Thursday, September 30, 2010

Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths - 2/5

It must be prefaced in this review that despite a few DC superheroes that I enjoy, the Justice League has never really wet my whistle. But the story that "Crisis On Two Earths" is based on is ridiculously epic and pretty damn clever so I just had to take a gander at this cartoon film version. What we get is a fun little action packed cartoon that seems more involved with its fights than it does with its story or its characters and just does not come up with the guts to match some of DC's more recent feature length cartoons (like the recent and very bad ass "Batman: Under The Red Hood").

In another parallel universe, a good Lex Luther, the last surviving member of that Earth's Justice League, finds a way to transverse to our Earth to gather our Justice League to come back to his planet to essentially throw down with that Earth's evil twins of this Earth's Justice League. (Whew!) So now Superman, Batman and the rest of the Justice League have to duke it out with Ultraman, Owlman and the rest of the Crime Syndicate of evil doers on that planet. Turns out a few of the baddies have secret agendas that may endanger all parallel Earths. Oh shit son, now there's more at stake than just getting to meet their evil twins!

Unfortunately, DC's plan with these films is that they run slightly over an hour to maintain that youngster friendliness to them. It works with most of their other films but this one needed some more story work. I mean, just re-read that synopsis and not tell me that its not confusingly epic. It is. But the film focuses down on those actions sequences to keep those young kids watching rather than developing that plot like it needed. I definitely wanted more of the motives for Owlman and his secret agenda than what it was and that's just one example of many underdeveloped plots that needed more depth.

The action was pretty slick though I have to admit. Although I was disappointed with the voice casting and some of its more out of place dialogue, the action does make up for a good portion of it. The fights are dynamic and the match-ups of different powers against one another are pretty awesome. This probably the one thing that this film actually did to the expectations that I wanted.

The end result of "Crisis On Two Earths" comes out as a rather hit or miss combination that should have been fucking epic. The rather miss voice casting and plot progression just hinders the film too much for it to work in the ways it should have. The action was good but doesn't do enough to carry the film. It comes off as a decent cartoon for the DC series but fails to match up to some of the classics they have been producing.

BONUS RANT: So with its epic story that this film fails to properly embrace, why the hell does "Crisis" decide to throw this random love subplot between the alternate Earth's President's daughter and our favorite indestructible Martian J'onn. Yeah it adds some nice dramatic tension and various plot movement needed to get some characters moving, but its WAY underdeveloped and rushed. Not to mention its somewhat out of the blue in how it comes about. It was just...nah. They didn't need that. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Killer Inside Me, The - 4/5

Considering how many times this story, "The Killer Inside Me" based on a book by Jim Thompson from 1952, was supposed to be made into a film its amazing that this ever came to fruition. With one other film adaption already done, the 1970s version with Stacy Keach, its a surprise that this one didn't get booted again (after a slew of film makers and actors tried to get it done), but I'm glad it made it out. This slow burning pseudo-noir tale displays in a full an artistic sense of a rather simple Thriller like story. Although not perfect by any sense, what is given to us on "The Killer Inside Me" is damn riveting and pretty damn disturbing.

Lou Ford (Affleck, the Casey one!) seems to everyone to be that too nice small town Texas sheriff whose polite demeanor and soft spoken ways make him even too boring for town gossip. When he ends up getting into a relationship with the town whore Joyce (Alba) though, one begins to see a darker side of the sheriff. One of sadistic tendencies and sociopathic behaviors and one he has desperately tried to reign in since his was a child. After he beats Joyce nearly to death and shoots a rich construction worker's son and tries to make it look like they did it to one another, he finds the scrutiny of the law's eyes on him. Soon he has to find a way out and it may take a higher body count to do so.

To say that this film was slow burning might be an understatement. In fact, it was even hard for me at times not to let my mind wander too far off track when the sparse dialogue got to be hefty and the lack of excitement in plot movement got to me. The thing about all this slow moving atmosphere and long winded character scenes is that it fully pays off in two ways.

The first way is in Affleck's stunning and subtle performance as our lead. Although at times I wanted the script/director to dabble more into the deterioration of our character Ford as the struggle between the good man he wants to be and the sadistic killer he is starts to unbalance, Affleck's use of the rather skimpy use of dialogue and subtle moments of silence is astoundingly good. Not to mention he is backed by a rather talented cast of character actors with Koteas, Baker, and Pullman in a brief scene and the chemistry he has with Alba for her time on film is rather heavy and believable. Tee story might be basic and the script might be a bit light, but the astounding cast works it for all its magic.

The second thing that its slow burning pace embraces is the random spurts of disturbing violence. Although this controversial side of the film seemingly put many critics off (one critic said she had to leave cause she thought she would faint when Lou starts beating Joyce), but its almost unexpected suddenness and brash display of realistic brutality is a nice balance to the rather mundane feel of the rest of the film. Honestly, its pretty wicked violence and its seemingly focus on women (its a character thing for him to move that way towards women) brings on that controversial aspect. Whether one agrees with how its brought about, the balance between slow burn and the release of violence is pretty intense and worked for this viewer.

If there was any legit complaints I had about "The Killer Inside Me" it was its ending. Although the film progresses in some very interesting ways towards the end, I felt that the finale was a little emotionally detached in a few ways and in that sense didn't quite work for me. Although it made 'sense' it didn't quite feel right and it did hurt the overall experience of the film as it needed that ending to work.

"The Killer Inside Me" makes a solid show with its old school noir feel and stellar acting but flaws at times with its somewhat emotionally distant ending and rather slow burning moves that at times can be a little much. It works for the most part and the balance between violence and slow burning dialogue just sparked insane intensity and that's what made this film so riveting. Not a perfect film, but entertaining nonetheless. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Survival Of The Dead - 1.5/5

Well, if there is one thing that came out of "Survival Of The Dead" its the fact that I tried. I lowered my expectations significantly. I even tried to not really think about the film while watching it and just go with it instead. None of it worked. "Survival Of The Dead" truly was a disappointment in so many ways. This is George A. Romero we are talking about here. He is the zombie fucking king of zombie kings. Even though "Diary Of The Dead" had some awful moments, it had its redemption moments too. But this one. No. This one falls flat in the most utterly shocking ways imaginable.

Following a group of military rogues led by Sarge (Sprang) that were introduced in "Diary Of The Dead", the world has become an utter shit hole of zombies and people of questionable taste (no pun intended) with their morals. Our group of soldiers, who live like nomads, find out about an island where they might find shelter and peace finally from the walking hordes of the undead. What they find on this island are two warring families that have been brought to full on killing each other due to a disagreement with how the dead should be treated. One side believes they should be put down as plague ridden pests whilst the other believes they can be trained to eat more than just people. Now the soldiers find themselves trying to survive the mindless remains of humanity along with the mindless zombies themselves.

Romero was always able to subtly slide in all of these great social commentaries into his films whether it be about religion, military, money, or even racism. "Survival Of The Dead" never goes about it subtlety and tries to force the damn 'lesson' here straight down the viewers throat. This, in turn, creates a rather preachy film whose lesson feels rather irrelevant to those that this great filmmaker has touched on before. As the film's foundation, this is a greatly flawed part of why "Survival Of The Dead" fails in most concerns.

So if the meaning of the film doesn't make the cut, then surely a seasoned writer and director like Romero can uphold the execution of the film, right? Not really. This is by far the Horror icon's worst script writing and hit or miss visual work. The dialogue is damn awkward half the time, the characters are rather half wits with no connection to the audience (perhaps Sarge at times but even that's lacking majorly), and some of the scenes are downright idiotic. Half the time I'm not sure if I'm watching a purposefully poor comedic scene or a purposefully poor dramatic scene. The entire sequence at the dock is rather eye-twitchingly mock like (the man who goes fishing for zombies on the roof for example) and the finale showdown seems like a poorly staged western. The comedy is so poorly done most of the time (I do give it to Sarge when he lights his cigarette on the flaming zombie as pretty funny) that I wanted to cry rather than laugh. Oh how far the great fall.

It must also be stated that when compared to the amounts of zombie trash that is out there nowadays that "Survival Of The Dead" probably isn't all that bad. At least it tries. The fact that Romero was behind it is what actually makes it as bad as it is. We, as a Horror community, expect more than what was contained in "Survival Of The Dead". Unfortunately, with the direction that his films seem to be moving, I wouldn't expect too much more from the legendary writer/director in terms of quality. "Survival Of The Dead" comes out dead in the water itself.

BONUS RANT: When I go to see a zombie film, particularly one from someone who is as seasoned as Romero is, I want to see some legit gore. Oh, this film has plenty of gore....CGI GORE! Come on, man. The few scenes of special effects were awesome, but I wanted less of the digital red, red kroovy and more of legit done on scene stuff. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, September 27, 2010

X2: X-Men United - 4.5/5

After the pretty solid debut that was the first "X-Men" film with its praiseworthy earnings and critical success, it was pretty damn obvious that a sequel was needed. Although with the horrid title that is "X2: X-Men United", this second flick in the franchise ups the ante on all of the things that made the first film a good time and refines most of the flaws it had into a cohesive piece of entertainment art. This in turn creates not only the best "X-Men" film of the franchise, but one of the best comic book films out there.

William Stryker (Cox) has made it his own personal goal to wipe out every mutant on the planet. Using his military prowess and sheer muscled firepower, Stryker comes up with a plan to use Professor X (Stewart) and his Cerebro machine to find and destroy all mutants in a scheme of vengeance. This, of course, does not sit will with our resident heroes, the X-Men, and Magneto's (McKellen) somewhat vile Brotherhood. So the two sides of mutants must join forces to stop this military madman, whom somehow has the ability to mind control mutants for his will, which take them all the way to Alkali Lake...which remarkably seems familiar to X-Men antihero, Wolverine (Jackman).

The one thing that makes "X2" seemingly better than its predecessor is the fact that it doesn't feel quite as held back. With its great story concept (based on the graphic novel "God Loves, Man Kills") that deftly blends the sociological side of the prejudice mankind has against that which is different and the personal sides of many of the characters (most predominately that of Wolverine, although each one gets there day here) this film balances quite a bit better on the story and script side of the coin. With Singer's sleek ability to balance the many characters without leaving any feeling underdeveloped, "X2" does it right with taking a great comic story and transferring it to film without alienating its audience.

"X2" also ups the action percentage in the film too. Whether its the very artsy and chaotic Magneto jailbreak sequence, Stryker's attack on Professor X's school, or the finale siege on Alkali Lake (which includes the very awesome Wolverine vs Deathstrike fight) this baby is packed to the punches with awesome and adrenaline pumping action sequences. The only one that remotely came off as somewhat out of place was the jet fighter sequence with the tornadoes that comes off as way too CGI on home video (it looked cool in theaters though). Otherwise this film will quench your appetite for destruction nicely too.

It must also be mentioned that once again the cast is superb in this film. We already knew how good they did in the first film, but additions of Cumming as Nightcrawler and Cox as Stryker make for an even larger more able cast that only add to Singer's nice visuals and well crafted story.

The first "X-Men" may have kicked off the new comic book film craze but its "X2" that might have made it a genre truly worth noting. Since then we have seen plenty of awesome comic adaptions made into films, but to this day "X2" might be one of the best and certainly still entertains to no avail.

BONUS TRIVIA: Originally, "X2" achieved an 'R' rating due to Wolverine's viciousness in some sequences. To cut it down to a PG-13, they cut out several SECONDS of footage to tone down his brutality. Oops. Guess they didn't play it quite safe enough originally. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Die Another Day (2002)

Director: Lee Tamahori
Notable Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, Rick Yune, Judi Dench, John Cleese, Michael Madsen

With "The World Is Not Enough", the James Bond franchise started to dip into that cheesy/over-the-top/goofy style once again and instead of recognizing that this might backlash, filmmakers pushed it even further for Pierce Brosnan's final Bond film, "Die Another Day". Despite the massive amounts of revenue that this film produced (hey, "Moonraker" made a lot of money too) this film falls completely flat in many ways and feels rushed, illogical, and rather absurd through most of its run time. Lending this film to be one of the worst of the franchise.

STORYLINE: Bond (Brosnan) finds himself being held hostage by some pissed off North Korean military types after he spoils an unknown black market deal, kills the military leader in charge, and does some significant damage with a hovercraft (yeah, you read that right). Someone leaked his cover though to the villains and after Bond is traded for another prisoner of war, he goes rogue (again) to uncover the dastardly betrayer of Her Majesty's secret service. This leads him to follow entrepreneur Gustav Graves as he unveils a new 'sun satellite' and begins to unravel a whole conspiracy about world domination (shocking!) that links to his capture.

PLOT 1/5: When you start off a film by having James Bond and two other completely pointless agents infiltrate North Korea by SURFING IN A STORM TO SHORE, than you know you are in for a ride of head slapping proportions. I don't mind my fair share of ridiculous Bond films, but this one might take the cake. The film, although claiming to homage other Bond films for its 40th franchise anniversary, is completely redundant of previous entries and never does a good job at making the homages meld very well. The entire satellite plot is ludicrous at best and moment after moment in the film just seems rather pointless. It does have some solid moments, his capture in North Korea was a cool idea that is completely brushed over, and there are even some interesting scenes that should have worked, the fencing duel between him and the villain, but rarely does. Its overabundance of CGI never helps either with the finale having poorly paced video game cut scenes. I do have to admit that "Die Another Day" has one of my favorite car chase scenes with Bond and the henchmen speeding alone ice, twirling and sliding, and eventually crashing into a melting ice palace. Its so over the top, but damn its fun.

BOND 2/5: Brosnan is now into full on Moore mode for "Die Another Day". Jacking up the ridiculousness and pure suave cheese to the max, Bond in this film never really strikes that coldness that Brosnan originally had when he started his time as 007. Even though the script has him TORTURED FOR A YEAR in the intro, we never really see the after effects of this in his character. We saw more hate and revenge in many other films like "Licence to Kill" or "You Only Live Twice" then we do in this one. For those of you out there that enjoy this side of Bond then rejoice as it takes full bloom here, whereas I will gladly skip on this serving. Brosnan still carries that swagger and charm, but it doesn't sell here.

VILLAIN 1/5: (Spoilers included) When we are introduced to our villain Colonel Moon (whom alters his appearance to Gustav Graves to cover his supposed death) as a man who stuffs his anger management teacher in a punching bag and beats him to near death, its obvious that "Die Another Day" is not interested in taking him seriously. It never does either. He becomes a smarmy jack ass that really never inspires fear (let alone in his Power Glove/Tron suit that controls his giant 'laser') nor surrounds himself with people that do either. He's a joke not a true match for the potential of James Bond. One of the worst villains in Bond franchise history.

BOND GIRL 1/5: With the hype of having Halle Berry as the Bond girl in this film, one would think she was going to blow away the competition. Turns out she does one of her worst performances for a 2D character (another spy who loved me? That hasn't been done before at all!) which has very little actual relevance to the plot in any meaningful way. She seems helpless half the time and seems to burden Bond rather than compliment him. Her chemistry with Brosnan is forced and when talks of her own spin off series (I would picketed that shit at the theaters) began, one could only wonder what humanity did to deserve this punishment. Turns out the spin off wouldn't take, but we were still punished with "Catwoman" about 2 years later.

"Die Another Day" does its best to be an entertaining send off for the rapidly aging Brosnan but fails to have anything beyond its ridiculous plot (a fucking invisible car? Even for Bond that's pushing it) and its gimmicks. Although it might entertain you for a minute or two, "Die Another Day" still smacks as one of the worst Bond films on record.

BONUS RANT: Madonna actually does a pretty fun theme for the movie with a rather cool title sequence (that incorporates story progress scenes - a first for Bond) but why the hell would you put her in the film? Even though its just a cameo, she's awful. And it blatantly takes you even further out of the film. *shakes head* One more detail that just makes "Die Another Day" even harder to watch. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Friday, September 24, 2010

Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)

Director: Paul WS Anderson
Notable Cast: Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Wentworth Miller, Shawn Roberts, Boris Kodjoe

Wherever you are, I want you to stand up and start clapping. That's right, just stand up from your computer and give Mr. Anderson a hand. Why, might you ask? Well, Mr. Paul "I Can't Write A Fucking Solid Script" Anderson has decided to push new boundaries.

Not fooling you? All right, I confess. That's not true. The only boundaries he is pushing are the ones in the wrong direction, making a film that is just as bad (or dare I say worse?) than Resident Evil: Apocalypse with the fourth installment of the franchise. That's right. One of my most hated films may have met its match. It's called Resident Evil: Afterlife.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

X-Men - 3.5/5

Looking back now, its pretty easy to see that "X-Men" was the kick off for the latest comic book via film fad that has found its way into being one of the biggest money making trends in modern cinema. Honestly, despite some great elements to this original live action "X-Men" film, it does play it rather safe compared to what would come later for the film genre. Its still a solid franchise kick off and a rather fun adaption of the popular comic series.

The world is heading towards a war. The main population of humanity has discovered that there are mutations rapidly occurring in the DNA of many people creating 'mutants' with powers beyond our imagination. Amongst these 'mutants' in the world there seems to be a split in ideologies. One of them declares themselves to be greater than humans and superior looking to make them fear and respect them. This ideology is being pressed by a man with the moniker Magneto. The other side, lead by Professor X, pushes for a peaceful resolution. Magneto's pressure seems to be leading towards a violent ending so Professor X builds a team of his most talented students, deemed the 'X-Men', to put a stop to Magneto's new plan to even the stakes.

What makes "X-Men" such a mile marker as a comic book film is that despite the plethora of writers that came and went with scripts (with final credit eventually going to Hayter for the script) they came up with a fairly mainstream and easy to follow story that really grasped the themes of what "X-Men" was all about. Which, in its essential form, is about segregation, prejudice, and humanity's reaction to those of the outside. Having Rogue, a person who cannot tough others with her skin without pulling the life force from them, as one of the leads really hits home with this. Although I'm not sure how I agree with combining character elements of Jubilee with her, it works out in this film. This is what made the X-Men comic so riveting, and its what makes the film work too.

Sometimes it doesn't quite go far enough for my tastes. Although the symbolism is there they could have pushed some of the parallels of human history a bit further. The list of mutants and the communist list for example. Or even on a bigger scale how Magneto's plan to turn world leader's into mutants and how that goes with Constantine's conversion of the leaders to Christians to end Christian persecution could have been taken even further. Alas, this is not how it is and the film does a solid with it anyway.

To add to how well "X-Men" came out is a stellar visual director with Bryan Singer and his stunning well built ensemble cast. With its sleek visual fluidity of action to plot and its well built script, "X-Men" may move too quickly at times but keeps up the pace so that people unfamiliar with the characters or themes can get a taste of it all. Matching that with an extremely well put together cast of folk that not only look like their comic book roles but act like them too, then "X-Men" really does pull this off.

Despite my reservations that they could actually make a live action "X-Men" work, Singer, his stellar ensemble cast, and a script that gets the point across do it quite well. Of course, as a fan of the comics and original Fox cartoon I still have my issues with the film (as I mentioned not quite going far enough with its themes or just glancing over certain elements in pacing) but its a damn solid start for the franchise. Its still a lot of fun and visually very striking and recommended for action fans and comic fans alike.

BONUS RANT: I was very skeptical that Danzig didn't get the role of Wolverine, but Hugh Jackman does a better than fine job as our anti-hero. I do have to admit that they definitely made the clawed and violent prone X-Man a bit less intimidating and dark for the film which sort of made me sad, but it works for its family friendly vibe it generally puts off and the role does spark that same charisma it always had. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Town, The (2010) - 4/5

After watching the stellar and often still surprising "Gone Baby Gone", one could say that I jumped on the 'Ben Affleck is a fuck lot better of a director than actor' bandwagon. Partially cause its damn true. He showed he had some real savvy when it came to sitting behind the camera. This is one of the reasons that when "The Town" hit theaters, my wife and I were off to the local cinema to catch it. Although not quite as good as his previous film, "The Town" does strike some damn great moments despite its rather tried and true (read: I've see it all before) plot and story.

Doug (Affleck) is getting ready for a change in his life. He has 3 friends that have worked together for some time now for a florist. Not delivering flowers or anything like that. No. They rob banks and armored cars. But after their latest bank robbery goes a bit sour after his 'brother' Coughlin (Renner) decides to take a hostage, he decides he needs a better life. After checking in that the hostage (Hall) doesn't know anything, he begins to see life differently and haphazardly falls for her. Now he finds himself struggling with his 'family' and his need for his new life. With at least one last job to do, he is ready for a change. But the people around him don't want him to go and a determined FBI agent is looking to put him away for good.

Ironically, the best thing that this film has going for it is Ben Affleck. It's not very often that those words get typed in any sort of shape or form. It's true for "The Town". Offering his talent as co-writer/director/actor (damn, yo!) his contributions cannot be under appreciated here. Even his acting has stepped up for the film, almost enough to make me forget about "Pearl Harbor" not quite though, and his directing elevates this film from being your average heist film onto a plane to run alongside other great heist films.

Although "The Town" does seem more like 'The Ben Affleck Show' the more one thinks about it, he does get some serious acting help from his more than awesome supporting cast. Renner as the edgy and sometimes psychotic best friend, Jon Hamm as the pressing FBI agent, and Rebecca Hall all match their time on screen with the intensity of the film's drama and action sequences. In fact, many of them seemed fairly underused for their weight and abilities (particularly some of the even smaller roles like that of the ex-girlfriend/brother to Renner's character who does an amazing job in the film) and at the end of the film I almost felt like I wanted even more. With its over 2 hour run time though, its hard not to understand why they did find themselves a little under used. I just wanted more, what can I say?

Honestly, the biggest flaw of the film was its plot. Not that the plot wasn't good and that the characters not intriguing, but that it was pretty basic. I've seen enough crime flicks to know all the details of how this film was going to play out after about the first 10 minutes. It was pretty cliche in many moments. Here's where it gets weird though. Despite this, Ben Affleck as a director ably makes the film feel rather fresh and still riveting. I knew how it was going to end, but I was still invested in it. Which I have to admit, was rather nice.

"The Town" may not be the most original film with its cliche crimes and basic characters, but with some solid acting, a solid directorial eye, and enough heart to cut stone with, this film pulls it off nicely. Perhaps not to the success that "Gone Baby Gone" was, but in its own way a rather wonderful film that kept me going with it. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Night Of The Comet - 3.5/5

Apocalyptic comet, valley girls, zombies, machine guns, cheerleader outfits, shopping malls.... what does all this mean? A hell of a great time that's what! Night of the Comet is quite simply a great science fiction film that defines the 80's with its new wave look, big hair and PG-13 style violence. In other words if you want a blast from the past then Night of the Comet is your answer.

Apparently the comet that killed the dinosaurs is making its rounds and is about to pass by the Earth once again. The whole world is a party as they prep for the view but our valley girl sisters (the dreamy Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney) either have to work or are grounded so they are unable view the once in a lifetime sight. When they awake the next morning, nothing seems to be left of anyone and in their place is a pile of red dust. The kicker is not everyone was killed by the comet as there are partially exposed zombies hunting for human flesh to eat. While blowing away zombies and shopping at expensive clothing stores, they meet up with Hector (Robert Beltran), a truck drive that also survived. Soon they meet up with some scientists who take them back to their underground bunker... but it's not dream answer they're expecting.

Night of the Comet is easily one of my favorite films from the 80's as it has a great concept mixed with the lovable 80's style. I mean where else can you find a girl in a cheerleader outfit shooting a sub machine gun at zombies with "girls just wanna have fun" blaring on the soundtrack? Nowhere but here buddy, that's for sure.

The cast is wonderful and when I saw this film as a kid it started a huge crush I had on Catherine Mary Stewart. She is just gorgeous and beautiful even to this day. Kelli Maroney is also cute as the somewhat dense cheerleader sister. I also liked the reunion of actors Robert Beltran and Mary Woronov from the film Eating Raoul. I would have never thought to see them in the same movie again and its wonderful to reunite them.

Since I was a kid I have always loved zombie movies and I liked the zombie aspect they brought into this picture. However it made me crave more. It's just a personal preference but I wanted to see more zombies as the few sequences featuring them were great (especially the zombie attack in the ally). What can I say other than I love zombies! I also liked the weird dream within a dream sequence that bares a little resemblance to the whacked out dreams in An American Werewolf in London.

So I have to ask: do you like science fiction? Do you like the 80's? Do you like zombies? Do you like beautiful women? If you answered yes to all of those then this film is for you. I loved it as a kid and I still love it to this day. Is it a perfect film? No but it's entertaining beyond belief and isn't that what films are supposed to be, entertaining? I say buy the damn thing already!

Written By Eric Reifschneider

White Lightning - 3.5/5

Having grown up with Burt Reynold's "Good 'ol Boy" comedies like Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball Run it came as a surprise that White Lightning was done rather seriously. Reynolds still plays a "southern good 'ol boy" only this time he's in a gritty, early 70's revenge picture. I like 70's films and I like revenge pictures so hence that easy equation means I would like the film, and sure enough I did.

A mustache-less Reynolds is serving time in prison when he gets word that his brother has been killed by a corrupt Sherriff who takes in a percent of the illegal moonshine business in town. He strikes up a deal with the Feds to go undercover to take the sheriff down but it ends up being a much harder endeavor then he thought.

I have never been a huge fan of a majority Reynolds "good 'ol boy" comedies as that shtick can get real old real fast so it's always a pleasure to go back and visit films he made which are taken more seriously. He's actually a good actor if you can get him away from his by-the-numbers comedy efforts. Ned Beatty (re-united with Reynolds after Deliverance) is also good in his corrupt sheriff role but thanks to Deliverance, I always have a horrible picture in my mind when he comes on screen (people who have seen Deliverence know what I'm talking about).

White Lightning also gives the audience a plethora of well choreographed car chases and the film is full of edge of your seat chases through backwoods trails. Great stuff and no doubt this would influence Reynolds' later hit Smokey and the Bandit.

If I had to complain about an aspect it has to be the pacing and directing style (or lack thereof). The film does feel a little overlong for its subject matter (a little under 2 hours) and that could have easily been trimmed up with some nice editing. Joseph Sargent's direction is adequate but it only seems to get the job done. I never felt that the director was doing anything more than "point and shoot" and I would have loved some unique camera angles.

White Lightning is a very good example of a entertaining film before the well known "Good ol' Boy" comedy era of Burt Reynolds. It's ahead of the pack when it comes to southern 70's revenge pictures and audiences seemed to agree as three years later Reynolds would direct the sequel titled Gator.

Written by Eric Reifschneider

Tequila Joe - 2.5/5

Joe... what a blah name for a Spaghetti western anti-hero. Sure Clint Eastwood's character in Fistful of Dollars was nicknamed Joe but that was because no one knew his name so they gave him a simple one. In a genre littered with interesting and peculiar names like Django, Mannaja, Sabata, Sartana and Cjamango, Joe just sticks out like a sore thumb. Sadly Anthony Ghidra's character is just about as blah as his simplistic name.

A newly appointed deputy arrives to his new town only to find chaos. In the midst of all the unlawfulness, he finds the towns sheriff, aptly nicknamed Tequila Joe, drunk off his ass at the local bar. Apparently two rival gangs in town (one Mexican, one American) are at each other's throats and kill anyone or anything that gets in their way. Instead of dealing with the situation, Joe turns a blind eye and disappears in the bottle. His new deputy won't have anything to do with these law breakin' gangs so he nuts up and in turn tries his hardest to get Joe to do the same. Predictably he's hard to convince at first but eventually comes around by the time the by-the-numbers climax kicks in.

Nothing against Anthoney Ghidra but I never saw the appeal of him in westerns. He only did about 5 or so yet he is a popular name in the genre. I've seen 4 of the westerns he made and he has yet to impress me. The filmmakers attempt to make his character sympathetic but the poor writing doesn't make the audience feel for his character. Instead of a tragic figure he just comes off as a pussy and I for one don't watch spaghetti westerns to follow "pussy" characters.

Tequila Joe does have a lot of qualities Spaghetti Western fans will like especially the catchy score and nasty villains. I also respect the filmmakers trying something new with the main character by attempting to make him "sympathetic" but thanks to bad writing it doesn't come across. This is another film for only the most diehard fans of the genre. Released on DVD from Wild East as a double feature with A Hole Between the Eyes.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Howling VII [The Howling: New Moon Rising] - 0/5

The Howling franchise will never win any awards as a great series. The sequels were lackluster and mostly bad but for the most part they were watchable, some even being guilty pleasures. That is of course until Howling VII (released in America as The Howling: New Moon Rising) infected video store shelves. Who knew the series could get so bad? Well it did and this home-made piece of crap not only pounded the final nail into the Howling franchise coffin, but it dug its grave and buried it under 10 feet of concrete. It's so fucking bad that Joe Dante suffered a minor heart attack while on vacation in Hawaii when the first video tape came off the factory belt. It's so bad that I even awarded it my second zero star rating, and by my scale 1 is the lowest you can go so you do the math.

We again get a drifter who rides his Harley into a small Southern California town (sounds familiar) when a few people start dying so he takes it upon himself to investigate and low and behold a shitty looking werewolf is to blame.

The main problem is that the plot takes it's sweet ass time to go nowhere. Most of the film is spent with our drifter drinking at the bar, talking to locals, and line dancing. Is this a howling sequel or an episode of Hee-Haw? We even get stock footage from Howling IV and V utilized as flashbacks to liven up the film. It's a sad day in the Howling world when you have to use footage of a shitty film like Howling IV to make your film better. How shitty does that make Howling VII? Words cannot describe and I will just say that Howling VII should take the place of Howard the Duck for use as a torture device in foreign countries.

What can I say about the acting...hmmm.....what acting! Almost the entire cast are actual real life locals in the small town and not surprisingly they can't act to save a shitty sequel from destroying an already feeble franchise. Don't even get me started on the werewolf effects! When the climax finally comes rolling and it is revealed who the werewolf is, a shitty computer morph is used to transfer that person into a god awful looking werewolf.

Who is to blame for this shit? That would be director/producer/writer/actor Clive Turner. He produced Howling IV and V and no doubt he needed some quick cash so he loaded up his home video camera, 500 bucks in cash and drove to a small Southern California town where he bribed the locals with beer to appear in his "blockbuster" film. What floors me is that New Line Cinema decided to pick up the film and distribute it. What the hell was Robert Shay thinking? Did he sign the contract to distribute it solely based on the fact that it was a Howling sequel and not even watch the film?

I have seen thousands of films and to this day Howling: New Moon Rising still ranks as one of the worst films I have ever seen. I sold my old VHS years ago and I don't miss it one bit and I could care less if it ever gets released on DVD. Keep in mind this is coming from a completist who has to own an entire franchise, including the shitty sequels.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Howling VI: The Freaks - 2/5

Long before the vampire lycanthrope battles of the Underworld trilogy and (shutter) the Twilight Saga (I just barfed in my mouth a bit typing that), there was a little direct-to-video sequel entitled Howling VI: The Freaks that pitted the blood sucker against the hairy flesh eater. Don't get your hopes up though as it isn't as monumental as you would think. Remember, this is a Howling sequel after all.

We get a drifter that wanders into a remote town in Southern California (no doubt because it's cheap to film there) and he ends up working for the local pastor fixing up a church and during which he falls in love with the pastor's daughter. Our drifter holds a terrible secret though and that is he grows teeth and hair when the moon his full. The owner of a traveling carnival gets word of this and decides to capture him in order to display him in his freakshow exhibit. Our pastor/daughter duo get wind of this and try to free their new friend but the carnival owner has his own secrete... he's a bloodsucking vampire!

The person that steals the show isn't the werewolf, but Bruce fucking Payne. I consider this guy one of the most underrated actors in the business. People today mostly know him as the villain in Passenger 57 but he was mostly regulated to low-budget genre films like Warlock III and of course Howling VI. It's almost sad to see him go away when his character turns into a vampire.

The budget restraints hurt this sequel like the previous two and thanks to Hope Perello's lackluster directing, it has a very direct-to-video feel about it where the last two direct-to-video sequels could have passed as theatrical material. The absolute worst aspect is the look of the werewolf. It looks more like bigfoot or a Neanderthal as opposed to a werewolf. He barely grows hair on his face let alone a wolf like snout. This very well might be the most piss poor looking werewolf I have ever seen (whoops, I forgot about the next entry). It's even a far cry from the werewolf designs in Howling II and III, and that's a sad statement.

Howling VI has a workable plot of vampire vs. werewolf but I wish it expanded more on that aspect. It just becomes another passable Howling sequel entry that is arguably better than most of the other sequels but thanks to boring directing and a shitty werewolf it just isn't as entertaining.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Howling V: The Rebirth - 2.5/5

Another year, another Howling Sequel. Boy oh boy did they pump these sequels out fast in the late 80's as it was almost one a year. Thankfully though Howling V is a sharp improvement over that Original Nightmare crap and is actually, arguably of course, the best sequel in the entire franchise (though I do find Howling II to be a great guilty pleasure).

Howling V, like parts III and IV, is a complete standalone story with no connection to the previous films other than the aspect of having a werewolf factor into the plot. The filmmakers here decide to take the Agatha Christie "Ten Little Indians" approach as a group of what seems like randomly selected people are invited to stay in a secluded Romanian castle where it's inhabitants were slaughtered by a werewolf centuries earlier. Upon arriving they all become snowed in by a blizzard and start getting slaughtered one by one as one of the members is a lycanthrope.

What I like about this sequel is the fact it was actually shot in Romania and the location really adds to the atmosphere. The dark castle also gives a nice claustrophobic feeling aided by an odd electronic score composed by the curiously named group "The Factory". The collage of different characters also keeps the film just interesting enough to hold attention.

Typical with a Howling sequel there are far too many flaws keeping Howling V from being a really good movie. First of all is the acting as there are some really dreadful performances here. The film's budget constraints also show up with some unconvincing sets, exterior snow shots, and a lack of an onscreen werewolf. I'm all for the "less is more" aspect of not showing the monster a lot, but we only get one very quick glimpse of the beast. To top it off it looks really bad ass in the one shot! Howling III and IV had sub-par effects but they were happy to show them on screen all the time. Perhaps the budget was so low they couldn't create a convincing werewolf so they opted to hide it but I believe the audience deserves a better payoff then a quick one second glimpse at it.

Surprisingly Howling V isn't a horrible film as far as Howling sequels go. It's got some bad acting, a sometimes slow pace and a lack of an onscreen werewolf but it's atmosphere, quirky characters and bizarre score kept me interested.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Howling IV: The Original Nightmare - 1/5

Apparently Joe Dante's classic original wasn't "good enough" so producer Clive Turner decided to essentially remake it, hence the lame subtitle "The Original Nightmare." Okay it does follow the book better (yes, I have read the Gary Brandner novel) but that doesn't prove it's any good!

Well Marie has a problem. Her problem is she keeps seeing images of this short creepy nun with bug eyes and every once-in-a-while she sees a werewolf head pop out and scare the holy shit out of her. Her psychologist recommends her boyfriend take her on a vacation so he rents a cabin deep in a remote area. Her craziness drives him nuts so he finds solace in the vagina of a local gypsy, who just happens to be a werewolf and of course she bites him thus he is a werewolf as well. Now Marie finds that her visions are reality so Marie with the aid of a friend have to destroy a town full of werewolves!

Not much I can praise this film about as it's pretty much all bad. Veteran director John Hough (Legend of Hell House) is on cruise control here and the acting for the most part is terrible. The special effects, other than a man melting into a gelatinous state, are also sub-par and I hated how the filmmakers here decided to go the cheap route and have our transformed werewolves being nothing more than trained dogs with glowing red eyes. WHAT?! The werewolves in the previous films were big creatures that walked up right and now their dogs running on all four? Sheesh...

Again it may follow the original book better but it didn't result in a better movie and there isn't anything really to recommend about this sequel other than a few unintentional laughs. Even the cheesy title song written and sung by Moody Blues member David Justin Hayward with lyrics like "something evil....something dangerous...." can't save this werewolf turd.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Howling III: The Marsupials - 2/5

When Howling II was released in 1986, it left a whole crowd of horror movie buffs leaving the theaters cussing under their breath. Director Philippe Mora agreed with the fan backlash but he did not take fault for the werewolf excrement that dripped on the screen. Mora instead put the blame solely on the producers who "fucked up" his film by not giving him final cut or complete creative control. Upset that Howling II ended up not being the sequel that he envisioned, he decided buy the rights to Gary Bradners's novel "The Howling III", completely change the story around to take place in his native Australia and unleash a sequel that was completely his own. He proved that the vision was his as he is probably the only person on the planet that truly loves the film and proving at the same time that the producers of Howling II were NOT the only people responsible for it's shittiness.

So on with Howling III. Can you tell me what is Australia best known for? No not Vegemite, Marsupials of course. To make the film even more uniquely his own he decided to have the plot revolve around a group of.... MARSUPIAL WEREWOLVES! I have to hand it to him as he came up with a concept that will never manifest itself into another werewolf plotline.

We are introduced to a beautiful marsupial werewolf sick of her abusive pack leader, leave and go to the city where she is spotted by a young filmmaker who casts her in a film entitled "Shapeshifters Part 8" (Ironically the Howling sequels almost made it that far!). They of course fall in love but shit gets weird when a group of werewolf nuns (I can't believe I just typed that) comes to take her back. So her boyfriend and a college professor (who happens to have an old film of natives burning a werewolf at the stake) head out to rescue her. In the middle of this we get a crazy subplot of a Russian dancer, who also happens to be a werewolf, that travels to Australia to mate.

If Philippe Mora wanted to make the most bizarre werewolf film ever made then he succeeded as this movie is full of some crazy ass shit. Werewolf nuns, Skeletal Werewolf's, Russian Ballerina Werewolves but those aren't the most crazy aspects. The absolute weirdest sequence is when our little runaway werewolf gives birth what looks like a hairless rat which scuttles up into her pouch. It has to be one of the most "What the fuck" moments ever in a film. I've seen a lot of bizarre films in my time but that sequence is definitely in my top five "WTF" moments.

I do have to give Howling III a little praise though as it is the one Howling sequel that even comes remotely close to matching the sardonic humor in Joe Dante's original. Phillipe Mora however goes beyond subtleness with the humor making it ridiculous so most viewers will just find it, for lack of a better word, stupid. I do have to harp on the bad effects as the werewolves, like Howling II, look pathetic compared to Rob Bottin's grand looking lycanthropes in the original. Also what's with the PG-13 rating? Werewolf films, like The Howling franchise, are supposed to have violence and bloodshed worthy of an R rating. You won't find carnage like that here my friend.

Howling III is better than Howling II but Mora proves yet again he can't make a good sequel. It's definitely strange enough to keep fans of bizarre cinema entertained but the film does overstay it's welcome not to mention it's PG-13 rating making Howling III nothing to howl about. It still made enough money for more sequels to follow except all the sequels to come would be direct-to-video.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Darkness (2002) - 2/5

After having a rather lackluster experience watching "Darkness" in theaters with my brother way back in 2004, I learned that it was directed by Jaume Balaguero, whom would go on to co-direct the stellar "[Rec]". Thusly I decided it was high time to revisit this American/Spanish Horror hybrid and take a second gander at an originally disappointing viewing. Now, I can see that "Darkness" is...well, still pretty lackluster. Not that its bad by any means, just far too cliche and somewhat boring for my tastes.

Regina (Paquin) and her family have recently moved to Spain for a new taste on life. When her father (Glen) is suddenly overcome with reoccurring mental breakdowns and her younger brother (Enquist) suddenly finds himself afraid of the dark, claiming that there are children in the darkness that call him an 'imposter', Regina finds herself wondering what the fuck is going on. So she starts to investigate this new house and uncovers that the house was built for a satanic ritual to unleash an evil 'darkness' into the world. Now its a race against time as she finds herself battling a fate she never thought she would face.

The problem with "Darkness" resides in the fact that, yes, you have seen this film before. Perhaps not all in one watch. A little "Shining" here, a little "Ju-On" there. We've seen it before. And unfortunately, substance wise, "Darkness" does little to veer off this pathway of cliche ghost elements and far too drawn out sequences. With some decent acting, although Paquin has hardly done anything for me at any given time, the film just sort of rides the line of mediocrity a bit too much. Not enough solid scares. Not enough tension or atmosphere. It does okay on these things that are needed for a good Horror film, but it never gets out of the 'same ole same ole' routine.

The one true thing that "Darkness" has going for it is the eye and saving visual grace of director Jaume Balaguer. Although not as slick and vicious as he would punch the world in the face with on the film "[Rec]", this film shows some of his potential in many ways. His use of solid close ups of unusual elements (like the rain soaked swing set seats) or kinetic vibrating ghost shots make for a pretty stylistic watch. Too bad much of the tension/atmosphere he tries to build is undermined by the rather lackluster script and forgettable plot, otherwise "Darkness" might have succeeded even more in this field too.

"Darkness" is far from being a bad film but its damn far from being good either. Its script and cliche story seem to leech away any kind of solid Horror elements it desperately tried to create and hold on to. It was nice to revisit this old memory from my past and see a talented director start to get a foot hold, but beyond that "Darkness" might be better the dark. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time - 2/5

Considering what a 'flop' this was for Disney and the ensuing critic back lash it received, I went into "Prince Of Persia" with some seriously low expectations. I also love the video games that it was based on, so count that as another thing going against it. Luckily, the film was fun and knew that it wasn't going to be able to touch on the darker and more violent elements of the games (it is Disney, man!) so it went for a slightly more cartoon-y vibe that worked for its family fun entertainment approach. The film still really isn't all that good and seems half assed in most categories, but it did achieve a nice fun lazy afternoon watch entertaining value to it. That counts for something right?

Dastan was taken off the streets as a child by the king of Persia. He saw courage, strength, and righteousness in the boy and decided to take him into the family. Now its 15 years later and when a questionable siege on a peaceful city turns into an assassination of the king, many blame poor Dastan for the attack. Suddenly he finds himself trying to clear his name and uncovering a bigger conspiracy. With the help of a Princess from this sieged city and the power of a special dagger that seems to be able to turn back time second by second, Dastan has to stop the end of the world from occurring.

The entire time I was watching "Prince Of Persia" I was comparing it to the remake, and highly enjoyable, "The Mummy" from a decade ago (yeah, its been that long!). Half the time the film seemed out right trying to do everything that that film did correctly and most of the time failing at it. The spunky and adventurous seemingly impossible to kill leading charmer. The courageous and beautiful leading lady who desperately hates (but eventually falls in love with) the leading man. The quirky supporting semi-hero cast. The villain ready to unleash a mystic force. The cloaked assassins. The list goes on and on. This isn't necessarily a bad thing but "Prince Of Persia", despite some charm here and there, just lacks on all of those elements. Hell, even the general look of the film seems like "The Mummy" (its hard to change up deserts I guess). The entire movie I couldn't shake this comparison and in the end it hurt the overall viewing I had.

Its also hard not to be disappointed with our cast. With some questionable casting choices, starting with one of my normal favs Jake Gyllenhaal as the lead, and some poor way to family friendly dialogue I felt like many of the people were underused. Kingsley is getting to be hard to follow in his film choices lately despite his amazing abilities and even Alfred Molina shows up with some heavy makeup and a bad wig. All the acting is sub par from all of these greats and it makes this film somewhat of a chore to get through.

Now that I'm done ranting about what made "Prince Of Persia" a rather eye rolling experience, lets get to what the film did right. Action. Although Jerry Bruckheimer and his production company tends to over gloss their films, he does action pretty well. And this film does it nicely. Once again many of the sequences seem to be stolen from other adventure films here, but they are exciting and fun to watch. The filmmakers did a rather solid job bringing the action from the games to life with running on walls, leaping off of pillars, and sword jostling with some cloaked guys. That I have to applaud. Also, there is still a charm to this story that benefits these sequences. Although, in honesty, I could have cared less who lived and died here, I did want to see what action they would bring up next and that makes a film somewhat exciting. This film gets 2 stars for that.

In the end, "Prince Of Persia" might be some family fun entertainment to watch for everyone, but it misses some serious opportunities to push some envelopes. Solid action pieces can't always carry a film and for one so plot heavy, it doesn't here. It has its charm but is ultimately scarred by its odd dialogue, point and shoot directing, slightly poor editing, and underused actors. Perhaps I ought to go and replay the games now and refresh my memories on how good those were. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fountain, The - 4.5/5

Science Fiction can smear itself all across the genre board, adding in elements of action, horror, comedy, animation, or pretty much anything under the sun. This reviewer though, creates a special category that I like to call 'poetic science fiction'. Films like "2001" or, to some extent "Moon", can be thrown down in this shallow pool. These tend to be some of the best of the genre being able to hit the depths of being a smart film and retaining an artistic vision. "The Fountain" is a spectacle of a film that belongs in this area too. With its stunningly subtle (yet pretty simple) story, fantastic visual work, and details to bury the forest with trees in, "The Fountain" comes across as a poetic piece of film bound to awe.

This film happens to occur on three planes of existence at once. All of these three interweaving stories include a man (Jackman) in search of finding a cure for 'death' as he struggles with the eventual demise of his beloved (Weisz). One tale is in modern day with a scientist trying to overcome cancer, one is a 16th century Conquistador who searches for the fountain of youth (tree of life whatever) for his queen, and the final one is of a futuristic man traveling through space with the tree of life towards a nebula.

I would be lying if I told you that I actually understood "The Fountain". Part of the brilliance (and controversy of whether or not the film actually works) is in this sort of ambiguous state of affairs for what this man is struggling with. Like poetry that one reads, much of "The Fountain" is up to interpretation by its viewer to place the details and themes into it themselves. Director/writer Darren Aronofsky isn't going to come out and tell you shit. He lets you do most of the work and just lets you take this visual spectacle and simple story to your own conclusion. This is both insanely frustrating (the first one or two viewings of the film) and completely rewarding (when you do sort of figure out what you think it actually is saying). With stupendous acting from out two leads and few supporting roles that pop up along the way, "The Fountain" holds its own against this massive idea that it tries to convey. Technically speaking, this film rocks your socks off.

Sometimes the film does drag a bit (the reason for half a star being missing from its perfect rating) in many scenes resulting in a rather slow burning and mid tempo paced piece of film. Unless you had a shit ton of Wheaties for breakfast and did some mental exercises prior to viewing, this one might bore a few of you out of the film. Many people I have spoken with about "The Fountain" never finished it due to it being 'as boring as fuck'. As I mentioned above though, this frustration and confusion does lead to an eventual gratifying experience if you allow it to work its magic properly.

"The Fountain" is DEFINITELY not for everyone. If "Transformers" is your favorite science fiction film of all time, then just go continue to Google search for the next Michael Bay IQ shrinker and leave this one alone. If you are a film fan and want to challenge yourself to something a bit less 'in your face' and more about the details and viewer experience then take a gander at this one. "The Fountain" might be a frustrating watch but chew on it for a while and I'm sure one will grow a taste for it. Aronofsky does it again. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Mad Mission - 3.5/5

Mad Mission is the beginning of a series of films from Hong Kong that I am amazed isn't more popular with Asian cinema lovers here in a America. The series is better known as Aces Go Places in the rest of the world and this film was so popular in Asia that it inspired four sequels. The reason is due to the wonderful combination of action, espionage, comedy and wild stunts that highly resembles early 80's Jackie Chan movies. Those Jackie Chan movies are popular here in America but not Mad Mission? It's not that Asian cinema lovers don't like them, it's because that they haven't heard of them or if they have, they just haven't seen them as they are quite hard to locate especially since the Anchor Bay box set of the first four films has been out-of-print for years. I hope to help change that.

The film opens with a wild diamond robbery where notorious thief "King Kong" crashes through a high-rise window and escapes with diamonds while on a motorcycle. A bald cop from America is teamed up with a hard ass Hong Kong women to crack the case but later on they must team up with King Kong to find the diamonds as his partner has been killed and the crime lords that he stole the diamonds from and are closing down him fast. Lots of funny hijinx and amazing stunts ensue.

People that have seen this film usually first talk about the amazing stunts and this film is loaded to the brim with them! It seems like the entire film is one big stunt. I was disappointed in some of the stunts as there are a few that look a little too staged but that didn't hurt the entertainment value. Beyond the stunts though I have to say the film is perfectly cast. Cantonese pop star Samuel Hui plays King Kong and he really looks like a taller Jackie Chan with a smaller schnozz and like Chan he does some pretty good stunt work. Karl Maka and Sylvia Chan are also wonderful in their cop roles.

The characters are all likeable and funny and the characters are what I truly love about these films (though the stunts do help). Their playful banter and bickering can be really humorous. Some of the humor can be a little too slap stick at moments but it doesn't go overboard. Another aspect I love is the incredible catchy score which features a guitar similarly structured to the famous Monty Norman James Bond theme mixed with whistling. Speaking of James Bond, these films really seem inspired by that franchise with their structure and amazing stunts. The James Bond influence would only increase with sequels to come.

I can't express how much fun I had with this film. Hong Kong comedies can sometimes grate my nerves but Mad Mission balances out the action and comedy perfectly making for a truly entertaining experience. If you're a fan of action comedies and Asian cinema then you have to hunt these Mad Mission films down! Again there are five in the series and a spin-off called Aces Go Places '97 (which really has nothing to do with the initial run). Only the first four films in the series have been released on DVD in the United States and like I mentioned they can be a little hard to hunt down since the box set has been out of print for a while. The set is well worth the effort!

I should also note that I have only seen the U.S. dubbed version of the film. Fans of the franchise have made it known their disappointment with the dubbed version as it does away with some of the best and most funny pieces of dialogue. Hopefully someday I can hunt down a subtitled version of the film to get the full Mad Mission, I mean Aces Go Places, experience.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Dollman Vs. The Demonic Toys - 1/5

After the end credits to Full Moon's Bad Channels, we were given a sequence of Dollman walking to Pahoota (the town in Bad Channels) to hook up with Bunny, a girl shrunk down to 13 inches by an alien. After that short sequence, the screen promised further adventures of Dollman but no-one knew it would be a crossover film which would include three different film series! Yes, Dollman vs. the Demonic toys isn't just a sequel to Dollman and Demonic Toys, but Bad Channels as well! This sounds like it would be a fantastic time but I got my hopes up and this crossover came out being a cheap cash-in that barely runs over an hour long.

Well like in the post end credits sequence in Bad Channels, Dollman arrives in Pahoota to hook up with shrunken Nurse Ginger. Right away there is a BLARRING continuity error. At the end of Bad Channels, the girl Bunny was the one left 13 inches tall and nurse Ginger was grown back to normal size. WHOOPS!!! My guess is that the actress refused to return so Full Moon "conveniently" rewrote the script to have Nurse Ginger still being 13 inches tall hoping viewers would just forget that little fact. WRONG! Well Dollman and Ginger hook up, shag, and then are approached by a cop (Tracy Scoogins, returning from Demonic Toys) to have them help here destroy some toys from hell. Always in the mood for action, Dollman agrees so he and his girlfriend go out on a hunt. The result isn't near as fun as it could have been.

This film feels like it was cooked up in a matter of minutes and to top it off, only about half of it (a half hour out of its measly hour long running time) is new footage. The remaining film is all flashback footage from Dollman, Demonic Toys and Bad Channels. WHAT! Full Moon you cheap cocks! I've already seen those movies so I don't need to rewatch them!

The film feels considerably cheaper than all three films it's a sequel to and the part that takes a beating is the special effects as when Dollman battles the Demonic Toys, it's obviously guys in suits making the toys run around. I did dig the new demonic toy which is a G.I. Joe like solder with bug eyes. He really gave Dollman a run for his money.

The film does have a few moments (the line "pop goes the weasel" is one of them) but it's not enough to save this rushed, clobbered together film. It could have been a monumental project for Full Moon but as usual Charles Band decides to cut corners resulting in a film that's a disappointment to the hard core fans. Sadly this film killed any chance of further adventures of Dollman but the Demonic Toys would return in another crossover film (Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys) and a direct sequel (Demonic Toys 2).

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Dollman - 2.5/5

Producer Charles Band is sure good at coming up with really interesting ideas that sadly don't have a budget to properly back them up. Dollman falls into this category as the concept is really bad ass but the budget restrains the film from reaching its full potential. That however still doesn't strip it from becoming fun B-science fiction drivel!

Meet Brick Bardo (Tim Thomerson), a badass burnt out cop prone to violence on a far away world. He begins by saving a bunch of fat women in a laundry mat from a thug, gets fired by his superiors and then gets kidnapped by his arch nemesis who just happens to be a floating head (you see, Bardo blew away various body parts in previous encounters). He blows the hell out of the floating head's goons and then takes off chasing him in space ships. Both their ships hit some weird space disturbance and they are thrown across the galaxy where they land on Earth (the Bronx no less), a planet where Bardo only happens to be 13 inches tall! On Earth Bardo saves a struggling mother from some goons and our villainous head gets taken in by some sadistic thugs (lead by future Freddy Kueger actor Jackie Earle Haley). Now we can look forward to some serious bloodshed by these little guys!

The film is literally split in to two separate parts: Pre-Earth arrival and post-Earth arrival and to be honest the pre-Earth arrival is the best part... and he isn't even 13 inches tall yet! This sequence with Bardo on his home world is dark, atmospheric and loaded with machoism and violence. I had a ball! The film actually takes a little of a nose dive once he arrives on earth as the film just isn't as interesting from a visual aspect, despite the novelty of having our character being only 13 inches tall.

Director Albert Pyun is one of the best known directors for making schlock films. I either love or hate this guy as he can make some entertaining as hell B-movies or some that are downright unwatchable. Dollman thankfully is one of his better efforts. Hell I might go as far and say that Dollman might very well be his best film (though it would be a battle with "The Sword and the Sorcerer" and "Mean Guns" ). He actually does an adequate job here and loads the first part with a great dark atmosphere. Pyun impressed me with this release.

As for the cast how could you go wrong with casting Tim Thomerson as Dollman. Dollman really is the exact same character as Jack Deth from the Trancer series so that means he's a loveable asshole. Great one-liners and tough as hell. Jackie Earle Haley is also wonderful as our head goon. I always felt that he was an actor that never got the respect he deserved but thankfully audiences are coming around today with his wonderful portrayals in both Watchmen and the Nightmare on Elm Street remake.

The special effects take the blunt of the budget restraints as it is very obvious on more than one occasion that dollman is a "doll" in a toy spaceship. Even with the budget restraints Pyun does his best to get around the obstacles.

Dollman is an extremely fun B-movie with enough extreme violence, kick ass one-liners, machoism, and a cool storyline to keep any B-movie lover entertained. Dollman is definitely one of the highlights out of Full Moon Entertainment's classic era. A sequel did follow in the cross-over film Dollman vs. the Demonic Toys but that film wouldn't come near the likability of this cult classic.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Arcade - 1/5

In the early 90's, movies incorporating 3-D virtual reality video games into their plot was a fad that thankfully didn't last too long. The most popular was the big budget dud The Lawnmower Man but on a much smaller scale there were such films as Evolver and of course Full Moon's Arcade. All I have to say is if 3-D effects are going to be the main attraction of your film, you better make sure they are good!

The script written future heavy weight Hollywood writer David S. Goyer is very simple. It's about a new Virtual Reality game that's getting a test run at a small arcade. After trying it out, a handful of teens are given a portable take home version, however the game's artificial intelligence grows and it ends up making some of the teens drool and then disappear. Two of our teens figure what's happening and decide to shut the game down at the source... by playing it.

The plot is insanely predicable and director Albert Pyun seems at odds directing a film that doesn't take place in a bleak future or include cyborgs. Overall the film felt very kiddish which is strange for Full Moon as they should have produced this under their family friendly sister company Moonbeam Entertainment. It just lacks in every department and it failed to deliver any of the cheesy Full Moon goodness I expect in their B-movie outings. No violence, no cool characters, no funny on-liners, and piss poor directing. To top it off the computer generated effects for the video game are insanely awful! I understand this came out in 1993 but these graphics even sucked back in those days.

It might just be me but it seems every movie about a virtual reality video game sucks and it still boggles my mind that Arcade is one of Full Moon's most popular films. It must be the nostalgia for viewers that saw the film as a kid because this is easily one of my least favorite's from the company out of their "classic" era of films. What's ironic is that I own 2, count 'em 2 copies of this turd on DVD. Why do I own 2? Well I got one in a box set entitled "Full Moon Classics Volume One" and another in a box set entitled "Full Moon Features: The Archive Collection." I can't sell one of them because that would ruin the box set... so there they sit, both of 'em, doomed to collect dust on my DVD shelf for the rest of my short life.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Wheels Of Fire - 2/5

Back in a dark corners of second hand stores, right behind the DVD shelves, you will most likely find piles and piles of dust covered VHS tapes. And among all those tapes hidden between the dozens of copies of Mission: Impossible and Jurassic Park is sometimes hidden gems like Wheels of Fire. That's exactly how I landed a an ex-rental copy of seemingly forgotten Post Nuke flick. Finds like this makes me keep checking out second hands stores as I love finding old video tapes of bizarre and obscure films that have yet to make it to DVD. The tape I found of Wheels of Fire was so old that the glue on the title tag had disintegrated and thus fallen off the tape. The clerk even remarked that I must be one of those collectors of rare VHS tapes and even knocked the price down to a $1.00. A $1.00 for some forgotten 80's post nuke dreck was a perfect price to me!

Wheels of Fire was one of those dozens and dozens of post nuke flicks that filled the videos store shelves in the 80's and it is one of the dozen's that still hasn't made its way to DVD. The post nuke/road warrior rip-off genre was dominated by the Italians but it would only be matter of time before Filipino director Cirio H. Santiago would jump on that band wagon (the same way he copied the Italians with their Macaroni Combat releases which in turn copied American films). Still out of all the Road Warrior rip-offs I have seen, none is more of a rip-off than Wheels of Fire as our anti-hero looks just like Mad Max and he drives a vehicle shocking similar to Mad Max's famous interceptor. It looks so much like the Road Warrior that it really could take place in the same alternate Universe.

Our anti hero meets up with his sister and new boyfriend at a gladiator fight and in order to save her boyfriends life, he jumps into the fight to kill the opponent. This results in a high speed chase on a desolate highway. His sister ends up being captured by a ruthless gang that terrorizes the highways, and our anti-hero with the help of a warrior woman, a psychic, and a midget (what film isn't made better with a midget?) try to rescue her.

The film's look and presentation is exactly like The Road Warrior, only dumber. Wheel's of Fire really acts like Road Warrior's cousin that was dropped too many times on his head as a kid. The first thing that makes it dumber than the Road Warrior is that almost all the chase scenes have the film sped up to unconvincingly give the illusion that the cars are going faster. Road Warrior did utilize this technique a few times but not to this extent. Our characters also have talks and make love at VERY inopportune moments. Our hero and his sister fight about her boyfriend when the road gang and closing down on them fast. Get and your cars and get away damnit! His sister and boyfriend even take time to stop and make love when they damn well know the road gang is right on their tail. Let's just say the boyfriend finds out the hard way that he should have kept his hormones under control.

The film tries to distance itself from the Road Warrior by introducing a cannibal group of underground humanoids that resemble Morlocks from The Time Machine. It's an interesting section of the film that really comes out of left field. I also like how director Cirio H. Santioago utilized a unique World War II fort complete with huge canons as the gang's headquarters. He would utilize this location in what seems like every film he filmed in the 80's (including Eye of the Eagle and The Expendables).

Wheels of Fire knows it's a Road Warrior rip-off and doesn't try to hide it so I give it respect for that. It knows what it is and for a silly 80's post nuke flick I found it rather enjoyable and to be honest it was a lot better than I thought it was going to be. It is definitely the best film from cult director Cirio H. Santiago that I've seen, that's for sure.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Ghoulies II - 1.5/5

Ghoulies was the surprise hit of 1985 for Charles Band and the crowd at Empire Pictures so naturally all hits deserve a sequel and Ghoulies was the first Band film to get sequelized, a procedure he would do to death with later films (what are there, ten Puppet Master films now?). Surprisingly however of all the films that he produced in the 80's that didn't deserve a sequel, it was Ghoulies as its hollow plot really didn't cry out to go on. However it was a simple concept with silly little monsters and that made a sequel easy to make and thus a dopey franchise was born.

Changing the scenery a bit, this time the writers have Ghoulies go to a Carnival. Yes after escaping from a vat of what looks to be toxic waste, our Ghoulies hitch a ride on a traveling carnival semi, which just happens to be the "house of horrors" exhibit. After setting up, our little bastards start killing people and putting them on display in the attraction. In order to get rid of the little shits, some carnies raise a gigantic ghoulie to eat them... but how do they stop the big one?

The ghoulies themselves are definitely more in the spotlight for this sequel but like the original, they look like melted stiff puppets. We get the same three basic ghoulies from the original along with a new alligator looking one. To top off the lame looking ghoulies, the film is also loaded up with stock characters and villains, our stock villain being a douche bag who wants to close down the carnival.

The directing is a definite bore as Charles Band employed his father Albert Band do direct and I have NEVER been a fan of Albert's directing "talents." He tends to make his films a complete bore to look (check out Zoltan, Hound of Dracula for more proof) and Ghoulies II is no different. Further proves that some producers should stick to producing.

I can't really bitch a lot about Ghoulies II because it's exactly what it is supposed to be, a dopey dumb little monster movie with PG-13 style shenanigans. The ghoulies are more frequent but the boring direction counterbalances it making this sequel no better, but also really no worse that the lame original. The series would forge on after this but without producer Charles Band and the later sequels would become more silly yet at the same time loading up on more adult themes like sex and nudity.

Written by Eric Reifschneider

Ghoulies - 1.5/5

Sick of having distributors fuck up the release of his films, Charles Band decided to found Empire Pictures in order to produce and distribute his own movies. Two of the first pictures Empire Pictures made was Re-Animator and Ghoulies and both were huge hits for the company. Re-Animator I can see as that is a great horror film... but Ghoulies? After watching this Gremlin turd it's hard to imagine why it was such a huge hit. You want to know why Ghoulies was a huge hit? Because of the amazing add campaign created by Charles Band which had a ghoulie popping up out of a toilet. It's a great concept for a poster and after he came up with the poster artwork, he had the film crew go back and shoot a quick scene of a ghoulie coming out of a toilet. The add campaign worked making Ghoulies a success and terrifying thousands of kids in the process as they were afraid something in the toilet was going to bite their ass off. I admit the poster artwork made me scared of the toilet when I was a kid. It's hard to believe now...

So what we have here is young college couple moving into an old mansion that the boyfriend recently inherited. When digging through the basement, he finds old occult artifacts that belonged to his father, who we saw in the pre-credits sequence as a sadistic warlock. Tempted by the artifacts, he starts following in his father's footsteps and in the process raises some ghoulies from hell and freaking his girlfriend out in the process. Pretty soon his father is resurrected from the grave and it becomes a duel of the warlocks by the end.

The ghoulies are basically little demons about the size of a blender and to honest they don't do a whole lot in the movie. They are just there in the background as our main villain the warlock is our main focus. John Carl Buckluer's special effects are also rather lackluster and the ghoulies look pretty silly, more like they are plastic toys of ghoulies that were left outside and melted a little due to the sun.

The acting is there and the directing by wirter/director Luca Bercovici is adequate but the film fails to generate any suspense, scares or shocks. Perhaps if the ghoulies had more to do with the story and looked a little better but as is the film just comes out being too violent and too many adult themes for kids and it's too damn dopey for adults, a problem that can hinder a lot of Band productions.

Ghoulies is no doubt a cash-in on the success of Gremlins and it would be the first film to show-case producer Charles Band's obsession with little killer creatures that would eventually lead up to such films as Dolls, Puppet Master, Demonic Toys, Blood Dolls, Gingerdeadman, and would even inspire three sequels. Even with its badness there's still a charm about Ghoulies, a charm that makes me enjoy these early Empire Picture efforts even though most of them are bad. The Empire films definitely have a better look to them than Charles Band's later company Full Moon Entertainment. That look and lots of nostalgia keep me coming back, revisiting Empire films like Ghoulies from time to time even if it is nothing more than a Gremlin turd.

Written By Eric Reifschneider