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Das Vermächtnis des Inka (1965)
Karl May with a difference
Karl Hansen (Guy Madison) is framed for a murder he didn't commit, while the actual murderer got away. Years later, he returns under the name Vater Jaguar to finally catch the bad guy and avoid a new war between the South American natives and the government troops. The great cast includes Karl May regular Rik Battaglia, Fernando Rey and no less than 3 comedians: Walter Giller, Heinz Erhardt and (in a rather limited role that doesn't allow him to show his qualities) Chris Howland.
Although the movie had a lot of effort put into it, including filming in the real Machu Picchu (Peru), its success never got near the previous Karl May movies of the 1960s which were placed in North America. The audience missed stars like Lex Barker and Pierre Brice, and the Italian western style soundtrack by A F Lavagnino sounds titally different from Martin Böttcher's music for the other Karl May movies, so the whole feeling was wrong. It didn't help that the story was a bit lame, while the comedians didn't have a real connection to it - it feels like they were cut in from a different movie. Although the movie was quite a disaster in commercial terms, it is interesting to see a different approach to the famous Karl May novels.
Part 2 of 4 in the "Solo Für Schwarz" series. Police profiler Hannah (Barbara Rudnik) lives in a new relationship with psychiatrist Karl Hörster (Burghart Klaußner). His daughter from his previous marriage is killed, and the murderer keeps sending video emails to Hörster, proving that he is watching him all the time. Hannah tries to find out who could have a reason to threaten him, respectively a motivation for revenge, but during the investigation she finds out more about her partner's past than she wanted to know...
Less elegantly narrated than part 1, but nevertheless a thrilling story with a background rooted in 1989, the final days of the German Democratic Republic.
Tod im Park (2003)
'Solo Für Schwarz', Part One
When 2 murder cases in the town of Schwerin occur, psychologist Hannah Schwarz is asked for help. While the police prefers to think conveniently that one killer is responsible for both cases, she as an expert for such investigations believes two different killers need to be arrested. The whole matter requires a search in the 1970s archives of East Germany, while Hannah tries at the same time to find out more about her father she was separated from for 30 years. He was the first investigator until his sudden demise - and also a suspect!
The strength of this TV movie is that it combines three different themes to a coherent story: a suspenseful murder case, a daughter trying to find out who her father really was, and the remainders of the East/West separation of Germany, as they were still visible more than a decade later. 'Tod Im Park' was so successful that it spawned three sequels between 2005 and 2007.
Keeping cool in a desert town
Two lords are fighting over a desert town and its rare water: Zeg (Luke Askew) and Bal Caz (William Marin). Then a warrior they simply call The Dark One (David Carradine) appears to offer his services first to Bal Caz and later to Zeg. The Dark One is the last surviving man from an order of holy sword fighters, and while he pretends to fight for either of the two lords, he secretly pursues his actual mission, which is of course to free the princess (Maria Socas) who is guarded in Zeg's dungeon by a tentacled creature called The Protector.
The story is obviously a rip-off from "A Fistful of Dollars" (and that in turn borrowed its storyline from "Yojimbo", as you probably know). Although I don't think there was a tentacle monster or a topless princess in either of them. A simple lot of fun in this trash flick, and when Zeg's captain (Anthony De Longis) attacks The Dark One, the hero is for once challenged to show some serious sword-fighting, after he previously disposed of his opponents easily, almost with a bored expression.
Hijos del viento (2000)
Mediocre historical movie
Rodrigo (Carlos Fuentes) and Quintero (Bud Spencer) are shipwrecked at the coast of Mexico - and are hailed as gods by the local tribes who have never seen blond hair (and later, neither cannons nor horses). When an army of 500 arrives under command of Cortes, the conquistador decides to fight an empire, burning the ships behind him to march towards the capital of the Aztecs and their king Moctezuma (Manuel Ojeda).
A mediocre historical movie with poorly staged battle scenes, wisely focusing its attention on a love story between Rodrigo and Tizcuitl (Ursula Murayama) instead. Screen legend Bud Spencer, by then around 70 years old, plays the best friend of the hero. Still a weird choice to appear in this rather small production.
Warrior of the Lost World (1983)
After the apocalypse, again
'Warrior of the Lost World' tells us about a lone biker (Robert Ginty) who is unwillingly joining a rebellion of an organisation called The New Way against the dictator (Donald Pleasance, the best Doctor Evil ever). He frees one hostage, but loses another, so the battle continues - with a ridiculous body count. The cast also includes Fred Williamson and Persis Khambatta of 'Star Trek' fame.
A low budget flick made in Italy, following the success of 'Mad Max' as part of a whole wave of postapocalyptic movies. A lot funnier then it should be, but otherwise very modest entertainment. Director David Worth went on to make action flicks with Jean Claude van Damme and Cynthia Rothrock, among others. If I say these are much better than 'Warrior', you know we are talking about rock bottom here. Still I give it 3 of 10 stars, for some fun and the performances of Pleasance and Khambatta.
The Outpost (2018)
The Outpost and me - it wasn't love at first sight. After episode 1 I thought: I knew after the huge success of 'Game of Thrones', a lot of low budget fantasy series would follow - but did it have to look that cheap? Like 'The Outpost' was shot in somebody's barn or shed? Also I disliked the story premise (bad guys killed the heroine's family and destroyed the entire village, many years later she became a trained warrior and wants revenge) because that was used in countless movies since 'Conan the Barbarian' (1982). Boring!
But I gave it another try in episode 2,3... and by episode 5, I realised I really enjoyed the series. The characters are developing well. Marshal Wythers, for example: he isn't just out to kill Talon, because he's a baddie. He has reason and logic on his side, when he wants to protect his outpost at all costs; that just happens to include the removal of Talon. Talon, on the other hand, makes mistakes and learns from them. She may be an accomplished fighter, but knows she has a lot to learn about the supernatural powers she has access to, due to the black blood. It gets more and more interesting, and I'm looking forward to the remaing episodes and seasons.
Fatal Mission (1990)
Enemy or not
'Fatal Mission' aka 'Enemy' is a low budget Vietnam flick, the 4:3 fullscreen format suggests it went straight to TV or video tape. Peter Fonda plays an American assassin who kills a North Vietnamese general in the first scene. He wants to escape afterwards by helicopter, but the machine is blown up by a Chinese agent (Tia Carrere). He shoots a bullet into her shoulder, because he really wanted that helicopter. Stranded in hostile territory, the two have only one option left: to work together and find an escape route.
Well, this is mostly very cheap (two characters running through the jungle, actually on the Philippines) with ridiculous extras dropping like flies. Beginning with a very simple story line - enemies become partners in crime -, it has little character development and remains poor in every respect.
Gåten Ragnarok (2013)
Take a bite
A team of archaelogists with 2 kids follows the trace of an ancient Viking treasure map to a small lake with not much treasure in it - rusty helmets and such - but a surprisingly large monster that chases them around.
Sympathetic little monster movie with realistic characters. The historic set-up with Vikings who battled the monster 1,000 years ago is something new. The variety of the area - cave, lake, bunker, forest - demands a variety of escape strategies, thus the chase always remains thrilling. The two kid actors are not annoying, which is always reason to worry when the cast includes little kids. Since the movie was designed to be watched by young teenagers, too, the bodycount is not as high as in many stupid monster movies you regretted watching. All in all, 'Ragnarok' is a surprisingly satisfactory, round, entertaining movie.
The song of death
The one-armed fighter (hardly a sword fighter, at least in this movie) Liu Yi Su (Wang Yu) wants revenge on 9 killers of the Chu clan who massacred his family and chopped off his other arm. One of the 9 killers actually offers help in finding the others, but can Liu Yi Su trust a traitor?
You guess it, that is a predictable plot line leading to at least 9 fight scenes for the hero, mostly done with only one bare hand against swords. However, since there is good variety and some bizarre ideas (a lady leading Liu Yi Su into a trap by her 'song of death', a weird monk, an attempted poisoning), it never gets boring. Different cuts of this movie are around. I watched the German dvd which runs 77:14 minutes and compared to the subtitled Chinese version running 89:18, most cuts concern gruesome fight scenes, breaking necks and spilling blood. Violent fun, but fun it is. One of my favorites among very cheap Kung-fu flicks.
The Terror (2018)
In 1845, the Franklin expedition meets their doom when searching for the northwest passage. Doom not only caused by the cold, hunger, sickness and mutiny, but also by a hideously malformed polar bear that keeps chasing them and kills expedition members on a regular basis during each episode.
A series with 10 episodes = 400 mins. which I watched during 5 hot summer days, because that is the best time to watch films about polar expeditions. Excellent actors and performances, I don't want to point out anyone in particular. Admittedly I was glued to the screen and mostly enjoyed it, maybe except the animated monster. The rest is mostly historically accurate, as far as later research could reveal, and terrifying enough without a creature. Once the natives are asking the British why do they wish to die, because they cannot imagine any other reason why somebody could come to this land voluntarily than a death wish. Adventure never sounded less inviting, unless you can watch it from safe distance.
Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
Well adapted from the manga
This was the first time in several years that I thoroughly enjoyed watching a 100+ million dollar blockbuster. 'Alita' hasn't become one of these predictable, sterile special effect operas. Although it has all the action and impressive visuals, the human element never gets lost, which is an even bigger achievement if you consider the main character is completely animated. Alita gets a new father in the doctor who found her, and she meets her love interest, Hugo - the emotions concerned work great. The story runs pretty close to the early books, even if they were adjusted a bit especially in the running order and the supporting roles.
Since I read the manga in 1996, I thought this would make a great story for a movie, but didn't expect it would actually happen. Alita is an ancient fighting machine, but due to a memory wipe, restarts with complete innocence. A superhero, dumped on a trashyard, with the face of a child. Yes, the big eyes were rather annoying in the trailer, and I thought at first what a bad idea that was, but in the movie, they seem natural after a few minutes.
When the burnt body of a woman is found on the beach, Inspector Thompson (veteran actor Ray Milland, around 70 years old by then) returns from retirement to take control of this case. His colleagues believe quickly that they found the killer, a local pervert, but as you can guess from the running time, the truth is more complicated and takes more investigative work to unveal...
The movie benefits from a very clever construction. We don't know who the killer is, that is normal for a crime story. But also the identity of the victim is unknown, and this parallel search keeps the suspense up for the audience. Due to its location in bright Australia, this never looks like a typical dark Italian Giallo, but that's making it more special.
The cast is great, including Michele Placido, Howard Ross and Mel Ferrer. The female lead Dalila di Lazzaro maybe less known, but she appeared in a weird selection of bizarre movies, ranging from Andy Warhol's 'Frankenstein' to Dario Argento's 'Phenomena' to Klaus Kinski's 'Paganini'.
Grumpy octopus walking
A Japanese team of explorers wants to take a closer look at a lonely island for possible use by a tourism company. Little do they know what they'll find: a grumpy giant octopus walking over land to kill and wave its tentacles a lot. When they find a way to fight the beast, promptly there are more dangerous creatures succeeding it, enlarged mysteriously by aliens who, of course, want to conquer Earth.
Ishiro Honda, director of the original 1956 'Godzilla' as well as many sequels ('King Kong vs. Godzilla', 'Mothra vs. Godzilla' etc.), created an entertaining monster flick here. "Nankai no daikaijû" is not outstanding in story, design or acting, but certainly not disappointing either if you like the genre. I watched it back in the 1990s and it was fun to watch it a second time now.
Monster Island (2019)
Bad, bad babies
Two employees of marine researcher Billy Ford (Adrian Bouchet) discover a giant starfish on the ocean floor which has lava for blood. Annoyed by the submarine, the starfish rises to the surface, slaps a couple of ships and then decides to head for the coast to lay eggs. Ugly little dragons are hatching from these eggs and start to puke lava at anyone they meet. Bad, bad babies! General Horne (Eric Roberts) summons the army in vain to solve the monster problem. Billy Ford, however, meanwhile simply attempts to find a bigger monster and arrange a battle of the two...
Another ludicrous 'Pacific Rim' rip-off from the Asylum factory line which was ok most of the running time (I voted 4 of 10). The actors were passable, some locations looked good, for example the Swiss cheese caves, the pacing was never lame, and the effects were what you expect from suffering similar experiences.
Tarzan's Peril (1951)
A comparatively serious adventure
After the silliness of the previous movie of the series ('Tarzan and the Slave Girl'), 'Tarzan's Peril' attempts to go back to serious jungle adventures. Tougher action, more realistic fight scenes, not as much comic relief (by the monkeys). Tarzan tries to stop an arms dealer this time. In opposite to the usual American parks and studio sets, a lot was actually shot in Africa this time. Due to this effort, 'Tarzan's Peril' is probably the best of the 5 Tarzan movies with Lex Barker. On the downside: one ridiculous fight with a man-eating (huh?) plant, and very little to do for Jane except to sit home and wait for Tarzan's return. Director Byron Haskin went on successfully to shoot H.G. Wells' 'War of the Worlds', among others.
Las amantes del diablo (1971)
This Spanish-Italian horror movie from 1971 revolves around the evil Doctor Nescu who seduces various beautiful women, until they take part in his satanic rituals. Altogether tame and very slow moving, not to say boring. It feels like half of the running time is spent by people standing around talking, smoking cigarettes and drinking wine. Then smoking another cigarette and drinking another glass of wine. If you didn't watch this movie, you didn't miss much. To mention a few positive things: Krista Nell, usually only in supporting roles, stars as Hilde who tries to escape from the Doctor's spell. She can be seen in a good lead role here. Occasionally we get some nice psychedelic camera work, and a good, scary soundtrack with plenty of organ playing is provided by skilled Italian composer Carlo Savina.
Mortal Engines (2018)
'Mortal Engines' got the subtitle 'City Wars' ('Krieg der Städte') in my country which is remarkably honest, because it actually is 'Star Wars' ('Krieg der Sterne') with cities. Luke, I mean Tom, wanted to be a pilot and see something of the world. Instead, he is stuck in one place where he has to repair trashed machines. Leia, I mean Hester, becomes a rebel hero and encourages him to become a rebel, too, and finally even pilot. The Dark Lord, read: Thaddeus Valentine, reveals 'I am your father' in the middle of a duel to the death which was definitely the most ridiculous copycat moment of them all. Rebel gliders meanwhile attack the Death Star, I mean London, before its new super weapon destroys the rebel base, I mean The Wall protecting the non-moving cities. The cyborg Shrike seems to be on a mission to kill Hester, but turns out to be an old friend - this is from 'Terminator II', not 'Star Wars', must have slipped in by mistake. If anyone compares this movie to 'Mad Max' or 'Waterworld', he probably refers to the look, not the story.
Everything you see in this movie, you have seen somewhere else before, and better. With one exception, and that's the beautiful Steampunk design. I was fortunate to watch it in 3D for maximum enjoyment. The basic idea of cities on wheels is nonetheless never convincing. If you see the chase at the beginning, the huge amount of energy London requires to move its millions of tons to chase a tiny city, makes clear that you'd spend much more energy of the chase than you will gain from the catch. Economy and physics are so unconvincing that we are talking about a pure fantasy world here, the sci-fi label is certainly misplaced on 'Mortal Engines'. This explains why you have many negative reviews from annoyed sci-fi fans here. 'Mortal Engines' can be enjoyed solely as blockbuster entertainment, but it fails completely as a vision of a possible future.
I liked the casting, some very good choices were made. Hera Hilmar is an impressive outsider, determined to her cause, trusting nobody. Robert Sheehan plays the big step from librarian to action hero very well, doesn't know how to talk to Hester at first, looking a little bit clumsy next to warriors like Anna Fang, that is perfect for the part, a character that needs to grow up to unforeseen tasks. We have an impressive bad guy with Hugo Weaving who knows a bad guy is more believable if he also has good sides, for example caring about his daughter Katherine. The script is mostly limiting him to a guy who wants the power of ancient technology just to wreak havoc - yet that's not the actor's fault. Stephen Lang picks up the seemingly impossible task to play a soulless being with a lot of soul and is brilliant at it. To cut a long story short: enjoy it for what 'Mortal Engines' is, a big show with too familiar story line.
The Widow (2019)
Three years after her husband disappeared due to a plane crash in Congo, his 'widow' discovers faint traces that he may still be alive. She flies down to Africa and starts an investigation that may be clumsy (she does not even speak French), but her stubbornness takes her through in one piece somehow. What she finds is however not what she expected, and to unknown enemies, her investigation about the plane crash is not welcome...
Well entertaining TV series, at 8 episodes neither too short to develop a certain complexity and interesting characters, nor too long to maintain suspense. I watched it in only three days because I was eager to find out how it continues, a very good sign. Familiar faces among the actors include Charles Dance ('Game of Thrones'), Alex Kingston ('Doctor Who') and of course Kate Beckinsale ('Underworld').
Worthy conclusion of the series
'Valley of Death' is the final movie of the immensely successful German western series of the 1960s based on Karl May's novels (albeit very loosely). It did not repeat the mistakes from Brauner's earlier production 'Old Shatterhand': the story is action-packed and to the point, Pierre Brice can shine (for example in Winnetou's knife duel against the enemy chief), composer Martin Böttcher wrote a great soundtrack, and experienced director Harald Reinl had the right feeling for the series. For the locations, they returned to places familiar for example from 'Winnetou I'. Even if the story seems like nothing new (bandits hunting for gold), 'Valley of Death' became a very entertaining movie that shouldn't disappoint the fans of the series.
Old Shatterhand (1964)
Lifeless despite the good cast
Before a peace contract with the natives will be signed, Captain Bradley and a bunch of outlaws try and sabotage it by faking Indian attacks on settlers. Old Shatterhand and Winnetou start searching for the members of this conspiracy.
It is a little bit strange that the movie doesn't really click, because it has all the ingredients of a typical Karl May western of that period, plus a perfect cast with Lex Barker, Pierre Brice, Daliah Lavi and Ralf Wolter as the good guys, facing excellent villains (Guy Madison, Rik Battaglia). It is somewhat too long with two hours for a rather straight story, and with its occasional brutality (even murder of a child) and carelessness for detail never develops the sense of magic that was typical for the best contributions to the series. Ultimately a disappointment.
2036 Origin Unknown (2018)
Lost in the machine
Katee Sackhoff is sitting 90 minutes in front of a green screen, talking to a machine, while a lot of colourful computer graphics are swirling all around her. This movie is supposedly about a conflict between humanity and artificial intelligence. The irony is that its makers do not manage to show any human aspects in it. Devoid of human interactions that might show the value of emotions and creativity as opposed to a machine's logic, the movie misses its aim and pushes the audience into a kaleidoscope of effects which are utterly sterile and meaningless. I give three of ten points, due to a certain weirdness that kept me watching till the end. At least it is not a typical low budget sci-fi flick.
Within the Rock (1996)
It's collision time again
A rather large moon is on course for a collision with Earth. Dr Shaw (Caroline Barclay) is sent with a team of space miners to drill tunnels into that moon, preparing its destruction with explosives. However, they discover an ancient hostile life-form 'within the rock', and then they are killed one by one. Their survival is not made easier by Ryan (Xander Berkeley), the captain of the spacecraft who wants to use the opportunity and run with a fortune of platinum they discovered, too.
To many viewers, "Within the Rock" (1996) looks like a rip-off to "Armageddon" (1998) but looking at the dates, it can't be. Instead it is borrowing a lot from the usual monster movie sources "Alien" (1979) and "Predator" (1987) as well as earlier collision stories, a classic sci-fi theme going way back for example to "When Worlds Collide" (1951). The spaceship, where they still use floppy disks in the control room, looks early 80s rather than mid 90s; even for a TV production the effects are quite embarassing. So are the characters, because they leave tons of powerful explosives in the crates while trying to hit the monster with a pickaxe. The predictable story may be OK to watch once, but you won't remember it next week.
Black Jack (1968)
The last laugh
Django (aka "Black Jack" Murphy in the original dubbing) plans a bank robbery which is brilliantly executed, but when it comes to sharing the loot, his partners rape and kill his sister, almost kill Django and run with the money. You guess it: only "almost" killing him was a bad mistake. The injured Django - with a walking stick! - goes after them for revenge, killing them one by one in interesting ways and enjoying it more than he should.
For many years, I only knew a censored version with a different ending, and believed this was just another violent western. Now I had the opportunity to watch the uncut original version, and this has a lot more quality and impact to offer. Only a few westerns of that period went as far as 'Black Jack' in showing how revenge destroys a man. Jack/Django only lives for revenge like one of The Walking Dead, and from the sympathetic character at the beginning turns into a sadistic monster, laughing when his enemies die. And with the different ending (no spoilers here, of course) the uncut version makes a lot more sense than the old edit. Recommended (except for the squeamish).
Dying to watch it - literally
Kirby (Norman Reedus, meanwhile famous for 'The Walking Dead') urgently needs money because his movie theatre is deeply in debts. Just then, the rich collector Bellinger (Udo Kier, whose connection to the horror genre goes all the way back to 'Mark of the Devil' in 1970) offers him 200,000 dollars if he finds the only copy of the infamous movie 'The Absolute End of the World' by director Backovic for him. The first showing at a festival caused riots and deaths since it was so disturbing. Kirby starts his investigation and finds that most people associated with the movie or Backovic are either dead or insane...
Now this is a story guaranteed to attract the horror movie fans, because who didn't discuss the question 'what is the most extreme movie you've ever seen' with fellow fans? In the skilled hands of John Carpenter, this subject becomes easily one of the best contributions of 'Masters of Horror', season one.