Joe’s Blog

Archive for January, 2012

Jaguar Lives! (1979)

January 26, 2012 12:11 pm

Jaguar Lives!

Maybe unusually for an exploitation fan, I’ve never really been a fan of kung fu movies. Yes, Bruce Lee was amazing, but his most famous film, Enter the Dragon, owes a bit more to Bond movies than it does to his older classics like Fist of Fury.

For me kung fu movies are very one note: hero is wronged, he has a fight; he goes somewhere, has a fight; a friend gets killed, he has a fight; he tracks down villain, has a fight. At least thats how every film I’ve seen goes. All that changes is the guy pretending to be Bruce Lee, and the settings. So, I’m probably not the best person to review Jaguar Lives!, an attempt to mould an all-American version of Bruce Lee.

And it fails. Miserably.

Jaguar Lives! is one of those films where the trailer is far more entertaining than the finished product, by a long way. It promises an all-star international cast featuring THREE, count them, THREE Bond villains, a Bond girl, Capucine and John Huston! It also promises us that debutant star Joe Lewis (a cross between Sam Jones from Flash Gordon and Gary Busey) is set to follow in the footsteps of Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood. It’s no great surprise that the trailer writes cheques the film cannot possibly afford to cash.

We meet the Jaguar (Lewis) racing his buddy to ‘The temple’ where a bomb is going to explode. Jaguar goes after a baddie and leaves his mate to defuse the bomb. Instead he shoots Jaguar in the back and lets the bomb go off. The rotter. But luckily… Jaguar Lives!

After a rehabilitation period under the guidance of his sensei (Woody Strode… yes, that Woody Strode), Jag is called back into action by Barbara Bach. She works for some internation spy collective called G6, and she needs Jag to… er… I’ll get back to you on that because the exposition happens so fast it’s not entirely clear what Jag is asked to do. He goes to see a blind man (Joseph Wiseman) who tells him where someone is.

Jag arrives in Made-up-a-guay and meets the country’s corrupt general (Donald Pleasance). After a bit of chat Jag takes on a group of secret police on motorbikes (to the strains of some awful matador music) and nicks a helicopter for his escape. That’s the last we see of Pleasance.

Stock footage is employed to show explosions happening in Paris, Rio and other parts of the world the production can’t afford to go to.

Jag proceeds to travel the world (or at least places that Spain can adequately stand in for), meets a guest star who delivers some pointless exposition, and beats up some guys. At one point he hangs on to a car roof, like you’ve seen in countless 70s cop shows, for about five minutes. There is quite an entertaining fight in a warehouse where Jag just chucks spanners at everyone and clambers up a forklift to oversea his handy work.

Eventually, he tracks down the criminal mastermind who is using John Huston’s shipping line to flood the world with drugs. He finds himself in Benidorm of all places (or Benedorme, as the caption states). There’s rather an elaborate set up to reveal who Mr Big is. Is it another guest star we haven’t seen yet? Fat chance. If you can’t work out who it is, you really shouldn’t be allowed near sharp objects.

This is truly dire stuff. It’s clear that Joe Lewis was never going to be a big draw, so the plan to surround him with a wealth of well-known (and indiscriminate) stars is sound. But it’s clear the budget couldn’t stretch to employing them for more than a day or two each. Much like the Amicus horror films of the 60s and 70s, it’s a cheap trick to convince the audience they are getting a star studded extravaganza when you’re actually getting a succession of cameos within a limp story, and a limper leading man.

Lewis arranged his own scenes according to the credits, and, to be fair, they look a lot dirtier than Lee’s or Jackie Chan’s highly coreographed brawling ballets. The final confrontation takes place in an abandoned castle, with the actors literally hurling themselves into brick walls and stony floors. But in terms of style, there is none. At one point the camera jerkily follows them as they fight, clearly with no idea where they are going.

Jaguar Lives! has done absolutely nothing to change my opinion of kung fu movies, and has further reinforced my belief than some of my favourite actors will do absolutely anything if you pay them and promise them a weekend on the Costa del Sol.

Mongolian Death Worm (2010)

January 13, 2012 3:28 am
Mongolian Death Worm
NOT Tremors 5… no… it’s not

It’s currently a great time to be a fan of exploitation trash. Or perhaps not. Ever since MegaShark v Giant Octopus a couple of years back, the world of zero-budget straight-to-video movie making (and I use that phrase in the loosest possible sense) has decided that the best way to make a quick buck is to replicate the formula of that near-legendary exercise in camp escapism. The only problem is none of the people involved in making these films has any talent whatsoever, so the only reason to watch them is for ‘oh-so-ironic’ kitsch entertainment. Sometimes even that isn’t enough to maintain the interest. Whereas the entertainment value of the Roger Corman-produced Sharktopus is increased through the consumption of alcohol, in the case of Mongolian Death Worm, that self-same alcohol will probably result in an early night.

Things start the way these things always start, with a caption explaining that the action is not in fact taking place in what suspiciously like somewhere in the American desert, but is in fact somewhere mildly exotic. In this case we are ‘in’ Mongolia.

At an oil refinery, there’s some digging going on. Only it becomes apparent from the exchange of sneers and threats that this digging is not strictly legal. We’re not told why, but it’s clear we are being introduced to a villain, Patrick, and a reluctant sidekick. We know he’s reluctant because he looks a bit ethnic and speaks of ‘his people’. He’s dead before the credits are finished, eaten by a huge CGI worm which looks suspiciously like a Graboid from Tremors.

The next 20 odd minutes are taken up introducing the bulk of the cast. Daniel is a scoundrel treasure hunter, on the run from some nasty treasure hunters who resemble Mexican bandits. He is played, in a rare moment of genius, by Sean Patrick Flanery, who played Young Indiana Jones in the TV series. Sadly the years have not been kind, and he now resembles a five foot version of comedian Doug Stanhope (EVERYONE in this film is taller than him). He’s looking for Genghis Khan’s treasure. Through a couple of plot contrivances he ends up giving a lift to a couple of doctors who are helping out a village (actually a port-a-kabin with corrugated iron stuck to the side) where everyone is ill. They are blaming the illness on “the worms!”, but of course the doctors think this is nonsense. They are people of science, and not stupid characters in a monster movie. One of the doctors is a cowardly wimp. The other (Alicia) is a hot-pant wearing, independent woman who doesn’t like Daniel because he’s arrogant and selfish. This is a plot point I’ve never seen before so I was intrigued to see how their relationship would turn out…

There’s also a Mongolian sheriff, who drives a rather swish 4×4 with Sheriff written on the side. In English. He also wears a cowboy hat, but sadly not a tin star.

The next hour is pure padding. Our heroes are captured by the bandits before the worms eat them. Bad guy Patrick is interrupted by the arrival of his boss and resorts to Terry and June levels of farce to prevent him from finding out what he’s up to. The sick villagers sweat and say ‘The Worms!” a lot. And every time you think “I haven’t seen those darned worms for a bit”, they’ll be a gratuitous scene of a character you’ve never seen stopping their car and getting eaten.

Eventually, the third act arrives. Patrick and his new reluctant sidekick launch a fake alert at the oil plant to evacuate it, so they can start removing things in tea chests. What could it possibly be?

The sick villagers are getting worse, and so is the plotting, as Daniel and Alicia decide to visit that nearby oil refinery and see if they can get some medical supplies. Finding it abandoned they decide to go and loot it anyway. But, wouldn’t you know it, Patrick nefarious drilling has been attracting the worms, and the plant is now overrun with them. It seems they were actually put on this earth to guard Genghis Khan’s treasure, and they are a bit peeved about having to actually do some work after all these years. They are also advancing, much slower than in the rest of the film, on the tin hut hospital!

So, we’re set for our climax. I’m not going to go into detail, not because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but just because it’s not really worth it. I’m sure if you’ve got this far, you can work out what our heroes will do with an oil refinery filled with killer worms. No? Need another clue? OK, there’s these three rotary handles to shut down the place. But if you turn them the other way they could blow up the refinery. So don’t turn them the other way. Careful now…

Even for a cheap-arse piece of exploitation this really is a chore. Terrible acting, awful dialogue, absolutely zero directorial flair. It just limps from unspectacular set-piece to uninspired set-piece, via clichéd dialogue and plot contrivances that were old hat in the silent era, topped off with a dose of the shoddiest CGI since Pierce Brosnan went ice surfing. The worms themselves look like animated transfers; they don’t seem to cast shadows, they have hardly any texture, and bear such a close resemblance to the Graboids, you’d think if Tremors had been made in the CGI era they were actually using the same animation.

To be fair, that paragraph could easily describe Transformers 3, so at least Mongolian Death Worm is honest in its own craptacular way. But it makes one sin too many: it’s dull.

After the initial set up, you don’t care about anyone in the film, so you just want to see the worms eat people. To be fair, they do at regular intervals (you can set your watch by it), but when the scenes arrive, they are so poorly rendered, and also quite quickly over, that you’re soon back watching Daniel and Alicia flirting, or Patrick ordering the natives around.

I know this isn’t supposed to be high art, but there must come a point in the production process when someone says “Look, guys, this is really a bit shit” or have we finally reached the stage where film makers (like their TV counterparts) have so much contempt for its audience that it will literally release anything now? If so I fear the next Sci-Fi, sorry SyFy Movie Special will be MegaCrocShark vs. Mongolian DinoOctoWormapus.