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Friday, August 16, 2019

Robocop Kickboxer


Robocop Kickboxer (aka Rings Untouchable aka Robo-Kickboxer – Power of Justice)
1990
Wing-Chan Leung

The terror of Godfrey Ho is back again with another movie stitched together from 85% cheaply purchased crime drama (let’s call this Movie A) and 15%  original footage (Movie B). Like many of his films, this one barely holds together, has some of the most atrocious dubbing ever recorded, nakedly tries to appeal to whatever is popular at the time, and manages to be quite fun… if you throw away any expectations of quality and just revel in the absurdity and chaos of it all.

Movie A ) This appears to be a chopped up version of the film, Puga (1980), a Filipino prison escape film about a man who wrongfully goes to prison for murdering someone who raped his sister. It really offers nothing outside of some comical moments involving the characters from Movie B watching the action and a surprisingly grim and abrupt conclusion. Godfrey Ho films don’t end, they just stop.

Movie B) If you are expecting some Robocop Kickboxing, you are going to probably be disappointed. There is plenty of kickboxing, but no Robocops to be found. There is a robot in a silver motorcycle helmet and shiny suit, but as far as I can tell he’s not a cop. What he is though is a drug-induced hallucination, that our hero(?) Jake sees when he takes a performance-enhancing drug. I’m not sure what the inherent advantages of seeing a goofy robot in the place of your human opponent when kickboxing are but it seems to work for Jake.

This is the worst ad for Tang.
Jake doesn’t like seeing phantom robots and says he won’t take the drug anymore. He immediately gets fired as a kickboxer and takes up a life of crime delivering cocaine. His first cocaine delivery goes tits-up immediately and Jake ends up in prison with his kind of nemesis/kind of pal Axel. Jake and Axel watch the events of Movie A from a distance, then they escape the prison and never deal with that part of the movie again.

If you are familiar with anything else that has come out of Godfrey Ho’s production company, IFD:  Robo Vampire (1988), Challenge of the Ninja (1986), and Thunder of Gigantic Serpent (1988) for example, then very little of Robocop Kickboxer should surprise you, but there is some actual fun here. Aside from the silliness of the robot kickboxing scenes, there is some truly sparkling dialogue, most of it coming from the foul-mouthed fight promoter, Sonny.

"Behold my combo motorcycle safety/sauna suit!"
It wouldn’t be a Godfrey Ho film without plenty of unauthorized and questionable music choices, the most noticeable being a loop of the opening bars of Sof Cell’s ‘Tainted Love.’ There is some choice 1980s synth music peppered in here and there during the film that briefly gives things a lovely 1980s action movie feel.

If you already like the films of IFD and Godfrey Ho you’ll feel right at home with Robocop Kickboxer. For the uninitiated, you could try your luck with this one. There are certainly worse choices to start your adventure (psst…. Vampire Raiders (1988)). If you do watch just don’t blame me if you feel like you went ten rounds with a shiny silver…eh, I guess, robot.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Gog


Gog
1954
Herbert L. Strock

A series of deadly malfunctions at a top-secret research facility attracts the attention of the Office of Scientific Investigation (OSI). The investigators soon uncover the fact that the malfunctions are being directed from the facility’s computer NOVAC. Now they need to stop it before NOVAC kills them all.

Unlike many other science-fiction films from the 1950s, Gog strives to stay realistic in its depiction of then-current science while gently pushing towards speculative fiction. As such, it manages to predict both trends in robotics, computers, electronic warfare, and hacking. Much of the film is spent showing off some gee-whiz ideas such as magnetic suits to simulate weightlessness and a reflective mirror that can focus light into a beam of laser-like intensity. There is some fun camera trickery to go along with the ideas presented, this is owed to the fact that Gog was originally released in 3D. Even the use of 3D has a certain groundedness to it, resulting in images that are dynamic but never resort to comically jabbing things at the camera to show off that third dimension.

"Watch out, Doc, this ride has a huge splash radius."
The space-age wonder of this new technology is undercut when people start dying from mysterious device malfunctions. The middle portion of the story almost becomes a horror film as we witness the building tension from the numerous potential deathtraps that fill the facility and the gruesome deaths of many of its personnel. That horror gives way to a techno-thriller vibe as the saboteur is identified and steps are taken to stop it... if the protagonists don’t get murdered by the robots, Gog and Magog.

Gog and Magog are promoted as the big draw here. Like much of the technology presented, Gog and Magog are presented as what 'real' robots might be like. Robots in film are often humanoid, usually, this has to do with the costs to realize something non-humanoid, but more often it is because robots in film are stand-ins for people. They have personalities, quirks, and are basically just artificial humans. Gog and Magog are threatening but it is because of their inhuman nature, they are blank engines of death driven by some unseen force. They have large tank-like shapes bristling with clamps, claws, and even a flame thrower. The best our heroes can do is hold them off until they solve the reason for the murderous turn.


Danger! Summon, Safety Rod!
In what seems to be a continuing issue with a science-fiction film like this, the human characters are not very memorable. They blend together as a mass of bland white square-jawed men, fainting women, and middle-aged scientists. It feels like the people are even more interchangeable than the machines. This may be a way to create 'everyman’ scientist heroes, something that can work in written science-fiction but rarely so in film.

Gog is a colorful and exciting example of a more realistic look at science-fiction from the 1950s. It has robots, space travel, and rockets, but it builds upon them all to create an interesting mystery. I am surprised that this film isn’t more noted and well regarded than it is. If you have an even passing interest in 1950s science-fiction films this is one that is definitely worth checking out.

Friday, August 2, 2019

GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords


GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords
1986
Ray Patterson

A crystalline being named Solitare (Margot Kidder) and her sidekick, a golden nugget/robot named Nuggit (Roddy McDowell), request help from the good guy GoBots called the Guardians. On Solitare’s homeworld a villain named Magmar (Telly Savalas) is killing off the owners of  ‘power scepters’ and once he has them all he can forge "The Ultimate Weapon". Magmar isn’t in the alone as the Guardians’ enemies, the evil Renegades, led by Cy-Kill (Bernard Erhard) look to form an alliance with Magmar.

If they are remembered at all, the GoBots will be remembered as a distant shadow of the cultural juggernaut that is the Transformers franchise.  True confession time: as a child, I had gotten into GoBots well before I knew much about Transformers. I had quite a few and even wrote Tonka tell them how much I liked them. They sent me a photocopied catalog of all the available bots and a free Cy-Kill. That GoBots love couldn’t last under the marketing slam of numerous Transformers TV ads, a cartoon series which was a 30-minute ad in and of itself, and a movie that would scar a generation. GoBots had their own cartoon and film, neither of which made much of an impression on anyone if you could even find somewhere to watch them.

"Look out, space turds!!"
GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords managed to come out five months before Transformers: The Movie (1986), but it was rushed in and out of production while Transformers took years to create. This shows in the animation which is barely a step above Saturday morning cartoon grade. There’s nothing dynamic here, there are no visuals that warrant being in a feature film and the story in no way benefits from being told in a longer form.

The movie only exists to sell toys, beings that transform into rocks. I’m not sure who thought that would be interesting or even useful. The movie itself even struggles to make the ability to turn into a rock practical. There is an evident lack of care in the production, the story and visuals exist as a seventy-one-minute time filler that hopes to boost sales. Transformers: The Movie had more or less the same aims, but at least took the care to produce some decent animation and managed to blunder into a memorable first half.

Roddy McDowell's face while watching the movie.
The story here is a simple battle over a MacGuffin. None of that really matters. The only fun to be had is in the uneasy alliance between the villains, Cy-Kill and Magmar, but even that is short-lived.  There is a moment in the story where the characters discuss that the inhabitants of the Rock Lords’ planet used to be human until some disaster changed them into rock beings. This one interesting tidbit is brought up and then dropped in favor of more endless laser gun battles.

This is a really dire film. Even when viewed through the lens of nostalgia and the love for the toys I had has a child, its faults are inescapable. Maybe it is for the best that the GoBots animation is all but forgotten if this was the best that it could manage. GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords should stay buried.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Robowar


Robowar (aka Robot da Guerra)
1988
Bruno Mattei

Director Bruno Mattei, and writers Claudio Fragasso and Rosella Drudi, never met a big-budget genre movie they didn’t like to swipe from, and Robowar takes its entire structure and whole scenes (and heck, even the title font) directly from Predator (1987). Robowar is a dumber, cheaper, and far more ridiculous funhouse mirror version of Predator, but it is also an interesting view on how someone from outside the United States interprets a popular cultural. This unusual approach along with the cartoonish machismo of the characters, the wildly (and delightfully) clichéd 1980s hard rock music, and the clumsy attempt at a serious message and emotional payoff creates a film that is very strange but also very entertaining.

The Robowar character select screen.
For all of its faults, Robowar manages to pull together a fun cast of mercenaries. Leading the group is Reb Brown as Major. Murphy Black. Reb’s acting has always been flat, but I never get the impression he’s giving less than 100% when he’s on-screen. He’s square-jawed, musclebound, and blonde in a way that just screams 1980s typical American movie hero. Speaking of screaming, Reb gets in plenty of his signature weird yell-screams throughout the movie.  The rest of the BAMs (Big Ass Motherfuckers… no really that’s their team name) include Quang (Max Laurel) the Filipino tracker who mutters things such as “I shall be as his shadow,” Papa Doc (John P. Dulaney) who is out of shape and smokes a pipe but seems to keep up with the rest of the squad just fine, and the fantastically sweaty Mascher (Mel Davidson) who is sent along on the mission to keep an eye on Omega-1 (Claudio Fragasso).

Their opponent, in this case, is not a trophy hunting alien but a rogue cyborg called Omega-1 that is wandering around some jungle island blowing up villagers for no reason. Omega-1 one looks like he’s wearing a motorcycle helmet and some black football pads. His most irritating feature is a constant babbling computer voice coupled with “robot visions” that are so pixelated as to be visually incoherent. In Predator the sound of its strange clicking and the images of its heat vision are not only used to elect moments of tension, but they become a plot element in the third act. In Robowar these sounds and images do nothing but annoy the viewer.

"Beepboopbloopbeepboptargetmissingbleepblorp"
The music of Robowar is a mix of synthesizer and hard rock anthems that are deployed loudly during the least dramatic moments in the film; the endless scenes of walking through the jungle. The closing credits theme is pretty catchy, and possibly the highlight of the whole film.

If you like the excess of 1980s Italian genre film and the brazen stealing from other successful films then Robowar is almost perfect. It is an enjoyable action movie that has plenty of moments both intentional and unintentional to keep you engaged and dare I say it even delighted at times.

Friday, July 19, 2019

The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy



The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy (aka La Momia Azteca contra el Robot Humano)
1958
Rafael Portillo

Super-criminal The Bat aka Dr. Krupp (Luis Aceves Castañeda) wants nothing more than the breastplate and bracelet of the ancient Aztec warrior (and now mummy) Popoca. He hasn’t had much luck in his previous attempts, so this time he settles on building his own remote-controlled robot out of lead shielding… and a dead body.

The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy is actually the final entry in a trilogy of Aztec mummy films, the other two being The Aztec Mummy (aka La Momia Azteca) (1957), and The Curse of the Aztec Mummy (aka La Maldición de la Momia Azteca) (1957). There is no need to watch the previous two films (although you should because they are fun slices of golden age Mexican movie horror) because out of Robot’s sixty-five minute run, a good thirty-five minutes consists entirely of flashback scenes from the previous two films. It’s all linked together by some narration, but there’s nothing terribly completed going on: there’s a mummy, there’s the bad guy who wants the mummy’s breastplate and bracelet, repeat three times.

Someone has been watching the first half of the movie I see...
What each movie does offer is a slight twist each time on the scenario, the first two movies present the story as a classic Universal style horror movie and a luchador action film respectively. The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy serves up some science-fiction with the inclusion of a radium powered human corpse in a robot suit. The robot suit is suitably goofy looking with its square body and long arms ending in clamps, but there is something slightly unnerving about seeing it topped with a human head inside the silver domed helmet.

It is some kind of unspoken rule that when a genre movie promises a spectacular showdown that it only happens in the closing moments of the film, and also that is short and that it is underwhelming. (see Sadako vs. Kayako (2016), Friday the 13th part VII: The New Blood (1988), and two dozen Asylum movies featuring one monster fighting with another.)  The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy honors this tradition with a battle scene consisting of both combatants shoving each other around for two minutes.

"Every time I'm in the middle of my eternal slumber I gotta get up and take a leak."
Even if the individual parts of the movie don’t work, there is a kind of joyous trainwreck in splicing three narratives together along with an equal number of genre conventions. For all their budget constraints, Mexican horror films from this period just ooze with a creepy atmosphere that is filled with dark crypts and misty graveyards. The sound of the mummy shuffling through the dark is an effective horror moment, as is the mummy tossing The Bat into a pit of snakes. One of the Bat’s henchman railing over how the mummy ruined his face is an unexpected emotional beat. There numerous little quirks like this that keep it engaging.

The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy is a big cheap mess, but there is campy fun happening and just a little bit of legitimate horror to be found. If you are looking for something quirky to fill an hour of your life it is worth digging up.

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Twonky


The Twonky
1953
Arch Obler

Kerry West (Hans Conried) is a college professor home alone while his wife, Carolyn (Janet Warren) is off visiting her sister. His new television has been delivered, but it’s not actually a television at all. It is a robot from the future (or at least that is what a drunken football coach, Trout (William H. Lynn), would have us believe.

On the surface, The Twonky is extremely frivolous and silly in a 1950s cornball style that will probably grate the nerves unless you have a taste for it. The jokes tend to be slapstick or ‘amusing’ drunken behavior. There is the slightest hint of risqué humor but this 1953 we are talking about so it is going to remain an undertone at best. The writing and look of the film feel less like a motion picture and more the like the pilot of a television show that was never picked up for a series. The Twonky was  barely screened and probably never going to be a hit or gain much of an audience in its initial run, which is a shame, because it has become eerily prescient.

"Send...more...cops..."
Beneath the jokes and generally lighthearted tone of The Twonky, there is a darker undercurrent. The Twonky is a device that serves as both a distraction and a monitor for poor beleaguered Kerry. It is happy to light as many cigarettes as he’d like, but it refuses to allow him to research philosophy, instead of forcing a smutty ‘Passion through the Ages’ book on him. When Kerry wants to listen to some jazz, Twonky smashes his records and makes him listen to blaring marching band music. The Twonky, much like the devices of the 21st century is designed to watch just as much as they are designed to be watched. The Twonky modifies its target’s behavior more directly that social media might today, but not by much.

The Twonky itself serves as a visual representation of this surface comedy and subliminal darkness. It looks like a quaint boxy television set on four curved legs. That’s all well and good until you see it galloping about. There is something deeply unnerving about the way it walks. It is a blank-faced presence throughout the film and often is shown just waiting and watching while comedy antics happen around it. Coach Trout shares his idea that Twonky is, in fact, a machine from the future that has fallen through time and has disguised itself as a television, he even plays up the horror of this notion by noting that he doesn’t know what it could possibly look like like but that it might have synthetic muscles and artificial blood. Not exactly a statement you’d hear in a screwball comedy.

"I'll tell you what, Twonky got an ass that just won't quit."

The human characters of The Twonky range from irritating to slightly less irritating. Couch Trout is the stereotypical comedy drunk. Kerry West is bad with money, bad with people, and altogether not the nicest person. Our hero even makes an attempt to trick the Twonky into killing a bill collector who will not leave his house. The audience is left wondering if he succeeded only to be let off the hook by a single line of dialog later.

The Twonky is a weird comedy that hides some comments about the state of our entertainment and devices that is even more relevant today than it was when it fell through time.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Tobor the Great


Tobor the Great
1954
Lee Sholem

Dr.s Nordstrom (Taylor Holmes) and Dr. Ralph Harrison (Charles Drake) team up with solving the problem of putting human danger in space travel. The solution is a giant silver robot that goes by the name Tobor. Not only can Tobor receive telepathic direction, but it can also learn on its own. Gadget (Billy Chapin) or “Gadge” to his friends makes an emotional connection to Tobor. This comes in handy as secret agents from another country plot to steal the secrets of Tobor.

Tobor virtually checks off every list of 1950s SF elements, it has a robot (of course), absent-minded scientists, dirty rotten Commies, and precocious kid, and promise of atomic power taking us to the stars. There is a lighted-hearted adventure story that gets just a little dark as it nears the climax but in a way that gives the whole thing a little more gravitas than it would have otherwise. Tobor wears it’s a gee-whiz attitude on its sleeve and is all the better for it.

"Grandpa certainly has a lot of leatherbound copies of Butt Frenzy.
 If your movie is called Tobor the Great, your robot better be pretty great. Thankfully Tobor is a fun looking and is an impressive work of costuming and design. The clunky metal giant is surprisingly mobile and it is a delight to see Tobor stomp into action and toss around enemy agents. Tobor itself isn’t exactly brimming with personality but makes an interesting parallel to Robby the Robot who would come a few years later in Forbidden Planet (1956) and star in film that is very similar to Tobor the Great in The Invisible Boy (1957). Both have young kids palling around with potentially lethal machines. While Robby is largely friendly looking ends up being a real threat, Tobor looks threatening but ends up being a big ‘ol softy.

“Gadge” is the overly-smart kid that ends up befriending Tobor. Often young smarty-pants little kids are incredibly irritating. I understand that this is largely a children’s movie, so ideally kids would want to see someone they identify with, but I’m going to let the adults in on a little secret. Kids don’t really identify with other kids so much as they identify with a giant silver robot who smashes through walls. Gadge doesn’t grate as much as most but we’re here for Tobor.

"Must... crush small child... I mean save..."
The villains of Tobor are a group of spies and enemy agents that we are never expressly told are communists, but there’s no need to do so for a film from this era. The bad guys are just as mean and sneaky as you would hope, even going to so far as to smack Gadge around a little bit. It is interesting to see that this group is humanized just slightly as they express some resignation at the dirty work they have to do. Even giving this much humanity to some cartoonish villains as the Red Scare was still in full swing is surprising.

Tobor is light and fun little SF romp that never really pushes the envelope in terms of storytelling or visuals, but it is a competent kid’s adventure film with a memorable central robot character. It clocks in at a breezy 77 minutes and is perfect Saturday afternoon matinee viewing.