Sunday, 22 March 2009

The Cheap-Arse Film Review #24- "HERCULES IN NEW YORK."









PRICE: £1.00

Okay, that took longer than I thought it would. As did this. The upshot being that this review is going up six days late. A new record. Don't worry, I'm aware this is bullshit and intend to use this week to set it right by getting two reviews up, including the landmark (HA!) 25th edition.

What I'm about to say here is 100% legit my opinion. It's not intended to be humourous or sarcastic, and here's no irony in it whatsoever... I believe Arnold Schwarzenegger (or Arnie, or Ahnold, or The Governator, whatever you want to call him) is an inspiration. Some of you may not like his movies, some of you may not like his politics, but the fact remains that he's a living, breathing embodiment of The American Dream, the ultimate immigrant story of a man coming to the US from a far away land and making all his dreams come true. Infact, he probably ran out of dreams some time ago and just started making up new ones for shits and giggles. "Hmmm, today ah think ah shall become governah ov califooorniah." (Christ, even typed out my Austrian accent is offensive. I apologise). And for those of you who believe he's just a talentless chancer who got lucky, well, I don't care if he is, because if I'm honest I think that makes it a little bit better.

And I don't think he is talentless. I mean, look at the people that most would consider his peers- Lundgren? Nowhere. Seagal? A cautionary tale that is currently being covered by my friend Redunbeck on his blog. Van Dam? Straight-to-video Hell, with even his big comeback movie "JCVD" bypassing cinemas over here. Stallone? Making up for lost time by shamelessly plundering his past. And this was a man who wrote and starred in a movie that won Best Picture at The Oscars. The only person I'd even put anywhere near Arnold's level is Bruce Willis, but he was always more than just an action star anyway. I get the feeling that happened to him almost by accident. So with all that carnage behind him, there has to be a reason why he was the last one standing, why even his stinkers like "End of Days," "The 6th Day" and "Eraser" (has anybody actually seen this movie? I've never spoken to a person who has, or at least will admit to it) got the red carpet treatment and were presented as big deals when released. There had to have been something about him that set him apart and made special, that made him... Arnie. And as with most things in life, the best way of understanding something is to go back and see how it began. Which brings me to this, his first movie filmed nearly fourty years ago (and that fact alone nearly sent my head spinning).

But first, BOX REVIEW! It's a Boulevard Entertainment release, so I have to, really. Well, at first glance, nothing really jumps out at you. It looks really cheap, but that's par for the course with these guys. The layout's fairly standard, there's no silliness in the credits box. They even managed to spell "Schwarzenegger" right, which makes me want to give them a medal. However, when I looked closer, I spotted something... odd. Not a mistake really, just... odd. On the front cover is a little red oval box thing with text inside it that reads, "FEATURING ARNOLD'S REAL VOICE FOR THE FIRST TIME." This is in reference to the fact that, when it was first released, Arnold's voice was dubbed throughout the movie, and now that has been removed. Alright, fine. Nothing odd about that. What is odd, though, is the fact that the text in the box ends in a full stop.

That's not usually how these things are done. Usually, when you're trying to alert people to things this way, you either just let the words hang there without punctuation, or use punctuation to imply this is something to get excited about. "FEATURING ARNOLD'S REAL VOICE FOR THE FIRST TIME!" See how an exclamation point changes that whole sentence? Isn't that an improvement? If I didn't know better, I'd say it almost looks like the person in charge of putting together the box art for this thing was subtly making fun of the movie. "Watch this. It's got Arnold's real voice in it. Yay."

The actual box itself is worth mentioning too, as it's one of those super-thin ones.
Now, I both like and dislike these. I like them simply because they're easy to store. I did a little comparison once and found that, were all my DVD boxes this thin, I could have got roughly three times as many of them on one shelf. Which is great. But they're not, which is why I hate them, because when I see them sitting alongside all my regular-sized boxes, looking all skinny and different, it makes my OCD want to cry. I just don't like it. I'm the kind of man who has his books on a shelf in height order, there's nothing I can do about this.

The film opens with stock footage of some snowy mountains, and a voice tells us the following- "Far in the dim past, when myth and history merged into mystery (I don't know what this means), and the Gods of fable, and the primitive beliefs of man dwelt on ancient Mount Olympus in antique Greece, a legendary hero walked God-like upon the Earth... sometimes." We're then taken to Olympus, which looks like some hippy commune (there's even a girl skipping around waving what looks like a white scarf), and as the box trumpeted, we here Arnold's voice. And by Christ, it's nearly incomprehensible. If you think he accent is thick now, you'd think you were listening to an alien if you watched this. Throughout this entire movie, there were lines I didn't understand, rewound back several times to have another go at, still didn't get, so eventually just said fuck it and moved on. His delivery is also so stilted, and his expression so blank, that most of the time it looks like he doesn't really understand what he's saying. Maybe he didn't, I'm not sure how great his grasp of the English language was at this point. I completely understand why they felt the need to dub him, I'll just say that. I also can't remember seeing him this big on film before, not even in the "Pumping Iron" documentary. He's huge, like uncomfortably huge (that's what she said), which I guess works for the role, but it was probably for the best that he later dropped alot of that mass.

I'll also address this before I go any further- yes, I'm aware that the movie totally fucks up the mythology it presents, confusing characters from Greek and Roman religions. For instance, when he appears later, Pluto is obviously supposed to be Hades, ruler of the Greek version of Hell, and Hercules himself should be called Heracles. They even briefly throw in Sampson from The Bible at one point. I know I should probably get all hot and bothered about this, but I can't be arsed, simply because I'm watching a movie called "Hercules in New York." It's not meant to be taken that seriously, so I'm not going to. The only place I wish they'd been a bit stricter is with the naming of Zeus' wife, calling her Hera instead of Juno, because the only thing I can associate that name with now is heavily-pregnant jailbait.

He's talking to his father, Zeus (Ernest Graves, who seems to be attempting to make up for the supposed stars lack of presence by being panto-levels of broad with every line he utters), trying to talk him into letting him go to Earth, as he's bored with Olympus and "tired of the same old faces, the same old things." This angers Zeus, and he decides to punish his wayward Demi-God son by... sending him to Earth. Okay then. The way he does this is to strike him with lightening (brilliantly represented by a small metal spear that's been shaped to look all wavy) and teleport him to to Earth in a puff of rubbish fireworks. When I say "to Earth," I mean the basic vicinity around the planet, because the first person who sees him is an old lady on an plane as he falls past her window, waving and smiling (and Arnold's smile is so goofy as he goes past that I couldn't help burst out laughing). She starts to freak out, yelling about what she's just seen, in the manner of somebody trying to impersonate a stereotypical gay man, all high-pitched screeching and exaggerated hand gestures. She's eventually subdued by an oxygen mask, and we move on.

Hercules lands in the ocean and is seemingly about to drown. We don't see any of this, it'd be far too expensive to film, but rather we're told this by Zeus and those around him who are watching the action in a big crystal ball thing. They beg Zeus to save Hercules, and he reluctantly does so by having a ship find him and bring him on-board. We don't get to see this, either, the next time we see Herc he's already on the ship towelling off in a manner that allows him to flex his muscles. There's a brief scene of them questioning where he comes from and how he got to be in the middle of the ocean, before we get our first evidence that Herc is, well, a bit of a dick- the Captain insists that he refer to him as "Sir" when he speaks to him, which prompts Herc to tell him that "No men are superior to Hercules." Then in the next scene we join a fight in progress as Herc is beating up the entire crew. What have they done to anger him so, you're wondering? They asked him to do some work. At first it's assumed that because he's a foreigner maybe he didn't understand what was being asked of him, but he himself soon clears things up by saying, "I understood him. He is most disagreeable, and he has irritated me." At least I think that's what he says, this s one of those lines I had to rewind. Either way, what a jerk. The fight scene is laughable as well, like all of them in this movie are, consisting of Arnie chucking men around and throwing lame punches.

After that you'd think they'd want him off their ship as soon as possible, but once they dock and Herc tries to leave, they try to put a stop to this, leading to another fight scene where Herc fends off several men with a large piece of wood. It's here the first inconsistancy emerges, as it's established moments later that Herc has superhuman strength when he stops a forklift moving with his bare hands, yet here he has genuine trouble wrestling five men pushing against the wood he brandishes. He's a Demi-God, he should be able to throw them into the sun if he wanted to. It's somewhat redeemed though by the bit where Arnold seems to be having so much fun that he breaks character and starts smiling. He flees the scene with Pretzie (Arnold Stang), so called because he sells pretzels, who gets him into a cab and immediately becomes his best friend. There's so much I want to say about both the man and the character that if I allow myself free reign I may still be sitting here next week, so I'm going to to try and keep this brief. First, his appearance. God bless him, I'm sure he is (or was, I'm not altogether sure about his... living status) a nice guy, but the fact remains, he looks like a cartoon turtle, appropriate for a man who provided the voice for several animated characters (including TOP CAT!). And what a voice. I've been trying to come up with a way to describe his voice that won't offend anybody, and this is the best I could come up with- it is like every neurotic thought and emotion that has every been had or ever will be had has been squeezed into one tiny body. He's like a living panic attack, even when he's happy.

In the cab, introductions are made, they make small talk, Pretzie mentions another Greek guy he knew named Apollo, who Herc assumes must have been the Apollo, before they get out and Pretzie asks Herc to pay for the cab. Of course, Herc has no money, has very little knowledge of the concept, and anyway, the man driving the "chariot" should be satisfied with the fact that he's ferrying Hercules around, shouldn't he? As anyone who's ever been to New York will tell you, this was never gonna fly, so Pretzie resigns himself to the cabbie calling the cops, which he says he will, once he's pounded on them some himself. I swear, at this point it's starting to look like Herc's face is magnetic and everybody's fists are are made of metal. The fight doesn't last long, Herc just throws the guy into a bush and then turns his taxi over. I love how the hero of this movie is remorselessly raining down pain and destruction upon the city.

As they run away from yet another person Hercles has managed to piss off, he and Pretzie stumble across a bunch of college kids training at baseball and other various athletic events, being watched by Professor Camden (James Karen) and his daughter Helen (Deborah Loomis). Of course Herc once again acts like a total douche to the coach, saying he could do better then all of them, as he competed in the first Olympics in Greece, and instead of just calling him a loony and telling him to fuck off, as would happen in real life, because this is a movie he's invited to compete against his best students in discus throwing, javelling and long jump, trouncing them all and getting the attention of the Professor and Helen. At this point I thought I had the plot figured out- they're going to get Herc into the college so that he can compete in all these sports for them, and along the way he'll fall in love with Helen. Suffice to say, that isn't what happens. All that really comes out of this is Herc and Helen become friends, and that really is all they become. There's a hint of romance at the beginning, but it never goes anywhere, there's no kissing, just a bit of arms around the shoulders action.

Their friendship gets off to a rocky start though, due to the fact that Hercules makes a fool of himself (what a surprise!) when invited round the Professor's house. It doesn't start off well, when in the previous scene the Professor invites them round for tea, and Pretzie instantly assumes they want to do drugs (it was the seventies), and continues to degenerate the second they arrive. First Herc tells Helen she reminds him of a God, which is quite a nice thing to tell someone, but only after you've known them for a while. And even then, it's not just something you'd just blurt out. But Herc does and this of course makes Helen uncomfortable. Then Rod shows up. Herc asks if they're "lovers," insisting that it's "unnatural" for a man and a woman to be friends and not be lovers. Didn't Billy Crystal say something similar to that in "When Harry Met Sally?" Anyway, another fight breaks out, ending with Hercules picking up Rod in bodyslam position and just holding him there as he squirms, as Pretzie and Helen practically beg him to put him down. We then cut back to Zeus in Olympus still watching all of this, who uses alot of words to basically say, "Kids, who'd fucking have 'em?" Timejump to the next day, where the Professor and Helen are sitting at their dining table discussing yesterday's "amusing situation," with the doctor finding Herc "original" and "refreshing," wanting to study him further. Helen initially doesn't seem to find it amusing at all, saying how this "crazy," "primitive" man injured her friend... boyfriend... whatever, and then thought nothing of inviting her out on a date. "Well of course you told him..." the Professor says, Helen completing the sentence with "... I would." Yes, he assaulted an... associate of hers, and she found this manly and irrisistable. Dames, eh? She then sits there with a moronic grin on her face as the Professor drinks his tea.

And then the movie peaks. It achieves a level of greatness it had no hope of getting anywhere near again. And it does this by having Arnold wrestle a man in a bear costume. It goes like this- whilst Herc and Helen are out on their date, which seems to mostly consist of them riding around on a horse and cart, we cut away to see a zoo keeper discover that one of his cages open, then hear on the radio that a bear is on the loose. This is followed by a shot of the "bear" runnning. Even though it was running away from the camera and thus we could only see it from behind, it was obviously a guy in a suit, and I thought to myself, "There's no way they'll go with that alone. Not even a production like this. They'll save it for close-ups of the two of them fighting, then use stock footage of a real bear roaring and stuff like that."

Oh how wrong I was.

They have no shame about how shitty this looked. The first time we see the costume from the front and it's revealed just how Mickey Mouse it looks (I once wore a bear costume to school for charity, and I think the costume I wore looked infinitely better than the one they have here), the dude gets up on a rock and appears to start doing The Robot. He then runs in front of the carriage, inciting the wrath of Hercules, who leaps to the ground and proceeds to wrestle it, even managing to work in a Judo chop to the skull, as Helen sheriks and at one point exclaims, "BEAT 'EM UP!" I never thought the day would come when I would bare witness to the Governor of California grappling with a man in a bad fancy dress costume. What a strange and wonderful world we live in. Herc eventually wins the day, the next morning's paper proclaiming him a hero, bringing him to the attention of a local wrestling promoter who wants him to fight for him. It's revealed that Herc and Pretzie have been staying in a hotel, and need make some money in order to pay the bill they've been running up, so they're really in no position to say no. Like before, I assumed I had what would happen next figured out from this point- Herc would become a wrestler, and the rest of the movie would follow his adventures in that profession. As it turns out, I was wrong again. We don't even see him do any wrestling, we see one shot of him with a guy on his shoulders, and that's it. It's like anything vaguely interesting has to happen off-screen (bear fight excluded). This brings Hercules to the attention of some gangsters, who... they're just making this up as they go along now, aren't they? Almost none of the scenes in this movie up to this point really connect with each other in any way you could call a story, they're just random happenings that either feature or are about Hercules in some way. Anyway, the Gangsters (one of whom I was convinced was a young Vincent Pastore, but I can find no evidence of this anywhere), strong-arm Pretzie into signing a contract meaning they pretty much own Herc and make money off his wrestling career. And once again I thought I knew where this was going, that Herc would discover this and go on a rampage (well, as big a rampage as the budget would allow), finding the Gangsters and tearing up the contract. But nope, nothing really comes of this until the very end, and I can assume Herc either doesn't know he's now generating revenue for organised crime, or he just doesn't care. Pretzie becomes depressed due to this, hits the bottle, and... OH MY GOD IT'S A PLOT!

Well, a bit of one. Zeus, growing increasingly displeased by Hercules making a fool of himself down below, at first dispatches Nemesis to go after him and punish him by sending him to The Underworld for 100 years, but stays his hand when Mercury pleads with him not to be so harsh with his half-brother, calling him "simple and a bit childish" (that's right, the movie just outright stated it's hero is slow), and that he should go instead and attempt to talk him into returning. After everyone except Juno agrees this would be the better thing to do, Zeus agrees, and Mercury travels to New York, via Helecopter, wearing a pretty damn nice suit. They meet up in Herc's hotel room after he arrves home from another day out with Helen (where the filmmakers find another excuse for him to take his shirt off and start flexing), and Mercury does his best make him come round to their father's way of thinking, only to be totally brushed-off. As far as acting goes, this may be Arnold's worst scene in the entire movie. It's definitely the most dialogue that's been asked of him so far, and he's totally out of his element. I was going to wait until the end of the review to talk about this, but this scene seems like the perfect place to address it... I think I've figured out why Arnold had more of a career that the rest of the action movie old-guard- he was willing to put in the work. Whereas the rest of them found ther level and pretty much stayed there, Arnold actually wanted to improve. He made better contacts, which lead to him making better movies, and even got better as an actor. The whole time I was watching this, I had so much trouble reconciling this hulking, scared-looking lump of wood in front of me with the what he would later become. He was never going to win any awards, but at least he figured out how to bring a little personality to the roles he played.

Getting back on track, Mercury reluctantly leaves, flying out the window after telling Herc to be careful. This entire exchange happened in front of a very drunk Pretzie, who had been reading up on Greek myths the last time we saw him, and had pretty much had the fact that his friend is the real Hercules confirmed right in front of him. Of course the fact that he was drunk means means nobody he tells the next day believes him (the scene going on before this is awesome, by the way- it consists of the Professor, Helen and Rod sitting around talking about how there's obviously something psychologically wrong with Herc, but that in spite of that they all like him, even Rod, who claims to do so "even if he did crack two of my ribs." HE LIKES HIM EVEN THOUGH HE CRACKED TWO OF HIS RIBS). Back in Olympus, it's on now, as Zeus has had enough and sends Nemesis on her mission. However, before she can go, she secretly meets with Juno, who gives her a new mission- drug Hercules with a powder that temporarily takes away his divinity, rendering him a normal man, and thus able to die. She does this, slipping the powder into Herc's drinks at a bar, then travels to The Underworld (which is represented by some smoke, a red light and a black metal gate) to speak with Pluto (Michael Lipton), telling him about Juno's plan, and asking him to find a creative way of killing Hercules so that his soul can be condemned. And the plan he comes up with is pretty ingenius, I'll give him that- he travels to Earth from The Underworld (and his arrival is pretty creatively done- he emerges from the the New York subway system and causes a mass blackout), and meets up with the Gangsters who own Hercules, putting an obscene amount of money on him losing an upcoming televised weightlifting contest, knowing that these men would suspect Herc of purpously losing if he did so.

So the day of the contest comes, and Herc, due to the fact that he's lost his God powers, loses. I did like the fact that they realised that even though he's no longer superhuman, he's still a big strong guy, and he managed to make two successful lifts before failing. But he still fails, and as Pluto had hoped, the Gangsters suspect a double-cross, and a chase is now on, with them following Helen and the Professor in their car, and Herc and Pretzie in hot persuit of the both of them on a chariot they stole from a man dressed in a tiger-print singlet buying a hot dog (it's New York, I've seen stranger things than that there, believe me). The final stand takes place in an abandoned warehouse, where the Gangster's overwhelm Herc and start putting the boots into him. Everything seems to be going to shit, until up in Olympus Zeus sees what is happening and asks why this has been done to Hercules when it was clearly not what he asked (because y'know, sending your son to Hell for 100 years is a much nicer punishment than making him a mortal). It comes out that this was all Juno's doing, and the Gods then save Herc and his friends, first by sending down two of their own to act as back-up, then with Zeus himself granting Herc back his divinity, just in time for him to be able to push some big but not terribly heavy looking cardboard tubes onto the Gangsters. And that's that.

Following this, Herc returns to Olympus without any good reason after defying is father's wishes for the entire film. He doesn't even say goodbye to Pretzie, he just disappears, although he later communicates with his friend through his radio, saying he'll always be there for him. The voice coming out of the radio clearly doesn't belong to Arnold, it's probably the voice of the guy they originally got to do the dub. Pretzie sits for a second, whistfully thinking about all the strange things he and Herc got up to, before suddenly declaring, "I think I'll eat an apple." He then gets up and walks out of shot, presumably to go get an apple. The film ends with Hercules telling his father all about his time on Earth, and his father deciding it might be fun to visit the place himself, which he does dressed in a suit and a bowler hat, scaring a plane full of people as he floats down.

I have to be totally honest with you here- I have no idea what to do with this movie. On the one hand, it's clearly not very good. It's amateurishly shot even when you take into account the time it was made and the fact they clearly weren't working with alot of money, the script makes no sense, literally all the fights are terrile, and most of the acting is awful, especially Arnold's contribution. But on the other hand it's got a certain goofy charm, there are a couple of fun turn amongst the dross (most notably Graves, Stang and Michael Lipton, wo makes the most of his brief screen-time), and I got to see The Terminator wrestle a guy dressed as a bear. Plus, the fact that it's Arnold's first movie is a big mark in its favour straight away, as it's worth owning for historic reason if nothing else.

I don't know what to do. I'm at a total loss.


... Fuck it, I'm tossing a coin. I am going to let this movie's fate rest on the toss of a coin. I have a 20p piece sitting next to my laptop right now, and as soon as I'm done typing this, I'm going to flip it. Heads I keep the movie, tails I bin it. Okay, here I go.

IT FELL DOWN THE BACK OF MY FUCKING BED! Not ever The Fates themselves know what to do with this movie. Right, I'm going to go get another coin out of my jeans, be right back.

Okay, got it. One more time. Heads, kept. Tails, binned.




Lastly, some notes. As most of you will probably be reading this on the Wednesday (I'm still considering this Tuesday due to my rule that the day isn't over until I've gone to sleep), my first proper review should be up on Killer Film. It's a reprint of the second review I ever did, with some slight rewriting and re-editing. I know some of you have already read it, but I knw there's a god chance quite a few of you haven't, so please feel free to go over there and take a look at it. I have to say, rereading it whilst editing it was a strange experience.

Finally, I don't usually give clues to what the next movie I'm going to review will be, but I have to say, the review that's going up over there tomorrow is very... fitting, considering what I'll be covering on Friday or Saturday.

Until Friday or Saturday, I'm The Cheap-Arse Film Critic, and there is no "us," you psychopathic bitch!


Redunbeck said...

Thanks for the linkage~!

I saw Eraser back when it came out. I remember liking it, but I was like ten and I had a big crush on Vanessa Williams, so I may have been slightly biased.

"The only place I wish they'd been a bit stricter is with the naming of Zeus' wife, calling her Hera instead of Juno, because the only thing I can associate that name with now is heavily-pregnant jailbait."

This makes this movie even funnier. Just envision Ellen Page in place of the goddess Juno...Awesome. Then again, I'm always biased in favor of Ellen Page...

Matt said...

I think I've seen all of Arnie's films apart from Junior. The man is amazing!

I bought "Hercules in New York" a while back for £1. I find it funny how a lot of the other actors try to "over act" to make up for Arnold's poor effort.

I kept it though.