Street Fighter

There are people who will tell you that a film is so bad it’s good. This is not a view to which I subscribe — a bad film is a bad film.

I do have to admit, however, that there are some bad films for which a single element — be it an actor, a particularly silly plot point, or whatever — is able to redeem the overall terribleness enough to provide the film with, at least some, redemption.

Street Fighter has Raul Julia.

Julia plays the evil General M. Bison whose evil plan to be evil must be stopped. The plot, such as it is, revolves around attempting to introduce every character from every Street Fighter arcade game and maneuvering them all to Bison’s secret fortress for the final battle that you know is coming.

In narrative terms the film fails completely. As an action film, the scriptwriters have simply introduced far too many characters to the point that each character (apart from Colonel Guile, played by Jean-Claude Van Damme) is afforded no more than a single brief scene to show off their talents.

But every time Julia’s wonderfully self-aware Bison turns up to deliver yet another scene-stealing performance, he lifts the whole film from the floor. Bison is every cartoon villain you have ever seen, and he relishes in his evilness. He is, consistently, a joy to watch to the point that you even start to find yourself appreciating some of the one-liners that the other characters have been given.

I’m not going to claim that Street Fighter is a good film, it isn’t. But by embracing the silliness, Raul Julia has managed to turn this into a very funny film and one that is a lot more entertaining than it deserves to be.

Optimism

The worldwide release dates for Wonder Woman 1984 are out, according to which the film will open in Belgium on 16th December. Which came as something of a surprise to me as Belgium is currently in lockdown until 13th, at least.

I know this is being reviewed tomorrow, and that cinema chains are pushing to be allowed to open again, but I don’t seriously think that this is going to happen.

Cinenews has a more realistic date of 23rd December but even this assumes that the lockdown will end this year. I’m far from convinced that this will happen, but if it does we will at least have a Christmas film to look forward to.

And there’s a trailer, which does look good.

One way or another, I’m sure we will be seeing this.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man

Several years ago I was talking to someone about strange films and happened to mention Tetsuo. Obviously, he asked me what it was about and I had to admit that I wasn’t entirely certain.

Having watched the film a few times since, I have come to the conclusion that, while the actual narrative is very simple — if rather strange — the visual style of the film is such that it sends your mind in all kinds of weird directions.

All this is my excuse for cribbing the synopsis from the IMDb:

A businessman accidentally kills The Metal Fetishist, who gets his revenge by slowly turning the man into a grotesque hybrid of flesh and rusty metal.

Yep. This is a film about a Japanese salaryman turning into metal. And with a synopsis like that, it should come as no surprise that the film itself is a unique mix of horror, science-fiction and surrealism. Mainly horror, but it’s the surrealism that really makes this film stand out.

Shot in black and white to emphasise the starkness of the metal, this really is a visually inventive film and one that makes heavy and effective use of stop motion animation. In fact, it’s a lot more animated than I remembered, yet the animation fits well with the like action to create an alternative, and rather disturbing reality.

Whether Tetsuo is an unnerving exploration of the dehumanising effect of industrialisation, or simply a young and innovative director pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved is a question for the viewer and a reflection of what the audience brings to the film. But it is a film that is as unnervingly effective now as it was when it was made 30 years ago.

I’m not sure I would go as far to say this is an enjoyable film, but it is a very effective one, and one that stays with you long after you’ve seen it.

Asguardians of the Galaxy

Here’s some good news. Empire magazine is reporting that Chris Pratt has signed up to play Star-Lord in Thor: Love and Thunder.

Of course, Thor joined the Guardians of the Galaxy at the end of Avengers: Endgame, so it’s not surprising that there will be (at least some) overlap in Thor’s next outing. But this confirms that at least one of the Guardians will be involved, and I think it’s safe to assume that more (hopefully all of them) will be joining the film soon.

Natalie Portman is back as Jane Foster, who will take on her own Thor personality and attendant powers, while Tessa Thompson returns as Valkyrie and Christian Bale joins the MCU as an unspecified villain. Thor: Ragnarok’s Taika Waititi is once again behind the camera and is likely to be performance capture suiting up as Korg.

2022 can’t come soon enough.

Slither

James Gunn, today, is probably most famous for The Guardians of the Galaxy but back in 2006 he made his directorial debut with Slither, a film that is both very different and surprisingly similar.

The plot, which happily lifts ideas from all over the place, revolves around the small town of Wheelsy, into the woods of which which crashes a meteorite. As we should all know by now, any meteorite that crashes into an isolate part of the US invariably carries some sort of alien parasite with it. In this case, the parasite is discovered by the delightfully named Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) who is promptly infected by it.

The film doesn’t take time to get started and what follows is a surprisingly unsettling mix of old-fashioned monster movie, body horror and zombie film. All of the narrative elements are reasonably familiar but, when squished together by Gunn’s sensibility, it all feels rather unique.

While Slither is listed on IMDb as a horror comedy, it is very much a horror film, albeit one underpinned by a dark sense of humour of which we see plenty of flashes.

More than anything, this film feels like an affectionate homage to everything from 50s monster movies to Romero’s zombies by way of Cronenbergian body horror. It is, by turns, disgusting, tense, occasionally funny and a much smarter than first appearances would suggest.

Slither is a lot of fun and any horror fans who haven’t already seen this film really do owe it to themselves to do so. I am, however, reading far too much into the film to suggest that the parasitic infection theme makes it the ideal Halloween film for 2020.

Reign of Fire

I remember seeing Reign of Fire in the cinema way back in 2002 and really enjoyed it. Watching it again on DVD, it’s still every bit as good as I remembered, if not better.

The film starts in 2008 with the discovery of a huge hibernating dragon during construction work in the London Underground. The dragon immediately incinerates the entire construction leaving 12-year-old Quinn Abercromby, who was visiting his mother, as the only survivor.

Soon, thousands of dragons have emerged and set about burning everything and breeding like monsters.

We then jump forward to 2020 where humanity is reduced to a few pockets of survivors, hunkering down and hoping to cling on until the dragons return to hibernation. I shall resist the temptation to make any comment about whether or not unstoppable flying flamethrowers really are the worst thing that could have happened in 2020 and quickly move on.

One such community of survivors is led by the now adult Quinn (played by Christian Bale), and living in a medieval castle in Northumberland. Life is hard, of course, but under Quinn’s leadership, the community is largely holding together and surviving as best they can.

That is, until a bunch of Americans turn up.

This militia is led my the wildly implausible Denton Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey) who has worked out how to kill the dragons. After a demonstration of his group’s dragon slaying prowess, Van Zan reveals his big plan to wipe out all of the dragons once and for all.

Quinn refuses to allow his community get involved on the, not unreasonable, basis that Van Zan’s plan is mad and liable to get everyone killed. But many of the community, inspired by the one dead dragon they have seen, decide to go join up with Van Zan.

Inevitably enough, Van Zan gets everyone killed and Quinn reluctantly agrees that now would be a good time to go and kill off the dragons.

Reading back through this synopsis, I am struck by how little sense the film made. But the film gets away with this because, while it may be nonsense, it really is spectacular nonsense.

More than anything, the film succeeds because of the dragons. For a twenty year old monster movie, the dragons are still incredibly effective and remarkably believable.

It helps, of course that we have Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey in the lead roles. Both actors have enough charisma to carry on through the plot holes and inconsistencies without stumbling, and even make the conflict between their characters believable.

But the film is mainly about the dragons. And these are realised so well, and are so superbly malignant, that all else really can be forgiven.

The Giant Spider Invasion

Although The Giant Spider Invasion is made and set in the 1970s, this is a film that really wishes it was a 1950s monster movie.

The film is set in a small Wisconsin community into which crashes a meteorite. The worst place for something like this to land is the farm belonging to the utterly dysfunctional Kester couple (Robert Easton and Leslie Parrish). Of course, this is exactly where it lands.

As the meteor crashes, it also manages to knock out the electricity in the area and causes a B-52 to crash. This, combined with some technobabble about gamma ray activity, attracts the attention of NASA who sends Dr. Vance (Steve Brodie) to join local scientist Dr. Jenny Langer (Barbara Hale) to investigate.

When the Kesters finally decide to investigate the explosion on their farm, they discover that all of their cattle has been partially eaten, and that there are geodes all over the place, so they take the geodes home with them. When they finally crack open one of these geodes they discover that it’s full of what looks a lot like diamonds. And spiders, of course, but who notices spiders when there are diamonds to drool over?

This provides the crux of the film. A pair of scientists are trying do discover the source of several strange occurrences, and the stereotypical rednecks are unwittingly hiding this source in the hope of becoming rich.

The Giant Spider Invasion is a very uneven film. When it works, it works quite well. Initially, director Bill Rebane uses large terrestrial spiders as stand-ins for the alien arachnids and these are surprisingly effective. This, combined with the increasingly obvious webs emerging all over the place, does make for quite an tense atmosphere.

The film also has plenty of comic touches, not all of which are deliberately so.

It all falls apart, though, when the giant spider finally emerges. This large, and largely static, puppet really doesn’t work at all. Not only is it transparently fake, it also looks as cheap as it probably is and is far more funny than frightening.

Looking various review sites online, The Giant Spider Invasion has gone down very badly. I’m not sure that this is entirely fair, though.

While I wouldn’t try to claim that this is a good film, I don’t agree that it’s as bad as some of its critics suggest. It’s more the case that this film was made 20 years too late.

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

There are two films called Assault on Precinct 13. There’s the 2005 remake and the much better 1976 original that was written and directed by John Carpenter.

This film opens with a police ambush in which a number of gang members are killed. The gang members, being a less than stable bunch, make a blood pact with each other to take revenge. This, after a few detours, leads them to lay siege on Anderson police station — an isolated and lightly staffed station that is due to be closed down the following morning.

And it has to be said that plausibly generating this sense of isolation in the middle of a city like Los Angeles really is an incredible feat on the part of John Carpenter.

There isn’t a lot to the script, but there doesn’t need to be. The sight of a small group of people — a policeman, a couple of criminals, a secretary and a phone operator — trapped and isolated is both gripping and horrific. This is heightened by Carpenter’s score which is deeply unsettling in itself.

As a thriller, Assault on Precinct 13 is as good a demonstration of what this genre is capable as any, and it’s effective today as it ever was. Full of fear, tension and desperation, the film is both unrelenting and utterly gripping as we watch the main characters struggling to cope with the carnage around them and the hopelessness of their situation.

Assault on Pricing 13 is a memorably gripping and genuinely nail biting 90 minutes.