Saturday, July 28, 2018

Film Review: HIGHLANDER III: THE FINAL DIMENSION (1994, Andrew Morahan)

Stars: 2 of 5.         
Running Time: 99 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Christopher Lambert (HIGHLANDER, SUBWAY, HAIL CAESAR!), Mario Van Peebles (RAPPIN', HEARTBREAK RIDGE), Deborah Kara Unger (CRASH, THE GAME), Mako (CONAN THE BARBARIAN, PACIFIC HEIGHTS).
Tag-line: "One man was chosen to protect all that is good. Now an enemy from the past journeys time to challenge him in the present."
Best one-liner: "There can be only one?"

HIGHLANDER III: THE FINAL DIMENSION must partake in some majestic retconning and narrative gymnastics to even justify its existence. For the uninitiated, HIGHLANDER the First depicts a challenge among immortals called "The Gathering" with the operating tag-line "There Can Be Only One."
 ...three HIGHLANDER movies. Er––make that six, and counting. Plus two television series. Live action, that is. And three animated series. And a handful of novels.

They commence beheading each other (the only way to kill an immortal) until there is indeed only one left (sorta like BLOODSPORT, I suppose, only with more immortal beheadings), whereupon the winner (Christopher Lambert's Connor MacLeod) undergoes "The Quickening" and brings balance to the force or whatever. HIGHLANDER II at least has the good sense (?) to imagine a whacked-out future scenario where aliens, global warming, and a long-haired Michael Ironside join forces to keep the plotline going. However, HIGHLANDER III––a prequel to part 2 that I'm certain no one asked for––takes a full step backward and imagines that "The Quickening" was actually a sham, because Mario Van Peebles (RAPPIN', EXTERMINATOR 2) was a top-seeded Gathering contestant who happened to be accidentally trapped in a cave in Japan the whole time, and therefore The Gathering ain't over till Van Peebles licks all the blades
wears all the samurai armor

(This ain't KAGEMUSHA)

does all the eyebrow indicating

(To be fair, he's good at it)

gets zapped with all the '80s lightning

and turns into all the birds.

His name is Kane, like from 'Cain and Abel,' which is a very artistic way of letting us know that he has a brotherly relationship with our hero, except, of course, he's the "bad one." (See also: all the other times a character was named Kane for similarly embarrassing, crypto-philosophical reasons.)

Frankly, however, we should all be glad that Van Peebles shows up to do things like 'look like Dave Navarro playing CONAN THE BARBARIAN' and––because he's been trapped in a cave for centuries and doesn't know what they are––'eat condoms.' This is probably the high-water mark of the film.

"No glove, no love" is actually said aloud during this sequence. Also, is this some kind of oblique reference to Van Peebles' father Melvin not using a condom and contracting gonorrhea on set of SWEET SWEETBACK'S BAADASSSSS SONG (for which he obtained Worker's Compensation)?

Is this a good movie? No. No, it is not. There are lapses in continuity, hilariously stilted dialogue, and incomplete mattes.

We are forced to endure tableaux such as a yuppified Connor MacLeod wearing dumb shirts, playing catch, and bonding with his son

as well as redonkulously dumb drawing room flashbacks to 18th Century France that feel like scenes deleted from ANGEL, or at least HELLRAISER IV.

Not even Lambert deserves this

You're probably wondering if this is all worth your time. It's not––but it's also not entirely without value. For instance, the female lead is Deborah Kara Unger (David Lynch's HOTEL ROOM, David Cronenberg's CRASH, David Fincher's THE GAME),

a Canadian actress who probably could have achieved more mainstream success, booking romantic comedies and the like, but who chose to fully embrace the "bizarro character actress" route. She always brings an unpredictable dark edge to her roles, in the vein of a Willem Dafoe or Crispin Glover or Susan Tyrrell.

When she first meets Kane (he breaks into her museum, after hours), the blocking and dialogue play out almost exactly the same as a seminal scene from TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 when Chop Top (Bill Mosely) breaks into Stretch's (Caroline Williams) radio station and, posing as her biggest fan, proceeds to intimidate and weird her out.

It's a pretty deep cut as far as homages go, though I think any fan of TEXAS CHAINSAW 2 would spot the parallel immediately.

Eh. What else? At least we get to see Connor McCloud beat the guillotine. You know, between the French Revolution, The Wars of Scottish Independence, World War I, World War II, the American Revolution, The Napoleonic Wars, etc., etc., the dude is essentially the Forrest Gump of your Western Society class, and I'm honestly surprised he never crossed paths with Bill and Ted.

I'd say that none of this is essential viewing, and I'm one of those people who will wholeheartedly recommend HIGHLANDER II.

In other words, watch HIGHLANDER, HIGHLANDER II, and then, in lieu of HIGHLANDER III, just watch the Michael Ironside Labatt Blue Maximum Ice beer commercial that was an official HIGHLANDER II tie-in.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Only now does it occur to me... BRING IT ON

Only now does it occur to me... that early '00s cheerleader classic BRING IT ON contains an extended homage to Bob Fosse's 1979 masterpiece ALL THAT JAZZ.

Midway through the film, after the rich girls of Rancho Carne High School realize that their marvelous cheerleading moves have been purloined from East Compton, the team––which includes Kirsten Dunst and BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER's Eliza Dushku––realizes that they need fresh creative inspiration, and assemble the funds to hire an outside choreographer: the legendary "Sparky Polastri" ( played by Ian Roberts). He makes a dramatic entrance to the seminal Eurotrashy '90s hit, "Get Ready For This," by 2 Unlimited,

and there's something familiar about his knee-high boots,

 all-black attire,

abusive attitude,

neatly-trimmed half-goatee,

 and copious use of jazz hands

(which, to be fair, he calls "spirit fingers"),

which clued me in that that Sparky is intended to be a stand-in for ALL THAT JAZZ's "Joe Gideon," the 'warts-and-all' autobiographical portrait of Bob Fosse.

However, the thing that really puts it over the edge is when Sparky begins downing handfuls of Dexedrine,

just as Roy Scheider does so notoriously (and frequently) throughout ALL THAT JAZZ.

Ultimately, Sparky reveals himself to be a false messiah, though his routine is used once in competition, and it is something of a joy to see two dozen uniformed cheerleaders doing avant-garde Fosse moves on ESPN2.

Later, when the team must move beyond Sparky's shadow and explore their own creativity, they turn to martial arts, mime, and an actual Fosse film (SWEET CHARITY) to fuel their artistic vision.

(Naturally, I approve of all of this––and if you've not yet seen it, I cannot recommend ALL THAT JAZZ enough: it's one of my all-time favorite films.)

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Only now does it occur to me... THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE

Only now does it occur to me... that the 1997 supernatural courtroom thriller THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE is not merely a vehicle for Keanu Reeves to give voice to one of the worst Southern accents ever uttered,

nor is it simply a platform for Charlize Theron to allow her eyes to glaze over and pretend she's actually in ROSEMARY'S BABY,

nor is it merely a canvas for the best-worst pixelated hellscape that overtaxed '90s computer processors could provide,
More like THE GARDEN OF CGI-BLIGHTS, amirite? 

nor is it purely a delivery system for Al Pacino to scream hoo-ah (or something) while he transforms into a shirtless demon via a special effect that wouldn't have passed muster on ANGEL:

nor is it solely an offering of proof that Satan takes the subway:

no, though this amazingly dumb motion picture is indeed all of these things, there is still more. Like AMERICAN PSYCHO before it, THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE is also a repository of jarring Donald Trump references.

When minor villain and multiple-murdering billionaire Craig T. Nelson (essentially his character from ACTION JACKSON) appears on screen, his gaudy, gilded apartment seemed quite familiar to me:

At first I pegged it as a studio reproduction, but some quick research immediately confirmed that is indeed Donald Trump's apartment. People are saying, that when one comes to see any publicity is good publicity, one might loan out their personal quarters to a film where Satan himself reigns over a New York of moneyed minions,

and where the inhabitant of said gold-plated quarters is portrayed as an unrepentant psychopath who surrounds himself with legal counsel in place of a moral code. But one does not offer something for nothing: publicity begets publicity, and perhaps there was a synergy at play with regard to Trump crony Don King's cameo:

But screen-time for a friend fails to satisfy the ego, doesn't it? And so we enter a scene depicting a gathering of New York Republicans (though it's worth noting that Trump was a lapsed Republican and registered independent at the time––and would go on to register as a Democrat in 2001 before finally resettling with the Republicans in 2009),

Bizarrely, on the far right is then-sitting Republican Senator Al D'Amato, who seems shockingly on board with his cameo's implication that he's a Satanist.

where a gaggle of bon vivants speculate on the whereabouts of Donald Trump:

saying that he's probably tied up with a business emergency with Mort Zuckerman, owner of the New York Daily News and frequent Trump media foil.

We know that Trump has a history of insisting on cameo appearances in films where his properties are featured, so one can assume that he likely insisted upon this reference to himself. And it's also worth mentioning that it's not only a reference to his business acumen, but also a veiled attack on one of his enemies in the press.

Reading between the lines, people might even speculate on other elements that Trump may have insisted upon. For instance, it's unnecessarily clarified that Craig T. Nelson's character is a billionaire, not a mere multi-millionaire. Since we know that Trump's wealth may very well be the locus of his insecurities, it's not so hard to imagine that he would want audiences to know that only a true billionaire could possibly afford to live in his apartment. This brings me to a final question: if Trump projected his insecurities onto a character who lives in his apartment and wished to 'correct' that character to match his personal image, why didn't he interfere to make the character ultimately innocent of the crimes (or at least less of a blundering sociopath)? Or did that thought not even cross his mind?