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by Bill Gibron

4 Jul 2009

What, exactly, happened to Renny Harlin? How did he go from hotshot newbie with an entire career before him to a cinematic afterthought left to helm horrid hackjobs like The Covenant and Cleaner? After three films in Finland, the foreign visionary landed on our shores and immediately made his mark with the excellent convict creepshow Prison. In quick succession, he then delivered one of the best Nightmare on Elm Street sequels and the definitive Die Hard installment. But then came the craptacular Ford Fairlane, the attempted comeback of Cliffhanger, and one of the biggest of all box office bombs, the pale pirate movie Cutthroat Island. Such a cruel career rollercoaster is not unusual in Tinsel Town, but with solid follow-up features like The Long Kiss Goodnight and the silly shark romp Deep Blue Sea, one assumes a little artistic amnesty is long overdue.

Yet now here we sit, in 2009, with Harlin helming the latest Vince McMahon tax dodge, 12 Rounds. With star wrestler John Cena in the lead, a capable cast surrounding him, and a script by first timer Daniel Kunka, it would seem like the former A-lister is still doing time for some manner of motion picture crime. And that’s too bad - because this is actually a perfectly acceptable, quite accomplished action film. Sure, Harlin’s $1.50 budget shows through now and again, and the entire clockwork plot tends to implode around the 90 minute mark, but what remains is a perfect example of a rehabilitative resume builder. Still, the star vehicle stink for a less than noted athlete and the additional b-movie vibe will leave many thinking that, in terms of slumming, it’s the rest of the company that’s catering to Harlin’s dwindling reputation.

During an FBI sting of an Irish arms dealer named Miles Jackson, police officer Danny Fisher steps in and saves the day. Sadly, he also causes the accidental death of the criminal’s beloved gal pal. One year later, Jackson escapes from prison and kidnaps Fisher’s girlfriend. He intends to play a game, engaging the recently promoted detective to 12 rounds of cat and mouse comeuppance. Our hero must do everything the villain says or lose the chance of ever seeing his woman alive again. Luckily, Fisher has best friend Hank Carver and two nosy government agents, Aiken and Santiago along for the ride. All he has to do is complete Jackson’s tasks and he will avoid the vengeance the talented terrorist seeks. Of course, payback may not be the only thing Jackson is interested in. A big payday might be another.

With its wonderful post-Katrina NOLA setting and the standard stunt spectacle as only Harlin can deliver, 12 Rounds is actually quite good. It’s no masterpiece, but then again, few post-millennial adrenaline rushes have been. Instead, when viewed inside its maker’s inconsistent canon, it falls somewhere between Stallone’s rock climbing cheesiness and Bruce Willis’ airport bad-assery. Sure, there is a superficial quality to what it going on, a “don’t go over budget” border that Harlin never crosses, and the quality of talent both in front of and behind the lens leads to sequences that don’t really pay off like they should (the trolley chase, the helicopter finale). Yet with what he had to work with, and how he managed to maneuver and manipulate same, Harlin is clearly doing some definite work. It may not be enough to bolster him back into the big time, but it’s clearly a motion picture means of rebuilding his sodden celluloid character.

As for Cena, he doesn’t have to be good. He just has to show up, and he does so admirably. He lacks a certain magnetism that makes his obviously pumped up responses feel a little less than intimidating, and his devil may care attitude toward danger (one he clearly picked up in the ring) undermines the basic needs of an edge of your seat thriller. Still, he’s a lot better than many athletes turned ‘actors’ and along with The Marine, he shows real promise as a part-time steely man of action. As for his support, The Wire‘s Aiden Gillen is good, if not very menacing, as Jackson. He’s more of a ‘toy with his target’ kind of criminal than an outright horror. And Tyler Perry regulars Steve Harris and Brian J. White are amiable as African American lawmen with different agendas regarding the situation.

Granted, at 108 minutes (closer to 110 in the “extreme” Blu-ray cut), it’s overlong and under-stuffed. There’s not enough set-up with Cena and his babe before things go kinetic, and when we do see some attempt at flashback feeling, the movie steps in and dispenses with it pronto. There are times when we wish Harlin would pull out all the stops, when he would offer up the inventive, in your face sequences that characterized Die Hard 2 and The Long Kiss Goodnight. There’s also the lack of a truly memorable presence, someone like Samuel L. Jackson who can carry a set of sequences through on the strength of his star power personality only. Still, you can’t deny that this is an above-average effort from a man who, until now, has been chided as existing somewhere far below the favored Tinsel Town talent.

Perhaps this new Blu-ray release from Fox will help. The amazing image and sensational sound surely can’t hurt. This is one of the best looking and best sounding home video releases - especially when you consider the source. The movie is mastered in a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC transfer the captures the theatrical feel of this film flawlessly. There is an incredible amount of detail and a real scope to some of the sequences. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is also stellar, delivering the kind of sonic panache a picture like this requires. This is especially true of the numerous chase scenes. The speakers spark into overdrive as the vehicular mayhem travels around from channel to channel.

As for added content, Fox really delivers. Aside from the now mandatory digital copy of the film (on a separate disc), there are two excellent audio commentaries (one from Harlin, one from Kunka and Cena), a pair of alternate endings (minor, not mandatory), a trio of featurettes, including a Making-of and a look at the various stunt work involved, and a Cena gag reel. Toss in the two versions of the film (original and slightly longer edit), a pair of viral videos, and a look at the musical score (with composer Trevor Rabin), and you’ve got a solid, must own title - at least from a technical point of view.

And believe it or not, the movie’s not bad either. While it won’t win any awards (Oscar or Razzie) it certainly is a step up from the so-called thrillers making the direct-to-digital rounds nowadays. Maybe Harlin will finally get the reevaluation and respect he so richly deserves - all Jolly Roger ridiculousness aside. What’s clear is that, in a business which often rewards outright mediocrity as long as it doesn’t diddle with the bottom line, a movie like 12 Rounds will be a likely non-issue. It was not a big hit when it played in theaters and even those who usually champion anything the WWE does put this squarely in See No Evil territory. Actually, both commercial and critical evaluations are rather harsh. Just like its maker, 12 Rounds deserves reconsideration. Ignore the flaws and you’ll find a rather entertaining film - and filmmaker. 

by Bill Gibron

3 Jul 2009

As writers, we are taught to avoid clichés. Avoid them like the plague. Avoid them like red-headed step-children at a reunion. As a literary shortcut they supposedly show sloppiness and a lack of imagination. In movies, we criticize them as an easy out to what are typically tough interpersonal or narrative problems. In fact, any film or filmmaker that relies on said truisms to tell their tale is usually raked over the coals, read the riot act, and run out of town on a rail. But not Giuseppe Andrews. As a multitalented hyphenate who can seemingly master all media - written, visual, aural, philosophical - he’s perhaps the only auteur working in independent cinema that could take the tried, the tacky, and the sometimes true and work it into a wonderful dissertation on the usual family struggles and strife.

Tired of living under a bridge like a troll, middle-aged homeless man Ronzoni decides to reconnect with his roots. Buying a bowling ball as a Christmas gift, he heads out to visit his retired father and distant sister Agatha who live in a local trailer park. Unfortunately, they both think he’s a wholly worthless bum. When a large box lands on his chest, Ronzoni is stuck behind his dad’s double wide and no matter how hard they try, they just can’t seem to get the empty cardboard container off his body. Wanting to escape his incessantly whining, the pair head off to a hotel. There, Agatha meets Nicholas, an in-room escort who opens her eyes to the joy of music and the fun of making anti-porno. Eventually, the duo checks out and heads back to the park, only to discover that Ronzoni has been freed. While his fate is more than uncertain, father and daughter agree - their relative was a real piece of sh*t.

With its groovy gimmick and visual experimentation, Long Row to Hoe reminds the Andrews’ purist of just how amazingly gifted this gonzo filmmaker can be. From his simple storytelling approach to his constant narrative counterpunches, he can take the most menial material and make it into a masterpiece. With his always solid cast including the reliable Vietnam Ron, Ed, Marybeth Spychalski, and Walter Patterson, and the relatively new location of a local park to accent his typical trailer towns, Andrews offers us a theater of the absurd masked as the everyday grind of a biological back and forth. Ronzoni clearly has issues with both of his relatives. His father has nothing but foul words for his wayward son, while Agatha blames him for everything odd and unruly in her life - including a strange piece of frozen meat she finds in her freezer.

Both would rather see him gone for good rather than part of their life, and when he ends up wailing away in the backyard, they can’t wait to escape. When they return from their trip to the hotel however, their nonchalant reaction to his apparent disappearance marks their true, unfettered feelings. Andrews clearly understands how most kinfolk interact. Holidays are horror films where false fronts have to be prepared and put on just to get through the difficulties of the day, and with Ronzoni and his apparent lack of legitimacy, such an act is even more difficult. Ed’s aggravated responses to Ron’s sheepish apologies argue for how deep this hatred runs, and this is one of the reasons Long Row to Hoe is so potent. We rarely see families in such a full on mode of hatred. Sadly, there’s a lot of bile built up over the years when it comes to this tragic trio.

As a storyteller, Andrews loves the obvious symbol. Ronzoni is crushed by an empty box, something that should be simple to remove. No one can, however and it tends to confirm his reportedly useless nature. The sheer futility of such a set-up mirrors the attempts by Agatha and Dad to get the hopeless hobo out of their life. Similarly, when the pair rent a room for the night, the arrival of an in-room escort offers the eye-opening reaction to the outside world that our heroine has rarely had the opportunity to experience. The entire anti-porno sequence, filled with repeated visual jokes and silly sight gags, also offers its own unique perspectives. For a couple of young people, including one paid to act as the other’s consensual companion, to simply aim their camera and manufacture superficiality says a lot about the interpersonal skills and passion of all involved.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Giuseppe Andrews film without its freak show element, but this time, it’s the words that act as oddities. Hearing Dad talk to his chair-bound buddy in a series of senseless chestnuts, one well worn maxim after another tossed freely into the air, we begin to sense a clear cut creative purpose. Andrews is visibly striving to show how communication without truth is just that - an endless string of pointless words that lack a legitimacy and a meaning. This happens many times in Long Row to Hoe - characters will break out in cliché couplets, their thoughts now clouded by a phraseology that suggests something while literally saying nothing. It’s not all that novel for Andrews. He’s used curse words and scatology in a similar manner before. But with clichés, the message becomes even more consequential. All the admonishments about using such communicative shorthand are true. They honestly add nothing to the tête-à-tête.

If art is life reflected in a wholly original and unique manner, then Long Row to Hoe is a piecemeal Picasso. It’s a Vermeer minus the brilliant use of light, an avant-garde gemstone in a showcase filled with carefully cut glass. Andrews continues to author one of the most amazing cinematic oeuvres ever, a day-in-the-life briefing of the most meaningful bits of life’s fringe findings. From the homeless to the housed, the sensible to the strange, he has long since taken his place as the troubadour for the downtrodden and the champion for their challenged. As clichéd accolades go, he’s as good as it gets, and there truly are none better. But beyond such simple sentiments, Giuseppe Andrews continues to shock and amaze, not only with his growth as a filmmaker, but with his seemingly endless fount of creative fuel. On paper, Long Row to Hoe sounds superficial, perhaps even silly. In execution, it’s electric.

by Bill Gibron

2 Jul 2009

Legend has it that when Italian maestro Michelangelo Antonioni came to America to make his second English language film (after the monster success of Blow-up), he was shocked by the backlash his production received. There was never any doubting of his ideals - the filmmaker famous for such seminal cinematic statements as L’avventura, La note and L’eclisse was as left leaning as the turbulent times allowed - and his planned film was to take on all aspects of the debauched Western (read: US) culture. But with local law enforcement accusing Antonioni of everything from inciting riots to corrupting the morals of youth, the counterculture’s latest auteur was heading for a face off with the most conservative of stateside Establishments - and it really wasn’t a fair fight.

As a result, many consider Zabriskie Point to be a failure. They see it as a kind of compromise, a version of Antonioni’s philosophies foiled by a time when the ‘60s was dying and no one was around to eulogize the corpse. The Manson Family had killed, the War in Vietnam (and the battle at home) raged on, and politics preempted freedom and common sense for the sake of a slipping nation. Antonioni wanted his ethereal encapsulation of the entire Peace Generation to be a strong and unswerving statement, a view of a land corrupted by consumerism and corporate greed. What he got instead was a tantalizing tone poem, a masterpiece that makes its point in symbols so obvious and complaints so calculated that one just can’t imagine his message would be so simple.

When we first meet out hero, Mark, he is storming out of a student strike rally meeting. He is tired of all the talk and wants to act - and act NOW. Sadly, during the resulting confrontation with police, an officer is shot and killed - and Mark is targeted as the likeliest suspect. On the run from the law, he steals a small airplane and heads out into California’s Death Valley. There he runs into temporary secretary turned CEO mistress Daria. A fertile example of free love flower power, she’s off to help her middle-aged man secure a deal to exploit some local land.

The minute they meet, the coquettish Daria woos Mark with her earnest and easy sexuality. She connects with his need for rebellion and revolution. They make their way to Zabriskie Point, where they continue to discuss politics both social and personal. There, among the various mineral deposits and dusty dunes, they express themselves physically. Mark decides to take a risk and return to campus. He is sure his sense of innocence and justice will pay off. Daria simply goes off to meet with her boss, hoping for a happiness that, sadly, will probably never come.

It is often said that foreign filmmakers do a far better job of capturing the American zeitgeist, no matter the era, than their US counterparts. A perfect example of this proverb arrives in the form of Zabriskie Point. You will not see a better distillation of the entire 1960s and everything it stood for - good, bad, indifferent, insightful - than this uncompromising artistic overview. As a modernist, a moviemaker noted for his disconnected ideals and luxuriant long takes, Antonioni was still capable of contravening expectations. Zabriskie actually tells a rather linear story, settling on Mark and Daria’s escape from society as the basis for all that follows. Unlike some critics who’ve claimed the film is all outdated screeds and sand dune canoodling, Zabriskie Point actually builds, offering multiple layers of meaning. It may not always succeed, but when it does, it’s magical.

In essence, this is a story about sin, and the sacrifice of two human beings toward the betterment of mankind (make that Western mankind) in general. All throughout the opening of the film, Antonioni counters the high minded pronouncements of the student radicals with the ever-present pulse of materialism and advertising. We see billboards promoting the good life, and sale pitches poised to get would-be “suckers’ to buy their unnecessary desert dream homes. As Mark rides around LA, railing against the apathy he sees, the source of said indifference bombards us from all angles. Antonioni also tosses in the necessary mood music of the time, giving Pink Floyd, the Youngbloods, and The Rolling Stones (among others) a chance to air their always intriguing sonic dirty linens.

But it’s the finale that will stay with you long after Mark and Daria finish their fateful meeting. Using a high tech home in the side of the mountain as an icon for all that’s wrong with America’s economic inequality, Antonioni systematically blows up all the trappings of such a sour post-modern philosophy. We literally see piles of clothing, refrigerators loaded with foodstuff, library shelves larded with books, and various iconic bourgeoisie settings explode in a slow-motion dance of disintegration. For these moments alone, Zabriskie Point deserves to be revered. But there is more to this movie than criticism. Antonioni also wants to celebrate the purity that could have come from such a realized rethinking of the typical communal norms. When Mark and Daria eventually make love, their spirit of passion is so strong that it calls up the dusty ghosts of all young lovers of the era. It’s a sequence that Antonioni visualizes with all the musk and meaning he can create.

It’s not wonder then why this movie was challenged - before, during, and after its making. Our country comes off as cold, cruel, callous, calculated, controlling, contrived, and in the end, committed to the stagnant status quo. Antonioni may be anguishing over the lack of true extremism in the actions of student groups and unions, but his answer seems obvious from the moment Mark and his buddies hit the gun shot - arm yourself and take down the Man one bullet at a time. Even the ending uses the infamous bombings of the era as an inference on how to rid the structure of such harmful board room robber barons. In many significant ways, Antonioni is pissing on both the peaceniks and the powers that be. Neither deserves his ultimate approval and neither get it.

As a result, Zabriskie Point can feel incomplete and ambiguous. Instead of staying with its obvious leftist leanings, it chastised the audience for believing to readily in their own peace, love, and harmony pronouncements. Our leads may seem naïve, walking directly into traps that almost any ‘right’ thinking individual would see a million miles away, but that’s part of this movie’s before-its-time charms. By 2009 standards, such a declaration would seem silly. Back almost four decades ago, it was prophetic. Antonioni could see the end of the era in signs more sensational than acceptable, and many coming to his celluloid table weren’t happy with the creative dishes being served. Sadly, that’s their loss. Today, Zabriskie Point plays actually as it should - slyly, uncompromisingly, masterfully.

by Bill Gibron

1 Jul 2009

Sometimes a movie makes a decision so dumbfounding, or takes a narrative path so peculiar, that it can’t fully recuperate from such a lame left turn. It happens all the time in horror, from the false ending where the killer, presumed dead, is simply playing possum before unleashing more meaningless slice and dice on his moronic victims to the “it was all just a dream” dynamic that is frequently jerryrigged to included after-death and/or life experiences. And then there is The Unborn. With David Goyer behind the lens, anyone who expected a terror tour de force needed to have their preoccupied pre-teen head examined. For everyone else, the screenwriter responsible for (part of) the Batman franchise reboot has been trading on the new Caped Crusaders commercial cache for far too long. First there was the awful The Invisible, and now we get a stupid fright fest that tosses in exorcism, demonic children, and a halting Holocaust reference for added idiocy. 

Megan Fox’s non-blockbuster familiar, Odette Yustman, stars as Casey Beldon, a coed with the propensity toward seeing dead people. Every night she dreams of a satanic little boy with Meg Foster’s eyes. During the day, she’s tormented by equally unsettling visions. Her distant father chalks up said struggles to the suicide of her mother. Casey is convinced, however, that the creepy kid is trying to kill her. Things get even more muddled when our heroine learns that she is a twin, that her brother died in the womb, and that her grandmother was a victim of Dr. Mengele’s experiments on Jews in Auschwitz. After stealing a sacred book from the local library, she looks up a Rabbi who might be able to help. Turns out Casey is being stalked by a dybbuk, a malicious spirit that wants to steal her body, cross over, and live in the real world. It’s been after the family since World War II, and without some kind of religious ritual, it just might succeed this time.

The Unborn is like a scary movie sentence without the necessary linking verbs. It’s all genre gears and no motivational motor. There is not a single character we care about, not a single moment of genuine fear or dread. As he proved with The Invisible, Goyer sure knows how to dumb down the standard horror concepts - and we’re not talking about a rocket scientist cinematic category to begin with. It’s as if he purposely looks at the marketing demographic - bored teens with disposable cash and gullible dispositions who couldn’t care less about things like characterization, plot logic, or smart dialogue - and then specifically dials into that dopey wavelength. Then he manufactures a narrative with all payoffs, but with none of the mandatory set-up to get you invested in the terror. And just when you think things can’t get any weirder, along comes a sidetrack through the Final Solution to make the whole thing ethically questionable.

Indeed, it’s the moment when Jane Alexander’s wise old woman cliché croaks out the word “holocaust” when The Unborn goes from slightly tolerable to terrible. Up until that point, we’ve bought the various forced filmmaking shocks, the typical trip through ambient noises, secondary education hallucinations, and that obligatory shot of our heroine hoping that she’s simply slipped a gasket…or two. But then Hitler has to enter into the mix, an obvious ploy to place the dybbuk (a facet drawn from Hebrew folklore) within some sort of recognizable context. What Mr. Goyer doesn’t understand is that demons can be just that - unstoppable imps with an urge to cause major mischief among the living. Just ask Sam Drag Me to Hell Raimi. Not every monster needs a culturally valid backstory. Toss in Gary Oldman as the unlikeliest rabbi ever, and you’ve got a Torah full of tripe.

And it just gets worse. Even in the extended DVD cut which promises more unrated bang for your already underwhelmed buck, the last act of The Unborn plays like a community college crash course on William Peter Blatty. We get the sudden arrival of a helpful, athletic priest, the mumbo jumbo jollies of a call and response sacrament, various body convultions, and enough upside down headed dogs to give the ASPCA fits. Add in the sudden stop to all the supernatural shenanigans, an ineffectual and pointless ending that tries to trick us, and an epilogue which introduces an element into the story that any right thinking fright fan could see coming from a couple of dozen hectares away and you’ve got junk - a lumpy, lunatic landfill overflowing with the half-forgotten ideas of a dozen would-be macabre masters. It’s safe to say that adolescents obsessing on the subject in their parent’s basements could come up with more compelling thrills.

All of which gives Goyer’s continuing prominence in Hollywood a questionable black eye. Considering the less than successful facets of his Dark Knight-less career (Jumper, Blade: Trinity) and the possible projects he has on tap (X-Men Origins: Magneto among the many), it’s clear that Christopher Nolan will be carrying this show biz shoulder shrug for at least another Bat dance - and that’s really too bad. Someone should really inform the studio suits that the mammoth success of some single project does not instantly equate to artistic excellence for all of its many creative contributors. The Invisible may have been a watchable waste of time, but it at least it didn’t flummox every last aspect of your overall horror film fandom. Watching this kind of contrived dreck makes one contemplate their own sense of genre love.

It also raises the question of context. Had Goyer avoided anything to do with the most heinous crime in the history of mankind, if we hadn’t flashbacked to a barracks filled with kids and Nazi operating tableaus featuring wee ones in various states of experimentation, would The Unborn really have been any better? Did this midpoint maneuver, clearly meant as a way of justifying the rest of the faux fire and brimstone hokum, really drive the movie into the ground - or was Goyer’s presence already enough to sink this stupid concept from the start. Lost in all of this is the desire of movie fans to experience something original, terrifying, and (ultimately) fun. The Unborn may have started life as a decent idea. Somewhere between concept and birth, this baby turned bad…really bad.

by Bill Gibron

1 Jul 2009

Most independent filmmakers lack balls. Oh sure, they think that by tackling their lingering interpersonal issues, traumas tripped by memories of failed potty training and the lack of parental love, they are being brave and brazenly honest. Nothing could be further from the truth, actually. In a nu-reality world where people procreate artificially and then sell the rights to said stunt for aggrandized TLC fame, picking apart you past is like shooting familial fish in a barrel. We’d say “been there, done that” if both said sentiment, and the situation it describes, weren’t so clichéd. So when a couple of crazy cinephiles decide to make their own outsider statement, one automatically expects a journey back through Oedipal/Elektral memory lane, or worse, another sloppy scary movie. As luck would have it, 10,000 AD: Legend of the Black Pearl has substantially bigger and better celluloid carp to fry - and it does so in the dopiest, most delightful way possible.

Like Teenage Caveman only with even more leaps in logic, two tribes now roam a surprisingly fertile post-apocalyptic wasteland. They are the warrior race known as Hurons, and the agricultural clan called the Plaebians. After years of living in relatively harmony, the arrival of an evil presence known as the Sinasu has the clans clashing with one another. To make matters worse, there is a regressive religious prophecy that predicts the arrival of The One, a being that will create balance between the people and put wickedness out to pasture. In everyone’s mind, young Huron champion Kurupi is the chosen savior. Mentored by Tukten in the ways of combat, he must accept five different challenges, collect the five sacred stones that result, and then raise the mythic Black Pearl. Only the power inherent in this legendary orb can defeat the sinister Sinasu. But when his master goes missing, Kurupi appears lost. Luckily, hot-tempered teacher Ergo will complete the boy’s training. Only then can he save the Earth from itself - again.

There are only three words that can accurately describe 10,000 AD: Legend of the Black Pearl: Oh…my…god! It is safe to say that never before in the history of independent genre cinema has so much artistic vision and eye-popping onscreen imagery gone to such a ludicrous, laugh out loud bit of future shock falderal. Credit definitely goes to the directing team of Giovanni Messner and Raul Gasteazoro. Their sense of the epic is so skewed, so “why have a conversation in a clearing when we can have it on the edge of a cliff poised several thousand feet above a lush autumn glen”, that it literally rattles your brains. One moment, you are snickering at the stupid dialogue and goat cheesy choices for mythology and folklore. Part of the movie actually plays like Quest for Fire meshed with a Uwe Boll level of prehistory. But then our dynamic duo will set said silliness in a location so gorgeous, so beyond all manner of sensible scope or size that we acknowledge the flaws and still find ourselves transfixed.

With its homoerotic leanings, awkward action sequences, and nonstop pseudo-Tolkien-babble, this movie is a real mess. Messner and Gasteazoro clearly have an eye for vistas - the locations chosen need to sign these two up for promo travelogue duty pronto! From mountaintops that put Michael Mann’s Last of the Mohicans to shame to waterfalls that sing of nature’s undeniable beauty, 10,000 AD really does look absolutely stunning. Heck, even the costume design and personal appearance elements add to the overall effect. As Ergo, Gasteazoro lets his dread head freak flag fly. Real or not, his matted hair helmet gives the film a rather authentic feel. Similarly, Julian Perez’s Kurupi is not some ripped slice of stuntman. Instead, he looks like someone who has spent his life in hermetical service, waiting for the sign to stand up to the notorious Sinasu.

But the rest of the movie - whoa! If you think that Introduction to Theology class back in college was tough going, if you believed The Matrix would have been better with more bullet time and less proto-philosophical gobbledygook, then you better give this mumble jumble movie an incredibly wide berth. There is just too much D&D dipsticking here, enough World of Warcraft roleplaying retardation to give Magic: The Gathering geeks uber-ultra hissy fits. One moment, the narrative takes us to places paranormal. The next, Ergo and Kurupi are rolling around like extras in the Pet Shop Boy’s “Domino Dancing” video. Random villagers show up and make ominous predictions. In the meantime, monochrome flashbacks add their own “the A-bomb woke me up” confusion. As a piece of speculative fictionalizing, 10,000 AD: Legend of the Black Pearl is mortifying. But as a work of pure cinema, it’s an embarrassment - of riches.

This has to be the best looking bad movie ever made. The craptastic kitsch factor just can’t compete with the National Park level of gorgeous eye candy included. Every time you’re ready to tune out the tripe flowing freely from the characters’ mouths (including mindnumbingly insane moments in a nonsensical “native” tongue, with subtitles), the backdrop draws you back in. For their part, Messner and Gasteazoro treat the widescreen frame like a canvas, painting pictures you won’t soon forget. And they even go so far as to add unusual elements to the scenes, like filming underwater and utilizing the ruins of real buildings as part of their production value. Even the musical score by Jed Smith makes significant strides to sell us on the overall otherworldly ambience involved.

But that doesn’t stop 10,000 AD: Legend of the Black Pearl from stinking like a rank Huron’s loincloth. Given a chance, this movie messes up everything except the way it eventually looks. We don’t care about the quest, don’t really understand the folklore logistics involved, and constantly question the decision to set the film in the future. It there really a need for the opening stock footage Armageddon or do Messner and Gasteazoro really believe that such a flimsy foundation adds to their adventure? Whatever the case may be, you’ll definitely find better examples of this strangulated cinematic type, but here’s betting that none look as lovely as this. 10,000 AD: Legend of the Black Pearl may ultimate fail as science fiction or implausible peplum fantasy, but it has some oddly artistic touches. It’s as confusing as it is captivating.

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