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Christmas Bloody Christmas

 

 I’m not even trying to bury the lead here. Christmas Bloody Christmas may be the surprise hit of the season.

I was fortunate enough to catch a advance screening of this on Saturday night. That’s cool because I’m not expecting this to hit many theaters (it’s a Shudder release), but nevertheless, Cleveland film scene knows what’s good and holy crap, this was good.

It begins with some trashy retro throwback commercials, culminating in an advertisement for a new robotic Santa that stores and malls can use to replace the ones they would hire for the season. They’re made from army surplus robots… Refurbished killing machines now designed to delight children of all ages. I sat back in my seat and looked over at my buddy Mark said “please let this be with the movies about!”. Chopping Mall with Santa robots? Yes, please.

We open with our main character Tori, heading into work at the record store that she owns (I think it’s a record store. There’s lots of albums there and she’s definately an audiophile. It could be a “Exchange” type store though too – I see VHS and comic posters around as well). It’s a nice bit of business with her saving her friends boyfriend from buying the wrong record as a present, and some pleasant banter with her employee Robbie. There’s some banter as they’re ready to close at the shop. But Tori is not feeling Christmas. She doesn’t like it, and really all she wants to do is hook up with a random Tinder date. No problem of course, is that this Tinder date is an absolutely horrifying douche bag and will only make her the mockery of everyone she knows. Robbie joins her as they head down the street to the toy store where Tori’s friends work. They’re staying over that night because they are great ambition is to schupt in their toy store… (Okay, I gotta admit. I can’t blame them. that sounds pretty great). The friends in the toy store just so happen to have one of those robotic Santa’s. They’re actually all on recall and things probably going out the next day, but for now it’s creepily watching them as they crack open a bottle of whiskey and pass it around. After washing their friends merry Christmas Tori and Robbie are off to the bar, while the toy shop people get busy on Santas throne.

That’s about the time that the Santa robot comes to life and hilarity ensues.

Look, I’m not even going any further with this synopsis because I want you to see this. I seriously want you to go see us very badly. It is everything that I wanted from this movie. We have a killer romantic Santa, the best terminator since Terminator two honestly. And we see it get progressively and progressively more robotic and damaged as we go through the film. We get good clean kills, plenty of blood, but we also get characters that we really enjoy. Quite frankly, I could do an entire movie just with Tori and Robbie clapping back at each other over music and film and boozing it up together. It’s just great stuff. I also couldn’t help but notice that every time I would think “man the only thing that would make this movie better was if this happened…“ About two minutes later, the very thing I was thinking about would happen. It’s intuitive, it’s organic, and it’s a brilliant bloody mess. I should expect no less from Director Joe Begos, who gave us the intense action packed thriller VFW. That one was a High Point and a real hidden gem. This is every bit as good… If not better. It’s just one of the best, freshest Christmas horror movies that I’ve seen in ages. Absolutely check this out on shutter or wherever else it may be streaming. 

Christmas Bloody Christmas hits theaters and begins streaming on Shudder December 9

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Stealing Christmas

I happened to come across a bizarre title from 2003 called Stealing Christmas over the holiday season last year. I’m always looking for stuff to watch with the wife, and this TV movie seemed like a fairly good prospect. Tony Danza from who’s the boss, Lea Thompson from back to the future, and Betty White from 100 years of being Betty White.

Tony Danza is a bank robber, who bundles of robbery at a mall in Chicago. He barely gets away, stealing a Santa suit to try and sneak out. He then jumps on a bus, using money he found in the wallet of the Santa suit, and buys the first ticket heading anywhere but here.

Anywhere happens to be a town called Hell. I’m going to assume this is Hell Michigan, because I don’t know any other cities with that name, and it would be definitely within driving distance of Chicago. It’s smaller than advertised though, a dying town where the new mall has sucked up all the business. Danza is greeted at the bus stop by a surly teenage girl who seems to be expecting him. It turns out her mother, Thompson, runs the local Christmas tree stand and put in an order at the employment agency for a Santa Claus for the season. It’s a misunderstanding, but because the employment agency is notoriously unreliable, no other Santa arrives, and Danza figures it’s a good place to Lay low… and plan his next bank job.

It’s a traditional fish out of water story, dancing with his heavy Brooklyn accent and a gruff persona, sometimes telling the kids the way it is… Sometimes you’re feeling he’s a big softy inside. He brings in his old partner to help figure out how to blow the safe, and get him a job in Betty White’s Christmas Shop. But along the way, Danza starts to get emotionally invested in the town… Bringing in business, and being a surrogate father to Lea Thompson‘s daughter. He may be about to get cold feet out of the robbery, that is, if he isn’t exposed first and he can stop his partner.

It’s a surprisingly fun film. In many ways it almost feels like a reverse Hallmark movie. It’s not the busy city girl finding her way to the small old home town where she has to save the ranch and pull off the baking contest… In this case it’s a bad guy who’s arriving in a strange (but still small) town and has to save the town before he rob the bank. Me, I’m always rooting for the robbers to get away with it, but it doesn’t feel like that sort of film… It’s a strange mix. Still, all the familiar faces keep you engaged and the performances are genuinely good. Tony Danza is just being Tony Danza, Lea Thompson is just being Lea Thompson, and Betty white… Well, you know the drill. Still, I enjoyed this way more than I expected to, and if you can track it down on streaming You could do worse.


A Boy Called Christmas

In our house, our tradition for Christmas Eve is the kids get new pajamas, and then we all get together for a Christmas movie. My wife was scrolling through and found something in the same Netflix category as the Christmas Chronicles. It had a similar feel and she watched about 15 minutes of it, before deciding this would be a good one for this year. The film is A Boy Called Christmas.

The movie reminds me a great deal of L Frank Baum‘s the life and adventures of Santa Claus. That’s really what it is. It’s Claus as a young boy, in desperate poverty, he was left alone when his father goes out to hunt for a miracle to save the town. Young Nicholas soon followed him, having discovered a secret map to the legendary city of Elf Helm, hidden in his red hat… You know, the one lined with fur?

Nicholas and his small pet mouse begin the arduous journey across barren snowscapes to seek out the land of the elves, along the way making friends with a reindeer that he names Blitzen… after his favorite lake.

But when Nicholas finds Elf Helm, he discovers a chilly reception. They don’t want humans here, they’re distrustful and his life is now on the line, unless he can somehow prove that humans are good.

This is good. I mean it’s shockingly good. We have enjoyed the Christmas Chronicles a couple of years previous which were fine fantasy, elevated by Kurt Russell, but it still very traditional in it’s Christmas imagery. A Boy Called Christmas looks more like straight fantasy – though you never forget that it is indeed a Christmas film. it’s a great adventure with amazing characters, and is narrated by Dame Maggie Smith (in intermissions much like grandfather in The Princess Bride).

I liked this WAY more than I expected to. It hits all the right notes, with fantasy, adventure, drama all wrapped up in a Christmas package.


Hologram Man

boxalterindex5Look, I like John Amos, but even if I don’t know what he’s doing an action film like this… Of course his last billed so just because he’s on some variations of the cover might not mean anything. I’m a fan of Tiny Lister to though, and the title Hologram Man is nicely intriguing. Also doesn’t hurt that we start off with a fire fight between cops and guys in long coats in the middle of a field of burning cars.

Despite his prominence on some versions of the cover, Amos is killed by the 13 minute mark because this movie is really about his partner Decoda. Our villian is sentenced to some sort of digital incarceration and we flash forward about 10 years. It’s a nicely dystopian future and we have a domed city with lots of concept cars (like in Demolition Man) roaming the streets, and it’s all controlled by any of a corporation, The baddie up for parole. The hearings aren’t held in person, though you appear as a hologram… Hence the title. He takes this time to escape the holographic matrix as an autonomous hologram, complete with laser hands and a blue glow like index4Automan.

While Decoda trains in a goldeneye video game on the holodeck, William Sanderson from Blade Runner clones a new body out of weird shape changing rubber. It’s now up to Decoda to stop the seemingly unstoppable hologram man

Believe it or not, I actually really like this. It’s exactly the sort of movie that I would’ve rented as a teenager for sleepovers and watched in between Nintendo games at my buddy Mike‘s house. The action is good. It’s not over the top, But lots of entertaining bang bang. It’s awesome always fun to get a glimpse of the Japanese union Church from Prince imagesof Darkness as a set in another movie, not to mention watching the cops in black dyed uniforms left over from the visitors in The V mini series. The biggest problem is that there’s very little original here. Joe Lara as Decoda is doing his best impression of Lorenzo Lamas. Michael Nouri is trying very hard to be Chris Sarandon in the entire movie wishes it was Demolition Man. It’s built on tropes rather than a solid foundation story, but sometimes it’s enough for an entertaining rental


Fall of Grace

Fall of Grace starts off well enough. Interesting credits that shiver and shake over news reports of a demonic attack. There’s a weariness about our characters, as a fight goes on under a blue filter. They don’t waste any time getting our victem possessed on the other side of the credits. She talks through a mirror to a shadow behind her, and it’s painfully casual.

Fight club still going on in the darkness of rooftop, and we cut back-and-forth between that and the girl talking to her imaginary friend. It’s almost reminiscent of the child that speaks to the demonic pig in the Amityville horror. Green glows from her closet, and its door opens by itself. She leaves the room, and wanders the empty house, searching for her wayward mother. A light snaps on in the kitchen, but there’s no one there. Just her imaginary friend in the green glow. It wants to go somewhere. 

What happens next is actually pretty shocking.

We fast forward to a month after the horrifying events and the parents are still recovering. Mom’s drinking and dad studying the occult. Dad tells Mom he’s going to get their daughter back… as he plunges the knife into his arm. She’s drunk enough that it doesn’t even phase her. He heads out to the garage and draws a circle in blood and begins a ritual. The effects are bloody with flashes of scary imagery, and really the exact thing that Crum excels at.

Dad shifts the demon into his drunken wife, and proceeds to torture it. To be fair, the demon has it coming… It’s got a mouth full of smack talk, and disturbing images.. it’s really what Trump does best, reading grotesque imagery… But at the same time he makes a rookie mistake and lingers on it for far too long. Fortunately, it pauses once the chainsaw comes out. He’s now in a garage full of dead girls, lit only by a lantern. It allows them to throw a jump scare here or there and go subtler.

And that’s just the first half hour!

Back in the girls room, creepy dolls open their eyes and stare at him. The closet opens, and something comes out. It claws him and flashes in an out of existence,  there is the sound of a music box in the distance and it’s long white teeth create a mocking and garish grin.

Chainsaw. Threats. Time for real exorcists to get involved.  We have an old priest and a young priest! Of course kid exorcist’s elder tells him it’ll never work. You can’t trust evil. It doesn’t matter, he’s going to try and rescue the girl. For a spiritual battle though, this is awfully physical, with some serious violence going on… And a flair for the fantastic.

While kid exorcist is getting beaten up and his eyes ripped out, the dad is getting worked over by the cops, one of whom was having affair with his wife. Finally they let him go, and he comes home to discover the bloodied priest there… Still offering to help him get his daughter back.
It’s the old priest’s turn next, and it ends up as bloody as any of the previous encounters. Dad comes to the rescue with chains and a stake through the heart. The young priest, now blind, prays and a fiery portal to hell erupts out of the ground. It’s still not enough, and the demon gets away. 

“What gives you the notion that pathetic humans could take me down?”
 
Time for the final boss fight. He’s waiting for Dad in the girls room with her.
 
Crum is working with some new techniques here, really experimenting with compositing and camera speeds to create a stuttered jerky look. Nevertheless, it’s got his distinct touch to it… Particularly when we look at the monsters. Their bloody and misshapen, gruesome to the extreme. There’s some discipline though, creating several distinct looks and recognizable monsters. It’s a film that shows all polish and some restraint on crumbs part. Rather than the unfiltered lunacy that we get in his Lake Fear movies. It’s and unmistakable growth as a filmmaker, and one of the better films he’s done.
 
 

 

 

 


Live Wire

DollarindexPierce Brosnan is my favorite James Bond, but I think at times we forget just how much of an action career he had before the Bond franchise. Live Wire takes us back to those post Remington Steele and pre-Bond days, and even though it’s only 1992, it actually feels earlier, like somethings shot in the 80s.

We are introduced to Brown‘s then disarming a bomb in the car, and then getting a restraining order to keep him away from his life. That’s OK, he’ll soon have his hands full hiding terrorists. They haven’t been the same since thier daughter died, and the mother in law definitely doesn’t like him. Indeed, they keep inserting this subplot throughout the movie, to the point where it’s a little distracting. Of course it’s also a plot point considering that Ron Silver’s character, the senator in charge of the investigation, also had a bit of an affair with Brosnan’s wife. image4sTerrorists assassinate a US senator and are creating a super villain super weapon that turns human beings into living bombs. I admit, I’m a little distracted by the fact that Ben cross is a villain – I’m so used to him as Barnabas Collins on the revival of dark shadows in the eerie way that they tend to light him only emphasizes the similarities.

Even with the sci-fi premise and explosions, what this really is, is a police procedural rather than a straight up action or espionage flick. It’s a good one though, Brosnen is playing his character a lot more crass then I’m used to… His typical charm is largely absent but for some jobs you need a crass detective instead imagesof a charming secret agent! It’s up to Brosnan to unravel tangled web of bribery and poison and explosives culminating in a shoot out at the senators sprawling estate. The movie definitely gets definite extra points for all the MacGyvering we get to watch as Brosnan uses household items to slow down and fight back against the bad guys.

Ultimately, Live Wire is a competent and interesting enough thriller. There’s moments of Miami Vice in it, as well as moments of CSI. The familiar faces help but aren’t necessary… more of a bonus. I can think of worse ways to spend 86 minutes.


Silencers

boxalter

indexSilencers is one of those movies that’s a little confusing from the word go. they’ve change the cover in this edition, otherwise I think I would’ve recognized it from the video store days. Traditionally this has a stark white cover with the title in the nemesis on, featuring three men in black with large hats pulled down in sinister fashion over the shadowy faces. It was a blockbuster staple that you could almost always count on finding on the shelves, right next to Patrick Stewart’s Safe House and the Curse of the Blair Witch documentary.

 We start off with credits over a retelling of the Roswell Landing, then go right into aliens abducting a cow (in a CGI spaceship that looks pretty good as long as it doesn’t move) and then follow up with a shoot out at a funeral between and the alien trenchcoat Mafia and the Secret Service, led by someone who looks a lot like the dad from step-by-step.

Turns out it all concerns of plot and a deal with aliens for their interdimensional travel technology. The whole thing has a very 1990s television look to it, TV level production values in special effects, stock soundtrack played under flat lighting, with a lab that reminds me a bit of Timecop and a concept that feels reminiscent of Stargate.

image2sHalfway through, we have another alien arrive from another dimension, and fighting the assassin from the beginning. But I can’t tell who’s the good guy who’s the bad guy, because the assassin is working for some secret government agency. One act in and I’m still not sure what the hero is. But it does seem to represent a war between two alien races.

When the alien trenchcoat mafia decides they know longer want to cooperate, the military calls in the Secret Service being from the opening shoot out to take care of the problem. With the aid of a good alien he’s got to hunt down the bad aliens stop them from bringing their army through the dimensional gate to conquer the earth! (It’s an awfully small army though, only about eight people… Maybe there’s just more that we’re not seeing)

The film evolves into sort of buddy cop action flick, and they’re not stingy with the blanks or the sqibs (Red squibs AND green squibsby the way!). Plenty of action, however it moves a little slow and an hour and 40 minutes is too long to sustain the story. Still a solid classic rental and if you find it as part of a DVD set, it’s prbably the best way to grab this film!



Ski School 2

Ski school 2 is actually a really different movie than the first one. This is weird, because it’s still written by the same guy, and while 1994 is just past the era the first film was made in… It’s close enough that I really expected something similar.
We open with a burn out maintenance man in a small cabana that looks a lot like a low rent frat room. He’s posting a wedding invitation to Dave… The hero from the last film, about his ex girlfriends impending nuptials. Dave receives it at his home… An abandoned school bus which he proceeds to drive back up the mountain to try and stop the wedding and win her back. Or, well stop the wedding mostly. Because he doesn’t have any plan on how to get her back….
Dean Cameron is the only person other than the writer to return for ski school 2. This is perhaps the first big red flag. I was kind of looking forward to it though, because it’s also the first film role for Will Sasso. It’s early days for Sasso, just ahead of his time on MADtv, and he’s still a little rough… Chewing the scenery more than usual.

Cameron on the other hand… Cameron is funny as ever, but he’s trying to show his age. He would’ve been around 27 when ski school came out, and could still pass for 23. But his hairline was starting to recede a little more aggressively than the long floppy hairstyle can hide, so it’s been cut short, and his skin has kind of started to harden. He looks every bit his age of 32… In fact, he looks closer to 35 in this. And see, that’s the problem. Being a goofy broke loser slacker in your 20s is funny. It’s fun. These are party days and you’re still finding yourself. But being that same sort of character in your 30s… It comes off as a little pathetic. Cameron‘s timing is still dead on, but he’s too old for the charm to really work without a bigger storyline. If we were to go back to summer school, Mark Harmon plays a similar sort of goofy slacker… But he’s got an arc there. The entire movie is really about him growing up without losing his sense of humor. Taking on some real responsibilities in his own lazy surfer dude way. But Cameron doesn’t have an arc here. He’s just there to bust up the wedding. And that’s kind of a problem. There’s a few fun antics here, and I think there’s enough Time spent with the main characters for you to be invested in them as familiar faces, but I don’t know if it’s enough for me to really root for them.

Also keenly felt is the absence of a good foil for Cameron. Having Fitz as the best friend to bounce humor off of in the first movie really enhances Cameron‘s performance. It sells the jokes and makes everything work. It also in many ways tries to turn that original one into an example piece. This one has the trappings of an ensemble, but it’s absolutely Cameron‘s movie. It’s star driven and he is the star… And he is just not… sympathetic.
One of the things that really strikes me about this film, is it lives up to its name. We get a lot more ski action this time around. It’s pervasive in the movie and drives a lot of the action. It’s our reason to be. It’s also the only time that Cameron really manages to make any sort of meaningful connection with the ex girlfriend. It’s not when he’s crashing the wedding party with an impromptu chicken dance, it’s not when he’s sabotaging the bachelor party or showing up as a stripper at the bachelorette party. The times he really connects with her is when they’re skiing and he’s coaxing her to go back to basics. This is good stuff, and we needed more of it. We needed more of Cameron‘s devotion to the forum, his lover skiing, his skill and his training abilities. It’s so weird. For a series that is supposedly all about this renegade ski instructor, we really don’t see much about skiing in his life.
I have a hard time recommending this, even if you were a fan of the original. I happen to be a big fan of Dean Cameron, particularly in his prime, but this is not it. I can almost see the down slope of his career starting right here, and it makes me more sad than anything else. Stick with the original, and of course, summer school.

Black Adam

It wasn’t that I DIDN’T want to see it, I just didn’t care. Black Adam wasn’t really a priority for me to go see. I never understood why DC was trying to make him the next big thing back in 2005 when they were doing the whole “Villians United” bit. Still, You’ll know from my constant gushing over Stargirl that I’m a JSA fan with a strong connection to Golden Age heroes, so when a friend slipped the pass across my desk I was happy to hit the movie.

Flat out, Black Adam was one of the best superhero movie I’ve seen in YEARS. This thing is nonstop action, perfectly cast, I love everyone of these characters. I connect with all of them. I revel in their triumphs and gasp at their failure.

No heavy-handed messaging, but rather, it’s very true to what the characters are like, much to my surprise. I admit that I automatically dislike race swaps, It’s the laziest kind of virtue signal. In this case however, I kind of see why they decided to change Hawkman. Both he and Doctor Fate are portrayed as aristocratic fops. The races help differentiate teir look and I love the slightly Black Panther style African style to Carter’s civilian look. Aldis Hodge plays him perfectly neutral, but Pierce Brosnan is just amazing. Percfectly composed, heroic, with just the right amount of snark.

Also kind of funny, it feels like they’ve been listening to a lot of the complaints about the Marvel movies… And they are trying to give us everything we’ve been asking for a head of the marvel movies.“You want *that red* character? We’ll give them to you!” “X-Men? Sure we’ve got that! Come see our version! We’ve got a Storm and a plane in a hanger below the mansion and everything!” “Want a Doctor Strange that actually drives the action and does freaky heroic magic? Try out Doctor FATE!”

Of course we’re this far down into the review and I haven’t even mentioned the Rock – but that because he’s always solid. He’s channeling Dave Bautista’s Drax in this, but it’s fine. it works. It especially works because it almost feels like an ensemble, despite the production and promotion being star driven.

Seriously, I have no complaints. In fact, I’ll be dragging the kids out to this one when it comes out Friday!

Black Adam hits theaters October 21, 2022. Go see it. Seriously.


Ski School

Full disclosure, the entire reason I’m watching ski school is for Dean Cameron. I’ve been a fan of the dude since catching summer school on late night UHF movies. Bunch of stuff though that I’ve enjoyed, whether it’s the guest shots on Alf, or Rockula… The man’s got talent and he’s one of the few people I was willing to drive to Chicago to meet!

Ski school Is really your typical slacker frat boy type of film, in the same vein as animal house or van wilder or PCU… The only difference is, it doesn’t take place at a college, it takes place at a ski resort and our slackers happen to be instructors. Kind of.
The real fascinating thing about ski school is how very little skiing we actually see. There’s inserts, and they’re done in such a way where I almost wonder if there was some brief skiing bad that I was too young to be aware of. I do remember the jackets… It’s another reason why the movie appeals to me. It’s set in the early 90s… I always like to tell people that the 1990s I remember or not the same as the 90s you remember. My adolescence was firmly planted in the early 90s… A transitional period between what people think about the 80s and what people think of as the 90s. Right in this little sweet spot between 1989 through 1993, it’s a strange error with the character of its own, and it’s fully displayed here. It’s fun to be back in this time, with the fashions, the bright colors, the faded jeans, and the music. And ski school makes full use of the pre-alternative metal that was going on at this era.
The resort is predictively run by yuppies, and they hate the slacker house of section 8, run by Dave and Fitz. But when the yuppies blow off the most promising new skier to show up the season, he ends up in section 8 and this helps ignites an all out war between them and section one. It’s all very by the numbers and predictable, young guys in their early 20s goofing off, sabotaging each other, and really all just about partying, women and beer. Like I said, it gives me a lot of the same vibes from PCU, but it does have a shortcoming. Occasionally we’ll get some exposition about them being too wild and rowdy or something, but we never actually feel imperiled. There’s never any danger of them got getting thrown off the mountain or shut down. The section does get suspended for about five minutes at one point but get themselves back into the competition through the sheer power of charisma. It happens so quickly that as a plot point it may not have happened at all.

The film ends of course, with a one on one between the bad guy and the new guy, with the wager being whoever loses leaves the mountain for good. But this only comes up within the last 15 minutes or less. If we’re gonna have these kind of stakes, we kind of needed them to show up earlier in the film. It would also be helpful to see more actual ski training. Like I said, there’s very little of it here, and the whole ski resort as a backdrop… It feels tacked on an arbitrary. You could basically transplant this anywhere, it could be baseball camp, drama camp, high school or college, he could be anything. He never seems to matter to the characters except as an excuse as to why they’re there. It never drives the action.

All of this makes it feel a little bit subpar, very direct to video, and back then, direct to video was still a dirty word. On the other hand, if you’re just looking for a goofy time with an ensemble led by a Cameron, you could do worse. It’s a sort of film I definitely would leave on if it showed up on cable one night. It’s also interesting enough that I am looking forward to popping in the sequel.

Hellraiser 2022

There will be mild spoilers. They probably won’t actually reveal anything as much as they may confuse those who have not yet watched the film. Proceed at your own discretion.

You may have noticed on this blog that we are Hellraiser fans. I mean serious ones… I have watched all the movies, even the ones that most people don’t know about. I have written defenses of some of the less beloved ones like inferno, bloodline, and even revelations. I have done up Hellraiser costumes, and in fact even documented the process of crafting my pinhead make up years ago in a series called the Hellraiser Project. I’ve read the books, and more importantly I’ve read the comic books. By the way, the epic ones of the late 80s and early 90s are far superior to the stuff that Christopher Monfette said he was riding with Clive Barker for boom.

So the time has finally come, for a new Hellraiser movie. I know that a lot of us were really hoping to see a continuation of Judgment in some way. Paul Taylor did the role of pinhead justice, but with him banished to earth in a somewhat cliffhanger ending, going further in the series may have explored more of the auditor and the Stygian Inquisition. All of that would’ve been welcome. What wasn’t going to be embraced, was the dreaded word…”remake”.

As production went on though, the word remake shifted to reboot, and then barker himself redefined it as a reconfiguration. That may well be the best description of this film.

Hulu (via IMDB) describes it as “A take on a Clive Barker’s 1987 horror classic where a young woman struggling with addiction comes into possession of an ancient puzzle box, unaware that it’s purpose is to summon the Cenobites, a group of sadistic supernatural beings from another dimension.” When opened, you have a choice – let them take you, or let them take someone else and feed the box. It continually changes into diffrent shapes, diffrent configurations -and with each human sacrifice getting you closer to the final configuration, and an audience with the god Leviathan (I’m so pleased to see Leviathan back BTW, and he’s never looked better!) who will grant you a boon. However, you must remember, that just as described in the Hellbound Heart, Leviathan and the Cenobites don’t percieve things the same way we do. “his real error had been the naive belief that his definition of pleasure significantly overlapped with that of the Cenobites.
As it was, they had brought incalculable suffering. They had overdosed him on sensuality, until his mind teetered on madness, then they’d initiated him into experiences that his nerves still convulsed to recall. They had called it pleasure, and perhaps they’d meant it. Perhaps not. It was impossible to know with these minds; they were so hopelessly, flawlessly ambiguous.”

I do take this film as another sequel, not a reboot. Different box, different demons, different methods and aim – same god and same universe. Some elements work, and some don’t. There are times I’d like to see some leather on the cenobites. They’ve taken the description fromn the book to it’s extreme ” the scars that covered every inch of their bodies, the flesh cosmetically punctured and sliced and infibulated, then dusted down with ash”. The problem is the skin doesn’t always look real. It’s too much of that pale color and when lingered on great expanses (such as the skirt on Pinhead or the habit like veil of flesh on Deep Throat) it comes off as fake and rubbry rather than skin. just a touch of leather or some other tatters to break up the monotony of the vast expanses of flesh would have gone a long way to making this perfect. (and to those who keep trying to insist that this is truer to the novella, allow me to remind you ” Frank had difficulty guessing the speaker’s gender with any certainty. Its clothes, some of which were sewn to and through its skin, hid its private parts, and there was nothing in the dregs of its voice, or in its willfully disfigured features that offered the least clue” Yes. There are garments involved in those cenobites too). The gift of the cenobites too – that was really bad looking.  I understand they are trying thier own take on “There are conditions of the nerve endings,” it said, “the like of which your imagination, however fevered, could not hope to evoke.” yes, but I feel like I’d perfer this done hands on, not with a clumsy infernal machine. Whenever it’s tried – whether it’s the transformation chamber in Hellbound, or the more tech based cenobites of part three or the tech feels in Bloodline – infernal machinery always feels ….off. They try to hard to tie the look to the box and always make it too big. I just don’t like it.  Where it does work however, is on the box itself. The new take on the box though is really interesting with it shifting shape after each death and taking on different configurations. These don’t have to look like anything but macabre art and that’s really where it’s strength lies. It’s also fascinating to see a new puzzle – one that works in a different way. I’ve long held that Event Horizon is also a Hellraiser sidequel and that the ship itself was the puzzle. That’s really as close as we’ve truly gotten to a puzzle that works differently in this context until now. I am absolutely here for it.

I like the overall story. It’s as good as any of the sequels, an better than some. I wonder though, if it realizes how much it borrows from the late series entries?
While this feels mostly steeped in Helbound, stalked in the mansion gives me Hellworld vibes (so did the stabby box). A house designed as a trap/cage feels very Bloodline. Multiple victims (Them instead of you) reminds me a LOT of Hellseeker (I’d go as far as to wonder if Kirsty has heard of this cenobite order and it’s methods and thought she might give it a try with Dougs Pinhead). While Helbound establishes only the one the cenobites has come for can see them, that expanded take on “stalked and visions of cenobites” is very Inferno. I feel like there’s bits and pieces of a lot of the series, tossed into a blender and inserted here.
Approaching it as a sidequel he is really what allows me to enjoy the Evil Dead remake as well, and it’s particularly effective here, because despite some of those cosmetic changes, this feels like it fits into that world.

it’s not without it’s flaws though.  It’s VERY much a 2022 film, with all the tropes of current year movies. Not bad mind you. but I can already see boxes being checked off (You can see it in 80’s and 90’s movies too) in ways that make it less timeless than the first two. The recasting of not only Pinhead (and by the way, I’m really not one of those guys that insists ONLY Doug Bradley should ever play Pinhead), but honestly, most of the speaking line cenobites as women along with the heavy homoerotic elements might be less obvious in another political climate, but in 2022, they almost standard diversity slots that studios are obsessed with filling whether they come organically or not. They fit well enough here, but are in your face enough (far more than say, the shoulder pads in Julia’s blazer in the original) that someone looking at this movie will be able to pinpoint EXACTLY when it was made. That’s not necessarily a dealbreaker though. Hellworld has similar problems. It’s a VERY 2000’s movie, but I like it too.

Ultimately I think I’m on board. It’s not a bad sequel, and I think this may be one of the few reboots that could spawn it’s own sequels. That’s a tough trick – reboot is frequently the end of the line for a lot of franchises, (NOES, Night of the Demons, Friday the 13th) other’s fizzle out and return to a different continuity or something ambiguous (Children of the Corn, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween). It’ll be interesting to see where we go from here, and what Clive Barker may have up his sleeve in the future.

 


Anna

Nicely creepy doll for this, and it actually looks like the one on the cover. You get points for that. Also get points for not including any horror posters or dvds in our character’s room… Romcoms on the shelves, typical books and stuff. They lose points though for the shot on video tape look and the warning at the beginning that it’s “based on a true story”.

It’s a bare room… It looks like somebody tried to make up a basement space as a set. The sleeping girl finds the evil doll next door… And weird sounds.… It’s all just a very very bad memory.

A couple of paranormal fanboys discovered that the doll has been removed from the house and put in a paranormal museum. They take the tour, distract the guide and swipe the doll.

Turns out they are YouTubers… They’re going to do the seven days with a haunted doll. Except nothings really happening. Suddenly, they certainly realize the problem is, all the victims have been women.

They hit the bar and pick up a lady that just might be a working girl, and invite her back. She shows up in their basement hang-out early, while the guys are out grabbing a couple last-minute supplies. She chucks the doll out the door, and that’s when things go wrong. She killed in a disjointed blaze of images, and then vanishes. As far as the guys know, she just never showed up, and their next trip is out to a local witch. The witch summons the spirit of the doll, who kills and possesses her, a bizarre and bloody spectacle.

The guys wake up dazed and trapped in the witches underground basement layer… With the doll sitting in the corner and a message written in blood. “Find her, kill her”.
Time to put their paranormal tools to work. The Witch has been turned into a bizarre, head splitting monster that walks on all fours and is hunting them. The problem is, they can’t leave. The basement has trapped them, and the doors don’t actually lead out. It turns into a cat and mouse game in a possibly large seller, with occasional interesting set pieces.

The doll agrees to let them go if they’ll send her more women. They agree and run away, hoping to figure out something or just escape. They then visit a psychic to see if she can exorcise the doll, but she just becomes another victim. The monster in the house is growing, and when the guys realize their mistake they break back in to try and rescue her. But the monsters aren’t playing games anymore.

This feels to me like it was made by haunters. The maze-like quality of the cellar sets and the bloody set pieces, the dark and slimy monsters, the back lighting, it all feels like haunted house techniques. These guys are very good at their set pieces and I feel like this would be a great Halloween party movie… Plenty of creepy imagery that you can enjoy with the sound turned off.

The story is just about adequate, but never quite knows what it wants to be. They drift back-and-forth between horror and humor, never quite blending the two and frequently falling short with the humor. I feel like these guys have read some of David Wong’s books like John Dies at the End, and they wanted a couple of slacker losers as their funny main characters. It never quite tracks though. They’re held back by their location as well. It feels like they really only had some person’s basement to shoot in, and were constantly re-dressing it.

It’s worth seeing if there’s nothing better on television, and really for some of the effects. However, it fails to be funny or scary, and that’s a shame… Because in better hands, this might just be something.

 

 


Ponyo

So, my daughter is currently going through a Studio Ghibli phase, something I wholeheartedly encourage. But the thing is, my own knowledge of Studio Ghibli kind of peters off after the 90s, so when I pulled Ponyo out of her movie box, I had no idea what we were in store for. A horse movie perhaps? Pony-Oh. You know, like that Spirit movie She had me watch a while back?

Boy was I way off.

Ponyo is the story of a fish who becomes a girl, to stay with the humans on land. As a goldfish, she was captured by a five-year-old boy named Sosuke.  But when she’s returned to the sea, she just wishes to come back to him, so she chooses to transform into a little girl… But that’s not without consequences. When one of her kind comes to land, they are followed by storms and tsunami and destruction. She must make a choice whether to return to the sea, or to give up magic and remain human. The wrong choice however, will result in her fading away into sea foam.

Despite that simplistic explanation, this is one of the weirder Jubilee stories… At least from an imagery standpoint. Indeed, to accommodate the detail and precision of all the sea creatures present in the storm, there is more art produced for this movie then any other studio Ghibli project to that point. Indeed, the opening alone, a mere twelve seconds, involving massive schools of fish and creatures, took 1,613 pages of conceptual sketches to develop. That’s strange, because it doesn’t look like it. Or the background so beautiful, but that’s just what they are. Their backgrounds… They fade away. The characters on the other hand, frequently look a little more simplistic than usual, and they are in dire need of an additional layer to shade them. Without it, they end up looking flat and a little boring. It’s strange, if I didn’t know better, I’d say they spent all their money on the backgrounds and couldn’t afford to finish the film.

It’s a problem too, because when you’ve got such a simple straightforward story as fish turns into a girl, and boy is searching for his mother, you really have to lean into the imagery in the art. We get some fun little side quests, but everything still feels a little thin.

Nevertheless, it’s fun to listen to Liam Nielsen, Betty White, and Lily Tomlin voice characters here. There’s a few different mythologies you can see them drawing from, elements from the Little Mermaid and themes from Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelungen. and there’s definitely a good film in here somewhere. However, it is one of Julie’s weaker attempts… And the box office reflected that. It’s a good film for Studio Ghibli completist, I’m certainly not trying to steer you away from it. Go in for the genre, and you won’t be disappointed.


Nintendo Quest

It was Saturday morning, and I had just finished watching something particularly violent and bloody on television, but when I checked the clock I saw that the wife and kids would probably be coming downstairs anytime now so I had to switch over to decaf. As I was scrolling through Tubi to find something to watch , Something that would make the wife walk out and disgusted and wouldn’t scar the kids for life. I found myself in the documentary section, and one of the first things that came up was Nintendo quest. Interesting enough, I’m not really a gamer, but if you had to categorize me, I am if anything, a retro gamer… 

This is the story of Jay Bartlett. He’s a long time Nintendo fan, and gamer in general. He’s super passionate about three things… Star Wars, music, and video games. Gaming is one of his biggest passions, to the point where he owns a video game store and that’s a lot of what his life is centered around. In a conversation with his best friend Rob, Jay is challenged to collect all 678 of the official retail license Nintendo games… But there’s a catch. It’s to do it in 30 days. The movie is the story of that quest, an epic road trip from Canada through a whole lot of the United States, visiting game stores, flea markets, and neon lit basements full of every game you can imagine.

It’s a brilliant quest, and really humanizes the whole video game genre. I’ve always said I’d rather watch an episode of pawn stars than antiques roadshow… Because pawn stars makes you feel like you’re getting the same history from one of those guys that you’d meet at the swap meet, the sort of dude you’d have over to crack a beer and talk pop culture. Antiques roadshow on the other hand feels like a lecture coming from in a feet NPR tape wearing an impeccable tweet soup… It’s removed and distant… The same thing is true here. I’d rather hear the story told through the eyes of the guy going through the journey… The sort of long-haired rocker type that I have hung out with 1000 times at conventions and back room underground junk shops. It’s a marvelous film, and I walked away learning a surprising amount about Nintendo in general. It’s exactly what this sort of movie attempts to accomplish, and I can’t recommend it enough. I found it on Tubi, which means it’s probably available for free somewhere on a streaming


Allegiance of Powers

From IMDB:

“Groups of super powered people begin a war that will bring the city they live in crumbling down. Allegiances of super powered people fight for control of a young girl, who holds the ultimate power to control anything and everyone in the city. They will begin a war that in the end could bring the entire city crumbling down.”

Flat out, I’ve been looking forward to this one. Allegiance to powers from its description and cover looks very much like a big departure from what Crum has done before. He begins in a heavily edited green screenshot of our heroes legs arriving in 2025. He seeing the aftermath of a battle. That’s when we flashback and we see the bomb drop. It destroys entire city intimate press of stock footage.

But that’s kind of what I’m talking about, Crum’s trying something different (in fact, it’s feels more like what I would expect from Daniel Armstrong – the post-apocalyptic punk feel). Trying to elevate this film and throw his ring in to the post-apocalyptic superhero fare, with something that at first glance there’s a passing resemblance to Roger. The credit fly over the post-apocalyptic, masks and goggles and grim looking people,  then plug it into some more abstract imagery before coming out the other side of the moon pulling back on a badly rendered CG city and landing on our heroes.

They all deliver soliloquies to try and give us some context, in this in enormously  filtered hyper-real environment. It’s almost the sort of video game looking environment that we see in films like Sucker Punch and Sin City. Interesting designs, and some impressive use of digital effects, but we need some story and fast.

It’s a very confusing beginning. Talk of innocents, and deadly red rain, introduction to characters and super fights, but no context. It’s a high concept an art film, but not necessarily ready for prime time.
We seem to be watching this song is it worth a video replay, I think that he was trying to figure out what happened… And he’s searching for a special young woman – actually I know that from the IMDb description. But the way things are still nonlinear and disjointed, it’s for a very difficult watch.

That’s really the big thing that disappoints me here. This really should’ve been a few YouTube videos, some short films. Because it seems like the entire point of this is to dive into digital FX and experiment with superhero concepts. This could be really interesting, even in its stylized form if there was just a good solid script here. The problem is, there’s not.
It’s brilliant visuals in dazzling eye candy, but it’s also the same feeling as watching a video game, and there’s sadly nothing of substance here. Visually and may becomes strongest work, and yet he magically it’s also probably his weakest.

 

 


Moscow Zero

DollarindexDid you ever buy a movie, solely based on the location? That’s exactly why I grabbed this copy of Moscow zero. The film promises us a dark journey into the depths of the underground catacombs below Moscow, and it does not disappoint.

We have Vincent Gallo as a priest looking for his mentor, being led by some local guides. We flashback frequently to the mentor charting the ruins and investigating. Along the way we find homeless communities that survive midway below the city, and who are intent on sealing up these particular catacombs because they fear dark spirits within. The ghosts are indeed there, the souls of a group of children who fled persecution to hide in these catacombs, eventually perishing alone in the darkness.

It’s all wonderfully moody and eerily lit, although I wish they could’ve made the ghosts a little spookier and added to the atmosphere. Val Kilmer is prominently featured on this cover, but he’s a minor character at best – this being right after his peak and at the beginning of his decline. He still brings his trademark charisma to the film, but it’s the main cast that do the real heavy lifting and brilliantly create a suspenseful trek through the dark and rocky catacombs below the deapths of Russia. It’s absolutely worth a look if you can find it used or the cost of a rental.


Dark Image

That’s odd. Justin’s name isn’t anywhere on this thing, but Dark Image (also released as Mirror Image) is listed as one of his films, co directed with frequent collaborator Chris Freeman.
I like the cast – Leslie Easterbrook and even an Eric Roberts cameo lent it a bit of street cred, and the film opens in a nicely eerie black and white. Ferris wheel….girls on swings and a pair of sisters – with one murdered.Years later, she’s trying to cope with the death of her sister and off on a getaway to help jog here memory about what happened. So is the cop (suspended for tampering with the evidence) that investigated the case, and he’s trying to drag his partner back into it. The captain (Roberts) warns him off but he’s determined.
Meanwhile, the girl is seeing things – maybe her meds are out of synch?Her shrink warns her that if it keeps up, he’ll have to send her back to the institution.That’s not stopping the flashes of bloody hand prints and dead sister in the shower though….. It’s a good and creepy CGI haunting that pops up sporadically though the film while the cops stalk them, trying to perhaps pin the murder on the sister. The  whole haunting has a strange Dante influence – curiously artsy for a film with such frequently flat lighting. Still, it’s the setup for what happens next – and all secrets are revealed when the devil opens her memories.
The thing is, this thing really isn’t sure if it want’s to be a police thriller or a horror movie – and it’s not quite sophisticated enough to balance those two things like a Giallo would. Perhaps wit ha bit more length and intrigue. I know I’, the LAST one to say a movie is too short, but at 76 minuets, there’s time to misdirect and ratchet up tension, or lean into the possession aspect. Freeman and Jones manage a  few spectacular images towards the end, and I’m definitely glad I watched it…but there’s not enough repeat value here for me to really consider returning to it.


Night of the Living Dead 3D

So here’s the thing, I’ve never heard a good word spoken about Night of the Living Dead 3D. I mean, I’ve heard people trash this thing from end end. I’ve been hearing nothing but negative reviews for years. I won’t say that it’s kept me away, but it’s definitely slowed my roll. It’s put it on the back burner, the “yeah, I need to watch this one of these days list“… And that’s even with it having Sid Haig in it. I loved it, and I do recall watching it once, ages ago but not make it very far. I saw Sid up here briefly and vanished at the beginning, and assumed that was all it was… So I figured it was a one day cameo and I’ll get to it when I get to it. Well, I finally got to it, and interestingly enough… It’s actually not all that bad.

You’re always gonna have a problem when you try and remake Night of the Living Dead. That’s true in any every field, but Night of the Living Dead has been tried more times than you probably realize, particularly because it’s in the public domain. This movie though, isn’t really a remake. It’s sort of a remake and homage and maybe even a little bit of sequel… Much in the way that Superman Returns wasn’t a proper remake or homage sequel. It couldn’t decide what it wanted to be and it ended up being none of those.

Night of the Living Dead 3D starts off with a bit of a scene from the original Night of the Living Dead, and then dissolves over into the new version. Barb (Yes. They call her BARB) and Johnny are heading to a funeral… not just to place flowers on a grave. But still, the zombie breakout occurs on schedule, and Johnny jumps in the car and rushes off. We don’t see much past that, Barbara stranded in the cemetery. She runs often finds herself in a mortuary… The Tovar and Son funeral home. This is important. Because this is much more central to this series.

Oh, did I say series? Well, I’ll get to that later.

There’s zombies already there chomping on people and generally doing their thing., But suddenly Sid Haig shows up and rushes Barb off. He tells her to flee, and quite justifiably, she does… Despite being a little bit annoyed that he wouldn’t shelter her. Honestly, there’s almost a return of the living dead vibe there… And that’ll be significant later. On the road, she was ambushed by more zombies, because that’s what zombies do. But she’s rescued by a dashing young biker named Ben. He’s actually heading out to his friend, Harry Cooper’s house, over at the Cooper plant farms, and he takes her with him.
This is kind of where I do have a little bit of a beef. Because this series is very different from the original Night of the Living Dead.  There’s a chance here to establish its own identity, but it undermines that by using so many of the original films names. It telegrams some of what you are going to expect, and it’s not necessarily something they needed to do.

In any event, Cooper Farms happens to be a pot growing farm. This is before it was legalized in any of the states, so we’ve got a certain degree of disreputable character going here. It’s also a great reason why they won’t call the cops to take care of the zombies that inevitably follow Barbara.
Helen isn’t Harry’s first wife, she is his second, and not the mother of the young girl that lives there. There’s also a farmhand and we do also have a “ Judy“ who is really just there to be the sexy, naked ingenue . Part of me really does take some offense to that, because Judy was far more wholesome than he was in a film, and, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting that particular actress. Nevertheless, she is there to fulfill the nudity portioned and up the body count. She’s stooping a dude in the barn, which keep her separate from most of the household shenanigans, that gives them somebody to go rescue.

We do get a number of the story beats from the original night of the living dead, there is some tension between Ben and Harry, though it’s a very different sort of tension. It’s a disagreement on the plan, and not nearly as hostile. We do get the little girl getting Zombified, but it’s played differently. All of this is second act stuff as we ratchet up the tension. The actual night of living dead film is playing on the TV, and indeed, the farmhand wasn’t sure that Barbara wasn’t crazy… And just reacting to what’s on the TV. No. She wasn’t crazy, and when the zombies start attacking, it’s apparent. It’s never more apparent though, one of refugee starts pounding on the door. It’s the third act, and Sid Haig has arrived at the farmhouse.

Tovar is an interesting character, turns out, The whole thing really did start at his mortuary… He’s not quite the mortician that his father was, and once the weird bag started appearing from the government… Well, whatever chemical was in there… There was… Leakage. It’s a good role for Haig. Simultaneously fun, and both straight man and villain. He ends up being a great deal more sinister than he seems at the beginning of the film, and this is all good stuff.It’s the sort of thing that really goes it’s on direction and separates us from the original.I miss Sid.

So, as far as the bad goes… The 3-D is seriously sketchy. It’s the red and blue sort it 3-D, and the DVD comes with a couple pairs of the glasses. It doesn’t really work that well. Also, this thing really undermines itself I feel, by using the names from the original film. And in name only sort of remake or something completely original inhibit self would have been preferable.

The good? This is actually a really good zombie movie. We have good and innovative kills, we’ve got a great environment, and quite frankly whenever we get exterior shots of that old farmhouse… Juxtaposed against the blue fog of an eerie night, it’s brilliant. It’s gorgeous sort of in name only sort of remake or something completely original in a bit self would have been preferable.

The good? This is actually a really good zombie movie. We have good and innovative kills, we’ve got a great environment, and quite frankly whenever we get exterior shots of that old farmhouse… Juxtaposed against the blue fog of an eerie night, it’s brilliant. It’s gorgeous imagery, and shows a real deft touched. The movie itself also kind of does it sound thing. It takes the premise, but then tells its own story… Much like Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake. This is a strength that this movie has over something like Tom Savini‘s 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead . Savini, for all of his credit, really just tried to remake the film, while perhaps adding a bit more Sarah Connor to Barbara. As much as I enjoy watching Tony Todd Chula Siri – and seriously, how brilliant was that casting? – The 1990 remake always fails to satisfy, because it’s a hollow imitation of something so brilliant as Romero‘s original masterpiece. This on the other hand doesn’t fall into that trap… Like Snider is Donna dead, it takes a name, and it takes the idea, and then it plays fast and loose with everything else. Indeed, this thing would pair up really well with the dawn of the dead remake… far better than Savinis.
It also establishes some of his own law. It comes up with his own idea for why the outbreak happened, and the introduction of Tovar and his mortuary is interesting. It’s distinctive. It helps give the film its own identity, something that this thing really needs.

If you’ve heard nothing but smack talk about this film, let me encourage you to give it a real try. If you want to don the red and blue glasses, go ahead, I sure did! But more importantly, give the film itself a chance. There’s a lot to love here, as long as you understand going into it… This is not night of the living dead… And it’s not trying to be. Approach it as it’s own thing, and I think you just might enjoy it.


Rivers 9

Looking at the credits for Rivers 9, I see C. Thomas Hall, Vinnie Jones and Jamie Kennedy. Bad. The whole poker motif going on under the credits also gets my attention. I enjoy Vegas style stories.

We got a new casino moving into a small town and sucking all the finances out of it. One of the really squeezed is a car mechanic named Jake Rivers finally takes out his frustrations on the windshield of one of the casino employees well the local sheriff (C Thomas Howell in an audacious wig and fake mustache ) is trying to make time with his wife
Vinnie Jones, the casino owner doesn’t take Carlie to Jakes assaults, and strikes back – burning his home, blocking the roadwith a down tree, and making a bit of a threat to his sister, Who works at the casino as a cocktail waitress.

Solid first act set up. Time for a mechanic to get some payback. He grabs one of the guys that hangs out in the shop and get some to introduce him to the person who installed One of the systems in the casino… You’ll have the blueprints… And… Oh my God. You’re kidding me…”River’s 9”.

Seriously? This is an Ocean’s Eleven mockbuster???

Seriously I can’t believe it took me halfway through the movie to realize it.

They start together of the crew, locals and disgruntled casino employees, and get ready for the heist. Hire an actor to distract the main guy in a poker game while they steal the casino money.

There’s no tension in this poker game. I think this thing needs a score and some drama… Because quite frankly I feel nothing. Then again, there’s not enough attention as our guy climbs through the air ducts to get to the safe room either… We occasionally get a jazzy score in the background, something to evoke Ocean’s Eleven, but the very low tech backwater style of this film is pretty much enough to constantly remind you that this ain’t that.

Ultimately, that’s really the problem. I don’t know who this was made for. In a world where Ocean’s Eleven exists, I don’t know who’s gonna watch this instead. It’s really not fair to compare it either, they such different kinds of movies, but the film invites a comparison in some of the styles that it tries and fails to emulate as well as the name and general mood of the peace. I think this might’ve been better served in trying to give it its own identity rather than piggybacking on a popular franchise… especially with the more action oriented double-cross showdown at the end.  It’s a shame that they went this rout instead of trying to mock buster something they didn’t have any hope of coming close to.

Pound of Flesh

Dollar

indexVan Damme’s looking good in Pound of Flesh, he’s wearing dark glasses to hide the bags under his eyes and is striking in a black suit as he checked into a hotel.

After being so pleased with Kickboxer : Vengence, I was feeling OK taking a chance on another dollar tree action purchase, but there’s always a lingering fear that my luck will run out, especially considering Van Damme’s track record with late career DTV releases.

We start the movie with disjointed images in a sort of halfhearted attempt to give us a backstory. I can’t complain, we’re not going back too far… A couple days probably and it gives us an excuse for a fight within the first five minutes. Van Damme rescues a young woman from a mugger or something in an alley… It’s all very stereo typical. The girl take them out to club for a drink to show him her gratitude, takes her back to her room, and steals his kidney.

bfc37acfd4740383b514d6fe8612d10cNo, really. He wakes up in a tub of ice a little lighter, and this is obviously where we get our title pound of flash.

Van Damm phones up Aki Aleongan, an old underworld friend (His charm and delivery actually reminds a great deal of Victor Wong and if they ever wanted to remake Prince of Darkness, he’d make a great Birack) to help him out, because Van Damme is determined to get his kidney back (He figures he’s got 10 hours before it goes to somebody else).

I’m quite amused that VanDamme begins his beat down tour by laying out a couple of index2club bouncers with a Gideon Bible. He’s in good form here. This first stop leads us to a clue about a fight club where the thief will be, and before we close out the first act, we’ve got to throw in some extra character motivation. After all going after a bunch of action villians just to get your kidney back seems like a kind of silly premise doesn’t it? Turns out he was planning on donating that to his brothers daughter who is three months to live. Things feel a little bit less silly now. A little.

The car chase leads us to a very unpretentious fight club and largely empty room, and a rematch between VanDamme and the mugger – the real mastermind behind the theft.  Who we now know was the thieves assistant.
imagesAs they get closer to locating the stolen flesh, the black market starts to fight back culminating in Van Damme’s infiltration of a large complex and a last ditch effort attempt to reclaim his property before his niece dies.

It’s a standard direct to video fare and Van Damme action film, no worse than most of the others. It’s hard to like any of these characters though, the hooker who stole the kidney, The fallen priest, or Van Damme’s pretty scummy character and the reasons he’s at odds with his brother. (I’s something when you have to admit that the old gangster buddy is actually the most sympathetic character in the movie!) They could benefit from a pure hero rather than some of these inexplicable shades of gray. It doesn’t pass the watch test, and both the twist and the ending are absolute total drags . Most days of the week I’d probably be more inclined to grab Hard Target or Death Warrant. Then again, you can only watch the same film so many times and as JCVD action goes, this one isn’t terrible.


Sorority Party Massacre

Look, I really don’t care who the Director is, if you give me a title like Sorority Party Massacre, I’m coming in with certain expectations. A college coed lost in the country near an old car garage is a good start. Scream style phone call from the killer helps too. Gas mask killer with acid is a definite promising start.

Sorority Party Massacre is a Chris Freeman and Justin Jones collaboration. That definitely gives it a different style and polish than some of the other Jones films. The credits are done over a nice collage of bloody gloves and severed limbs. These guys are totally trying to sell us on the hard-core horror aspect. For me, all you had to say was Richard mall and Kevin Sorbo.

Super Bowl is a place captain dressing down a maverick comp… Lethal weapon style. Sorbo is making the most of his cameo, but it may actually distract little bit from the cop was going to be one of my main characters. Ron Jeremy is a cop in this department too… Inexplicably. Anyhow, Sorbo is sending our detective out to check on his sorority daughter, to make sure she’s OK in this backwater town of Grizzly Cove. Richard Moll will take him on his boat. The thing is, Moll’s boat is the only way to get to this island. And he doesn’t remember seeing the sheriffs daughter. Neither did the local cops… They use us as an excuse though, to introduce us to the girls that did arrive…. Not only does it serve to get familiar with the arc types will be watching die, but it’s also a good opportunity to throw some gratuitous cheesecake at the screen.

Cop’s daughter never showed up to this… an event that brings girls from different sororities together to compete for a grant. It’s a little vague what the grant is for… But that’s fine. It’s really just an excuse to line up a bunch of bikini-clad victims.

Someone is sleeping in the stables. Also, one of the sorority girls has just been sent to clean the stables. Guess who gets killed next ?

With an hour runtime left, it’s time for the cop to start his investigation in earnest. There’s still plenty of hot codes to investigate, even if the Chiefs daughter is dead. The head of the competition seems kind of sketchy and I miss congeniality way, and so does the mentally challenged groundskeeper.

There’s actually a lot more law and order/CSI detective work going on here and I would’ve anticipated. I almost feel that down. Really, with a title like sorority party massacre, you’re expecting nudity, and gory kills. Our second act is almost entirely the detective’s show. Like, I’m kind of glad that we got those long intros to each of these girls at the beginning… Because I feel like I’ve barely seen them since then. And where is the cool killer I saw the beginning of the movie??? It’s literally been an hour since I’ve seen it! (yeah…sadly, he’s not coming back)


Kickboxer : Vengeance

DollarindexI’m gonna state flat out that I am a fan of JCVD. My buddy Mike would probably tell you that Sylvester Stallone is his favorite actually hero, and I know my friend Mark would claim Arnold Schwarzenegger. But for me, it’s always been about VanDamme. So when I saw this remake of Kickboxer on the shelves of the dollar tree, I had some serious mixed feelings. Mostly, kickboxer is not the sort of movie that needs a remake. It really didn’t even need sequels, although one might argue they were sequels in name only considering they featured the brother and not VanDamme at all. But there he is, JCVD on the cover… in a reduced role that I suspected would be nothing more than a cameo. (Gina Carlos on there too, sadly, she’s a little more than a valet/bodyguard and barely in this thing!) Still, I had to know. Sometimes you watch a movie that you’re pretty sure you’re not gonna like, just because you have to see what they did.

imagesI’m always happy to be proven wrong. Kickboxer Vengeance is equal parts remake, single, homage, and altogether a love letter to the original film. I genuinely get the impression that these people love the original, and they want to do their best to honor it.
Kickboxer vengeance actually follows a lot of the beats of the original, with our main character, Eric Sloane losing a brother to the hands of underground fighting champion Tong Po, massive monster of a man played by Dave Bautista. Eric sets out to avenge his brother and seeks a new master, even trying to infiltrate Tong Po’s evil dojo (at least, I guess that’s what you’d call it… It’s more like a cult fortress), and eventually finding the retired VanDamme, that is, Durand, to mentor him. VanDamme puts him through his paces, much the way we remember happening to him in the original, all while a female detective tries to track down illegal fighting ring, and tries not to fall in love with our main character. It culminates in the requisite showdown, because like I said, the movie index2really does follow the beats in the original. Bringing back VanDamme for this remake though is an impressive idea. They’ve change the names, so we know it’s not a sequel although part of me actually kind a wish it was. I’d love to see this fit within the whole continuity and believe that this is what happened to his character from the original!

For his part, VanDamme is charming and fun and obviously still in amazing shape at his age. It’s a well done action film that actually gives him a chance to shine, and even though hes second banana, he absolutely steals the scene whenever he’s on screen. There’s been a lot of bad VanDamme action films since his prime, and only once in a while you get a real gem like JCVD or his appearance on the Expendables. This is one of those great high-quality VanDamme films and I enjoyed it way more than I had any idea I would!


Quantum Apocalypse

With my previous experiment with Jones and Apocalypse fare, I feel like this is going to be painful. An asteroid is heading to earth in a very syfy looking monitoring center. Suddenly the comet shifts it’s path.  The screens go blank and alarms blare as the satellite connection is lost.
HOW MANY ASTEROIDS ARE YOU GOING TO TOSS TO EARTH JUSTIN? HOW MANY?

This thing is so Asylum and TV movie and SyFy that it hurts. Disaster movie, melodrama…dogey CGI…The dollar store is too good for this thing!  In fact, acording to IMDB, The title “Quantum Apocalypse” was the result of a joke: Writer Leigh Scott had an e-mail conversation with Dread Central reviewer Scott “The Foywonder” Foy (a frequent harsh critic of Sci-Fi Channel Original Films) about the Channel rejecting the previous title “Judgment Day”. Foy remarked the reason that the title was rejected was that it didn’t have a colon like many other Sci-Fi Channel films (such as “Caved In: Prehistoric Terror” and “Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep”) and jokingly suggested the title “Judgment Day: Quantum Apocalypse”. Scott liked the title “Quantum Apocalypse” and asked for permission to suggest it to the Sci-Fi Channel which approved it.  
In addition to a CGI Aurora Borialis in the sky, it’s going to mes with cell phones and radio waves – and we may be looking at something else to create an extinction event. But the weird part is something is out there changing these things course – something that looks a lot like the vortex from Transmorphers….. and in  a few days it’ll be in position to affect the Earth.
We cut back and froth fro the government bunker to the Mayor of the city of Parish and his family -Wife,  the typical teenage boy, the cute little girl and the Mayor’s rain man autistic adult brother. It’s a charming group and honestly I’m actually more interested in their story than the asteroids. Still, while the Mayor’s wife complains about the phones being down and the son is trying to make time with his girlfriend, a couple of quirky scientists arrive at the bunker to try and figure out how to stop this outer space anomaly from destroying the world. What they really should be doing though, is talking to the autistic character. He’s brilliant and has this thing cold figured out.Big props to Rhett Giles by the way, for taking a character that could EASILY have been a stereotype or a parody and giving him some real heart. This character, Terry, is the single most interesting and compelling character in the movie.
While the punk rock scientists are throwing in the towel and calling it the end, Terry is watching the skies with his telescope. Birds darken the skies (I swear,  I feel like we’re back to Biblical epic again….) Terry has a plan and he buying parts to assemble a machine. Hopefully it’s a good plan, because Russia and China want to nuke the vortex. (and yet, I’m equally involved in the son trying to work up the nerve to kiss his girlfriend).
Terry convinces his brother Ben to drive him to Houston because he’s got the answer on how to save the planet…but is it too late? The vortex is here and it’s brought  tsunami with it.
At the end of the day, this thing gets real points for some good characters. The town’s first family really humanizes the global threat, boiling down a big picture disaster into something more manageable and effective. And that’s really the thing. If this movie has a real flaw, it’s at the beginning – it’s all the stuff at the space center. It’s all weak – the characters and the look. It’s kind of like when you’re looking at something forced perspective – you mind knows somethings wrong, but you can’t quite reconcile it. That’s what all this space center stuff looks like. cramped with Jone’s signature flat lighting doing nothing for them. (we could also drop ALL the stuff with the president too. he’s never convincing in the role and it does nothing to move the film along). Some moody atmosphere and warmer filters would go a long way there. But it’s also the lack of connection with the government characters – ESPECIALLY the scientists. Quirky girl and straightman  have no chemistry. Interestingly, neither did Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith in Independence Day, but we invested in those characters long before they teamed up because we spent time with them individually. Even more importantly, we spent time with them BEFORE the crisis. Outside of it. Give me a couple scenes with these two individually before the skies darken,  and I think the bunker scenes get much better.

Perhaps it seems like I’m being overly hard on this film. Perhaps I give off the impression of a hateful troll, pecking away on a basement computer covered in cheeto dust. But the thing is, if I hated this thing, I’d just say “Pass” and move along. I’d just forget it. What frustrates me here is I see the potential for a GOOD movie here – even with these same budgetary and time limitations. This is arguably Jones’s best work and it has the ability to stand up with any summer blockbuster in terms of story and emotion. Why do I think this? Because the movie changed my mind while I was watching it. A little past halfway through I went from “Awful syfy film, pass” to “Actually good movie – provided you can turn off your brain on the ridiculous overworked premise and get past the flat bunker scenes” It’s still a recommend, despite the Playstation one CGI and goofy premise, because it really does stick the landing and gives us a clever ending that would feel equally at home in a good episode of Doctor Who.

This is one of those I’d love a redo of – reediting and fixing the bad parts, because despite some subpar element,s the good character bits and over all story still manage to shine through.


Top Gun Maverick

Why another Maverick review? I mean, not only am I like two weeks late to the party, but also there’s been a million of these from far more reputable and interesting sources than me, right? Why does it matter?

Because I’m a skeptic.

My first reaction to hearing about a top gun sequel was “no one is asking for this.“ I’m a real hater when it comes to sequels coming 30 years too late. I mean it. I’m a hater and I’m a skeptic and I think if you don’t get that sequel out in about 3 to 4 years, then you might as well not do it at all. Top Gun as well, smacks of being one of those recognizable IP sequels that don’t do anything for anyone. I didn’t want this.

But the funny thing happened on the way to the forum. It started getting good reviews. I mean really good reviews, and from places that I respect… Then, it started getting good reviews from my friends. People I know. Actual faces that I look at and listen to. So I decided to give it a chance. When I was taking Maddie to go see Doctor Strange 2, I noticed that the cheap theater in my neighborhood was gonna be running Top Gun the next week and figured I could gamble five dollars. Of course that next week we had conventions and comic book sales and too much going on, and because it’s a single screen theater, the likelihood of them holding it over for two weeks isn’t great… But it decided if it was still there the next weekend, I’d go check it out. It was still there the next weekend. So, I grabbed my wife and declared it date night.

Here’s the thing, it actually lives up to the hype. It’s a good movie. Not only is it a good movie, it’s a great date movie. It’s got just enough romance for my wife, but it’s tense and adventurous, and it got her engaged. She was invested enough to have her hands over her mouth during the scary parts, jumping where she needed to, and grabbing onto my hand when things got serious. This is everything that a date movie should be. It’s a kind of film that makes a girl draw close to you and then jump onto you when she needs support. There’s a certain brilliance in that.

It’s refreshing though, the movie began with a thank you from Tom Cruise for returning to the theaters and coming to see this. It’s full of masculine energy, but more importantly there’s American flags everywhere and they’re unapologetic about it. It doesn’t care about your politics, it really seems to only be concerned with being a good adventure that can appeal to the broadest audience ever… something that Hollywood seems to have forgotten a bit ever since the election of the so called president orange man bad.

I’m not gonna bore you with recounts are a blow by blow that’s been done better by somebody else… But what I will say are a few takeaways;

This movie has a strong soundtrack. That’s no mean trick, because it’s gotta compete with some seriously iconic music already… It knows where to use the iconic music and callbacks, but it never relies on it. Instead it’s got its own identity.

It never forgets that it is in fact, a sequel. Maverick is front and center, and while the new cast certainly doesn’t get any sort of short shrift… they’re in it plenty, the movie remember is that we are here to watch Tom Cruises character above all else. This is one of those places where I felt the Star Wars sequels really failed. I didn’t have any real animosity towards the characters there, Ray was boring but Finn was interesting… Although in part two it seemed like he got downgraded to just being a damsel in distress for Rose Tico to rescue… still overall, I was content to watch the stories… But I was really there to watch the classic cast.

Unfortunately, they were kind of just a glorified long cameos. Maverick doesn’t fall into that trap. All the new characters we have more than enough screen time and development, the film always knows that it’s really Tom cruises movie and that he is the one we’re here to see. There is a refreshing wisdom to that.

This film also really understands what it is. Sometimes,  a movie can get lost deciding what it wants to be… Is it a sequel? Is it in homage? Is it a reboot or a remake? Many times, Instead of just picking one of these, I feel more try and be all of them. When that happens, you get Superman returns. You get the force awakens. You get a movie that doesn’t manage to do any of those things right because it’s trying to do too many of them at once. Maverick understands that it’s a sequel. They tell enough of the story from the original that you get all of the important information, but this thing is absolutely its own film. That’s a really impressive thing. They’re not relying on homage or nostalgia, it is crafting its own narrative and story. Sure, we get A lot of the obligatory stuff that we want, shirtless sports on the beach, high-speed air fights, a little bit of father drama, a little bit of romance, and a little bit of buzzing the tower. All of this is just fine, we get the touches we need, but it doesn’t revel in it. Instead it has its own story to tell and tells it. If you change the names here… made it instead of “Pete Mitchell, code name Maverick”  you made it “Rick Michelle code name Petemoss”… Still getting over the loss of his old partner “Mongoose”… And then just never mentioned the name Top Gun, but refer to it as “Navy flight school”… you do that with that same script, the story wouldn’t change at all. It stays as powerful and as distinct as it already is.

Another curiosity that really impressed me was love interest. Kelly MCGillis was not asked back for this film… She has revealed that she wasn’t even contacted about it. Her explanation is because she looks her age and got old and fat.
I’ve seen photos of her recently, she’s not fat, but she does look her age. She’s a handsome woman and reminds me a great deal of Judi Dench when she first appeared in the bond films in goldeneye. But she looks like she’s pushing 60. Tom Cruise on the other hand, does not look like he’s pushing 60. He looks like he’s just entering his 50s and Jennifer Connelly looks 40. And quite frankly it sounds a lot like sour grapes I’m a give us his part. She knew what Hollywood was when she got into it, and quite frankly part of this visual medium is that we like to watch beautiful people doing exciting things you can argue the value and ethics of it, but that’s the truth of it.

But what’s really interesting is who Jennifer Connelly plays. It’s something I didn’t catch until about 16 hours later when the wife and I were watching the original top gone the next morning. Towards the beginning, Maverick and goose are in James Tolkens office getting dressed down for a recent flyby of the tower, and he mentions that Maverick’s been busted repeatedly for a series of high-speed fly-bys over five towers and one admiral’s daughter. Goose leans over and asks “Penny Benjamin?”. I sat up up on the couch. I grabbed the remote and rewound for a moment. It was then that it clicked. Throughout the movie, Maverick had been referring to Jennifer Connelly as “ Penny”. A quick check on IMDb revealed that yes she was indeed playing Penny Benjamin. A character that was name dropped in the first movie but never actually seen. They could have plugged in any random character someone knew anyone to be Cruise’s love interest in this movie. The fact that they picked up on that name and ran with a continuity way beyond anything in this film requires is just marvelous. I love it.

So, again the question, why another review from me? Because I’m a skeptic. Because the only reason I want to see this was because of the overwhelming and constant positive recommendations from not only the media but my friends and the real people that I know. End it was every bit as good as they said it was. Hollywood take note; when you give the audience what it wants, instead of trying to tell it what it wants and then calling it a bunch of misogynists or racists or just stupid because they didn’t want what you give them… no. giving the audience what they want can make so much more money.  Even if you have to hold your nose and put a bunch of American flags all through the film like Top Gun has. Even if you have to shake your head and make a straight white male the heroic lead.

We hit this late into the second week, and when we got to the movie theater, the parking lot was full. My wife didn’t believe it. She was certain everybody was just using their parking lot to go shopping downtown. No, the theater was full and two weeks later, Maverick is still breaking box offices public speaking with her wallet, and I hope Hollywood lessons, because I want more films like this not more top gun, I do think that’s done, just more films like this. More fun. More broad appeal. Give the audience what they want and be grateful that they’re showing up. That’s exactly what Top Gun Maverick did, and it’s paid off in ways Hollywood can barely imagine. Good film, and I think when it comes out, we’ll be buying a copy. Hopefully a two pack with this and the original together.