Friday, September 30, 2016

Hold the Logic - I KNOW WHO KILLED ME

I generally prefer my epicly bad movies to be vintage, 1995 or earlier (sweet spot, '75 to '85). The best, most enjoyable bad movies are the ones that don't see themselves as bad movies.  They were created in earnest, with passion and the desire to create something of quality.  They fail, but they often fail in spectacular, innovative ways.  To paraphrase Donald Trump, we've seen quality before, it's boring. (Wait, that might have been a direct quote.)  Contemporary films tend to be too self aware to really capture that magic.  There are exceptions, like THE ROOM, but most "bad" movies today seem to be aimed at the people who want to ironically enjoy a movie just so they can laugh at it.  I hate that pandering, winking, "isn't this the worst?!?" kind of attitude.  I watch a bad movie to be surprised, baffled, charmed, and then to laugh at it.  In an admiring way.  So mostly I stick to the older movies for my fix.  Every once in a while, though, I come across an oblivious, tone deaf modern masterpiece.  Welcome 2007's I KNOW WHO KILLED ME to the pool.

The Capsule:
Aubrey Fleming (Lindsay Lohan) has the perfect teenage life of being a piano prodigy, an aspiring writer, and giving her attentive jock boyfriend blue balls.  All this changes when she is nabbed by a serial killer who likes to lob off the limbs of his captives.  After a not very exhaustive manhunt, she is found in a ditch, minus an arm and leg.  The only thing is… she’s not Aubrey, but Dakota Moss, a skanky stripper from the wrong side of the tracks.  Both the cops and her doting parents think she’s delusional, creating Dakota as an alter ego to escape the trauma.  Dakota knows who she is, though, and with the help of her fancy new bionic limbs (!), she very, very slowly pieces together what is really going on.  The truth will be more stunningly ridiculous than anyone could imagine.  

On the surface, I KNOW WHO KILLED ME didn’t seem that crazy.  It was a stylishly shot mystery with a hot young star playing a duel role.  There are ambitious (and heavy handed) nods to De Palma and Lynch.  Seemed like a perfectly reasonable studio thriller.  Go a little deeper, though, and it becomes a one way trip to a color drenched crazyland.  

I guess this would be a SPOILER, but there is no way to talk about this film without revealing the underlying premise.  Dakota and Aubrey are stigmatic twins, separated at birth.  The deal with stigmatic twins is that when one is injured, the other sympathetically feels the pain.  Nothing new there, we’ve seen this bullshit in plenty of movies and TV shows before.  I KNOW WHO KILLED ME takes it up a notch, though.  Dakota doesn’t just feel Aubrey’s pain, she gets the physical manifestation of the injury as well.  As in, “oh crap, my arm just fell off for no reason.”  Like the best bad movies, it plays this preposterous concept totally straight.  A little bit of awareness does creep in when Dakota doesn’t tell the doctors or the cops because she knows they won’t believe her.  When she does tell Aubrey’s dad (Neal McDonough), though, he just goes along with it, instead of saying “Wait, that’s literally impossible.”

It does bring up the question of how these twins managed to avoid any serious injury up to this point.  Dakota doesn’t seem all that surprised by sudden, unexplained wounds, though, so I guess Aubrey is the clumsy one.  It’s just another perk to Dakota’s wonderful dirtbag life.  When her finger splits open and starts draining pus in the shower, she reacts like it is a nasty hangnail.  Even when her finger falls off, she just sews it back on and hopes for the best.  No reason to go to the hospital, because, as she says, hospitals are for rich people.  That’s exactly what I think when I’m in the Emergency Room lobby at 2am.  Too many damn rich people.  Hey Rockefeller, can you pass me that six month old copy of Woman's Day? 

I wonder if Dakota was ever up nights trying to figure out why the hell she keeps getting tennis elbow.  Also, if Aubrey gets her eyes dilated at the eye doctor, does Dakota get blurry vision?  If Dakota takes drugs, does Aubrey get a bonus high?  The questions are endless.

Other films have had concepts that make no sense in reality (looking at you, THE PURGE) but turn out to be reasonably good movies.  Luckily, I KNOW WHO KILLED ME does not rely on a single wacko premise.  Once the movie hits its crazy stride, the director goes all in.  Dakota gets a robot hand and leg, because why not?  At one point, she suddenly turns into Clarice Starling, searching the room of a former victim (not a smart Clarice Starling, though, since she doesn’t pick up on the clue that a four year-old would get).  There are prophetic dreams with animated tattoos.  Near the end, she and Aubrey turn into full-on telepaths.  She even has a vision straight out of a HARRY POTTER movie.  

I do like how they work in the title of the film.  Upon figuring out who kidnapped her twin, Dakota dramatically tells Aubrey’s dad, “I know who killed me.”  The dad rightfully points out that she is, in fact, not dead (and using the movie’s crazy logic, neither is Aubrey).  Like everything in the film, it sounds cool, but it doesn’t make a damn bit of sense.

The movie also scores points for its wonderfully impractical, amputation obsessed serial killer.  First of all, he makes all of his weapons and torture devices out of glass, because nothing is more intimidating than an extremely fragile knife.  He actually has a glass hatchet, which convinces me he didn’t think things through.  I suppose it’s better than making deadly instruments from egg shells or soap bubbles.  

Second, his method of choosing victims is ridiculously specific.  Technically this would be a spoiler, but the guy practically has a neon arrow blinking the word “killer” over his head when he is first introduced.  It’s the piano instructor, and he only abducts (1) his own students, (2) who have won a certain award, and (3) have decided to quit piano.  I’m surprised he didn’t publicly give them gifts of one glove and one shoe before the abductions.  It’s a good thing for him that the cops and the FBI are so astoundingly incompetent.  Otherwise they totally would have found his torture dungeon, also known as his unlocked basement.

As far as his motives go, your guess is as good as mine.  I kept waiting for some flashback or grim exposition.  Maybe his overly strict piano playing mother had a wooden leg, or he had some weird psycho-sexual trauma tied into the blue stained glass in his boyhood bedroom window.  A couple of times it seemed like he was about to go into it, but then nothing.  Just as well.  It gives you the chance to make up your own motives.  The backstory I created was that this freak was way, way too into THE PIANO, especially the part where Holly Hunter gets her finger chopped off, and he always fantasized about it being more extreme.  

The closest it ever gets to explaining anything is one bizarre line about the color blue (Aubrey) being first place and red (Dakota) being second place, and second place is not good enough for the killer.  Not only does this not really make any sense, but it comes dangerously close to having a character acknowledge the thematic motif of the movie.  It’s like Laurie Strode saying that the events in HALLOWEEN really mirror her conflicted feelings about sex.   

I would be amiss not to mention another delirious aspect of the film: Lindsay Lohan is the worst stripper in the history of cinema.  Predictably, she follows the tradition of high profile actresses playing strippers who do not actually strip.  She can’t even be called an exotic dancer, because nothing she does during her performances can be construed as dancing.   It’s more like staggering away from a car accident.  Was she specifically instructed to move as slowly as possible and avoid even the hint of rhythm?  She is so lethargic that I expected part of her routine to be laying down for a nap.  It makes Grace Jones’ striptease from VAMP look like an erotic masterpiece.  The crowd in that part of town must be hard up for adult entertainment, because they go crazy for her.  Maybe the club caters to necrophiliacs.  Look how little she’s moving.  That’s so hot. 

I KNOW WHO KILLED ME was not a rousing success when it was released, or any time since.  Perhaps it was too torture porny, a trend waning in popularity at the timePerhaps the baffling stupidity rubbed people the wrong way.  Perhaps America wasn’t ready to see the squeaky clean Disney nice girl Lohan as a drugged out mess.  Lohan was clearly ready, since she continued her string of bad behavior into the movie’s unofficial sequel, LINDSEY LOHAN’S LIFE, including many guest appearances in police mug shots and rehab clinics.  (Don't worry, she outgrew that phase and is back to acting, fashion designing, and designing spray-on tan products.)  Director Chris Sivertson didn’t become a household name, except in the house that held the Razzie awards.  He’s still active in films, but with much smaller scale projects, like co-directing ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE with indie horror prince Lucky McKee.  Writer Jeff Hammond went on to do nothing in cinema ever again, at least under that name.  It’s a pity, I would have liked to see what other works of inspired lunacy he could have created.  I KNOW WHO KILLED ME was an ambitious failure.  It reached for the stars, didn’t see the curb, and fell into the gutter.  And then was peed on by a drunken hooker.  It was a trainwreck, but I’ll take that over boring and predictable any day. 

C Chaka   

Friday, September 23, 2016

It's All In the Name: DEVIL’S EXPRESS

Sure, some movies may have a bigger budget.  Some movies may have better dialog and a lucid script.  Some might have much, much better acting.  Better everything, really.  But do they have an actor named Warhawk Tanzania?  1976’s DEVIL’S EXPRESS does.

The Capsule:
Kung Fu master Luke (Warhawk Tanzania) and his shifty student Rodan (Wilfredo Roldan) go to China for physical and spiritual training.  While Luke is meditating, Rodan gets bored and swipes an amulet from a nearby cursed cave.  The cave turns out to be the tomb of an ancient demon that has been trapped there for over 2000 years.  Now freed, the demon follows Luke and Rodan back to New York City in search of the amulet.  Being a simple country demon, it is not used to life in the big city and takes refuge in the subway.  Meanwhile, Rodan's gang, the Blackjacks, are having a beef with the Chinese Tongs gang.  The police think the mutilated bodies they keep finding in the subway tunnels are related to the gang war, despite the fact that gangs rarely tear people open from the inside out.  Luke tries to de-escalate the gang tension and uncovers the truth of the demon under the streets.  New York’s only hope lies with Luke’s badass skills as he challenges the demon to a Kung Fu battle to the death.  Note: this was the original ending for THE EXORCIST, but they decided to go high brow at the last minute.

Technically speaking, DEVIL’S EXPRESS is a bottom of the barrel Blaxploitation/Kung Fu movie.  It did have a full crew (including 5 screenwriters!), which is more than some of these movies can say, but that didn’t do it any favors.  Dialog fades in and out almost arbitrarily, even though the actors are clearly speaking.  It’s always covered by music, so maybe it was an artistic choice, though it seems more like the audio guy forgot to press record on the sound equipment.  Sometimes the camera can’t keep track of the actors during sudden movements.  The focus puller can be more of a focus guesser.  And while their Kung Fu is strong, their choreography isn’t.  Punches and kicks often come nowhere close to the actors, who react to them all the same.  I guess it’s the thought that counts.  It’s pretty close to DOLEMITE levels of rudimentary filmmaking, but without the charisma of Rudy Ray Moore.  

Instead, it has Warhawk Tanzania.  He might not have the moves of Jim Kelly, the cockiness of Fred Williamson, or the style of Richard Roundtree, but he does have the name Warhawk Tanzania.  A name like that gives you a badass pass for life.  I’m guessing it’s a stage name (I don’t know the Tanzania family personally, so I can’t be sure), but even so, it takes balls to carry that title.  Comparatively, his character’s name of Luke is pretty boring.  Perhaps he feared his role of the smooth talking, demon hunting, cop dissing Kung Fu master would be too over the top awesome for the average moviegoer if he used his real name.  

Unfortunately, he’s not in the movie that much.  He’s there in the beginning and the end, but disappears during the middle (after a weird, wordless montage of him hanging out with his wife or girlfriend and playing stickball with the adoring neighborhood kids).  He does show up for a great “telling off the cops” moment, even if the dialog is kind of odd.  “Look, Jim [note: the character’s name is not Jim], you don’t come on to my turf talking about busting ass.  You got to bring some to get some.”  Um…bring some ass?  How do you respond to that statement?

In Warhawk’s absence, the movie primarily follows his shady pal Rodan and his gang and their tension with the rival Tongs gang.  Thankfully, it’s not really about racial tensions.  The problems all stem from a dice game disagreement/hold-up that Rodan and one of the Tongs were a part of.    Then the Tongs rip off Rodan in a drug deal (see, shady).  After that it’s on.  Full scale gang battles ensue, complete with classic foley effects (each punch sounds like someone hitting a phone book).  Even with the less than convincing fight choreography, there is some decent mayhem on display.  There are rumbles in alleys and basketball courts.  No throwing stars involved, but there are nunchucks, and one of the Blackjacks pulls a full sized katana from his jean jacket.  A gang member spits blood like a fountain.  It’s got so much gang warfare, in fact, that following the success of THE WARRIORS a few years later, it was re-released as GANG WARS.  From what I can tell, it’s exactly the same cut of the film, but the trailer takes out all references to the supernatural or horror.  I imagine anyone going in expecting a straight forward gritty urban tussle left a bit confused.  I don’t think THE WARRIORS opened in China, 200 BC.  

There’s even a little bit of a police procedural rolled in as the cops try to figure out who or what is responsible for all the mangled corpses in the subway tunnels.  In this kind of movie, the cop parts are usually a slog to get through since the cops are either complete morons, or racists, or both.  The detectives in this one are a delight.  Cris is a street-smart veteran and a student of Luke’s dojo.  Sam is a smiling doofus who looks fresh from the country club (he’s shocked that Cris doesn’t play tennis).  Cris’ theory is that the bodies are due to the gang war.  Sam, who has a degree in criminology, thinks it is all due to mutant animals from the sewer.  There is a great scene where they go to a bar in Luke’s neighborhood for information.  Cris goes into the back room to talk with Luke, leaving Sam to order a Coca-Cola with a squeeze of lime from the bar and flash his “hi fellas!” smile.  Everyone stares at him like he’s a honkey from outer space.   You expect terrible things to happen while Cris is away, but when he comes back, everyone in the bar is sitting around captivated by Sam’s hypothesis about monster alligators and giant rats.  He has cut through the racial tension by being a totally oblivious goof ball.

The movie is full of quirky characters like this.  A put upon waitress turns out to be a karate expert and wipes the floor with two belligerent drunks. Speaking of the belligerent drunks, one minute they are trying to kill each other for some unspecified debt, and in the very next scene they are best pals again.  It could be a continuity error (one of countless), but I prefer to think this is just how these guys roll.  This happens every week with them.  Probably the most random thing in the movie is the sudden appearance by German comedic weirdo Brother Theodor.  He’s sort of the less violent Klaus Kinski.  I’m not sure if someone persuaded him to be in the movie or if he just showed up and started doing his thing because he saw a camera.

Then there's the unnamed, vaguely defined demon.  Obviously none of the five writers could agree on the exact nature of this creature, so it changes scene by scene.  In the beginning, it’s something like a mummy.  In order to get to New York, it possesses the body of a Chinese businessman.  You can tell he’s possessed because he stumbles around and has gigantic eyeballs.  The effect is super cheap, just painting big white eyes over the actor’s eyelids.  It’s silly, but surprisingly effective and even creepy when the guy flexes his eyelids.  Mostly silly, though.  When it first senses the amulet, the demon messily tears itself out of its host.   Then it seems to forget about the amulet and just kill random people, including one it lures into the tunnel with a distressed voice that sounds like Siri.  There is a nice scene where a crazy bag lady walks through the subway car loudly complaining to herself and hissing at passengers until the sight of a headless lineman shuts her up.      

It’s actually the Tongs who figure out what is going on once they snatch the amulet from Rodan.  They broker a peace with Luke (after he kicks most of their asses) and take him to their ancient leader, who like all elderly Asian characters in cheap exploitation movies, is a young guy in unconvincing old man makeup.  He actually looks a bit like a hairier version of Lando Calrissian's copilot from RETURN OF THE JEDI.  This unnamed old guy describes the myth of the unnamed demon.  If it can destroy the amulet, it will be unstoppable, free to cause havoc in underground mass transit stations all over the world.  Luke will have to fight the demon and force it back into the amulet (or something like that, he’s vague with the details).  Even though he can’t physically help Luke, the old guy says he will join minds with him.  I think this is just his mystic bullshit way of saying “my thoughts are with you,” while he stays safe in his apartment.  

The Demon V. Warhawk fight is the film’s biggest moment, of course.  There is little doubt who the victor will be once Warhawk shows up wearing form fitting, gold crushed velvet overalls.  The demon should have just crawled into the amulet at the sight of such glory.  Luckily for the audience, the demon evils up and we get our epic Kung Fu against Magic (and editing tricks) finale.  Just as the old man warned, the demon can take the form of people Luke cares about.  This means Luke has to fight against his wife/girlfriend/woman he had sex with in a montage, twin brothers from his Army unit in ‘Nam (totally made up that backstory for two random guys we’ve never seen before), and Rodan.  The old guy failed to mention that the demon can also stop time, become invisible, and throw ghost trains at Luke.  Add all that up with the completely different lighting in each shot and you have the most baffling yet awesome fight sequence ever.  

It is with great sadness that I report this was Warhawk’s last film.  His first film, BLACK FORCE, was released one year prior.  It is reported to be even worse than DEVIL’S EXPRESS, which means I have to see it.  Warhawk Tanzania did put out some ambient/noise recordings on Bandcamp in 2010, though I can’t confirm whether this was the man himself or just some guy who thought Warhawk Tanzania was an incredible name for a band (it is).  He was not, contrary to Rotten Tomatoes, in the 1994 documentary GANG WAR: RUMBLE IN LITTLE ROCK, proving that Rotten Tomatoes is, in fact, worthless.  Barry Rosen turned out to be a terrible director (he only did this one and THE YUM YUM GIRLS, made in the same year), but a fairly successful TV producer.  Some of his work includes such low shelf syndicated series like Highlander, Zorro (which I didn’t know was a thing), and Police Academy (which I really didn’t know was a thing).  He’s still working today on things I’ve never heard of.  

Even though is time in cinema was brief, the world should feel blessed to have witnessed Warhawk Tanzania face kicking a demon while wearing gold velvet overalls.  I certainly do.

Warhawk Chaka

Friday, September 16, 2016


The film studios’ relationship with sequels is complex.  Movies built on previously successful properties are likely to make money, and studios like money.  Okay, so it isn’t really that complex.  The reasons we watch sequels is a little more complicated.  Sometimes one movie isn’t enough to finish the complete story, such as with THE LORD OF THE RINGS, or STAR WARS movies.  Sometimes we love the characters and want to see them in new adventures, such as THE FAST & FURIOUS, or STAR WARS (see, complicated).  Sometimes we want to revisit stories years later to see how things have progressed, like with Linklater’s BEFORE series, or BASIC INSTINCT 2 (seriously, they made a BASIC INSTINCT 2, look it up).  And sometimes we just want more of the same (again, STAR WARS).  Unfortunately, most sequels end up catering to the last category.  Don’t get me wrong, I love plenty of more-of-the-same sequels, ones with just enough tweaks and twists and personality to stand out.  Horror sequels are almost all more-of-the-same, and they fill my shelves.  The sequels that I really admire, though, are the ones that take big chances.  They use the preceding movie as a stepping off point to explore the story from a completely new angle.  I love the ALIEN series because each movie is so different in tone from the previous one (I’m not including the ALIEN VS PREDATOR movies, as these are not films but crimes against humanity).  RAID 2 is like night and day compared to RAID, but both are incredible movies.  Taking huge leaps can sometimes lead to disaster, such as with HIGHLANDER 2 (the immortals are now aliens! On hoverboards!).  Other times it can lead to interesting, expansive, slightly less disastrous projects.   For instance, 2004’s THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK.

The Capsule:
Alright, try to stay with me.  In the far future, escaped convict and knife enthusiast Richard “Ricky” Riddick (Vin Diesel) is drawn out of his retirement on a desolate frozen planet and straight into an intergalactic struggle. The elemental wind witch, Aereon (Judi Dench. Really), has a plan (?) to stop the Necromongers, an army of death obsessed fanatics who like blowing up planets.  Riddick is the key.   Before she can explain how that is supposed to work, the Necros, lead by the Lord Marshal (Colm Feore), takes Aereon prisoner.  Riddick escapes the Necros but is taken prisoner by a team of mercenaries and hauled off to a triple max prison on Crematoria, a planet that is on fire during the day (reasonably comfortable at night).  There Riddick meets back up with Jack (Alexa Davalos), the kid who he saved in the previous movie.  She’s all grown up and going by the name Kyra, because now that she isn't pretending to be a boy anymore, Jack is kind of a stupid name.  Figuring out how to escape is not their biggest problem, though.  Lord Marshal has sent his top man, Vaako (Karl Urban), to find and kill Riddick before an ancient prophesy can come to pass.    

I haven’t seen anything of this ridiculous scale since David Lynch's DUNE.  It makes STAR WARS seem grounded and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY seem subtle.  The craziest thing, though, is that this is a sequel to 2000’s PITCH BLACK, which is about as small scale and intimate as this kind of sci-fi can get.  In that movie, a small group of space travelers crash on a planet teeming with subterranean light sensitive monsters on the one day in 22 years when there will be a total eclipse.  The original title was SHIT TIMING, but PITCH BLACK looked better on a marquee.  It was a film with limited and basic sets, a straight forward story, and was very character driven.  I would categorize it as more horror than sci-fi, like ALIEN.  Riddick wasn’t even the main character, though he was the most interesting.  It certainly wasn’t clear if he was going to survive to the end of the film (SPOILER: he did).  

The trailer for THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK really threw me for a loop.  The jump from small scale to elaborate spectacle was jarring, to say the least.  Even the title was weird.  It is more of a series title than a single movie.  Wasn’t the first movie also part of the chronicles?  Was no one keeping track before now?  In any event, I put off seeing it.  I feared that CHRONICLES’ bombastic space circus would leave no room for the small character moments and the tension that I liked so much in PITCH BLACK.  Happily, I was wrong.  While all of the (relatively) realistic elements of the first movie are long gone, the character of Riddick is exactly the same.  That factor is the best thing about the movie and is what makes it work.  The stakes in the story are huge and far reaching.  The scourge of the Necromongers threatens to destroy the entire universe (as vaguely defined as it is).  The only hope is a prophesy about a lone survivor of a vanished race.  Yeah, Riddick doesn’t give a fuck about any of that.  He only cares about two things, staying free and smacking down anybody who pisses him off.  He does feel a connection to the other survivors of the first movie, especially Kyra, but otherwise he can't be bothered. The lives he saves and the evil he overthrows is only a byproduct of everybody getting in Riddick's way.  Seriously, if Lord Marshal and his crew just left him alone, Riddick would have happily let every planet but the one he was standing on get blown up.  

The movie rests almost entirely on Vin Diesel’s brawny shoulders, so it’s a good thing he makes Riddick such a fun character.  He’s the kind of guy who only speaks badass.  Every single line means business.  If highways still exist in Riddick’s time, I’m positive that at some point he’s said “It’s my way or the highway.”  Diesel is great at action, so the film is filled with nice stunts, epic fights, and lots and lots of running, mostly in slow motion.  His run across the surface of Crematoria, trying to keep ahead of a surging sea of fire, is particularly impressive.  There is some shooting, but Riddick is a stabby/slashy kind of guy, so his fights are mostly hand to hand.  Side question, does bad guy space armor ever actually protect anybody?  

Alexa Davalos does a nice job of being the Riddick-in-training badass, Kyra.  Her tiny frame makes it a little hard to buy that she can throw all these big dudes around, but her attitude and scowl make up for it.  She is introduced beating up a bunch of prison guards from inside a locked box.  The scene implies there’s some kind of dangerous animal in the box, and it turns out to be a 90 lb girl.  The guards should know better than to underestimate her, but they don’t, and continuously pay the price for it (one handsy guard gets a bladed boot to the dick).  Maybe you should leave that one alone, fellas.  I like that even though she’s grown up all sexy, Kyra and Riddick never get romantic.  That would have been weird, since he probably still thinks of her as a 12 year old named Jack.

Keith David makes the most of his scant screen time, because any amount of time with Keith David is a good time.  The real stand out of the movie, simply because of her presence, is Judi Dench.  Honestly, I still have no idea what the deal is with her character.  She’s some kind of ghostly wind witch, but just listening to her go on about whatever-the-hell in her beautiful, dignified voice is good enough for me.  All I can think about is how Diesel got Dame Judi Fucking Dench to be in this crazy space opera.  I don't think she knew anymore about what was going on than I did, but it seemed like she is having fun, at least.

The Necromongers are fantastically detailed and outrageous villains.  They are the mopy goth kids of the universe.  Their national anthem is probably a Joy Division song.  All of their architecture and technology is based around suffering and sadness.  Everything has a giant frowning face on it.  Their ship interiors are all cavernous and filled with spikes (they must get so many OSHA violations).   They decorate with huge statues of people torturing themselves.  Even something simple like a lever has a twisted body in agony carved on it.  Their whole deal is that there is a wonderful paradise called “Underverse”, but you can only go there after you die, and only if you accept the Necromonger way beforehand.  In their minds, they are the good guys.  All the destruction and forced conversions are necessary to bring people to a glorious afterlife.  Crazy space religion, where do they come up with this stuff?

Colm Feore, who seems British, but isn’t, brings a wonderfully fanatic gravitas to the Necro leader, Lord Marshal.  He’s a legendary half dead, a concept that is never really explained, but means he can be in two places at once and can tear out people’s souls.  He also wears a helmet with a face on every side, which I’m sure his employees find very unsettling.  Can you imagine if your boss did that?  It leads to a very tense work environment.  That and all the spikes.  

Surprisingly, there is a lot of skullduggery and court intrigue in the Necro Empire.  Lord Marshal’s right hand man is Vaako, played by he-who-would-be-Dredd, Karl Urban.  He is a great warrior, slightly undercut by his constant brooding and that he kind of looks like a European runway model.  Vaako’s loyalty to Lord Marshal conflicts with his ambition to replace him.  His wife, Mrs. Vaako (Thandie Newton, in some truly spectacular costumes), is the Lady Macbeth in this dynamic, goading and manipulating her husband into making a power grab.     The end results don’t go exactly as they (or I) expected.  

My favorite Necro, though, is The Purifier, played by Linus Roache.  A more appropriate title would be The Emcee, because he’s really the Lord Marshal’s hype man, and he looks like he just came off an S&M version of Cabaret.  He’s the most death fetishistic of the Necros.  His uniform is stylishly accented with brass finger pieces and a cute bone encrusted skullcap (possibly made of real skull). At first it seems like he’s just a background character, but he has some secrets that bring Riddick’s prison escaping action movie together with the Lord Marshal’s Game of Space Thrones movie.

Director David Twohy (who also directed PITCH BLACK and the creepy haunted sub movie, BELOW) made a courageous leap with this sequel, and while there are a few shaky moments (and shaky 2004 CGI), it did right by me.  The movie wasn’t a hit, a lot of people didn’t know what to make of it, but it still managed to get a second sequel made, with plans for a third.  I haven’t yet seen part three, just called RIDDICK, but I’m hoping Twohy totally shakes it up again.  Maybe Riddick travels back to Industrial era London and battles steampunk robots.  You know, something reasonable.

C. Chaka