Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Ghoul Versus The Prophecy

"This review is 100% cowbell free."

Who doesn't love Christopher Walken? He has spent the last forty years entertaining us with his incredibly diverse acting ability with performances that'll be remembered as long as cinema exists. From hilarious to deadly serious to “what the hell am I watching?”, he can do it all. He even has the KILLER dance moves!

I've seen almost all of his movies and appearances with one glaring exception: I've never seen the Prophecy trilogy for some unexplainable reason. It's always been on my list of movies to check out, but years of procrastination combined with my untimely death just kept putting it off.  So last week when I was browsing eBay for potential movies to review, I happened to come across a Blu-Ray box set for dirt cheap and was very surprised to learn the trilogy had grown to a quintology.  I hit "Buy It Now" so fast I broke my keyboard and as of a few days ago I am now the proud owner of five Prophecy movies. Let's get this party started with A Ghoul Versus The Prophecy!

Our film opens with narration from an angel named Simon, who was there when the first war of the angels led to the creation of Hell. He stood with his brothers and watched Lucifer fall. But now, his brothers aren't his brothers as another war was erupted. Angels are now mortal on Earth, searching for a dark soul that will help their side win.  We find ourselves inside a church with priests going through a ceremony to become ordained. One of them, a man named Thomas, is very nervous. When it is his turn, he suddenly has violent visions of bloody angels killing each other and he screams out. We cut to years later, as he has abandoned the priesthood and is now a police detective in Los Angeles. That's quite the career transition, going from saving souls to busting caps in their asses.

Coming home from a shift, he finds Simon in his apartment. He demands to know what he's doing there, Simon replying that he was in the church that day and saw what Thomas saw. Simon comments about two things on Thomas's desk: a thesis he wrote about angels in religious scripture and a St. Christopher medallion.  Elsewhere, we see another angel land in the city. We can tell he's one of the bad guys not because he wears all black, but because he's Tommy Wiseau.  Tommy jumps through the window of the apartment Simon is staying at, stabbing him. He says he knows Simon has found “it”, but Simon is able to kill him by impaling him through the broken glass still in the pane. He throws his body out the window where it's hit by a car, which actually is a bit of a weird scene because he lands in a dead end alley and the car is going full speed towards the wall. Was the driver trying to kill himself?

Later, the cops investigate the crime scene. Thomas arrives, finding the room registered to John Smith. He finds his thesis in the room, realizing who John Smith really was. He also finds a newspaper from a town called Chimney Rock, the obituary of Army Colonel Arnold Hawthorne circled in marker. Thomas asks one of the cops where Chimney Rock is, learning it's in Arizona.  Simon arrives in Chimney Rock, entering the church where Hawthorne's body is. He opens his mouth and leans in to kiss him, a loud whooshing noise happening as he does. Hurting from his knife wound and worn out from his casual bout of necrophilia, Simon breaks into the closed off upper floor of the local school and goes to sleep.

Thomas meets with his friend Joseph, who is a mortician. He goes over Tommy's body, revealing some very strange things about the body. The body never had any eyes, is a hermaphrodite, and has the same blood work as an aborted fetus. They also found a very old handwritten Bible in his coat which Tommy reads through. It contains a 23rd chapter of Revelations, which Thomas says doesn't exist.  That night Thomas works on translating the Bible, learning about the second war in Heaven. He is able to match a symbol burned into the body's neck as that of Uziel, the lieutenant to the archangel Gabriel. He turns his translation book to an image of Gabriel, which is used as a transition to the real Gabriel, played by Christopher Walken in one of the most motivated roles you'll EVER see in a movie.

Gabriel searches Simon's apartment, figuring out who it belonged to by LICKING SPILLED BLOOD. Damn! Heaven needs to get themselves a forensics team. In Arizona, kids play hide in seek in the upper level of the school. One girl named Mary comes across Simon, who asks her not to tell anyone he's there. She is kinda dumb. A creepy bearded guy in a trench coat should be setting off every Stranger Danger alert in the world.

We go to a VERY disgusting apartment back in Los Angeles, where Gabriel meets with one of his underlings named Jerry. Jerry tried to commit suicide by hanging himself, but Gabriel kept him alive to serve him. Gabriel wants him to break into the police station to steal the evidence from Simon's room.  At said station, Joseph gives Thomas the report on the Bible, which says it's from the 2nd Century. Thomas tells him about the second war, that it began when angels became jealous that God gave humans souls. A prophecy states a dark soul will rest in a man that is the key to winning the war.  Gabriel enters the morgue, where a guard tries to stop him. Gabriel shushes him and then lightly touches him, rendering him unconscious. I'd like to think no acting was involved in that and Walken can do that for real.

He takes Uziel's body out of storage and lies it on the ground in the Jesus pose, anointing it with Holy Water. As he walks away he gestures and the body erupts into flames in what is an amazing shot. There's awesome and then there's Walken-awesome.  Katherine, the school teacher of Chimney Rock, goes looking for Mary as she's not in class. She finds Mary with Simon, calmly telling Mary to leave. Katherine tells Simon she'll have to call the police and goes back downstairs. Mary sneaks back to Simon, and he says that since she's been so nice to him he wants to give her something.  He asks if she can keep a secret, the biggest secret ever. She nods and he asks her to come closer to him.  This is officially the worst episode of "Touched By An Angel" EVER. Chris Hansen, where are you when we need you the most?!

Simon kisses her and we hear the “whoosh” sound effect from earlier. I know he was just transferring Hawthorne's soul into her, but damn if this wasn't the creepiest thing I've had to watch so far. Later we see Mary outside throwing up, now feeling very sick. This has nothing to do with harbouring the soul of a dead soldier, but rather is just a common side effect of kissing Eric Stolz.  Thomas and Joseph look at Uziel's ashes, Thomas deciding he has to go to Chimney Rock. Jerry brings Gabriel the box of evidence he was able to steal, Walken finding Hawthorne's obituary so he is also drawn to Chimney Rock.

You know, that's something that always bugs me in movies. Why do they always circle the article of interest? They obviously know what they're looking for, so they don't need to circle it. It only serves for their opponent to inevitably find it and figure out what's going on. What are film makers going to do in like ten years when newspapers no longer exist? Find someone's tablet that just happens to have the article brought up?  Our villains arrive in Arizona first, Jerry digging up Hawthorne's body while Gabriel perches on his tombstone in an iconic shot. Gabriel finds the soul is gone, but right after senses Simon and quickly tracks him down. They discuss Gabriel's reasons for starting the war, but Simon's ongoing refusal to tell Gabriel where the soul is making him realize he's wasting his time. Gabriel gives us one of the most ominous lines I've ever heard:

“You know, the great thing... about a conversation like this? You never have to have it again.”

But because that wasn't bad ass enough, he follows this up by setting Simon and fire and tearing out his heart. Game set match Walken.  Katherine goes to Mary's house to see how she's doing. Her grandmother tells her she's still sick and the doctor was unable to do anything. Katherine finds Mary's been drawing very violent images of wars and dead bodies. Kids sure don't like to draw anything nice in movies do they?  Thomas finally moseys his way to town. His search leads him to Simon's ashes in the school, finding his St. Christopher's medallion amongst them. He talks to Katherine, learning Mary was in contact with Simon before he died. Gabriel watches the two talk from a rooftop.

Thomas investigates Hawthorne's house, finding out that while he was in the Korean War he engaged in a few minor discretions such as human sacrifice and cannibalism. For good measure, he also finds a box of HUMAN FACES among Hawthorne's possessions.  Thomas, shaken by all this, visits a local church. Gabriel is there, where he menaces the detective for a little bit before leaving.  The next day Gabriel is playing with the school children, secretly checking their mouths for the soul while Jerry sulks. There's a hilarious part where he teaches one to play a trumpet (which is meant to be Gabriel's Horn) and it explodes a window overhead.

Katherine arrives, for some unknown reason creeped out by her class hanging out with Christopher Walken. She sends them inside, kicking Gabriel and Jerry off the property. Gabriel peacefully leaves, having learned from one of the girls Mary had talked to Simon.  After class ends, Katherine goes to visit Mary. She finds Thomas there already, talking to Mary and her grandmother. Mary goes into a trance where she channels Hawthorne talking about killing people. The grandmother is taking her to a nearby village for an exorcism later that day.  Katherine takes Thomas to an abandoned mine on the outskirts of town where she saw Jerry's car parked earlier.

Inside they find the walls covered in angelic script, Thomas touching a symbol. This sets off a horrifying vision of the war in Heaven, where we see a field full of angels impaled on spikes.  Thomas and Katherine realize they need to get back to Mary before Gabriel gets to her. They drive back but Gabriel's car is already there. Gabriel casually tells them he's going to have to tear Mary apart to get the soul, but assures them she won't feel a thing.  Jerry ends up attacking Thomas but gets shot dead. Gabriel knocks the gun out of Thomas's hand, mildly annoyed at the loss of his sidekick. Katherine asks why he's doing all this, and he replies with this:

"I'm an angel.  I kill firstborns while their mamas watch.  I turn cities into salt.  I even, when I feel like it, rip the souls from little girls.  And from now 'til Kingdom Come, the only thing you can count on... in your existence... is never understanding why."  Phenomenal. Why isn't this movie more popular?!

Gabriel goes to “kiss” Mary but she is able to retrieve Thomas's gun and shoot him. This gives him pause, as Thomas and Katherine get Mary and her grandmother out of the house.  Gabriel follows them outside, Katherine taking Thomas' gun and pointing it at him. I guess because Walken's acting was making this movie too awesome, she has to counterbalance it by delivering one of the WORST line readings this side of the Mortal Instruments: City of Bones as she screams out “You! Can't! Have! Her!”.  Just terrible, they should have let Tommy Wiseau stick to acting instead of helping coach the actors. Her aim is terrible but she does manage to hit a propane tank which blows up the trailer and kills Gabriel in the process.

The local authorities soon arrive to contain the situation. Thomas tells the sheriff they have to handcuff Gabriel despite the fact he's dead. However, as they load Gabriel's body up, we see him wake up and wink at Thomas as the car drives away. Mary, channeling her Creepy Possessed Kid Powers, tells Thomas that angels are mortal when they're on Earth and the only way to kill one is to cut their heart out.  Thomas and crew drive after the police, finding the car wrecked and all the cops dead. They head to the village for the exorcism.

Gabriel walks into a local hospital, telling he nurse she can smell that someone is going to die soon. She tries to stop him but he gives her the Sleep Touch. He finds a woman named Rachel (whom you might recognize as Amanda Plummer, currently famous for playing Wiress from the Hunger Games: Catching Fire) who flatlines, but he brings her back to life in what is a strong contender for funniest scene in the movie. This is, without a doubt, one of Walken's greatest performances EVER. And that is very high praise.  At the village, Katherine is approach by... Aragorn and Gollum?!  Nevermind, it's just Viggo Mortensen and some creepy troll creature.  Katherine asks Aragorn if he's an angel, and he reveals he was the FIRST angel: Lucifer. He finally gives us the full background of what's going on, that the Second War has been in a stalemate for thousands of years. While it goes on, all souls are trapped on Earth unable to go to Heaven or Hell.

Gabriel has a plan based off humans knowing more about war and treachery than any angel ever could. He plans to steal the blackest soul on Earth to fight for him so he can win the war and open Heaven. Lucifer knows this new Heaven will become another Hell, and that is one Hell too many for him, so he is here to help.  Gabriel and Rachel stop at a roadside cafe for directions to the village. This is also a strong contender for funniest scene in this movie.

The Devil meets with Thomas, telling him the key to defeating Gabriel is to test his faith. He tries this when Gabriel arrives but it doesn't work, Gabriel storming inside the house where the exorcism is taking place. Thomas drives a truck into him, killing Rachel in the process.  Thomas starts beating him with a crowbar, but the Devil stops him to put an end to this. He tears out Gabriel's heart and EATS IT, Gollum dragging away the angel's dead body to do I don't even WANT to know what with it.  The exorcism is a success, Mary coughing out Hawthorne's soul. A light shines down from the sky and destroys it... I think? Honestly I'm not really sure what's going on anymore but we'll get to that in a bit.  The Devil, in a VERY freaky (and awesome) voice, says he wants Thomas and Katherine to come home with him. Thomas, getting tired of Walken upstaging him, replies with:

“I have my soul and I have my faith. What do you have... ANGEL?”

The Devil advises him to sleep with a light on and leaves. Our film ends with a parting shot of Thomas and Katherine holding each other while he narrates:

"And in the end I think it must be about faith.  And if faith is a choice, then it can be lost... for a man, an angel, or the devil himself.  And if faith means never completely understanding God's plan, then maybe understanding just a part of it, our part, is what it is to have a soul. And maybe, in the end, that's what being human is after all."

Cue the credits, set to a song by hair metal band Skid Row called “Breakin' Down”. It works pretty well I think.

I must say I really enjoyed this movie and recommend it to everyone. Yes, I'm biased because Walken can do no wrong in my eyes, but I still went into this with pretty low expectations and was very surprised.  Almost everything works in this movie so we'll talk about that first. It has a FANTASTIC mix of a moody and dark atmosphere that you rarely see in movies these days, which tend to go overboard with bleak instead of moody.

The entire movie is permeated with such a sense of mystery that keeps you very vested to see what is going to happen next, not a single scene drags at all. This is definitely old school film making, it doles out what's going on in very small amounts but (this is key here), PAYS IT OFF in the end. This is something films like Prometheus forget about, you're supposed to actually have a resolution to all the mysteries you raise early on.

The acting is also very good here, and I'm not just talking Walken. Virginia Madsen, who played Katherine, gets a huge ding for her “THIS! IS! SPARTA!” line but she was good for everything else. I haven't been keeping up on Viggo Mortensen, but if his career has been destroyed by Lord of the Rings perhaps he should look into playing villains? He was very scene stealing as the Devil in this, I'd definitely like to see him play more roles like this one.

So what didn't work for me? The story itself. Overall it is good, but the finer points of it rather fall apart under the magnifying glass.  Simon was on Earth to find Hawthorne's soul before Gabriel's forces could find it. What was he supposed to do with the soul once he found it? I would think return to Heaven so his side can win the war, but he doesn't do this. He just hangs out in a school. My theory was since he was injured he couldn't do this, but he couldn't call someone or something to help?  Why did Simon put the soul into Mary? What did he expect her to do with it? I understand he knew Gabriel was coming for him and had to hide the soul, but surely he'd know God's right hand man would easily be able to find her. Why couldn't he contact his allies for help?!

And speaking of Simon's nonsensical actions, why did he break into Thomas's apartment? He doesn't tell the detective anything or use him to gain any information, the scene only serves to get Thomas involved in the plot. Especially when you consider Simon already had the paper with Hawthorne's obituary in it, so that means he must have been to Arizona already. He went from Arizona to Los Angeles to talk to Thomas about nothing, and then went back to Arizona? Why didn't he take Hawthorne's soul when he was there in the first place AND at full strength?

This is magnified even further in the film when it's implied angels don't drive for some reason, so Simon WALKED all that way? He wasted so much time to go talk to Thomas for... no reason whatsoever!  What the Hell (pun intended) was the Devil doing in this movie? He arrives to give Thomas advice on how to stop Gabriel that does nothing, so he just ends up killing Gabriel himself. Why didn't he just do this the second Gabriel set foot on Earth? Why let Gabriel come so close to getting Hawthorne's soul when he knew it'd be the worst thing ever?

And finally, what the blazes happened in the end? Mary expels Hawthorne's soul and a light shines down from Heaven that blows it up. Was thing just part of the exorcism or was it God pulling the trigger? Why didn't He just do this the second Hawthorne died? I looked up the shooting script, which in the end had Hawthorne's soul transferred into a coyote which didn't make a lot of sense either because the soul was still out in the world.

Although that would have made for a better sequel hook than this one, which wraps things up pretty nicely. I am VERY curious how they managed to get another four movies out of this premise, and hopefully you are too so let's find out with A Ghoul Versus The Prophecy II!