Armitage III: Dual Matrix

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“Oppressed robots = clumsy social metaphors, despite some very cool fights.”

It’d probably be best to watch the original film, Poly Matrix, immediately before this, as otherwise, you’ll be kinda hitting the ground running. After those events, Ross Syllabus and “Third” [a model of android which can reproduce] Armitage have set up home with their daughter, who doesn’t know her mother is anything by human; meanwhile Ross operates under an assumed name as a security guard. However, an incident turns him into an unwilling spokesman for robot rights once again, and when he is sent to Earth as a Martian delegate, his daughter Yoko is kidnapped by a faction seeking to reverse his vote. It’s time for Armitage to put aside her chores and kick butt.

If I’m flaky on details, it’s because chapters 10+11 on the DVD were faulty and refused to play. But I don’t think it made much difference. This improves slightly over the original, since it doesn’t get bogged down in android angst, and the action scenes are lengthy and largely entertaining, particularly a finale in which Armitage takes on two relentless, giggling android killers (whose teamwork reminded me of Bambi + Thumper from Diamonds are Forever!). However, despite flashes of brilliance, the coherence of the story, and occasionally the animation, leaves a lot to be desired; too often, you’re left going “Eh?”, in the dark about what’s happening, and why.

For example, the climax takes place on a space elevator, a concept familiar in SF – but there’s no-one at all around. No security, customers, or staff. And Yoko’s kidnapping seems due to sloppy parenting as much as anything. Similarly to the first, there’s little original thought here, though in its defense, the recent release of I, Robot may make this seem less novel than it was on its 2002 release. In the English dub, Armitage is this time voiced by Juliette Lewis, but we stuck to the Japanese track, so can’t comment on her animation debut.

Dir: Katsuhito Akiyama
Star (voice): RyƓka Yuzuki, Hikaru Hanada, Kazuhiro Yamaji, Yuka Imai

Velvet Smooth

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“That’s Ms. Smooth to you…though that’s the last word to describe this atrocity!”

Let’s be perfectly clear about this: at least one, possibly more, of the points awarded to this movie only apply if you, like us, are connoisseurs of the trash aesthetic. If you delight in bad acting, poor action and technical ineptness, this is for you. Otherwise…consider yourself warned. Not to be confused with Jeannie TNT Jackson Bell, this was Johnnie Hill’s only film – and when you’ve seen it, you’ll understand why. She plays Velvet, a private investigator brought in, along with her two female sidekicks (also adept in martial arts, even if we are redefining the word “adept” here), when someone starts encroaching on a crime lord’s territory. Who is behind this? And who is behind them?

From a story point of view, it’s actually not too bad, with a bunch of twists that keep things interesting. In every other way, however, it plunges into the Marianas trench of quality; witness, in particular, the boom-mike, beginning at 27:47 minutes in, which gets screen time that most actresses would kill for. The fight sequences are woeful; half are shot from such long range, you can barely see what’s going on, and the rest…well, when you see them, you’ll know why the makers opted for the long-range technique. The foley work is especially inadequate, in particular, the sound of a drum that accompanies every punch to flesh. On at least two occasions, we had to rewind the DVD repeatedly, because we literally didn’t believe what we were seeing – and not in a “Michelle Yeoh, train, bike, Supercop” way.

I guess it’s inevitable that even such a shallow genre as blaxploitation would be a target for cheap knock-offs, made by the talentless. About the only point of vague interest is a guest slot for the wonderfully-named Emerson Boozer, 2-time Pro Bowl running back for the Jets. It’s clear why his acting career didn’t take off, and in general, you wonder how such shoddy work could ever have been considered adequate. The old saw – this movie wasn’t released, it escaped – comes to mind. I think it’d have been better if Velvet Smooth had been held in Alcatraz.

Dir: Michael Fink
Star: Johnnie Hill, Owen Watson, Frank Ruiz, Emerson Boozer

Last Stand

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“The godlike genius of Lloyd Simandl strikes again…”

Okay, ‘godlike genius’ is stretching it a lot, but if you arrive at this unofficial Escape From New York remake knowing what to expect (low budget, mild sleaze, lame action, recycling of footage from other movies), it’s still entirely possible to enjoy it. After America breaks into feudal states, escaped drug lord Kragov (Matacena) runs Washington DC, rounding up women of breeding age and shipping them to Utah(!). Though our capital appears now to be populated entirely by middle-Europeans, with not an African-American in sight (like a lot of Simandl’s work, it was filmed in the Czech Republic).

Into this comes Kate Major (Rodger), a soldier doing time for killing her CO. [The prison footage looks very like that in Fatal Conflict, made by Simandl the same year. Damned if I’m gonna check though!] Krakov has found the nuclear football, giving him access to all US missiles, so she must switch it into safe simulation mode before he can work out the codes, and also rescue the head of the UN’s son (Barker), who leads the resistance – all ten of them. It’s complete nonsense, of course. Krakov violates many ‘Evil Overlord’ rules (if I become an Evil Overlord, anyone who has something to tell me, and me alone, will be made to do so via CCTV) and Major should simply kill him. There’s also no reason why Major – released from 20-to-life hard labour – doesn’t just head off in the opposite direction at top speed, rather than putting her life at risk.

Luckily, the villains, Kragov and sidekick Tanya (Brozova) are a good deal of fun, even if Kragov’s lines are often unintelligible; Brozova would be great as Ilsa if they ever revive She-Wolf of the SS. Barker is unforgivably bland, but Rodger does have a certain spark and presence, though gets little chance to show it here. The sum of all this is undeniable trash; you may, or may not, regard that as any kind of endorsement. As an aside, keep an eye out for the graffiti on the walls, including comments like ‘Give Idaho Back to the Serbs’…

Dir: Lloyd Simandl
Star: Kate Rodger, Josh Barker, Orestes Matacena, Katerina Brozova