Friday, March 18, 2016

Worth Mentioning - Morning Light of the Passed

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Schwarzenegger cares for a zombie, The Dragon goes to jail, and Lundgren changes.

MAGGIE (2015)

When you hear that there's a zombie movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, there are probably certain images that instantly come to mind. Images along the lines of Schwarzenegger going Commando on a horde of the living dead, mowing down masses of flesheaters with a machine gun. Well, Maggie is a zombie movie that stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, but it is absolutely nothing like you would expect from that combination.

The feature directorial debut of Henry Hobson, a title sequence designer who worked as main title design director on the extremely popular zombie TV show The Walking Dead, Maggie is actually a slowly paced drama. Set in a world ravaged by, but trying to recover from, a worldwide outbreak of the necroambulis virus (that's a zombie apocalypse to you and me), the script by John Scott 3 centers on how a family somewhere out in the farmlands of the United States deals with the fact that one their members has been bitten by a zombie and will gradually succumb to the virus they're now infected with. Schwarzenegger just happens to play the patriarch of this family, a man named Wade who presumably moved to the U.S. from Austria decades ago and instead of getting into bodybuilding, acting, or politics became a farmer. There is nothing action heroic required of him in this film, even though he does kill a zombie or two. He has really just been cast to play a father who is losing his daughter Maggie.

Abigail Breslin, who got some previous zombie experience by co-starring in Zombieland, plays the teenage Maggie. To protect her family, she tried to run away after she was bitten, but Wade manages to track her down and bring her home so they can spend her final days together. As the days go by, Maggie's health declines and she shows more and more signs of becoming a zombie. Eventually, eight weeks after the bite, Wade is going to have to turn her over to quarantine services, where she'll be euthanized with a painful injection; give her the injection himself; or figure out a less painful way to end her life.

The zombie aspect heightens interest for the genre fan, but the zombie virus here is handled very much like a terminal illness. It's a disease drama. It's like if Night of the Living Dead had been all about the bitten little girl, or if the sequence where the mall squatters in Dawn of the Dead are caring for their bitten friend was drawn out to feature length. There's even a subtle reference to the title Dawn of the Dead, when Maggie says she's reading a book called "Morning Light of the Passed". (Mistakenly subtitled as "Past".)

I knew exactly the sort of film Maggie was before I watched it, I knew not to expect the usual Schwarzenegger action, but there was a mistake made in that I tried to watch it late at night. If you are at all tired, Maggie is not the movie to put on. It was a major struggle to get through as its deliberate pace lulled me to sleep again and again. It's a good movie, but damn is it slow.

Schwarzenegger actually delivers a very solid dramatic performance. His screen presence carries a lot of baggage, but if you can put thoughts of Terminators and Predators aside you may be surprised to see how well the guy can act. Breslin also does a great job, like she tends to, and Joely Richardson (the Endless Love remake) does some fine work as Maggie's concerned stepmother.

Maggie is an atypical zombie film that's well worth watching, just make sure you know what you're getting into and watch it under the right conditions.


Directed by Oley Sassone from a screenplay by Allison Burnett and Charlie Mattera, the third film in the Bloodfist franchise is a movie that throws you right into the action. Its lead character is a man who has been wrongfully imprisoned, and usually these types of movies would have some sort of set-up to that up front, to establish his innocence or just show his arrival at the prison. But when Bloodfist III begins, the protagonist is already behind bars at the Wingate State Penitentiary, and when we're properly introduced to him it's with a fight scene.

Our hero is played by Don "The Dragon" Wilson, but he's not the Jake Raye character from Bloodfist and Bloodfist II. This time he's a guy named Jimmy Boland, and this opening fight is in retaliation for a friend of his getting a shiv in the back... And this fight is also the event that gets Jimmy caught in the middle of a race war being waged within the prison.

It's kind of surprising just how much this film deals with race. There are times when racial epithets are getting thrown around like it's a '70s grindhouse flick. Or a Quentin Tarantino movie. I don't recall that being very common at the time, and looking back I can only theorize that this movie was inspired by the tensions that were brewing around the Rodney King beating case at the time, tensions that would erupt into the L.A. riots a few months after this came out.

Bloodfist III is a very different film than its two predecessors. It's connected to them through the title and the presence of Wilson, but other than that it's a completely separate entity that exists in a completely different action sub-genre. This is a prison film through and through, albeit one where the fight sequences take precedence over almost everything else. More than 30 minutes have passed before the movie even attempts to delve into Jimmy's back story, but there are some strong dramatic moments involving his cellmate Stark, who's played by the great Richard Roundtree - also known as Shaft.

For me, this one is a step down from parts 1 and 2, because I'm really not very into prison movies (unless it's a "women in prison" movie starring Pam Grier, that's something else entirely), so this just doesn't appeal to me. The enjoyment factor is also brought down by an off-putting tone.

What I enjoyed most was some exposition delivered by the director of the Department of Corrections at the beginning of the film, where he says that the Wingate State Penitentiary is a state of the art facility where modern technology allows for a reduced number of guards. One guard is sufficient where they would have needed a dozen before. Why did I like this? Because I took it as the filmmakers finding a way to not have to hire as many extras to play prison guards.

Also appreciated the scene in which the prisoners took in a screening of TNT Jackson.


I feel like I should like Red Scorpion so much more than I do. On paper, it sounds absolutely amazing. You have Dolph Lundgren starring as a machine gun-toting killing machine with a heart of gold in an '80s shoot 'em up action movie that co-stars a foul-mouthed M. Emmet Walsh (Blood Simple), directed by Joseph Zito, the man who gave us the slasher movies The Prowler and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, with special effects by master of splatter Tom Savini and a soundtrack filled with Little Richard tunes. With all of those elements mixed together, I should be heralding Red Scorpion as one of the greatest action movies ever made, but really I only get mild enjoyment out of it.

It starts off on the wrong foot for me, with an off-putting, cold atmosphere as a Soviet villain delivers a mission briefing. He's sending Spetsnaz soldier Nikolai Radchenko (Lundgren) to assassinate the man who's leading a rebel movement against their invading forces in Africa, and maybe that's another reason why I don't enjoy this movie more than I do, because in the first half we're following the bad guy. Radchenko is the sort of guy we'd usually be waiting to watch James Bond or some other hero thwart, but instead he's the one we're hanging out with.

It isn't until Radchenko fails at his mission, is tortured by his superiors for his failure (large needles through the skin, thank you Savini!), and is taken in by a native tribe that he fully becomes a decent character. Thwarted not by Bond but by his own conscience, he joins the rebels for a climactic battle against his countrymen.

The slow pacing of some sequences may be another reason why I don't find Red Scorpion to be more enjoyable. Plus, Radchenko looks pretty silly running around in short pants during the final action sequence.

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