• Film reviews

    #564 – Chronical: 2067 (2020)

    Chronical 2067 (2020)

    Film review #564

    Director: Seth Larney

    SYNOPSIS: In the year 2067, Earth has suffered an almost complete ecological collapse. Humans survive only using synthetic oxygen, which has a side effect of making people sick. The only hope seems to be a top secret project by Chronicorp: a time machine that can travel into the future, where there is hope a cure can be found. However, the time machine has sent only one message through since it was activated: “Send Ethan Whyte”…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Chronical 2067 is a 2020 Australian sci-fi film. It is set in the year 2067, where Earth has undergone complete ecological collapse, and all plant-life has been wiped out. Humans only survives by breathing synthetic oxygen, which in turn gives them a deadly disease they call “The Sickness.” Ethan Whyte, a lowly technician, is called to Chronicorp headquarters where he is offered a job that apparently will save humanity: to travel to the future in a time machine to find a cure for The Sickness and bring it back, as the time machine has only sent a message from the computer that stated “send Ethan Whyte.” Since this indicates that someone is alive at the other end, it is assumed that the future has a cure for the sickness, since someone would have had to have sent the message, and Ethan agrees to go because his wife also has the sickness. The film attempts to create a lot of suspense and mystery surrounding the fate of the world, the message sent, and the disappearance of Ethan’s Father, but the main problem is it never really comes together, and neither are the situations Ethan is thrown into ever filled with that atmosphere. It’s fairly obvious that there is something more going on than has been revealed, but it never really builds up that mystery and suspense to keep the audience guessing. Typical story elements such as an estranged relationship with a Father, for example, further cement a feeling that you’ve seen it all before.

    The characters are also fairly typical, and even though there’s an attempt to build them up, there’s not enough of a hook to make them solid pillars to the film. Coupled with some flat acting here and there, it overall just feels like it’s difficult to immerse yourself in their world and the setting. There’s some nice visual effects that are able to put you more in the main characters shoes, but there’s never enough to balance out the lows. Overall, there’s not much else to say about Chronical 2067: it presents a fair amount of mystery and a basic amount of intrigue, but never the suspense or drama that it needs to in order to hook a viewer into the mystery. There’s a constant feeling you’ve seen a lot of it before, and done better. It’s not terrible, and there’s some good ideas, but there’s perhaps too many of them, and they never properly cohere into a strong narrative, or the sheer multitude of them just make the characters walking tropes that splinter off every which way, so they too never become individual personalities that can drive forward the story. A classic case of good ideas, bad execution.

  • Film reviews

    #552 – Marching Out of Time (1993)

    Marching Out of Time (1993)

    Film review #552

    Director: Anton Vassil

    SYNOPSIS: Fred Johnson is constantly hearing noises from his neighbour’s house, and is determined to find out the cause of them, much to his family’s annoyance. It turns out his neighbour is conducting experiments in teleportation. However, his experiments seem to interfere with a similar Nazi experiment in 1942 to transport troops to England, and instead they emerge in the teleportation device in suburban U.S. Fred and his neighbour must stop the Nazis from returning to 1942 with all the information they have gathered about all the mistakes that cost them the war, and rewriting history to make themselves the victors…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Marching Out of Time (also known by the debatably better title, Back to the Fuehrer) is a 1993 sci-fi comedy film. The film is set in the suburbs of the U.S., where Fred Johnson is becoming obsessed with noises coming from his neighbours house, much to his family’s annoyance. He breaks into his neighbour’s house and discovers Dr. Memo, his neighbour, is working on a teleportation device made from a pair of fridges. Unfortunately, the experiment goes wrong, and interferes with a similar experiment from 1942, which involved attempting to transport Nazi troops from France to England. The result being that the Nazis, led by von Konst, arrive not in England, but in Dr. Memo’s basement in the 1993 U.S. learning about this, they change their mission, and gather historical information about all the mistakes the Nazis made that cost them the war, and aim to return to 1942 with that information to ensure that they are not made again, ultimately winning the war. The stakes are raised and Frank, Dr. Memo, and a low-level cop must fight to prevent the Nazis changing the course of history. The film is a comedy film so everything is all a bit slapstick and silly. It definitely feels like Back to the Future, but instead of Biff Tannen trying to change history, it’s Nazis. The story is fairly linear and doesn’t really build up to anything, so it’s just an excuse for a bunch of silly scenarios and slapstick violence. There is one scene in the middle of the film in which the serious repercussions of the films events are highlighted, but that’s the only one. There’s other typical scenes like the Nazis “disguising” themselves in tie dye shirts and exploring the local area to “blend in,” but that doesn’t really go anywhere, or provide any funny situations. There’s not much laugh-out-loud comedic moments, I think it’s humour is more situated in the whole ridiculous scenario, and Fred being the last person on earth who should be stopping a Nazi invasion. Also, I guess this is technically a Christmas movie, as Fred is supposed to be going away with his family for the holidays, but stays behind to deal with his neighbour. However, this is the only real reference to Christmas in the film.

    In terms of the characters, Fred Johnson is a typical suburban Dad, and a typical comedic lead: one which you’ll feel like you’ve seen in a movie before (but definitely haven’t, because the actor didn’t appear in any films before or after this). His family are tormented by his nosiness and whining, and you do wonder why they put up with him. Dr. Memo is the typical “mad scientist,” and von Konst is portrayed like every nearly every Nazi officer you’ve seen on film before. the acting isn’t bad at all, and the stereotypical characters have a familiarity to them that allows viewers to focus more on the comedic aspect of the film, rather than the characters.

    The film, perhaps surprisingly, is made fairly well: it has the look and feel of a low budget film, but actually probably wasn’t: the locations are fairly detailed and full of props and things, and the camerawork is pretty good. There’s even a few stunts and explosions that, while not overly impressive, would still have taken effort to set up. It’s clear the film wants to situate itself in that low-budget parody genre of films, but it has a bit of budget and expertise to make it properly, without making it seem like the film is trying too hard to be a bad film. Marching Out of Time is mostly forgettable, but is made fairly well, and maintains its energy throughout, while exploring the premise of the film well enough. It definitely feels like a film of its time, riffing on Back to The Future a little, with it’s typical characters that are familiar enough so as to not need to dedicate a large amount of time to introducing and developing them. Predictable, but silly and fun enough to not be a waste of time.

  • Film reviews

    #549 – Three Supermen Against the Godfather (1979)

    Three Supermen Against the Godfather (1979)

    Film review #549

    Director: Italo Martinenghi

    SYNOPSIS: A scientist has invented a time machine, and uses it to travel back in time in Turkey to the fall of Constantinople, to learn the location of the treasure hidden before the city was sacked. The two thieves known as the supermen learn of this, and decide to try and take the time machine for themselves. But they’re not the only ones interested in it, as an Italian mafia boss, foreign powers, and once again, FBI agent Brad is sent to work with the supermen (against his will) to secure the time machine and protect the inventor…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Three Superman Against the Godfather (released as Süpermenler in Turkey) is a 1979 film and another instalment of the Three Supermen series of films. This time, the supermen are after a time machine invented by a scientist (not the same one who invented a similar time machine in Three Supermen in the West, of which there is no mention), with the aim of going back to the fall of Constantinople in the fifteenth century, to find out where the royal treasure was buried before it was lost. The two international thieves known as the supermen learn about the machine and decide they want to steal it for themselves, but an Italian mafia boss and some foreign powers are also after the device and the professor; and as always, FBI agent Brad (or whatever his name is this time) is sent by the U.S. to secure the professor and the machine himself, and is ordered to cooperate with the supermen, which he is reluctant to do because of the constant shenanigans he gets caught up in whenever he meets them. The film feels like a return to the classic formula of the films; after the Hong Kong co-production Supermen Against the Orient, which was more of a typical martial arts film that substituted the classic acrobatics with said martial arts, and also messed up what little continuity the series had. While it is a return, it should also be noted that this “original formula” was itself all over the place: some films were science-fiction based others were parodies of spy films, westerns, and so on. With this one, it’s obviously riffing on The Godfather and mafia films, and the sci-fi element of time travel doesn’t really factor into the film at all: they only travel once in the beginning to demonstrate that it works. 

    As always with the Three Supermen films, the main actors have a bit of a shake up, with only Sal Borgese as the mute superman keeping his role as he has through most of these films. To make things even more confusing this time, Aldo Canti, who played one of the supermen in the first film, returns to the series, but he is instead playing the role of the FBI agent this time, with the other role going to prolific Turkish actor Cüneyt Arkın. The choice of actors doesn’t really make too much of a difference, as their characters aren’t too developed in any particular way, but it’s just interesting to follow this revolving door of casting. The reason for Arkin’s casting is because the film’s production has moved from Italy to Turkey, and I guess his casting would have some appeal to the local market.

    The reason for the move from Italy to Turkey is fairly interesting: Italian media became more focused on television, and moved away from cinema in the mid-late 70′s. As such, there was an exodus of sorts of Italian filmmakers to Turkey, where their type of cinema was still more popular. Nevertheless, it would seem this film was hardly released to any cinemas at all, and is probably the most difficult to get a hold of in the franchise. While the film does have the usual slapstick moments, scantily-clad women, and some stunts, we don’t get the typical acrobatics we usually do, probably because the newer cast aren’t actually acrobats, and the older cast probably can’t pull the feats off anymore (remember that this franchise would have been twelve years old in 1979). Overall, Three Supermen Against The Godfather is, for better, or worse, a return to the typical Three Supermen formula that is full of a heap of different ideas and directions that don’t really cohere, but it’s still just a bit of silly fun.

  • Film reviews

    #544 – Three Supermen of the West (1973)

    Three Supermen of the West (1973)

    Film review #544

    Director: Italo Martinenghi

    SYNOPSIS: The three supermen are once again apprehended for a mission by the government, this time to destroy a time machine built by two scientists. The supermen manage to find the scientists and the time machine, but are accidentally transported back in time to the Old West, where the they meet a beautiful woman, and decide it might be alright to stop for a little while…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Three Supermen of the West is a 1973 sci-fi film and the fourth film in the Three Supermen series. The film starts in the way in which you should be accustomed if you’re following the series, as the government (of some country, or the CIA…it changes), again calls for agent George Martin to team up with the international thieves known as “the supermen,” in order to destroy a time machine invented by a pair of mad scientists. As always, the supermen are up to their old tricks, this time in Rome, where they’re scamming an American tourist into buying the colosseum in Rome off of them. Eventually, George chases them down after plenty of running and fighting, and the three head to stop the scientist, who has already finished the invention and travelled through time. They track him down, but accidentally end up activating the time machine themselves, transporting them to the Old West. There, they meet a young woman, and decide to stay a while. While the story in the second and third films was more grounded in the sense it was a spoof of typical spy films, this one just decides to loosen its grip on reality and go full sci-fi. It is reminiscent of the first film, which had cloning and a machine that could turn people into jewels as part of it’s story. Anyway, there’s not much direction or purpose in the story: the supermen travel back in time and just decide to stop a while because of a woman, leading to some typical Western genre hijinks. It’s a good opportunity for the film series to spoof a different genre this time (Westerns instead of spy films), but there’s nothing deeper to the story than that. Fortunately, the action and fighting is still full of energy, so it’s entertaining enough, even if it doesn’t go anywhere.

    The three supermen are the same characters you will know from the previous films, but as always, some of the actors have changed between films. This time, it’s just the one, with the role of Brad being recast. The rest of the supporting characters are fairly forgettable, but they play typical, but necessary parts well, as they are fairly expressive and over-the-top caricatures. In fact, a lot of the film has a much more slapstick feel than its predecessors, with the fights becoming increasingly silly: at one point they even throw a cream pie at someone’s face, just to hammer the point home. It definitely captures that “Old West” feel despite being filmed in Milan, so credit should be given there. Also, to the silly sequence of the two scientists travelling through time, which shows them falling through various periods of history, made possible with stock footage of other movies, although some of the footage is in black and white, which is a silly little goof. Overall, Three Supermen of the West is more of the same mindless entertainment you got from the previous films, maybe even moreso, as the lack of direction in the story, and the more sci-fi elements and slapstick humour make the film more detached from reality than its predecessors. Still, it’s a little bit of fun so if you got through the previous ones, you can get through this one too.

  • Film reviews

    #510 – Trancers 6 (2002)

    Trancers 6 (2002)

    Film review #509

    Director: Jay Woefel

    SYNOPSIS: Trancer hunter Jack Deth is once again sent “down the line” back in time to hunt down a new Trancer threat. He ends up in the body of his daughter, whose lifestyle certainly doesn’t fit with his own. In this new body and life, Deth must hunt down the Trancer threat and put a stop to it before his daughter is killed and he is wiped from existence.

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Trancers 6 is a 2002 sci-fi film and the sixth film in the Trancers film series. In a return to the original premise of the films, Trancer hunter Jack Deth is sent back in time to inhabit the body of his daughter in the 21st century, to find and counter a new Trancer threat before they can kill his daughter and erase his existence. After the weird fantasy adventure of Trancers 4 and 5, this one returns to a more simple sci-fi action film. The absence of Tim Thomerson as Jack Deth in this film removes the only redeeming aspect of this film franchise: his caricature of cheesy action heroes was so ridiculous that it would be entertaining. His appearances in this film are limited to archive footage from previous films, and a stunt double playing his barely visible body strapped to a table in the future. Instead, we get Jack inhabiting his daughter Joanne…who is also his great-great grandmother, managing to create some sort of paradox or another, but this is glossed over, as the film doesn’t really focus on details in general: it’s straightforward, to the point, but that lack of detail really slows the film down after the first act, where it becomes apparent the film has very little substance. The film manages to feel both like a low-budget film from both the 80′s and the early 2000′s at the same time, which I suppose makes sense, but being released eighteen years after the first film, there’s very little progress to show in terms of story, production, lore, or design.

    Joanne (Jo) is basically everything Jack Deth isn’t: a tee-total, vegan, meek nerd with a dull career. The majority of the humour in this film basically derives from Jack Deth being his foul-mouthed, smoking, misogynistic self, retorting everything that is said to him with a cheesy or inappropriate one-liner. The film is very much a one-trick pony in this regard, but honestly, it retains it’s entertainment value throughout the film, and it is genuinely funny in parts by virtue of how purely cheesy it is. This has always been the Trancers films best aspect, and it is good to see that even without Thomserson, they are still able to pull it off. Zette Sullivan as Jo Deth manages to pull off Jack’s style of speech and deliveries pretty well, and you can really believe that Jack is inhabiting her body. The line delivery is a bit flat sometimes, but there’s definitely worse things about the film. The rest of the cast; from the supporting characters to the villains, really do not leave an impression. The new Trancer threat isn’t really explained after Jack supposedly wiped them all out in the previous films: apparently it has something to do with meteors and radiation or something, but as mentioned, the intricacies of the plot aren’t really the focus of the film.

    Being a production by Full Moon Entertainment, you should expect a low-budget production, but this is bad even by their standards. The sets are limited to empty building, corridors, and some rural outdoors scene in the middle of nowhere. The special effects are really bad, but thankfully only used once when a guy is thrown out of a high-rise building, resulting in a hilariously bad effect. The gore and other effects are pretty standard, and are nothing too noteworthy; a lot of the production is very much what you would expect from these films, but there’s also a distinct lack of trying to do anything unique, and an added amateur-ness in the camera work, acting and locations. Trancers 6 is a bad film, there’s no escaping it: it is dull, poorly produced, and very threadbare on plot that it feels somewhat pointless. Despite all of that though, it still manages to recapture the absurd, over-the-top character of Jack Deth even without Thomserson’s portrayal, and the twist of putting him into a young woman’s body is just different enough to provide new entertainment value in the whole set-up. The film definitely relies on this sole gag to carry the whole film, but if you’ve made it through the previous Trancers films and got some laughs and entertainment from them, you can probably get a little more out of this last one.

  • Film reviews

    #502 – Alice’s Birthday (2009)

    Alice’s Birthday (2009)

    Film review #502

    Director: Sergey Seryogin

    SYNOPSIS: Alice Selezneva has just failed a history exam at school, but things are looking up, as a friend of her Father’s Gromozeka, has arranged a trip for her birthday to the planet of Koleida with a research expedition. The planet once had a flourishing civilisation, but a space virus wiped it out centuries ago. Alice decides to use the expedition’s time travel machine to go back in time (along with Professor Rrr, another member of the expedition) to save the planet’s population, not knowing the virus is still alive in the present and approaching the camp of the expedition…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Alice’s Birthday is a 2009 animated sci-fi film, which is a re-imagining of the popular 1987 film Lilac Ball and the original novel. The film starts out introducing Alice, an energetic and mischievous girl who fails a history exam after causing chaos in the classroom. She meets up with her Father’s friend Gromozeka, who has a surprise for her upcoming birthday: to join a research expedition to the planet Koleida, where a flourishing civilisation was wiped out by a space virus centuries ago. The film, as mentioned is a re-imagining of the film Lilac Ball and it’s original novel, part of a series of adventures starring the character of Alice. The series was quite popular in the Soviet Union, and so this film is riding a little on that nostalgia bandwagon. However, it certainly stands as a film in it’s own right too, as the story deviates from the original film a fair amount, and being an animated film, has a lot more freedom to bring the futuristic world to life. The story itself flows pretty well, being split into a fairly typical three-act structure that has a good amount of variety, humour, action, and even some scary dark moments. The essentials of the story are things that you have probably seen before involving time travel and trying to change to change the course of the future in time, but it is still entertaining enough to watch.

    Alice is a very typical lead for these types of films: adventurous, mischievous, and a typical kid which it’s young audience can identify with. Her character has a wide range of emotions and relationships with other characters, so she feels like a well-rounded individual with enough spirit and energy to be her own person. One notable difference in the rest of the characters form Lilac Ball is that the animated medium gives a lot more freedom to give the aliens a more alien design; in Lilac Ball, the characters which were aliens in the novels were re-imagined as mostly human; in the animated Alice’s Birthday, the aliens aboard the research expedition are all shapes and sizes, and though we don’t hear from many of them, their unique appearances make the film colourful and interesting. There is some weird comments near the beginning of the film, which seem to suggest there’s some discrimination against aliens on Earth, but it’s not really brought up again or addressed, so that’s a bit odd. The minor characters, like Professor Rrr and Gromozeka have a very specific role, and you know what to expect when they’re on screen, which is comforting. On a more novel note, the commander of the expedition is voiced by Natalya Murashkevich, who played Alice in Lilac Ball and the 1984 mini series Guest from the Future, which is a nice nod to those productions, and reinforcing the idea that there is a bit of reliance on nostalgia for this film, even though the target audience is obviously a generation that will not have seen those originals.

    The animation is fairly fluid, and the characters and world are colourful and animated enough so that it feels like things never really stand still. This is good in the action scenes, but it becomes a bit more choppy when the characters are moving more slowly. I’m not sure how this compares to other contemporary Russian animation, but it feels like a mix between modern productions, while also having a bit of that Soviet-era aesthetic within it too. Again, maybe that’s part of the nostalgia effect the film is riding on. There’s some musical numbers which are a bit generic, but again, perfectly serviceable for a children’s film. Overall, Alice’s Birthday creates a colourful and energetic world for it’s titular character to be her adventurous self: the designs of the aliens and the futuristic setting are fun, varied and interesting. The story is a little formulaic being a very typical time travel scenario, but it is still made entertaining by having interesting, individual characters, and expressing a variety of emotions throughout the different scenes. A decent children’s film, which also banks on some nostalgia for a beloved character for adults too, although they probably won’t find too much appeal in the content of the film.

  • Film reviews

    #498 – The Zohar Secret (2016)

    The Zohar Secret (2016)

    Film review #498

    Director: Vladek Zankovsky

    SYNOPSIS: Max finds himself in possession of a scroll that contains the secret to transcend earthly existence and enter the next dimension of being. He is constantly being reborn in different eras of history, but always with the same task: to return the scroll to Jerusalem, where the rest of the scrolls in the collection have been buried.

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: The Zohar Secret is a 2016 Ukrainian film. The film centres around Max, who is constantly reborn across history with the constant mission to return a scroll to Jerusalem that supposedly contains the instructions to enter the next dimension of being. The backstory concerns how the scrolls were created by those opposed to the Roman Empire, and the history of humanity took a different turn with them, and so the scrolls were all buried apart from the one that Max now holds. Max is tasked in each of his reincarnations with returning the scroll, aided or frustrated by himself, who is usually on the other side of the historical conflict he finds himself in. The backstory is…intriguing, if a bit all over the place. The premise is interesting, and is set out in the introduction fairly clearly, but it is one of those films where the details and what everything means overall are deliberately left open to interpretation. Despite jumping through many periods of history, the film flows well and is simple enough to follow. The constant changes keep the film interesting too, even if each scenario is more or less the same. That, however, I think is one of the points: that in a lot of the different historical periods, Max is confronted by a version of himself, who is on the other side of history. This gives the impression that the constant struggles of history are endlessly repeating the same scenario of one side versus another ultimately ends up nowhere, and humanity never progresses. I think this message is gone through pretty well, and the different historical periods are rendered pretty nicely. There is often a comedic undertone to some of the scenes that amplifies this too, which again reinforces the idea that these conflicts are meaningless. Although I’m not sure whether this is actually intentional, because I’m not sure what the intention for the film actually is.

    The overall tone of The Zohar Secret is very mixed and a little bit of everything: sometimes it feels like a philosophical film about mankind’s existence that is meant to be ambiguous about it’s objective. Sometimes the serious scenes are punctuated with some comedy, which trivialises the philosophical themes, but as mentioned above might be a part of showing the pointless of human conflict. Sometimes the comedy and the seriousness are pressed right against each other, most notably in the scene where Max is an SS officer in World War II, and his counterpart is a Jew. There’s a somewhat dark comedy in the whole set-up, but I’m just not sure what is meant to accomplish.

    The film is very cleanly split into two parts: the first part is all of the aforementioned travelling through history mentioned above; the second part comes in at almost exactly halfway through as Max is reborn again, this time in a psychiatric hospital, where it turns out everything that had previously happened was a figment of his imagination, and he had admitted himself there to try and get better. This part of the film has the objective of undoing everything we learned in the first half of the film, and Max (along with the viewer) are attempted to be persuaded that everything that happened was a delusion. The characters in the hospital are all people Max met throughout his historical adventures, and everything is rationalised in the next hour of the film’s runtime, so you can reasonably be of the conclusion that it was all a figment of Max’s imagination. This part of the film isn’t as interesting as the first part though, and although everything is rationalised, it’s just not as appealing as the motivations given in the first half. Again, maybe that is intentional, to suggest that there is more to existence that what can be justified or rationally explained, but if that is the case, a more subtle approach might have been better. The setting of the hospital lends itself to more comedy, and the characters become more slapstick, and flashbacks add a spin on earlier scenes that interprets them as comedic farces, rather than historical battles. The final part of the film suddenly throws up the fact that the whole thing wasn’t just a figment of Max’s imagination, and because he chooses ultimately to hang on to the actual delusion of having a wife and child, he is sent back in time to do the whole thing again, presumably ad infinitum until he makes the right choice. If the film’s objective was to leave the ending ambiguous about what is real, it does not do that, because Max being sent back in time shows that the whole ordeal is real, and we are given no more insight into what this next dimension of being could be.

    Overall, The Zohar Secret is a bit of a mess, but it still manages to be entertaining for the most part. I think the film wants to be a deep, philosophical film like 2001 about the nature of human existence, but it throws in a lot of drama and comedy that muddles the point rather than maintains it’s needed ambiguity. It hurts itself too in over-rationalising what it delivers, which probably could have worked if it wasn’t so heavy-handed. The parts I thought were interesting, such as the rendering human conflict as an endless repetition of the same ideas, I’m not sure were actually intentional or not. The clear-cut division of the film into two halves again undermines the film’s needed ambiguity. So yes, it’s mildly interesting and entertaining, but as what the film is aiming to be, I have no clue.

  • Film reviews

    #493 – Back to the Siam (2013)

    Back to the Siam (2013)

    Film review #493

    Director: Gonzalo Rodan

    SYNOPSIS: Marty visits his friend Doc Brown and finds that he has invented a time machine…made from a fridge. A bunch of men in suits appear and try to catch Marty and the Doc, leading to Marty accidentally being transported back in time to the year 1986. There, he has to find Doc Brown again to help him fix the time machine to get back home…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Back to the Siam is a 2013 science-fiction film, based on…well, you can probably guess. The film centres around Marty Fox, who visits his pal Doc Brown to find he has completed work on a time machine that he has constructed himself out of a fridge. However, some men in suits come to put a stop to the Doc’s experiments, and Marty is accidentally sent back in time to 1986, damaging the time machine in the process. Marty goes to the Doc Brown in 1986 to get help in fixing the time machine and sending him home. The film is essentially made as an Argentinian Back to the Future, so while the essential plot is more or less the same, a lot of the settings, people, and scenarios are replaced by things which are more common to Argentina. For example, instead of the lightning storm which takes Marty back to the future in BttF, here it is the electricity generated when footballer Maradona scores a goal at the 1986 world cup. This is obviously a low-budget, somewhat satire of the films, so you can’t penalise it for accuracy, but the changes it has made to the film mostly fit the story well, and give the story a bit of a twist. Obviously it is based on the foundations of an already well written film in BttF, so I don’t want to give Back to the Siam too much credit for that. I could not find any English subtitles for this film, but I don’t think it really matters if you know Back to the Future like nearly everyone does, but does mean I can’t really comment on the jokes or humour. The physical humour is mostly entertaining though.

    The biggest change from Back to the Future is that the “past” in this film is 1986, which is about the same time that the “present” was in BttF (1985, to be exact). This could have been a pretty interesting thing for the film to play with, but as mentioned, it’s aim is to make an Argentinian take on the original, rather than try anything too new. The main characters too are basically the same, just tweaked to reflect their locale. The character of Biff Tannen doesn’t have a counterpart in this film though, and instead the antagonists are just men in suits. The main focus of the story is the first Back to the Future film, but there’s some nods to the second and third film, so it definitely feels like a take on the franchise as a whole, which is nice, and means that the film won’t set up a sequel it will never get.

    This should not come as a surprise, but this film is completely unlicensed, and has no permission to use any of the names, characters, or anything. It reminds me of the films of the 60s and 70s that would simply make films based on entire franchises without permission, typically in countries where they would not be found out and sued into oblivion. Back to the Siam doesn’t use any Back to the Future footage, but it does use a lot of the music, which it definitely doesn’t have the licence for: if you were going to argue this was simply a fan-made parody, then that might be the thing that tips it over the edge into plagiarism territory. Despite being a low budget “parody,” there’s obviously a lot of thought and effort gone into certain aspects of the film: the fridge being the time machine instead of the DeLorean (obviously there would have been no way to afford one) genuinely works and looks cool, as well as providing some fun gags. The camera work is also surprisingly good, and shows competency when switching between different angles in scenes. The biggest production issue is the audio: it constantly peaks and distorts, and voices in the same scene can often have completely different volume levels. Even doing something basic like having a limiter would have helped immensely; it’s quite odd that there’s such a disparity between the camera and audio work.

    Overall, Back to the Siam is what you would expect from a low-budget parody/re-make/bootleg…whatever you want to describe it as. It uses the successful formula and story of what it is based on, and adds it’s own flair. While keeping fairly close to that original, it also sometimes decides to just go ahead and do what it wants. At one point it decides to just through in a version of “A whole new world” from Disney’s Aladdin for no reason. I appreciate the randomness though, and also the effort taken to give the source material a different flair. It’s not going to offer you anything that Back to the Future doesn’t, and a lot of the Argentinian cultural references may not offer anything if you’re not familiar with them, but it definitely could have been a lot worse.

  • Film reviews

    #479 – Trancers 4: Jack of Swords (1994)

    Trancers 4: Jack of Swords (1994)

    Film review #479

    Director: David Nutter

    SYNOPSIS: Jack Deth, an agent of the council, is travelling through time in order to wipe out temporal anomalies, after he eliminated the trancer threat. However, an accident while travelling through time leads to Jack travelling to an alternate dimension, where the trancers are terrorising the people of the land and feeding on their energy. Once again, Jack finds he has to deal with the trancer threat…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Trancers 4: Jack of Swords is a 1994 sci-fi film, and the fourth film in the Trancers franchise. On opening, we see Jack Deth, the protagonist of the franchise, working with the ruling council after eliminating the trancer threat in the previous film, and now travels through time to preserve temporal order. On his way through time for his next mission however, an incident in the time machine causes him to instead land in an alternative dimension or parallel universe (it’s not really explained) where trancers are again terrorising people: this time a medieval kingdom, and Jack must once again deal with them. The Trancers franchise is – as I have said in previous film reviews – a fairly low budget affair that you don’t need to take too seriously, drawing influence from franchises like Terminator and Blade Runner, but never having the polish or just general quality they do, alongside not providing something original that sets it apart. The premise of travelling back in time to inhabit the bodies of your ancestors is a cool premise, but hasn’t really been explored since the first film, with the films falling into very generic action films and away from the cool sci-fi noir it set out with.

    With that in mind, let’s look at where Trancers 4 has taken us: while the film begins with it’s typical sci-fi setting, the majority of the story takes place in this alternative dimension with a medieval fantasy setting. This is obviously quite a departure for the series, and it doesn’t suit it at all. The plot is basically a Robin Hood type affair, with Jack Deth working alongside the “tunnel rats” peasants of the kingdom who are rebelling against the lord of the land, who is a trancer…but also a vampire? Since Deth destroyed all the trancers in the previous film, why they’re now showing up in parallel universes feeding on people’s life energy like vampires is never explained and simply makes no sense. This really is a departure for the series, and it is quite odd that it took this direction; although I feel like the series has been running out of ideas since the first one, so just throwing Jack Deth into an unrelated medieval fantasy is one way to solve that problem, rather than building on what has already been established I suppose. The story itself is a typical “fish out of water” affair with Deth coming to terms with the world he has found himself in, and the locals being amazed at his technology and the like. It goes exactly like you would expect, except you would never expect the series to go in this direction.

    None of the previous characters return from the previous films apart from Jack Deth, which again shows just how unrelated and disjointed the series has become. Deth himself, Still played by Tim Thomerson, is the same odd mix of action hero, noir detective, and quirky rebel: he’s equally likely to swear and get serious as he is to make a quick one-liner. In one sense, his character is all over the place, partly due to the fact he is an amalgamation of tropes and characters from other (better) films. Alternatively, this unpredictability is strangely endearing, as you never know just how he is going to handle a situation, so you just have to keep watching. Deth is obviously not a great person: he keeps getting his partner’s killed, he is rude to everyone, and is constantly trying to seduce women that are way younger than him. Thomerson does, however, do a good job of making the character flawed, but likeable. The rest of the characters aren’t of any particular consequence, and they are barely worth a mention as they fill out very typical and predictable roles.

    The production and design are very much a mixed bag: some of the futuristic props are nice, but the sets in the future seem to just be empty warehouses with no sense of place. The setting of the fantasy parallel universe world looks as you would expect, and offers few surprises. The action scenes aren’t amazingly choreographed, and filled with stock sound effects that are just thrown in without any mixing or editing. Trancers 4 is a strange turn in a series that is already full of strangeness: the story and setting is very typical, and doesn’t fit in with the franchise, and doesn’t add much to it. The character of Jack Deth is still this weirdly interesting centre of attention that is entertaining enough, but everything that surrounds him just is not of interest.

  • Film reviews

    #476 – Man From the Future (2011)

    Man from the Future (2011)

    Film review #476

    Director: Cláudio Torres

    SYNOPSIS: João Henrique, nicknamed “Zero” is a renowned scientist, who is attempting to develop a new infinite source of energy. When he activates his experimental machine, he accidentally finds himself transported back in time to 1991…on the day the love of his life dumped him. Determined to change what happened that day, he goes about trying to change the events that unfolded, but his meddling turns out to have unintended consequences, and manages to complicate his life in ways he never even imagined…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Man from the Future (O Homem do Futuro) is a 2011 Brazilian sci-fi comedy/romance film. The film opens up with João “Zero” Henrique, a physicist, about to test a machine that will hopefully create an unlimited new source of energy for the planet. To prove that it is safe, he sits himself at the centre of the machine. However, something unexpected happens, and Zero wakes up in the year 1991, on the day his life changed forever: it is the graduation dance, and Zero is unceremoniously humiliated and ditched by the love of his life; an event that defines his life from that point. Desperate to change what happened, Zero goes to find his younger self and convince him to do things differently. In a very expected and familiar story, he changes events in his own past, which leads to a lot of unintended consequences that makes things a lot worse in the present. The story is obviously fairly typical for a time travel film; with going back to the past altering the future in unanticipated ways. The film is split into a typical three-act structure between going back to 1991, the altered present, and back to 1991 again, and the structure helps stop things from getting confusing. On the other hand, there’s not too much unique that the film offers by playing it so safe. The film obviously (and like most time travel films) takes some cues from Back to the Future, but Man from the Future really strays into copying in some respects; in particular, the key setting of the film being a graduate dance as the turning point in the characters lives. The mixture of sci-fi, romance and comedy feels a bit uneven at times, and it wanders a bit loosely between them as a number of issues are thrown up that never seem to be resolved. For example, there’s a side-issue about trying to prove that “love is a fundamental part of the universe” that gets mentioned, but nothing is ever really done about it.

    Zero, the main character, is a bit of a flawed protagonist: his life is constantly overshadowed by being humiliated and ditched by his first love Helena at their graduation dance, and it still impacts him over twenty years later. Nevertheless, he is a professor, and has loads of funding for his research, so it’s hard to feel too sorry for him in that regard. You do see his character change as he realises his meddling in the past only made things worse, and he becomes determined to set things right, making him a more likeable character by the end. Helena as Zero’s love interest doesn’t really have too much character other than said love interest, but her acting is pretty good. It is a bit weird how she just seems to be madly in love with Zero even though we never really see how their relationship develops or how she gets to that point, and it seems like she is in love with him simply because the plot needs her to be. The rest of the characters have their own personalities and are acted well, but don’t play too much of a part in the film.

    The tone of the film is often quite difficult to figure out: apart from the mix of sci-fi, romance and comedy constantly competing rather than supplementing one another, there’s also the question of who the film’s target audience is. I don’t think it is older viewers because they would have already seen Back to the Future, and would undoubtedly recognise it as derivative of it (I’m not sure how popular BttF is/was in Brazil). It can’t really be seen as a satire or parody of it either, because despite the similarities, it never does anything to undermine the premises and tropes of time travel films, but rather just copies them. I’m not sure the main character being in their forties really appeals to a younger demographic either, although a few raunchy shots and a youth-oriented soundtrack certainly suggests a younger demographic. Man from the Future, on the whole, is produced and made well, with decent acting, and sets and props that are convincing in their scale and polish. However, it doesn’t offer anything unique in terms of its story, and it’s crossing of genres makes it seem muddled, but overall as a bit of light entertainment, it’s easy enough to sit through.