Saturday 17 March 2018

Cannon moan + 6 - Jonesploitation

Realise there's few Cannon films I genuinely love - Death Wish III, their weirdo musical the Apple, well bits of that, the songs, and when Joss Ackland appears as God, specific bits, I think it's more the stuff about the films, the way they advertised their films, their brio, a lot of it are godawful Chuck Norris-type action dreck (though Bronson's 10 to Midnight's a decent if quite gross spin on the slasher), or attempt sat seriousness that falls flat. King Solomon's Mines is fun. Highlander I like elements of, but it's played slightly too seriously, and the flashbacks clutter the plot rather than add to it. The Wicked Lady isn't really my type of film. Sahara was the only film I saw while on Netflix, and again it's not great but the fact they went and said,"hey - let's do a Great Race via Lawrence of Arabia with Brooke Shields playing a boy", and put John Mills as a Cambridge don called Cambridge. Even their neo=noir stuff that proper critics like I found kind of boring. Lifeforce is ruined by the miscasting of wet Peter Firth as an SAS hardarse (should have been Collins) and perhaps a different director And some of the Israeli-made stuff is astonishingly terrible - the Magiican of Lublin, Kate Bush-scored Yiddish fairytale- Alan Arkin as a man whose dream is to fly.
A lot of the stuff is enjoyable in moments, but their arty stuff is not my cup. Even their Treasure Island I found to be basically akin to The Legend of Tim Tyler and Silas.

There is Treasure of the Four Crowns (1984), which is one of Cannon's Indiana Jones knockoffs. But it is truly barking, the brainchild/vanity vehicle of American spaghetti western star Tony Anthony, who'd previously made 3-D western Comin' At Ya in 1981, this is his 3-D Raiders. And it begins with a cavalcade of flames, arrows, burning rocks and other things in an astonishing  20 minute non-dialogue opening. It does have boring patches, and the cast isn't great, apart from Bunuel regular Francisco Rabal, but it moves from place to place, and it does weirldy look like a  Bollywood film, due to the film stock and prefigures Temple of Doom with its villain, Jonas, a crazed jewelled bindi-wearing part-Hindi, part-Satanic, part-hippy, part-Jim Jones cult leader who worships a horned statue that looks vaguely like the titular beastie in shonky Greek Cushing-Pleasence vehicle Land of the Minotaur (1976). He also has an army of harem brides and beret-wearing IRA balaclava and beret-wearing tambourine ninjas. With a better script and cast, it could easily have been to Raiders, what Battle Beyond The Stars was to Star Wars, an imitation that goes its own way and becomes just as fun (think a more consistent Sky Bandits, if directed by Brian Trenchard Smith), but the nearest Four Crowns gets to these heights is with the staggering climax, where Anthony gets possessed, his face melted Two Face-style and uses the gems to turn into a sort of fire-demon, and turns the gems into flamethrowers, wiping out Jonas and his brotherhood of Putty-Men IRA tambourine ninjas, as a triumphant Ennio Morricone soundtrack plays. And then as he and his girlfriend leave, a giant swamp monster jumps out.

It reminds me that Antonio Margheriti, whose own Raidersploitation includes Cannon's own Jungle Raiders never put his regular co-star Lewis Collins in a Raiders knockoff. David Warbeck is a serviceable B-movie lead, but Collins was the British action hero of the 80s. And only Who Dares Wins shows the full promise of his would be Bond persona, and even that has long dry spots, mostly involving Judy Davis as the attractive but irritating villain (Paul Freeman, Belloq himself appears as the sequel hook nemesis - an intriguing What If). As Broccoli foolishly rejected the potential 007, someone should have put Collins in a spy knock-off not unlike the exotic but charmless 80s post-Eurospy likes of Codename - The Soldier and SAS - Terminate With Extreme Prejudice, ambitious, glossy but ultimately quite dull Bond imitations that lack that inimitable Bond joy. Team Collins up in something like Four Crowns or those insane Hong Kong films, like the attractive, if sometimes hard to follow likes of the Wisely series, which are at least most ambitious than the cheap "just shoot in a jungle and have a hero in a fedora" Indiana Jones knock-offs of the West. I like those kinds of Hong Kong films. Trad policiers and martial arts film per se don't do it, but mix in a lot of weirdness - and voila!
The Legend of Wisely (1987) especially has that annoying goofiness that is common in HK films, hence why Big Trouble in Little China is a bit silly - because Carpenter was trying too hard for that HK feel). Unlike its ambitious, good-looking but nonsensical Sam Raimi-meets-Cannibal Holocaust Chow Yun Fat-as-Rambo-goes-gore sidequel The 7th Curse (1986), some of it is pleasingly epic, like motorcycles driving on the steps of a temple and avoiding monkeys, and the dragon-spaceship models look good. Certainly better than Jackie Chan's similar but silly folly of a sequel, Operation Condor - Armour of God II (1991). The first Armour of God in 1986 is spectacular (the balloon ending) and quite charming (it has a 70s pop star as Hong Kong and therefore the Commonwealth's answer to Indiana Jones), better than the rival Aces Go Places series, but the sequel is lacking, and feels like it is trying too hard, and goes overboard with the silliness.
See also the similarly spacey and goofy and less impressive Magic Crystal (1986), with added Cynthia Rothrock and Andy Lau, guns behind papers, a Greek travelogue, KGB torturers, and schmaltzy Chinese Tristram Fourmile-type kids who talk to glowing space rocks, going from Raiders to Mac and Me, with wobbly papier-mache aliens and Richard Norton getting vaporised.

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