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A film like Cypher is almost impossible to describe in a few short paragraphs – in fact discussing the style, plot twists and machinations, and underlying themes could fill a small book. The film is a slightly futuristic high-tech thriller, that while being totally spy – in some ways, in the Best Bondian tradition – is a complete ‘mind f*ck’. Furthermore, I challenge anybody going in cold, to predict where the story is heading.
Morgan Sullivan (Jeremy Northam) is a normal guy trapped in a dull passionless marriage. He dreams of a better, more adventurous life, and applies to a company named Digicorp to become a corporate spy. After a thorough assessment regime, he is accepted, and assumes the identity of a man named Jack Thursby. Thursby is everything that Sullivan is not, but wishes to be. He drinks single malt whiskey, smokes exclusive cigarettes, and tell tales of exotic world travel. And naturally, he is also a ladies man; the object of his desire is a mysterious lady named Rita Foster (Lucy Liu).
However Sullivan’s top secret missions don’t appear to be too exciting. He is shunted across the United States to attend various mind numbing sales seminars where he is required to record the sales pitch and relay the signal back to headquarters. Seminar after seminar, Sullivan continues to make recordings and send them back, but slowly he is losing his sense of identity. The Morgan Sullivan persona seems to diminish, and the Jack Thursby persona begins to take over.
For those who like comparisons, the film is a cross between Total Recall (with bad, bad Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Goldeneye, and it is a film that presages Christopher Nolan’s Inception. If you haven’t seen this one, it’s well worth your time.
Only a certain type of person would pick up a novel called Nick Carter: Death Orbit, and I happen to be one of those people. And if you’re like me, you would expect certain things from that novel – chiefly, no matter how contrived, Nick Carter, Agent N3, Killmaster for AXE, gets to go into space and fight dirty Commie saboteurs. This he does. This novel ticks all the boxes it should – and tells its tale in a fast-paced, energetic fashion. It moves so fast, that the contrivances wash over the reader, to the point that you could actually believe Carter could become an astronaut in a week. It’s only when you put the novel down, that you realise that it is a crock.
The story starts with a routine shuttle mission, which is trying to launch a communications satellite. Two of the crew, Major Tom Young and Major John Richardson suit up to leave the shuttle, to assist with the deployment.
During the deployment, Richardson is shot, and the mission is aborted. Upon return, Tom Young is the prime suspect – simply because, as he was the only person outside of the shuttle with Richardson, he is the only man who could have done it. He is the only possible suspect. The problem is, Young has an impeccable record. The powers that be, don’t believe he could have done it. It didn’t make sense. So AXE is called in to solve the mystery, and Nick Carter is chosen as the man for the job.
He is sent to the NASA Space Center on Merritt Island to investigate, and is immediately introduced to the Security Chief, E.J. Norcross and his assistant, the beautiful Lin Doi Chan. Norcross explains that oxygen supplies on the shuttle are monitored, so nobody else but Young could have murdered Richardson – but still he has his doubts.
As often happens in Carter novels, he is invited by Lin, to her beach side home that evening for dinner – and other horizontal refreshment. Nick is such a man! Later, during the night, Carter awakens to find Lin no longer at his side. Fearing something is wrong, he gets up and steps out onto the porch as the building explodes. He is thrown clear.
It is revealed that Lin is actually a Commie agent, working in concert with anothr Commie, Anatoli Marakazov. Before Carter can round them up, they flee to the Soviet Union. Suspecting that they may hold the secrets to what happened in orbit, Carter follows them to Moscow.
As I alluded to at the start, the story turns full circle, when Carter returns to the United States, to participate in the next shuttle mission, which will replicate the last – with the same crew, with Carter taking over from Richardson.
Nick Carter novels are mindless entertainment, and do not apologize for it. Nor should they. A quick glance at the cover should tell you what type of tale you’re in for. This cover has three elements – a ‘Space Shuttle’, ‘Nick Carter shooting’ and a ‘woman with large breasts’. All three of those elements are in the story. There’s your truth in advertising. Death Orbit delivered everything it promised – no more or less.
What is identity? Is it your face and how you look? Is it your mind and your memories? Is it the things that you have done or the people that you know? These key questions about identity are at the core of the movie Who?
I guess in this day and age, with technology being what it is, and identity theft and fraud being so prevalent, that identity is more important than ever before. But strangely even with all the great technological advances throughout the world, identity is just as hard to define today as it was in 1974, when this film was made (or in 1958 when Algis Budrys’ book was first published).
The film, Who?, starts in the Soviet Union, and with a car being run off the road and bursting into flames. Inside the car is an American scientist, Lucas Martino (Joseph Bova). Martino is seriously injured and rushed to the nearest hospital. About all that can be saved is his brain, his eyes and his right arm. The Soviet’s believe they would be on the negative end of a major diplomatic incident if Martino were to die, so they chose to rebuild him, ingeniously building a cyborg, humanoid body.
The film skips ahead six months, and the Soviets are returning Martino to the Americans. At the checkpoint to meet him is FBI agent Sean Rogers (Elliot Gould). As Martino crosses back to the west, Rogers does not know what to make of Martino. He certainly isn’t the man that was expected. When it is revealed that Martino had been in the care of one of the Soviet Union’s most devious spy masters, Colonel Azarin (Trevor Howard), Rogers begins to believe that the metal man who has returned may not be Martino at all. And even if it is Martino, he may have been brainwashed into working for the Soviets.
As the story unfolds, Rogers – almost brutally – debriefs Martino trying to establish if it really is the scientist or not. All this is intercut with flashback footage of Azarin’s interrogation of Martino while being rehabilitated. Azarin and Roger’s method do not differ too much.
Who? Is a rather fascinating psychological drama, that does ask many interesting questions about identity. I wouldn’t call the film and action film, so if you are looking for car crashes and explosions, girls in bikinis and men with guns (all the things that the poster art promises) then you’d most likely be disappointed in this film. However if you are after thoughtful entertainment that is just as relevant today as is was back in ’74 then Who? may be the film for you.
The film is not without it’s flaws however – which are generally the clumsy injections of action into the story. And at the risk of sounding mean-spirited – because actor Joseph Bova does a remarkable job conveying the frustration and confusion that Martino feels upon his return to the west – is that the facial design for Martino’s cyborg-self does look rather silly. With the chubby rounded cheek pieces, the mask looks like a silver version of a laughing clown that you may find at a carnival. I realise it is not supposed to look robotic or even frightening, but it it shouldn’t look comic. It should look nondescript.
Maybe I am being harsh. It is not a film about aesthetics, or action. It is about identity, and what makes a man (or woman for that matter) who they are. It’s also a film that will stick with you after you have watched it, and that in itself may be its greatest achievement. It’s not a classic, but you’re likely to remember watching this, long after you’ve forgotten many of the so-called modern classics.
First of all, despite some marketing campaigns, this isn’t really a sequel to Starcrash. It uses the same space ships and models, and the heroine is called Belle Star, which is just close enough to Stella Star that those with poor memories may just for a second believe they are watching the same character. Only a second mind you, after all, Stella was played by dark haired and curvy Caroline Munro, whereas Belle is played by blonde Cheryl Buchanan. Also Caroline Munro got around in a very fashionable black leather bikini, and Belle flitters between tight fitting body suits and nothing at all.
The film starts when Oraclon: The King Of The Night™ (Don Powell) sails into ‘Galaxy 3’ in his star ship shaped like a giant hand made from blue Lego®. You may remember the ship from Star Crash when it was the property of evil Count Zarth Arn (Joe Spinell). You may also remember that Star Ship was destroyed at the end of Star Crash, which leads me to conclude that these super cruisers are assembly line build like your modern motor car. The Blue Hand model must have appealed to evil space tyrants who plan to take over the galaxy.
Anyway, Oraclon: The King Of The Night™ has been invading every planet and killing everybody in his path and now it’s planet Exalon’s turn. Exalon is ruled by benevolent King Zanor. Zanor also happens to be the father of Princess Belle Star. Zanor tries to fight off Oraclon, but his men are no match for Oraclon’s weapons. Zanor orders Belle Star and one of his trusted aides, Lithan (James Milton) to seek help in the Anteres System.
So Belle and Lithan flee in their space ship. Oraclon: The King Of The Night™ destroys Exalon and kills King Zanor. He soon discovers that Belle and Lithan have fled and sends ships after them. As they make their escape, a laser blast damages the controls, and they loose their navigation computer. Naturally Belle and Mithan escape, but have no idea where they are. They decide to land on the first planet they find.
The first planet happens to be earth, but not as we know it. Here the only population is a little village of primitive inhabitants. When they see the spaceship land, they believe it is a monster. When Belle and Mithan leave the ship, the inhabitants initially try to kill them by throwing rocks at them. But despite Belle and Mithan’s weird costumes and manner, their humanity shines through, and they soon make friends with the villagers.
During their stay, Belle and Mithan witness a weird ceremony where the female characters start dancing, what looks like a primitive version of the Bus Stop to the funky disco beat. This is the beginning of The Love Festival, of which soon Belle and Mithan are participants.
For a while things seem pretty good on the primitive planet. Belle Star and Mithan enthusiastically take lessons in love making from the villagers. You see, sex is a lost art form in Galaxy 3 and Once Belle and Mithan discover the fun that can be had – all they want to do is shag. There first attempt is ruined when one of Oraclon’s probe searches the planet for life. Their next tryst is interrupted when Oraclon’s men start shooting up the villagers. And finally, once they decide to leave the planet and get in their spaceship (their intergalactic shaggin’ wagon) and take off, when Oraclon catches up with them, they are at it again.
Half way through, this film veers off from your usual science fiction to (almost) softcore disco porn. It isn’t a porn film, but the story slows right down, the cheesy disco music is pumped right up and we see endless shots of Belle and Mithan pawing and caressing each other.
One of the things that lifted Starcrash above many of it’s other Star Wars rip-off competitors was the score by maestro John Barry. But Escape From Galaxy 3 takes a very different musical approach. Instead of sweeping strings and mellow horns, we get 80’s Disco. Actually it’s more like 70’s Space Disco. The music is provided by the villain of this movie Don Powell. Powell looks like he’d fit right in with George Clinton and Funkadelic. The strangest part of his appearance in this film is his beard. You know when (in your youth) you hit the town and drank everything that came your way, only to stagger home at six in the morning and pass out at your front door, while trying to find the right key – then you woke up several hours later to find that snails had blazed a trail across your inert form? No, I have never experienced that either, but if you did, I would imagine that you’d look like Don Powell. His beard looks like snails have been using it as a playground. I think it is supposed to look ‘silvery’ and futuristic, but it doesn’t.
In the end, you can’t really say that Escape From Galaxy 3 is a good film. But it is an interesting time capsule, and if 70’s disco is your bag, man, then this may very well be your movie.
In the mid 1980’s three actors, who had made a big impact on television, playing detectives, were trying to make the transition from the small screen to the big screen. The three were Tom Selleck, who had major success as Magnum P.I.; Pierce Brosnan, who had a good run as Remmington Steele; and finally there was Bruce Willis, who’d played David Addison in Moonlighting. Well Bruce stumbled a couple of times, with Sunset and Blind Date, before landing on his feet with Die Hard. Pierce on the other hand started off okay with The Fourth Protocol but then had a string of stinkers. Well Tom’s rise to fame had been a bit slower than the others. He’d been acting since the late 60’s and had seen his fair share of flops. In fact he had been in 6 failed TV pilots before he broke through with Magnum. So now at the peak of his popularity, he attempted to break into movies.
It has been well documented, that Selleck was the first choice for Indiana Jones, but somehow that didn’t come to fruition. So it would seem strange that his first attempt to break it into the big time was in the Indiana Jones inspired High Road To China. I am sure it wasn’t a flop, but it wasn’t a run away smash either. Next up was Lassiter. I can’t remember much about it – it seemed boring at the time. That brings us to Runaway, Selleck’s third attempt at breaking into the big time.
Runaway is set in the not too distant future – that being the not too distant future in 1984 – but strangely in what now would be the past, many of the futuristic inventions in this movie have not come to pass. Anyway, in ‘yesterday’s tomorrow’ mankind has come to depend on robots in almost every aspect of daily life. There are domestic robots in the home, agricultural robots in the field, sentry robots in offices, and industrial robots on work sites. When these robots malfunction, the police are called…often because insurance companies will not let average citizens switch off the machines when they play up. The police have their own little department to deal with these ‘Runaways’. The department is headed by Sergeant Jack Ramsay (Tom Selleck), and he has just been assigned a new partner, Karen Thompson (Cynthia Rhodes).
Just to make the film a little more interesting, they have given Ramsay a slight impediment. He gets vertigo. And as we all know dear reader (if we’ve studied our Hitchcock), if the hero of a film suffers from vertigo, then the climax of the film has to take place in a high open environment, where the hero has an opportunity to freak out, or overcome his fears.
Ramsay and Thompson’s first job of the day is an agricultural pest controller that has run amok in a field of corn. They deal with this by blowing it up. Their next call isn’t so simple though. A domestic robot has gone mad inside a house. It has grabbed a knife and killed two people. Still inside the house there is a ten month old baby, and somehow, the robot has grabbed a gun. Ramsay decides to go in and rescue the baby. Incredulously, a TV cameraman decides to follow Ramsay into the house to film the thrilling rescue. But the robot has other ideas and shoots the cameraman. Eventually Ramsay out manoeuvres the robot and shuts it down. Ramsay exits the house with the child, but the child’s father, David Johnson (Chris Mulkey) has run off. He appears to be afraid of something or some one.
The following day, the killer robot is checked be the police department’s resident boffin, Marvin (Stan Shaw). Inside he finds a non-standard chip. The robot has been programmed to kill. The isn’t a robot gone mad. This is murder! Ramsay heads back to the house and searches for some evidence or a lead. As he checks the door recorder (it records footage of the people at your front door), he finds a portion of a partially erased message. It is a man claiming to be from the ACME Robot Repair Company, and he has come to repair the domestic robot. Ramsay deduces that this must be the guy who changed the chip inside the robot.
The man on the recording is Dr. Luther (Gene Simmons from the rock group KISS). Luther has been busy. He has had two men making him a batch of ‘evil’ chips that he can auction off to the mafia, terrorists or any other person with the cash and an unpleasant disposition. One of the men who made the chips just happens to David Johnson, the owner of the house where the robot went mad. It appears that Luther is tying up the loose ends. The robot was meant to kill Johnson too.
As Ramsay is a good police officer, he tracks down Johnson, who is hiding in a hotel. As he tries to bring him back to the station for questioning, Luther pops up and fires a gun at them. It is a special gun that fires special bullets. These are smart bullets that are a bit like heat seeking missiles, and they can go around corners.
The film surprisingly hasn’t dated too badly. There’s one or two 80’s haircuts on a couple of the girls, but generally this film doesn’t look like it was made nearly 25 years ago. The biggest hint to it’s age is the absolutely dreadful score by Jerry Goldsmith. Look I love Goldsmith’s orchestral work, but this electronic mess, which they proudly proclaim in the end titles was done on Yamaha Digital Instruments, is one of his weakest scores.
The acting in the film is better than it should be. Selleck conveys genuine emotion, and almost seems to ‘tear up’ when he has to let Luther go, because he is holding a hostage. Another sequence where the acting is good, is when Ramsay has to dig an unexploded mini-missile from Thompson’s shoulder. Surprisingly, Gene Simmons is okay too. Sure, all he has to do is glare and look menacing – but he glares rather well.
In the end, Runaway isn’t a bad film, but it wasn’t a blockbuster for Tom Selleck either. He never really became a big star like Bruce Willis or Pierce Brosnan. But he is a jobbing actor, and if you look him up on IMDB you can see that he has been consistently working since then. But for a second, he looked like he could have been the next big thing.
The trailer – uploaded to Youtube by: ChrisTaylorHungary
Country: United States / Italy
Director: Luigi Cozzi (as Lewis Coates)
Starring: Caroline Munro, Marjoe Gortner, Christopher Plummer, David Hasselhoff, Robert Tessier, Joe Spinell, Nadia Cassini, Judd Hamilton, Hamilton Camp
Music: John Barry
You may have noticed I have been a little light on for posts lately. Well I have had a dose of the flu and been a bit out of it, but sometimes that can work in your favour. During my feverish state I watched Star Crash, a film that had slipped by me all these years. And, it probably has to do with my delusional fevered state, but I believe Star Crash to be one of the greatest films ever made. Sure, it’s a Star Wars rip-off, but Star Wars has dowdy white robed Princess Leia as a heroine. Whereas Star Crash has Caroline Munro in a black leather bikini. That in itself should be enough for most of mankind, but the film also has space ships, amazons, troglodytes, stop motion monsters, and special effects that look like they could have been taken directly from Barbarella. Then we have Marjoe Gortner as some kind of energy guy who can see into the future. And it has Christopher Plummer as the Emperor of the Universe. Plummer once again proves that a decent actor can be given the most atrocious script to read, and still make the words resonate. Oh yeah, Hasselhoff’s in it too. But the movie is really about Caroline Munro in skimpy costumes.
The film starts with an imperial space cruiser searching for a secret planet in the haunted stars. This hidden planet is controlled by the totally evil Count Zarth Arn (Joe Spinell). And as the cruiser gets closer, the ship is attacked by red monsters. These aren’t your average monsters. They’re more like the bubbles in your red lava lamp, but they drive everyone on the ship mad. Well, almost everyone. The cruiser has three escape launches, and these are fired before the ship, well it sorta dies. It doesn’t really do anything. It just floats there.
Then we cut to our heroes. Stella Star (Caroline Munro) is a superb pilot, and Akton (Marjoe Gortner) is a superb navigator, but these two in the past, have breached the law. On their trail are two super space cops. The first is Thor played by Robert Tessier. You may remember Tessier as the bald header bruiser in Charles Bronson’s Hard Times, and many other 70’s action films with Bronson or Burt Reynolds. Here he is painted blue. The other cop is a robot cop (or Robocop if you prefer), named Elle (Judd Hamilton – voiced by Hamilton Camp in the English version). Elle is a pretty determined sort of character and never gives up. When Stella Star and Akton attempt to escape by flying blindly into hyperspace, Elle and Thor follow after them.
When Stella And Akton leave hyper space, they are in the Haunted Stars and are quite close to the drifting Imperial Cruiser. Stella goes for a space walk over to the cruiser and finds one man left alive, he is dehydrated and rambling about red space monsters. Before Stella and Akton can report the ship, Elle and Thor turn up and arrest them. And for their crimes, each of them is sent to separate penal colonies.
Meanwhile news of Stella and Akton’s discovery of the cruiser is relayed to the Emperor (Christopher Plummer). On board the cruiser was his son, Simon (Hasselhoff), and he wants to know happened. So he arranges for Stella and Akton to be released, and teamed up with Thor and Elle. Now all four are working on the same side, they set about tracking down the three launches that were fired from the Imperial Cruiser just as it was attacked.
Okay, I may have been a bit lavish in my praise saying this is one of the greatest films of all time, but it certainly falls into the ‘so bad, it is good category’. If you have a cold or flu, or a simply feeling a lit bit out of it, my prescription is one shot of Star Crash. It won’t cure you, but somehow you’ll feel a lot better.
The Starcrash trailer – uploaded to Youtube by: sideshowcarny