The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989, directed by Bill Bixby)


Still on the run and hoping to find a cure for the condition that causes him to transform into the Incredible Hulk, David Banner (Bill Bixby) is now in New York and using the name David Belson.  He’s grown a beard to keep himself from being recognized.  I guess it’s like when Superman used to put on his glasses.  When David sees a woman being harassed on the subway by two thugs, it’s too much stress for him and he transforms into the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno).  When the Hulk turns back into David, he is arrested and charged with being a mugger.  (No one believes the witness’s account of seeing a huge green man on the subway.)

Despite the title, the Hulk never goes on trial, though there’s a dream sequence where David turns into the Hulk in a courtroom.  (Stan Lee plays the jury foreman.)  Just having a nightmare about turning into the Hulk is enough to cause the transformation for real.  No New York jail can hold the Hulk.

David’s lawyer is blind and yes, his name is Matthew Murdock (played by Rex Smith).  Murdock thinks that the attack on the subway was somehow linked to a crime lord named … yes, Wilson Fisk.  Fisk (John Rhys-Davies) wants to set up a national crime syndicate, as if Lucky Luciano didn’t already do that.  Using the name Daredevil, Murdock tries to prevent that.  David eventually ends up helping.

The Trial of the Incredible Hulk is a huge tease.  It promises the Hulk on trial but, instead, it’s just a backdoor pilot for a Daredevil TV series.  Just like in The Incredible Hulk Returns, the Hulk is forced to make room for a new hero.  But at least The Incredible Hulk Returns actually featured the Hulk working with Thor.  In Trial of the Incredible Hulk, the Hulk is hardly present at all.  Banner encourages Murdock not to give up, even after he’s badly beaten by Fisk’s men, and he works with Matt to help him prepare for a rematch.  But the final battle is almost all Daredevil.  Once he escape from prison, Banner doesn’t turn into the Hulk once.

Rex Smith isn’t bad as Daredevil.  While he’s not as good as Charlie Cox, he’s still better than Ben Affleck.  While the movie does not feature the classic Daredevil costume, it does at least get Daredevil’s origins and powers correct.  John Rhys-Davies hams it up as Wilson Fisk.  One of Marvel’s most intriguing villains is turned into just another generic bad guy in an office.  It’s disappointing.

The Trial of the Incredible Hulk ends with Murdock pledging to protecting the city and Banner again hitchhiking away.  Daredevil would have to wait for another 25 years before getting his own series.  Banner would return in The Death of the Incredible Hulk.

 

Film Review: Peter: The Redemption (dir by Leif Bristow)


I have two main thoughts on the 2016 religious film, Peter: The Redemption.

First off, John Rhys-Davies is a treasure.  The veteran actor plays the role of Peter, the rock of the Church.  The film focuses on Peter’s final days, locked away in a Roman prison and suffering torture at the hand of the Romans.  He’s told repeatedly that all he has to do to win his freedom (and his life) is to publicly renounce his beliefs and confess that the Christians were behind the plot to set Rome on fire.  While Peter waits for death, he is haunted by memories of the night that he denied knowing Jesus.  He feels that he is not worthy to be crucified.  He worries if he’s done enough to atone for his mistakes.  Rhys-Davies gives a powerful performance, capturing both Peter’s anguish and his inner strength.  This is probably one of the best performances that you’ll ever find in a low-budget religious film.

My other thought is that you really haven’t lived until you’ve seen Stephen Baldwin plays the Emperor Nero.  Baldwin plays Nero as being something of a wannabe hipster, desperately trying to convince everyone that he’s more interesting than he actually is and dreaming of rebuilding Rome in his own image.  Baldwin’s Nero is a crazy conspiracy theorist, the type who often seem to be struggling to follow his own line of thought.  There’s not a subtle moment to be found in Baldwin’s performance as Nero but, interestingly, his interpretation of the role is probably fairly close to being historically correct.  By the account of most of the Roman historians who lived through and actually managed to survive his reign, Nero considered himself to be an artist and an intellectual and his dream was to be as acclaimed as a performer as he was an emperor.  It’s been said that Nero was killed as much for his artistic pretensions as his administrative mistakes and that his final words were, “What an artist dies within me!,” and one can certainly believe that while watching Baldwin’s performance.

Unfortunately, Peter: The Redemption gets distracted by a subplot involving the blossoming relationship between a servant in Nero’s court and one of Peter’s guards.  It’s the same basic story as Quo Vadis?, just told in a lot less time and on a much smaller budget.  To be honest, I kind of liked the film’s low-rent version of Rome.  Rome is usually presented as being this glamorous and impressive city but most historians of the era tend to emphasize the fact that the streets of Rome were often dirty and the walls were covered with frequently obscene graffiti.  (In fact, graffiti was the main form of political protest in the Roman Empire.)  No wonder Nero wanted to burn the place down.

Anyway, Peter: The Redemption is okay.  It tells its story effectively enough and the performance of John Rhys Davies elevates every scene in which he appears.  The film gets bogged down whenever it concentrates on the romance in Nero’s court but Baldwin and Rhys Davies keep things watchable.

King Solomon’s Mines (1985, directed by J. Lee Thompson)


After her archaeologist father disappears while searching for the fabled mines of King Solomon, Jesse Houston (Sharon Stone) hires famed explorer Allan Quartermain (Richard Chamberlain) to help her find him.  After walking around in the jungle and exploring a nearby village, Allan and Jesse discover that her father has been kidnapped by a German military expedition who want to use King Solomon’s treasure to fund their war effort.  Working with the Germans is Allan’s old enemy, Dogati (John Rhys-Davies).  Allan and Jesse find themselves in a race against time to find the mines before the Germans.  Along the way, they steal an airplane, fight German soldiers on a train, and nearly get cooked alive in a giant cauldron.

Because this is a Cannon film and it was made at the height of Indiana Jones’s popularity and it stars John Rhys-Davies and it has a score that sounds like it was written by someone trying too hard to be John Williams, you might be tempted to think that King Solomon’s Mines is a rip-off of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  However, there are some crucial differences between Raiders and King Solomon’s Mines.  For instance, Raiders of the Lost Ark took place during World War II.  King Solomon’s Mines takes place during World War I.  Raiders of the Lost Ark had angels that melted a man’s face.  King Solomon’s Mines has a lava pit that makes you explode if you fall into it.  Raiders of the Lost Ark has a big fight in an airfield while King Solomon’s Mines has a big fight at an airfield …. well, wait, I guess they do have a few things in common.

Probably the biggest difference between Raiders of the Lost Ark and King Solomon’s Mines is that Raiders had Harrison Ford and Karen Allen while King Solomon’s Mines has to make due with Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone.  (If the imdb trivia section is to be believed, Sharon Stone was cast because Menahem Golan mistook her for Kathleen Turner.)  Along with generating zero romantic sparks, neither Chamberlain nor Stone come across as if they’ve ever even seen a jungle, much less explored one.  The only time that the two of them are credible as anything other than actors slumming on Cannon’s dime is when they’re yelling at each other.  There’s also a scene where they’re trying to steal an airplane and Chamberlain tells Stone to “reach between your legs and grab it.”  That was funny, I guess.

Along with trying to be an adventure, King Solomon’s Mines also tries to be a comedy.  As a general rule, Cannon films are great when they’re unintentionally funny but not so much when they actually try to be funny.  The film’s idea of comedy is Richard Chamberlain having to do an impromptu jig while someone shoots at his feet.  Add in a healthy dose of casual racism as Allan and Jesse run into a tribe in Africa who want to cook them in a giant stew pot and you’ve got a film so bad that you’ll hardly believe it could have been produced by the same people who gave us Delta Force, which is, of course, the greatest film ever made.

Golan and Globus had enough confidence in King Solomon’s Mines that they shot a sequel before the first film was even released.  Tomorrow, I will force myself to watch and review Allan Quartermain and The Lost City of Gold.  And, after that, I’ll probably go sit in a corner and think about what I’ve done.

Sahara (1983, directed by Andrew V. McLaglen)


The year is 1927 and famed automobile designer R.J. Gordon (Steve Forrest) dies before he can enter his latest creation into the Trans-African Auto Race across the Sahara Desert.  Wishing to keep her father’s dream alive and prove that she’s just as good a driver as the boys, R.J.’s daughter, Dale (Brooke Shields), enters the race in his place.  Since women are not legally allowed to compete, Dale has to pretend to be a man.  She does this by wearing a fake mustache, which she tosses off as soon she drives over the start line.  It has to be seen to be believed.

Dale and her team set out on the race and they quickly get caught up in a tribal war between two separate factions of Bedouins.  Dale is captured by the lascivious Rasoul (John Rhys-Davies), who attempts to have his way with her.  Fortunately, Dale is rescued by Rasoul’s nephew, Sheikh Jafar (Lambert Wilson).  Jafar is enchanted by Dale’s beauty and wants her to marry him.  Dale eventually agrees but, the morning after the wedding, she sneaks out of Jafar’s tent, jumps back in her car, and rejoins the race.  When she gets captured by the other Bedouins, they force her to stand on a rock while surrounded by panthers.  Like Brooke with a mustache, it has to be seen to be believed.

Sahara was produced by Cannon Pictures.  Menahem Golan, who gets a story credit along with his usual producers credit on this film, was a self-described fan of Rudolph Valentino and Sahara was his attempt to pay homage to Valentino’s performance in The Sheik, as well as cashing in on the adventure zeitgeist that had been launched by the box office success of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  With a budget of $15 million, Sahara was one of Cannon’s most expensive films and the end result was a mix of high production values and typical Golan-Globus goofiness.  The desert cinematography may be impressive but this is still a strangely old-fashioned movie starring Brooke Shields as a race car driver who speeds through the desert without once getting a hair out of place.  As attractive as she was, Brooke was never much of an actress and requiring her to show more than one emotion at a time, as Sahara often does, seems like the ultimate act of hubris.  Say what you will about the films that Cannon made with Bronson and Norris, the two Chucks always seemed like they were perfectly cast.  Shields also has no chemistry with Lambert Wilson, who looks embarrassed at having to pretend to be Rudolph Valentino.  On the plus side, Raiders of the Lost Ark alumni Rhys-Davies and Ronald Lacey are both present in the film and seem to know better than to take any of it seriously.  Rhys-Davies especially always seems to be on the verge of laughing at his terrible dialogue.

Though the view may be impressive, the script is bad and the lead actors are lost.  Avoid Sahara at all costs.

Film Review: One Night With The King (dir by Michael O. Sajbel)


The 2006 Biblical film, One Night With The King, opens with God ordering King Saul to conquer and execute all of the Amalekites and their livestock.  However, as so often happened whenever God ordered him to do something, Saul manages to screw everything up.  He does conquer the Amalekites but he decides to keep their best livestock for himself and he also declines to execute the Amalekite king or his pregnant wife.  The prophet Samuel (played by an uncomfortably frail-looking Peter O’Toole) shows up and tells Saul that he’s screwed up for the last time.  Samuel goes off to execute the Amalekite king.  However, the queen escapes into the desert.

And that’s the last we see of her.  It’s also the last we see of O’Toole who, despite being top billed, has about a minute of screen time.

Jump forward several hundred years.  We are now in the city of Susa, Persia.  It’s the center of the known world.  We know this because characters tend to say stuff like, “We are living in the center of the known world.”  Xerxes (Luke Goss) is the king of Persia, a somewhat uncouth man who is obviously used to getting everything that he wants.  Xerxes is plotting on marching off to war.  However, his current wife is opposed to the war and refuses to attend Xerxes’s pre-war banquet.  Scandal!  Xerxes’s advisor, Prince Memucan (Omar Sharif, who co-starred with Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia), suggests that perhaps Xerxes should get a new wife.

Every female virgin in the city is brought to Xerxes’s palace so that, under the watchful eye of the king’s eunuch, Hegai (Tommy Lister, Jr.), they can compete for the chance to become queen.  Among the women is the beautiful Hadassah (Tiffany Dupont), who is the niece of one of the king’s scribes, Mordecai (John Rhys-Davies).  Hadassah does not tell the king that she’s related to Mordecai and instead says that her name is Esther.  With the help of Hegai, Hadassah soon emerges as the favorite to become the new queen.

Meanwhile, an evil man named Haman (Boo!  Haman!  Boo!) has shown up on the scene.  Haman (played by James Callas) is a descendant of the Amalekites that Saul failed to destroy.  (Dammit, Saul!)  A greedy astrologer, Haman (Boo!) has been appointed to the position of vizier by Xerxes.  Haman (hiss!) demands that all of the king’s servants bow before him.  However, because he has a pagan symbol sewn onto his clothes, Mordecai refuses to do so.  Driven by hate (Boo!), Haman makes plans to execute not only Mordecai but every other Jew in Persia.  With the king unaware of Haman’s intentions, only Hadassah can stop his plans but to do so, she’ll have to risk seeing the king unsummoned….

 

The story of Esther, Mordecai, the king, and the moment that Haman (Boo!) discovers that karma is a bitch has always been one of my favorites so I’ve always enjoyed One Night With The King whenever I’ve watched it.  Don’t get me wrong.  It has its flaws.  Though the film does a pretty good job of recreating the past on a low budget, it’s still one of those films that’s full of awkward exposition, cringe-worthy dialogue, and more than a few inconsistent performances.  (Sharif and O’Toole, for instance, both go through the motions, doing just enough to pick up a paycheck.)  At the same time, Luke Goss is properly rough-around-the-edges as the king and Tiffany DuPont is well-cast as Hadassah.  Tommy Lister, Jr. appears to be having a lot of fun in the role of the world’s most unlikely eunuch and, as a result, he’s entertaining to watch.  Visually, it’s a pretty film and the costumes are to die for, as they should be in any film about a royal romance.  And, even if the story is at times awkwardly told, it still reaches a deeply satisfying conclusion.

James Callas is convincingly evil and properly detestable as Haman (Boo!  Haman!  Boo!).  Haman is an archetype of evil, the ant-Semite whose evil legacy has continued to haunt the world in the centuries since he met his own fate.  Though the film at times spends too much time playing up the romance between the king and Hadassah (which, while nice to watch, is not the point of the source material), One Night With The King does include enough scenes of Haman (hiss!) ranting to make clear the link between Haman and the anti-Semitism of the Nazis and those modern day hate mongers who try to hide their bigotry behind claims that they are “only criticizing Israel.”  Haman’s evil makes his final fate all the more satisfying but the film leaves no doubt that, unless the world remains vigilant, there will always be new Hamans threatening to come to power.  That’s an important enough message to make up for many of the film’s missteps.

One Night With The King is a flawed, low-budget film.  But I like it.

 

A Movie A Day #195: Best Revenge (1984, directed by John Trent)


Damn … John Heard died.

I know that almost everyone knows John Heard as either the father from Home Alone or as the detective on The Sopranos or maybe even the executive in Big.  Over the course of his long career, John Heard played a lot of neglectful fathers, greedy businessmen, and corrupt politicians.  Heard was good in all of those roles but he was capable of so much more.  Though he did not get many chances to do so, he could play heroes just as well as villains.

One of his best performances is also one of his least seen.  In Best Revenge, he plays Charlie.  Charlie is a laid back drug dealer, someone who would probably hate and be hated by most of the authority figures that Heard was best known for playing.  Charlie is the ultimate mellow dude, without a care in the world.  All he wants to do is play his harmonica and spend time with his girlfriend (Alberta Watson).  However, an old friend (Stephen McHattie) wants Charlie to help smuggle 500 keys of hash from Tangiers to America.  Charlie wants nothing to do with it but then he finds out that the Mafia will kill his friend unless the drugs make it across the ocean.  Charlie and his friend Bo (Levon Helm of The Band) fly over to Morocco but are betrayed.  Charlie ends up in a prison cell, from which he has to escape so that he can rescue Bo, smuggle the drugs, and get revenge on those who betrayed him.

Because of the prison aspect and the fact that Charlie wears a fedora, Best Revenge was sold as being a combination of Midnight Express and Raiders of the Lost Ark but actually it is a character study disguised as an action film.  Despite the title, Best Revenge is more interested in the real-life logistics and hassles of being an international drug dealer than in any sort of revenge.  Though it is a role far different from the ones he may be best known for, John Heard was perfectly cast as a small-time drug dealer who suddenly finds himself in over his head.  Heard gives such a good  and sympathetic performance that this film, along with his work in Cutter’s Way and Chilly Scenes of Winter, shows what a mistake was made when Heard became typecast as the bad guy.

Best Revenge was filmed in 1980 but not released until four years later.  Along with appreciating Heard’s performance, keep an eye out for Michael Ironside in an early, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role.

A Movie A Day #81: The Great White Hype (1996, directed by Reginald Hudlin)


The Rev. Fred Sultan (Samuel L. Jackson) has a problem.  He is the richest and the best known fight promoter in America but the current (and undefeated) heavyweight champion is just too good.  No one is paying to watch James “The Grim Reaper” Roper (Damon Wayans) fight because Roper always wins.  Sultan has a plan, though.  Before Roper turned professional, he lost a fight to Terry Conklin (Peter Berg).  Conklin has long since retired from boxing and is now a heavy metal, progressive musician.  Sultan convinces Conklin to come out of retirement and face Roper in a rematch.  Since Conklin is white and Roper is black, Sultan stands to make a killing as white boxing fans get swept up in all the hype about Conklin being the latest “great white hope.”

In the days leading up to the fight, crusading journalist Mitchell Kane (Jeff Goldblum) attempts to expose the crooked Sultan before getting seduced into his inner circle.  Meanwhile, boxer Marvin Shabazz (Michael Jace) and his manager, Hassan El Rukk’n (Jamie Foxx), unsuccessfully pursue a match with Roper.  Conklin gets back into shape while Roper eats ice cream and watches Dolemite.

In its attempt to satirize boxing, The Great White Hype runs into a huge problem.  The fight game is already so shady that it is beyond satire.  This was especially true in the 90s, when the The Great White Hype was first released.  (Even more than the famous Larry Holmes/Gerry Cooney title fight, The Great White Hype’s obvious inspiration was the heavily promoted, two-minute fight between Mike Tyson and Peter McNeeley.)  The Great White Hype is a very busy film but nothing in it can match Oliver McCall’s mental breakdown in the middle of his fight with Lennox Lewis, Andrew Golota twice fighting Riddick Bowe and twice getting disqualified for low blows, or Mike Tyson biting off Evander Holyfield’s ear.

The Great White Hype has an only in the 90s supporting cast, featuring everyone from Jon Lovitz to Cheech Marin to, for some reason, Corbin Bernsen.  Damon Wayans is the least convincing heavyweight champion since Tommy Morrison essentially played himself in Rocky V.  The Rev. Sultan was meant to be a take on Don King and Samuel L. Jackson was a good pick for the role but the real Don King is so openly corrupt and flamboyant that he’s almost immune to parody.

When it comes to trying to take down Don King, I think Duke puts it best.

Film Review: The Red Dress (dir by Leif Bristow)


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As I was watching The Red Dress, I found myself thinking that it had to be one of the most deliberately paced Lifetime film that I had ever seen.  It moved slowly, taking its time to tell its story and, as far as I could tell, attempting to build up a certain atmosphere of existential doom.  (In many ways, it reminded me of the trailer for Angelina Jolie’s By The Sea.)  It really wasn’t paced right for TV but that’s probably because it really wasn’t made for TV.

From the occasionally blanked out lines of dialogue to a blurred hint of sideboob, it was obvious that The Red Dress was a theatrical film that somehow ended up making its American premiere on the Lifetime Movie Network.  What would have worked just fine when watched in one uninterrupted 90 minute viewing worked less well when stretched out to two hours and frequently interrupted by commercials for Liberty Mutual Insurance.  The film, itself, frequently plays with time and makes heavy use of flashbacks.  It’s not necessarily a complicated story but it’s still one that requires a bit of concentration.  It’s not always easy to concentrate when you have to deal with a commercial about an insane person who named her car Brad.

As for the story that the movie tells, Patricia (Rachel Skarsten) and Rainer (Callum Blue) are young, rich, married, and maybe in love.  Of course, Patricia did have an affair with Rainer’s business partner, James (Sean Maguire).  And, after Patricia announced that she was pregnant, Rainer did start to feel like “an appendage.”  As for the baby, it died in a mysterious fire that may or may not have been arson.

With Patricia in a deep depression, Rainer suggests that they move to a beachfront house in Malta.  It’s here that Rainer can spend all of his time floating in the pool and Patricia can deal with the constant nightmares that make it impossible for her to sleep.  At times, being in Malta seems to bring the spark back to their marriage.  But then there are other times when Patricia suspects that Rainer is keeping a secret from her.

And then there’s the mysterious girl who Patricia keeps seeing.  The girl seems to always be heading towards a castle that lies in the distance, lit up with a crimson glow that makes it seem like it belongs in a Jean Rollin film or maybe Inception‘s Limbo.  Patricia suspects that the girl may have been kidnapped by the mysterious local hunter, Angelo (John Rhys-Davies).  Rainer, however, seems to believe that the solution to everything is for Patricia to take more pills.

The Red Dress doesn’t really work as a film, largely because Rainer and Patricia are such unlikable characters that you really don’t care what happens to them.  Far too often, they put the idle into idle rich.  As well, the film’s final twist is not as much of a surprise as the film seems to think it is.  You’ll see it coming.  That said, I did like the look of a film.  Malta is a great location and the film takes advantage of that fact.

As for the film’s title, it refers to a dress that Patricia wears in a few of the flashbacks.  And you know what?  It is a really nice dress.