Friday, 30 September 2016

Icons of the Overlooked #14: Trevor Goddard


Even those familiar with the most obscure of action stars might not be able to place Trevor Goddard immediately. His highest profile role, outside of TV work such as JAG, was as Kano in Paul W.S. Anderson's Mortal Kombat. Aside from that he mostly popped up in made for home action movies. This, combined with his untimely death, meant that he was only able to build up a small body of work most of which was under-the-radar. Goddard's film work didn't allow for a lot of range but he absolutely owned the role he was often cast in: the action villain.

Goddard is like a cross-breed of Colin Farrell and Craig Fairbrass; his brick shithouse frame generating a deep and rasping British (sometimes Australian) accent along with a variety of tics and gesticulations making him appear intimidating, charismatic and watchable. He was brilliant at playing arrogant and psychotically violent arseholes while remaining weirdly likeable. I'll confess I've seen none of his TV work and only a handful of movies but those I have seen showed enough of this actor to make me want to see more.

Assault on Devil's Island AKA Shadow Warriors is a proto-Expendables movie that sees an elite team made up of c-list icons such as Hulk Hogan, Carl Weathers, Shannon Tweed and Martin Kove take on the equally
c-list Billy Drago. Goddard has fun as the ex-member of Hogan's team who initiates the lamest plan in action history (to strong-arm the US government into releasing Drago's drug lord by kidnapping their national gymnastics team) only to find his scheme messed up by Hogan and buds. Weathers and Cove are always good value and Tweed, though often forced to appear in only her pants, shows considerable aptitude for both action and humour. Hogan, unfortunately, seems to want to play it straight and stripped of his bleached handlebar and shouty antics ends up just lumbering across the screen looking like Herman Munster has just rolled around on a Barber Shop floor.

Thank Christ for Goddard then, who makes up for Hogan's monotone turn by acting like a WWF wrestler and yelling his lines with the requisite verve. It's not his best role and the movie is clearly cheaper than your average actioner but it's not without its charm. Remember those Saturday afternoon behind-the-scenes movie shows that showcased the stunts from a movie you'd never heard of? I think this was the movie they were talking about.


In the same ballpark, though considerably better, is the intensely undervalued Men of War. Dolph Lundgren gathers a team of mercenaries to persuade the indigenous population of  a remote Asian island to vacate so some shitty rich people can exploit the location's natural minerals. They don't want to go and so half the team, Lead by Lundgren, side with the natives and prepare to fight off the other half of the team and the local Militia. This Militia is lead by Goddard and within a minute of appearing on screen he manages to steal the movie. In under 60 seconds of being on camera he perfectly constructs the most repulsive piece of shit bad guy and yet does so with a disarming amount of charm. He's bad, he's mental and he's just the right shade of pantomime. The scene where he executes a corporate takeover of sorts is played brilliantly by him while his climatic bare-knuckle brawl with Lundgren is a beaut.




The movie itself is actually very good. The natives are handled in a way rarely seen in these kinds of movies and this is primarily achieved by spending time developing them as human beings before introducing the mysticism and guerrilla tactics usually used to reduce them to stereotypes. Although this section of the movie is slow it's really engaging and uses the varying talents and presences of the cast perfectly. When the action does come its pretty bloody good. This movie has got heart, craft, some fine kills and creates a scene-stealing role for Goddard.

I love Mortal Kombat but even I am acutely aware it's hardly a fine adaptation of the game. The scale and mythology is wasted and the casting isn't a home run either. Linden Ashby is charismatic enough, but his pastel shirt wearing pretty-boy doesn't come close to the cocky cage fighter the game suggests. Christopher Lambert's performance consists of him being Christopher Lambert only this time wearing a hat while everyone else just wears the costume of the character, rather than actually brining them to life. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa is great as Shang-Tsung if only by virtue of being Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa but Goddard is the only one to add something his character.


Goddard turns the balding, Judo Gi-wearing cyborg from the game into a spitting, crass badass who, like the roles above, is infinitely more interesting and watchable than anything else going on on screen. It's a tiny part (some dialogue and one fight) but its enough that once he's taken out the movie is noticeably missing something. Games designers clearly though so too, as future versions of the character seemed to draw from Goddard rather than the early game designs.

Whether he was on the verge of a bigger break is difficult to say (his last movie performance was only a tiny part in the first Pirates of the Caribbean) but the work he did produce demonstrated an actor right at home in ensemble action movies. He's the kind of actor that would have been a great addition to Dutch's team in Predator. It's a crying shame he didn't get to headline at least one action movie of his own before he died. Watch any of the movies above (start with Men of War) and tell me otherwise.


Sunday, 25 September 2016

The Perfume of the Lady in Black (Francesco Barilli, 1974)


Sylvia is haunted by the images of a black-clad woman and a small child. As the images increase in frequency and violence she finds herself slipping into madness, a madness that accelerates when those close to her start to die.

Like Malastrana, Perfume has a lot of elements in common with Giallo but is far from a conventional example. It is more lurid than Malastrana, featuring sex and violence that is more graphic though only in fits and starts. The main thrust of this movie is not gratuitous gore shots and nudity but a woman'a descent into madness.

This relies heavily on a strong central performance and Mimsy Farmer delivers. Her mental unravelling is subtle and she manages to avoid any overblown theatrical hysterics. Even at the end, when her madness drives her to extreme actions, she never plays insanity but exploited fragility. Her penchant for wearing less than opaque clothing gives her an ethereal quality and genuinely makes her look vulnerable even in broad daylight, rather than it being an excuse for placing the female lead as a sexual object.


Her performance is aided by some exquisite cinematography. The lighting is beautiful and is never afraid to use colour or appear stylised while staying just on the right side of cartoonish. It also conspires with set design and camera to create great depths of space. Wide shots hold together immense detail while corridors, mirrors and windows allow for sets to roll on into the back ground. Sylvia moves through these spaces like a ghost, alone, even in the busiest of shots.


Sylvia's final moments on screen are everything you could want from a horror movie. They are a wonderful subversion of what came before without coming out of left field (if you've been paying attention that is), they make enough sense without leaving some elements to ponder and, more than anything, they are so shocking that on first viewing I'd reached the end of the credit roll before I mind snapped back into the room.


Perfume is a slow burner but one that keeps you gripped. It look incredible, features a brilliantly subtle central performance and a finale you'll want to talk to people about but won't be able to. It's a brilliant piece of filmmaking.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Malastrana AKA The Short Night of Glass Dolls (Aldo Lado, 1971)


Malastrana opens with the lifeless body of Gregory Moore, an american reporter working in Prague, being discovered in a garden. He is whisked off to hospital where he is pronounced dead and scheduled for an autopsy.

Then we hear Gregory's voice as it wonders why the Doctors can't tell he is very much alive.

As the countdown to this soon-to-be fatal procedure ticks away Gregory must search back into his memories in order to piece together how he ended up seemingly dead in the hope of finding some clue as to how he might communicate with the doctors who are about to cut him apart. As his mind casts back we see him investigate the disappearance of his girlfriend and how this leads him to solve a puzzle that somehow centres on a strange club.



Malastrana could so be easily classified as a Giallo. A foreigner in a strange city looking for a missing girl while presumed guilty of the crime is a classic set-up of this sub-genre. While it fits with the narrative structure, however, stylistically it is a far different beast. A slow burn investigation with only a couple of murders taking place, and these mostly off screen, the movie is missing the lurid thrills associated with the classics of the sub-genre. I'm not trying to offer some concrete judgement on whether this is or isn't a Giallo but if you go in anticipating a primary colour soaked murder-fest you'll miss on all the real pleasures this film has to offer.

Malastrana is not concerned with being flashy or urgent, nor particularly complex. The mystery, such as it is, plays pretty routinely and don't think you're going to get a huge twist ending (well, perhaps you do... more on this later). What the film has got going for it is an undefinable sense of foreboding. Despite it being fairly routine and relatively tame by comparison to other films of its kind you can't help but feel that something is very wrong from the moment the first frame hits your eyes.


Ennio Morricone's score is masterful. Beginning playful and at times melancholy it becomes something anxiety ridden and filled with dread without you ever noticing the transition. The score lays the tracks for this train to drift out of familiar territory while slowly, covertly rumbling towards the end of the track.

I can't really talk about the ending. It isn't a twist, as I have said, but it has the impact of one. Building it up too much will only raise expectations that it won't meet and yet it is important that you know the film goes somewhere should you find its relaxed pace somewhat taxing. Whatever the ending is I'll tell you this: It delivers a satisfying one-two punch of the bizarre and the macabre.

The movie isn't for everyone and it certainly isn't perfect. What it is, though, is a simple mystery story wrapped in a brilliantly conceived framing story that takes you by the hand and quietly leads you somewhere you may not have expected, or chosen, to go.



Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Total Cults Total Tabletop: Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards - Rumble at Castle Tentakill


Overview


Take on the role of a master wizard and construct devastating spells to inflict damage, score blood and unlock powerful treasures to defeat your rival wizards.



Table Play


Each player takes a Wizard character card, sets their health at twenty and their blood (the games currency) at zero. They then draw a hand of eight spell cards and unleash hell on each other. A spell can consist of up to three cards made up of Source (who is generating the spell), Quality (the dash of creativity) and Delivery (the monstrous creature the spell conjures). Only one of each card may be played and they must be played in that order, however a spell can consist of one, two or three cards.



The player who laid the lowest number of cards goes first, resolving the cards in order of play. The combination of cards can lead to a multitude of effects aimed at random targets. Blood earned can be spent to increase the effects of cards while treasures can be added to give special bonuses. When a wizard's health counter hits zero they are dead and out of the round. Last wizard standing wins!




Above the Table


With such a simple game mechanic the table play flows pretty easily allowing for lots of strategising, deception and betrayal. Damage is inflicted in a huge range of ways depending on the combination of cards you play from simple dice rolling to swapping a certain class of cards with other players and dealing the equivalent amount of damage as you do. A card standee is exchanged and can earn you blood but also make you a target for certain attacks making it an item you may want to take for yourself or inflict on other players. Since targeting can often be designated by who has the highest/lowest health you can find intended targets change mid-spell leading to some unfortunate damage dealt to players you are trying to side with. It's almost impossible to stay loyal - it's every wizard for themselves! One of the games many pleasures is reading aloud the spell name, also constructed from a combination of separate elements:



Craft


This is a gorgeous looking game. Neatly packed into a small box the cards, rules and playing pieces are adorned with wonderfully grotesque cartoons that balance just on the edge of crass. The box boasts the game contains "awesome" mature content and profanity, but nothing approaching Cards Against Humanity shock tactics. The world this game builds is fun and the build quality is robust and wonderfully tactile.





Experience Level


The content pretty much ensures this is not for younger kids but beyond that anyone can play. Once you've nailed the central mechanic the game can be as simple or complex as you want. This particular version is an expansion of the previous set Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre (although both can be played as standalone games) and this one adds in a few new rules. Myself and the Gogol family found it super easy to pick up and play though if you have any concerns maybe go with the first release.



Overall


This was a relatively inexpensive game that can be picked up pretty quick, plays as fast as you want and has found its way into regular circulation at Chateau Gogol. Great fun!







Sunday, 11 September 2016

The Wraith (Mike Marvin, 1986)


A teenager if stabbed to death by a vicious gang and returns as a spectral warrior hell-bent on vengeance. This phantom has two forms; a teenage heart-throb, played by Charlie Sheen, and an armour-plated terminator who drives a Dodge concept car. While the heart-throb form seduces the gang-leader's girlfriend the armoured wraith picks of his gang members on the dusty roads in car-on-car duels.


The element that strings all these narrative threads together is Randy Quaid's Sheriff Loomis who is trying to piece together the mystery while saving as many lives as he can. It's essentially a slasher movie, albeit one where you sympathise with the killer, and the dramatic elements are engaging enough to ensure that the film doesn't drag between the kills.

A slasher movie lives or dies by its kills, but since The Wraith only has the basic story beats of a slasher it is free of the usual conventions. Therefore rather than stab away at gang members the Wraith challenges them all to dangerous races ultimately using some ethereal trickery to run them off the road in a series fiery car stunts. The stunts themselves are the usual stuff and with the exception of an impressive garage explosion most of the cars just roll upside down and explode. The final chase is good fun and the shotgun attack on the gang's garage is a nice change of pace. It's no Road Warrior, but it'll scratch an itch.


Considering the current thirst for 80's nostalgia I'm surprised this film isn't known more widely. Not only are the cast fairly iconic 80's actors but the movie features a burger bar with roller-skating waitresses, lots of dry-ice cut with blue spotlights and the soundtrack is populated with names like Billy Idol, Robert Palmer, Stan Bush and Motley Crue. It wasn't uncommon when renting videos to be lured in by an awesome VHS cover only to find the movies bears no resemblance (I'm looking at you Deathstalker series) but The Wraith is a rare 80's movie where the iconic image depicted in the VHS cover actually appears more than once in the movie.


I have a great deal of fondness for The Wraith and even though its not a great movie by any stretch it is pretty hard not to have fun with. It's currently on Amazon Prime although bizarrely it is dubbed into Dutch. Since I couldn't be bothered to set up my VHS player this is how I watched it and it didn't make any difference really. That's either a testament to the movies visual storytelling or a clear indicator that the dialogue is perfunctory at best. Either way, The Wraith has a cool killer, an awesome car, some good chases and a pre-madness Randy Quaid. What's not to like?