Saturday, 25 July 2009

Kull the Conqueror (1997)

Kull is a conquering barbarian. Not a barbarian in the Roman sense of the word - he does not have a beard - but throughout Kull the Conqueror, there was a reverberating reiteration constantly of the fact that Kull was a barbarian - if not the barbarian - in the fantasy realm in which the film took place. I have to keep the words - 'the Conqueror' - hovering at the ready near the back of my mind in case I accidentally slip - 'the Barbarian' - into position while writing, for you see Kull is quite similar to another all conquering hero with similar personality traits, who for antecedent's sake will remain anonymous until the next sentence. Yes, Kull is quite similar to Conan, but there are a few carefully selected choices that have been made in this film that set the film apart - some for better and some for worse - from the first Conan film. In the strictest sense, Kull is by far and away the younger brother of Conan, who has spent his time angrily head-butting rock formations with his forehead until his eyes water. In other words, he's the far stupider and yet far more entertaining of the two.

Anyway, the extent by which Kull may be enjoyed, can only truly be measured using a methodization that takes into account the viewer's perception of what makes a great movie. In particular it means, a film should be perceived thusly - first, how entertaining is it? And second, how well crafted is it? This means that a truly dreadful film, with the most laughable acting, shoddy camera work, hand made panoramic backgrounds that look like they were hastily put together by a drunken stage-hand - can all converge as one greater whole, far superior to any one particular ingredient. Conversely, a brilliantly well assembled piece of work, where glittering snowflakes drift beatifically onto the blood strewn ground of the later stages of the Battle of Stalingrad, might look amazing, but if nothing goes on to happen but an artistically rendered impression of boredom, then the enjoyment for most people, and me included, would probably not outlast the film. If ever there was a case in court where this could be put up to the test, then Kull would be up there representing. It is laughably bad and that's precisely what makes it brilliant. The maladroitness of the film is a particular highlight. In regards to the acting and some of the SFX and the gloriously machismo musical bars - the film sores into the realm of parody, but the usually gloriously unhinged writing is where brilliance lies.

It's when the film self-consciously starts self-parodying that the fun goes. I mean, if I want to see a film that knows it's funny and means it, I'll go get a comedy out. The line most obvious of this is the semi-famous: 'Your bride is 3000 years old!' (pause for comedic effect) 'What? She told me she was 19!' All very funny but just not the highlight in my book.

There are a number of plot-related areas that do need to be straightened out after watching this film however. For a start, why has Kull been given the completely unnecessary epitaph of 'conqueror', when all his individual achievements in this film, could have been accomplished by any random person with a couple of pointy sticks? Most of all this seems to be true to form, when he stumbles into the throne room of the king, who is clearly off his balls for everyone to see, having just slain a bunch of his own sons and heirs who lie dead at his feet, and having picked a fight with Kull; Kull manages a lucky blow that leaves the king bleeding his innards out onto the ground - and as he lays there bleeding out of his puncture hole, he crawls across to Kull and gives him the crown. Now, according to the Ancient Rules of the Kingdom as they are presented in this movie, if the king does this, then the whole process of primogeniture is overlooked and a new king is anointed immediately. This, despite the fact that the whole point of primogeniture was to stop precisely this sort of thing from happening. A crazy old king giving his crown to a horse or a warren of rabbits.

Moving on to other areas of plotting and the story has Kull's enemies doing a bit of plotting that moves the film's plotting forward. They decide that the best and really only way to get rid of Kull - who is after all just one man with a presumably limited support inside the palace and who had already been bested in swordplay by one of the lead plotters - the only way to get rid of this man, is a resurrecting ritual of a 3000 year old witch woman, who secretly and for no apparent good reason intends to take over the kingdom and bring about a somewhat silly
hell on earth scenario. Why? Why would she want to do this? Why would they go to such lengths? Why not just sneak into the palace in the dead of night and cut his head off? It seems like you're going quite the distance, having to resort to such extreme measures to kill a 'barbarian' who spends a vast amount of his time, running around with his top off.

Kull hardly strikes the impression of a Machiavellian genius, easily dealing with the matters of court intrigue and in possession of a laser sharp mind, presciently dealing with all possible conspirators that spring up during his tenure as an illegally appointed king, so really why the resurrected evil sorcerer? The matters that give Kull the most food for thought are his personal harem of slave girls and one in particular called Zareta. Because of this infatuation, Kull takes the drastically moral and yet unconstitutional step of freeing the slaves. You see, just as he announces to everyone in the Royal Court that slaves are now free to go, the Royal Eunuch rushes in and exclaims and gesticulates with his hands to a giant stone tablet that contain the rules of the kingdom. In a sense it is a written constitution, quite literally set in stone. Kull gets angry and says, 'But, I'm the King, surely as I say, goes?' 'But no,' spakes the Eunuch, 'It's unconstitutional, see?' Now, although I'm making up what they said, the gist is truthful and surely here lies the dilemma, because if what the king says does not always go - if it is deemed unconstitutional in other terms - then surely the old king appointing Kull as his successor must have been unconstitutional, unless this rather bizarre rule was a chiselled reminder of a bygone era that had been yet to be amended.

Anyway, Kull does not have much luck making his will heard and his regal proclamations oft seem to fall on deaf ears, held tightly covered by constitutional hands. His one early proclamation that does get through however - only happening after he whines like a little girl because he does not feel like much of a king - is a universal religious freedom that inadvertently creates the conditions for the resurrection of Akivasha, the 3000 year old witch thing, mentioned earlier. He goes to a party, hooks up with her and then marries her and on their wedding night, they get it on. However he dies. So not a great one really.

Shortly after, it is revealed he is not really dead but is being hung manacled to a stone pillar somewhere. Okay, so Aki can recreate a perfectly realistic representation of a human being simply out of the particles in the air? Hmm. Anyway, Kull escapes, fights some more, rescues Zareta the slave girl he likes, and they are joined by a friendly monk called Ascalante, then they go on a boat for a bit, overpower the pirate captain because he was going to double cross them, before finally arriving at an island where they pick up the wind of a god, Kull gets beaten some more and then he rushes back, just in time for the final confrontation.

It is in this final confrontation that Kull learns perhaps the most thoroughly immanent message of the film and that is - a man should always be himself. Throughout the course of the film he has been regularly mocked for being a bit barbaric and not noble in his blood. However, when he finally accepts who he is, namely a bad ass with an axe, he destroys the opposition before dealing with Aki by blowing off in her face. By which of course I mean, blowing the wind from the god at her face.

And that is that, apart from one tiny extra bit. Kull goes back to court, takes the crown and chops the giant stone slaps in two. As well as being an act of incredible strength, he's also made the kingdom a potentially unstable unconstitutional monarchy. I guess that's his way of making some amendments.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Land of the Dead (2005)

Having fought successfully the hordes of zombies involved in a zombie apocalypse the surviving human race who are a sentient expedient cancer at the best of times keep fighting the anti-social neighbourhood from hell in the zombie population who live just across the river in George A. Romero's, 'Land of the Dead'.

After chasing zombies out of town the humans settle down to rebuild civilisation with the help of a diabolically rich banker type who domineeringly controls them by establishing a market economy reasonably sophisticated in having an organised caste system harshly spring up out of nowhere that creates socio-economic situations where women are no better than prostitutes and the vast majority of humanity labour away in some sort of blatantly obvious Capitalist nightmare.

Social commentary like this has not been witnessed in the whole history of celluloid because hammering blatantly at the same point would normally have been excised onto the cutting room floor but because the film is hung to principles of providing commentary in the tradition of classic Romero the cycle can not be allowed to be deliberately broken and a perfectly good idea about the last desperate foggy whispers of humanity drifting precariously through a post apocalyptic wasteland is allowed to be wasted.

The film is a confusingly befuddled mixture because at heart it is a zombie film endowed with gruesomely unpleasant features that any respecting zombie film should possess - people getting eaten, decapitations, people screaming and so on - but then the vast dirge of plots plunges the film into the murky depths of plot convolution. The number of exigent plot-lines that lead nowhere in this film is really quite astounding.

The plot arc seems to go thusly - a group of mercenary soldiers led by a guy named Riley have been presented with a task of travelling around the dangerous wastelands and coming back with much needed supplies. Various events occur that culminate in Riley being locked up with a travelling companion of his who goes by the name of Charlie but who it seems was deemed to be insulted throughout this film by various different people who keep calling him or describing him as a retard. Riley and Charlie get joined in jail by a prostitute who they just rescued from a cage fight with a zombie who rather disconcertingly is called Slack. Mr Big Boss who is also Glaringly Evil Capitalist Man tells them that several of Riley's old gang have escaped with an all powerful tank/train/caravan thingy, called Dead Reckoning and have threatened to open fire on the city using a very powerful mounted rocket launching firing array, firing it over the river and causing a pain in the ass for the painters and decorators.

Meanwhile, the zombies have begun thinking for themselves as demonstrated by barely sentient grunts that pass for communication and a gradually acquired skill with various tools and weaponry. This film gleefully shows what it would like if a zombie used a gun, a spade, a pneumatic drill and some flaming barrels as explosives. Along with these spectacles we also discover that zombies from some antecedent event not examined in the film are a little afraid of water and require the motivation of lead zombie Big Daddy to enter into the cold water that surrounds the city where the last of humanity live. All this is yet to come in the horrifying denouement but until then the film switches back to Riley and Co who consist of Charlie, Slack, probably the best character in the film because he says very little called Pillsbury, some other guy, some woman and a Jeep they hot-wire. While getting the car random guy gets chewed on and then Slack shoots him in the face. After some rather stilted exposition that goes something like this:

Riley - When was the last time you were out of the city?
Slack - First time. I was born there. In that city.

- they arrive at the spot where Riley has worked out that Dead Reckoning will be, because unbeknownst to the lot who have nicked it there's a GPS device planted somewhere on board. After getting to a suitable place where they can lay in wait and spring an ambush Riley talks his way inside and the rest of them wait in the shadows. While this has been happening Evil Capitalist guy shoots a less evil capitalist guy over the issue of paying up or bailing with the money.

Quite why money is so useful outside of the confines of the city limits is never really made clear and so consequently the whole plot of this film is flawed from the outset and becomes just a Deus Ex Machina that drives this whole daft movie to its equally daft conclusion. While inside and they are preparing to fire, Riley uses a remote control that looks like he found it for a stereo and turns off the weapon array. After literally five seconds of trying to make him turn it back on again the lead thief turns to shoot Riley and gets shot from outside and this causes a terrifically embroiling gunfight that lasts for roughly five seconds. With the leader out on his ass the others immediately surrender and suddenly it's time for the denouement. The zombies now possessed with a bit more nous, wander underneath the waves for a bit and then emerge to find the human race a pretty deserving lot to be eaten as they are all lying around playing with themselves.

Subsequently, there is a horribly violent set of scenes where people get eaten, some guy gets his head pulled off, which is seen in silhouette and which weirdly makes it more disgusting. Well, what do you expect? That's zombies for you. Riley and Co race back but alas too late for most of the populace as they end up being served on the zombie delicatessen counter.