Fantastic Fest's final secret screening was last night, and film geeks were atwitter, speculating what big budget hipster infatuation they would show next. Some guesses included 2012, Where the Wild Things Are, Avatar, Sherlock Holmes, and Toy Story 3. Yes, Toy Story 3. Pixar made all their films in 1998 and just sit on them until appropriate buzz has accumulated.
The only film that wasn't batted around was probably the one shown: Universal Soldier: A New Beginning, with YSM darling Dolph Lungren and UFC fighter Andrei "The Pitbull" Arlovski in attendance. Readers of YSM know of our sordid cinematic affair with the fine towering Swedish specimen, so this was an especially special occasion for me.
Universal Solder: A New Beginning was brought in mere hours after its completion. There wasn't even enough time to make a 35mm print or full 4k digital copy. It was instead in HD.
The film was shot and takes place in Eastern Europe, where the (non-US) president's children are kidnapped by a radical militant group through the help of a rogue geneticist from the Universal Soldier program. The group is holed up in an abandoned nuclear power plant (Chernobyl?) with explosives rigged to detonate if the government fails to meet their demands.
To tip the scales in their favor, they use NGU (Andrei Arlovski) a Universal Soldier model with super-speed, super-strength, super-aggression, and giant retractable super-blade attached to his wrist. The "government" or "military" or whatever organization is supposed to be the good guys bring in four of their own wimpy Universal Soldier models to take him on, and are dispensed with by the Slavic super-soldier.
As a last ditch effort, they bring in damaged goods Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and try to shock his nervous system back into working soldier order. After giving him a double dose of roid rage, he storms the power plant to complete the mission.
Overall the film is enjoyable. The opening kidnapping, car chase, and escape are frenetic and well shot. The camera swings around and cuts to close ups of frantic action. It features realistically shot and choreographed fight scenes, if the subjects were adrenaline-fueled superheroes. Imagine Watchmen directed by Paul Greengrass with an explanation for their super-strength. The soldiers are shot repeatedly, fall from great heights, smash through walls, and impale each other with rebar and thick metal pipes.
There are some great little shots that sneak into this quick cut freneticism. Van Damme storms a hallway taking out soldiers, and the camera follows him through the middle hallway in one long continuous shot as he zig-zags through the adjacent rooms. In the fight between Dolph and Van Damme, the two somersault over a kitchen peninsula and the camera follows the move in profile.
Andre Arlovski's commanding frame and hard Slavic face make him a terrifying villain. He looks like a man who could eat copious amounts of raw meat and not get a stomach ache. Even during the Q&A I was afraid he would scamper up the aisle and pound my face into the arm rest. His English was scanty and he came off as a very nice person, but his physical presence still made him very scary.
The Q&A was fun. People had some surprisingly good questions for a movie they did not expect (I'm sure Lundgren's wiki was on a few iPhone screens). Dolph revealed a few things about The Expendables, particularly that he has "one and a half" fights with Jet Li.
While some were expecting a movie with a little more buzz and prestige around it, I was pleasantly surprised that Fantatic Fest chose to stick to its roots for the final secret screening. There was plenty of press after their showing of the Coen's newest picture A Serious Man, but it hardly adheres to the festival's mission to specialize in "horror, fantasy, sci-fi, action and just plain fantastic movies from all around the world." Unless "Coen Brothers" is considered its own genre, it doesn't necessarily fit into any of these categories.
Universal Soldier: A New Beginning easily fits into sci-fi and action. One scene features an obvious homage to Blade Runner, and there are numerous comparisons of the universal soldiers to dogs, pets, and other animals, which tie into this inhuman theme that pervades.
Some extra pictures from the Fantastic Fest secret screening on Thursday: