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.

 

The Birdemic of Action Movies: April Rain (dir by Luciano Saber)


Birdemic 2 April Rain

Warning: Occasionally, film art can be deceptive.

 

I realize that is a big claim to make.  Birdemic, after all, is known for not only being one of the worst but also for being one of the most inept films ever made.  It’s a film that regularly appears on lists of the worst films ever made and, unlike the always entertaining The Room, Birdemic actually deserves the honor.

So, when you compare a movie to Birdemic, it’s kind of a big deal.

However, having now sat through April Rain on multiple occasions, I can say that April Rain totally deserves the comparison.

Imagine if your local community theater decided to put on a low-budget, theatrical adaptation of 24, with the director’s son playing Jack Bauer and a retired accountant playing the main villain and you might have some idea of what it’s like to watch April Rain.

The film opens with endless overhead shots of Los Angeles while stirring “epic” music plays in the background.  The movie uses these overhead shots in much the same way that Tommy Wiseau used the Golden Gate Bridge in The Room.  Whenever the scene needs to change, we get an aimless overhead shot of Los Angeles that rarely seems to have much to do with either the scene we just viewed or the one that we’re about to watch.  At first, it amused me to notice how many buildings had helicopter landing pads but then I realized that I was just looking at the same buildings over and over again.

After we spend a while looking down on Los Angeles, we are immediately thrown into the middle of the action as six men have a fierce gun battle outside of a warehouse.  And by gun battle, I mean that each man stands about four feet away from the other, shoots a gun, and somehow manages to miss just as often as they hit.  It’s during this scene that we learn two important things about April Rain:

1) Nobody in this film dies without flailing around for a few minutes before hand.

2) Anyone firing a gun will be shown in slow motion.

As for why everyone is shooting at each other, it all comes down to weapons.  The group in the warehouse has a few crates full of weapons.  The people attacking the warehouse want the weapons so that they can sell them to a terrorist cell.

The people attacking the warehouse, incidentally, a members of the Russian mob.  I figured this out because they had names like Nikolai and Dimitri and not because any of them actually had a Russian accent or, in any other way, came across as being Russian.

Which is not to say that they don’t have accents.  Their boss, Kotov (Adrian L. Tutor), definitely has an accent.  Actually, he has several and they change from scene-to-scene.  Sometimes, he sounds like he’s from Italy and then other times he sounds like he’s from Scotland…

Anyway, when we first meet Kotov, he’s running around in circles in his suburban front yard while his two youngest daughters chase after him.  He’s wearing a dark blue apron that reads, in bright red letters, “World’s Greatest Dad.”

The face of the Russian Mafia

The face of the Russian Mafia

His oldest daughter, Katrina (Brittany Beery), would probably disagree with that.  She’s got a crush on the newest member of the mob, Alex (Ryan Guzman).  When Kotov drags Katrina to church, she gets out of it by saying, “I’m getting my period, dad!” and doing a massive eye roll.  (Interestingly enough, I used to do the exact same thing to get out of going to Mass.  Never underestimate the importance of the eye roll.)  What makes this scene especially memorable are the extras sitting on the pew directly behind Kotov and his family.  When Katrina explains why she has to leave church, they gasp and look like they’re about to faint from the shock.  They do this despite the fact that Katrina and Kotov are whispering and that their voices would undoubtedly have been drowned out by the church organ that is played throughout the entire scene.  Perhaps, at one point, the filmmakers were planning on including a subplot that hinged on super hearing…

ANYWAY — and watching April Rain is one of those films that will inspire you to say “anyway” quite a lot — it turns out that Alex has a secret of his own.  He’s not really a Russian mobster!  No, he’s a member of an elite division of the — well, to be honest, I’m not sure which agency he works for.  However, I do know that it’s top secret because it’s housed in a huge warehouse and everyone spends a lot of time talking about how it’s all top secret.

Along with Alex, the team includes:

1) Sikes (Luke Goss), who is I guess is supposed to be in charge.  He’s a taciturn but fair man who is first seen disciplining his teenage son.  (“I can do what I want!” his son shouts, “In your face, old man!”)  Sikes spends a lot of time shouting things like, “I WANT HIM ALIVE!” just before then shooting a bad guy in the head.  (Incidentally, in April Rain, getting shot in the head means that a small splotch of red paint appears on your forehead.)

2) Rita (Mirana Frigon), who I liked because she’s a redheaded administrative assistant, just like me!  At one point, Rita gets a phone call from someone outside of the agency.  Sikes tells her that he needs her to be 100%.  Rita agrees.  The phone call is never mentioned again.

3) Kenny (Doug Savant), who doesn’t really have much of a personality.

4) Thomas (Vincent Spano), who is Kenny’s best friend and who, as a part of his job, is currently sleeping with Hellen (Anne Leighton) who works for Kotov.  At one point, Thomas’s wife (Hillary Tuck) shows up and points a gun at him and screams at him for cheating on her.  An exasperated Thomas yells back, “I work my ass off and you show up here and make me look like an ass in front of Kenny!”  And the scene goes on and on from there…

And finally,

5) Hillary Miller (Ming-Na Wen!) is apparently Sikes’s superior.  Thomas refers to her as being the Wicked Witch of West Los Angeles.  “She flies around on her broomstick with a strap-on and a jar of vaseline,” he informs Alex.  Ming-Na gets top billing but she’s actually only in a few minutes of the film and she spends most of that time yelling and glaring.  It’s almost as if she’s daring you to ask her how she ended up in a movie like April Rain.

Ming-Na in April Rain

Ming-Na dares you to ask her what she’s doing in April Rain.

ANYWAY — Kotov has been supplying terrorist leader Tariq (Deniz Akdeniz) with guns and Vespa motor scooters and you better believe that we eventually do get a chase scene where the bad guy is fleeing on a Vespa.  (And you also better believe that almost the entire chase scene is filmed in slow motion.)  

Before launching his terrorist scheme, Tariq becomes an American citizen.  The oath of citizenship is delivered by a judge who actually shows up on a Sunday to do so.  “It’s the least I can do, after all the work you’ve done on my house,” the judge helpfully explains.  Of course, as Tariq and the Judge enter the courthouse, the camera lingers on security guard who views both of them with clear suspicion.

Upon returning to his apartment, Tariq and his family celebrate his new citizenship.  Then, his two neighbors arrives to congratulate him.  These two neighbors — well, they simply have to be seen and heard to be believed.  “Share the wealth!” one of them proclaims, “then maybe everyone won’t want to kill us…”  Another one drinks a toast to “education and the redistribution of wealth,” which I guess is the film’s way of letting us know that the only thing needed for the Tariqs of the world to succeed is for them to live next door to stereotypical California liberals.

What’s especially interesting about this film is that, for all the time devoted to the Judge, the security guard, and those two neighbors, none of them are all that important to the plot.  In fact, after their initial scenes, neither the judge nor the security guard are ever seen again.  As for the two neighbors, they’re kicked out of the apartment after Tariq is visited by Yusef, a jihadi who is also a pizza deliveryman…

(Just about every film has a few red herrings but few take it to the extreme of April Rain, a movie in which just about everyone in the cast is a red herring.)

Everyone's either a red herring or a redhead or both.

Everyone’s either a red herring or a redhead or both.

Much like Birdemic, The Room, and Troll 2, April Rain is such a uniquely bad film that it becomes oddly fascinating.  You watch and, with each moment, you can not help but wonder how much worse the film can get.  And, with each passing moment, you discover that it can get a lot worse.

You want a cast that alternates between catatonic underplaying and histrionic overacting?  April Rain has got you covered.  (In defense of the cast, it’s not that any of them are bad actors as much as the script doesn’t leave them much choice.  For instance, I thought Brittany Beery did the best that anyone possibly could with her role.  The same can be said of Ryan Guzman and Luke Goss.  As for Ming-Na — well, I imagine she probably just wanted to get her scenes over with.)

You want action scenes that essentially look like a bunch of kids making finger guns and going, “Bang!  Bang!” at each other?  April Rain is the film to see.

Do you want random scenes that come out of nowhere, make you go, “What the Hell?,” and are then promptly forgotten about in the movie’s grand narrative scheme?  April Rain will not disappoint.

Do you want pages and pages of dialogue that add up to nothing more than empty verbosity?  Might I suggest watching April Rain?

Do you want to see a movie that’s so bad that it’s good?  Well, I’d suggest watching The Room and then Troll 2 and then Birdemic.  But once you’ve got those three out of the way, definitely give April Rain a try!

April Rain

Bang! Bang!