All posts by Andrew Wickliffe

Zone Troopers (1985, Danny Bilson)

The saddest thing about Zone Troopers is Biff Manard gives a fantastic performance and there’s no reason to see it. Nothing Manard could do would make Troopers worthwhile; it’s got so many problems—cast, direction, photography, editing, music, budget (though some of the effects are outstanding)—the thing is a wreck. With a few good ideas, a great performance, and a lot of derivative nonsense.

I got ahead of myself. I was being positive—the second saddest thing about Zone Troopers. When it has those good ideas, it can’t figure out how to execute them. You watch it, getting hopeful, then it fails and you don’t just get disappointed, you feel bad for the movie; you can tell what director Bilson (who co-wrote with producer Paul De Meo) and he just couldn’t figure out how to do it. Zone Troopers, visually, needs a lot of things—it needs cinematographer Mac Ahlberg to light sets better, it needs Bilson to figure out how to shoot his actors, and they need a crane. They really, really, really need a crane. The movie takes place in an Italian forest during WWII and there’s not a single good establishing shot in it. Not even when a crane would have helped. Bilson just can’t do it. He’s got maybe three creative shots and they’re not so much good or even better than the standard bland composition, but they’re creative. Someone thought about them. No one thinks about much in Zone Troopers.

If anyone did, Timothy Van Patten wouldn’t happen. Van Patten is the young guy in the movie. He’s the private, Art LaFleur is the corporal, “top-billed but should’ve had an the ‘and’ credit” Tim Thomerson is the sergeant, an atrocious John Leamer is the inept greenhorn lieutenant, and Manard is the wartime correspondent. LaFleur and Manard are definitely in the forties, Thomerson looks a little too old too, so for the battle scenes before the aliens show up, Zone Troopers basically looks like WWII reenactment with middle-aged men. Bilson’s direction doesn’t help with that feeling either.

Anyway, Van Patten is the young Italian kid who reads sci-fi magazines and talks all the time, especially in dangerous situations, and ignores Thomerson’s orders and almost gets everyone killed over and over again. Until the movie evens out a bit in the second act, the only thing Troopers has to keep one occupied is the hope Thomerson will just shoot Van Patten in the head for insubordination.

And Van Patten is objectively terrible. No one could watch what he was doing and think it was a good idea, not even in a movie where the script has commercial breaks in the second half, like Bilson and DeMeo were plotting a three or four-part cartoon… though it’d be a lot better as a three or four-part cartoon. Van Patten wouldn’t be in it.

The effects work is bad when it comes to the lasers and the humanoid aliens are silly, but the bug-monkey alien is at least a good suit and the script handles that character surprisingly well. Again, Bilson and DeMeo have some decent ideas, they’re just in the muck of bad performances and lifts from E.T., The Thing, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and… something else no doubt. They don’t have any lifts from Empire Strikes Back, which is weird because composer Richard Band rips off its score mercilessly. It and Raiders. Clearly likes his John Williams.

And if it’s not going to be a four-part cartoon pilot, Zone Troopers does seem much more like a Spielberg movie. Just an amateur one. A poorly directed and acted amateur one. With WWII re-enactors.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Danny Bilson; written by Bilson and Paul De Meo; director of photography, Mac Ahlberg; edited by Ted Nicolaou; music by Richard Band; production designer, Philip Dean Foreman; produced by De Meo; released by Empire Pictures.

Starring Tim Thomerson (The Sarge), Timothy Van Patten (Joey), Art LaFleur (Mittens), Biff Manard (Dolan), William Paulson (The Alien), Max Turilli (SS Sgt. Zeller), and John Leamer (The Lieutenant),


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The Flying Fish (2019, Murat Sayginer)

It’s a little hard to describe The Flying Fish. At least without describing it in relation to other things. It’s what happens when Dr. Manhattan leaves, it’s a Boris Vallejo sexy robot painting turned into a movie, it’s like if early nineties POV-Ray renders looked real, it’s… It’s often breathtaking. Fish is all CG, with different “scenes” connected through music, editing, and—occasionally—a luminescent flying fish.

Director, animator, editor, contributing composer Sayginer has some recurring motifs. Third eyes, pyramids, Garden of Eden, Jesus, Venus—she gets Terminator arms, it’s awesome—skeletons, Greco-Roman stuff (gods, statues, architecture), and probably some other stuff. The film opens with these rounded stones “sculpting.” Their material is this whirl of small flying mirrors (it’s probably necessary to know how 3D modeling works, at least in the basics, to appreciate Sayginer’s abilities, but it adds a nice layer—there’s some really impressive work in Fish). Back to the stones. They sculpt this head, the head goes on to somewhere else, then turns into a constellation, then there’s something with the third eye, then Dr. Manhattan shows up. It’s a lot of imagery, impressively executed.

It’s a shame: CG artists do these amazing, wacky creations then go on to be in charge of Captain America’s belt buckle consistency and what not. “I loved in your reel when you had the space aliens looking at the Jesus statue, do you think you can make sure Iron Man’s left buttcheek armor stays consistent throughout the scene?”

These folks are not getting to go all out.

Flying Fish is solidly all out. There are the occasional “eh” moments, but it’s not like they’re not rendered well. I’m thinking of the tank, which is impressive, but doesn’t fit. Especially not when it could’ve been tied into the rather successful White male soldiers saluting a headless businessman in front of a pyramid in the Middle East; behind the businessman is a field of caskets.

Usually any “eh” is related to the people. Sayginer doesn’t render many, but they never work out. Their movement too. He’s got an amazing dancer though and you want to watch them do a whole set, so clearly he’s got the movement down… but not in the other scenes. I think it also stands out because CGing humans is the last hurdle and going for it doesn’t always seem prudent. Especially not when you’ve got so much other good stuff going on.

Flying Fish runs a fast twenty minutes and is rather cool. Especially if you haven’t seen a POV-Ray render since 1995. Though it does make you wish someone had hired Sayginer in time to make the CG in Wonder Woman look better. He does Greco-Roman sky fighting and well.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Written, produced, and directed by Murat Sayginer; music by Sayginer, Jochen Mader, and Onur Tarcin.


RECENTLY

The Three Musketeers (1973, Richard Lester)

The Three Musketeers is so much fun, you barely notice when the film takes a turn in the last thirty or so minutes. The Musketeers are on a mission—they’ve got to deliver a letter to England to save at least one lady’s honor, possibly two—and just as the film reunites them all with the promise of action… it starts shedding them. They get in individual fights or duels, leaving Michael York to go on alone. Well, he brings faithful servant Roy Kinnear along, but Kinnear’s just there for the (very good) laughs. It’s not like he’s going to tell York the important things, like how to get off England since it’s an island.

York’s the film’s protagonist, though George MacDonald Fraser’s script isn’t great about treating him like it once all the “guest stars,” not to mention Raquel Welch’s cleavage (once Welch’s cleavage arrives, it’s all anyone present gives any attention, cast and crew alike), come into the film. York’s D’Artagnan, would-be Musketeer, who happens across a trio of real Musketeers who could always use another partner in literal crime. See, the Musketeers work for the King, meaning they brawl (sword brawl) with the Cardinal’s guards. The film never bothers explaining why there’s the animosity between the groups or why, although loyal to the King (Jean-Pierre Cassel), his Musketeers fight with the Cardinal’s men, even though the King is allied with the Cardinal. Charlton Heston, with what appears to be a fake goatee, is the Cardinal.

Doesn’t matter, the guys in red are bad, the guys in (mostly) black are good. The good guys are Oliver Reed (Athos), Frank Finlay (Porthos), and Richard Chamberlain (Aramis). Reed’s the drunk pensive but heroic one, Finlay’s the vaguely inept dandy, Chamberlain’s the adept dandy as well as the trio’s Don Juan. Chamberlain, we’re told, likes the married ladies. So does York, as Welch is married, and the film gets a lot of laughs out of mocking her cuckold (a fantastic Spike Milligan).

The first half of the film introduces York, the Musketeers, evil (he’s eye-patched so there’s no mistaking it) Christopher Lee, and the political ground situation. See, Cassel is useless fop who’s going to let Heston do whatever Heston wants to do, so long as Heston at least pretends Cassel isn’t a useless fop. The film shot on location—in Spain, not France, but still in palaces and such—so you’re seeing the intrigue play out with these impeccably costumed (Yvonne Blake’s costuming is magnificent) “royals” lounge around palaces and deserve a Revolution more by the minute. It adds a wonderful subtext to the film, which showcases and romances the grand opulence of historical royalty without being able to not show it also as, you know, utterly pointless and a really bad way for society to function. Because the Musketeers are alcoholic gambling addicts who end up stealing from the commoners. Arguably, the Cardinal’s guards are “better” civil servants. Though—again, Fraser doesn’t dwell—the Musketeers are mercenaries between wars; adventurers in the sense drunken carousing is adventuring.

And, arguably, the big mission at the end is against the King, though arguably for France. Musketeers is lightly bawdy adventure comedy for the whole family—though, unless she really, really, really likes Michael York, there’s nothing anywhere near approaching the male gaze equivalent of Raquel Welch—so no dwelling on politics, infidelity (klutzy Welch doesn’t even seem aware her husband might mind being cuckolded), or even its characters. See, one of the things you realize in the finale—besides how, outside a cat fight between Welch and bad lady Faye Dunaway in ball gowns (and what glorious gowns they are), the ball Welch and Dunaway are dressed for, and some solid sight gags, the finale’s action is rather uninspired and unenthusiastic—you also realize the titular Three Musketeers are totally unimportant to the film at this point. York getting the most to do makes sense, but the film goes so far as the make the other Musketeers comic relief. Brief comic relief.

It’d be fine if the sword fights were better, but they’re not. Three Musketeers starts with a gymnastic training sword fight scene between York and his father and then some more nonsense with York (he’s naive to the point of buffoonery, which is rather endearing as York plays it completely—and very Britishly—straight); it takes the film awhile to deliver a great sword fight, but then it does deliver a great one, with Lester’s best action direction, John Victor Smith’s best cuts, but also Dons Challis and Sharpe’s sound editing. Three Musketeers goes from being a “handsome” period piece to a considerable period action picture. And then the fight’s over and it’s back to handsome period piece, funny, active. But once Welch’s cleavage enters the literal frame, Lester and the film’s ambitions for an action picture disappear.

There’s a decent night time sword fight with the opponents using hand lanterns to see, but the finale’s fireworks-lighted long shot swordplay brawl isn’t anything special. The most impressive thing about a grand action picture’s third act shouldn’t be the awesomely ostentatious costume ball costumes but then you also wouldn’t think David Watkin’s photography would be so much better on the ball than the action sequences either. Three Musketeers goes into the third act somewhat soft and never really recovers.

At least solid performances from everyone. It’s hard with Welch because she’s got a lousy role and you almost wish she was bad so she wouldn’t work in the lousy role. But she’s not. She’s not a comedic genius but Lester’s not interested in her performance, he’s interested in her anatomy. York’s a good lead. Reed’s awesome. Chamberlain’s got like six lines. Finlay’s good. Supporting cast… Milligan and Kinnear are great, Cassel’s fine, Lee’s great, Dunaway’s okay (again, crappy part), Heston’s tolerable.

Of course, I’ve skipped mentioning the subplot about French Queen Geraldine Chaplin and British prime minister Simon Ward, somewhat unintentionally, but suffice to say, it’s an important subplot and both actors are good. Even if theirs is the far more interesting story than anything else going on in the picture. Especially the Welch cuckolding Milligan subplot, which is sometimes hilarious, usually funny, but not interesting. It’s cheap laughs. Chaplin and Ward… Fraser and Lester could’ve done something. They do not. Nice roles for both actors though. Thin but nice.

The Three Musketeers is glorious, gorgeous adventure. It has the pieces to be better but not the ambition. It’s easy; sometimes easy is good enough.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Lester; screenplay by George MacDonald Fraser, based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas; director of photography, David Watkin; edited by John Victor Smith; music by Michel Legrand; production designer, Brian Eatwell; produced by Alexander Salkind, Ilya Salkind, and Michael Salkind; released by CFDC-UGC.

Starring Michael York (D’Artagnan), Raquel Welch (Constance de Bonacieux), Oliver Reed (Athos), Richard Chamberlain (Aramis), Frank Finlay (Porthos), Christopher Lee (Rochefort), Geraldine Chaplin (Queen Anna), Jean-Pierre Cassel (King Louis XIII), Faye Dunaway (Milady), Spike Milligan (M. Bonacieux), Roy Kinnear (Planchet), Simon Ward (Duke of Buckingham), Georges Wilson (Treville), and Charlton Heston (Cardinal Richelieu).


This post is part of the Costume Drama Blogathon hosted by Debbie of Moon in Gemini.

Wildcats (1986, Michael Ritchie)

Wildcats is supposed to be about a woman coaching high school football but it ends up being an unintentionally thorough examination of patriarchy, misogyny, and racism. There’s a lot to unpack; more, actually, than its worth. Because Wildcats isn’t just a failure of a female empowerment picture, it’s also a failure of a White savior picture. Things with Chicago’s “Central High”’s football team haven’t been going well in general—the previous season’s star quarterback quit school to become a criminal and the same bunch of guys who couldn’t get their act together on the team are back again this year because they all are repeating because they’re dumb. Oh, it’s also classist. The team is mostly Black guys, who talk mid-eighties R-rated Black guy jive as written by a White guy (meaning it’s rarely funny, even if the actor’s able to be funny), a handful of Hispanic stereotypes (including the guy translating for the other guy because it’s a sitcom special), and Woody Harrelson. The one thing the team has in common besides being in their early-to-mid-twenties is they hate the idea of a female coach.

So it’s a problem with the only willing football coach the principal can find is Goldie Hawn. See, she asked if she could coach the Junior Varsity team and after saying yes, admittedly good but utterly cartoonish villain Bruce McGill went and gave the job to a gay guy. Wildcats is at its most interesting eighties movie when there’s the homophobia against the gay guy but then the gay guy joins with the other guys in the room for some misogyny. It’s like Wildcats thinks, while telling this story about Hawn ostensibly having her White Savior story arc, having a woman coach the boys’ football team isn’t going to have to make a comment on toxic masculinity. No, it doesn’t, of course; the film doesn’t go there. Ezra Sacks’s screenplay is profoundly bland. But it doesn’t even recognize the position its putting itself in.

Of course, it also fails the White savior story arc because… Hawn’s a woman. She’s not empowered enough to be a White savior. The first act hints at trying it a bit, but then Sacks and director Ritchie’s utter disinterest in any kind of authentic narrative pushes it aside. But if you remember back, during the end of the second act and the first half of the third, it’s stunning to think the movie might have gone for that much of an arc for Hawn. Instead, Hawn’s arc is just finding the right group of men. And once you find the right group of men, well, you can convince the other men out there to acknowledge you. And if you can’t, there’s always punching. But the right men will do it.

It’s like Hawn’s supposed to be the lead of the movie but the movie doesn’t need her. Not just as the coach of the football team—because once they’re over her being a girl it’s all training montages and original soundtrack singles and the games fly by—but as the lead. The opening credits are home movies of Hawn as a child (well, Hawn’s character presumably) and her history with football. Dad was a player or a coach. Maybe both. Doesn’t matter, because Hawn’s history with football and ability as a football coach have nothing to do with the movie. They’re nonsense details. The movie would be no different if Hawn got the job through a clerical error.

Sacks’s script goes with every predictable plot turn—once ex-husband James Keach (who’s not good but perfectly cast as an upper class prig) starts threatening to take Hawn’s kids away from her, anyway. Before Keach comes into the movie it’s just Hawn and the montages and then her trying to get the ex-star quarterback to give up crime for football, which is kind of more likable because even with the bad script you don’t dislike the actors and you wish the script were better for them. With Keach… well, he brings in new girlfriend Jan Hooks, who’s a punching bag for gags (an example of the film’s passive versus active misogyny), but it also gives Robyn Lively more to do. She’s the older daughter. She’s not very good. Her part’s terribly written, Ritchie could give a hoot about directing the actors, but she’s not very good.

So, Keach drags the film down, directly and indirectly. Especially when you get into how badly Sacks writes anything related to White privilege. Like the toxic masculinity, you can tell he notices it and sees it might not be good, but then pushes those thoughts down and acts like it’s okay to have rapey jokes about Hawn from students, as well as Black principal Nipsey Russell get threatened by rich school’s teacher McGill and whatever else I’m forgetting, and to just go with it. There’s one part where the team destroys Hawn’s office and faces no consequence because, well, she needs motivation; she’s a woman after all.

It’s a lot. There’s a lot. And even if you’re willing to forgive a solid amount because it was the eighties, the movie itself still flops around and then fizzles by the end. Ritchie and Sacks not caring about football ends up limiting what they can come up with the final game. The big showdown between Hawn and her nemesis gets hijacked by fat jokes. And Ritchie shooting a bunch of solo inserts of Hawn’s reaction shots to the game when she should be, I don’t know, coaching or something. It’s a really oddly directed movie football game. It’s poorly directed, but also oddly directed.

Though the football games are the only thing Richard A. Harris can edit acceptably. Every other cut in the movie’s a little off. Ritchie has this boring one-shot he always goes with from close-ups and Harris can never figure out how to cut it, even though Ritchie seems to have given him enough coverage.

It’s like no one cared.

James Newton Howard’s score is bad.

Donald E. Thorin’s photography is adequate.

The best technical contribution is Marion Dougherty, who casted. The team is mostly solid, performance-wise, when they need to be. They don’t do great at being assholes, but once they’re okay being coached by a woman, they’re fine. Wesley Snipes has maybe the showiest part, he’s okay. Mykelti Williamson’s okay. Not a good part, but he’s okay.

M. Emmet Walsh’s got a small role and you wish they’d gotten someone else for it, just because it’s Walsh and you want to like him and there’s no reason to like him in Wildcats. Like much of the film, he’s pointless. Sacks’s script doesn’t have anything for its performers. Not good speeches, not good scenes, not good arcs. No one even gets an arc. Not really.

Until Keach comes in strong—which is well over half-way in–Wildcats seems like it’s going to make it to the finish. Not great, not even good, but passable enough. Hawn’s charm can carry a whole lot. And given the movie is supposed to be her movie but instead Ritchie and Sacks do everything they can not to make it her movie, she gets some added sympathy. But that third act is the pits.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Ritchie; written by Ezra Sacks; director of photography, Donald E. Thorin; edited by Richard A. Harris; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Boris Leven; produced by Anthea Sylbert; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Goldie Hawn (Molly), James Keach (Frank), Mykelti Williamson (Bird), Nipsey Russell (Edwards), Bruce McGill (Darwell), Robyn Lively (Alice), Brandy Gold (Marian), Swoosie Kurtz (Verna), Wesley Snipes (Trumaine), Tab Thacker (Finch), Woody Harrelson (Krushinski), Jsu Garcia (Cerulo), Jan Hooks (Stephanie), Willie J. Walton (Marvel), Rodney Hill (Peanut), and M. Emmet Walsh (Coes).