Saturday, 8 May 2010

Quick Fix: Femforce (Comics)

The Femforce comics have always been a guilty pleasure of mine. The Femforce comic series is one of the most delightfully traditional superhero books around, and while its fortunes have plummeted in recent years, I still have a great deal of admiration for the title and AC comics in general. Why? Well, when I started buying the title in the early 1990s, the comics industry was flailing around like mad, trying to figure out the way to entice the most people to buy their foil stamped, die-cut, heat reactive, holofoil (etc) covered comics, at the cost of the actual stories themselves.

Sure, there was some great stuff around, but I'd started getting bored of the ludicrous covers and whatnot. Femforce was a delightful indie title that recalled the classic era of four colour superhero comics, which to me is the 70s and 80s back issues I'd been picking up as a kid.

Sure, the whole team is made up of Amazonian ladies in multicoloured costumes, but the characters are strong and the art never depicts the Femforce in the overtly sexual manner in which many other comics have been doing for so long. Deep and meaningful? No. Pure entertainment? Yes. While the title has slipped even further into obscurity now, I hope that it can come back bigger and better- then maybe we'll finally get the movie that was planned back in the day. At least then I could review it here... ;)

Trivia: In issue 65, there was a letter published from my 15 year old self!

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Armitage III: Poly-Matrix (2004)

This is kinda weird. Back in the day, I was a big fan of the Armitage III (pronounced Armitage The Third, not Armitage 3) OVA series, which was four episodes of colourful and fun cyberpunk action with a cool heroine, a bunch of insane robots and a ton of action. It was broadcast on cable TV and I was instantly hooked, as it had pretty much all of the ingredients that set my feverish mind into overdrive at the time. There was humour, cyborgs and cool characters galore, such as the titular Armitage character and the deliciously villainous Rene D'anclaude.

That 1997 series was cut together (and somewhat snipped) into a movie length piece in 2004. This was released under the name of Armitage III: Poly-Matrix. The film version had a different English dub too, featuring Elizabeth Berkley as Armitage and Kiefer Sutherland as her partner Ross Sylibus, which for the most part is great, but as a film it doesn't work as well as it did as four separate episodes.

It's not a case of the story or pacing suffering because of the edit, it's more a case of the story just not having quite enough time to progress naturally. Not a great deal was trimmed in order to create this film version, but you do notice the changes. That said, you'll probably only notice them if you were glued to the original version like I was.

How does it look? This version is clean and crisp, and the voice cast do an admiral job. The animation and the overall design of the tale has dated a little in its ideas of futurism (remember, there were seven years between the two versions), but I kinda prefer this vision of the future to the current CG-styled ideal in that is prevalent in many current anime series. The action is just as potent and exciting as it always was, and with the added bonus of Hollywood talent in the voice booths, Armitage III: Poly-Matrix turned out much better than it could have, but it's far from perfect.

I'd personally suggest you track down the original version (or at least the original English dub version of the series) for a more enjoyable experience. I love the look of the characters (I still think the design of the Armitage character herself is cool and iconic), the locale and the mechs, and the intrigue and twists of the plot mean there's more than action to take in. Now, I am going to go and dig out my Armitage III shirt so I can wear it with pride around town tomorrow. I think it's old enough to have become cool again by now ;)

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

The Punisher (1989)

Films based on comic books were a rare commodity back in the dark days that were the end of the eighties and the start of the nineties. Comics fans had to take what they could get, and The Punisher was a flick that divided fans of the character when it originally came out. Starring Dolph Lundgren as the titular comics character (minus the trademark skull logo shirt) and classic action movie hero Louis Gossett Jr alongside him, it was notorious for a while due to the violence it features, and also for getting some rotten reviews at the time.

The thing is, the film is actually a quite convincing take on the comics character that so many people love, and I think it was a symptom of the time that the flick was received badly rather than the film not being much good. You see, the film walks the line of being too comic based for the casual action film fan, and too much of a hard-assed action film for the comic fans to really get into it. It didn't help that Lundgren's performance was of the usual monosyllabic level of so many action characters of the time. NBot Dolph's fault, more a problem with the script.

This Punisher movie is a pretty literal adaptation of the comics title as it was during the 1980s. This is another factor in why it bombed- it's too brightly shot to fit with the moody aesthetic that many would expect with a flick about Frank Castle. Plus, aside from Dolph, the rest of the cast aren't sure whether to ham it up or play it straight. Louis Gossett Jr plays it straight, and comes across as the strongest performance next to the vengeful Lundgren, but the film is just too disjointed to work well.

There's plenty of action to feast on, but while there's a bunch of impressive sequences, some of it just looks like The A-team with added blood. It's worth seeing for the Punisher fan or the casual marvel fan, but it won't change your life. That said, it is a damn sight better than either the 2004 Punisher movie or the Punisher: War Zone film that followed. Now that's saying something.

Scorpion Thunderbolt (1985/1988)

Ever heard of Joseph Lai? Maybe, maybe not. The guy is a hero of mine, just for his sheer audacity. I mean, this is a guy that made a rather lucrative career for himself and his infamous IFD company through buying up unpopular and unreleased films, re-cutting them and adding new material, then releasing them as new products. It's a genius way of working, despite the lousy quality of the finished films. Recycling material has long since been a staple of the movie business, and continues today even in big screen movies (many of which use music from other films). However, I'm yet to hear of any modern films that are pasted together like the films that Joseph Lai was involved with.

I'm a big fan of his ludicrous ninja movies from the 1980s, which were basically asian crime dramas re-cut with new footage of western actors in multicoloured ninja costumes, having physically impossible battles that were only tangentially related to the plot of the recycled film. Many of those films are very dear to my heart for the simple reason that they were so utterly stupid as to defy belief. they were great. Just utterly ridiculous and bags of fun, with added unintentional entertainment value in the awful dubs that were laid over them.

The lead western actor in many of those ninja movies was a mister Richard Harrison, who takes the 'new footage' lead in this film. However, Scorpion Thunderbolt isn't a ninja film, which makes it stand out from the Lai catalogue, instead being a horror movie. Well, it was actually a different film entirely, called NAME, but that was never released in its original form. Here, the film was cut together with new material starring Harrison, and was actually rather more well integrated into the original film.

The story? Jeez... where do I start? Somewhere in all the sex, ridiculous monster scenes, surreal 'interpretative dance' scenes (which are supposed to be terrifying) and bizarrely dubbed exposition, there's a plot in there somewhere. A monstrous snake-slug-humanoid thingy is on the rampage, who is really a young woman being controlled by some weird snake charmer who appears now and again, and there's a witch with stick-on fingers dancing around and controlling her when the girl has turned into the monster. The police are trying to track down who - or what (dun dun DUUUUURRR)- is responsible for the bizarre killings going on. In addition, our hero Richard Harrison discovers that a ring he owns contains the magical power that will stop the snake charmer and the monster in their tracks, but there are operatives of the evil witch (the mad dancing lady) trying to off him at every turn, but not before they have dis-robed and danced to 'Oxygene' in a cinema. I kid you not.

Scorpion Thunderbolt, quite frankly, is a batshit insane film that feels like some weird fever- dream. One minute it's comedic, the next brutally gory, the next there's Richard Harrison screwing a possessed hooker in the middle of a red-light district cinema. Erm, then there's the stuff with the cops, all of whom are chinese, and all of whom have been given the most inappropriate of dubbed accents (cockney? WTF? COCKNEY?!), which makes little to no sense, and is quite a chore to get through. This is a very weird viewing experience and I wish I'd been drunk while I watched it as it might have made more sense. It's deliciously weird, badly put together and just plain mad. In other words, it is the sort of awful delicacy that keeps me grinning and keeps me entertaining and enthusiastic about the depths that cinema can sink to. Bloody awful and bloody brilliant, for all the wrong reasons.