Monday, March 2, 2015

Video Cheese: a Brigitte Nielsen double feature

These reviews were written for the Video Cheese feature of, and have been published here by the kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg.

GALAXIS (1995 - color)

   "The old Aliens-come-to-earth-and-fight-over-a-rare-power-source-they-both-need trick!"

   A decade after the fact and The Terminator is still being ripped off. I really didn't expect that. From the video box, I thought Galaxis (a title which really doesn't mean anything, by the way) to be a Star Wars rip-off and I was looking forward to seeing some non-CGI spaceships for a refreshing change.

   (On that mark I was pleased. Despite the dreary quality of the film itself, it contains some great effects work! There's a miniature helicopter sequence toward the end which is among the best I've seen! The smaller stuff, though, like people shooting rays at each other, tends to look amazingly bad.) 

   After establishing that a futuristic civilization is about to be completely wiped out by an oppressive warlord, though, we move to present day earth and the film becomes a retread of the first two Terminator movies.

   Brigitte Nielsen plays Ladera, rebel warrior who fails to stop evil overlord Richard Moll from infiltrating the resistance stronghold and making off with a powerful gem which controls the galaxy, or something like that. The highlight here is a stop motion robot wearing a human disguise. I assume all this is supposed to be taking place in another universe, but there's later talk of time travel. 

   At any rate, Ladera is told there is another power gem in existence and only it can defeat Moll. Then we jump to an earth city (which is so weirdly framed and shot that I assumed it was on another planet, it took me a few minutes to figure out that this was supposed to be happening on our world) to meet our John Connor stand-in (whom, it must be noted, Cameron's Connor would kill in a heartbeat for being so whiny and unlikable), Jed (John H. Brennan of the beloved teleseries Bordertown). 

   Jed has returned from Peru or some place with the gem in tow. I think you can take it from there... 

   Jed has the gem, but is trying to avoid some gangsters he owes money to. Ladera and Moll both come looking for the gem, Ladera teams up with Jed, the police are baffled by the aftermath of the aliens, Jed and Ladera are taken downtown, Moll raids the station and kills a bunch of cops, everything ends at a refinery where Moll is blown up and Ladera has to return to her people and win the war. According to the IMDB, there's a sequel film (!!) as well.

   This is one of those movies that might have been passable with some work here and there. The main problem is the acting. I don't think anyone here gives a decent performance! From Moll to Roger Aaron Brown (as the detective following the case), they all give such eye-poppingly strained, over the top performances, it defies the fact that these men have given quite nuanced performances elsewhere! 

   The only fairly decent performance on hand is from busy television actress Cindy Morgan (Lora from Tron, and possibly most famous as Lacy Underall in the reportedly comedic Caddyshack) as Brown's sidekick. In the film's only truly effective moment, Moll bursts into the room where everybody is and Cindy spins around to open fire. Moll effortlessly vaporizes her. This is all seen in one establishing shot. (This is precieded by the film's second most effective scene, shot from Moll's POV as he enters the police station and blows the head off a snarky desk officer.)

   If everybody else is cartoonishly over the top, Nielsen makes the odd choice of trying to underplay her part and deliver an actual performance of sorts. Sadly, she lacks the talent to really pull this off (here anyway, given that other professionals are similarly handicapped I'm willing to assume this isn't entirely Nielsen's fault). She speaks too many of her lines too softly, and her accent only makes the problem worse. She has a certain charisma about her, though, which helps you get through it all. Personally, I can't say she's all that attractive with her short hair and broad shoulders, but she does have a screen presence which helps her scenes greatly.

   In the end, I found Galaxis a little too similar to Future War for its own good (although Galaxis was much more polished, it must be said). One fun bit we learn, however, is that, not only is English a universal language, but American slang terms are universal as well!

MURDER BY MOONLIGHT (1989 - color)
"An American agent must team up with a Russian agent to solve a murder on a lunar mining base."

   Okay, considering the last Brigitte Nielsen science fiction film I watched was GALAXIS, I can't say I had a lot of hope going into MURDER BY MOONLIGHT. I remained worried as the film started minus any sort of studio logo and the credits played out over a video piece so cheap as to call to mind any late 90's cheapo skin flick that would turn up at four in the morning on The Movie Channel.

   Imagine my delight when the 1989 British telefilm turned out to be pretty good. Not only did it possess decent production values, an interesting concept, and a good script, but it was genuinely intriguing. In a way, it serves as a dry run for the much less captivating spate of science fiction action/intrigue movies that would be cranked out in the next two decades. In the end, I liked it quite a bit. I'll blow major plot points, though, so if you wish to see the film, turn back now!

   On a side note, I even found Brigitte to be a lot more attractive this time around. Her shoulders, while still wide for a woman, didn't seem as mannish here (which is something considering the unattractive lunar jogging suits she wears throughout). Also, she seemed to work that pixie-ish haircut of hers a lot better, and she was genuinely glamorous. 

   On the more utilitarian side of things, she also proved to be a much better actress than GALAXIS would indicate. While her delivery can be a tad stiff at times, she has a naturalness that really shines. She also possess a fair amount of grace, given her size and the somewhat cramped sets she has to navigate. I just wanted to be fair to her, as I may have sold her short in my review of GALAXIS, I'll move on now....

   Okay, it's 2015 and the Cold War still rages, although things have settled down a little since World War 3 almost started in 2005. This backstory involves a terrorist bombing of the Dome of the Rock*, which quickly escalated to the brink of all-out atomic war. The terrorist in question vanished and is still being sought by authorities on both sides, although he underwent plastic surgery before going underground so he's been harder to find than Judge Crater.

(*This event, as some figure the book of Revelation, will signal the Last Days. The Anti-Christ rises and rebuilds the temple in short order, bringing a false peace -this the subject of a few films as well. This is completely side-stepped by our feature, which focuses on the political implications of such an action. -Although, the film never explains why the world backed down from a nuclear exchange apparently only seconds away.... It seems peace did miraculously break out.... Hmmmm.....)

   Our story takes place within an American mining base situated on a Soviet-controlled sector of the moon. One of it's crew, an Israeli named Elezar, has been discovered dead in a mine shaft. The incident must be investigated, and since the base is in Soviet territory, the jurisdiction falls to the Ruskies. Looking to display the superiority of their disciplines, the Reds are practically salivating to handle the case with ruthless efficiency. Hoping to maintain their rights, the Americans insist on having a NASA agent investigate the case as well. The Reds send in soldier Maj. Sorokin Kirilenko (Julian Sands), who immediately declares his team has no restrictions.

   NASA, meanwhile, has only one agent right for the job, Maggie Bartok (Neilsen). Maggie is introduced stripping from a bulky space suit to reveal a rather stunning slip (or a very short party dress, I'm not sure which). Drink it in, fellas, because this the best she's going to dress for the whole picture.... Maggie is an experienced trouble-shooter, noted for her intuition paying off, and to be fair, this is something most secret agents rely on, if 007 has taught us anything.

   Needless to say, the two butt heads when they meet, although with different strategies. Sorokin demands complete control and does it by the book. Maggie plays it cool and charming, working her way into the case in a more subtle fashion. Her instincts pay off and Sorokin must allow her to take part in the investigation. 

   Accident is quickly ruled out, and all signs point to Elezar being murdered for knowing something valuable. As Sorkin and Maggie dig into the case, they size each other up and ultimately fall in love. Working well together, they figure out the Whole Story, and it's a doozy!

   On the whole, this isn't a bad story. The two agents coming to respect each other and then give into their mutual attraction is played better than it might sound. Early on, we learn Elezar's private computer has been stolen, so it's obvious it contained some information someone doesn't want to get out. We'll also spy a mysterious someone keeping tables on the base's goings on via a hidden camera system.

   Sorokin demands to inspect the company's main computer data, which is a major breech in industrial security. However, hoping to avoid more of an incident, the home office okays "the white books." A few seconds of inspecting these and Maggie figures out the company is cheating the Ruskies by not claiming the full figures on ore extracted from Soviet land. Sorokin, however, can't be too audible about this because a high-ranking Russian official is in on the take.

   Good is that while a science fiction film, the picture isn't too far removed from potential reality. Okay, we don't have multi-national operations on the moon, but the utilitarian nature of what we see doesn't seem wildly unimaginable. The Brits had a history of utilitarian moon bases in their science fiction, in teleseries like Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, UFO, and Space: 1999, and in feature films like MOON ZERO TWO. Like those earlier examples, the moon base we see here is mostly functional, although if anything is less glamorous. The color schemes are kept to bland construction-like simplicity. The base's lounge/bar is the most colorful place there, and it's mostly white (in fact, the room's stand out feature is a single, if huge, window looking down on earth). The bar's radio, meanwhile plays a lot of oldies music. The first time we see the bar, we hear "Earth Angel" playing away, and I could never be sure if this was clever or silly...

   The crew have their own rooms, although these are depressingly small. The only break from the monotony is booze in the R&R room and sex after hours. And it turns out the place was a real swinger's club! The only single on base not known to be having an affair, in fact, was Elezar (his wife killed in the 2005 Dome of the Rock attack). Maggie suspects this means Elezar was having an affair with a married woman, which would provide motive for murder. Sorokin agrees, but finding the woman in question will be difficult. Maggie suggests digging up a picture a Elezar's late wife, theorizing that men tend to fall in love with similar-looking women (I suppose I can sort of buy this, seeing as men tend to have a set of features they find attractive, although given the emotional trauma of having your spouse killed it seems you might, even subconsciously, go after a different type).

   Maggie swings by the base's video library (interestingly, the film foretells the coming of DVD) and runs across Patsy, a woman sitting in the corner crying. She claims her tears aren't really that significant -claiming she cried when Graceland was made a National monument (!)- and that she's upset over the death of a co-worker. A figure in a space suit monkeys with the airlock, though, and the room experiences explosive decompression. Maggie manages to hang onto a video rack, but despite her best efforts looses her grip on Patsy and the young woman is sucked outside. Fortunately for Maggie, a table is sucked over the hatch and she isn't killed.

   Patsy's tears seemed a bit more motivated than she claimed, but I guess Maggie just took her at her word. After the death of Patsy, Maggie claims a firearm restriction waver (one extended to Sorokin, for some reason) believing herself to be the target of the sabotage. Watching this, I wondered just why Maggie thought SHE was the target when it was obvious Patsy who knew something, but I guess we weren't supposed to piece this stuff together before the characters. Only after digging up a telephoto (which looks to be a traced drawing?) of Elezar's wife and noticing her resemblance to Patsy do our heroes put this together -yet they continue to wear their side arms...

   Turns out Patsy's husband knew about the affair, and he had an argument with Elezar shortly before he was thrown down a mine shaft. He's eliminated as a suspect, though, when Maggie spots a hole in his spacesuit just before he was about to step outside. Turns out he and Elezar were having an argument over the "Dallas Yankees" but he didn't raise his hand against him over the affair. Patsy did manage to tell him enough to be useful to the investigation, though, for later he remembers her telling him Elezar had some evidence against someone else on the base. Since he arrived, Elezar had been questioning everyone he could about their backgrounds.

   Elezar's private quarters are searched again, but the agents still come up with nothing. Maggie suggests the best place to hide something is in plain sight, so they search the rest of the base. 

   In the bar, Sorokin discovers Elezar's personal stock, which raises flags because the other interrogated personnel stated they had never seen Elezar drink alcohol. Sorokin discovers the fluid isn't booze and Maggie takes the sample to the lab for analysis. Meanwhile, Sorokin's superior turns up and relieves him of the case for getting too involved (indeed, by this point, he and Maggie have given into their desires, kicked off by a surprisingly explicit make-out scene for a TV movie). Last chance to turn back if don't want the ending spoiled.....

   Maggie discovers the liquid is a hormone balancing potion used by transsexuals to keep facial hair from growing. Elezar had tracked down the bomber that killed his wife and uncovered that the terrorist not only changed his face, but also changed his sex! 

   Our mystery solved, the killer makes his/her appearance and knocks out Maggie. Maggie is about to be shot out an airlock when Sorokin makes the scene and manages to take down the killer, despite his gun being taken away. 

   The case solved, Sorokin is retroactively put back on the case and proclaimed a hero. A little coda establishes that after the trial, Sorokin and Maggie took off together and vanished from the grid.

   For effects fans, the show is pretty light, although the first reel offers some very nice, if obvious, miniature work. The scene in question involves the wheeled buggies transporting Sorkin and Maggie to the base. These are just as good as something you might have seen on Space: 1999, I suppose, although the models do look rather small. For the most part, though, they play up the murder mystery angle more than the science fiction one, which in the end is kinda neat.

   As you can tell, though, there's room for some silly stuff sprinkled in. My favorite example of this is Sorokin's hand-held computer, which helpfully speaks English with Russian accent! Also pretty goofy is the scene where, while interrogating the base crewmen, Sorokin and Maggie size each other up and find themselves being turned on. This involves a series of weird close-ups of things like lips and necks and thumbs and such. It looks like nothing so much as that episode of Gillian's Island where Gilligan tried to get close-ups with a movie camera....

   Just the same, my final assessment is that the film was pretty good (not just super fantastic, you understand, but an agreeable evening's watch). I liked it. I liked it a lot.

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