Pound Shop Movies

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 ReneƩ 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 ReneƩ 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

Cover-Up

In: mudwig, reviews, thriller

01 Jan 2005
If the lies don't kill you, the government will.
In many ways, a precursor to Passion of Christ.

There is nothing more irritating when watching a crap movie than suddenly realising that you are actually watching it for the second time, as I recently experienced while enjoying 1990's Cover-Up. One of the few things that can offset the creeping realisation that you have thrown precious life-minutes into the pit of despair that could otherwise have been used to read the latest musings of the internet's lively blogging community is the presence of Dolph Lundgren in the film. Big Dolph has had some classy roles in his time, He-Man, The Punisher, GR-13 in Universal Soldier, and a guy who's scared of milk (though not chocolate milk, so that's something), and Tarrantino started his career as a production assistant on Lundgren's fitness video, but this role, as investigative reporter Mike Anderson, is not his finest hour.

Mike, formerly a marine himself, is investigating an attack at a US army base in Israel and getting nowhere fast with base commander Lou Gossett Jr. who plays a character imaginatively called "Lou". As the title may have given away, something is being Covered Up, and when Mike tries to investigate with the somewhat reluctant help of his best friend Coop (John Finn) and ex-girlfriend, but now Coop's fiance, Susan (Lisa Berkely) all he finds is Danger and Death (for Coop at least). Mike learns that the attack was just a front, and that a deadly new form of poison gas was actually stolen from the base and that someone is planning to use the gas... TO KILL! Thanks to the opening scene, the audience knew most of that a lot earlier, but we'll let them pass on that one.

The thing about Cover-Up is that it's not an action movie, which is certainly what the big D was known for at this point in his career. Unfortunately, it's not much of a political thriller either, and so the action scenes are relied upon to hold up the movie at several junctures. While the few explosions in the movie are nothing special there is a lone, fairly well put together car chase, and some good one on one combat with an assassin, among others, but outside the inital heist the action, what there is of it, doesn't really kick in till well in to the movie.

Disappointingly the intrigue part of the movie is a little ropey as well. While Lou Gossett Jr. and female lead Lisa Berkley both put in acceptable performances they don't get the A for extra effort, and are matched by some equally lack lustre work from Lundgren. Only in the occasional scene, such as a paranoid walk around his hotel room after realising his phone is tapped do you really see he has a level of acting ability greater than the average action star. Even the shower sex scene, which had the potential to be a steamy chunk of cinema is more steamy in the water vapour sense than revealing.
Dolph in a compromising position

The real gems of moviemaking in this picture are the requisite ending twists. The first is in character, and works pretty well, while the second or "unnecessary" twist makes the effort to truly annoy the audience. This is probably not helped by the weird run through Jerusalem that a wounded Mike makes, mixing the religous imagery surround him with the ending of the movie in a way that undermines whatever effectiveness the location may have provided. The whole ending sequence is one of the best shot parts of the movie, but also one of the most fractured from the rest of the film, in terms of feel. It draws the film to a close effectively, and with a visual flair, but not satisfyingly. To be fair, the film does deserve some credit for the use of the locations, which do give the movie a distinct Israeli feel that must have taken some effort on the budget, and the location is related, if not integral, to the plot, rather than an attempt at an atomospheric add-on.

Many of the problems with the film are abetted by the sheer mountains of clich? that fill the movie. The villian's generic monologuing, to borrow a term from The Incredibles, to a captured and disarmed Mike and Lou tops the list, but there is plenty of generic fodder crammed in. The script does have some originality between the formulaic scenes, but it is sometimes hard to tell that the movie was written by people and not some kind of script generation program for the BBC Micro. Director Manny Coto doesn't help matters particularly with a lethargic style of direction, and no apparent interaction with his actors, which is a suprise given his work in horror movies up until then, a genre where pace is particularly critical.

This isn't to imply that the film is without entertainment value, Lou and Mike banter back and forth with an easy chemistry that showed up first in The Punisher, and their scenes are generally entertaining. The action is quite focused when it occurs, and in general the film seems like one tough editor away from being a decent channel 5 saturday night film.

In the end, unlike one of Dolph's later thrillers, Silent Trigger, Cover-Up doesn't even give us a ludicrously huge gun to provide amusement through the more tepid sections of the film. This is probably the better movie of the two but there are many other options in the genre that aren't so reliant on clich?, and are directed with more flair and pace. Still, the package is fairly slickly put together, and as a late night watch Cover-Up might just suffice to provide a gentle lead in to a sound nights sleep. Worth a watch at least once for Ludgren fans, everyone else will probably want to pass.

Why I keep putting these Amazon links up I don't know, but I just would hate for someone to suddenly realise they needed to see Cover Up and by unable to.