• 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.

  • Film reviews

    #475 – Trancers III (1992)

    Trancers III (1992)

    Film review #475

    Director: C. Courtney Joyner

    SYNOPSIS: Jack Deth is trying to make a life for himself after being stranded in Los Angeles. However, he is timejacked to Los Angeles 2247, where it turns out a new wave of trancers have been devastating the future. Jack is assigned to go back to 2002, when the trancers were first developed, to wipe them out at the source…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Trancers III is a 1992 sci-fi film, and the third film in the Trancers series of films. In the beginning, we catch up with Jack Deth not doing too well for himself after the end of the last film, as he now works as a private detective that finds people cheating on their partners, while his own marriage is heading to a divorce. While out at work, he is kidnapped by a trancer and taken to the year 2247, where he finds out that a new wave of trancers has been created and is waging war against the ruling council that he formerly worked for. He is assigned the task of travelling to 2005, when these trancers were first developed, and wipe them out at the source. The Trancers films centre around the use of a technology in the future that allows a person to be sent back “down the line” (through time) to inhabit the body of their ancestor. This gimmick was explored with some consideration in the previous films, but isn’t really a part of this film; which is a shame because it was the only really unique thing about the films. These films feel very much like a cheap terminator/Blade Runner venture, and again, Trancers III is no different. With a runtime of just over seventy minutes, there’s not really much time to get anything complex up and running, and the film settles for a bunch of action scenes and mindless violence that never really forms into an overarching story. There is the plot concerning Jack’s attempt to stop the formation of the trancers army, but it never seems to come to the forefront of the film, and everything feels a bit disconnected.

    The characters are all pretty familiar, with a mix of the characters from the previous films, and other characters which are very familiar action movie tropes. Jack Deth is still the grizzled rouge-ish hero from the previous films, with his inexplicable ability to have women much younger than him fawning over him. He’s a mix of action movie tropes and doesn’t really offer anything unique in that respect, although Tim Thomerson does a good job of over-acting the role, which is pretty good fun. The villain is Col. Daddy Muthuh (slight play on words of “Daddy Mother” if you hadn’t noticed), who has created this new trancer army, and acts as their parental figure (hence the awful pun name). He’s a fairly over-the-top and clichéd villain, but with a name like “Daddy Muthuh” alongside “Jack Deth,” how seriously can you really expect to take this film? The rest of the characters are again pretty typical, and the constant conflict between the women in Jack’s life makes a silly distraction, and constantly raises the question why they are attracted to this man.

    Despite being a low budget production typical of Full Moon Entertainment, there’s some decent effort clearly put into some of the elements of the film. The sci-fi props look good and sturdy, and some of the fight scenes are decently choreographed, and display a fairly entertaining amount of action. It does feel like a departure from the noir-esque style of the first two into a more cut-and-paste action movie, and the film loses much of it’s uniqueness in that transition. There’s a few gory moments too that you would not have seen in the previous films. Trancers III has some decent qualities to it, in particular some of the aspects of its production and some of the acting, but there’s very little substance beyond what viewers will have seen previously. Obviously with characters named Jack Deth and Daddy Muthuh you should not be expecting a super serious story or experience, but the odd pacing, short runtime and the lack of a solid set-up amidst the confusing multiple times makes a lot of the film fall flat. It has some redeeming features to make it watchable, just don’t expect to be fully entertained or get anything out of it.

  • Film reviews

    #472 – Ancient Relic (2002)

    Ancient Relic (2002)

    Film review #472

    Director: Sebastian Niemann

    SYNOPSIS: At an archaeological dig site in Israel, archaeology student Steffan Vogt stumbles upon an unbelievable discovery: a 2000 year old skeleton that has a metal implant, and the instruction manual for a video camera that has not been commercially released yet. Alongside it, a note detailing the existence of a video recording made of Jesus Christ when he was crucified. While most of the crew believe it to be some form of hoax, Steffan believes that the only possible explanation is a time traveller that went back into the past to film the momentous occasion. When a secret order starts to take control of the dig and silence anyone that knows about this discovery, Steffan teams up with Sharon and Joshua, who were also at the dig site, to uncover the truth about what is happening, before they too are silenced…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Ancient Relic (Also known as The Hunt for the Hidden Relic, or The Jesus Video) is a German 2002 TV movie based on the novel by Andreas Eschbach. The opening of the film shows an archaeological dig site in Israel, where one of the students at the site, Sebastian Vogt, accidentally stumbles upon a burial site that’s full of mystery: a 200-year old skeleton that has signs of being form the present, such as a metal splint on his legbone, and the instruction manual for a video camera. Most of the archaeologists believe it is some form of hoax, but Steffan believes that the only possible explanation is that it is the work of some time traveller. A handwritten note accompanying the skeleton suggests that they actually videotaped the crucifixion of Jesus, which would be irrefutable proof of his existence. When Steffan tries to investigate further, he is shut out by a mysterious group who arrive and take control of the discovery. Steffan tries to sneak in and get more information, but starts to be hunted by this group as apparently he now knows too much. Steffan goes to fellow archaeologists Sharon and her fiancée Joshua, and the three attempt to unravel the mystery and find the video camera before they are killed. The plot is pretty typical conspiracy, ancient order, religious stuff; with secret groups trying to get a hold of the supposed video recording of Jesus as it would apparently be a weapon of such power, that if it disproved the existence of Jesus, western civilisation would simply collapse. I think that’s a bit of an overstatement, as I’m sure people that didn’t want to believe evidence that doesn’t fit their worldview can just call it a hoax and move on. Most of the elements of the story are left pretty vague, including these ancient orders and what they actually do. It’s probably something that’s more fleshed out in the book, but instead this film just opts for constant chase scenes and stalking that never really goes anywhere, and never arrives at the interesting bits, such as actually seeing the content of this recording, which is saved until the very end, and reveals a “surprise” twist that is entirely predictable, and just leaves open more questions that it answers.

    The characters are all pretty uninteresting. Steffan just a young, well-built lead that can do all the action sequences and take a lot of cuts and bruises. His opening trait that he is an atheist doesn’t really play much of a part in the story, although obviously as the whole “Jesus video” thing starts emerging, he starts to question his atheism in a very predictable fashion. The love triangle between Sharon (the only female character), her fiancée Joshua, and Steffan is entirely without note, and again very predictable. The villains are basically henchmen of this secret organisation, and are never given any character development, or motivation, because we never get a clear sense about the purpose of this organisation.

    As mentioned, we don’t see the contents of the video recording until the very end, and as a pay-off it doesn’t really deliver something satisfying that required nearly three hours of build up. The aspect of time travel is barely explored, and only explained through exposition and recordings that have no direct effect on what’s happening on-screen. The whole idea of a camcorder recording Jesus also seems a bit unbelievable, particularly it’s being able to work two thousand years later. The most notable aspect of the production is the English dubbing, given that this was originally a German production: The dubbing is terrible, and none of the voices have any real emotion or direction, which is constantly distracting from any drama on screen. Overall, Ancient Relic has an interesting story and fits into that genre that the Da Vinci Code really popularised. It is however, not a great example of the genre: the organisations and conspiracies are intangible and don’t really connect to anything specific, the mystery is very generic, and the pay-off isn’t worth it. I’m sure the novel is a lot more interesting than this poor adaptation, and I would suggest checking it out if you like these sorts of stories, because this film adaptation won’t satisfy.

  • Film reviews

    #8 – Primer (2006)

    Primer (2006)

    Film review #8

    dir. Shane Carruth

    An independent film all about time travel. Two guys working on a range of bizarre inventions stumble upon the secret to manipulating time itself…

    For an independent, low-budget movie, Primer should be noted for it’s very complex and technical plot. As each step in the development of this time travel experiment is discussed and laid out in the dialogue, it is obvious that there is a lot of technical thought that has been considered. Even when stepping into the scientific unknown of time travel, there is still a lot of technical background, which although works nicely within the context of the script, it may take scientific and mathematical liberties at some points, but with the sheer amount of technical information pouring out of the script, it is difficult to determine the real and fake science, which I would say work’s in the movie’s favour.

    There is a real trash aesthetic throughout the film. Being an independent film about two guys working from their garage, this is probably what you should expect. The cobbled-together machines give no clue or framework for understanding what is going on, so it requires an attentive viewer to decipher how everything works.

    As you can guess, it is pretty easy to get lost in this movie. If the techno-jargon doesn’t get you, the amount of different timelines that start piling up most certainly will. Just google search “primer timeline” and you’ll get a large number of graphs and charts which people have used to try and decipher the events of Primer. Interesting fact: I never heard the word “time” or “time travel” anywhere in the film.

    If there is one clear message to take away from Primer, it is this: Time travel is messy. Just by doing one simple journey backwards in time throws up so many complications, and even with the precautions the main characters take to remove themselves from the continuum, everything still manages to pile up so much that they have to leave their old lives behind while another version of themselves goes on in their place.

    It’s very much a Pandora’s box: Once you open it, you can’t really put it back. Perhaps the “time machine” (this definition is never used in the movie by the way) being in the shape of a box signifies this rather nicely.

    So is it possible to answer the tag-line question: What happens if it actually works? Not in my opinion. What happens seems to be far out of the control of two guys working in their garage.