To say that THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES, the ninth and final movie in Hammer Film Productions’ DRACULA series, differs from the rest would be the ultimate understatement. This 1974 outing is a joint production between Hammer and the venerable Shaw Brothers Studio. Roy Ward Baker is credited as the director, but Chang Cheh had a hand in things as well. The screenplay is the work of Don Houghton.
The movie opens in Transylvania circa 1804, with a shaman (Chan Shen) summoning Count Dracula (John Forbes-Robertson). This pisses off the vampire, but he inhabits the body of the shaman and heads for China. A century later, Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) is trying to convince the Chinese intelligentsia of the existence of vampires. Only Hsi Ching (David Chiang) believes him. Ching tells Van Helsing about vampires in his village and the fight is on.
THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES is about as good as it has any business being. It manages a rather sophisticated meshing of worlds and cultures, with the Westerners admiring the martial arts displays of Ching and his siblings and the Chinese surprised by the starchy brainpower of the Brits. One character, the well-heeled Vanessa Buren (Julie Ege), seems to straddle the line. She eschews the anticipated “fragility” of the Western woman while craving adventure.
Also shunning the notion is Mai Kwei, played by Shaw Brothers stalwart Shih Szu. She draws the eye of Van Helsing’s son (Robin Stewart) and holds her own against the vampires and gangsters of the unknown. She is as tough as the rest of the characters, which leads things back to Cushing and his brain. He delivers the final blow, both to the Count and to the series, and his command is as assured as ever. It’s a remarkable conclusion to a remarkable series.
The third and final entry of Shusuke Kaneko’s Gamera trilogy presents a sea of consequences and wraps things up with a philosophically invigorating blast. GAMERA 3: THE REVENGE OF IRIS is the finest one of the bunch and it justly completes what began with 1995’s GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE. This is wild-ass kaiju stuff and Kaneko doesn’t mess around, delivering a sweltering finale that builds on scene after scene of human-focused strain.
It has been three years since the events of GAMERA 2: ATTACK OF LEGION and the Japanese are disinclined to praise their hero. Gamera, the giant turtle, left a trail of destruction after dealing with Legion. Problematically, the world is also being inundated by giant birds – Gyaos – and things are once again coming apart. To make matters worse, Ayana (Ai Maeda) wants revenge on Gamera because he accidentally offed her parents and her cat. She cultivates and raises a monster of her own, the titular Iris, and wants to take the turtle down.
GAMERA 3: THE REVENGE OF IRIS feels overstuffed in a way, but Kaneko is adept at handling the elements because they represent various practical viewpoints. Shinobu Nakayama is back as everyone’s favourite ornithologist and she gets to team up with Asagi (Ayako Fujitani), Gamera’s old human buddy. Asagi comes in handy on account of Ayana’s connections with Iris, see? What’s more, there’s a woman named Mito (Senri Yamasaki) who thinks Gamera is an evil spirit. And there’s Shinya Kurata (Toru Tezuka), who believes it’s all part of a master plan to reset humanity.
GAMERA 3: THE REVENGE OF IRIS is focused on the human fallout from massive events like, say, monsters rampaging through your city. When actual monsters walk the Earth, it’s useful to remember that there are indeed many views. Some, like Mito, believe it’s all part of cosmic evil. Others, like Nakayama’s character, think there’s a rational explanation. And still others, like Asagi and Ayana, connect on a more profound level to the tragedies and the monsters. Kaneko, with his brilliant trilogy, pulls us into the world of pillaging monsters and makes us feel. Also, he blows shit up real good.
What do you do when the seams of the world are falling apart? You call Gamera and hope for the best. In Shusuke Kaneko’s GAMERA 2: ATTACK OF LEGION, Earth is under threat from a rash of insectoid aliens and a giant turtle may be the only way to prevent annihilation. This 1996 kaiju picture is the sequel to GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE, the 1995 flick that rebooted Gamera and put an end to all the ingenuous mischief of the previous Daiei Film series.
After the events of GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE, things have calmed somewhat and Japan is rebuilding. Unfortunately, peace is short-lived. A meteor shower turns out to be the precursor to an alien invasion, with an army of insectoid creatures laying seed pods. With the city of Sapporo under siege and a Kirin factory missing its bottles, all hell seems set to break loose. The humans do their best, but they’re out of their element. Luckily, the giant turtle Gamera comes to the rescue just when all hope seems lost.
GAMERA 2: ATTACK OF LEGION suggests humanity outmatched by its foe. The characters, a range of scientists and military personnel, wage war the best they can against the threat known as Legion. But they are often stuck theorizing. Even Asagi (Ayako Fujitani) loses her spiritual connection with Gamera and the pendant shatters in her hand, leaving nothing but blood behind. The certainty of defeat is pressed with an interesting sequence at the end, as the victor demonstrates a power that haunts and terrifies those rescued.
It’s not hard to unpack the symbolism, with Gamera representing a weapon both dreadful and necessary. Much of the movie is spent exploring the military response, with the Prime Minister taking to the airwaves to clarify how his country’s actions are only taken in self-defence. GAMERA 2: ATTACK OF LEGION isn’t all doom and gloom and Kaneko presents many moments of levity. The fight scenes are stunning and Junichi Tozawa’s cinematography again captures the horror of the threat. But, as the conclusion asserts, the future is uncertain. And so is Gamera.
A giant turtle, it turns out, is exactly what the world needs right now. And in 1965’s GAMERA: THE GIANT MONSTER, it’s exactly what Noriaki Yuasa delivers. This is the first entry in the GAMERA series and a rival to Toho’s GODZILLA series, with producer Masaichi Nagata apparently fielding the idea after Yuasa came up with a storyline about giant rats. Also, GAMERA: THE GIANT MONSTER is one of the last of the kaiju movies to be shot in black and white.
The movie opens with scientists observing an American fighter jet as it’s shot down. The plane crashes and its cargo, a freaking A-bomb, blows up. This leads to the emergence of Gamera, a giant turtle. The turtle begins on a path of destruction that takes it to Japan, where young Toshio (Yoshiro Uchida) develops an affinity for it because the kid likes turtles. The scientists, meanwhile, are tracking Gamera and try all sorts of things to stop it. Eventually, Dr. Hidaka (Eiji Funakoshi) and his team put together the Z Plan.
GAMERA: THE GIANT MONSTER is a joy, but it’s no trifle. Like GODZILLA and many of the other kaiju pictures, there are clear messages. Yuasa and screenwriter Fumi Takahashi set up a world in which Japan is reeling from the wounds of war in a quite literal way. The A-bomb, inadvertently discharged in this instance, exhumes something ancient from beneath the Earth. The prehistoric demolisher wreaks havoc and the world must come together, Cold War be damned.
There is an expectant flavour to GAMERA: THE GIANT MONSTER in that the Japanese encourage the Soviet Union and the Americans to set aside their differences for the common good. This may seem like a pipe dream, but it makes for a nice fantasy when there’s a big turtle milling about. The turtle does its job, by the way, and knocks over paper-thin buildings and plops around where it must. There’s fire and electricity seems to make him stronger. When it’s all over, you almost feel bad for Toshio’s buddy.
Our hero rocks Hades in HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD, a 1961 Italian adventure fantasy directed by Mario Bava. This outing is blessed with haunting visual style, with some sets from HERCULES AND THE CAPTIVE WOMEN doing double duty as supplements to a murky, intricate hellscape. Bava and Ubaldo Terzano handle the cinematography and press us through a world of distorted colours, horrid shadows and rocks. Lots and lots of rocks.
Reg Park returns as Hercules, everybody’s favourite champion. He’s living the life with the beautiful Princess Deianira (Leonora Ruffo) and hanging out with his buddies, including the womanizing Theseus (George Ardisson). The trouble begins when Deianira begins to suffer sensory loss and knocks on death’s door. Herc must head to the Underworld to recover a stone that’ll save his lady’s life, but he also requires a golden apple. The plot is set in motion by the evil King Lico (Christopher Lee).
HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD has more life and visual interest than many of the other pictures in the series. Bava’s grip on the material is robust, even if the plot suffers from the usual complications. He renders a world of darkness and cold terror, with Lee’s character the infectious exclamation point. There are graphic references to vampirism, a fit that seems a little hokey at times but nevertheless spikes the antagonist right where it counts.
Park’s Hercules is a tough hero, with all the stilted resolve and jolting good-timey nature required of him. He’s offset by his allies and the movie sometimes feels like a buddy comedy, with Theseus trying to bed every woman he sees. This even gets him in trouble with the boss, who tries to deter him from the problem that is Persephone (Ida Galli). And this underlines the light feel of HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD, providing contrast to the doom and setting it apart as one of the finer entries in the canon. Bava’s picture still labours under budgetary limits and plot snags, but this trip to hell is almost divine.
The subtext is strong in HERCULES AND THE CAPTIVE WOMEN, a 1961 film from director Vittorio Cottafavi. Also known as HERCULES AND THE CONQUEST OF ATLANTIS, this outing puts Reg Park in the title role and features a more forthright plot than many of the other Hercules pictures. Cottafavi, who helmed GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON, manages a unique approach, while cinematographer Carlo Carlini pulls off some wide shots that exemplify a necessary sense of scale.
The film opens in Thebes, home of the strangely sluggish Hercules (Park). Herc wants nothing more than to retire and live with his wife Deianira (Luciana Angiolillo), but peace isn’t in the cards. He’s drugged and snatched by King Androcles (Ettore Manni) and winds up on a ship with a dwarf named Timoteo (Salvatore Furnari). Androcles wants to check out the source of some weird events, but mutiny changes the course and Hercules rescues a captive woman (Laura Efrikian) and tangles with the Queen of Atlantis (Fay Spain).
There are creatures and nefarious plots galore in HERCULES AND THE CAPTIVE WOMEN, but there is only one captive woman. Our hero does his duty and frees her from the god Proteus (Maurizio Coffarelli), who can shapeshift from a lion to a vulture to a dragon-thing before you can say “Princess Ismene.” Proteus has a lot to do with how Atlantis has been able to maintain its shroud of secrecy, so you can imagine the denizens of the hidden city are less than thrilled with Herc’s heroics. You can also imagine that the queen is up to something, especially when the blonde dudes in black suits emerge as her supermen.
The subtext suggests the arrival of exceptional soldiers to assist the ruler of a hermit kingdom in her venture to take over the world. Take your pick as to who or what that references, as there are plenty of examples. And true to the form of a Hercules picture, this villainess has designs on punishing the menfolk. This time around, there’s a vat of acid. She’s even willing to kill her own daughter because of some mumbo-jumbo pertaining to Atlantis. It’s just like Hercules (probably) says: Uranus hath no fury like Antinea scorned.
Known internationally as HERCULES VS THE HYDRA, THE LOVES OF HERCULES is a 1960 adventure fantasy directed by Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia. The screenplay, such as it is, is by Luciano Doria. This Italian outing is mostly renowned for starring an expectant Jayne Mansfield and her then-husband Mickey Hargitay. The latter has the distinction of playing a rather feeble version of Hercules. He also whinges about his suffering, only not in that cool Mark Forest way.
THE LOVES OF HERCULES begins on strong footing as the army of Ecalia is destroying Hercules’ town. They even kill his wife. Licos (Massimo Serato) lures our hero into conflict, but Queen Deianira (Mansfield) ruins his scheme by taking the blame. She must customarily endure Herc’s wrath via axe-throwing. She survives and falls in love with the dude, who moves on awful quick-like from his departed spouse. Hercules and Deianira set off together, only to encounter monsters, a murder frame-up, more monsters, and an Amazon queen (Tina Gloriana) who turns her exes into screaming trees.
THE LOVES OF HERCULES is a silly movie and it benefits from being top-loaded with monsters. This differs from HERCULES UNCHAINED, which was lean on the monsters but heavy on the court intrigue. THE LOVES OF HERCULES has plenty of intricate plotting, but it’s bogged down by Licos’ insistence on fashioning the most complicated plans imaginable. He moves from trying to get the queen killed to trying to have Herc framed for murder to eventually launching a coup.
Hargitay’s Hercules isn’t as striking as other incarnations of the hero. It doesn’t help that the star has all the charm of a dead tree, which coincidentally sheds a little contrast on how wild the living dead trees are. There is some sure eccentricity in Bragaglia’s movie, but the performances are sluggish and the plot is baffling. Even the tottering hydra sequence – theoretically a joy of raw camp – is a bore until Herc hacks one of the heads off. And that’s to say nothing of Mansfield, who is out of her element in more ways than one.
Bodybuilder Mark Forest makes his acting debut in GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON, a 1960 adventure fantasy directed by Vittorio Cottafavi. This picture was intended as a Hercules film and was shot as such under the Italian title REVENGE OF HERCULES, but American International Pictures changed the titular character to Emilius/Goliath to tie in with GOLIATH AND THE BARBARIANS from 1959. The AIP version also includes a stop-motion dragon fight, which shoves our hero into one of the most absurdly entertaining fight scenes in the movie.
GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON begins with Goliath going underground to snatch the Blood Diamond, which he plans on forking over to the god of vengeance. He’s been put up to the task by Eurystheus (Broderick Crawford), who believes the expedition will kill Goliath. With the hero out of the way, Eurystheus plans to attack Thebes and hits up his acquaintances for help. Goliath’s lady Deianira (Leonora Ruffo) is keeping an eye on things, while Hyllus (Sandro Moretti) is jonesing for Thea (Federica Ranchi). This creates complications, which in turn leads Goliath to fight his way through a pile of evil creatures.
The plot of GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON is more complicated than most soap operas, but following the flow isn’t essential. The joy of Cottafavi’s yarn is in watching Forest at work. He’s a marvel of emotional depth, veering from charming to delicate in seconds. At one point, he tears a building apart and tells it to “collapse like my shattered dreams.” Emo Goliath may be wearing the garb of a boastful Theban and his lubricated aura may suggest confidence, but dude’s having his very own BLACK PARADE inside.
The creatures of GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON are entertaining, too. Forest does battle with a three-headed dog, some kind of magical bat thing, a bear, an elephant, a dragon, a statue, a centaur, and more. Each fight is relatively short and Cottafavi doesn’t exactly expend energy building action set pieces, but the crude creatures are neat and Carlo Rambaldi’s makeup provides some fantastical charm. One of the best moments comes when Goliath jabs out the eye of the dragon. While such a goopy moment makes it hard to take this flick all that seriously, that’s part of the fun.
Steve Reeves liberates himself in HERCULES UNCHAINED, a 1959 adventure picture directed by Pietro Francisci. This is the sequel to Francisci’s 1958 HERCULES, which introduced Reeves to the world as the titular character. His second and last appearance as the hero features a screenplay by Francisci and Ennio De Concini, with cinematography by Mario Bava. Much of the story is based on Greek mythology and the action is more cohesive in contrast to the original.
Reeves’ Hercules commences the proceedings with Princess Iole (Sylva Koscina) as his wife and the young Ulysses (Gabriele Antonini) as his travelling companion. After a run-in with an loathsome oaf (Primo Carnera), the trio encounters a quarrel between two brothers over who will rule Thebes. Eteocles (Sergio Fantoni) and Polynices (Mimmo Palmara) are fighting it out and Herc must intervene, but he first drinks from a magic spring that zaps him of his memory. In his oblivious state, he meets Queen Omphale (Sylvia Lopez) and falls into her man-eating web.
HERCULES UNCHAINED is an enjoyable yarn and the storyline is forthright. This makes it tighter than its forerunner, especially when it comes to the political intrigue between Eteocles and Polynices. This presents the opportunity to include a few tigers, which accounts for the movie’s most notable action sequence and details how things work in the bustling metropolis of Thebes. Fantoni is amusing as the more insane of the siblings and his method of conflict resolution is a touch on the terrifying side.
The bulk of HERCULES UNCHAINED is spent on Herc and Ulysses as they navigate the issues presented by Queen Omphale. She uses her cunning ways to seduce the menfolk, complete with harem girls to oil the wheels of temptation. There’s even a little Egyptian mysticism. Lopez is intoxicating, while Antonini’s Ulysses is a smart cookie for a side character. And while the side characters account for some amusing business, things never get out of hand. HERCULES UNCHAINED isn’t as wild as HERCULES and lacks outlandish entertainment value, but there’s still a lot to like as Reeves and Co. plunge the depths of forgettable seduction.
Jack Starrett’s HOLLYWOOD MAN is an exploitation film about making an exploitation film. It’s also a grubby crime picture that features a terrific villain and an ending to die for. This 1976 flick is definitely of the shoestring variety and it features a screenplay by-committee, with cinematography by Robert C. Jessup and a recurring title track sung by Tony Chance that gives the whole thing a hokey but troubled feel. It runs at times like a made-for-TV jaunt, but there’s an ugly streak that is straight drive-in movie.
William Smith is Rafe Stoker, an actor/filmmaker in the business of making biker movies. He’s run out of support in Hollywood, as his films have become passé. Rafe turns to the mob and puts his assets up as collateral for the green he needs. The mob gives him a time limit and sends the malicious gangster Harvey (Ray Girardin) and his cronies to make sure the flick isn’t made on time. Harvey becomes obsessed with Rafe and tries all sorts of things to shut down production, while his crazy girlfriend (Jennifer Billingsley) and co-dependent henchman (Jude Farese) are along for the ride.
Starrett may be in the director’s chair here, but HOLLYWOOD MAN is Smith’s baby. He’s the star and one of many producers and writers, which gives his character a personal touch. Rafe is deeply invested in the production of his movie within the movie. It is his desperation and love for filmmaking that puts him in debt with the mob in the first place and the final scene underscores just how far the tendrils of crime and money can reach.
HOLLYWOOD MAN also benefits from Girardin’s striking performance as Harvey. His character is a creep, to put it kindly. He is a psychotic man who cuts a bloody swath across the country. His girlfriend is a mad accessory who romps in the surf wearing a pinched wedding dress and seems internally broken in just about every way. She’s tragic, as is Farese’s Rhodes. Together, they illustrate how destructive Harvey’s world is and how magnetic his personality can be. HOLLYWOOD MAN sets Harvey’s alluring neurosis on a collision course with Rafe’s frantic skill and the results are dirty, cheap and strangely fascinating.
A grimy road movie laced with blatant insinuations, JACKSON COUNTY JAIL has the distinction of featuring a very young Tommy Lee Jones in one of his earliest roles. It’s directed by Michael Miller with a screenplay by Donald E. Stewart. On its face, JACKSON COUNTY JAIL is unadulterated exploitation and all the better for it. It cuts a wide ribbon and makes big ugly points along the way and there’s not a damn thing delicate about it.
Yvette Mimieux stars as Dinah, an advertising executive in Los Angeles. She’s shamed by her misogynistic boss and finds her husband cheating on her (again). She drives to New York for a fresh start. This takes her through several rustic areas, whereupon she’s robbed by a pair of drugged-out ramblers (Howard Hesseman and Marciee Drake) and runs into further trouble when she tries to get help. She’s thrown in the slammer, where she’s raped by a guard. She subsequently escapes and goes on the lam with fellow prisoner Coley (Jones).
JACKSON COUNTY JAIL stacks its intentions immediately, piling up big city liberal tropes and setting Dinah as an icon of contemporary feminism. She stands up to her slimy boss, who tells her that he knows what women want to be told. She leaves her philandering husband and there is mention of an abortion. She even experiences a moment of camaraderie with a woman in a diner who just so happens to be heading in the opposite direction. Every man that crosses her path is aptly subject to distrust.
The film is also cynical about the pastoral communities that dot Dinah’s path. Lines are drawn in the sand. The accosting barkeep is a good ol’ boy who gave soda-pop to the church, while her rapist touches on mortification of the flesh after he commits his nauseating act. He begs forgiveness, yet nothing halts his sin. This is a hard critique of American religion and the unwashed masses. It’s only slightly impaired by the fact that everything is so blatant. Even Jones’ character describes the country and its residents as a “rip-off,” which is a point made more unadulterated by JACKSON COUNTY JAIL’s blaring final shot.
Justin Kurzel’s ASSASSIN’S CREED is a frustrating film. The adaptation of the video game franchise of the same name boasts an awe-inspiring cast and some intriguing visual concepts, plus it brushes past some interesting philosophical and political ideas along the way. But the action is buried in clouds of dust and smoke and the flip-flopping scheme is somehow both too profuse and too scant. The by-committee screenplay is of too many minds and everything suffers as a result.
Michael Fassbender stars as Callum Lynch, a man sentenced to death. He is presumably executed, but the Abstergo Foundation has taken him into their care on account of a connection he bears with a Spanish Inquisition-era killer named Aguilar. Abstergo hooks Callum up to a machine so he can relive Aguilar’s memories and hopefully find the Apple, an object the group believes contains the secrets of free will. Callum-as-Aguilar fights through bad guys in Andalusia while Abstergo’s CEO (Jeremy Irons) and his daughter (Marion Cotillard) look on.
ASSASSIN’S CREED boasts a villain in Irons’ character that has compelling motivations for possessing the Apple, but these issues are only slightly explored. Irons’ delivery is oily and provocative, though, and that helps his lines about squashing dissent via religion, politics and consumerism hold more weight. His Abstergo has the function of modern day Templars and control by abolition of violence is his game. This provides him with a theoretical moral base, the movie’s most interesting philosophical concept.
Alas, ASSASSIN’S CREED is awash in murk. Fassbender attempts to draw some depth out of his character and his efforts deserve mild applause. But Cotillard is lost in the dust, which is disappointing given her capacity to provide a counterpoint to Irons’ character. The action is parkour-oriented garbage in Torquemada dress, but fans of the video game series will recognize the details. Those seeking coherence or fun should look elsewhere. Even the freefall is lost in the mix, which is an astonishing disappointment. And for all its tried depth, ASSASSIN’S CREED’s more egregious sins leave redemption well out of reach.
JASON BOURNE is an action movie without the smirking eagerness of THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS franchise and an espionage movie without the jolting charm of the Bond pictures. It is well-crafted from a technical standpoint, with director Paul Greengrass and cinematographer Barry Ackroyd keeping things in a constant state of motion. And it doesn’t overreach, which is a point undermined by the fact that it doesn’t really reach at all. The dialogue isn’t so much comprised of meaning but instructions and expository observations, with characters telling the audience where so-and-so is and what so-and-so is going to do next and when so-and-so will arrive at such-and-such a place.
The most notable so-and-so is obviously the titular character, played by Matt Damon. The former superspy is in hiding, but his former Treadstone contact Nicky (Julia Stiles) tracks him down to reveal the findings of a hacker group. The activity has alerted the CIA, which in turn springs cybersecurity head Heather (Alicia Vikander) and the agency director (Tommy Lee Jones) into action to find Bourne. There’s also some business with the CEO of a social media giant (Riz Ahmed), who is fending off the CIA’s requests to use his service for surveillance purposes.
While JASON BOURNE is at least semi-topical with its concerns about privacy in the modern age, there’s little refinement or art to how the subject is approached. Positions are sketched out in black and white, even when something critical is revealed about Bourne’s past. All the while, the characters are stone-faced. Part of this could be read as commentary, with hints of how government intelligence agencies harvest machines incapable of emotion. But this is mostly a matter of design, with much of JASON BOURNE running at the same tempo with the same score and the same action apparatus.
Sometimes, Greengrass flirts with something better – even something lavish. The closing chase-and-fight between Bourne and Vincent Cassel’s Asset features a smash into a renowned Vegas casino. Before anything noteworthy happens amid the sea of slot machines and distressed gamblers, the hero and villain bail to a nondescript locale to hash it out. Lest you think JASON BOURNE features anything that borders on actual “fun,” Greengrass pulls back from the ledge and back into the office. Vikander’s range is unexploited as a result, while Jones scowls all over the wallpaper. As for Damon, it is nice to have his character back in the swing of things. It’s just too bad so-and-so is so damn dull.
Justin Lin’s STAR TREK BEYOND is a breeze, a fixture of popcorn entertainment that actually delivers. This is the third flick in the STAR TREK reboot series that began in 2009 and the 13th outing in the film franchise overall. It’s often so lightweight that it feels like it could float. The screenplay by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung is akin to an episode of the television series and that’s a good thing, as adventure is the rightful focal point and the possibilities of the galaxy remain true. While there are “flaws” to be found in the final analysis, it’s almost impossible to shake this movie’s tenacious sense of fun.
The plot opens as the USS Enterprise has been in service for years and Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is tired of the endlessness of space. He’s considering a change when he’s dispatched on a rescue mission to find a stranded ship. Things go wrong for the Enterprise and the heinous Krall (Idris Elba) makes his presence known. He captures most of the crew of the Enterprise, while some of the others crash-land on the planet Altamid. Kirk, Spock (Zachary Quinto) and McCoy (Karl Urban) piece together a plan, while chief engineer Scott (Pegg) meets a scavenger (Sofia Boutella) and tries to get a relic on the move.
The bread and butter of STAR TREK BEYOND is the action. Lin is adept at pushing objects through space – literally – and this picture is a feast for the eyes and ears. Stephen F. Windon captures the action with ebullient cinematography, whirling the camera this way and that and even packing in a few oblique angles. The best sequences involve massive space assaults, with Krall’s horde ripping into the Enterprise like lethal insects. A later scene lets the good guys fight back to the beneficial sounds of the Beastie Boys. It probably shouldn’t work, but it damn well does.
With so many blockbusters sinking into glum territory, the invigorating pace of STAR TREK BEYOND is praiseworthy. While Lin’s jaunt doesn’t have much by way of character development or thematic depth, it gets by on balance. There is a dash of interesting material involving Spock’s future, but this dovetails with Kirk’s difficulties and wraps up easily. For the most part, STAR TREK BEYOND introduces characters swiftly and without fluff. Even Jaylah’s a succinct treat, reinforced by a slick performance and some propitious comedy. So while you could argue Lin’s movie lacks heft, less is definitely more in this brisk space frolic.
Iko Uwais continues his ass-kicking ways in the frantic HEADSHOT, a 2016 Indonesian actioner directed by Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto. This picture, which was written by Tjahjanto, is fluid, organic and cruel in all the best ways. It carries a familiar plot, but there are surprising layers as the protagonist kicks, punches, stabs, shoots, and scrapes his way through a convoy of enemies. There is variety and flavour to the action, with the smashing fight choreography making use of a pile of different styles.
Uwais stars as an unknown man convalescing in hospital under the care of Ailin (Chelsea Islan), who’s reading MOBY-DICK. When the guy wakes up, she decides to call him Ishmael and wants to take care of him. Ishmael can’t remember a thing and sets out to find himself. Regrettably, a crime lord (Sunny Pang) has a stake in things. He’s been raising orphans to operate in his gang and Ishmael is one of them. When Ailin is captured, the hero gets going and carves his way through a veritable militia.
At its core, HEADSHOT is about the reclamation of identity. Ishmael discovers that the violence he was born into is entrenched deeper than anything good. He can’t remember his name or any particulars. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. But when the shit hits the fan, Ishmael knows exactly what to do. He becomes the ruthless killing machine his “father” built him to be. He clashes with other characters who could notionally be his siblings, including the viciously tragic Rika (Julia Estelle). Each fight, of which there are many, tests Ishmael physically, personally and spiritually.
HEADSHOT presents a world awash in bloodshed and violence. It’s grubby and lethal and nobody is spared the consequences. Stamboel and Tjahjanto, along with cinematographer Yunus Pasolang, institute an inflammatory world that lacks harmony and resonates with churning, crushing visuals. Uwais’ character is less person than tool and his journey is one of purification by violence. It’s a near religious proposal, involving the comprehension of guilt and the opportunity of redemption. Of course, the path to such redemption requires a whole lot of graphic violence. And boy does HEADSHOT deliver.