Friday, July 27, 2012


Over the weekend I was delighted to be able to view the 2001 action thriller ‘Extreme Force’.

Yep, that’s how low I’ve sunk. Awful made-for-TV movies bring on a sense of delight rather than one of doom. I am a sick puppy.

Like all good terrible movies, ‘Extreme Force’ was created by a small, select team of idiots. Star Hector Echavarria was not only the lead actor but also a producer and second unit director. Michel Qissi was not only his onscreen foil but also his director, producer and scriptwriter. And Michel’s brother Youssef played the villain, meaning that the entire cast and crew could probably commute to and from set each morning in a couple of Volkswagen Polos.

We first meet our hero, Marcos de Santos, as he’s bravely committing armed robbery. He’s like Robin Hood, another character declares; he robs from the rich and gives to the poor. He admits, however, that his life of crime has amassed him more money than he could ever spend, so presumably he robs from the rich and gives to the poor minus his overheads, retainers, contingencies, production costs and so on. Like all really successful criminals, he’s better at PR and marketing than he is at actual theft.

Marcos is all set to retire on the proceeds of his work that somehow didn’t make it to the poor, but his partner, Cole, wants to try one last big score. And so they raid a lavish reception in Miami for the President of Mongolia, stealing a big wad of cash and jewellery and also a diamond signet ring that is a symbol of office and Mongolia’s greatest treasure. Presumably it’s Mongolia’s greatest treasure due to the fact that no one else in the history of lapidary has ever managed to make a signet ring out of a diamond, but that’s just conjecture on my part.

Then at the last minute Cole betrays Marcos, shooting him and leaving him for dead before escaping with the loot. However the Mongolians manage to save Marcos and decide to nurse him back to health, because they know he is their best chance for getting their ring back.

Marcos is now working with the Mongolians, and it is at this point that the central mystery of ‘Extreme Force’ fully blossoms.

These people aren’t Mongolian. They aren’t even slightly Mongolian. In fact here is a list of people who are more Mongolian than these supposed Mongolians:

1. Rihanna
2. Ke$ha
3. Maria von Trapp
4. His Holiness The Pope (it doesn’t matter which one)
5. The Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan (it doesn’t matter which one either)
6. Betty White
7. Admiral Ackbar
8. Angela Merkel
9. Stephen Fry
10. Santa

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea. I’ve eaten Vegemite sandwiches that were more Mongolian than these people.

So one has to ask: is it really that hard to find some actors who look vaguely Mongolian? Or if it is, is it really that hard to simply make up some quasi Eastern European country like Fauxvenia or Transylatviastan and have the characters come from there?

Part of me wonders if this whole Mongolian thing was just some sort of overarching meta-joke. But then I figure that these are guys who work out 23 hours a day, drink protein shakes and undergo laser hair regrowth treatments. They don’t do overarching meta-jokes. They do big punching and kicking scenes that are beautifully choreographed but narratively nonsensical. They probably chose Mongolia by spinning a globe around and jabbing it with their finger. We should count ourselves lucky that they didn’t claim the dignitaries were from the far off land of Tropic of Capricorn or Copyright 1974.

But back to the plot. To track Cole down, Marcos teams up with Kong Li, the only Mongolian who looks vaguely Mongoloid… in all senses of the word.

Sweet merciful crap! Although his entry doesn’t mention any horrific car accidents, there’s obviously something wrong here. He looks as if he’s had half his face torn off then filled with spackle and covered up with foundation, applied by a drag queen with OCD.

Somehow hiding his revulsion at being teamed up with what appears to be a golem, Marcos sets off with Kong Li to find Cole and the loot. This leads to a fight with heavies in a nightclub, then a fight with inbred yokels in the Florida swamps, then… well, more fights. Hector Echavarria’s fighting style unfortunately involves punching someone then posing in a threatening position while bellowing “GAAAAAHHHH!” for a second or two. This gets a little old after the twentieth or thirtieth smackdown.

Eventually Cole is tracked down, the final conflict is held, and Marcos emerges victorious. The Mongolians get their ring back and are at last able to confidently return to Delaware, or Nebraska, or wherever it is scriptwriters Jonathan Davenport and Michel Qissi assumed Mongolia was.

The audience, meanwhile, is just left to drink heavily, ponder why this movie didn’t have more yurts, and yell "DAMN YOU MONGOLIANS!" at the now empty screen.

Monday, July 16, 2012


There are many bad movies, but not all bad movies are created equal. Just as a handful of lesbians in Roger Corman's "women in prison" movies fight their way to the top of the heap to become Top Bitch, so too do some bad movies become legendary in their awfulness. They are so particular in their badness that they achieve cult status. Consider 'The Room'. 'Plan Nine From Outer Space'. 'Ishtar'. 'Manos The Hands Of Fate'.

Now stop considering them; it can't be good for you.

As part of my lifelong Festival of Bad Cinema, I regard it as my duty to see these seminal atrocities by which all bad movies are judged. For this reason, I was perversely jubilant last weekend to finally see the famously dreadful 1995 sexploitation classic 'Showgirls'.

Although it's called Showgirls, the movie is really only about one singular showgirl. It's the story of Nomi Malone and her rise from wide-eyed, brain-dead drifter to wide-eyed, brain-dead star, stripping and shagging her way to the top of the Las Vegas entertainment industry, only to discover that it's sleazy and soul-destroying.

Now there's a surprise. Note to Nomi: anything that you have to strip and shag your way to the top of probably isn't a morally uplifting organisation.

'Showgirls' is basically a character piece, which, given the character, sort of explains why it's so terrible. Much like the monster from 'Forbidden Planet' - only with worse dialogue - Nomi Malone is a creature of pure id. When anything goes her way, she's as ecstatic as a kid at Christmas. When something doesn't go her way, no matter how inconsequential, she performs a move I like to call the Slap and Flounce:

1. Something doesn't go Nomi's way, usually due to her own stupidity and lack of impulse control.

2. Nomi tenses up.

3. Nomi slaps something, whether it be an ice bucket, a sheaf of papers or a glass of champagne, out of the hands of the person who has failed to live up to her sense of entitlement.

4. Nomi flounces off, either in a supercilious huff or a chaotic weeping run.

This literally happens five or six times in the film. You'd think that being knocked down by life would give her more tenacity and toughness, but apparently not. She behaves like a princess who has never been forced to do anything other than obey her own whims. Given that she's supposed to be an ex-coke-snorting hooker, this sense of privilege is a little disconcerting.

Like all creatures of pure id, the whole idea of consequences never seems to cross her empty mind. Take the example of licking a stripper pole:

Sure, we've all thought about it. But then we've contemplated all of the crotches of women named Brandii and D'Lishass that have been smeared up and down the pole, and we've thought better of it. We've realised that the only thing we should touch it with is a sterile swab, so that we can take it back to the lab, discover three new varieties of herpes and win the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

But not Nomi. She licks that sucker like it was coated with Midori. Which, given its location, it may well have been.

The funny thing is that if Nomi had been played by a competent actress, one who could actually communicate the sense of being a lost and damaged girl barely surviving in a harsh world, the movie would have merely been another mediocre, exploitative drama. But the fact that Elizabeth Berkeley cannot act takes 'Showgirls' into a transcendent world of awfulness.

Ooh, she's such an amazing dancer, the other characters coo. Oh, she's so sexy, they gush. Aw, she's the greatest friend a token black girl could ever want. All while she's just standing there, blonde and vacant, looking like a headlight-dazzled bunny about to be splattered by a semi. If the audience processes any impression at all, it's only that a world full of idiots has raised up a new queen.

Beyond the lack of acting ability, there's also the small issue of sex appeal. Elizabeth Berkley doesn't have any. By contrast, Ursula Andress was drenched in it. She knew how to be sexy without even taking her clothes off. Of course she still took her clothes off in every single film she made (she could have done 'Little Women' and still worked in a nude scene), but she didn't need to in order to be sexy. As proof, I am forced... forced... to show this image yet again:

Case closed. But Elizabeth Berkley takes her clothes off repeatedly and sexiness still eludes her. Take, for example, the most ridiculous of her many ridiculous sex scenes. No review of 'Showgirls' is complete without mention of Elizabeth's aquatic romp with Kyle MacLachlan, which truly deserves its reputation as the unsexiest sex scene ever committed to film. If I were running an abstinence-based sex education program in some American backwater, I can think of no better way to keep teens chaste than to show them this clip. "Yep, kids, that's what sex is like: having an epileptic fit and being bodyslammed by an invisible man while a dolphin pukes on you."

Sadly the internet does not appear to have the clip stored anywhere, but, given that it's not safe for work, home, church, indoors, outdoors, deep space or anywhere else, this isn't terribly surprising.

All in all, however, I have to say that I'm happy I finally got to see 'Showgirls'. As Quentin Tarantino said, it's "a full-on, gigantic, big-budget exploitation movie"!

But notice he didn't actually say "good".

Sunday, July 15, 2012


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Friday, July 06, 2012


Last weekend I had to drive down to Bunbury for a conference. Because I had to be up early to deal with the registration, I had an encounter with my old nemesis… the sunrise.

Stupid sunrise! Quit following me around!

Fortunately the conference ended relatively early, so I also had an encounter with the sunset, a pleasant, relaxed, undemanding companion, literally the polar opposite of its evil morning twin.

After a day of being cooped up in a lecture theatre I decided to take a long walk along the seashore, then returned to my hotel along the front of the marina. Bunbury is filled with prosperity at the moment, resulting in a rash of very big, very expensive houses and high rise apartment developments.

However unlike its little cousins such as Margaret River and Dunsborough, Bunbury hasn’t attracted classy money. So these enormous new houses are the Grande Dames of Butt Ugly: ill-proportioned, garishly painted and hideously decorated, and often appearing to be the result of an architect mashing together several middle-class architectural fashions. Which he probably did, when his clients said, “I want a minimal, glass walled modernist look… but with lots of Tuscan features and a Federation veranda.”

It was getting dark by this point, but some of the houses seared themselves into my memory such that I had no problem finding them again on Google Maps…

Why is the left balcony completely different to the right balcony? Because f*ck you, that’s why.

I like to think that the architect designed a classical and symmetrical, if not particularly couth house, and then the client said, “That’s great, but can you hitch up the left side? I want an underground garage. And it’ll have to be wider… no, I don’t think it matters that it unbalances the proportions. Ooh, and I want it slathered in Milo-coloured render! The wife likes Milo.”

It was all going reasonably well until someone discovered the mis-tinted paint bin at Bunnings.

Seriously? I have no idea what’s going on here.