Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Urge To Kill (1989)

The first computer I ever bought was actually a word processor.  This would have been back around 1996, and I had just moved down around the Philadelphia area with dreams of becoming a screenwriter dancing in my head (never mind that any sane person would have moved to Los Angeles to accomplish this goal).  The gizmo was manufactured by Brother, and because I couldn’t afford a brand-spanking-new one, I had to buy one refurbished.  It served me quite well, although for those who have never had to format a document such as a screenplay while you write and edit it (even with using saved templates), you really cannot appreciate the level of effort that went into getting your words out (and that’s even before you can find the words you want to get out in the first place).  I still remember the small monitor, with its type on a background of black, the font like something out of War Games (but orange).  

Which brings me to another issue.  In order to print out what you had written, you had to load each sheet of paper separately into the machine, like a manual typewriter, and God help you if you had a page count over a hundred or so; you’d be there all day.  The typewriter/printer came with one font which came in one size.  If you needed or wanted something different (say, size twelve Courier), you had to order a wheel for that specific font and size which had to be changed out manually.  The documents were stored on hard discs which held literally hundreds of kilobytes (yes, that’s sarcasm) and sometimes had to be split onto two discs if you were verbose (which I tend to be when writing).  And yet, for all that, there was a tactility involved in the process that made it feel bigger than simply putting your mind on paper for people to read.  You were involved in a project, and when you reached the end, you couldn’t help having some small amount of pride (regardless of the work’s actual quality).  The word processor was a tool like anything else.  You were using technology to a large extent, but you weren’t a slave to it.  It makes me wonder how far we’ve really come that the dynamic of this relationship has changed so very much to my mind.  And as much as you may not believe it after watching Sexploitation pantheon member Derek Ford’s final opus, the officially unreleased (but available via Youtube) The Urge To Kill (aka Attack Of The Killer Computer), the film touches on this universal conflict: Man versus Machine/Technology.

Spectacularly christened music producer Bono Zorro (Peter Gordeno) brings aspiring singer Melanie (Sally Ann Balaam) back to his crib to see if she’s really got what it takes to make it in the biz (if you know what I mean).  Zorro’s pad (which looks about the size of a college student’s apartment) is ”high tech” and fully automated, and is controlled by the Central Environment Control System (which Zorro refers to as “C.E.C.S.y” [pronounced “Sexy”]).  But the computer is jealous of the parade of floozies its master drags through the place and decides it wants him all to itself.

The basic premise of the film is nothing we haven’t seen before, and as previously stated, it uses an age-old narrative drive: the humans want to survive, and the machine wants to kill them.  But instead of being something large in scope like the Terminator films or Colossus: The Forbin Project, this movie keeps it personal, like Demon Seed or Electric Dreams.  Even then, there’s nothing all that fresh about this film.  We’ve seen sentient machines that fall in love with their owner/maker.  What The Urge to Kill does that’s interesting is how it personifies C.E.C.S.y.  She (and we’ll just settle on that gender pronoun, since physically the computer is played by a naked woman) appears in flash cuts, staring in direct address to the camera, but her makeup looks like Patty Smyth’s from The Warrior video or Brenda Hutchinson in Liquid Sky (a film I haven’t seen, but the makeup is distinctive).  This personification is implied as being purely visual (like a hallucination or a mental projection), a way to have characters react to another character, even though one of them likely isn’t actually there corporeally.  Outside of governing every function in the house, C.E.C.S.y does manifest physically via a form of telekinesis.  But more than this, she can manipulate the minds of humans, and this is really the crux of the film’s theme.  In a conversation earlier on, Zorro tells chippy Jane (Sarah Hope Walker) that C.E.C.S.y is “just a machine,” to which Jane retorts, “Aren’t we all?”  Later, Jane talks about a person’s mind being reprogrammed like a computer’s.  Nevertheless, for as envious as C.E.C.S.y is, for how much she desires Zorro, there is a physical barrier that is incapable of being surmounted.  This is reflected in the film’s violence.  There’s no symbiosis achieved between technology and flesh.  When the two meet, to paraphrase Lionel Stander’s introduction to the Hart To Hart television series, it’s murder.  

Like so many films with tiny budgets, Ford and company are fully aware of the two things that sell the most: sex and violence, and there’s plenty of both to be had here.  Every woman (even the computer) gets naked at some point or another.  As they get picked off, their ends (no pun intended) are met fairly gruesomely.  Flesh melts off bones, hands are boiled off, an electric toothbrush burns into a character’s head, et cetera.  Make no mistake, this film knows what it wants to accomplish, and it’s all about bodies.  The camera leers at its female characters.  In the first scene, Melanie dances around Zorro’s studio, while the camera peers straight up her skirt and shirt.  The idea of gazing continues in Zorro’s apartment.  The various cameras are given significant closeups as they follow the characters around.  There is the aforementioned embodiment of C.E.C.S.y looking straight at the camera.  In the control room, there is a monitor which is frequently cut to as she keeps tabs on the human characters.  Zorro keeps videos of himself banging various women (most strikingly what appear to be two grannies), and he likes to have prostitutes perform in front of him before joining in, which culminates in two “specialists” from a service called Cat Calls who play a VHS videotape of women mud wrestling while the duo engage in a catfight and tear off each other’s clothes in front of the television.  Everything is looking at everything else in this film, and we, of course, are the ultimate watchers as always, because there’s no one watching us as we watch them (or are there?).  

With all of this in mind, The Urge to Kill is also a film of incredible sloppiness.  Characters enter and exit scenes on a whim.  None of these people seem to have lives or exist in even the thinnest semblance of reality (even if Zorro is a rich, indulgent womanizer).  I’ll give you a few examples.  After Jane pulls Zorro from the hot tub along with a hooker’s forearms, he refuses to believe that C.E.C.S.y is killing anyone.  The clear reaction to this is why doesn’t she just show him the bloody appendages?  A character claims she needs to use the bathroom, but instead strips down and hits the sauna.  Zorro hires two hookers (not the two from Cat Calls, incidentally) and (in a baffling instance of paying for the whole seat but only using the edge) simply takes one to have a bubble bath while the other strolls all over his home.  After they finally realize that C.E.C.S.y isn’t letting them out of the house any time soon, Zorro very casually wants to have a drink and maybe a little sex with Jane (as you do when your house becomes a lethal prison).  And that’s the thing.  Everything about this film is casual to the point of indifference.  On the one hand, this attitude makes the whole dumb affair go down easier.  On the other, it makes the experience a bit of a slog, since there’s no drive to the story and very little tension to keep you interested.  Thank Christ for boobs and blood, huh?

MVT:  It’s crass as all get out, but if it weren’t for the women and their copious, gratuitous nudity, I doubt I could have actually made it all the way through this movie.

Make or Break:  The first two kills are juicy (and naked), and the one is even kind of inventive in a pleasantly unpleasant sort of way.

Score:  6/10 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Robotech: The Movie (1986)

Directed by: Noboru Ishiguro and Carl Macek
Runtime: 87 minutes (though it feels longer)

This need a little explanation is needed for this one. Robotech the TV series was three different anime series (Macross, Southern Cross, and Mospeada) edited together to create sixty five episodes so it could be syndicated on US television. This series was successful enough that a movie had to be made to cash in on the fandom and this where this movie started it's amazing failure.

The majority of Robotech's TV footage came from the Macross series and the company promoting a Macross movie did not want to create confusion between the two films. So they were unable to use any Macross footage. Instead footage from Megazone 23 (or Megazone Two Three) OVA (Original Video Animation) and Southern Cross. Resulting in the move looking nothing like the TV series. Then throw in some lazy writing, random quality on the dubbing, and bad editing and you have a depressing trainwreck of a movie.

The movie opens with a text crawl to get people who haven't seen the TV show caught up. In short an alien space ship crash lands on Earth and humans learn how to make transforming vehicles. Other aliens (Zentraedi) show up and a fight that nearly kills all of humanity happens. Then more aliens(The Masters) show up and a fight happens that nearly kills off both sides. Here is the sad part, this is the most sense this stupid movie is going to make.

So the aliens(The Masters) try again to destroy humanity and get back the secrets of making transforming machines. This time they decide use stealth to their technology back and nothing is stealthier than a massive assault over a major city to kidnap people. Luckily for the aliens they find Colonel Evilbastard and make an evil copy of him so they can get their missing technology back.

We then are introduced to Young Protagonist. He has all the charisma of chewed gum and a personality to match. He meets up with his friend Soon Dead to see the motorcycle he stole from the military. The motorcycle is the McGuffin of the movie as it's also a computer and can transform into robot armoured suit. Dead Soon is followed by the military and killed. Our hero takes off with the motorcycle and has it painted another colour. 

And this is where the movie stops caring about making sense and where my notes became a beer coaster. Stuff happens, the McGuffin can and can't be tracked, and Colonel Evilbastard is an evil bastard. As the movie progresses it feels like it is putting in anything to pad out the running time. This includes space battle scenes are so dark and badly edited that it is easy to believe that it is the same side is fighting themselves.

There is no way in hell I can recommend anyone watching this abomination of a movie. It is boring, most Robotech have written this movie off, and the company that holds the rights has never released a DVD or Blu-Ray and possibly never will. There are better things that can be done with life.

Make or Break: Break, hitting the play button.

MVP: There is nothing valuable in this movie. I did try to find something but after three viewings there was nothing.

Score: -2 out of 10

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Gladiator Cop (1995)

A museum tour is halted at its centerpiece, the sword of Alexander the Great, by Chris Kilos (George Touliatos), a weird, old man who is obsessed with the sword and its fabled ability to protect its wielder.  Using Machiavellian levels of deception (read: he gets a guard to fetch him something while he rigs the security system), Kilos’ muscle manage to steal the sword without a whit of subtlety but the loss of life of several people.  Not understanding the true nature of the sword (even though we’re supposed to think he does, because his knowledge of Alexander the Great is kind of part of the reason why he was fascinated by the weapon in the first place), Kilos uses the sword, as wielded by his henchman Jodar (Christopher Lee Clements), to make a mint in illegal, underground death matches.  Oh, psychic cop Andrew Garrett (Lorenzo Lamas) and museum curator Julie (Claire Stansfield) are tepid on Kilos’ trail, too.

Nick Rotundo’s Gladiator Cop is rather ambitious, on paper at least.  It’s set up as a story about destiny in line with something like The Sword in the Stone (or Matt Wagner’s Mage comic book series), replete with magic blade.  It has elements of reincarnation and revenge.  It has a psychic police officer, who you would think was an absolute boon to the department, but in reality is not so much.  It has blood sports aplenty, engaged in by colorful (yet somehow still bland) characters like The Angel of Death (Gary Goodridge), The Butcher (Howard Putterman), and (most importantly) Mongol (Garry Robbins).  Yet, it’s this last component in which the film has any real interest.  The movie feels like time killer scenes interspersed between scenes of gladiatorial combat (which are longer [or feel longer] and are handled with more care than the non-action scenes).    

Andrew is alerted to the museum break-in, not by his partner (or I assume it’s his partner, since they work together when it’s convenient for them to do so in a scene) Leo (Frank Anderson), but by Julie, whose relationship to Andrew we have absolutely zero information about (and at first, I assumed she was his partner).  Andrew appears to have absolutely no responsibilities around his precinct, and he dives into this investigation (despite some very light admonishment not to; and this doesn’t even come from his moderately tempered black captain, played by Eugene Clark) alongside Julie, which makes no sense in the slightest, seeing as how at this point there is no reason he needs to keep her near him and under guard, and she most likely wouldn’t know sweet fuck-all about how to maneuver around a crime scene (not to mention morgues typically make for bad dates).  Their love scene is completely unmotivated and abruptly inserted (no pun intended).  We simply cut to them sliding into bed together, but the worst part of it all is that the scene is entirely non-titillating.  All of this is filler until Andrew finally gets his hands on the sword and enters the arena/abandoned factory.  And even then, the film pays off none of what it promises in its plot segments.  I could get behind a hodgepodge of a film if the filmmakers at least try to link their plot points together.  But all Gladiator Cop leaves you with is the dots with no numbers and no pencil with which to connect them.  

Andrew is an incomplete man.  The first time we see him, it is in a dream where he sees himself being killed (or maybe just stabbed, though the implication is heavy on the former) on a very loosely decorated Ancient Greek set (it looks like something out of a Heart music video, circa 1985).  If the notion of Alexander the Great’s belief in reincarnation and our hero’s introductory scene don’t clue you in to what I’m sure the writers thought was a huge twist, you’ve probably not seen very many movies.  Still, I like the idea that Andrew is meant to be together with the sword, that he needs it.  In some ways, he embodies the duality of the warrior and the artist.  He keeps a dream journal, in which he draws what he remembers.  He’s also psychic, the implication being that he has a certain sensitivity, since when he reaches out with this power, he is affected on both a physical and an emotional level.  He even flashes back to his past life while fencing, an indication that he is a born blade wielder; he’s just stuck with the wrong blade (for now).  Of course, he also works as a police officer, a modern equivocation with the classic warrior ideal.  However, he needs Alexander’s sword specifically in order to sync these two sides up with each other, to become whole.  

Amazingly, Kilos has no interest in the sword as anything other than a means to make money (which, in turn, allows him to hire pricey hookers), especially since he claims to believe in the true power the sword has.  He doesn’t care who wields the sword for him, and we have no clue as to why Jodar was chosen as his champion in the first place.  On the other side, there is Parmenion (James Hong) who knows a lot more about the sword than anyone else, and has a close link to Andrew’s past (hint: you’ll never guess what it is from the flashback sequences).  About Kilos’ exercising the sword’s might, Parmenion says “He has the right sword but not the right man.”  And even here, Parmenion’s motivations aren’t displayed as being about the eternal struggle between good and evil.  They’re actually quite silly (considering the circumstances), and my mind boggles as to why he went to all this effort in order to reach this end.

Continuing with my harping, Andrew is an extremely passive protagonist.  He makes almost no major discoveries in the course of his investigation.  He doesn’t even take his job all that seriously.  One example of this is when Julie tells Andrew that she wants to go to the museum, but he says no because it’s too dangerous.  But after she suggests they look at more of Andrew’s dream journal instead, he says he’ll get Leo to drive her there (jocularity!).  As if Andrew has something better to do at this point in time (which we don’t see him doing, regardless).  Further, the next scene at the museum involves Julie and Kilos, with Leo (her supposed bodyguard) nowhere in sight.  This passivity is the film’s biggest detriment.  Andrew is just there.  He doesn’t partake in the plot.  He doesn’t move the story forward.  His sole purpose is to make it to the end fight, but by that point, I honestly couldn’t give a shit whether he lived or died.  Furthermore, there is no denouement after all this has been piled up in front of us.  There are no clarifications, no tying up of loose threads (of which there are plenty); just a cut to the end titles.  If filmmakers don’t care enough to give a viewer a complete film, I don’t think it’s too much to suggest that the viewer shouldn’t have to give them their full attention.  Maybe if you don’t, you’ll enjoy Gladiator Cop more than I did.

MVT:  The basic ideas in the film are solid, and there are a lot of intriguing ways they could have played out.  But they didn’t.

Make or Break:  The opening burglary scene was actually quite impressive, and it got my expectations falsely heightened for a good, little, low budget action film.  For a hook/inciting incident, it does its job admirably.  

Score:  5.5/10