Miss Diamond

starstar
“More like, Miss Cubic Zirconia”

diamond1There’s an exhibition showcasing the first diamonds ever mined in Germany, dug up by the company belonging to Buhler (Kier). Keeping thing safe is the responsibility of security expert Tim (Kretschmann), who doesn’t realize that renowned jewel thief Lana (Speichert) has her eyes on the jewels. So they’re both in for a nasty surprise, because after Lana is caught by Tim in the process of stealing them, it turns out the diamonds are completely fake. Buhler gives her an ultimatum: Lana must find the real diamonds, or she’ll be handed over to the police, and to ensure she doesn’t just run off, tasks Tim with keeping an eye on her. It soon becomes clear, though, that there is more to the mystery than there appears initially, and someone is very keen to stop them from getting to the truth.

This is flat and uninspired in almost every way, beginning with the complete lack of chemistry between Speichert and Kretschmann, though in their defense, the dubbing isn’t exactly helping them. [Or the beloved Udo Kier, who seems to be sleep-walking through his role] However, that can’t explain away the story, which is about as far from sparkling like diamonds as possible, even if you allow for the ludicrous central concept. Diamonds. In Germany.  It features villains who resolutely refuse to behave with even a modicum of common sense. For example, if ever I become an evil overlord, capture my enemies, and need to dispose of them, I will kill them on the spot, not tie them up underground, with the intention of letting them be run over by a slow-moving tunneling machine.

Which brings me to the topic of the action showcased here, and unfortunately, most of it ranges from the physically impossible to the cringe-inducing. The former is showcased during that escape from the tunneling machine, where Lana somehow dangles from a chain with one foot, while simultaneously pulling the 180-lb plus Tim up off the ground. The latter sees Lana doing front flips as she is simply trotting across a roof. Who does she think she is, Catwoman? This soundtrack also appears to be composed by somebody who has listened to too many James Bond films, which simply reminds the viewer of the gulf between this and any 007 movie of the same era.

A couple of marginal saving graces do exist, just not in the central performances, main story-line or cinematic direction. I was kinda amused – perhaps unintentionally – by how crap Tim is. He’s the one that’s always getting knocked out, captured, falling out out boats and generally put in peril, from which Lana has to save him. Some of the vehicle stunt-work is not too bad either. But overall, what you appear to have here is little more than a underwhelming TV pilot, certainly bad enough not to make it to series.

Dir: Michael Karen
Star: Sandra Speichert, Thomas Kretschmann, Udo Kier, Michael Mendl
a.k.a. Die Diebin

Johanna D’Arc of Mongolia

starstarstar
“Not sure if serious…”

johannaThe scenario here could be the jumping-off point for a wilderness adventure, with a train going across Mongolia being held up by a tribe of nomadic locals. and the Western women on board taken hostage by the princess who leads them (Xu). But it ism’t. Indeed, Ottinger seems almost deliberately to go out of her way to avoid anything that might increase the pulse above a resting rate. What follows is more a depiction of rural Mongolian life, which appears to have changed very little since the era depicted in Warrior Princess. It’s a topic that seems to have entranced the director, as she went on to explore the topic at greater length in Taiga – and when I say “greater length”, I mean it, since that film lasts eight hours and 21 minutes. This clocks in at a comparatively brisk 165 minutes, with the first hour almost entirely within the confines of the Trans-Siberian and Trans-Mongolian Expresses, before exploding out into the wide, sweeping vistas of the Mongolian steppe.

Until then, it introduces us to the Western women, led by Lady Windermere (Seyrig), an ethnographer who knows both the Mongol culture and their language – skills which prove fortuitous, to say the least. The others include a Broadway singer (Scalici), and a young backpacker (Sastre), whose use of a Sony Walkman – kids, ask your parents! – is about the only thing which locates this in a specific era. But once they are taken hostage, for reasons which are never even hinted at, the film largely loses interest in them, save the backpacker, who appears to “go native” more than the others.  It becomes more about the princess, for whom “action” is simply part of everyday life. She hunts with her bow and arrow; she talks with visiting emissaries from other tribes, treating them with scorn where appropriate. She rules – in the literal, rather than the social media corrupted sense of the word.

Quite what any of this has to do with Joan of Arc escapes me entirely. The whole movie feels like some kind of trolling exercise, aimed at readers of this site, by having the pieces in place for an action heroine film, and then steadfastly refusing to deliver on it. But if so: hah! Joke’s on them, because I didn’t actually hate this. Seyrig, who was the star of one of the best Euro-horrors of the seventies, Daughter of Darkness, is always worth watching – or, more relevantly, worth listening, as her voice sounds like slowly melting butter. There is enough quirky eccentricity early on, such as the Kalinka Sisters, a trio of strolling players also on the train, to keep things moving, until the landscapes and culture then take over. While I’d still say Cave of the Yellow Dog is the best “slice of Mongolian country life” film, and I will not be sitting through Taiga anytime soon, this is probably not something the likes of which you’ll have seen before. As such, Ottinger deserves admiration for pursuing her own artistic vision, regardless (it appears) of any commercial constraints.

Dir: Ulrike Ottinger
Star: Delphine Seyrig, Ines Sastre, Xu Re Huar, Gillian Scalici

The Bod Squad

starstarstar

“Several virgins short of a six-pack.”

7seasIn the 1970’s legendary Hong Kong studio Shaw Brothers sought to broaden their market with a series of co-productions. The results included the likes of Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, from a partnership with Britain’s Hammer Studios, plus Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold. But perhaps the most bizarre such product is this, which crosses martial arts with the softcore sex films from the time, the best-known of which is probably Hofbauer’s Schulmadchen Report (Schoolgirl Report). The results are… Well, I’d be hard-pushed to call them great cinema, but I would have to confess to being rather more entertained than I expected.

Contrary to one of the alternate titles, Enter the Seven Virgins, there are actually only five women here, and some of those aren’t exactly virgins. They are captured by pirates, and brought to their island lair, where buccaneer boss Chao (Hsieh) leers at them and puts them through a training course designed to get them ready to be sold into white slavery. Except, he doesn’t know that one of his minions, Ko Mei Me (Liu), is actually working, along with her brother, to take him down, and trains the captives in martial arts, as well as the ancient Chinese art of spitting olive pits at such high-velocity, they can punch a hole through a vase. After copious amounts of gratuitous nudity, the women eventually break free, get recaptured, escape again, and take on Chao and the rest of his henchmen in a battle which makes up for in duration, what it may lack in quality.

Actually, that’s a little unfair: considering the Western cast were more used to films with titles such as Campus Pussycats, they perform credibly enough. There’s not as much stunt doubling as I expected, and they’re clearly giving it all they have, occasionally impressively. Bray stands out in particular – and I mean that literally, since it seems she’s taller than most of the men in the cast. Liu, however, clearly has the most experience, and its understandable why she gets given most of the action. In some ways, this can be seen as a primitive ancestor of Category III films such as Naked Killer: while lacking quite the same lurid insanity, and featuring a degree of casual racism that’s fairly off-putting [apparently, the sight of Western flesh is enough to send most Chinese men into drooling imbeciles], it’s still fun for the undemandingly open-minded. Admittedly, a fondness for Benny Hill may help, and providing you can get past hearing Chinese people dubbed into German, as well as subtitles that may have lost their way a bit in translation. I’m still trying to figure out the meaning of, “It’s a bank holiday, it’s Mothers’ Day in Africa.”

Dir: Kuei Chih-Hung + Ernst Hofbauer
Star: Liu Hui-Ling, Wang Hsieh, Sonja Jeannine, Gillian Bray
a.k.a. Virgins of the Seven Seas
a.k.a. Enter the Seven Virgins
a.k.a. Karate, Küsse, blonde Katze [Karate, kisses, blonde cats]

Die Weibchen

starstarstarstarhalf

“Deadlier than the male.”

This German 1970’s film is well ahead of its time in some ways, but is postively Neanderthal in others, being basically a scream of fear about women’s liberation. It feels like a far-less subtle version of Neil LaBute’s re-make of The Wicker Man, taking place in a matriarchal town, where women are in charge, with the exception of a couple of incompetent men, to lift heavy things and provide a facade of normality (the police commissioner is an alcoholic, who knows little and cares less about what’s going on). Into this scenario comes Eve (Glas), a stressed-out secretary who has been booked in for a six-week course of treatment at the local spa. It’s not long before she stumbles across the body of a man with a knife embedded in his back, only to discover that no-one believes her, with the clinic’s doctor telling people Eve is suffering from post-tramautic hallicinations. Is that the case, or is there something genuinely unpleasant going on? And what’s this on the dinner menu?

It’s clear this is a warning tale of what might happen if that pesky feminism is allowed to continue unchecked to its “logical” conclusion: there’s even an actual bra-burning, though fortunately it’s only the more photogenic members of the cast who take part in this. It does a particularly good job of straddling the line, where you’re not certain whether or not the whole thing is simply a product of Eve’s deranged imagination. It does finally come down to a decisive conclusion, with a scene which is surprisingly graphic for the time. Up until this point, the cinematography and direction do a nice job of capturing the hallucingenic feel of a nightmare, where it feels like you can only move in slow-motion and wherever you go, whatever is chasing you is already there ahead of you. However, it’s also surprisingly pro-feminist, in that it’s basically only the women who are portrayed as strong and competent: the men are all sex-obsessed or drooling idiots – occasionally both. If ever a film were guilty of sending out mixed messages, this would be it – but, surprisingly, I didn’t feel that hurt it much.

It’s certainly a unique entiry, perhaps to be filed alongside other seventies gynophobia, such as Invasion of the Bee Girls. However, with a woman at its protagonist, as well as the antagonists, this strikes a better balance between its elements and, despite occasional obviously dated elements, stands the test of almost half a century, better than I expected.

Dir: Zbynek Brynych
Star: Uschi Glas, Irina Demick, Francoise Fabian, Giorgio Ardisson
a.k.a. Mujeres carnivores

Bloodrayne 3: The Third Reich

starstarstarhalf

“Probably just about the best of the series to date. Take that as you will.”

After the abomination that was Part 2, I’d filed the third entry under ‘watch whenever I have time’, until a spirited debate on its merits (or otherwise) broke out on over oun our GWG forums. That got this one fast-tracked, and I am here to pronounce the official word is… it’s alright, I s’pose. Malthe has improved markedly since she took over the role from Kristanna Loken. In #2, she was little more than a clothes-horse, but now possesses some genuine charisma, though in terms of fighting skills, still leaves a good chunk to be desired. The makers, apparently realizing this, offer distraction in the way of ample cleavage shots, and some gratuitous nudity – which, if your luck is like mine, is exactly when your wife will walk in. Admittedly, telling her I was going to be watching Schindler’s List was probably a mistake, in hindsight…

As you can likely surmise from the title, this takes place in World War II – if you’re playing along at home, that’s three different centuries for the movies now, so I guess the next one will have to be ‘Bloodrayne in Space’ [Uwe, send payment for this idea to the PO Box, please]. During an attack on a train taking ‘undesirables’ to the death camps, Rayne sinks her fangs into the local Kommandant (Pare). However, she doesn’t kill him, and with the help of the local resistance, has to clean up the resulting mess, before Der Kommandant and his mad doctor (Howard) can get to Berlin and turn Hitler into Der VampireFuehrer.

The main problem is that runs only about 70 minutes before the very slow end-credit crawl, and feels like a good hour is missing somehow, as the storyline leaps about, and rushes through a finale that seems completely unsatisfying and badly under-written. The result is a movie where the individual scenes are decent enough, yet you reach the end and find yourself thinking, “Is that it?” and wondering if you had dozed off someehere in the middle. The sense of unfulfilled expectations are likely down to this. If the movie is certainly a clear upgrade on its immediate predecessor, it’s hard to see how it could be otherwise. Still, I’d like to see what Malthe can do in a less apparently-hurried production.

Dir: Uwe Boll
Star: Natassia Malthe, Michael Pare, Brendan Fletcher, Clint Howard

We Are The Night

starstarstarstar

“German vampires – but the polar opposite of Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu.”

Lena (Herfurth) lives on the edge of society: stealing from other criminals, and running from the cops. But her life changes forever, when she comes to the attentions of Louise (Hoss), a rich socialite, who runs with her pack of friends. Louise is actually a centuries-old vampire, who sees something in Lena’s eyes, something for which Louise has been searching for many decades. She bites Lena, and her transformation into a creature of the night begins. It’s not without its issues: to force Lena to come to terms with her new-found strength and speed, she is handed over to a pimp, a scenario which turns into a blood-bath. While Lena does adapt, the police investigate the killings and Tom (Riemelt), who knew Lena from her street days, realizes there’s a connection between her and what happened.

While there’s precious little new here, in terms of content, it’s really a film where the style is probably more important, and the makers nail this impeccably. It’s a glossy, shiny movie, set in a world that looks like a car advert [and, as an aside, there are some very nice cars here!], where the streets are perpetually wet and the only light is neon, with a perpetually thumping techno beat as the soundtrack. Of course, your mileage may vary as to how that translates into a cinematic experience, but I loved the attitude on view, despite the short attention span and focus on distracting the viewer with shiny, pretty baub… Ooh! Sparkly things! Sorry, where was I?

It’s the moments that you’ll remember: Lena’s bath-tub transformation with her old life literally melting off her, or the restaurant scene where one of the immortals proves exactly how hard-core a smoker she is, by stubbing a cigarette out in her eye. And the radical feminist philosophy is engagingly confident, espoused here as, “We eat, drink, sniff coke, and fuck as much as we like. But we never get fat, pregnant, or hooked.” Louise helped kill off the male vampires because they were a waste of undeath, and has deliberately avoided turning men since. It is, if you like, a distaff version of The Lost Boys, crossed with Daughters of Darkness, with some fine action set-pieces thrown in, that I wish they’d extended a bit. When you contrast this with lame vampire updatings like T*w*l*ght, there’s no doubt which is superior.

Dir: Dennis Gansel
Star: Karoline Herfurth, Nina Hoss, Jennifer Ulrich, Max Riemelt

The Baader-Meinhof Complex

starstarstar

Director Edel is probably best known in the West for the embarrassing Body of Evidence, though would rather be remembered for the much better, if incredibly depressing, Last Exit to Brooklyn. This is certainly nearer to the latter, depicting the rise and fall of the Baader-Meinhof group, also known as the Red Army Faction, the terrorist gang whose actions sent Germany into a state of nervous anxiety in the late 70’s. They started off at the end of the sixties, when Europe was in a state of political flux, but became more radical, engaging in bank robberies to fund their activities and then escalating to bombings, assassinations and kidnappings. The leaders were eventually caught – and I trust this isn’t much of a spoiler – dying mysterious deaths in jail, officially called suicide, but suspected by some as being extra-judicial execution.

It’s a generally interesting, but also flawed, approach to the subject matter, because it tries too hard to be even-handed, both humanizing the group, while also being sympathetic to the establishment they sought to bring down. It’s hard to do this, while still generating much emotion, because the viewer is left not really knowing for whom they should “root”. In addition, former journalist Ulrike Meinhof (Gedeck – the picture, above, is the real Meinhof) is initially the focus of the movie’s attention, but the way things unfold (and I’m manfully avoiding any spoilers there) mean that things inevitably have to shift away from her in the latter stages. The movie also faces the inevitable problem of any film based on actual events: reality rarely, if ever, follows a three-act structure, and as a result, either the facts or the drama have to suffer – here, it seems to be the drama, with the story not so much building to a climax as petering out.

That said, the performances are good, particularly Wokalek as Gudrun Ensslin, who has been described as the intellectual head of the RAF. What makes it suitable for inclusion here is the way that both Meinhof and Ennslin are depicted as the driving forces, the engine-room of the Red Army Faction. Andreas Baader (Bleibtreu – who was also the ineffectual boyfriend in Run Lola Run) is depicted as a hot-head, and something of a hypocrite, with a taste for fast cars. It’s clear that Ensslin and Meinhof are the ones that run the group – Baader was, in fact, a high-school dropout and one of the few RAF members who did not attend university. I have vague memories of hearing reports about the group as I grew up; while it was good to have the large blanks in my knowledge filled in, this felt more like a Discovery Channel re-enactment of the RAF’s history, rather than offering anything truly cinematic.

Dir: Uli Edel
Star: Martina Gedeck, Moritz Bleibtreu, Johanna Wokalek, Nadja Uhl

Bloodrayne II: Deliverance

star

“Ah, this is why people hate Uwe Boll.”

Look, I speak as one of the few people on the planet who found the original Bloodrayne other than unwatchable dreck. So when I say that the sequel is a soporific, poorly-constructed, badly-executed waste of time and effort for all concerned, including the viewer – for God’s sake, listen to me. There is simply no rhyme or reason present here, right from the setting which goes from Middle Ages Europe to the Wild West without any credible explanation. Billy the Kids (Ward) is a vampire, kidnapping the local kids, in some kind of half-baked plot device that makes no sense, involving him waiting for the railroad to reach town, to spread his curse. I guess going to a town that already has trains would be too much work. Rayne has to round up a posse to take on Billy and his blood-sucking cronies. Y’know? For the kids….

Malthe is not an adequate replacement for Kristanna Loken. While there are some settings in which she would make an appropriate Rayne, this isn’t it. I can do no better than reproduce goatdog’s limerick on this issue:
She’s entirely too soft-spoken.
She pales next to Kristanna Loken.
She’s not half as pretty,
her accent is shitty,
and her ass-kicking skills appear broken.

Beyond that, even my usually forgiving nature kept stumbling into holes of logic. For instance, Rayne’s posse is mostly there because she blackmailed or threatened them, yet this apprarently creates immediate loyalty, to the point they are prepared to die on behalf of a cause they know basically nothing about. Similarly, there’s a newspaper reporter (Coppola): his third scene explains his presence, yet mostly makes you wonder exactly what he was doing in his first two scenes. The film doesn’t even have consistency of vampire lore: can they, or can they not, be killed with regular bullets? The film says no, but then…

It’s not just a bad vampire movie. Probably worse, it’s a bad Western. Overall, it’s just bad: I generally have more time for Boll than most people [National Treasure was much, much worse than House of the Dead], but even I cannot defend this on any level. The original had a lunatic sensibility, heaving everything at the screen it could find: it may not have made much sense, but you did remember it. The sooner I can forget this, the better-off I will be.

Dir: Uwe Boll
Star: Natassia Malthe, Zack Ward, Michael Pare, Chris Coppola

Bloodrayne

starstarstarhalf

“Don’t belief the hype: it’s not that bad.”

Director Boll has a rep as the worst filmmaker ever, making movies based on video games entirely for tax writeoff purposes. But have things got out of hand? I mean, Bloodrayne was in the IMDB All-time Bottom 50 before it opened. So cut him some slack – even though we may be the only folk on this planet who admit to liking bits of House of the Dead. Still, despite a fine cast [any film with Udo Kier is okay by us!], uniformly dire reviews meant we went in to this with low expectations – and made up most of the audience. Ouch. Yet, despite rumours of Madsen being drunk every day, Kingsley refusing to act with Madsen – something leftover from Species, I guess – and Rodriguez’ horrendous attempt at an English accent, this wasn’t entirely terrible.

Not great, sure; but as someone from Britain, I knew right off Rodriguez wasn’t even trying. I think all she did was limit her normal accent – wise for a Hispanic in a setting of Romania, circa 1700. Anyway, she and Madsen are hunting down Rayne (Loken), a human/vampire halfbreed seeking king of the vampires Kagan (Kingsley), who raped and killed her mother. Kagan, in turn, is after three artifacts to protect him from water, crosses and sunlight. Basically, imagine a period take on Blade with less actual imagination and more digital blood. There is certainly potential; Loken looks the part (dig her groovy swords!), as does the landscape.

However, the action borders on the incoherent, provoking little or no sense of awe or excitement. Gossip also states most of the stars signed on about two weeks’ notice, and that would certainly explain their apparent large unfamiliarity with pointy weapons. From the reviews, you’d think this was worse than Plan 9 From Outer Space, yet ignoring the anti-Boll hype, it’s largely only the poor staging of the fights which prevent this from being, at the very least, a credible rental. However, an action film with bad action is like a horror film with bad scares, rendering the other ingredients largely irrelevant.

Dir: Uwe Boll
Stars: Kristina Loken, Michael Madsen, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Rodriguez

Bandits

starstarstarstarhalf

“Bad Girls – the musical.”

Not the Billy Bob Thornton/Bruce Willis vehicle of the same name, this German film is several years older. Four girls, in the titular prison band, seize the chance to escape when playing at a police function. With freedom comes unexpected fame, thanks to a tape sent to an unscrupulous record company executive. There is plenty of potential for a Natural Born Killers-style hack at the media, manafactured celebrity: the Bandits could go after the exec for exploiting them, he could encourage the cops to shoot the fugitives and increase sales, etc. Von Garnier largely avoids this, in favour of unsuccessful chick-flick emoting, and a slightly surreal approach, like a long-format pop video. Add an irrelevant subplot in which the Bandits take a hostage, play with him for a bit, then dump him, and it’s clear the script is embarrassingly weak.

Fortunately the rest of the film holds the script up, aided by Von Garnier’s good visual style – albeit one perhaps more appropriate for MTV (one scene is in danger of turning into Fame!). The characters, too, deserve better, a fascinating mix of archetypes: the tough girl, the slightly mad oldie, the ditzy sexpot, etc. They could easily slump into shallow cliche, and it’s a credit to the actresses that they don’t. The music is a key element, and isn’t terrible, though personally, I’m a long way from going out and buying the soundtrack. In the end, all the elements combine with the unstated potential to create an engaging failure. Could have been, should have been, yet there’s still enough to make it worth a look.

Dir: Katja von Garnier
Star: Katja Riemann, Jasmin Tabatabai, Nicolette Krebitz, Jutta Hoffman