Archive for September, 2011

Original Spanish "Star Knight" Movie Poster

Hooooo-boy. It’s honestly hard to know where to begin when discussing/opining about Spanish co-writer/director’s 1985 bizarre sci-fi opus Star Knight (original Spanish title El Caballero Del Dragon) simply because the end result of Colomo’s efforts here is so comically bizarre as to defy description. But I’ll give it a go because that’s what I do.

First off, I don’t think Colomo had any overt desire to make a comedy here, although many aspects of the film are designed for good old-fashioned comic relief (the laughably Green Knight character being foremost among them). You don’t enlist the likes of Harvey Keitel (not that he’s listing this at the top of his resume or anything) and Klaus Kinski (who should always be referred to, I think, with an obligatory “fucking” inserted into the middle of his name — as in “that’s Klaus fucking Kinski, man”), I think what he was going for, it’s fair to say, is a good, old-fashioned “trippy” quasi-mystical flick that will really, ya know, absolutely blow your mind!!!!!!!!!!!!!! the problem is, the whole thing is so incompetently put together that it never had a chance, and the end result is one of those movies that, yeah, you really do have to see to believe, but not for the reasons Colomo intended.

First off, we might as well get the plot basics out of the way — in some unspecified medieval time, a knight named Klever (Keitel) is tasked with rescuing the beautiful princess he’s secretly in love with (Maria Lamor) by her father (Fernando Rey). The princess was apparently taken by a dragon who lives in a nearby lake, and oh yeah, Kinski’s on hand as Boetius, the obligatory mystic-seer- guy of the kingdom (who’s actually the root cause of all this trouble, as we come to find out). He’s also the only actor on hand who doesn’t appear to be totally mailing it in, and engages,a s you would expect, in his usual absolutely epic scenery-chewing. More power to him for at least giving a fuck.

Once Klever arrives at the lake, though, he quickly discovers things aren’t as he thought they were at all — for one thing, the “dragon” is actually a spaceship, and for another, the princess has gone and fallen in love with her humanoid-looking alien captor. Ah, the drama of it all —

"Yeah, okay, it's me, Harvey Keitel, but let's just keep the fact that I was in this between you and me, okay?"

So, you rightly ask, given such a world-class premise (*cough*) what could possibly go wrong? Well, for one thing there are the effects. For a movie made in 1985, most of the laser lights and glowing orbs and what have you on display here would look out place in terms of cheapness even 20 years earlier. Then there’s the incredibly ham-fisted dialogue — granted, given this was a Spanish film, maybe it looked better on paper and just got butchered by some inept translator. Even then, though, there’s no excuse for the truly atrocious dubbing. I swear, I thought Pieces (another Spanish effort) had the worst dubbing I’d ever seen, but this thing has it beat by a damn sight. Then there’s the way the plot quickly goes off the rails and never gets back on. Then there’s the laughably absurd poor-man’s mysticism that thinks it’s just so damn profound. And the aforementioned absolutely wooden acting by everybody knot named Kinski (sorry, by everybody not named fucking Kinski). And the less-than-convincing (to put it kindly) medieval costumes. And the languidly droll pacing. And — you get the idea.

The Green Knight, a show-stealer every time he pops up.

Don’t get me wrong, though — these aren’t reasons you shouldn’t see Star Knight, not by any means — they’re reasons you should. It’s a rare film indeed that sees its realizations fall so far below its intentions, and that’s always a glorious sight to behold. Star Knight wants to be Dune or 2001in terms of its epic scope and high-brow concepts, but it’s got the budget of an Italian postapocalyptic flick and is pursued with Ed Wood-level competence. The result is a dizzying spectacle of so-bad-it’s-goodness that makes, in the end, absolutely no sense whatsoever(nor should it, as that would ruin everything). And then there’s The Green Knight. Trust me when I say seeing this flick is well worth it for him alone.

One of several "Star Knight" DVD releases, this one from Echo Bridge Home Entertainment

Unless I’m very much mistaken, Star Knight has lapsed into the public domain, the end result being that there are a good half-dozen or so (at least) versions of it out there on DVD. The one I watched is from some outfit called Echo Bridge Home Entertainment, and while the full-frame transfer is clearly un-remastered and looks like crap, and the mono soundtrack sounds just as bad, from what I understand no one that’s put this out in the hopes of turning over a quick buck (good luck with that) has put any care into it whatsoever and so there’s no “better” version of it to be found amongst any of them. Needless to say, extras are non-existent in any and all incarnations, as well.

For the average movie watcher, Star Knight is a hokey, convoluted, unintelligible, hopelessly embarrassing mess for all involved. For conoisseurs of the truly wretched, however, it’s a gift from — well — the stars, I guess.

Yeah, I know — I thought I was done with all these “found footage” horror flicks, too, but something about the trailers for first-time director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego’s Apollo 18 piqued my curiosity back when they began making the rounds last spring (this movie has been bounced around by the Weinstein Company an awful lot on the release schedule — first it was slated for last April, then it was moved waaaaaayyyy back to January of 2012, and then about a month ago it was announced it was being moved forward for a Labor Day weekend dump-off — suffice to say it’s not a film they’ve ever apparently felt all that confident in and just didn’t seem to know quite what the hell to do with, but it’s been in the can for some time now just waiting for an unobtrusive time to be quietly let out to die a quick death), and now here it is.

I suppose, really, there was nowhere else the whole “hand-held horror” subgenre could go except to the moon at this point, given that everything else has already been done a few times over, but even so it’s sort of an ingenious enough little set-up, and that, combined with my bizarre fascination with every single lunar conspiracy from the mundane (did we really go or not?) to the truly exotic (Alternative 3 — and by the way, Apollo 18 owes more than just a bit to original the British Alternative 3 TV hoax (or was it?) program), had me in line (a short one, I admit) to see this on opening day.

The premise here is pretty simple — there was actually a secret 18th Apollo mission to the moon that was never revealed to the public, it was, as usual, manned by three astronauts (played by Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen, and Ryan Robbins, who all do the square-jawed, all-American-guy thing pretty well, it must be said) that was so hush-hush that not even their families were told where they were going, and the NASA brass didn’t bother to inform them of why they were going until they got there. One guy seems to know a bit more than the others, but even he turns out to be in the dark about most of the mission specifics, and it isn’t until they discover an apparently-abandoned Soviet landing probe on the outskirts of a giant crater that they start to have a hello of a strong suspicion that there’s a very dark reason their superiors have kept the truth from them — and that they’re probably not expected to come back from this mission alive.

And that’s one of the film’s real weak points — it’s pretty obvious from the word go that all three of these poor sons of bitches are dead meat. The other big flaw is that the ending sequence is sort of flat and doesn’t really generate as much tension as earlier segments in the film. But apart from that —

For a modestly-budgeted ($5 million) film with no recognizable stars, no “name” talent behind the camera (apart from veteran editor Patrick Lussier, who took a turn in the director’s chair for the well-done My Bloody Valentine 3D and does a great job here) and little to no studio support behind it, Apollo 18 actually has a lot going for it up until the final 10 or 15 minutes. For one thing, the tension is thick enough to cut with a knife in many critical scenes (I saw this flick with my brother, who isn’t a horror fan by any stretch of the imagination, and he literally jumped out of his seat on a few occasions); the script is logically consistent and provides plausible explanations for why the mission was secret, why these guys recorded everything, why it’s edited together in quasi-cinematic fashion, and how the footage came to be made public (through the auspices of a fictitious moon conspiracy site called lunartruth.com); the lunar sets look strikingly convincing (for those who have suggested on various forums and the like that it looks “fake” I suggest they take a look at the actual lunar footage and tell me which looks more like it was shot on a studio soundstage); and the acting is well beyond what we’ve got any right to expect in a film of this type, easily several notches above the performances in Cloverfield , The Blair Witch Project, or either (until October, that is)  of the Paranormal Activity films. So for a release that the Weinsteins are trying to sneak out through the back door, there’s actually plenty here that they don’t have to hang their heads about at all.

But yeah. The rather lackluster conclusion that fails to even deliver on the lower-than-low expectations you have given that you already know there’s literally only one way the whole thing is going to be wrapped up. And that’s a  real bummer because, as I said, up until then this is a movie that has a lot more going for it than we probably have any right to expect. Oh well. If they’d bothered to splurge for a new ending sequence that delivered on some of the movie’s promise in those long months it was sitting on the shelf, they’d probably have an unassuming little winner on their hands here — as it is, what they’ve got is something of a wasted opportunity, all things considered. On future low-key winter Saturday late afternoons/early evenings when you notice this thing is on basic cable somewhere, Apollo 18 won’t be the worst way to spend 90 minutes of your life. For now, though, it’s probably not worth dropping $5-10 bucks on to see at the theater.