• Film reviews

    #514 – The Day of the Triffids (2009)

    The Day of the Triffids (2009)

    Film review #514

    Director: Nick Copus

    SYNOPSIS: A solar flare visible across the world has the effect of making everyone blind, leading to the collapse of society and government. This also has the consequence of releasing the Triffids, man-eating, mobile, plants into the world after their containment facilities fail. Bill Masen, a scientist who studies the triffids, avoids being blinded by the flare due to having an eye operation, and awakens to find he is one of only a few people still able to see. Bill navigates the remains of civilisation, teaming up with broadcaster Jo Playton to try and survive this new world, and also to stop the triffids from feeding on the sightless population…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: The Day of the Triffids is a 2009 two-part TV series, based on the 1951 novel of the same name by John Wyndham. The plot of the film is updated from it’s origins in the 1950s, making the triffids, a race of man-eating plants that can move, the answer to global warming through the oil they produce as an energy source (the original novel was similar, but didn’t have the global warming angle). Bill Masen, a scientist working with the triffids, is attacked by them and has to have an eye operation to save his sight. Meanwhile, a solar flare that is visible worldwide causes the vast majority of people to lose their sight. Bill, having his eyes bandaged, is one of the fortunate ones, and unwraps his bandages to find society collapsed and everyone around him stumbling around blind. The plot of the series is more closer in many respects to the original novel than the 1962 film, and the changes it makes to bring it up to date fit in well. One of the main issues I have with the story is the unrelated events of the solar flare (meteor shower in the original) and the release of the triffids. Given that both cause blindness, it makes it seem like there is some connection between the two, whereas apparently it is just coincidence. The 1962 suggested a link between the two (that the triffids came to Earth by a meteor), but no such connection here. I’m not sure how convincing it is either that so many people went blind, when apparently you could avoid it simply by having your eyes covered, or being underground (such as Jo in the London underground), surely that would leave a lot more people sighted? Nevertheless, most of the main plot points from the book are there, but slightly tweaked to make a more conventional flowing narrative. The original novel was very much a post-apocalyptic survival story, whereas this adaptation fits the characters and story into more conventional film roles, for example, separating characters into specific scenes and settings, and having an overarching villain. The series flows fine enough, but there’s a point in the middle where things feel a bit without purpose and lost, and has no idea what to do with the characters. 

    The characters themselves have likewise had a few changes to reflect the more modern setting, and the serial format. Bill Masen is a fairly unremarkable lead, but that’s okay, because the story is more interesting when it focuses on the world rather than the characters. Bill’s character is expanded by introducing a personal relationship with the triffids, due to his parents being researchers that studied triffids, and his Mother being killed by one. It is an element that comes into play more in the latter half of the film when Bill meets his Father, but it all feels very unoriginal. There’s also this strange recurring flashback from when Bill was a child and his eyesight was saved after a triffid attack by a shaman and a mask of some sort, but I didn’t really get the significance of it, and it really only pays off in the final minutes for an insignificant bit. Torrence, played by Eddie Izzard, takes up the villain role, and he is set up as a man who will do whatever it takes to survive (he mostly replaces Beadley from the original novel). His quirky, whimsy personality does feel a bit out of place in a post-apocalyptic setting, and I don’t think the series needs an overarching villain in a world where the world itself is the biggest enemy, along with the triffids, of course. One thing that is consistently evident is that nobody seems to know how to write women and children: Jo is the female lead, but her dialogue and everything she does just feels so ineffectual that it’s almost like she isn’t there for the most part. When the young girl Susan and her sister turn up later on too, their characters just don’t go anywhere or develop a bond with the others. There is a severe lack of coherence and relationship building between the characters which is overlooked in the streamlining of the plot into a two-part series.

    Production-wise, the series looks good, with plenty of scenes that show off a ruined London, and plenty of extras that populate the chaotic streets. The triffids themselves are CG monsters that are mostly shown obscured in shadows or partly obscured, but I think that’s probably for the best, as there’s no way to make CG walking plants look completely threatening. There’s a good sense of scale, and some competent production, but The Day of the Triffids has a certain blandness borne from some streamlining elements of the plot to fit the series format, and an inability to write some of the characters to be in anyway significant. It’s watchable, mildly entertaining, but yes…bland.

  • Film reviews

    #513 – Where Did All the People Go? (1974)

    Where Have All the people Gone? (1974)

    Film review #513

    Director: John Llewellyn Moxey

    SYNOPSIS: Steven Anders and his family are enjoying a camping trip in the mountains of California. While Steven’s wife, Barbara,  returns home for work, the rest of the family stop and enjoy the remainder of their holiday. While exploring a cave, an earthquake strikes and they head outside to find that some form of solar flare has happened, and they can get no communicate with the outside world. The family head home to try and find Barbara, finding that almost everyone in the world has vanished, leaving only white powder where their bodies once were…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Where Have All the People Gone? is a 1974 TV movie. The film focuses on Steve Anders and his family, as they are on a camping trip in the Californian mountains. Steve’s wife Barbara has to return home for work reasons, leaving Steve, their two teenage children, and a local farm-hand. The family are down in a cave when an earthquake hits, and they escape to find the farm-hand outside that some form of bright flash happened in the sky at the same time. Unable to get into any contact with anyone, and with the farm-hand suffering what appears to be some form of radiation poisoning, the family try and get back home to Barbara, along the way finding that nearly everyone who saw the flash of light has died and become a heap of white dust. The story is focused around Steve and his family, and the people they pick up and encounter along the way. Initially starting with no answers, they slowly build up theories about what is happening, but their focus is always on getting home to their wife/mother. The film starts off pretty empty, and with characters that are very cookie-cutter and without personality, but slowly, they start to build up some particular responses to what is going on around them, and things start to pay off. The different scenes are a bit hit-and-miss: sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. As such, the film can feel a bit uneven and disjointed. I don’t think there’s too much original in the film’s portrayal of a world where everyone has disappeared (an idea not unfamiliar to post-apocalyptic films), but it also avoids the common depictions of post-apocalypse scenarios by tuning away from global nuclear fallout and focusing on a family drama. Given that this is a TV movie, which typically focus more on entertainment and action, it is a rare example of such a movie that instead takes its subject matter seriously without the frills.

    As mentioned, the characters are very much plain, stereotypical cut-outs, but they do start to grow a little as the film goes on. Steve keeps his family together, while his son David is a science-based person, who unravels a little as the film goes on. Deborah doesn’t really have too much to do other than do some occasional narration (which doesn’t add too much), and the characters of Jenny and Michael, whom the family they pick up along the way, have small, but interesting character arcs that adds something of substance. By the end of the film, there’s some good dialogue and twists that have cohered the characters into a good unit, but they never fully shake off that mould from which they begin.

    The open-ended nature of the film leaves us with no real answer about the state of the world and it’s survivors: all we know is about are the characters we travel with, and who they encounter, which says very little. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but might not be for everyone who might want the journey to have a more substantive pay-off. When we are given explanations to what is going on, the science seems a bit far-fetched, such as people being turned into white dust being caused by a large solar flare and a particular dominant gene is a bit much the more you think about it. Again, like most things in this film, if you don’t think too much about it and focus on the characters and the depiction of the post-apocalyptic world, you have something that is mildly interesting to watch, if you give it a chance to get going. It’s nothing mindblowing or groundbreaking, but there’s some competency at work that brings the film together. In terms of TV movies, you can do worse, but you can certainly do better.

  • Film reviews

    #512 – The Day of the Triffids (1962)

    The Day of the Triffids (1962)

    Film review #512

    Directors: Steve Sekely, Freddie Francis

    SYNOPSIS: After a meteor shower that is seen across the globe, nearly everybody on Earth is blinded by it. Billy Masen, a merchant navy officer, avoids being blinded as he has had his eyes bandaged up from an operation. He takes off his bandages to find he is one of the few people in the world who has not been blinded, and also that the meteor shower has released a strange plant called triffids that are multiplying rapidly, and attacking people…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: The Day of the Triffids is a 1962 sci-fi horror film based on the novel of the same name by John Wyndham. The film begins with introducing Bill Masen, A merchant navy officer, who is resting in hospital after an eye operation. While his eyes are covered up in bandages, a meteor shower seen across the world blinds almost everybody on Earth. Bill is unaffected because of the bandages covering his eyes, and wakes up the next morning to remove his bandages and find that everyone else around him has gone blind. This has caused not only to society to break down and all services and communications to cease, but also the meteors have released a strange species of plant called Triffids that can move and attack people. The film is a balance between a post-apocalyptic survival film, and also a classic B-movie monster movie, and for most part, it is balanced quite well. The tone of the film remains serious and desperate, without too much of that low-budget b-movie tone undoing it. There’s also a good balance between the two sides of the story presented to us, with Bill and those he meets trying to survive in the world, and scientists Tom and Karen Goodwin, isolated from the world at a remote lighthouse, try to investigate the triffids and find a way to stop them, separating the explanations and exposition from the drama-heavy story of Bill and those around him trying to survive. It should be noted though, that the film is not a particularly faithful adaptation of the book, as it moves some of the settings and omits some characters. There are other adaptations that are more faithful, so you may want to look there if you want something closer to the book.

    Apart from the good balance of characters and tone, there’s also some good shots and settings that set the scene rather well. Shots of the streets of London and Paris deserted are rather striking, and the scenes exploring the fallout of everybody being blind, from mass panic and planes being unable to land gives us some dramatic moments with big consequences, but the main focus is on Bill and his group’s isolated struggle for survival. The triffids themselves look like a b-movie creature, but manage to be quite menacing and threatening at some points, particularly in one scene where you see a hoard of them amassing behind an electric fence.

    The ending is perhaps the weakest part of the film, and again something that deviates from the original novel: it turns out that the triffids dissolve in seawater…and that’s it. The world is saved apparently. It’s an ending twist similar to The War of the Worlds, which released a film adaptation in 19053, and had the invading Martians unable to survive in the earth’s atmosphere outside of their protective environments. We’re not given an insight into how the world is meant to carry on with nearly everybody blinded, but I suppose Bill’s story has a solid ending with him and his cohort reaching safety. One other notable aspect of the ending is that some survivors who have been trapped in a submarine emerge, and…go to a church to give thanks for their survival. This is an odd choice for an ending, particularly because Wyndham was not a religious person, but a a fair few of these sci-fi horror films (The Day the Earth Stood Still springs to mind), where ultimately God and religion are shown to still be all-powerful in the face of science. It’s an ending that comes out of nowhere and isn’t necessary, but is not uncommon in films of this era. Overall, The Day of the Triffids has some good aspects to it: it benefits from having the structure of the novel to balance out the different aspects of the film, but becomes a lot weaker when it deviates from it. The Triffids are a fairly terrifying monster in particular scenes, and are more memorable than a lot of monsters, but their undoing is a little contrived and uninspired. A good example of a b-movie monster flick, with some post-apocalyptic elements that heighten the drama.

  • Film reviews

    #484 – Grain (2017)

    Grain (2017)

    Film review #484

    Director: Semih Kaplanoglu

    SYNOPSIS: In a post-apocalyptic world where most of the planet’s soil cannot grow plants and food, the world is divided between the remnants of the cities, agricultural zones, and the inhospitable wastelands where nothing grows, separated by barriers that kill anyone that get too close. Professor Erol Erin, a seed geneticist, learns of a researcher whose thesis predicted the current genetic crisis, and sets out into the wasteland to find him and get answers about how to solve it.

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Grain is a 2017 post-apocalypse film. In this post-apocalypse, we see that society is divided into the remnants of the cities, and the agricultural zones, each ruled by powerful corporations and elites. There is also the wastelands, which makes up the majority of the planet, and is populated by genetically incompatible people who suffer the harshness of the inhospitable environment. Separating them are giant energy barriers of some sort that kill anyone that touches them, maintaining the gap between the elites and the rest firmly maintained. We don’t get much more insight into the state of the world than this, but it’s setup is fairly familiar to the post-apocalypse setting, so it’s not really an issue. The cities are facing an issue where seeds and crops are unable to grow, which will turn into a full crisis if the situation worsens; the film gives some scientific jargon as to why this is happening about missing particles and stuff, but its all a bit superfluous. Professor Erol Erin, a seed geneticist, wants to find a man whose thesis predicted the crisis and how to solve it, but he has apparently disappeared into the wastelands. He illegally sneaks through the barrier and sets off in search of Cemil, who he believes can put a stop to the crisis. The film’s story is deliberately threadbare, in order to keep things open to interpretation in some way, and as such, situates itself in the vein of the more epic films like Tarkovsky’s Stalker. There are, however, a number of problems with this: the film is very front-loaded and gives a lot of time in the first half to explaining everything, and the second half in mostly silence, and the contrast splits the film in a messy way. In a similar vein, it feels like it wants to be one of those epic films, but at the same time appeal to a more Western sensibility. The runtime at just over two hours fits into a more (slightly longer) Hollywood film, but a bit too short for the longer epic films. Even as it is though, the film feels too long with very little reward for getting through it. The long scenes filled with silence are often good, but the film as a whole just doesn’t offer anything to think about or tie it all together. The film is based on a chapter in the Quran apparently, and while I can’t speak to that, maybe there’s a religious allegory in there that I’m missing. The message of the film seems to be that mankind is far too wasteful and careless about the environment and the world in which it lives, but to deliver that message in a film released in 2017 is hardly groundbreaking or impactful unless you have a really clever way to do it. Grain does not have that.

    The film mostly centres around two characters: Professor Erol Erin, a scientist from the city, and Celim, a man who has abandoned the city for the wastelands. The two journey off into the wastelands together, as Erol tries to survive Celim’s eccentric actions and behaviour. Erol finds Celim in order to learn something, but what Celim tries to teach him is not what he expects: he is less about giving answers, and more about a process of care and concern for mankind and their environment. The long scenes of almost pure silence accomplish that in some way, with said silence taking the place of any answers as the pair traverse the wasteland. There are some scenes that stand out, but the film ultimately feels like it goes nowhere. The acting is fairly decent, and so are the minor characters, but we see far too little of them for them to have any impact, and just leave us with more questions.

    The film is entirely in black and white, and again this is a deliberate choice to evoke the kind of epic film it wants to be. Is it necessary? Not really. The scenes in the landscape of the wilderness are very grand and empty, emphasising it’s silence and deadness. It’s clear that Grain has a vision of what it wants to be and how it wishes to approach its subject matter, but it is almost entirely obfuscated and mixed up in its execution, leaving very little impact overall. There are some good scenes in here, and again, clearly a message that is trying to be communicated while also being open to interpretation, but it seems every time it needs to be clear, it becomes ambiguous and vice versa. The film is trying to say a lot, but never pushes itself firmly into that epic category of long films that accomplish this. As such, the execution finds itself far behind where it’s ideas want it to be.

  • Uncategorised

    #474 – A Visitor to the Museum (1989)

    A Visitor to the Museum (1989)

    Film review #474

    Director: Konstantin Lopushanky

    SYNOPSIS: In a seemingly post-apocalyptic world, a man visits the shoreline from the city to visit a museum that is only accessible one week every year when the tide is low enough. He is following the rumour that somewhere inside is a portal to another world, where one can escape the hell that is the one he lives in has become…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: A Visitor to the Museum is a 1989 soviet post-apocalypse film directed by Konstantin Lopushanky. The film is set sometime after an unspecified ecological disaster has ravaged the planet: many people have become mutants and are locked up in reservations to be used as slave labour and such, while what remains of the unmutated live in cities. We aren’t given too much detail on the state of the world or what happened to it, but the backstory isn’t really important: like a lot of post-apocalypse films, how the world ended doesn’t mean much when you’re just trying to survive day-to-day in a new harsh world. A man visits the coast from the city hoping to visit a museum of relics from the old world buried beneath the sea. The path to the museum is accessible only once a year when the tides are low enough, and the man is following a rumour that within the museum is a portal to another world to escape the horrors of the one he currently lives in. The story of the film is very abstract and never hinges on definitives: a lot of the plot is casually explained as the man has tea with the family he is staying with, and they talk about the state of the world as very much matter-of-fact, in contrast to the true hell that the mutant “degenerates” are constantly experiencing.

    Konstantin Lopushanky, the director of this film, worked on Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker film, and it definitely shows: the themes of isolation and desolation in a post-apocalyptic world and trying to find a way out are shared between the two, and there are very similar camera techniques and effects used to convey this. Lopushansky, however, always feels like Tarkovsky’s apprentice, and never really surpasses the master that is Tarkovsky, or offer anything different. The weak links in the film are definitely how the story reveals itself, and offers very little direction or clue to what is going on. Obviously, the film is meant to be ambiguous and centres around a loss of meaning in the post-apocalypse, but the film feels a bit too ambiguous in centring the main character and certain aspects of the film so you never know where they are or what’s going on. The plot points that do offer something include the contrast between the unmutated, who are unbothered atheists, and the God-fearing “degenerates” who scream out bible verses and quotes, even though none of them know what any of it means because the meaning of the bible has been lost.

    The production of the film feels very considered, and again obviously taking inspiration from Tarkovsky. The outdoor location shots looks great, particularly the mountains of garbage and rubble that our protagonist traverses, which is apparently what most of the world looks like now. The landscape shots that emphasise the isolation of the protagonist abandoned amidst nature also works well. There’s also the large crowds of mutants in certain scenes give off an eerie feeling, as they move and act in seemingly genuine terror. Lopushansky uses the colour red to completely light many of the scenes, and it provides a good bit of consistency throughout.

    This is definitely not a feel-good film: it is the end of the world, and we’re meant to feel it, the only hope of escape is this absurd rumour the protagonist is chasing about a portal to another world, which as the only option, shows just how bad things are, but again the unmutated just sitting around and discussing over tea as just a simple matter-of-fact furthers that strange contradiction. Overall, Visitor to a Museum definitely tries to capture some of that Tarkovsky magic of slow, epic films, but it never really hits the mark completely, nor does it offer anything new or original to the Tarkovsky formula. It’s not a bad film, and it received some decent recognition and awards, but again falls short of the master due to leaving things too ambiguous and without direction.

  • Film reviews

    #461 – Ninja Apocalypse (2014)

    Ninja Apocalypse (2014)

    Film review #461

    Director: Lloyd Lee Barnett

    SYNOPSIS: in the post-apocalyptic wasteland, a summit is called between the various ninja clans for peace talks, as clan leader Fumitaka believes the clans must come together to overcome an external threat that threatens all of them. The clans agree to the terms, but Fumitaka is suddenly assassinated, with witnesses saying that Cage, leader of the Lost Ninja clan, was the one who did it. Cage and his fellow clan members are forced to flee, and must find a way out the bunker where the peace talks are being held, with all the other ninja warriors out to get them…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Ninja Apocalypse is a 2014 post-apocalypse martial arts film. Set after the collapse of society through nuclear war (as with most post-apocalyptic films), what remains of humanity seems to have banded into various ninja clans (for some reason). Fumitaka, the leader of one of the clans, holds a peace conference between the clans at his bunker, where he claims they must unite to fight an “external force” that threatens them all. The clans agree, but Fumitaka is suddenly assassinated, and three witnesses claim it was Cage, the leader of the Lost Ninja clan, that did it. Cage and his clan ninjas flee, attempting to escape the bunker while fighting off the remaining clans. The story is fairly simple to follow, even if it doesn’t make much sense: why is everyone a ninja in the post-apocalypse? Why do they have magic powers? Are they mutations or supernatural? Not much is explained, but then again it is a martial arts movie, and doesn’t need too much explanation. The whole premise is very silly, and manages to get even sillier when it introduces zombies. Overall it’s not a story that will keep your interest, and while there’s a few twists and surprises, doesn’t offer too much.

    The various clans of ninjas we see at the beginning of the film all have unique special powers, including lightning, fire and illusion. As mentioned, there’s no explanation of these powers and whether they are mutations or supernatural, but it’s not too much of a concern. Apparently their powers have a certain limit and have to recharge, but it’s mechanics are not explained any further. These abilities make the film a bit more over-the-top and unique, but they’re not utilised in a massive way to bolster the film as a whole into a unique experience. The characters themselves are a fairly typical bunch of tropes, with Cage and his brother Surge being at odds with one another forming the most notable relation between characters. Cage’s rivalry with Becker, leader of the fire-based ninja clan, is also fairly interesting, and it’s fun to watch them interact, but there’s too little of it. The big reveal of the villain at the end has little impact too because we see very little of Cage and the villain actually interacting, so we are left only with exposition to fill in the gap.

    This is not a high budget production. The film is almost exclusively set in this nuclear bunker, which means there is no need for complex sets, and most of the action takes place in non-descript corridors, stairwells and industrial empty rooms. The CG is pretty basic stuff and probably something anyone could make in After Effects, but it’s not overused too much, and is mainly just to create blood splatter, which the film doesn’t linger too closely on (although sometimes the physics of the blood is noticeably off). The acting can sometimes be alright, but other times is very stuff and wooden, making the whole experience very uneven. The most important aspect of a martial arts film has to be the fight scenes, and the ones in Ninja Apocalypse are…fine I guess. The actual stunts and fighting are good, but the editing of them is often too sharp and ruins the flow. There’s plenty of variety though, from the various ninja clans and their unique powers to slicing up zombies. Overall though Ninja Apocalypse is a fairly forgettable affair with a threadbare story and limited characters. There’s a few decent stunts and fights, but they are ultimately hampered in their editing and composition. There’s not much to really take away from this film, apart from the premise should be much more interesting than what is delivered on screen.

  • Film reviews

    #455 – Turbo Kid (2015)

    Turbo Kid (2015)

    Film review #455

    Directors: François Simard, Yoann-Karl Whissell, Anouk Whissell

    SYNOPSIS: In the post-apocalyptic world of 1997, a boy known only as Kid, who idolises the “Turbo Rider” comic book character, stumbles upon a girl named Apple, who starts following him around everywhere. When the local warlord Zeus starts pressing his terror across the wasteland, Kid discovers the remains of the real Turbo Rider, and along with them, the superhero powers he needs to take on Zeus himself…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Turbo Kid is a 2015 post-apocalypse sci-fi film, it is an expanded version of the six-minute short film T is for Turbo from 2006. The film is very much an 80’s retro-styled post-apocalypse film that were produced in overwhelming numbers throughout the decade (mostly inspired by the success of Mad Max). The film starts off introducing Kid, a teenage boy who lives in this wasteland by scavenging, and who idolises the comic book character “Turbo Rider.” One day he stumbles upon a bizarre young woman named Apple, who starts following him around everywhere. The pair get caught up in a fight with the local warlord Zeus. The story of the film is fairly straightforward and easy to follow, and while the stakes never seem to be too high, the focus is on the characters and their relations to each other, rather than saving the world. It definitely has that Mad Max feel in terms of the story, with minimal worldbuilding or lore into how everything was destroyed and how people survive in this world, which is more or less in keeping with the genre, which usually gives off an “end of history” vibe in that after the world is destroyed, the question of “why?” doesn’t have much meaning, particularly in comparison to the question of survival.

    Kid stumbles upon the remains of the real “Turbo Rider,” and takes his superhero suit and laser blaster thing to become him, and this gives him the power to take on the villains. This also feels very much like another classic 80’s trope: the revenge flick, in which a wimpy teenage kid suddenly gets the power to take revenge on everyone that wronged them. The obscure film Laserblast (though released in 1978) is one that particularly stands out to me. This is also a very sudden realisation that Turbo Rider isn’t just a comic book character, but is apparently a real person in this universe, which is not hinted at all before this reveal. Perhaps it is a sign that a destroyed world has no need to remember superheroes. When Kid puts on the suit, he takes up the mantle of the superhero in this strange new world, and as his connection to other characters and his past is revealed. The cast of characters on the whole have their own personalities and roles, and while none of their characters are particularly noteworthy or unique, you get a sense of the entirety of their character, given that in a post-apocalyptic world, most people don’t have multi-layered personalities and interests, and instead rely on their base instincts to survive.

    The 80’s aesthetic extends to the soundtrack, which is very synth-driven, and while the budget is fairly low for the film, the cheaper CGI also feels more suitable to its aesthetic. The majority of the film relies on practical effects, particularly in relation to the use of gore; and there is a lot of gore. This is also very much in keeping with the exploitation and revenge films of the time where those who have wronged our hero often end up being disembowelled or mutilated in some way. There’s a nice contrast between the colourful superhero element of the film and the excessive gore that again reflects an age of cinema when age ratings were all over the place. The practical effects of the gore lead to some pretty fun and absurd situations, particularly when the body parts land on someone’s head and a totem pole of severed torsos start piling up. It’s this sort of thing that makes the film quite creative. Turbo Kid is overall quite minimal in it’s story and world setting, but excels in some ridiculous and over-the-top special effects that create some visceral gore which equally nasty and funny. While there are many films that set themselves up as a love letter to the 80’s, Turbo Kid also follows that trend while not feeling like its not afraid to push itself further, and allowing itself not to be constrained by the usual tropes associated with it. The low budget I think hampers the ability to do something more grand and spectacular with the whole superhero element, but it’s a fairly decent film that has you connecting to the characters and immersing you in familiar tropes that are comfortable and recognisable, but still able to throw in a few surprises.

  • Film reviews

    #434 – Infinite Santa 8000 (2013)

    Infinite Santa 8000 (2013)

    Film review #434

    Director: Michael Neel

    SYNOPSIS: A thousand years after humanity has destroyed itself, all that remains in the world is a host of mutants, robots and monsters…and Santa Claus, who has to survive by killing these monsters. When evil scientist Dr. Shackleton comes for Martha, the little girl that Santa has been taking care of, he sets on a rescue mission and to blow up any creature or killer robot that gets in his way.

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSISInfinite Santa 8000 is a post-apocalyptic Christmas action film (I think that’s the best way to describe it). The setting is a post-apocalyptic world a thousand years after humanity has destroyed itself, leaving the Earth populated by mutants, monsters and killer robots of all persuasions. One survivor of the old world though, is none other than Satna Claus, who we see in the opening scenes in an arena fighting to the death against a creature to earn some scraps of meat. Victorious, he returns to the “North Pole ranch” to et with Martha: a young girl he rescued at some point. However, the evil scientist Dr. Shackleton sends the Easter Bunny to kidnap Martha and return her to him, and with that begins Santa’s crusade against the horrors the post-apocalyptic wasteland. The story of the film is very simple: Santa stopping Dr. Shackleton and dismembering everything in his way. The appeal of the film is not in its compelling narrative, but in the sheer absurdity of its concept of having Santa murder everything and anything in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Nevertheless, the film does take itself fairly seriously, and perhaps surprisingly does a good job of depicting a bleak and hopeless world and having Santa being the only one with any sense of hope and joy. Nevertheless, there’s still plenty of over-the-top fights and action scenes that maintain a sense of momentum throughout the film. I mean, who wouldn’t want to watch a cyborg Santa chase down and fight a mutant Easter bunny? If I had to identify a weak point, I would probably cite the dialogue, as it often lacks either the energy, or the humour to make a huge impact. There’s times when you expect Santa to deliver a Christmas-themed one-liner before he dismembers somebody, but what he comes out with always feels like it comes up a little short on having the necessary impact.

    The main character of Santa Claus probably needs no introduction: He’s the same bringer of festivities you know, except he is mostly a cyborg now and hacks monsters to pieces. There’s enough of a twist on the familiar concepts as well, such as the North Pole being a ranch out in the wasteland, and his reindeer being jet-boosted robots themselves (Also Rudolph is named Randolph in this version for some reason). Martha plays a familiar role of a young, innocent child that serves as the last vestige of humanity in the post-apocalyptic wasteland, and also the means for the main character to regain their humanity in some way. Given that the main character is the literal embodiment of joy and goodwill, the whole plot between Martha and Santa is fairly predictable. Nevertheless, it is still executed quite well, as we see how Santa lived through the end of the world and thought all the joy and good from the world had gone until he met her. The character designs across the board are quite intricate and full of detail, showing off the horrific mutations and augmentations that the creatures of this world have ended up with, which gives the film a definite visual appeal.

    The animation and design of this film are definitely worth mentioning. As mentioned, the character designs are intricate and a decent amount of detail, which emphasises the grotesque, inhuman mutations of the creatures that roam the world. Most of the characters are still images that over across the screen in various ways to give the illusion of movement, perhaps similar to what you would see in South Park, for example. However, there is some very clever techniques used to make them move and give them a definite sense of momentum. For example, the chase between Santa and the Easter bunny maintains a serious sense of high speed and energy. In the slower scenes however, the limitations of the animation are more apparent. Fortunately, the film knows to focus on the action, and that’s what you’ll remember coming away from it. The heavy metal soundtrack also gives the film a similar high energy, and everything seems to blend together pretty well. Overall, Infinite Santa 8000 fulfils the ridiculous concept it proposes, while also clearly being a labour of love that has plenty of effort and consideration put in to make it a coherent and visually appealing experience. It has a number of shortcomings, but it certainly exceeds any expectations you may have going into it.

  • Film reviews

    #359 – The Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell (2006)

    The Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell (2006)

    Film review #359

    Director: Jonny Gillette, Kevin Wheatley

    SYNOPSIS: Twenty years after nuclear war has destroyed the U.S., the radiation levels outside have dropped to a safe level, and people can venture outside into what is left of the world. Tex Kennedy is on a quest with his two humanoid robots Quincy and Yul to retrieve the man destined to be the new King of America, but to do so they must cross into Hell (which is somewhere on the Florida coast apparently) to find him and face all the evils within…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSISThe Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell is a 2006 independent post-apocalypse film. The film begins describing the setting of the film, with a mixture of narration and footage. In the year 2074, a nuclear war has rendered the surface of the United States uninhabitable, leaving all survivors stuck in underground bunkers. Twenty years later, the radiation has declined enough so that humans can venture outside. Tex Kennedy, having left his bunker, is now on a quest to follow the guidance of Clark Remington, a man who broadcast on the radio to the bunkers, who proclaimed his nephew Benny the new King of America, and Kennedy is on a mission to retrieve him and in the process become Vice-King. The story is told in a number of ways: through narration, through a kind of mock-documentary, with presenters/authors telling the history of what happened, and through the action itself. All these different methods of storytelling are constantly overlapping and cutting away from each other, which makes the film honestly feel like a bit of a mess. Maybe that’s because the film isn’t really sure about how to portray itself: I think it’s supposed to be a comedy, but there’s an awful lot of backstory and flashbacks that really makes a considerable effort to flesh out the story and the setting, but ultimately doesn’t really matter. For a film that is only ninety minutes long, it spends a lot of time explaining what is going on, and seemingly trying to justify itself by inventing this grand narrative that doesn’t really go anywhere, leading to a but of a confusing mess. I could forgive it if the film identified itself as more of a comedy film that treated the backstory as secondary, but the fact that it spends so much time setting up this world doesn’t really allow that as an excuse.

    So Ted and his robot security guards arrive at the “Threshold of Hell”, where Benny Remington is hiding in a bunker, and they have to get him out and journey to a radio tower and broadcast their message to the entire country. However, the threshold of Hell is full of crazed characters that are out to stop them. These characters all have their own personality, but there’s just so many of them they only get a small amount of screen time each. and there’s not much time to really develop their roles. There’s Clark Remington’s son, calling himself Mr. Jackie, who wants to become the king himself after his Father disowned him for basically being a sociopath, and his whole gang, including his sadistic lieutenant. There’s also Yorick Schlatz, who is a cult leader who hosts the beach party at the threshold of hell and who also possess satanic powers that keeps the partygoers immortal and unaffected by the radiation for the past twenty years. Also Fidel Castro’s descendent Javier Castro shows up to create a dynamic with Tex, the descendent of President Kennedy…or he would do, if he stuck around longer. All these bizarre and nonsensical characters all have some potential to do some interesting things, but the film constantly over-explains everything and never lets the characters speak for themselves. Again, if the film is aiming to be a black comedy or focusing on dark humour, then it could have worked, but there’s just not enough focus on what it wants to be.

    Being an independent film, you won’t be expecting any spectacular special effects or ambitious cinematography, and you won’t be surprised with what you get. The camera is all over the place and can barely frame a shot most of the time, the scenes that are filmed in front of a green screen are blindingly obvious, and the acting is pretty wooden throughout. One more surprising element in the film is that it is quite gory. Even though the blood and guts look obviously fake, it further still confuses the tone when it is trying to be funny and then someone’s organs get ripped out. There’s a scene in the middle of the film involved with a giant snake of some sort and the film instantly switches to a hand drawn animation sequence for about twenty seconds with no set-up or transition and it just feels like an acknowledgement that the film could not make this scene any other way, and just tacked in this sequence just to fill the gap. Overall, The Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell feels like it is trying to do far too much with far too little. It feels indecisive with regards to the tone of the film or what genre it is trying to establish itself within. Far too much time is spent describing characters and backstory instead of letting the film show it, and the constant interruption to the story to expand on these elements is distracting and makes retaining focus and interest in the film difficult. It has one or two laughs, but there’s nothing really worthwhile here.

    Also, the film ends with the teasing words “end of part one”, which suggests more to come, but a sequel was never made, which is probably for the best.

  • Film reviews

    #351 – 10000 Years Later (2015)

    10000 Years Later (2015)

    Film review #351

    Director: Li Yi

    SYNOPSIS: Ten thousand years after advanced civilisation was wiped out and the world reverted to a pre-technological state, Joma and Yalayam of the Ballad tribe are travelling the western region to tell the tale of the fall of civilisation. Unfortunately, Wugreb, who once tried to steal the ancient powers to rule the world, has returned, and Joma alongside her new friends must find a way to stop Wu before he releases the ancient civilisation’s power back onto the world, all controlled by him…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS10000 Years Later is a 2015 Chinese animated film. It is a mix of post-apocalypse, science-fiction and fantasy elements, as it is set (as the title suggests) 10000 years after civilisation suffered a catastrophe that sealed away all of its advanced technology and left the world in a pre-technological state. The world is now separated into various tribes, which include anthropomorphic animals and various mutations brought about by the catastrophe. Joma and Yalayam are from the Ballad tribe, who wander through the western region telling the story of the fall of the ancient civilisation to the other tribes. They also tell the story of Wugreb, who once tried to steal the ancient technology that is sealed away and rule the world with it, warning that anyone who tries to do the same will be met with the same fate. However, Wugreb (or Devil Wu, as he is also known) has returned, and is attempting to once again take the technology of the ancient civilisation for his own. The story relies a lot on this extensive world-building, and how the world has changed since the fall of civilisation as we know it. Sometimes it is easy to follow, but at some points it gets overly complicated, and for a film that is just over ninety minutes long, the explanations and exposition it gives do seem a little excessive. Nevertheless, it is an interesting world that is built, and the variety of locations and characters give it a unique sense of life and vibrancy. The people refer to famous people throughout history (Einstein, Beethoven etc.) as the “Gods” of the old world, and it is an interesting way to interpret history’s most pivotal figures. There are these odd scenes which play out quite nicely, but they are mostly used to explain the state of the world, and when the film returns to the main characters, they seem much less interesting.

    Joma goes to see an oracle, who tells her that she is the only one who can stop Wu, and she must go to Kuger, the tomb where Wu was imprisoned, to stop him. Along the way Joma is joined by a cast of characters from different tribes who all inject their own personalities into the film. The film very much has a Lord of the Rings feel to it, with the group travelling to their destination to stop the oncoming evil, and all the perils that they encounter. But again, there’s a lot of backstory and exposition that disrupts the flow of the film, and you really have to focus and pay attention to follow what is going on. The characters on the whole, though, are distinct enough to be able to follow, but for all the explaining and exposition, don’t really do much, so it’s hard to get to know them as characters. At once point the film deals with the meeting of the Gods which I can’t really make sense of; and whether they are actual Gods or not is anyone’s guess. Joma as the main character is also a bit bland and uninteresting: even though she is marked as the chosen one, she doesn’t really have any defining traits or character defining moments that make her stand out, and she is often very passive to the events of the film. The ending of the film also does little to elucidate the significance of Joma’s role, and makes little sense. The designs of some of the villains, with their multiple faces or limbs and other bizarre features are both scary and creative, and the somewhat imperfect animation actually helps exemplify their grotesqueness.

    This film is entirely CG animated, and for the most part it creates a world that has immense scale, colourful diversity and interesting locales. We see ruined versions of recognisable cities such as New York and Sydney, which add some interesting shots and perspective on the story. There are some moments when the animation gets a bit clunky, and facial expressions and movements sometimes look a little stifled or flat, but otherwise it doesn’t distract too much from the film. It’s not cutting edge in terms of its graphics, but it is passable for a kids film. Apart from the Lord of the Rings influence mentioned above, there is also a certain amount of ‘inspiration’ taken from the Marvel Avengers films. When I say inspiration, that often becomes blatant copying, such as the five stones that Joma carries containing seeds from across the western region clearly being based on the “infinity stones” in the Marvel universe, and there is a shot which copies exactly the iconic shot from the 2012 Avengers film of all the superheroes together for the first time on the streets of New York City. All this copying does cheapen the film’s overall image, but being a Chinese film, where these films would not have seen much of a release, the audience probably won’t even know they are being copied. The editing of the film also feels quite choppy in parts, such as when the big final battle begins, the enemy soldiers slowly emerge, and it instantly cuts to the whole army appearing, which really interrupts the flow of the film (though it probably saves on the animation costs).

    One more significant aspect of the film is the amount of gore and violence throughout. I can’t really tell what the ideal age range is for this film: it seems mostly kid-oriented, but even from the opening, there are people being sliced up, bloody battles with people being cut in half and stabbed, and so on. I’m not sure what the standards are for Chinese cinema in terms of violence in children’s films, but it definitely wouldn’t be a child-friendly film in the west. Overall, 10000 Years Later creates an interesting and colourful world with a rich back-story, but the focus of the story and its main characters are often lost in the overly complex world and narrative that can be difficult to follow. The character designs are creative and unique, but again the personalities of the main characters are dull by comparison, and often get lost in the grand scale of the world. The large-scale battles are impressive and entertaining, but it is obvious that they are copying from the Marvel films and Lord of the Rings, which obviously do them much better, and make the film feel like a cheap imitation…which, let’s be honest, is exactly what it is. There are some emotional moments (there’s a scene right at the start which pulls you in instantly…you’ll know it if you see it), and the gratuitous use of gore and violence really gives weight to the fighting scenes, but ultimately there is no real pay-off to investing in this world, and it offers very little that is unique.