she does not even speak French), but her stubbornness takes her through in one piece somehow. What she finds is however not what she expected, and to unknown enemies, her investigation about the plane crash is not welcome...
Well entertaining TV series, at 8 episodes neither too short to develop a certain complexity and interesting characters, nor too long to maintain suspense. I watched it in only three days because I was eager to find out how it continues, a very good sign. Familiar faces among the actors include Charles Dance ('Game of Thrones'), Alex Kingston ('Doctor Who') and of course Kate Beckinsale ('Underworld').
Worthy conclusion of the series
'Valley of Death' is the final movie of the immensely successful German western series of the 1960s based on Karl May's novels (albeit very loosely). It did not repeat the mistakes from Brauner's earlier production 'Old Shatterhand': the story is action-packed and to the point, Pierre Brice can shine (for example in Winnetou's knife duel against the enemy chief), composer Martin Böttcher wrote a great soundtrack, and experienced director Harald Reinl had the right feeling for the series. For the locations, they returned to places familiar for example from 'Winnetou I'. Even if the story seems like nothing new (bandits hunting for gold), 'Valley of Death' became a very entertaining movie that shouldn't disappoint the fans of the series.
Old Shatterhand (1964)
Lifeless despite the good cast
Before a peace contract with the natives will be signed, Captain Bradley and a bunch of outlaws try and sabotage it by faking Indian attacks on settlers. Old Shatterhand and Winnetou start searching for the members of this conspiracy.
It is a little bit strange that the movie doesn't really click, because it has all the ingredients of a typical Karl May western of that period, plus a perfect cast with Lex Barker, Pierre Brice, Daliah Lavi and Ralf Wolter as the good guys, facing excellent villains (Guy Madison, Rik Battaglia). It is somewhat too long with two hours for a rather straight story, and with its occasional brutality (even murder of a child) and carelessness for detail never develops the sense of magic that was typical for the best contributions to the series. Ultimately a disappointment.
2036 Origin Unknown (2018)
Lost in the machine
Katee Sackhoff is sitting 90 minutes in front of a green screen, talking to a machine, while a lot of colourful computer graphics are swirling all around her. This movie is supposedly about a conflict between humanity and artificial intelligence. The irony is that its makers do not manage to show any human aspects in it. Devoid of human interactions that might show the value of emotions and creativity as opposed to a machine's logic, the movie misses its aim and pushes the audience into a kaleidoscope of effects which are utterly sterile and meaningless. I give three of ten points, due to a certain weirdness that kept me watching till the end. At least it is not a typical low budget sci-fi flick.
Within the Rock (1996)
It's collision time again
A rather large moon is on course for a collision with Earth. Dr Shaw (Caroline Barclay) is sent with a team of space miners to drill tunnels into that moon, preparing its destruction with explosives. However, they discover an ancient hostile life-form 'within the rock', and then they are killed one by one. Their survival is not made easier by Ryan (Xander Berkeley), the captain of the spacecraft who wants to use the opportunity and run with a fortune of platinum they discovered, too.
To many viewers, "Within the Rock" (1996) looks like a rip-off to "Armageddon" (1998) but looking at the dates, it can't be. Instead it is borrowing a lot from the usual monster movie sources "Alien" (1979) and "Predator" (1987) as well as earlier collision stories, a classic sci-fi theme going way back for example to "When Worlds Collide" (1951). The spaceship, where they still use floppy disks in the control room, looks early 80s rather than mid 90s; even for a TV production the effects are quite embarassing. So are the characters, because they leave tons of powerful explosives in the crates while trying to hit the monster with a pickaxe. The predictable story may be OK to watch once, but you won't remember it next week.
Black Jack (1968)
The last laugh
Django (aka "Black Jack" Murphy in the original dubbing) plans a bank robbery which is brilliantly executed, but when it comes to sharing the loot, his partners rape and kill his sister, almost kill Django and run with the money. You guess it: only "almost" killing him was a bad mistake. The injured Django - with a walking stick! - goes after them for revenge, killing them one by one in interesting ways and enjoying it more than he should.
For many years, I only knew a censored version with a different ending, and believed this was just another violent western. Now I had the opportunity to watch the uncut original version, and this has a lot more quality and impact to offer. Only a few westerns of that period went as far as 'Black Jack' in showing how revenge destroys a man. Jack/Django only lives for revenge like one of The Walking Dead, and from the sympathetic character at the beginning turns into a sadistic monster, laughing when his enemies die. And with the different ending (no spoilers here, of course) the uncut version makes a lot more sense than the old edit. Recommended (except for the squeamish).
Dying to watch it - literally
Kirby (Norman Reedus, meanwhile famous for 'The Walking Dead') urgently needs money because his movie theatre is deeply in debts. Just then, the rich collector Bellinger (Udo Kier, whose connection to the horror genre goes all the way back to 'Mark of the Devil' in 1970) offers him 200,000 dollars if he finds the only copy of the infamous movie 'The Absolute End of the World' by director Backovic for him. The first showing at a festival caused riots and deaths since it was so disturbing. Kirby starts his investigation and finds that most people associated with the movie or Backovic are either dead or insane...
Now this is a story guaranteed to attract the horror movie fans, because who didn't discuss the question 'what is the most extreme movie you've ever seen' with fellow fans? In the skilled hands of John Carpenter, this subject becomes easily one of the best contributions of 'Masters of Horror', season one.
Dar vs. Ninja Turtle
Old Lord Agon (David Warner) desires an object of power, the Eye of Braxus, which would provide him with new energy. Dar (Marc Singer) owns one half of the amulet, young king Tal (Casper Van Dien, with a ridiculous wig) the other half. Tal is caught by Lord Agon. Dar starts a rescue mission across the jungle and meets Shada (Sandra Hess, "Mortal Kombat 2"). He makes the mistake to trust her, but then she tries to steal the amulet. And on who's side is the witch Morgana (Lesley-Anne Down)?
It looks like a cheap TV production, not a movie, because it is a cheap TV production. The demon Braxus could be one of the Ninja Turtles on a Monday morning. Gabrielle Beaumont, an experienced TV director ("Dynasty", "Star Trek: Next Generation") does a good job within the budget limitation. The story is solid, the characters have a certain charm, thus 'Beastmaster 3' is neither a contribution as important to the genre as the first installment, nor trash as bizarre as the second part, but simply average entertainment to pass the time.
Dar goes to LA
Dar (Marc Singer) fights against the villain Arklon (Wings Hauser) who can shoot laser beams and uses his devilish laugh frequently to prove how evil he really is. A witch (Sarah Douglas) offers him access to a strange world, the so-called LA, where Arklon can obtain a weapon of ultimate power, the neutron bomb. Quicker than you can say 'transdimensional gate', Arklon, Dar and the witch jump through the gate and confuse people in Los Angeles by their outlandish garb. Dar meets a senator's rich daughter (young Kari Wuhrer) who introduces him to cars and other miracles of this world.
The sequel is nowhere near the qualities of the first movie, and it suffers from some scenes where the contrast between barbarians and modern age is just not as funny as the makers expected it to be. Still an entertaining little trash flick with a couple of good moments - I don't think I have seen another movie where policemen are trying to catch a guy with a pet tiger.
Raw Edge (1956)
The pack is lurking everywhere
Kirby (Rory Calhoun) comes to town and finds that his brother was hanged for a crime he didn't commit. There is a lot of tension between the men everywhere because too many of them are after two beautiful women, Mrs Montgomery (Yvonne De Carlo) and Paca (Mara Corday). Everyone who dies will mean less competition in the chase for them...
'Raw Edge' was shown in my country under a title that means 'The Pack Is Lurking Everywhere', and indeed it feels as if men behave like a pack of hounds here, no character is entirely sympathetic. The makers did not bother much about historical accuracy, because several pieces of clothing and weaponry look way too modern for Oregon in 1842. But surely the aim of the movie was to tell a story about the dark side of human nature, and it fully succeeded at that. A sinister and unusual western ahead of its time.
Masters of Horror: Jenifer (2005)
It's a pet, not your lunch
A detective shoots a man who is drunk, mad and armed, and trying to kill a blond woman. Jenifer has a hideously deformed face, but a stunning body, and although she is unable to speak, the detective will find out more from her about the man he killed than he wanted to know...
I remember reading somewhere in the press during the 1980s that Argento was attacked by serious movie critics for being misogynistic, for the way that women were victimized in his movies. They should have waited for this one! Jenifer is reduced to an animal with desires to have intercourse and eat lots of raw meat. Please don't eat the cat, dear - it's a pet, not your lunch.
'Jenifer' sticks to my memory as a rather gory contribution to season 1 of 'Masters of Horror', but not one of the best entries. John Landis' 'Deer Woman' for example was clearly more original on a similar story line of 'don't trust strange women'.
Easy Rider, 50 years on
'Guy on a motorbike comes to town. Nobody likes him, especially not the police. He takes various drugs to have a more interesting time, but instead, this leads to violence and killing.' You could summarize 'Easy Rider' with these words, but 'Adrenochrome' just as well, 50 years later. This low budget movie took a lot of effort with the visual effects. Computer painting in comic book style and such kind of graphic tools are omnipresent. But apart from the occasionally impressive exercise in style, it has little actual content to offer. I was hoping to dream in the following night about the skull face girl at least, but it didn't happen, so the makers didn't impress my subconscious as much as they wanted to. And they tried hard. You can give this a shot if you like weird movies - did I mention the surfer cannibals? - or just run out of drugs but want to feel like you didn't. I voted an undecided 5 of 10.
Coartada en disco rojo (1972)
Doctor Carli (George Hilton) is a heart surgeon at a clinic owned by his wife Elena (Luciana Paluzzi). Now imagine: if she should die an untimely death, her husband would inherit the clinic and become very rich. Inspector Nardi (Fernando Rey), while initially investigating a different case, realizes that Mrs Carli may be in great danger and starts to watch over her.
The movie boasts with footage from an actual heart surgery (not that I ever wanted to see that so closely), but doesn't manage to provide as many surprising twists and turns as other classic giallo movies. Thus it becomes only an average contribution to the genre, although with a great cast also including Eduardo Fajardo and Anita Strindberg.
They call him Sacramento
Jack Thompson aka Sacramento (Ty Hardin) could live happily on his farm with his son (Christian Hay) and daughter (Jenny Atkins - in real life Hardin's 5th wife) if it wasn't for his enemy Murdock (Giacomo Rossi Stuart). Murdock tries to kill Sacramento several times, each time he fails, and thus somehow the running time passes. I wouldn't really call this a 'story', it's too fragmentary.
One idea of the script is remarkable, though: Sacramento usually beats up his enemies in the same saloon. The saloon owner afterwards has a serious argument with him about the damage - and he can't pay her. I have watched so many westerns where tables and mirrors are broken in a saloon brawl, but how often they discussed the invoice afterwards? And even if the hero is asked to pay for the damage, he usually drops a banknote casually and leaves, but I've never seen him stand there and say: oops, sorry... There are a few funny moments along the way, but all in all it is a poor flick shot towards the end of the Italian western wave. Ty Hardin, who shot 4 of these Italian westerns in a row 1971/72, was only 42 when he made this movie, the grey hair is a bit misleading.
Zwei tolle Käfer räumen auf (1979)
Dudu V: Unceremoniously replaced by a robot
The last of five movies director Rudolf Zehetgruber made about a yellow Volkswagen beetle with many gadgets. However, the famous Dudu is trashed after only a few minutes at the beginning of this movie. It's a shame! A kind of spider robot with an annoying beepy voice becomes the new companion of El Guancho (played by Zehetgruber himself), obviously in the wake of the 'Star Wars' mania of the late seventies. Guancho and his robot are fighting various gangsters including Hidalgo (Brad Harris) and Alfonso (veteran western actor Fernando Sancho).
Even if the last sequel is a total disappointment, they managed again to find great locations: shot on the Canary Islands (mostly Lanzarote, partly Gran Canaria, I would guess from my own visits there). Anyhow, it would have been nice to get an actual story beyond a couple of standard chases around a (yawn) gold treasure. In opposite to the previous movies, they didn't even manage to install interesting female characters. I voted 4-7-6-5-3 for the five movies.
Dudu IV: The Swiss adventure
The fourth of five movies director Rudolf Zehetgruber made about a yellow Volkswagen beetle with many gadgets. He played the driver Jimmy Bondi himself under the stage name Robert Mark. Aldo Regozzani returns from the previous episode as a race driver. Walter Giller is back as well, but in a totally different part (last time a gangster, this time a hotel employee). Part 4 is a race movie again like the first movie, but instead of Africa set in Switzerland against a beautiful scenery of snowy mountains and castles. The screenplay writing, in opposite to the photography, leaves a lot to be desired. It is the usual race routine with accidents, tricks and rivalries. The only new ability of Dudu is that he can talk now, but that leads only to a few cheap jokes. Again he can fly, which helps to win the race, but also means he can quickly leave his driver behind if he's angry with him... Mildly entertaining, but the series gets tired at this point. I voted 4-7-6-5-3 for the five movies.