Sunday, December 21, 2014

Dark weekend.

I am going to ramble about a film from way, way back -- 2000, to be exact -- called Highlander: Endgame. This was requested by a very nice individual from Scotland named Kris, who was far too kind in his e-mail to me. Thank you very much, Kris -- you are now my number one favorite person from that far off land who isn't Sean Connery. (Number two would be Karen Gillan, and were she to request a movie rambling from me, well, I'm sorry Kris, but that would knock you down to the second slot because CHICKS OVER DICKS, BRO.)

Endgame is the fourth installment of the Highlander films, and if by some small chance you are unfamiliar with this series, then I'll just give you the quick synopsis:

Highlander is about one film that should've stayed as one film, but for some reason they made five films, a TV series, an animated series, various DVD/Blu-ray releases, a video game, and I'm sure comic books and cereals figure into it as well.

I'm being unfair. It's about these people who are immortal and can only die by decapitation and they're all gathering together to kill each other with swords because There Can Be Only One to win The Prize. Why am I explaining this? If you're not familiar with Highlander, that's what Wikipedia is for. OK, fuck this -- you know what, I'll be honest, I'm gonna take the snark mask off and confess to you that if you were to ask 11-Year-Old Me what my favorite movie was, I'd answer "HIGHLANDER!!!" and then you'd ask me to stop shouting.

Yeah man, for a while I was a fuckin' fiend for that flashy film and its followups. It was my intro to Christophe(r) Muthafuckin' Lambert and I've been a fan of that oddly-accented gentleman ever since. No -- wait -- I'm lying, but it's an unintentional lie. My intro to Lambert was Highlander II: The Quickening. For real. No lie. I saw the fuckin' sequel first.

See, my cable provider was having a special 99-cent pay-per-view weekend and my dad was like "Son, I've made peace with the fact that you'll never play a sport or lift a weight or kiss a girl because you're all about the movies, so here's twenty bucks -- buy some blank tapes, order up all the movies this bill will get ya and record them, that way we have some movies for you to watch while I get drunk in order to kill the pain of having a fairy for a son!" and so I did, and The Quickening was among those films. It interested me enough to search out the first film, which proceeded to blow my mind on account of lopped off heads, lightning, and Queen. I watched both films many times, and I even watched the first couple seasons of the television show, I was so into it. I loved me some fuckin' Highlander -- even if the timeline and continuity of the whole franchise became more and more confusing over time.

Let's see -- Part Two takes place in the future and the Immortals are aliens, Part Three goes back to the present day and more or less pretends Part Two never happened, then a television series followed that appeared to take place in the same universe of Parts One and Three, then alternate cuts of all three films were released that changed stuff again. It's a mess. All I know is that I eventually lost interest in all things Highlander as soon as the end credits began to roll for 
Highlander III: The Final Dimension aka Highlander III: The Sorcerer aka Highlander III: The Magician aka Highlander III: The Pajama Jam aka PICK A FUCKING TITLE AND STAY WITH IT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.

As for the previous films and the series, it makes more sense to see each one taking place in alternate universes, like some JJ Abrams' Star Trek craziness. For example: In the prime universe, the main character Connor MacLeod becomes the last Immortal standing and is awarded the "prize" of mortality and full knowledge of the universe or something, and he's going to use this to help the world come together and buy the world a Coke and kumbaya no more wars no more pollution all the babies all the kitties all the doggies what's an Israel? what's a Palestine? imagine there's no countries it isn't hard to do we're all just humans super happy time I don't know. Also, he's no longer shooting blanks (immortality giveth and taketh away), so he can have kids now.

But in the Endgame universe, Connor is just but one of the many Immortals still around for this Gathering and he's sick of all this shit, because, really man, really -- being immortal fucking sucks a dick. In the first Highlander, there's a pretty sad sequence where Connor is living life with his wife Heather, watching her grow old and eventually die, because that's the endgame of Love.

Endgame is almost like a feature-length version of that sequence. Connor MacLeod is so fuckin' beat by life and loss and guilt and death and the fact that his fellow immortal/kinda-relative Duncan just asked for ketchup on a hot dog, he ends up seeking sanctuary at a place called Sanctuary, where Immortals voluntarily put themselves into sort-of-comas in order to sit out life without having to take part in the Gathering. Sanctuary is run by The Watchers, a worldwide network of mortals who keep tabs on the Immortals, and might have some shady motives of their own (you think?).

He gets about ten good years of nothing before something comes blasting through his door in the form of a multi-racial gang of Immortals in ridiculous outfits, because the bad guys in Highlander always wear ridiculous outfits. One of these dudes is played by my man, Donnie Yen; he's here long enough to kick some ass in his usual awesome way but not long enough to satisfy my awesome ass-kicking quota. Another one is played by rap dude Damon Dash, who is barely in this but he does have a funny part where his decapitated head manages to stay alive long enough to give a OMG I Can't Believe He Fuckin' Did That Shit! face. (You had 14 years to see this fucking movie, and even then you weren't going to see it anyway.)

They are led by an Immortal named Jacob Kell, played by the main bad guy from Passenger 57, Bruce Payne, but this time he's replaced his long locks with more of an early 2000s Corbin Bernsen hairstyle. Kell and Connor used to be cool with each other back in the ol' Highland days, but all it takes is a charbroiled mother to change that relationship. Kell's dad was a priest who accused Connor's mom of witchcraft and then had her burned at the the stake. Connor, of course, didn't take highly to this, so he arranged a meeting between the priest and God with the help of his trusty sword.

Now to me, that sounds like they're even: Your dad killed my mom, I killed your dad. But try telling Kell that. Nope, this smug overacting motherfucker turns out to be an Immortal himself who dedicates his neverending life to shadowing Connor, looking for any opportunities to fuck up his life -- like blowing up his adopted daughter. It doesn't help that Connor is basically enabling this jerk-off by feeling genuinely guilty about this and everything else, leading his own pity party where the theme is "Everything Meaningful In My Life Gets Destroyed Because Of Me".

I couldn't stand this motherfucker Kell, killing everything and being OK with it because Boo-hoo, you killed my stupid asshole priest father. No excuse for that shit, son. Among his many crimes, Kell is always wearing these boots with crosses on the back, and it would make for a decent drinking game if you took a shot every time the film cut to a close-up of said crosses. Like, if you went with a good tequila, you'd get nice and properly fucked up halfway through your viewing. Later in the film, Duncan looks this guy up on the Internet Immortal Database and finds out that Kell has killed way more Immortals than him and Connor put together, making him a bona-fide scary force to reckon with.

As far as bad guys in the Highlander film universe go, he's nowhere near as fun as Clancy Brown, Michael Ironside, or Mario Van Peebles (all playing variations of the same theme), but at least his character has a little bit more running his engine than "I'M EVIL AND I LOVE IT". He does share with his fellow baddies a fondness for jokes and one-liners though; they are either in the Lame ("I call this decap with a twist. No sugar.") or Huh?/What? categories ("What's wrong? Don't you want to be inside me?"). Payne is clearly having fun here; his is the kind of performance given by an actor who knows that whatever he does is going to be OK with the director.

By his side is this chick named Faith, formerly named Kate, who I feel is way more interesting than Kell. I'd say she's probably my favorite character in the movie. See, she used to be married to Duncan way back when, and she was unaware that she was immortal as well. But Duncan sure as hell knew, because immortals can sense each other out. He also understood that an immortal doesn't actually become immortal until they go through a sudden violent death, otherwise I guess that offer just expires like a forgotten coupon and he or she dies of old age instead. So Duncan figures that rather than lose her that way, he decides to give her one final bang (just in case) and then stabs her dead. Poor girl, first she gets romanced into a room filled with candles (which in that time period actually makes sense), then she makes the O-face, followed by the Y-face, as in Why Oh Why Did You Just Stab Me, I Thought You Loved Me?!

Homegirl is righteously pissed at Duncan, and why not? She didn't ask for this shit, he just gave it to her. Great. Now she gets to outlive everyone else in her life, and even worse, she can't have kids. It doesn't matter that she makes lots of bank in the fashion industry, she is clearly not happy with her life, this life that can suddenly end at any time should some Immortal show up with a sword and decide to make her give head the hard way.

At least Duncan feels pretty shitty about what he did to Kate/Faith, so that gives him one more thing to talk about with fellow guilty-conscious-having immortal Connor. Man, these MacLeod boys have shit luck in creating fellow immortals (Connor killed Kell back in the old days during his burning-mom-induced rage), but if these guys were real and I happened to have the Immortal gene in me, I wouldn't mind going through a sudden violent death in exchange for a lifetime of forever. The people in my life are dying anyway and shit is way too interesting in the real world for me to eventually have to walk out of this movie, know what I mean?

The rest of the film consists of Duncan looking for Connor while trying to steer clear of Kell, his crew, Angry Kate/Faith, the Watchers, and people with good taste in hot dog condiments. We also get flashbacks to earlier times in Scotland, Italy, and I forget where else; we see Connor and Duncan living life, training with swords, foiling robberies, stabbing immortal loved ones after banging them. Characters from the television series also show up here, as do a couple of characters from the first film. And where does this film fit in with the chronology? I already told you dude, these are all alternate universes, and this story is yet another strand in God's spaghetti dish.

I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise that this Highlander film -- like every other Highlander film -- has more than one version out there; the theatrical version clocked in at 87 minutes. The version I watched was the longer "producer's cut" running at about 100 minutes. There's also a rough cut workprint available, but fuck that shit, I think I made the right choice. According to the producers, the 87-minute version was the result of distributor Dimension Films laying down the law in the name of a faster pace and more showings -- personally I thought the 100-minute cut had a good pace already, but you know these fuckin' Weinstein Brothers are never happy unless they get to re-edit everything, and I do mean everything. They just re-edited me. Tomorrow, they re-edit your mom. Six editors are credited in the film, which made me think of Street Fighter and the last couple Terrence Malick joints -- but alas, unlike those multi-editor films, this one ain't no masterpiece.

This was an OK movie; it starts out strong and I liked the choice made in giving this more of a downbeat tone, which at least makes it feel different from the other Highlanders. The characters of Connor, Duncan, and Kate/Faith aren't the bounciest buskers on the block, because they've all lost something (many things, actually -- I mean they've been AROUND) and I think both the one-two punch of The Gathering and the beginning of a new millennium have weighed their souls down and boy oh boy have I made this movie sound like fun, haven't I? Shit, I don't even remember Lambert doing that awesome laugh of his here, like even he knew this was a rather frown-y affair.

It kinda goes off track quality-wise during the last third where I wasn't feeling it as much as the previous hour or so, which is weird because a pretty major event in the Highlander universe occurs late in the film and it didn't have quite the impact that I was expecting it to have. Perhaps if I remained All About Highlander like back in the day, I'd care more. Also the ending was kinda lame; I found out online that this was a new ending added to the producer's cut, whereas the theatrical cut ended in the previous (better) scene.

Despite that bullshit, I thought that this was a decent viewing for a lazy Sunday afternoon -- and maybe if I waited a few hours rather than watch it early this Sunday morning, I'd have gotten more out of it. But there's enough going on to keep things interesting, and the swordplay is cool to watch as always, plus you have the occasional Hong Kong-flavored kick-punching (thanks Donnie Yen!).

Lambert is the fuckin' man as always, Adrian Paul is actually better here than I remember him in the series (granted, I barely remember the series), and the both of them are introduced here coming out of a New York subway speaking French even though they're both supposed to be from Scotland -- because why shouldn't they? You live long enough and learn enough languages, you'd probably start switching tongues whenever just to keep from getting bored. Anyway, I'd say this is the second best/fourth worst Highlander film (the fifth film, The Source, went straight to the SyFy network and is by all accounts a terrible waste of everything).

In conclusion, Duncan MacLeod's Quickening face (or Q-face) is awesome.