Survivor (2014)

starstarstar
“The post-apocalyptic horse whisperer.”

Arrowstorm Entertainment appear to have quietly become a minor creator of action heroine flicks. We’ve previously written about several entries in their Mythica series, and also Cyborg X, but seem to have missed this one. As in Mythica, the “name” star here is Hercules himself, Sorbo, who plays Captain Hunter. He’s in charge of one of seven interstellar ships, dispatched from Earth after the conditions for life here became increasingly precarious. Having spent four decades in space, they pick up a message, but when attempting to reach its source, go through a wormhole and their shuttle craft disintegrates. Hunter and his crew are scattered across the surface; with the captain having a broken leg, it’s up to his most highly-trained recruit, Kate Mitra (Chuchran) to rescue him.

Which would be fine, if that’s what it was. The first half of the film, in particular the section which has Mitra battling her way across the unforgiving landscape, and against the creatures (both humanoid and… not so much) who inhabit the planet, is actually pretty good. Chuchran looks thoroughly convincing, possessing actual muscle tone; the production makes good use of the Utah landscapes; and the lack of dialogue here may well work to the movie’s benefit. It’s undeniably a distraction how evolution on this alien solar system managed to produce something looking exactly like a horse. This is explained… but I have to say, the reason is something I had strongly suspected before it was delivered, and had been hoping I was wide of the mark.

Sadly, I wasn’t, and the film’s second half is considerably weaker. This stops focusing on its main strength – the heroine – and doesn’t live up to the poster tag-lines which use both the worlds “only survivor” and “alone”. She turns out to be neither, and the plot disintegrates into some kind of squabble between the tribes of local inhabitants, along with a couple of (somewhat convincing) monsters. Combine this with the explanation mentioned above, and my interest evaporated – in the same way the oceans back on Earth apparently had, according to Kate’s opening voice-over. Rather than going in an original direction, as had been the case earlier on, the influences become painfully obvious, and this film does not benefit in any such comparison.

From the technical point of view, this isn’t too bad, especially considering the budget was so low, a significant fraction came through Kickstarter. It mixes CGI and practical effects to generally decent effect; the odd shot looks ropey, and some of the “mutants” are a little Halloween-esque, but I’m gradually learning that comes with the Arrowstorm territory. There is just a strong sense of unfulfilled potential; in Chuchran, they had someone who could have been capable of carrying the entire film on her own. To see her character largely shuffled off to the side during the latter stages was a bit of a disappointment, and I hope future projects will offer her the opportunity she appears to deserve, based on a solid showing here.

Dir: John Lyde
Star: Danielle Chuchran, Kevin Sorbo, Rocky Myers, Ruby Jones

The Assignment

starstar
“(Gender) Identity crisis”

I’m a big fan of any film with an outrageous premise, and this one certainly delivers. Mob hitman Frank Kitchen (Rodriguez) carries out his latest job with no qualms, killing a debtor. What he doesn’t realize is, the victim’s sister is a talented but EXTREMELY twisted surgeon, Dr. Rachel Jane (Weaver). She vows to take revenge on Frank by removing what she feels matters most to him: his masculinity. Kitchen is knocked out, kidnapped, and wakes up in a seedy hotel room, to find herself in possession of a couple of things she didn’t have before, and missing something she used to have. But gender reassignment does not make the (wo)man, and an extremely pissed-off Frank vows revenge of her own, both on Jane and Honest John Hartunian (LaPaglia), the former employer who betrayed Kitchen.

Said director Hill, “Is it lurid? Yes. Is it lowbrow? Well, maybe. Is it offensive? No. I’m just trying to honor the B movies that we grew up with.” Maybe he needed to take that actual step and actually be offensive. For I guarantee you, something like Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS clearly did not give a damn about anyone who took offense at the concept, and was all the better for it. The only time this succeeds in provoking similar feelings of “What is this and why am I watching it?”, is when we get to see Rodriguez come out of the shower as male Frank, sporting a prosthetic penis.

The issue here is not the concept: if you have an issue with it, the solution is simple enough. Don’t watch. It’s fiction. It’s not intended to be an accurate portrayal of gender reassignment surgery, any more than Face Off was a documentary about facial reconstruction. I’m more amused by the reactions of people who can’t distinguish reality from cinema, asking questions like “Why is gender reassignment being depicted as a cruel punishment?” The answer is blindingly obvious: because it results in someone trapped in a body that’s the wrong sex for them. I would have thought the trans community might empathize with that. Apparently not.

No, the problem is… It’s not actually a very good film. It’s told mostly in flashback, Dr. Jane telling her story in a straitjacket to a psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Galen (Shalhoub), and this helps leads to a muddled and confusing structure, when a straightforward linear narrative would likely have served the story better. The action scenes are also almost perfunctory: I’d have expected a lot better from the man who gave us an all-time classic in The Warriors. Mind you, that was a long time ago [though the script which formed the basis for this, also dates back to the seventies], and he hasn’t done anything of note since – pauses to check Wikipedia – uh… Last Man Standing, maybe? That was 1996. I saw it in a Dublin cinema, and fell asleep. Though that might have been the Guinness.

It may also have been a misstep (cisstep?) to have Rodriguez play both halves of Kitchen. She’s fine on the female side, delivering her usual tough attitude, entirely befitting the project’s original title, Tomboy. But she’s less than convincing as an “actual” man, looking more like Captain Jack Sparrow after a metrosexual makeover. I did like Weaver, delivering a mix of coolness and taut insanity that is interesting and unsettling to watch. However, the negatives outweigh the positives, and we’re left with a film that’s difficult to defend, purely on an artistic level. It is, however, the first time I’ve ever been uncertain whether a film should be included here, due to uncertainty over the “heroine” part of “action heroine”…

Dir: Walter Hill
Star: Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub, Anthony LaPaglia

Black Widows

starstarhalf
“Bland misandry masquerading as female empowerment.”

Three women friends – Darcy (Elizabeth), Nora (Graham) and Olivia (Kocee) – are all having shitty luck with their relationships. Olivia is in the middle of an ugly divorce from Adam. Nora’s boyfriend Ryan is a control freak. And while Darcy’s new friend Blair (Brown) initially seems fine, he turns out to be the worst of them all. After he refuses to take no for an answer, the trio decide revenge is a dish best served naked in the middle of the desert. Unfortunately for him, Blair ends up lacking a pulse. Unfortunately for the film, it takes forever to get to this point, and for the vast majority of its running-time the promised “dark comedy” is neither dark nor comedic.

The writer of this was a date-rape victim herself, and it pains me to say so, but this might be the problem. According to the director, “This was an opportunity for her to wrestle with her demons.” It would probably have been better if she’d gone to therapy, written bad poetry or anything, rather than trying to turn those demons into a movie – especially one apparently trying to occupy any subgenre of comedy. For what comes over here is a relentless, bitter tone of (probably understandable, I will admit, given the writer’s history) distrust and loathing of the opposite sex, which permeates every scene of the film to such an extent that any potential humour is strangled. You can’t even call it dark, it’s closer to… jaundiced.

If the film had started with the three women standing over Blair’s body, and gone forward from there, it might have worked. For the trio have a cheerfully apathetic approach to the escalating mayhem, and there finally is dark comedy present, in the way they bicker about trivia like getting blood on their shoes. However, it is the very definition of “too little, too late,” and any interest and attention was already pushing up the daisies by this point.

As an aside – and because I’ve otherwise run out of things to say about this almost entirely forgettable item – I’ve been around the IMDb long enough to know a page stuffed with fake reviews. The obvious giveaway is when the glowing reports are almost entirely from people with precisely one review to their name. That’s what we find here, almost two-third of all write-ups being dated the week beginning August 9, the week of its release. Those 16 authors have reviewed a total of three films: this one 16 times, and two others, none more recently than 2012. At best, there was an email blast from the director to her mates, begging for reviews. At worst, paid astroturfing (though I doubt the budget went that far). It’s all painfully obvious, because it’s almost impossible to see how anyone other than a shill could have genuinely liked this mess.

Dir: Venita Ozols-Graham
Star: Brigitte Graham, Shelby Kocee, Jordan Elizabeth, Jake Brown

Red Sonja: Queen of Plagues

starstar
“A not-so-animated feature”

The rating here is largely based on my (I’d say, not unreasonable) expectation going in, that this would be actual animation. It isn’t. This appears to be, what I’ve since learned is called, a “motion comic”: think of it more as an illustrated radio play, with voice actors playing the parts in front of somewhat animated panels. And when I say, “somewhat”, I mean there is typically no more than one thing moving on them e.g. a character’s mouth. I can see comics for which this approach would work; unfortunately, a heavily action-oriented story such as Red Sonja is not among them.

It’s a shame, as the story and voice acting are both quite well-done. Sonja (Lee) and another prisoner are rescued by King Dimath, from a dungeon where they had been forced to fight other captives for the amusement of their captors. Years later, Dimath sends Sonja a call for help. His kingdom has fallen prey to a plague, and a horde is about to sweep through it, intent on salting the earth to prevent the disease spreading. And, wouldn’t you know it, commanding that horde is Annisia (Strom) – who just so happens to be Sonja’s co-captive from her time in the dungeon. Her experiences have pushed her into quite a different psychological path, shall we say.

It reminds me more than a little of the Xena: Warrior Princess arc which pitted Xena against her own blonde nemesis from the past, Callisto. That’s not a bad thing, and there’s no shortage of strong female characters, such as the bow-wielding bodyguards Dimath dispatches to stand alongside Sonja. Admittedly, they are more used to taking out rabbits – which may or may not be a Holy Grail reference. Yet what they lack in combat experience, they more than make for in the effusive complimentary terms by which they address Sonja, e.g. “your radiant ladyship,” “majestic blade mistress,” “our glorious sword princess” or even “she of the excellent cleavage”!

Lee certainly gives it her all, and so do the rest of the cast. It’s just that this needs a far greater range of motion than it gets here. These should be epic battle scenes, drenched wall-to-wall in blood and flying body parts – not still panels, with maybe an arm holding a sword moving slowly across the frame. If this had been the full-on animated feature I was expecting, all the other pieces are in place for it to have surpassed, by far, the woeful Brigitte Neilsen movie. It’s a damn shame the approach taken, instead robs all these aspects of their vitality and energy. What you’re left with falls short of reading the comic, because you have someone else turning the pages.

It’s barely an adequate place-holder for the proposed live-action version. That feature has been circling development hell since it was announced in 2008, with names as diverse as Rose McGowan, Megan Fox and Amber Heard linked to it. Last I heard was Feb 2015, when a new writer came on board. At this point, I’m certainly not holding my breath…

Dir: Gail Simone
Star (voice): Misty Lee, Becca Strom, Shannon Kingston, Tyler Nicol

Wonder Woman

starstarstarstar
“Slightly short of a wonder.”

I’m not an enormous fan of either the Marvel or DC Cinematic Universes. Superhero films tend to bore me: the concept in general seems like lazy writing, and nor can I handle the subsequent contortions needed to generate a credible threat e.g. Kryptonite. The Dark Knight is the only film from either stable that I actually possess, mostly due to Heath Ledger’s incredible performance. The others I’ve seen, from Iron Man through to Suicide Squad, have been no better than popcorn pleasantries, without much to offer in the way of emotional heart. That’s the biggest improvement Wonder Woman offers: a heroine who, as personified by Gal Gadot, cares – indeed, perhaps too much. And through her passion, she makes the audience care.

There’s one scene which particularly demonstrates this. Diana (no-one ever calls her by the WW label here) has just arrived at the front in 1918 Belgium, and is experiencing the hell of modern war for the first time. She is horrified by the suffering of the civilians and refuses to accept the explanations of her partner, US Captain Steve Trevor (Pine) about why nothing can be done. She won’t accept it, and goes over the top on her own, leading by selfless example, to rescue people she’s never even seen. It’s true heroism, and the intensity of Gadot’s performance – with a nod to Pine for the set-up – gives it a wallop that in terms of sheer emotion, surpasses almost anything else delivered by Marvel or DC to date.

To reach that point, however, takes quite a lengthy set-up. We begin with the adorable young Diana, watching the other Amazons training on Themyscira, imitating their kicks and punches in a way a million 8-year-olds were likely doing on the way home from the cinema this weekend. Despite her mother’s wishes, Diana is trained and becomes the Amazons’ top warrior, just in time for Steve to show up, hotly pursued by the Germans. This is because he has stolen documentation of a rogue chemical warfare program, run by Doctor Isabel Maru and General Ludendorff (Huston). After helping fend off the Germans, at considerable cost, Diana agrees to go into the world at large, because she believes the Greek god of war, Ares, is behind the program. She’s not ready for the world. And nor is the world ready for Diana…

The positives here greatly outnumber the negatives, starting with the cast, who are almost universally spot-on. Gadot may not be muscular enough for some as an Amazon goddess, but I can honestly say, that was an issue which never crossed my mind during the (perhaps a little long) 141-min running time. Any possible shortcomings physically, are perfectly well-covered by the intensity and dedication of her performance. Pine, too, is excellent: he grounds the film, acting as the audience’s voice and offering up much the same comments as we would. There is romantic tension between Steve and Diana, yet it’s lightly enough handled not to interfere. The supporting cast…well, they provide solid support, led admirably by Etta Davis as Steve’s secretary. My main qualm might be Huston, who isn’t the supervillain every good superhero(ine) needs: he’s no Heath Ledger, put it that way. Dr. Maru might have made for a better antagonist, though the script has other intentions for her.

Technically, it’s good, rather than great. Jenkins does occasionally succumb to the fast-cut style of editing, and some of the green-screen work is frankly ropey. Witness the 8-year-old Diana falling off a cliff, for instance, which really does not look like comes from a $150 million film. The script is similar: the main twist it offers is one which I guessed almost immediately (if you’ve been watching a current TV show, you likely will too), though it didn’t damage my enjoyment too much. It is occasionally a little… well, smug? Is that the right word? I’m not sure, but that’s how exchanges about the war like this come off:
   Trevor: Maybe we’re all to blame.
   Diana: I’m not!
#WellActually… I’d say that being part of a group which hides in a literal bubble for two thousand years does not absolve one of all responsibility for the state of the world. To slightly misquote Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good women to do nothing.” Anyway, this is me, cringing at the earnest obviousness of the above. Or obvious earnestness. That it stood out, however, indicates it was more a misstep than a consistent direction.

Good thing too. For I hate the way almost every major motion picture with an action heroine nowadays, seems to turn into World War One itself. From Fury Road through Ghostbusters to Rogue One, they become a battleground for gender trench warfare, with the camps lobbing verbal bombs at each other, and taking no prisoners. Look: if the goddamn movie is robust, it doesn’t matter whether you have a hero or a heroine, unless you make it matter. [That’s where George Miller was smart and Paul Feig wasn’t, perhaps reflecting the former’s superior confidence in his material – and he was justified there] Here, this is exactly what you would expect: the title is the movie. No kudos are deserved for it, nor any criticism. If you are somehow upset by the concept, stay away, and don’t whine about it. Nor is it the deeply life-changing experience some allege – or, at least, if your life is dramatically changed (by this or any other Hollywood product), I’d guess you have other issues. Or possibly, are aged eight.

I do wonder what the character’s creator, William Moulton Marston would have thought, seeing his bondage-heavy heroine turned into a glossy major movie. Especially since history is littered with not-very-good comic adaptations featuring female leads: Brenda Starr; Sheena; Supergirl; Tank Girl; Catwoman; Elektra; Painkiller Jane. To tell the truth, I think I was personally more relieved than anything, that this did not exhibit a similar degree of suckage. It was a very, very high profile effort, and failure, commercially and/or critically, would have had a severely dampening impact on any similar future productions. This doesn’t appear to have happened, and its success will hopefully open the door for more top of the line action heroines – some of which could end up being even better. Meanwhile, we’re bracing ourselves for the tidal-wave of little Diana Princes which will swamp our doorstep on Halloween.

Dir: Patty Jenkins
Star: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Danny Huston, David Thewlis

Deeper: The Retribution of Beth

starstarstarstarhalf
“Don’t do porn.”

Investigative journalist Mark (Anderson) is not too happy about his latest investigative assignment: going on a ride-along with Steve (Francis), the sleazy owner of porn company “XBus”. He picks up girls on the street and supposedly, talks them into getting naked for his website, Girls Gone Wild-style. But Steve’s latest predatory mission doesn’t go as planned, after picking up the very lovely Beth (Sam) and her friend Sam (Gatien). For Beth pulls a gun, hijacks the limo, and drives the two men into the forests on the outskirts of town, clearly with savage vengeance on her mind for an incident in her – and Steve’s – past. Not quite the story Mark anticipated getting.

I read one review which complained about the moral ambiguity here, but I felt this was actually the movie’s strong suit. Not that there’s necessary much ambiguity for me: it’s entirely possible to have no issues with pornography, while simultaneously frowning upon drugging girls in order to rape them. Seems fair enough to me. It is true that in this case, we don’t discover the truth about Beth’s mission until relatively late on, which goes against the grain in this kind of film. We usually start off with the crime, which creates sympathy for the vengeful heroine, and puts the audience in her corner. Here, Beth is a rather more ambivalent creature, particularly as her mission goes outside its parameters i.e. Steve, to encompass innocent bystanders like Mark.

Less successful is the injection of a randomly passing hunter into the film, and it might have been interesting if Mark had turned out to have some kind of dark secret in his past as well. He’s just a bit too squeaky-clean e.g. devoted to his pregnant wife. That particular phone-call had me rolling my eyes at the excessive obviousness. I had, literally, to rewind the scene where Steve has his hands zip-tied behind him, and is somehow able to get them around his legs, and in front of him. Seriously: just put your hands behind your back, and you’ll see exactly how impossible that is. It was also rather too convenient how Beth never bother with her captives’ legs, even after their efforts to run away.

Overall though, this is well put together. It’s well-crafted to work within its limited resources, requiring little more than two locations – the car and the woods – and the four occupants of the limo. There’s a particularly interesting dynamic on the female side, contrasting the aggressive Beth, and the apparently much more passive Sam. Although, that does change over the course of the film and the view at the far end is radically different from that at the beginning. It benefits from some good performances too. Francis, for example, manages to make Steve a relatively sympathetic character, rather than being 100% douchebag. But it’s Harmon who is the glue that holds this film together, even as she becomes increasingly unhinged, and a serious danger to anyone who crosses her path.

Dir: Jeffrey Anderson
Star: Jessica Harmon, Matthew Kevin Anderson, Andrew Francis, Elise Gatien

Heroines of F.U.R.Y.

starstarhalf
“The world’s first microbudget superheroine wrestling soft-porn film.”

Given the cover, you might reasonably have expected one of the above, but if you saw the rest coming, you’re a better judge of cinematic dreck than I am. It’s hard to work out exactly who would form an overlap between the various potential audience sections here. And even someone not averse to any of the categories (I’d probably qualify) might well be turned off by the poor production values and overall shoddy quality of this.

The film is set in “Metro City”, which was my first surprise, because a lazy reading of the synopsis had me believing this was “Mexico City”. My bad. Turns out Omega is putting together a squad of super-powered heroines, having discovered that someone, somewhere appears to be abducting their colleagues. Nothing good can come of this, naturally. The main focus is Cosmic Girl (Lane), who has only gained her costume and secret identity relatively recently, so is still coming to terms with her situation. But she’s just one of a slew of caped crusaders, including – I’ll pause to take a deep breath, and copy-paste from my notes here – Lady Victory, Sunder, Spyder, Starlet, Dusk and Lilith.

Which wouldn’t necessarily be bad, if it had delivered something along the lines of the wonderful, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl. But the actual tone becomes creepily apparent here almost immediately. In the first scene featuring Lady Victory, we’re treated to close-ups of her feet, cleavage, butt, crotch and cleavage again, before we get to see her face. Sadly, this turns out to be an accurate indication of the movie’s priorities, with the eye of the camera adopting a highly fetishistic approach to its subjects. That’s when the film isn’t toppling over entirely, such as the 10-minute sequence of Cosmic Girl masturbating on her bed, in full costume, which ends up coming – a word used advisedly – about the width of her gusset elastic from being hardcore porn.

Then there are the scenes in a wrestling ring. For it turns out, part of the point of the abductions is to put together a forced “fight club” for these “metahumans”, which is streamed online. The losers also have their powers stolen. Which is an idea with some potential. Or, rather, it might have, if anyone involved could actually fight, or give a credible illusion of fighting: this isn’t exactly Lucha Underground, shall we say. It turns out to be little more than a thinly-disguised excuse for some sub/dom play.

Look, I’m sure there’s a market for this kind of thing, and I’m certainly not one to judge it. But this is masquerading under the illusion of being a real film – it’s on sale at Walmart ‘n’ stuff – and that creates certain expectations, which the movie is woefully ill-equipped to meet. Admittedly, if you had the foresight to Google “Brookland Brothers”, the studio behind it, you would find yourself looking at a page of thoroughly NSFW links. However, the rest of us will probably be looking nervously over our shoulders for fear of a family member showing up, and wishing for an industrial-sized bottle of hand-sanitizer.

Dir: Tyler Benjamin
Star: Halsey Rae, Ashley Lane, Krisa Kouture, Christina Verdon

Scream of the Bikini

starstarstarstarhalf
“It is a regular adventure!”

This appears to have been filmed somewhere in South America around 1966, then “poorly translated and dubbed by Germans”. The truth? It’s a modern spoof, a loving re-creation of the sixties Eurospy thriller, featuring two gun-toting leggy lovelies, Bridget (supposedly “Jasmine Orosco”, but actually Wedeen) and Sophia (“Paola Apanapal”, Larsen), who are international fashion supermodels by day, and jet-setting bounty hunters and secret agents by night. They acquire a microchip, capable of storing a whole one kilobyte of data – more than all the computers of Interpol and the Pentagon combined! – which embroils them in an evil plot to unleash wholesale devastation on the world’s population. As you do.

It absolutely nails the tone on just about every level, from the fashion styles through the washed-out palette of an elderly print and super funky sixties soundtrack, to the poor dubbing and English-as-a-second-language translations. “A death cult!” burbles one of our heroines – “The worst kind of cult,” adds the other, helpfully. It’s a genre ripe for parody, but it’s clear that Scholl – a theater director – as well as his cast and crew, have an abiding affection for their subject. It probably will help to have seen at least some of these kind of movies, and it’s likely the greater your familiarity, the more you’ll get out. Though even those whose knowledge is no more than a viewing of, say, Barbarella, should still have enough expertise to mine a decent amount of amusement.

It definitely reminded me of The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, though the target there was 50’s SF/horror. That was also somewhat more polished, and perhaps did a slightly better job of sustaining itself over the entire feature-length; there are spots here, particularly in the second half, where the script seems to run out of ideas. But just when your interest drops to a dangerously low level, a line of dialogue or a scene will pop up out of nowhere, that’s laugh out-loud funny,  and you’re back to being engrossed once more. If you’re a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000, you’ll know the way this scatter-gun approach works, and that such an angle will generally result in considerable misses, as well as hits.

It can be a difficult task to pull off: when you go out there with the deliberate intention of trying to make a “cult” movie, more often than not, the results will end up self-absorbed and inadequate. [Compare, say, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the abomination which was its follow-up, Revenge of the Old Queen] I think the genuine affection mentioned above is a big help. While this is a parody, it’s a warm one, and you don’t get the sense it is laughing at this kind of film, so much as with it. In many ways, I probably found this more entertaining than many of its targets; an awareness of its own stupidity goes a long way to mitigating the flaws.

Dir: Kiff Scholl
Star: Kelsey Wedeen, Rebecca Larsen, Darrett Sanders, Kimberly Atkinson

Mythica: The Godslayer

starstarstarstarhalf
“End of days”

I think it was only as the end credits were rolling, that I perhaps appreciated this series fully. Sure, in many ways, these films have been a poor man’s Lord of the Rings knock-off, with a disparate band of hardy adventurers on a quest to stop Ultimate Evil (TM) from taking over. But, dammit, I found myself enjoying them, appreciating their smaller-scale charms and actually liking the characters – possibly even more than Frodo. While this finale doesn’t sustain the non-stop pace of its most recent predecessor, it does a good job of tying up all the loose ends. And if you’ve watched all five, and don’t have a slight moistness around the eyes at the end, you’ve a harder heart than I.

It has all been building to this. Evil necromances Szorlok (Mercer) has put into operation his plan for world domination, using a vast and still growing army of the possessed – and as the title suggests, intends to wipe out the gods, leaving him in sole charge. Can he coerce Marek (Stone) to join him, saying it’s the only way the mass slaughter can be stopped? Or can she and her group of friends track down the Hammer of Tek, the long-lost artefact once wielded by a legendary king, and the only thing capable of shattering Szorlok’s Darkspore, stopping his bid for power? However, if they succeed, what will be the personal cost?

It certainly has been a journey, particularly for Marek, who began as a slave girl with no inkling of the power she held within her, and ends up going toe-to-toe with the darkest force around. Here, her battles are as much mental as physical, since she has to weigh Szorlok’s offer. Is it okay to join up with evil in order to save others? Her moral compass – Jiminy Cricket, if you like – is the half-elf thief Dagen (Stormoen), who not only has to try and keep her focused, but also venture into the underworld, in search of that pesky hammer. [Tek is played by Kristian Nairn, a name you might recognize from another fantasy series. If not, this should be a clue: “Hodor!” Yep: he gets more than that one word here, too…] While Marek is the heroine, it is an ensemble piece, and the others get their moments of bravery and sacrifice too.

The technical aspects are certainly improved from the early days. The Kickstarter alone for this one raised over $131,000, and if sometimes short on the epic scale we’ve come to expect from Peter Jackson, it still has occasional moments where it punches above its weight. But I think it’s really the characters which are the heart of this, as with any good story. What seemed initially like a collection of four cast-offs from a bargain-bin Dungeons & Dragons campaign, have ended up becoming individuals I found myself caring about, and for all the low-budget flaws, I’m genuinely sorry this is the end of the saga. The series proves you don’t need $100 million to make a movie, and also that entertainment value is not strictly correlated to your budget.

Dir: John Lyde
Star: Melanie Stone, Jake Stormoen, Adam Johnson. Matthew Mercer

Prophecy of Eve

starstarhalf
“Puts the ‘eve’ in dry heave.”

This will be a slightly shorter review than usual. For there’s not much to say about a film which runs only 77 minutes, yet still somehow managed to feels both confused and full of unnecessary padding. “Well done”, maybe? Certainly, as a model of what not to do, this hits all the necessary marks. It seems be set in Los Angeles, renamed Angel City, for no particularly good reason. There is a struggle between demons and those they possess – whose eyes flash red at dramatic or necessary to the plot moments – and those on the side of good, whose eyes flash green. Leading the latter side are the Order, and two of their members have, in defiance of the rules, have a child, Eve. Her parents are attacked and apparently killed by the demon-possessed, and Eve is left to fend for herself on the streets, while the Order try to locate her.

They are apparently a bit crap at the locating thing. For 15 years later (!), Eve (Villatuya) is still roaming the streets taking out bad guys with her sword. Meanwhile, demonic possessions have increased dramatically, and it appears to be connected to a certain company and its headquarters downtown. Fortunately, the Order have managed to infiltrate the place, and their operative, Esther (Maxali) has just escaped with footage showing exactly what the company are up to. Eve may be the only thing standing between the world and disaster. Or maybe not. Because the film may not even bother with anything approaching a coherent ending, opting instead to finish just when the film should be ramping up to an exciting climax.

Admittedly, any excitement would likely be a large improvement over what the movie provided to that point. Which would be a string of B-grade martial arts fights and C-grade performances. At first, I thought it was refreshingly ambitious of a Filipino production to attempt to make a movie set in Los Angeles, and quite brave of them to do so in English, when it clearly wasn’t the native tongue of the lead actors. Then, I realized my mistake: this is actually American. Oh, dear. I’m struggling to find many positives, but have to say, the look of the film is rather better than you’d expect from the reported $15,000 budget. It has a nicely drenched sheen of wet neon, that appears to have strayed in from a much bigger production. The poster, too, looks slick, and promises much: unfortunately, these positive aspects only stand in sharp contrast to what the film can actually deliver.

Dir: Ron Santiano
Star: Ia Villatuya, Michelle Laurent, Nicole Maxali, Roberto Divina