Pound Shop Movies

Cyber-Tracker 2 (1995)

In: mudwig, reviews, action, sci-fi

02 Feb 2008
Cyber Tracker 2 - Featuring Terror 2.0De Longis gets no cover love.

Having seen it years ago, I've been intending to review Cybertracker 1 for some time now, but never quite found a way to write it without using the word "Terminator". However, while browsing the revitalised pound store DVD range I discovered a Prism double sider with Cybertracker and it's previously unavailable seque, and decided to skip past the first film entirely.

We are first (re)introduced to Eric (Don "The Dragon" Wilson) at a drug buy - of course he's just working undercover, and soon finds himself, and thirty or forty cops, up against laser wielding bad guys - and these lasers explode! Much like Terminator 2, we're also introduced to a friendly version of the previous film's villain, in the form of a combo Chaingun/Flamethrower wielding Tracker called number 9, who sports a fine cosplay tinfoil Robocop look. 9 rescues Eric and the Cops in the buy, using the power of exploding things, and shows that maybe Trackers are OK, and were just misunderstood.

However, the baddies are busy making next-generation of Trackers, now super advanced killer androids that appear human, and using them as assassination machines. Unfortunately for Cyborg Cop fans John Rhys-Davies was no where to be seen (and you're not likely to not notice him, lets face it), though at least this movie does, in fact, feature a cyborg cop.

The evil assassin corp have been hired to bump the Vice Governor up a pay grade, and do so with an evil robot version of Connie from the first film, a successful reporter and wife of our hero, Eric. The police, of course, assume it's her, and the plucky pair (plus their cameraman) are forced underground as they try to dodge both the forces of Law & Order, and Evil Corp. attempting to clean house.

The celebrity mags were all over the subtle nip-slip hereMost of the heroes will be familiar faces if you haven't blocked out memories of the first movie. Eric, pictured, Connie, the former anti-Tracker terrorist and good looking Journalist, played by Stacie Foster, and Jared, the former anti-Tracker terrorist and good looking cameraman (with a Because I'm Worth level of bouncy hair), played by Steve Burton, both return. John Kassir turns up as a C4 wielding not-so-former anti-tracker terrorist, complete with some excellent Mr C4-Head dolls, to round out team Good Guy.

The replicant based baddies are lead by evil weapons dealer Paris Morgan, played by the wonderful Anthony De Longis, who, it must be said, handles the Evil Genius moments and the brief fight sequence he has with total maniacal cool.

Of course, the casting director had little to do with the biggest stars in the movie, the heroic Explosion and his brother "Boom!". No matter what the actors are doing, there's always time to cut away to a model house getting blown up, or one of the many, many exploding police cars that PM Entertainment presumably had a factory cranking out somewhere. To be fair, the explosions were pretty good, and the models not totally unconvincing, though the lasers left something for the asking.

Which is the real Dragon? We may never knowThat said, while "Boom" is rendered pretty well by the Sound FX department, there is a somewhat annoying choice around AGNES 3000 (sister of Outkast rapper Andre 3000 presumably), Eric's computer system. Throughout it's limited selection of scenes the computer emits a truly irritating high pitched whine, which is a shame as the effect is fairly decent - a bit like the digital pixie woman off the Robocop TV series.

The movie doesn't let up on car chases either. Again, in an entirely unTerminator moment there's a chase through some kind of concrete river passage, with an evil Tracker chasing Eric and Mrs Eric in a truck. Eric luckily stole a humvee with a machine gun on the back, which he puts to good effect. One chase scene even involves what is apparently the longest tunnel in the world, where the citizens appear to get actively involved, as the chasing parties overtake the same car a number of times, from a variety of angles.

Realistic weapons were the number 1 priorityInterestingly, the film throws in a reference to VR fighting masterpiece Expect No Mercy, when during a extended Eric nipple scene, a random girl arrives to train with his VR headset. Rather than the fine "slightly glowing person in a silly suit" technique of ENM, the VR characters here are poorly modeled Ninjas with detachable limbs, whose asses the girl then eKick. She the proceeds to bear no further relevance to the plot.

This film was released just after the original, implying a somewhat tight schedule, and unfortunately, the back to back nature of the filming seems to have taken it's toll on The Dragon. Mr Wilson is lacking flair, both in his plank like performance, which instead of it's usual supple willow is more of a sturdy oak, and even his kicks and chops don't come across as dynamic as normal.

Indeed, despite the multitude of action sequences, and event some Swayze-level shirtlessness from Jared, the film is actually a bit listless, and rather predictable. When it succeeds in breaking away from this, the film seems to run to the other extreme. There are a few disposable moments, such as VR girl, that contribute little, and I'm pretty sure at one point the Evil Corp. openly assassinate the Governor in the rather public lobby of their secret base without much regards to the consequence - which is fair enough as there weren't any! Traditionally I tend to associate PM movies with a fair bit of pace (and plenty of explosions), but while it does cover a lot of ground, the viewer is left feeling every step.

All in all I found Cyber-Tracker 2 somewhat of a disappointment, a little lacklustre even when compared to the first one, and not up to fine Wilson efforts like Out For Blood. Yes, there is some good quality violence - the EricTracker's assasult on the police station was undeniable fun, but there are better films out there from both The Dragon and PM. Do keeping checking out the pound stores though, as there have been some reasonable releases recently - Bride of Chuckie, £1, bargain!

The Secret Craft (2001)

In: mudwig, reviews, sci-fi, thriller

11 Nov 2007
Note that this is clearly and legally defined as THE SECRET craft, and not in any way just The Craft.The tagline "Always Believe... Never Deceive" openly has nothing to do with the movie whatsoever.

Also, and originally, known as The Source in the states, The Secret Craft is a movie about four thirty something high school outcasts who gain incredible powers - and there's not a copy of Activating Evolution in sight!

Reese, played by Mat Scollon (who was in CSI once), is a moody young goth who has just moved to a small town in California with his father, a chemistry teacher. On his first day at school, in fine blazing Cali sunshine, Reese's black on black Hot Topic ensemble stands out, and he is mercilessly picked one - despite his array of Eminem style put-yourself-down comebacks. Reese soon runs into Zack (Edward DeRuiter), a nerdy rich kid who defeats some bullies with his knowledge of latin (or Zach, the coolest kid in the school, according to the completely misinformed back of the box), Zack's cocky sister Ashley (Melissa Reneé Martin) and her ditzy, hippyish friend Phoebe (quiet you), played ably by Alice Frank.

On a jaunt into the woods to take drugs and download illegal music, or whatever the kids do these days, Our Heroes discover some weird glowing rocks, and take the earliest opportunity to stand on them. This provides a euphoric experience, and, naturally, a superpower - though Zach quickly explains this with science, and a laptop.

Goth SMASHZack gets the power to read minds, and broadcast creepy messages telepathically, Phoebe gets the power of telekinesis, Ashley gets The Voice, and Reece gets the power to heal/hurt himself/others, and have flashbacks to his mother's death. Pumped up with their psionic abilities, the team get down to the business of petty revenge on the people that have irritated them over the years, or in Reese's case, days.

Now I'm not an American, and I never went to school in the US, but I have seen all of both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Veronica Mars, so I think I'm pretty up on the difficulties those in their mid-to-late twenties have in high school, but some of the educational methods at Secret Craft High seem a little off.

Head on the desk - that's where the learning is.I'll give them the teachers sitting up on the desks, and generally having a relaxed and freewheelin' attitude - it's California - and I'll even give them the ridiculously unbalanced teams in the various sporting segments shown. However, if I was taking a test and some Aussie woman inaccurately accused me of cheating, then took away my paper and told me to spend the rest of the lesson with my head on the desk, that would be probably make me head straight for the NiN mp3s.

Throughout the film the teachers' main imperative seemed to be to belittle the students over their lack of knowledge - knowledge that, presumably, it was the teachers' job to impart to them. Perhaps it was all a clever ploy on the part of the film makers to cause us to empathise with Our Heroes, once they start abusing their powers for petty, petty revenge.

Zach, after enduring another assault on his intelligence by the fine and understanding history teacher, uses his mind reading skills to answer every question on whichever bit of historical trivia pops into the teacher's head, until he finally calls the bespectacled historian on an attempt to fake an answer. Phoebe, on the other hand, takes revenge on the evil Aussie by repeatedly breaking her chalk, and eventually, in a final act that surely destroyed all of AusTeachers self confidence, proffering some chalk of her own. Sir Gothalot gets his own back during another of the finely balanced games of dodgeball by making the non-nerd side unable to throw, so their balls require little dodging - harsh in anyone's book. Ashley uses her power of Command to have one of the male teachers to kiss her, and tells a bitchy blonde girl to get into a bin - though once in the bin the girl handles the bewildered gazes of the friends with an admirably dismissive "what?".

And we're spent.This section also features lots of posing for promotional effect, and walking up and down some grass in a sassy and in control way, but it wasn't too bad, for a montage. Of course, after this brief happy togetherness the abuse of powers starts to turn deadly, and what was once a kooky game for these wacky outcasts turns into a battle - a battle that (unexpectedly) is won with polka music - and if that doesn't want to make you see the movie, I don't know what will.

The film was written, directed and edited by Steve Taylor (he's a triple threat!), who went on to direct the somewhat better known, though probably not better regarded, horror movie Detour. The cast doesn't fare much better when it comes to notoriety, with a variety of TV credits to their names. Melissa Reneé Martin actually appeared on Veronica Mars as an 09er called Ashley, which I would say is validation of her performance in this film.

The effects aspects of the movie actually worked pretty well. The Beautiful People soundalike that our gothy hero rocks his deep inner hurt out to isn't a bad homage, and the rest of the soundtrack ticks along on the same kind of note. The special effects are roughly Highlander level (with some fine Quickening-y lightening at one point), and certain serve their purpose - letting the audience know that these people are Magical Wizards enhanced with the science of psionics.

Pound shop DVD collectors might be interested to note that this film actually comes with an Unlisted Special Feature, as on top of animated menus, scene selection and the trailer, there is also a gallery option. On the down side, the audio sync was completely out for several scenes, most notably at the very start of the movie, but it doesn't really "spoil" any of the deliveries. US Alice Frank enthusiasts might be interested to know that there is a half decent DVD available over there, including a commentary and all sorts of goodies.

Though a warning to Alias/Lost fans who may be tempted by the fact that David Anders (Sark/Kensei) is allegedly in this movie, - apparently it's only for five minutes, and I have to confess to not noticing him at all.

Overall, I really didn't expect to like this movie, and while I'm not exactly organising a Secret Craft convention, it didn't suck half as bad as it could have. The opening third is a little (glowing) rocky, but the film does get into a kind of a roll, and it ends in a solid, if predictable*, way. If you see it, do pick up The Secret Craft, as you might have more fun than you really should. Or if not, just put your head on the desk till the end of the film.

* bar the polka

Space Marines (1996)

In: mudwig, reviews, sci-fi

07 Jul 2007
Project Shadowchaser the ThirdI honestly don't know how Gunther's one good eye got top billing

In news that's sure to disappoint fans of rubbish South African action movies, I had been planning to review Operation Hitsquad - not, as it happens, a film about finding the latest boy band sensation - but since it's been months since I saw it, I've finally come to realise my subconcious is telling me something. Instead we return to the heady world of budget Sci-Fi, with director John Weidner (of Lamas' CIA and The Dragon's Out For Blood fame) and writer Robert Moreland (who also wrote the second best Air Traffic Control movie of all time, Ground Control) with their mid ninties classic, Space Marines.

Suprisingly, there aren't any other films with thee title Space Marines - at least that IMDB admits to - which is a little suprising given how generic it sounds. That said, Weidner makes an effort to include all the Sci-Fi staples we've come to expect, shake-the-camera impacts, exploding ship's consoles, odd uniforms, swirly space things and all. Luckily for him, and us, the movie is rescued from being a Hamil-less Wing Commander cut scene by the raw genius of John Pyper Ferguson, who squeezes every last brilliant, hammy drop from the script.

JP plays Col. Fraser, the leader of a band of Evil Pirates, and posessor of the accent and moustache of a Confederate general. Apart from plotting his own enrichment, and our heroes' demise, he lurches through weird self aggrandizing conversations with his pirates, and, in one of the best bits of the film, practices his villianous proclamations into a dictaphone before delivering them to his plucky space marine captive.

spacemarines2.jpgSaid captive is Zack Delano (Billy Wirth), our hero and a rebellious young space trooper, serving under the wise Officer Gray Wolf and his plasticy APC of grunts. Zack gets into trouble with The Wolf when he ignores orders and goes literally several feet out of his way to rescue the low-rent Charlie Sheen-alike new guy. Clearly Leave No Man Behind is a bit more of an aspiration than a maxim to Gray Wolf, who was quite content to ditch AlternaSheen in the battlezone, but Zack's Kirk-like dedication to orders gets him a spell in the clink.

The whole shebang got started because Col. Frasier, his main heavy, Gunther, and a bunch of pirates hijacked a shipment of Highly Explosive Substances, and then ransomed it back to the United Earth Federation of Science Fiction Utopian Societies. Unfortunately, before Wolf's team of ultimate bad-asses can retrieve the boom juice, the politicans step in and insist on negotiations. Net result: diplomat, male and female leads taken hostage, Frasier retains both ransom and explosives, flamboyant cackling ensues. From then on, it's up to Zack to sort things in the expected heroic fashion.

spacemarines3.jpgThere's some good mook work on both sides in this movie. As might be predicted there are a variety of Marine types in the unit, including a Computer Guy cleverly called "Hacker", a hot-shot pilot called "Hot Rod" and a guy that dies called "Mike". The main concession to their grunt-y-ness is a trip to a (holographic) strip club, which results in some name calling and hair pulling over the death of "Mike", but does serve to make clear that a holographic strip club is both a silly and ineffectual idea.

The enemy mooks on the other hand to a good job of looking like space pirates - that is to say they look like pirates - and appear to have spent the required time at bad guy bootcamp, learning to miss at distances down to several inches, jump in front of incoming fire, and perform graceful somersaults during explosions. There's actually some quite funny stuff between Fraser and Gunther regarding their employees, and some old fashioned getting-shot-when-you-fail moments.

Amongst the principles JPF and Michael Bailey Smith nail their roles as Frasier and Gunther. The massive, eye-patched second in command provides an anger-management issue based foil to Frasier's flamboyance, and the two clearly had fun making the film. On the heroic side Billy Wirth acquits himself well, as does Cady Huffman, playing slightly liberal female diplomat, and frosty love interest, Dar Mullin. There's even a sort of little romantic subplot nicely hinted at between Cpt Gray (Edward Albert) and Cmdr Lasser (Meg Foster), veterans with evident sci-fi experience (both including Star Trek DS9 as it happens).

There are plenty of elements that work in the film as well. The soundtrack is big and brassy, and nails the kind of accompaniment you want to watch with what is, essentially, a popcorn movie - albeit £1 microwave popcorn. The CGI is competent, especially given the fact the film is over ten years old, and certainly doesn't detract from the hard won suspension of disbelief. There are some nice throwaway bits of comedy that play reasonably well, including Frasier's dictaphone moment, of course, but Dar's frustrated dealings with a uninterested videophone operator when trying to call for help from the Pirate's lair are almost equally amusing.

On the other hand, the plot is uniformly rubbish, and deeply derivative of things people really shouldn't derive from, like Seagal movies. The budget is probably all on screen, but there clearly wasn't very much of it in the first place, and there are a few too many moments of slow-mo scruffy pirates getting laser blasted. The ending also leaves a lot to be desired, it's almost as if the filmmakers suddenly realised they had to wrap this thing up and just found a convenient place to stop, which is fairly underwhelming.

Overall, Space Marines is probably for the more regular B-Movie watcher, but leans well into the entertaining part of the spectrum. There's a top notch villain performance by JPF, which is worth the £1 entrance fee on it's own, and I certainly enjoyed it more than, say, the much higher budget Wing Commander movie. You could certainly do worse, and I get the feeling that if I turned on the TV and Space Marines was on, I'd probably watch it again.

Project Shadowchaser 3 (1994)

In: mudwig, reviews, horror, sci-fi

11 Nov 2006
Project Shadowchaser the ThirdThis cover from Generic Sci-Fi Images Vol 3: Red Planets.

From what I've read, the first two shadowchaser movies seem to involve, in some way, terrorists, presumably space terrorists. According to the fine people at Stomp Tokyo this is due to the fact that the director is ripping off Die Hard and Terminator (together at last!), while I'm fairly confident that the lack of terrorists in this one is due to the fact he's primarily ripping off Aliens.

Still, the film was a departure for me, as my formative Frank "Frank" Zagarino experiences had him playing the sandy haired hero, not a Guile-haircut sporting killer android. Still, a Zag film is a Zag film, and I was more than willing to try a slice of budget sci fi horror on his behalf.

On closer examination, the rest of the cast isn't too disasterous. That said, I'm not sure the first words you want to appear on your title sequence are Sam Bottoms, who takes the male lead as Kody. Also on deck for our plucky band of heros are Ricco Ross, or as I like to think of him "the poor man's Duane Jones", as Lennox, Aubrey Morris, or "the poor man's Richard Attenborough", as the aptly named "Professor", Mark Phelan, or "the poor man's Willem Defoe" as Mac the Cap, Bill Kirchenbauer, "the poor man's David Koechner", as the X-Men gag inspiring* be-wheelchaired "Wheels", and Christopher Neame, "the poor man's Enrico Colantoni", as the money hungry Rico. The female element is provided by Robina Alston, who isn't really the poor anyone's anything, but does have more photos than credits on her IMDB page, and Musetta Vander as Rea. I'm going with "the poor man's Milla Jovovich" on that one, though I'm fairly sure that's a not entirely undeserved compliment.

shadowchaser3.jpgOur plucky spaceheros are doing their usual space bits on the communications satellite they call home - mostly sitting around and dressing in jumpsuits - when a huge ship called the Siberia starts bearing down on a direct collision course. I am hoping, from the bit of scene setting at the start of the film, that this is the ship from Project Shadowchaser 2, but I know that is being a little optimistic.

After managing to dodge out of the way of the Siberia, it wheels about and moves in again, and this time there is No Escape. As their little satellite is being pushed towards a certain death at the hands of the Martian surface, the crew have little choice but to ignore the warnings being automatically broadcast and board her, in an attempt to shut down the engines. Little do they know that lying in wait in the Siberia's Space Mutiny-esque extensive basement is the hideous deformed creation that is Franky Z's attempt at a Guile-from-streetfighter Halloween costume.

Of course, the former crew are on board as well, one of whom, by pure coincidence, is Rea's long lost scientist father. They're all dead, of course. And frozen, but who would let something like that put them off? From this point on the movie follows a fairly predictable horror route, with the crew getting involved in a variety of close scrapes until they manage to turn off the engines. Of course, at that point they discover that there's a Substance of Inordinate Value on the ship, and in search of profit decide to once again risk their lives, and acting careers.

shadowchaser5.jpgConsidering this movie is on the cheaper side of cinema, the effects work is fairly nice, particularly the external model shots of the Siberia. Inside, other than the omnipresent sci-fi walkways-and-steam-vents warehouse bits, the sets for the ships are reasonably good, without the BBC wobble that often befalls budget sci-fi. There are some nice production touches as well, including the cards which vary from regular playing cards by zig-zagging in the middle, and some graphic displays that, while looking dated, at least look plausible as readouts, and are effective in the film - particularly the heart monitor type readout, which give the crew get their first hint they are not alone. In fact, the director John Eyres keeps the ZagBot under wraps untill around halfway through the movie, which works fairly well. There's even an odd twist in the music, as while most of it is the standard horror/sci-fi leaning on the keyboard variety, there's a jaunty twenties style song about space at the end.

In fact, much of the movie has some element of competence. Most of the actors can act, or at least try really hard, and while the performances might be cheesy, given the subject matter that's not necessarily a bad thing. Where the film falls over is in it's handling of the many, many clich?s employed throughout. Being that ZagBot can shapeshift, we expect and are dutifully served the "But you could be the shapeshifter! Hey, that's exactly what the shapeshifter would say!!1!" scenes where the main characters point guns at each other, and the pure grinding inevitability of one of the characters turning on the others in pursuit of profit is so omniprescent it actually comes as a relief when it finally happens.

Every time the script does accidentally lapse into marginally unfamiliar territory, the filmmakers seem to have been worried about the audience getting confused, and have a tendancy to rehash the main points. In particular, during the scenes near the start of the film as the crew try to propell their satellite out of the way of the Siberia, every time some tension starts to build the film cuts to long lingering shots of the exterior of the spaceship, just in case it was all getting A Bit Much. When that doesn't prove sufficient, there's always "Professor" on hand to launch into some length exposition, as obviously there were fears that the Memento-like story would confuse.

It is fair to say Shadowchaser III does stand out from many of the poundshop movies I've had the opportunity to enjoy. The budget was a touch higher than average perhaps, and certainly what was spent was all up on screen, aided by some decent cinematograhy and editing. Of course there are cheesy special effects, and cheesier acting, but they aren't a serious hindrance to enjoying the movie. What does hurt is the lego block way the movie was constructed, like there was a sci-fi horror checklist and they made sure to tick all the boxes. I'm not convinced the movie is all that worth a watch standing as is, though if you're a horror afficianado there might be something more here, and potentially watching the film as part of a trilogy would give you at the incentive to finish off.

Sharp eyed Project Shadowchaser fans will note I said trilogy, while there are in fact four films. I know this as I have the fourth film, and as far as I can see it has absolutely nothing at all to do with the other three, as even Frank's RoboZag character seems to bear little resemblance to the wisecracking spacejunk we've come to love.

* This statement may be factually a lie.

Memory Run (1996)

In: mudwig, reviews, sci-fi

07 Jul 2005

This film has been rated 18 due to sustained floppy haired resistance leaders.
In a terrible betrayal of the movie, nothing in this cover is glowing blue.

How far back is it fair to go with the blame for cyberpunkish dystopian movies? Personally, I'm willing to punch a voodoo fascimile of Fritz Lang in the face for creating the sublime Metropolis, without which I'm sure we'd have had a lot fewer problem. On the other hand, Ridley Scott deserves a kick in the proverbials for Blade Runner, especially since a disturbing percentage of these films contain some variant on the word Run in their title. Memory Run, or Synapse as it seems to be called in America, is in fact not a low budget sequel to Johnny Mnemonic (oh how good that could have been), but instead tells the story of body crime, in a future time.

Andre Fuller (Chris Makepeace) is a criminal with a somewhat british gang and without much in the way of morals, thanks to witnessing the murder of his parents by the corrupt, totalitarian government when he was young. After a bit of the regular robbery shennanigans, and some boffing of the (entirely willing, ex-girlfriend) victim (Karen Duffy), Andre goes his merry way to sell some guns to floppy haired resistance leader Gabriel. Unfortunately, it seems the powers that be have designs for him other than a life of crime, and Andre soon finds himself stitched up (fairly amusingly) for her rape and murder, by one of his own gang no less. The punishment for this crime is to have his mind transplanted into his former girlfriend's body, and be brainwashed into an acceptable replacement. Thanks to the scientific genius of Dr Munger (Saul Rubinek), the manly Andre now inhabits the body of his former girl, with a new name, Celeste. Personally, I think the conditioning might have gone easier with, say, the name Andrea, but Celeste does roll off the tounge.

All this is at the behest of the mighty chairman of the Life Corporation, Bradden (Barry Morse). It doesn't take long to realise that Bradden has more interest in the success of Dr. Munger's experiment than merely as a new form of capital punishment, and when Munger fails in his attempts to condition him, Andre is then given over to the care of Munger's colleague, and Bradden's lover Dr. Meringue (IMDB claims it's spelt Merain, but I don't believe them). Meringue installs a device into Celeste's head that causes pain every time she is violent, but still this doesn't control her. Munger, outraged at what is being done with his work, does his best to help Celeste, but soon the experiment is given up on as a failure, and Celeste is sent to rot in a prison.

Fortunately, her cellmate happens to be the sister of a certain floppy haired resistance leader, and Celeste gets out, though at the cost of the cellmate's life. After taking revenge on her old gang, Celeste keeps the promise she made to find the resistance and tell Gabriel what happened. Celeste/Andre finds the resistance again in about three minutes, something you'd imagine the lifecorp would have been trying to do for a while.

Gabe has both key weapons of an underground resistance, floppy hair and trenchcoats. He also has the shoddy hang out, the disturbingly small number of men (though more do turn up and get shot at appropriate times), and an edgy, world weary charm that makes him impervious to bullets. Most importantly though, he has a SciFiBike. This bike is no ordinary one, featuring pointless smooth plastic bits the likes of which only Airwolf has seen, and a big ol' sidecar which accomodates two people. Disappointingly we never get to see Munger take a trip on it, though he must have utilised it as Celeste, Gabe, and the good doctor head to Lifecorp's HQ to take them down, and find out what happened to Andre's body.

Saul Rubinek (with quad damage). When it comes to the cast, one name dominates, despite not appearing on the cover (though neither does anyone else's), Saul Rubinek. He's slightly chubby, he's jewish, he cracks wise, and he's playing a doctor. His character, Dr Munger, is one of Shakespearian proportions. Trapped beween his blind passion for his work, his regret for what the horrors that work has caused, his compassion for Celeste/Andre, and of course his fear for his own life, Munger may be the defining character of low budget sci-fi in 1996.

In fact, he's part of a fairly reasonable cast, with the fetching Karen Duffy enjoying the leading role as Celeste (and I'm not even going to mention her tiny, tiny part in McBain *). Barry Morse and Matt McCoy play Bradden the baddie and the angelic Gabriel respectively, and both provide a strong dose of hey-it's-that-guy reactions, though without reference to their extensive careers on IMDB the only things I can actually remember them in are Space 1999 for Morse and Seinfeld for McCoy. But hey, Space 1999 and Seinfeld.

Behind the camera, director Allan A. Goldstein obviously had a message to communicate with this film, and that message was that the future is blue. The opening, where a young Andre's family are murdered by government stormtroopers, is presented in blue and white, and the night time views of the city are similar bathed in blue. The shields that guard, amongst other things, various buildings, and imprisons Dr. Munger in a comfy chair, glow an eerie, "cheap-special-effect" blue, and the lightening like bursts that zaps our heroes when walking through a forcefield is, of course, blue. If a given object can glow blue, it's fairly safe to say that at some point it will.

The other message here is one of gender issues. What happened to Andre is the subject of more than one distubing Christian Slater/Mr T. slash fiction outing in the literary outback of the internet, but it does make you wonder. Is Celeste female, or male? She pretty quickly falls in love with lanky Gabe even with her male brain. Is he gay, is she straight, are they both bisexual? The transgendered question is a difficult one which the film, well, pretty much ignores.

Karen Duffy. Sometimes credited as 'Duff'So OK, Memory Run might be bluer than BB King in a horrible loo cleaner accident, and the gender issue may get less screentime than people being shot in the chest, but the questions are at least in the script. The credit for that almost certainly belongs to Hank Stine, as it is his 1968 novel Season of the Witch that the film is based on. Though the actual book seems relatively hard to get hold of, the ebook is readily available. Interestingly, the ebook page claims that the book has been made into "a major motion picture", but declines to mention the title. Smart move.

At some point after writing Shadow of the Witch, Stine had a sex change and is known know as Jean, which implies parts of the book were more than just intellectual curiosity. The ebook is variously listed as romance, erotica, and sci-fi, so it may flag up some disturbing FBI list for strange people, but does feature a new afterword. Should anyone get it and it turn out to contain a reference to the film, please let me know. Especially if that reference mentions Saul Rubinek. Or if you are Saul Rubinek. That would be cool.

I didn't mind Memory Run too much, and as with so many of these movies much of the blame lies with paceless editing. In the tradition of all bad sci-fi, it replaces potentially confusing cerebral moments with gun fire, but people die with a fair wack of style, and the good guys wear trenchcoats. Saul Rubinek really is the best part of the film, but Barry Morse's performance is a close second (and Chris Makepeace's at the end deserves a nod). The story that peeks through is solid and, to be honest, more fit for the world of budget movies than the "I, Robot" end of the movie millions scale. Memory Run is worth a watch, and it's probably worth your quid at the poundshop, but I can't see it getting much repeat viewing.

* Dammit.


In: mudwig, reviews, sci-fi

04 Apr 2005
Watch The Shadows of the Nightmaster Dance
Aussies and paintballs and ninjas, oh my!

In the US and UK this film was known as Nightmaster, which sounds like a low quality computer RPG developed in the former Yugoslavia. In Australia, its country of origin, the film is titled "Watch the shadows dance", which sounds like angsty LiveJournal poetry inspired by the the leather trenchcoat wearing characters of the aforementioned game. These days at least, the draw of the film is the then fresh faced, 20 years old Nicole Kidman, who had not yet starred in one of the high points of her career, the sublime Bangkok Hilton, but had put in her performance in the peak of cinematic genius that is BMX Bandits. Other than the former Mrs Cruise, the cast is relatively low key, with the notable exception of drug dealer Guy Duncan, played by Craig Pearce who went on to co-write Baz Luhrman's Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge.

On the other side of the camera, the film is directed by Mark Joffe who went on to make the ninja-less Spotswood, and Billy Connolly vehicle The Man Who Sued God. Providing a spot of new wave-y rock, and some piercing looks during his cameo, is oz singer/songwriter Paul Kelly in his sole film appearance, which curiously seems to be missed out from his otherwise very complete biography.

Of course, the reason any one would watch this is the presence of Nicole Kidman, who in this movie resembles a red headed microphone, a mass of fluffy hair and long legs. That said, while Nicole is an integral player, as Amy, the star is most definitely "Robbie", played by Tom Jennings who is famous for, well, not much really. I'm not sure whether conclusions should be drawn about the presence of a Grahame Jennings in the production credits, but certainly Questions Should Be Asked.

HAIR Robbie and Amy are still in school, along with a number of other students of dubious ages, but their lives are consumed with a secret game, a game of ninja uniforms and shuriken paintballs, glowy paint sticks and cunning traps. The game is their escape from the 80's view of the future they inhabit, filled with clacky laptops that suggest the blazing power of DOS 3, and homework assignments that are handed out on 5 1/4" floppies, which would probably be regarded as some form of bizarre sporting implement by modern school kids. Outside of school the world is a dark, foggy place, filled with slightly weirdly shaped cars, and security officers wearing outfits reminiscent of the Death Star operators.

The game is based in an abandoned warehouse in which the students, properly attired and armed, attempt to mark their opponents with paint to eliminate them, while moving towards a bell on a rope hanging from the ceiling, known as sanctuary, which wins you the game. Even if you can out-ninja all the other competitors there are a series of traps setup by the wheelchair bound gamesmaster and his gang of assistants, most of which consist of a net approximately the size of a tea towel falling on you. Robbie is the reigning champion of the game, thanks no small part to the special attention he receives from the martial arts/gymnastics teacher at school, Steve Beck, who sees the makings of a champion in him, presumably (we eventually gather) in the high profile world of kickboxing, or as I prefer to think of it, the official sport of Don "The Dragon" Wilson.

Steve comes from the John Kreese school of martial arts instruction, the "there's no mercy in this dojo" principle. While his simultaneous attempts to teach gymnastics and martial arts have disturbing parallels to Richard Norton classic Gymkata (tagline: the skill of gymnastics, the kill of karate), Steve mostly teaches a "second place is first loser" attitude that is covering up his own past, some terrible experience in the military. As Steve says, after looking at a photo of himself with his old unit, "all the men in that photo are dead". After Robbie almost kills someone in the game he begins to pull away from Steve's teachings and see Steve for what he is, and that's not just a low rent Martin Kove. Steve is addicted to drugs, and his dealer is the dastardly Guy Duncan.

The good guys are in white. Guy and his gang of two scrawny youths represent the even darker underbelly of the future Australia. Dressed unerringly like Scottish indie darlings Franz Ferdinand, Guy and his posse hit on Amy, dis the game, and generally act sleazy. Unfortunately, after getting mashed trying to start a fight with Robbie, Guy's entrepreneurial brain comes up with the idea of blackmailing Steve, which ends Guy's life and his short, but meaningful, cautionary tale. Robbie witnesses the murder, causing Steve to try and eliminate him and setting up the final showdown deep in the warehouse. The battle is between the amateur ninjas of the student body and the (unexpected) real ninja that is Steve. To his credit, Steve does have a real ninja fan that makes short work of the net trap.

The film is a bit of a mixed bag, with the mix heavily weighted on the crappy side. There are some nice touches; Paul Kelly's lyrics during his bar performance narrating the drug dealing going on in the background, or Robbie's relationship with his mother, who is living in London and communicates exclusively via what appear to be pirated chinese VCDs, which blows Skype out of the water. On the other hand there is the general Neighbours level acting, the phenomenally cheesy fog and neon exteriors, rubbish sound effects from bad chanbara dubs, cops that look too ridiculous for the Sabotage video, and Ms Spane. Ms Spane is another teacher at the school who mostly serves to get Robbie out of a situation by tuning up, utterly inexplicably, to rescue him, on a motorbike.

I don't think the action milieu is Mark Joffe's strong suit. However, there were a lot of these aussie teen action movies during the 80s, and it may have been some form of permit requirement to make one, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Yes, Nicole Kidman is in it, gives a reasonable performance, and looks great in a school girl uniform, but I suspect you'd have to be a bit of a completist/obsessive to watch it for that alone, though this is the internet so that's probably not too unlikely. The music's naff, the plot's thin, and the action, when it's there, is rubbish. On the other hand the final fight could have been worse and the film features some pretty weird dream sequences, but you'd still have to be really desperate for something to watch before choosing Nightmaster.

Amazon are trying to sell this with the description "The boundaries between real life and fantasy becomes blurred when Robbie and Amy play night games...", which may give you the wrong impression about the kind of action this movie contains. The flip side of the double-bill version from the poundshop contains a documentary about tomb raider. Woo.