Highlander II: The Quickening (1991)

Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) movie poster

director Russell Mulcahy
viewed: 06/12/2018

Ranked among worst films of all time, Highlander II: The Quickening has been long calling me for a re-watch. I saw it circa the time it first hit video and recalled it being bad, but epic-bad?  

More aptly it might rank as one of the weirdest sequels of all time, taking such liberty with its original concept. Because Highlander II is downright Baroque in its expanding Highlander universe, something that apparently sent its fan culture into paroxysms, and general audiences wondering what the fuck was going on.

One parallel between the films is the opening sequence in a major public arena, packed with people, watching a dramatic event. In the first film, it’s a wrestling match at Madison Square Garden, and here, it’s an opera house, viewing Wagner’s Götterdämmerung. And maybe here is the clue: wrestling suggested mano-y-mano fighting, and Wagner’s opera suggests heightened epic. 

Of course, this heightened epic is a kitchen sink of ideas and story tropes, including this shield that protects the Earth from the depleted ozone layer, the immortals are aliens from another dimension? and time?

Interestingly, Highlander II is rather trailblazing in 90’s design and aesthetics. In many ways, the film’s design looks like much science fiction/superhero films that would follow it.

It’s a red hot mess for sure. It takes Highlander‘s innate silliness to operatic levels. But it’s still pretty fun.

It’s funny to me that despite this film, the franchise begat two more films with Christopher Lambert, cartoon shows, the TV show, and an eventual canon well beyond me. This was as far as I ever got with the franchise. I’ll probably keep it that way.

 

Highlander (1986)

Highlander (1986) movie poster

director Russell Mulcahy
viewed: 06/11/2018

I recall seeing Highlander in the theater back in ’86. I don’t recollect what I knew about it beforehand, but I believe I liked it and may have gone back to see it again. 

That said, I hadn’t seen it in decades. I’d totally forgotten the Queen music.

Much like I thought back in the day, Highlander is absurd but absurdly entertaining, with some top notch cinematography to boot.  The story, much like Highlander itself, came out of left field. This whole concept of immortal (except in cases of decapitation) warriors was wildly inventive, if also super silly.

The cast is fun, if bizarrely representing countries and cultures native to the actors.

I actually think the opening ½ hour is really strange and surprising. The narrative strategy doesn’t tell you much of why some guy at a wrestling match suddenly goes down to a parking garage to pull a sword and battle some other dude. Just when you think there doesn’t need to be exposition, you get it in the middle in which the it comes gets hammy and silly.

I’d argue that silliness is a big part of its charm.

Starcrash (1978)

Starcrash (1978) movie poster

director Luigi Cozzi
viewed: 06/08/2018

The universe of Starcrash is pretty. So colorful.

“I’d say red hot potatoes for small time smugglers on the run like us.”

Starcrash is red hot potatoes for bad movie lovers on the tube like us. For all the reasons that everyone has ever cited…and there are so very many: Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro’s outfits, some of the worst stop-motion animation I can recall having seen (though a nice homage to Jason and the Argonauts nonetheless), the nearly perfectly derivative score, and of course David Hasselhoff’s hair.

And the universe is so pretty.

She Demons (1958)

She Demons (1958) movie poster

director  Richard E. Cunha
viewed: 06/03/2018

“The body of a woman with the face of a demon!”

She Demons is cheap pulp horror/adventure featuring a mad Nazi scientist based in an underground island volcano laboratory, experimenting on kidnapped girls, turning them (temporarily) into She Demons. A shipwrecked pleasure crew (including ultra-vixen Irish McCalla, Victor “Number 2 Son” Sen Yung, and Tod Griffin) land on the island and discover its bizarre secrets.

First they encounter the all white native girls, “The Diane Nellis Dancers” dancing up a storm. Then the Nazis.

It’s cheap and corny and wooden at times, but it also occasionally perks up as fun. The make-up effects are hilariously camp, yet a genuine S&M undercurrent suffuses the Nazi villains. It also features some insinuated violence that seems pretty strong for 1958.

I was also struck that this vague twist on The Island of Dr. Mureau might also have influenced the films of Eddie Romero and Gerardo de Leon.

Richard E. Cunha is a deeply anomalous 1950’s horror/sci-fi director. He made four flicks, all in one year Giant from the Unknown, She Demons, Frankenstein’s Daughter, and Missile to the Moon, 1958. And then he stopped.

She Demons, for my money at least, is some pretty decent late Fifties junk.

La nave de los monstruos (1960)

La nave de los monstruos (1960) movie poster

director Rogelio A. González
viewed: 06/01/2018

Women are from Venus; men are from the rest of the galaxy, in La Nave de los Monstruos (The Ship of Monsters en Inglés.) The is a Mexican horror-sci-fi-Western-comedy absurd and good-natured, weird and fun.

Yes, two Venusian babes show up on Earth, looking for men to help the Venusian cause. They’ve picked up characters from Mars and elsewhere, all brought back to re-seed Venus. Only when they set eyes and ears on Earthling Lauriano (Eulalio González), they fall into a squabble over who lands the singing vaquero. And it turns out that Beta (Lorena Velázquez) is actually a vampire from Uranus.

That’s right, a vampire from Uranus.

The other monsters are a variety of oddities, under the sway of she who wields that belt of power. Unfortunately for Beta, Lauriano’s heart is given to Gamma (Ana Bertha Lepe) and so Beta’s quest to take over the Earth is set to failure.

Initially, the comic aspects seem disappointing. But Eulalio González is funny and charming, giving the movie just the right verve in its tone and style. I’m not sure how good the translation was in the version I saw but it had some genuinely funny moments.

At the end of the day, Tractorr, the robot doesn’t just fall for a jukebox, the robot gets the jukebox in the end. The kind of happy ending they just don’t write enough of nowadays.

 

Devil Girl from Mars (1954)

Devil Girl from Mars (1954) movie poster

director David MacDonald
viewed: 05/30/2018

“Nothing like a good cup of tea in a crisis.”

Devil Girl from Mars or possibly “The Day a Small Nameless Scottish Village Stood Still” is 1950’s science fiction by way of the UK.

The war of the sexes was won on Mars by the ladies, but afterward, their men became weak and useless. So, Mars needs men! And to gather some prime specimens, they sent a gothy Agnes Moorehead type (Patricia Laffan) and her handy (though rather clumsy) robot named “Chani” (Per a cited reference in the Wikipedia entry, Chani was actually “fully automated,” something that seems rather dubious, but okay!)

The very noisy spacecraft lands in wee old Scotland. Some problem with the atmosphere drifted them from their original London location. The flick features a lot of additional character dramas and backstories (a young Hazel Court among them) that both fills it out and bloats it as well. 

It might not be spectacular, but it’s give the world a cosplay character for the ages.

Deadpool 2 (2018)

Deadpool 2 (2018) movie poster

director David Leitch
viewed: 05/27/2018 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

Deadpool 2 is the lesser Deadpool of the Deadpool movies. I’d commented about its predecessor that I didn’t think that the movie was as clever as it thought itself. That’s even more true here in the sequel.

Ryan Reynolds and just about everybody from the first film is back, along with Josh Brolin as Cable, Zazie Beetz as Domino, and surprisingly Julian Dennison (from Hunt for the Wilderpeople) as Russell/Firefist. Oh yeah, and all those guys in X-Force.

Knowing jokes about lazy writing don’t make lazy writing okay. They pack in the gags, cultural references, and R-rated raunchiness into a story that also tries to have a heart. That having a heart thing is the mushy muddle that undercuts a lot of the film’s potential irreverence making it much more like the things it attempts to lampoon.

Space Invasion of Lapland (1959)

Space Invasion of Lapland (1959) movie poster

director Virgil W. Vogel
viewed: 04/27/2018

I began Space Invasion of Lapland as the Jerry Warren version Invasion of the Animal People with John Carradine. But midway, I switched over to Terror in the Midnight Sun, which is a less bastardized American version of this Swedish 1959 sci-fi horror flick filmed in English. It’s interesting that IMDb doesn’t give Warren credit for his version. Maybe he didn’t add or change enough.

Both versions feature the super pretty Barbara Wilson, an American in Sweden, who just happens to coincide with the landing of an alien ship, the slaughter of a bunch of reindeer, and eventually a big ol’ hairy monster guy, a kind of outer space King Kong landed in snowy Lappland.

You know, it’s got a lot to recommend it, though it’s also slow and draggy at times. The monster sequences are good fun, a forced perspective giant beast, hairy as all get-out. Is he big enough to be a kaiju?

Oh, and the aliens. When they suddenly start appearing on screen, it’s almost a modernist comic alien Death from The Seventh Seal.

Weird and cool.

 

Isle of Dogs (2018)

Isle of Dogs (2018) movie poster

director Wes Anderson
viewed: 04/07/2018 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

Even as a fairly inveterate Wes Anderson film aficionado, it’s pretty easy to see the problematics of Isle of Dogs and its version of Japan and the Japanese. Even while trying to be overtly respectful (the film is meant in part as an homage to Akira Kurosawa), you can still wind up with something that is culturally tone deaf and resultingly offensive.  The fall-out from responses to Kubo might have been a signal if caught early enough in production.

In part, I think Anderson’s approach here works. The whole film is taken as translations. The dogs barking is translated into English. The Japanese is paraphrased in translation, whenever actually translated.

The film is totally gorgeous. And if you’re apt to like Wes Anderson films, it’s certainly that with snappy dialogue, amusing characters, deadpan humor. Though Anderson himself is not an animator, this stop-motion design and animation team is so perfect for his aesthetics, which I’ve compared before to cinematic dioramas or shadowboxes.

What’s most interesting to me about this movie is that its Wes Anderson doing speculative fiction. The story is set 20 years in the future and the world is totally garbage and destroyed (or at least Garbage Island is, where we spend most of the film). It starts from a pessimistic point, in which “man’s best friend” and a metaphor perhaps for what is good in humanity is removed from human society due to a variety of diseases. To further the dystopia being shoved down society’s throat, the replacement dogs are robots, capable of viciousness only.

Ultimately, the film resolves itself too easily. The villainous Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) has a change of heart for no apparent good reason. The stakes in a Wes Anderson film are typically not so high, and viewers can usually guess that things will work out in the end more or less.

I enjoyed the film, as did my teenage daughter. But I tend to like Wes Anderson constructions. It really is beautifully rendered.

Laserblast (1978)

Laserblast (1978) movie poster

director  Michael Rae
viewed: 03/21/2018

Laserblast is a blast. If you like cheap sci-fi and stop motion animation. As I do.

It’s a parable about irresponsible gun ownership. When a laser blaster falls into the hands of a young man, he gleefully blows stuff up. Until the blaster and medallion start to transform his mind and body and turn him into a laser-blasting miscreant. Irresponsible aliens who left these items on Earth have to return to retrieve said blaster and set things straight.

Well, at least the pyrotechnics consultant had fun.

The movie really has it out for Star Wars. Blowing up a billboard and this line from the cops:

“The kid’s nuts. He’s seen Star Wars five times.”

At times it falls into the pacing and narrative logic of a Doris Wishman nudist flick.

Disaffected youth and powerful weaponry do not mix well.