Monthly Archives: August 2011

The Randomator: Relic Hunter

If you haven’t come across the TV and movie website Blinkbox, it provides a treasure trove of current films and programmes to buy and stream, but it also has a handy free section, which is a lot more diverse. And when I say diverse, I mean that half of it you will never have heard of and the other half isn’t worth hearing of.

One of those you may not have come across before, particularly if you live in the UK and don’t have Sky, is a Canadian TV programme called Relic Hunter, which you can watch the first and second seasons of for free on Blinkbox. Running for three series between 1999 and 2002, Relic Hunter followed an American archaeologist on her adventures around the world to find the mysterious and the mythical. Very obviously inspired by Lara Croft, it starred Hawiian actress Tia Carrere in the lead role of archaeologist Sydney Fox, an actress best known for playing Cassandra Wong in Wayne’s World and Wayne’s World 2.

Biting the dust after 66 episodes – has it stood up to the test of time?

The first episode sees Sydney and her British assistant Nigel head to Nepal to look for the fabled overflowing alms bowl of Buddha. So are you with me? Because here we go…

First off, slightly strange theme music going on here – very middle of the afternoon Murder, She Wrote territory, but striving to be a bit Indiana Jones. And there we have a skeleton falling out of a recess, and there they are in a pit of snakes, I think I’ve got the number on this one. She’s going to be sassy and gung-ho, he’s going to be ever so English and restrained. Bet you 10p.

Yes! I knew it! There he goes – ‘After such a secluded education in Cambridge you can imagine how nervous I was to land a position in America’. He makes it sound as though Cambridge is a 12th century monastery located on top of a mountain and they’re not let outside or near anything remotely female for three years. It’s Giles syndrome all over again, and also he looks like an even weedier version of Brenden Fraser. Classic ‘90s hairdo as well, got to love it.

He’s turned up for his first day as Sydney’s teaching assistant, so he gets shown into her classroom and there she is dressed in not much more than feathers and facepaint demonstrating a tribal dance to her class, with a grand finale of throwing her spear at the doorframe next to Nigel’s wibbling little face. I’m expecting that over their next 65 adventures he’ll learn to let his hair down a bit, loosen that repressed Cambridge-blaming attitude and learn to live a little, whilst she will maybe have her rough edges smoothed off as she realises that quiet people have their uses as well. Or maybe not, all three series aren’t here for free unfortunately so we’ll just have to guess.

And there she is in her office in her underwear getting changed and the poor boy’s gasping like a fish. At least he’s got 400 books with him he shipped over from England to keep his hands busy. Outside, a group of men from Nepal have appeared who have ‘found an ancient map’ showing where Buddha’s alms bowl was 150 years ago. That, and a handful of metal discs. This looks like pretty flimsy evidence to me but there’s a human element to it – a village is building a shrine to Buddha and wants to place to bowl there – so even though she’s literally only just finished her first class of term at the university where she is teaching, she’s drops everything to go to Nepal, taking Nigel with her.

Now we’re in Hong Kong where a slimy American waving around a copy of the map is trying to get the young director of a company he’s run into debt to engage in the appropriation of this never-ending cash cow of a bowl. I can feel a race coming on.

‘Lambini Gardens, it sounds peaceful doesn’t it?’ Oh Nigel, you’re so silly, look at you in your naff brown jumper. Cue shot of a very unpeaceful market where Sydney for some reason only known to herself leads him into a dodgy bar. ‘The golden carp is in here somewhere,’ she says. Woah, back up here. On the map she was given, there was a picture of what looked like some people possibly in a garden, and then an image of a koi carp. Somehow the name of this garden sprung into her mind, even though this is a 150 year old map, and she turns up in Nepal in the middle of some random market, and knows exactly which bar to go into, and that she has to look for a golden carp.

Anyway, she leaves Nigel to wander about looking lost and jumpy whilst she, for no reason at all, marches off down a flight of stairs to a dripping basement. I think it’s supposed to show off how unconventional she is. She glares down a rat, flicks a tarantula off her shoulder without breaking a sweat and finds the koi on a wall tile. This obviously indicates that something is hidden there, and she promptly pulls out a chunk of wall, which is revealed to be a koi carp hiding hole. 

Upstairs, Nigel is already casting the shackles of his secluded education behind him by gambling with the locals, and also the dodgy American we last saw in Hong Kong. Turns out he’s Sydney’s rival in the game and managed to get the koi statue first that was hidden in the wall. Then he just hung around for the fun of it until she turned up and they could wrestle over the artefact. Nigel stands there like a giant lemon, so Sydney has to elbow some people in the face and drag him out of the bar, but the koi is gone. What are they going to do?

What they’re going to do is make like Indy and run through a market followed by some heavies, baskets flying around as people career into them, and it’s time to jump onto a steam train and don a disguise using clothing they stole from the market. And then get off the train again without it going anywhere. The ‘disguises’ are bloody awful because nobody else around them is wearing anything like it, but a swift coving of the face with the hood seems to flummox the heavies following them and off they go.

Back to the train. Pardon? You were on the thing two minutes ago and got off to parade around in your snazzy new outfits that definitely did not make you blend into the crowd. Well, they’re now back on it and somehow have managed to get their luggage back from wherever it was when they went to the bar. Hmm. Unless they stole somebody else’s in another attempt to be inconspicuous.

So now they’re in the middle of nowhere trundling along on a cart with Sydney theorising with absolute certainty that there isn’t just one carp ‘they’re all part of a mosaic’. How do you know that?! You’re making this rubbish up as you go along! Also, she goes off on one along the lines of ‘I know that he’s got it, and I know that he knows that I know he’s got it etc.’ Well yes, you know he has the carp, because you saw it in his hard and tried to grab it from him, that was hardly being subtle about it. ‘We have to be on our guard, he could be anywhere,’ she says. He’s actually driving the cart they’re on, clearly his grey rags are in the same category of miracle disguises that you two were sporting earlier on.

Eventually, they find where the koi statue is supposed to go and something is revealed in the depths of a disused fountain. Something which makes them tramp about in the rainforest. ‘We’ve come a dead end,’ says Nigel ruefully when they can’t find the Buddha statue. Don’t worry Nige, in a plot so thin as this who knows what could happen.

They realise they’re sat on Buddha, and find the way in. Smarmy American guy also turns up, after bribing the townspeople with his mobile phone. They’re rural Nepalise villagers, of course a mobile would be useful. Now they’re racing head to head through the cavernous cockroach-ridden belly of the Buddha and there it is, on a sunlit plinth in a room, which they then get trapped in and sand starts pouring in. Original this is not. 

They notice a lever, which either ‘opens the door or releases the sand’. Which would render both shutting the door and pouring sand into the room completely pointless if you can just open it again. Apparently it’s one of the teachings of Buddhism, ‘not to resist’. So you stand there and breath. That doesn’t work so Sydney comes out with ‘we have to make the walls oscillate, maybe that will trigger the lever’. So they start chanting (saying ommmmm really loudly) and against all odds it does.

They get the bowl and a moral lesson is learnt, that what we think we need isn’t always what we actually do. There, doesn’t that warm the cockles?

And there we have it, a cut price Lara Croft / Indiana Jones mash up with a plot that gets made up as it goes along, people just seem to know where to go with no explanation as to how, and in the end she’s not much of an archaeologist because she gives the bowl to some villagers who if they already knew where the Buddha was, could have just gone and got it themselves. Daft but light hearted I think sums this up.


Almighty Thor

Hot on the heels of the blockbuster Thor where Aussie hunk Chris Hemsworth has to regain his god powers by proving his worth to wield the hammer Mjolnir, and special effects electrify the worlds of Asgard and Jotunheim, Almighty Thor by The Asylum unfortunately just looks like Thor’s outtakes of some of the crew running about in a car park.

In Almighty Thor, Odin is played by wrestler Kevin Nash, who lumbers about a hillside with his two sons, Thor and Baldir, before being killed by Loki who wants Odin’s hammer. In the film Thor, Thor and Loki are brothers so there’s a change in the norse mythology here, but that’s the least of this film’s worries. Unfortunately, Cody Deal who plays Thor acts like an overgrown toddler wearing a rug over his shoulders. There’s no gravitas, or anything remotely approaching looking like a god going on. Odin sent his hammer back to the tree of life to keep it from Loki and Thor is charged with finding it and protecting Earth.

After Odin and the brother die, a Valkyrie, Járnsaxa, turns up who says she was Odin’s most trusted soldier, shame she wasn’t around when he was killed then, but now she is charged with looking after Thor and teaching him how to fight. Not so fast, because before that can take place, Thor needs to rush headlong at Loki a few times using a sharpened stick or something, and has to be dragged back out of the way by Járnsaxa who repeats herself endlessly in the film, telling him that he isn’t ready yet and needs to learn how to fight first. Clearly being Odin’s most trusted soldier isn’t good enough for Thor because he ignores her completely and keeps going back for more. Seriously, it gets embarrassing watching him flail about in front of the pantomime evil Loki.

So, eventually, they get to her secret training area which looks like an old temple they found on top of a greek hill, and we get a bit of sword training. Aparently they’re hidden from Loki somehow, but his demon dogs can tunnel their way up underneath where they are and they have to go to the tree to find the hammer, and then to Earth because… I don’t know. Why Earth? Anyway, so they end up in a deserted back street of Los Angeles. There’s only about five people in this film so the budget must have been pretty tight. Thor throws his toys out of the pram again, has to get saved by Járnsaxa again, and eventually gets thrown down into hell, leaving Loki to unleash havoc on Los Angeles. Poor Los Angeles, first an attack of mega piranha and now this.

Now, it starts to get interesting because Thor somehow manages, in the depths of hell, to mould his own hammer, smash his way up back to the surface, and save the world. Snorri Sturluson must be spinning in his grave. To sum up, not worth the effort.

Mega Piranha

Like the sound of bloody great man-eating fish thundering along a South American river in a race against the US military to reach the ocean before being bombed into oblivion? I did, so here we have The Asylum production – Mega Piranha!

Carrying on in the grand tradition of having aquatic creatures great and small somehow mutating into something the size of Manhattan, Mega Piranha mocks-up the 2010 remake 3D Piranha. It’s quite a feat to make an even more ridiculous film than one which starts off with a hoard of piranhas emerging from a lake chasm after an earthquake, but The Asylum had a good go at it.

Down in the murky depths of Venezuela’s Orinoco River, things are stirring. Things with teeth. And people start to die, including a US ambassador who was quietly enjoying a bit of corruption and a brace of bikini-clad beauties on a speedboat when giant piranha attacked and chewed their way through it and them. The US sends in a special agent to find out if he was assassinated, examining the site and remains of the boat. What he finds doesn’t tally up, and he starts throwing his weight around with the Venezuelan government’s representative Colonel Antonio Diaz.

Eighties singer Tiffany turns up, doing a turn as a UN scientist, and explains to Special Agent Finch that it was no explosion that took out the ambassador, it was mega piranha. Finch is understandably sceptical, but she explains that the UN have been breeding bigger piranha for food in the country. I’m not sure how the UN would react to having their good name besmirched in such a fashion, but international aid organisations aside, who looks into the dead-eyed bony face of a piranha and thinks ‘ooh, I fancy a bit of that’? Surely there must be better fish to genetically modify for food than piranha, but Attack of the Killer Cod doesn’t have quite the same ring to it I suppose. ‘These organisms are on a very simple programme – they eat, they grow, they multiply, and they will never, never stop,’ says Tiffany. Clearly a design flaw somewhere.

The piranha are growing exponentially, and usefully are hermaphoditic so they can breed all by themselves apparently, but they are currently penned in by a dam in the river. Not for much longer because Colonel Antonio Diaz, played with a touch of megliomania by David Labiosa, decides that the only way to stop them is by bombing the river. So we have helicopters, and explosions, and shouting, and then the period of silence where we stare at the screen looking to see if something moves, which it inevitably does, but now the dam’s been blown to bits so the piranah start heading to the sea, and they’re still growing.

Finch now has to call back his superiors in the US and explain, with a remarkably straight face: ‘It wasn’t terrorists, it was giant piranha’. Relations between Finch and the Colonel have rapidly disintegrated, with the UN scientists being arrested and tortured, so Finch breaks them out and they make a run for it through the jungle, chased by Diaz. They head for the coast where a US warship will be there for a few minutes only, and if Finch can give them a signal they’ll bomb the hell out of the river mouth to stop the piranha from reaching the sea.

The piranha are getting huge, creating little tidal waves as they thunder downstream, and once they hit the city port, all hell breaks loose with fish leaping out of the water into buildings, eating people, and generally causing mayhem. Finch, in one of the best scenes of the film, is so bad-ass that on his back on the floor, he still manages to kick five piranha that leap at him out of the sky. The size of the fish seem to change dramatically depending upon whether it’s a wide shot of the city or close up of people, because if one of the fish that had just taken out the top floors of a hotel had landed on him, booting it in the face wouldn’t have got him very far.

Tiffany tells us that the piranha can’t breath in salt water but this turns out to be a pile of rubbish, so now they’re out in the ocean, and Florida is their target. The US warship tries to bomb them, but gets eaten by the fish. Finch et al steal a helicopter that is conveniently on the floor, running, with its doors open, and make their way to a super bunker, which looks like a deserted oil refinery, and a plan is made to use a SWAT team of divers to take the piranha down face to face, and if that doesn’t work, nuke Florida.

The final showdown takes place with piranhas leaping out of the water to eat helicopters, TV presenters being eaten on-screen, and people running about screaming, until Finch shoots a fish in the face, which then causes a feeding frenzy between all of the other fish, presumably wiping them all out. Oddly, he cut a fish way back at the beginning, and that fish was eaten by the others, but this didn’t then cause them to start attacking unharmed piranha, so why would it work this time and not then?

Anyway, Florida is safe from nuclear bombardment, and Tiffany gets to sing us a tune. Job done.