Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Contamination [Alien Contamination] (1980)

Director: Luigi Cozzi
Notable Cast: Ian McCulloch, Louise Marleau, Marino Mase

ARROW VIDEO SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation
  • Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Feature Commentary by filmmaker, Fangoria editor and Contamination super-fan Chris Alexander
  • Luigi Cozzi on the Creation of Contamination – an archive documentary hosted by the director and including behind-the-scenes footage
  • 2014 Q&A with Cozzi and star Ian McCulloch
  • Sound of the Cyclops: Goblin’s Maurizio Guarini on the music of Contamination – the Goblin keyboardist discusses Contamination’s dark, progressive rock score and a lifetime of making music for Italian terror
  • Imitation Is The Sincerest Form of Flattery – A critical analysis of the Italian “Mockbusters” trend of filmmaking which sought to capitalize on the success of Hollywood blockbusters
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Chris Alexander, illustrated with original archive stills and posters


  • New Arrow Video Blu Ray Release Cover
    After suffering through the retched Italian "Alien" rip-off "Alien 2: On Earth", I decided to revisit another retched Italian "Alien" rip-off with Luigi Cozzi's "Contamination". Why the hell would I want to do that? Wouldn't that be like eating a plate of shit and asking for seconds? Well the subtle difference between this and that asinine motion picture "Alien 2" is that this one actually manages to be entertaining in its sheer ineptitude as opposed to making the audience drowsy from boredom.

    A still capture is the extent of her acting ability in this movie.
    What we got here is an alien conspiracy to destroy all human life on Earth. A Brooklyn cop boards a drifting ship in New York's harbor (a scene very similar to the opening to Lucio Fulci's "Zombie") only to discover grisly corpses and thousands of pulsating green eggs. Before anyone makes a 'green ham' reference let me say up front that these are not eggs one wants to eat as they explode when ripe, covering people with some strange green goo which in turn makes the individuals chest and stomach explode and a barrage of blood and guts. Why do you ask? No other reason than because chests that burst out with blood and guts is EXTREME. These kiwis from hell are all somehow tied to a mars mission and a coffee plantation in South America where an Alien is mind controlling people to cultivate it's eggs and spread them for mass murder. Now it's up to an ugly female army colonel, a Brooklyn cop and an alcoholic ex-astronaut to save the world.... I guess that means we're all fucked.

    Why in the holy hell would the United States only send three people, two not even military or scientists, to scope out this egg farm when they know damn well it could be the start of an apocalyptic wave of chest bursting? Wouldn't we want to send the entire armed forces along with scientists to... I don't know... save the possible demise of the human race? This is one of only many ridiculous plot aspects of this silly little film but they all only manage to add to the sheer hilarity of this unintentional laugh fest. My personal favorite is after landing in South America our Colonel has an assassination attempt on her with an egg yet they go on later in the day going to the coffee plantation posing as possible buyers when it's obvious the assholes already know who they are! And they wonder why they were captured so flippin' easy. All I have to say is if these are the best people we got to save the world then the human race deserves to die.

    Director Luigi Cozzi (using his Americanized pseudonym Lewis Coates) was definitely inspired by "Alien" for this flick with the "egg" concept and even the "chest bursting" sequences but he also throws in a little "James Bond" type world domination plot device as well as a few nods to 50s B-science fiction films. Hell there is even a reference to an old "Star Trek" episode by having the Alien eggs be silicon based as opposed to carbon. What kills the film is the awful (yet hilarious) dialogue, insane plot holes and ultra cheezy effects. Cozzi does what he can to salvage the film from the silly effects with some clever editing tricks but only he is to blame for the awful dialogue... but it's wonderfully awful dialogue so I can't harp on him too much for that.

    Giving your heart to the Cyclops. One explosion at a time.
    Against Cozzi fashion the filmmakers casted a rather homely woman as our lead considering Cozzi is known for having gorgeous bombshells in his pictures (most notably the curvy Caroline Munro who ran around in a space bikini in "StarCrash"). Underrated British actor Ian McCulloch (whom Italian cult film fans may recognize from "Zombie" and "Zombie Holocaust") saves the picture as the alcoholic astronaut who doesn't like his manhood criticized.

    Sure "Contamination" (released in the U.S. cut as "Alien Contamination") is bad but how could a conspiracy film with green eggs (pulsating to a hilarious sound effect), a mission to mars, a cyclops alien, gut bursting gore, an alcoholic astronaut, an exploding rat and another bad ass score from the rock group Goblin not be at least a little entertaining. For fans of bad yet entertaining Italian trash.... you have yourself a treasure trove with "Contamination."

    Written By Eric Reifschneider

    ARROW VIDEO BLU RAY RELEASE UPDATE

    As you can tell from Eric's enthusiastic review of Contamination, the film tends to spark a lot of unintentional humor and opinions from its fan base. So it's not a huge surprise that it would be one of the films that cult cinema distribution label Arrow Video would want to endorse. The film is, generally speaking, quite terrible - but there is a lot to love in its cheesy, often mind boggling energy. The latest blu ray release of the film features that same kind of energetic dedication to the cause. The new high definition transfer is a stunner and the release is packed with a slew of special features that any Italian genre fan is going to want to check out. Sure Contamination might leave a lot to be desired when it comes to common sense, but if you're a fan of B-grade horror science fiction then it's common sense that you're going to want to dig into this release.

    Written By Matt Reifschneider

    So if an Italian film about pulsating eggs hatched by a conspiracy led by a cycloptic Martian sounds like your flavor of cinema, you can order your copy of the film at the link below. Courtesy of our friends at Arrow Video and MVD Entertainment!

    Halloween (2007) - 2/5

    It dawned on me the other day that even though I have a review up for the abysmal "Halloween II", this site was lacking a review for Rob Zombie's "Halloween". Thusly, I tucked up my balls, cracked my fingers, and busted out my director's cut Blu Ray that I bought from Wal-Mart for cheap dirt. In all honesty, I hadn't seen this version of the film yet (I hadn't seen this movie since opening weekend of its theatrical release) and thought it was time to revisit a much loved/hated picture and dig up those repressed memories of it. This is what I gathered.

    Micheal Myers' family life is not good. Nor is it well written. He has a mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) who desperately tries to do her best, but constantly makes poor choices. Michael tries to be like the other kids, but his lacking conscience and love for pain makes it a bit tough. On a Halloween night, he loses himself and slaughters his family except for his baby sister when his mother is at work. For the next decade, Michael is incarcerated and studied by Loomis (McDowell), until one night an opportunity unleashes this evil man into the world again. Now he's headed back home to find his sister. It's going to be a hellish Halloween.

    To this day, I'm torn on "Halloween". Rob Zombie has a very unique and distinct visual style that really works in this modernized take of the John Carpenter classic and it allows for some very cool looking shots and ideas to develop in this film. He does jump scares quite well and utilizes the silent tension of the second half to balance his bursts of extreme violence nicely. Zombie knows how the film should work on a visual level and for that this film earns its 2 out of 5.

    Besides that though, "Halloween" derails in a sort of plot hole ridden train wreck of writing. As I have always claimed with Rob Zombie, his writing is obviously his weakest point and this film suffers handedly from it. The first half (which is Zombie's original 'prequel' aspect to this remake that explains and displays Myers as a child and what happens) has atrocious dialogue that beats the viewer with obscenities and random violence. Again, visually its quite exhilarating, but dropping f-bombs and brushing over years and years of story in an hour doesn't do it any favors.  This only leaves an entire film (the original "Halloween" story) for the film to brush over in an hour and again, it doesn't do it any favors. It's like watching a horror movie on fast forward for two hours where seemingly important scenes are missing or quickly blasted through with some horrible dialogue.

    I appreciate that Zombie wanted to develop his own aspect of the movie (its origins), but it also deviates from what made the original "Halloween" such a scary movie. That being motivation. What made Carpenter's film work was our protagonists battling against something without reason or clear vision. It's people versus evil in man form. Zombie's version, humanizes the villain with its origins and leaves almost rooting for Michael to pull out of his darkness. Not rooting for Laurie or Loomis. This is an idea that looks good on paper, but didn't transfer well to film. It just leaves to many plot holes like the biggest one of the film - what does Michael plan to do with Laurie and how does he know its her?

    "Halloween" is far from being a crap shoot, but that's only because Zombie has some sweet visual style that really works here. Besides that though, the film has an over rushed plot ridden with holes, awful dialogue, and hit or miss acting making it one of my most disappointing remakes out there.

    Written By Matt Reifschneider

    Monday, March 28, 2011

    Alien 2: On Earth - 1/5

    In the realm of unofficial Italian sequels to American films there is what I consider the holy, or perhaps better described as unholy, trinity of 'sequels'. The first and most popular is of course "Troll 2" which in itself has become a huge cult favorite here in the States as of recent and desirably so as it is delightfully absurd. The second is Bruno Mattei's "Terminator II: Shocking Dark" which has yet to get a stateside release. The third is the 1980 film "Alien 2: On Earth", a so-called follow-up to Ridley Scott's groundbreaking film "Alien" and until recently was the most hard to come by of the three as it only got a VHS release in a handful of countries. Now thanks to Midnight Legacy we fans of cult cinema can finally get to see this obscure film which most cult fans knew about but few had actually seen. Well after finally seeing this hard to come by picture it's easy to see why it was so damn obscure and hard to get as it is fucking terrible, and not in the likable "Troll 2" fashion.

    Despite its title the plot has nothing to do with Ridley Scott's "Alien." That masterpiece was a futuristic space film where this puddle of alien piss takes place in modern 1980 and thanks to our subtitle we know it takes place on Earth. The clunky, stock footage filled introduction tells us, very clumsily, that a space capsule is on its way back to earth. It seems to have carried an Alien rock with it which somehow falls into the hands of a group of cave explorers. The explorers bring the rock into a cave their exploring only to have the rock "hatch" unleashing a monster that starts killing them off one-by-one.

    The narrative of the plot is appalling. It's sloppy and confusing and most audiences will be lost within the first 15 minutes on what the fuck is going on. The abundance of muddy looking stock footage and long drawn out boring sequences of characters walking, driving and pointlessly talking only serve to confuse and put the audience to sleep. The worst sequence has to be when our explorer group get prepped for their exploration by going bowling which just drags on and on and on.

    To go along with the detestable plot narrative is a plethora of plot holes and aspects that are never explained. Where did the astronaut crew pick up the "alien" rocks. Why does our head cave explorer suddenly have psychic abilities (and why didn't she see the alien onslaught coming?). Why does the alien eat off people's faces only later to have their faces be intact? Why the hell did the director think this film deserved to hold the "Alien" title? Why the hell was this movie ever made?

    To go along with the poor plot we get loathsome directing which is amateurish at best. I guess it matches the director's writing as director Ciro Ippolito, hiding under the pseudonym of Sam Cromwell, is guilty for both credits. The Alien itself is another point to bring up as it the special effects are shoddy and the alien is rarely shown. Most of the time we are given an Alien POV shot which looks like we're looking through the alien's asshole.

    I am fan of bad Italian films and it pains me to say that "Alien 2: On Earth" is a complete waste of time. I can't think of one measly aspect to praise the film about as nothing, absolutely nothing is good about it. It's not even good by bad Italian movie standards. Everything from the score to the effects to the plot is downright atrocious. Atrocious, now that's good word to sum up this film. As a matter of fact they should have called this film "Atrocious". The films only novelty is its title and curious film goers like me are bound to pick it up but trust me when I say that this is the WORST "Alien" rip-off I have ever seen... and I've seen a lot. If you want a bad yet insanely entertaining Italian "Alien" rip-off then hunt down Luigi Cozzi's "Contamination". Now that's a bad film that was worthy of the title "Alien 2."

    Written By Eric Reifschneider

    Masters Of Horror: Sick Girl - 4/5

    Directed By Lucky McKee (known for "May")

    Despite some reluctance towards self confidence, Ida (Bettis) decides to face the sketching girl in the hall and ask her out. She's afraid that her job as a 'bug scientist' and her pets at home will scare her off. Her new unknown specimen seems to be very aggressive, you know. Lucky for her, this new girlfriend is thrilled by the idea and soon they hit it off and are living together. When her girlfriend starts showing strange personality changes, Ida begins to suspect her new insect might have something to do with it.

    Lucky McKee burst onto the scene with his dark, often humorous, and stellar "May" but has seemingly done little since then. Thusly, having an episode of "Masters Of Horror" is quite a treat and he does wonders with it. Often coming off as Cronenbergian with its parallel human psychology and its physical horror, "Sick Girl" is a demented and darkly funny episode that hits all the right spots when its on. It might be a little too over the top for its own good with its caricature like lead and oddly paced style for it to be perfect (in all honesty, most of this is due to its limited run time and would have been gloriously fleshed out in full length film I believe), but "Sick Girl" likes to pair its colors thick with special effects and clever dialogue. It has its tongue firmly planted in cheek for the most part and its this fun aspect of it that really balances the serious human de-evolution nicely. It's expertly executed on most fronts and one of my favorites from season one.

    Written By Matt Reifschneider

    Sunday, March 27, 2011

    Iron Monkey - 4/5

    Despite having one of my favorite actors in it (Donnie Yen) and being hand guided to the American film going audience by Quentin Tarantino, "Iron Monkey" remained elusive to my viewing. This particular statement was spurred by my waiting for the original version of the film (rumor has it the American version is heavily changed) to be released here, but alas it just became too long of a wait and I finally caved in. Turns out even in this Americanized format, "Iron Monkey" is a blast of old school kung fu done with a modern touch that pleases fans of the genre. "Iron Monkey" is a hell of a fun-fu flick.

    Dr. Yang (Yu Rongguang) is a kind doctor who has been treating the residents of a corrupt village. The governor handedly wastes money and hordes it from the people with little in the way of resistance. Now, during the nigh, Dr. Yang, with the help of his lovely partner Miss Orchid (Jean Wang) robs the rich to give to the poor as a highly skilled martial artist known as Iron Monkey. When a medicine man visits from a far (Donnie Yen), he and his highly trained son Wong Fei-hung (Angie Tsang) are used to find Iron Monkey.

    Director Yuen Woo-Ping (known for working with Jet Li in multiple assets and as the fight choreographer for numerous films including "The Matrix" and "Kill Bill" in America), really knows how to keep that classic kung fu style even in modern times. The fists and feet fly with rapid intensity through numerous memorable sequences as we get all kinds of classic combat situations. It's gloriously over the top with its acting and fight style (Woo-Ping loves to have his fighters be able to do super human feats of strength and agility including leaping at great heights and balancing on heads) while it still retains much of the golden moral lessons as the classics did. As a recent classic kung fu film, "Iron Monkey" flies off the hinges in awesomeness.

    One aspect of "Iron Monkey" that seemingly falls flat, is its political and social satire. Supposedly in this American version of the film, most of it was cut out for fear that audiences would fail to get it (being as it was theatrically released in the US they were probably right), but it leaves the film feeling a bit hollow at times. As if there was more to it then there is. Even the comedic bits, most of it being satirical towards politics and the situation, feels heavily edited. Although it was a smarter move for Miramax to do so for its release, those of us who do care would love to see what was changed put back in for what would probably be a better kung fu movie experience.

    As is, "Iron Monkey" is still a great film that fires on most of its cylinders to create a memorable and exciting watch. It's stylish in its presentation with amazing over-the-top fight sequences and borderline mythological plot points that really make for a fun 'another time, another place' story. Woo-Ping does it ably and with a little help from producer Tsui Hark, they create a great film. Highly recommended. Let's just hope we see an 'uncut international' version sometime in the future.

    Written By Matt Reifschneider

    Hands Up Dead Man! You're Under Arrest - 2.5/5

    You know you're rummaging through the most obscure films the genre has to offer when you pick up films with awkward titles like "Hands Up Dead Man! You're Under Arrest". It's easy to see this wasn't the original title as the English version I have has an equally awkward title sequence spliced in with background images and music that clashes with the title and opening pre-title sequence.

    The film opens atmospherically showing the aftermath of a massacre during the Civil War. A young doctor (Peter Lee Lawrence) is tending to the wounds of the dying soldiers when a sadistic enemy commander enters the hospital, brutally killing all the wounded as he doesn't want to take prisoners. He challenges our doctor, who proves he couldn't take him on, before getting shot in the hand and escaping. Years later our doctor has become a Texas Ranger who roams into a small town undercover as a perfume salesman in order to get vengeance on the sadistic commander. Our commander is now a successful land baron killing local land owners in order to gain property for an upcoming railroad.

    The DVD box claims the film to be a "gothic" western but I wouldn't use such a term to praise this rather average Spaghetti Western. Sure the opening is atmospheric and eye catching but overall the film lacks style and looks overall cheap. Director León Klimovsky also injects some awkward humor sequences, one being our hero yelling timber after knocking a guy out. We also get a priest who laughs with glee as our hero guns down men. Does this sound like an element of a "gothic" western? Hardly!

    I also wasn't keen on young star Peter Lee Lawrence. He made his first Spaghetti Western appearance "For Few Dollars More" and filmmakers later utilized his good looks in nearly 20 more westerns to come. He just comes off as an cocky pretty boy that has no business being in a genre known for more extreme violence. If I were a young Italian girl I might of liked him but as is he just doesn't fit in with the genre. Maybe if I see more films with him he'll grow on me but he hardly won me over with this outing.

    "Hands Up Dead Man! You're Under Arrest" (also known as "Raise Your Hands, Dead Man, You're Under Arrest") is an obscure spaghetti western from the vaults and is ONLY for the most hardcore fans of the genre. It lacks style, looks cheap and the main star hardly seemed like he could carry a western. A decent villain and an atmospheric opening are really the only things I can praise this Spaghetti Western for. There are a lot BETTER films the genre has to offer before anyone delves into this obscure entry.

    Written By Eric Reifschneider

    Coffy - 3.5/5

    How do you like your coffee? If you prefer it tan and sweet then you're going into the wrong movie as you're going to get a mouthful of hot black and bitter fluid with "Coffy", one of the quaint essential blaxploitation films of the early 70s that catapulted Pam Grier into super-stardom.

    Coffy is mad, as in royally pissed off at all the druglords in the L.A. area. You see drugs killed her brother and put her sister in the hospital so she puts her high profile career as an assistant surgeon at risk to beat the streets at night, waging her wonderful ass in front of high profile drug lords only to blow their asses away. She even pulls a "Yojimbo" by pitting powerful druglords against one another before getting her ultimate revenge on her boyfriend that happens to be a corrupt political figure up for senator.

    Pam Grier, shall I say, wasn't hired for her wonderful acting ability. In some scenes she is downright awful and it's obvious she was hired for other "assets". Her poor acting on the bright side actually adds to the likability of the film and it's easily to see why she became such a cult icon of the blaxploitation genre. Sexy and absolutely deadly as she won't hesitate to drop her pants and not long after splatter your brains against the wall.

    Director Jack Hill was new to the Blaxploitation genre and being white didn't know if he could make a good one as he wasn't familiar with the culture. Boy oh boy did he prove everyone wrong as he nailed it! Not only does he provide a likable black female lead but he knows what it takes to make an exploitative revenge film work as he loads the film with extreme violence and nudity (of both the white and black race). The violence is what shocked me the most as the film opens with Coffy blowin' a guy's head off. Holy shit! She even drives a car through the front of a house to mow some guys down. Go, Coffy, go! Get those druglord bastards!

    This is low budget, exploitative blaxploitation at it's best and most shameless. Sure the acting is bad and some of the dialogue is downright laughable but it has all the essential ingredients for an enjoyable blaxploitation picture. If you're looking for Shaft-like classiness then look somewhere else my friends as Coffy is no-holds bared extreme Blaxploitation entertainment.

    Bonus Praise: Is that a young, thin Sid Haig I see? Why shit on a gooses ass it is! Most people know him from Rob Zombie's more recent horror films like "House of 1000 Corpses" and "The Devil's Rejects" but don't know him from his classic era films from the 70s and 80s like "Coffy" and "Galaxy of Terror". Seeing Sid Haig in these old cult films always brings a smile to my face.

    Written By Eric Reifschneider

    Art Of War, The (2000) - 1.5/5

    Wesley Snipes is in dire need of a serious comeback. Since his "Blade" franchise crashed after its third entry and his fall from grace courtesy of the IRS, its as if he can only do the occasional direct to video affair. Thusly, to promote those good memories of one of the most loved (and hated) action stars from my childhood, I decided to take a gander at his spy thriller "The Art Of War". Oh yeah. Now I know why his career tanked!

    Shaw (Snipes) isn't your usual spy. He doesn't work for some fancy country or government. He works for the US (can I get a...what what?!). And when his final mission goes awry and a Chinese ambassador gets assassinated (along with his best friend played by Biehn), he seems to be the only suspect for the crime. Now with the FBI up on his ass along with some very pissed Triads, Shaw has to find the one witness to clear his name and put the puzzle together. Can a man who doesn't exist clear a name that doesn't either?

    I love me a spy thriller. Hell, I even watch the exercise in mediocrity that was "Knight And Day". "The Art Of War" is just as mediocre and ridiculous though. The problem with this film is that the potential was there. The US covert ops was a bit ridiculous, but the rest could have been a keen and sharp little 'whodunnit' film. It just doesn't work. We get a story that's quickly brushed through and rather uninspiring with its characters and twists. Not something to really build a deep mystery on. Part of this is to blame on poor directing. He paces the film awfully (enough fucking flashbacks already! One for what we saw moments ago?!) and his lack of charisma really packs on a very un-heartfelt execution. It's the most frustrating part of this movie.

    "The Art Of War" also fails to really hone in on its cast. Snipes can be a very strong (and funny) presence on the screen, but this is rarely seen here. He just sort of floats through 'spy cliches 101' for the majority of the film and only occasionally rise above it (most with some fun interactions with Biehn that can be a little forced too). Even the supporting cast seems on auto pilot. How can Donald Sutherland do wrong? Okay, that's perhaps the wrong question to ask, but seriously, he should have owned that role. Only Biehn seems capable of really digging into his shallow role and it's far too brief for the film.

    "The Art Of War" is just disappointing from its crappy title screen to its final moments in Paris. The potential is there, but with a poorly written script and a director with no charm (what happened to the guy from "Screamers"?), its left out in the cold with the wolves for dead. Only occasional moments can't save it, or us, from drowning poorly executed film making.

    Written By Matt Reifschneider

    Cynic, the Rat and the Fist, The - 3.5/5

    "The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist"... what a title. It reminds me of another famous film... hmm... what could it be. Perhaps "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly"? Is this similarly titled Italian crime action thriller going to live up to the reputation of the more famous spaghetti western that inspired it's namesake? That would be a negatory but as a sequel to the enjoyable Poliziotteschi "Rome Armed to Teeth" this is an entertaining slice of Italian crime pizza.

    Maurizio Merli reprises his role as Inspector Leonardo Tanzi except this time he isn't an inspector. It seems after the events of "Rome Armed to the Teeth" Tanzi grew sick of the backward legal system being "kindhearted" to the corrupted fifth tearing apart Rome and has resigned and now makes a living writing detective novels. All is going well until one of his arch rivals known as "The Chinaman" (Tomas Milian) gets released from prison and sets his sights on getting revenge. After a failed assassination attempt on Tanzi, the police send him away to avoid being murdered but Tanzi decides to take vengeance himself. Tanzi decides to pull a "Yojimbo" (or a "Fistful of Dollars" if your more of a western fan) by setting up The Chinaman against his mafia business partner Frank Di Maggio (John Saxon). Knowing director Umberto Lenzi's hyper violent style it's safe to assume the streets of Rome are going to be running red.

    The filmmakers decide to mix up Merli's role here a bit by not having him play an inspector, commisioner or anything cop related. He instead is an ex-cop going vigilante to save his ass. This new approach to the typical Merli character was refreshing but I would be lying if I didn't miss his confrontational arguments with his superiors about his violent ways.

    It's also nice to see Tomas Milian return but don't be confused as he doesn't play the same hunchbacked villain he did in the previous film "Rome Armed to the Teeth." When I first saw this film a few years ago I actually thought he played the same character. Yes I know he got shot with a machine gun in the back at the end of the last film but this hasn't stopped character's in Italian crime thrillers from coming back before. Merli's character in the "Inspector Betti" trilogy got blown away with a machine gun at the end of the first two films yet managed to return unscathed in the next entry. But alas I digress as even though Milian's "Chinaman" character isn't the same as his hunchback villain he still plays both roles very similarly; both are slimy, despicable characters willing to blow anything that gets in his way for personal gratification. Why is he called "The Chinaman"... not sure as Milian sure doesn't look like he has Asian heritage. It's like calling Clint Eastwood's character "Blondie" in "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" despite obviously he doesn't have blond hair.

    Umberto Lenzi is back to his violent ways as he loads up the film with exploitation goodness in the action department but he does inject a little more humor than he did in his previous Poliziotteschi crime films. Some of the humor works and some doesn't (like Merli making a goon say "cheese" before hitting him with a camera).

    Compared to Lenzi's previous 3 poliziotteschi films "Almost Human", "Rome Armed to the Teeth" and "Violent Naples" this comes up a hair short. The added humor mostly works against the powerful exploitative action scenes but overall it is still an entertaining, tasty edition to anyone's Euro Crime collection. The best DVD edition available is a release from Alfa Digital Entertainment which can easily be obtained through amazon.com, eBay or by special order by our friends at Plausible Denial Productions.

    Written By Eric Reifschneider

    Masters Of Horror: Cigarette Burns - 4.5/5

    Directed By John Carpenter (known for "Halloween", "They Live", "The Thing" and oh so many more)

    An emotional torn and often battered for money movie theater owner and fanatic (Reedus) is given the opportunity of a life time. He is hired by an elite film collector (Kier) to track down one of the most rare and controversial films ever, La Fin Absolue du Monde. A film that supposedly drives everyone who sees it made with homicidal rage. As our hero Kirby begins to scour the world for this elusive film, he begins to discover that not all myth is exaggerated and finds himself spiraling into a nightmarish existence where the lines of madness and reality blur.

    Although John Carpenter's film output in has been...well, less than stellar as of late, his first "Masters Of Horror" episode is a crazy one. It's clever, taunt, and expertly paced for the series and it truly utilizes his style to its efficient best (even if he claims the style to be watered down for this episode). It still retains those over-the-top Carpenter moments, a chained up angel for example, but its foundations in the real world is what makes it so effectively creepy and horrifying. It's got a great cast to go with it, although Reedus can be rather wishy washy in the more stretched emotions of his character, and with a stellar score by Carpenter's son it really works to bring light to a tale of nightmares. This is the style that Carpenter should have embraced in the 90s and beyond - this episode does have a distinct "In The Mouth Of Madness" vibe to it - and its one of the stronger episodes of the first season. It even caters to that 'horror film fan base' that Carpenter has been a root of for decades. A must see episode for the series.

    Written By Matt Reifschneider

    Saturday, March 26, 2011

    Man From Nowhere, The - 4.5/5

    When it has come to really great genre films, it seems that South Korea is cornering the market. From thrillers like "The Chaser" and "Oldboy" to off beat westerns like "The Good The Bad The Weird", its great film after great film making their way overseas to us here in the US. I couldn't be more thankful. That's why when "The Man From Nowhere" finally got its release, I had to see it. Only to NOT be disappointed and have this country continue on their onslaught of great films.

    Cha Tae-sik (Won Bin) really just wants to be left alone to run his crappy pawn shop, but this hard-not-to-love little girl (Kim Sae-ron) and her drug addict mother won't leave him be. Alas, he does grow attached to our young girl and when So-mi and her mother are kidnapped by some very serious drug dealers trying to pin a major crime on him, he decides to conjure up a past self he's been trying to stifle for years. Now its a race against time to save a little girl's life and one man is ready to bring a lot of war to a lot of bad people.

    "The Man From Nowhere" strikes a balance between dramatic character study and pure relentless badass bad-guy beat downs. Although the film does occasionally seem to go a bit over the top, its this pure adrenaline rush of emotion that we are fed through the subtlety of Tae-sik's character that drives this film into 'kick ass mode'. It's a revenge/thriller wrapped in a bit of spy game that's prime for great cult character legend making.

    The kind of execution that is required to sell a story like this is unprecedented. Everything has to be on cue for it to work, and it is. Lee Jeong-beom's directing really sports a slick combination of old school 'character watching' and a modern action style that ably navigates between the two genres not unlike many of the comparisons that this film has held to "Oldboy", but being far less out there with its plot. The realism of the story is held down with this well paced film and its amazing acting that makes many of its more ridiculous moments seem perfectly natural. Won Bin destroys with seething subtlety as our lead (a far reach in character, but just as great as his performance in "Mother") whose transformation throughout is riveting to watch and the supporting cast is just as solid with particular nod to our young girl.

    If you are looking for another great thriller with plenty of action sequences to carry one through its two hour run time, then "The Man From Nowhere" is perfect. It's got strong execution for its story (although I would have loved to see a bit more from our police officers as they disappear as the film goes on) and its enough of an emotional rollercoaster to get even the hardest hearts to crack a little by the end. This perhaps leads the charge for favorite film of 2011 at this time, even if it was a 2010 film outside the US, and comes with high recommendations.

    Written By Matt Reifschneider

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011

    Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem [AVP:R] - 1/5

    When one realizes that they fucked up the titled for this film (this one being "Aliens" and the first one being "Alien"), its hard to have hope for it even though one would think they should have learned from their previous film. It's this lack of hope and dire depression that make "Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem", sometimes abbreviated as "AVP:R" as if that's easier to say or type, a great film to laugh at. Yes, to laugh at. Not to laugh with. Once again, even with Aliens and a Predator throw down (and the appearance of the Predalien) this film fails on almost all aspects and comes off as an incoherent, protagonist-less, and often poorly lit film that simply fails to improve on anything from the original.

    After the Alien youngster pops from the chest of the dying Predator at the end of the first spin off, there is all sorts of shit that goes down on the Predator ship. Including shooting itself down into a crash landing in Colorado. There some facehuggers get out and under the watchful eye (that's awkward) of the Predalien, they begin to infect the small town population. On the Predator home world, one badass Predator is sent to clean up. Oh. And some people get caught in the middle, but really...who gives a shit. We get more beat downs between other worldly creatures!

    After re-watching this film (believe it or not I saw this in theaters the first time), I still have significant trouble trying to logically put this film together. It's just a mess of plot that rarely makes sense half the time. Our human protagonists, and there is a lot of them, are all weakly constructed, poorly acted, and rarely sympathetic to the audience. The "Dawson Creek" bullshit that was 'back story' was achingly cliche (about as cliche as a wide range of people) and the plot has to move at lightning pace to pack it all in, never giving us a chance to give a shit. Just like its predecessor, "AVP:R" (cringe) seriously lacks strong leads and heroes to root for. When the character Jesse bites it, I have to admit, I laughed my ass off. That's not how it should work, folks.

    The rest of the film rarely does anything for me either. They finally got an 'R' rating for this one and then they seemingly throw in gore for the sake of gore. Don't get me wrong, I love me some gore, but here its a whole lot of nonsense. The special effects are good (this gives the film a half star!) and its still bad ass to see a Predator throw down with the Predalien (that's the other half!), but the poor lighting make for the gore and action sequences to be a rather blurry experience. It's hard to appreciate some great monster fights when you're squinting the entire time. 

    Although it was nice to see more Predator and Aliens on film again, even nostalgia couldn't save this film from circling the drain. It's got a couple of solid moments (mostly ruined by nut-punch worthy dialogue or horrid lighting), but its lack of a cohesive narrative and by the numbers music video directing make it a film that's hard to sit through. Like the first, take a moment and have a good laugh at its expense, knowing full well that despite its stupidity it still made a shit load of money continuing to fuck with our beloved franchises. Might as well laugh, otherwise you just may cry.

    BONUS RANT: What the hell is with the impregnation that the Predalien preforms to create more of its kind? Is it a Queen Alien mixed with a Predator? Why would the genetic make up suddenly change like that? IS THAT HOW PREDATORS REPRODUCE?! WHY AM I YELLING?! FUCK LOGIC! JUST GO WITH IT!

    Written By Matt Reifschneider

    Monday, March 21, 2011

    Moment to Kill, The - 3.5/5

    I don't know why it took me so long to finally get around to seeing George Hilton Spaghetti Westerns. I always liked the guy in Gialli and Poliziotteschi outings but for some reason his Spaghetti Westerns always remained out of my reach for viewing. Now after finally seeing a few I can honestly say he's becoming one of my all time favorite stars with "The Moment to Kill" being my personal favorite as it is a fine example of the genre.

    Hilton is a bounty hunter traveling the country side with his trusty thick companion Bull when they come across a small town where the Justice of the Peace is on the hunt for a hidden treasure of Confederate gold. A Confederate general hid the gold in his dilapidated mansion in hopes it would be used to fund another onslaught against the north now Hilton must solve a riddle with the help of the General's wheelchair bound daughter to locate the secret hiding place. Double crosses and plot twists are abound as everyone seems to be out for the gold themselves.

    Hilton is in top form here playing a little more serious version of his usual quirky cowboy characters. Director Giulano Carmineo (under the Americanized pseudonym Antohy Ascott) also brings all the typical elements of the genre and blends them together in an entertaining mixture of stylish shootouts, sundried landscapes, creaky southern manors, a hidden cache of gold and smokin' hot babes in wheel chairs. He is even able to craft some well placed humor into the mix adding to the overall enjoyment.

    "The Moment to Kill" (released in some countries as an unofficial "Django" sequel) is an extremely entertaining example of the genre and thanks to Wild East's George Hilton Double Feature with "Full House for the Devil" it is no longer hard to come by. With its fast pace, well placed humor, nasty villains and wonderful whistle along score this will be a must see for fans of the genre. Not the best the genre has to offer but a gratifying one that any spaghetti nut will dig and my personal favorite of George Hilton so far.

    Bonus Praise: I love the scene where Hilton throws his spur into a guys neck. How often do you see that in a western? NEVER and only a Spaghetti Western would have the balls to play off such a ridiculous idea seriously. Go Hilton!

    Written By Eric Reifschneider

    Sunday, March 20, 2011

    Caliber 9 - 4.5/5

    After the popularity of the Spaghetti Western began to fall out of public favor the genre morphed into the Poliziotteschi crime thrillers. Taking inspiration from the gritty American films "The French Connection" and "Dirty Harry", Poliziotteschi films were basically Spaghetti Westerns modernized into the 70s. Horses became cars and revolvers became machine guns. Many of the spaghetti western predominate actors and filmmakers jumped into the new genre head on and one of these men was filmmaker Fernando Di Leo. Though he dabbled in the Spaghetti Western genre by writing a number of features he finally got to direct his dream project with "Caliber 9", the first of his "Milieu Trilogy" which would be followed by "The Italian Connection" and "The Boss". For my money his "Milieu Trilogy" is to the Poliziotteschi genre what Sergio Leone's "Man With No Name" trilogy was to the spaghetti western genre. It's a bold statement I know but most fans of the genre will agree that Fernando Di Leo directed the most respectable films the genre has to offer with "Caliber 9" being his crown achievement.

    Gastone Moschin portrays Ugo, a Mafia hitman recently released from prison. As soon as he leaves the prison he gets hassled by goons from his old boss about 300,000 lira that he supposedly stole. On the other side he gets hassled by the cops to get them information on his old boss. He hooks up with his old girlfriend (Barbara Bouchet) and somehow gets hired by his old boss. Can he find the people that took the money before he gets nailed by his boss or the cops biting at his heels?

    "Caliber 9" is not your average Poliziotteschi thriller as it is much more serious and character driven then most of the other popular films in the genre. The acting here is surprisingly excellent with not a weak actor in the bunch. The standouts for me are Mario Adorf as a skeezy hitman and Frank Wolff as an eccentric, loud police commissioner. I've seen Frank Wolff in dozens of these genre films and this is by far his best performance that I've witnessed.

    Fernando Di Leo's directing style is a lot more restrained and less flashy than his director brethren. His approach is much more standard with the focus of the film being more on the intriguing characters and plot. To be honest I do prefer my Italian films to be me more flashy in the directing department hence why I'm such a big fan of Enzo G. Castellari's and Umberto Lenzi's crime outings but there's no denying Fernando's characters and plot are much stronger and intriguing making for a much better, respectable film.

    I can't say I enjoyed "Caliber "9 more than other films in the genre like "Rome Armed to the Teeth" and "The Big Racket" because I didn't. I enjoyed those films for different reasons as they were more over-the-top with violence and action with dynamic directing with flashy camera angles. "Caliber 9" is more classy, elegant and respectable as it focuses more on characters, plot and all around good filmmaking. For that I give the film respect and that is why I say it is, arguably of course, the best film the genre has to offer... just not the most entertaining in my eyes.

    Written By Eric Reifschneider

    Alien Vs Predator [AVP] - 1.5/5

    Combining the worlds of the Alien and the Predator has been in cult culture for a long time. Numerous video games, comics, novels. You name it. The universes had collided. The last frontier to be explored with this crossover was film, which is where the two foreign monsters were birthed ironically. Thusly, when it came time for the film, Fox put the highly anticipated picture into the watchful hands of writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson. Hold on. They let him write it too?! That's why we were given a visually slick, but poorly written action/sci fi film featuring two of my most loved film friends...the Alien and the Predator.

    When a random burst of heat energy in the Antarctic circle draws the attention of Charles Weyland (Henriksen), he sets about to build a team of explorers to uncover one of histories oldest pyramids. Unfortunately, their expedition runs into an issue when they discover that the pyramid is used as a training facility for Predators (the universe's ultimate fucking warrior!) where they hunt the serpent like Aliens. Now it's a free for all with the universe's three most deadly creatures...and man is third on that list.

    In all honesty, how can one not enjoy an "Alien Vs Predator" movie on some sort of level? The idea of combing the two universes is just so fucking cool. Anderson does do a few things right with this movie too. Despite his love of CGI (we all remember his bullshit version of Reptile from "Mortal Kombat" and if you don't...consider yourself lucky), he mostly sticks to the real thing here with kick ass special effects galore. The designs for the Predators is slick and the Aliens move and look they way they did decades ago. In fact, when he does use CGI it's a rather let down like the finale with the Alien Queen's rampage. Only occasionally is it forgivable, like when the facehuggers first burst from their eggs. Anderson has always been a man with an eye for visual flair and its all in spades here with set design, fight design, and special effects.

    The biggest and heaviest weight that burdens this film is the weak ass story. For a person that claimed to be an expert in both franchises, he sure does fuck it up a lot. Some of the details are cool, getting the right sound effects and really building the concepts to get the universes into one plane (although he borrows VERY heavily from the comics), be he does mess up significant plot points. For example, according to the "Predator" franchise, the hunters only come during the hottest periods of time on Earth. So why the hell are they going to Antarctica? I know they give a lame explanation (it wasn't always so cold there when they built the pyramid!), but screw that. It's a basic principal of the series and they should have addressed it properly. Predators in the snow look cool, but that's far from a good enough reason.

    The film also significantly lacks good heroes. When we talk about both franchises, they both successfully gave us deep and sympathetic protagonists. This one is far from it. Awful dialogue. Wooden actors. Poor development of character. Granted, when looking at an Alien and Predator film, its easy for fans to just root for our space monsters, but it would have been nice had Anderson took this as a call to arms to create a new hero to battle this generalization. Do we get a Ripley or Dutch? Hell no. We get a bunch of 2D 'beakers' that never rise to the occasion and just end up being fodder for the slaughter. Disappointing.

    I really do want to love this movie. On some level I do. It's fucking Aliens and Predators! FIGHTING! How can I not love seeing that in some form? It just doesn't move me like the previous franchises did. It lacks a cohesive story line that truly embraces the two filmographies and it severly lacks protagonists. On the other hand, it's fucking Aliens and Predators! FIGHTING! Oh well. Torn I will remain for enjoying this film for its concept but hating it for its lack of depth.

    BONUS RANT: I hate when they shorten titles. "AVP"? Seriously? Then of course, its not even a marketing gimmick. It actually says that on the damn movie! Oh for the love of Dutch!

    Written By Matt Reifschneider

    Hatchet II - 3/5

    It's no secret to those of you that follow Blood Brothers, that I am a pretty big Adam Green fan. The guy knows how to make genre films including the super suspenseful "Frozen" as his previous outing and his homage to classic American slashers, "Hatchet". Now that "Hatchet II" finally has been unleashed on home video, it briefly came to theaters but no where near where I live, it was only righteous of me to support him and get my hands on a copy of it. Although not quite as solid as the first, this sequel does what it does best (gore and humor) and those of you who are already fans, aka me, are going to eat it up.

    Marybeth (Harris...you know, Michael Myers niece from "Halloween 4" and "5") has survived the night with Victor Crowley, but the bodies of her father and brother still reside within his domain. In her unstable state, she decides it is her duty to get the bodies out and perhaps find a way to kill the mangled killer. She enlists the help of bayou trickster Reverend Zombie (Tony "I am rumor - Candyman" Todd) and a slew of hunters to go with her and kill the bastard once and for all. 

    If you enjoyed "Hatchet", then there is plenty more to love with "Hatchet II". Like any worthy American slasher sequel, its basically a rehashed version of the original with a slightly more complicated plot (interwoven with the original) and more gore. In this sense, the film works in spades. The kills are heftier with more gore and more ridiculousness including the return of the belt sander and an extra long and beastly chainsaw. The humor is also back with how over the top violent it is (you did just read about an extra long chainsaw, so guess how that goes) and how the cliche's of the story play out. It's this combination of its sheer brutality and quirky humor that plays on the slasher ABCs which makes this franchise a must have for horror fans and Adam Green knows his shit.

    On the other malformed hand, "Hatchet II" lacks the surprising solidity of the originator. We now KNOW what is coming and despite some great attempts at twisting it on the audience it never quite feels as fresh as one could hope. Bigger kills and the same humor are in full swing, but at times the film almost takes a serious turn with its new plot additions. I almost wanted it to go even more over the top with some of its moments like our eventual Rev. Zombie/Crowley showdown. I almost wanted to watch these two titans of horror seriously duke it out (maybe throw in a "Candyman" quote in there for good measure) before it ends. As is, basically get the same thing. Not a bad thing (I do still really enjoy the first one), but it felt lacking at times.

    All in all, "Hatchet II" is the essential slasher sequel. We get some things that are bigger and gorier, but its not as strong as its predecessor for various reasons. As a fan of Adam Green and the series, its hard for me not to have a love for this film despite its flaws though and I know its going to be a film I rewatch over and over again for the giddiness of what it is. 

    BONUS PRAISE: Dibs to Adam Green for not only knowing his horror of the past, but of the present as well. The reference to Leslie Vernon of "Behind The Mask" (another great modern slasher that references the classics) was priceless. Well done. 


    Written By Matt Reifschneider

    Violent Naples - 4/5

    After a successful team up with "Rome Armed to the Teeth", star Maurizio Merli and director Umberto Lenzi teamed up again to bring us the final film into the "Inspector Betti" trilogy, a follow-up to Merli's previous films "Violent Rome" and "A Special Cop in Action" with director Marino Girolami. Like expected Lenzi brings his style and adrenaline approach over into this series making it, at least in my book, the strongest of the three films and one of the best the Poliziotteschi genre has to offer.

    Inspector Betti (again surviving getting shot in the back with a machine gun at the end of "A Special Cop in Action"; remember continuity isn't a large concern for Italians) gets transferred to Naples to clean out the crime that is overtaking the city. Crime is so bad that he is nearly mowed over by a mob car moments after getting off the train. His methods are violent and brutal, controversial with his superiors but it gets the job done. In order to break down the protection racket bankrupting local businessmen, Merli takes on the local mob with deadly results.

    Merli is again perfect in the tough cop role who has to fight a two war front against the mob and his superiors. He's played this same role so many times that he could do it in his sleep. Yes it's not a stretch for Merli but he's just so damn perfect in these roles and I love seeing him time and again violently kick the shit out of scum. We even get to see the great John Saxon in a small role. No it's not the same role as in "A Special Cop in Action"... remember this is Italy. Much like Leone's "Man With No Name" Trilogy, a lot of the same actors return but not playing the same characters.

    Director Umberto Lenzi breaths new life into the "Insprector Betti" trilogy with his adrenaline hyped up style that he brought over with him from "Rome Armed to the Teeth." Nothing against Marino Girolami as his two previous entries were good films but "A Special Cop in Action" was lacking compared to "Violent Rome" and Lenzi is able to recapture the glory of the character and series. He has this film move a mile a minute with amazing, stylized fight scenes and high caliber chase sequences. As expected with Lenzi he also heightens up the violence and gore so no squeamish people are allowed. The most shocking bit of violence involves a fence with a spiked top which viewers will not soon forget.

    Umberto Lenzi's mile-a-minute style and Merli's sure hold on the character makes this for one of the most entertaining poliziotteschi films I have ever seen. The action never ends and the addition of more exploitation elements in the form of violence makes this one of the most unforgettable. For my money this is easily the best of the "Inspector Betti" trilogy and I even prefer this to "Rome Armed to the Teeth." If you must only see one Poliziotteschi film make it "Violent Naples" as it contains all the necessary ingredients for an entertaining Euro cult film. Don't worry about it being a sequel as like the Dirty Harry sequels, it can easily be viewed on its own without confusion.

    Written By Eric Reifschneider

    Saturday, March 19, 2011

    Rome Armed to the Teeth - 4/5

    By 1976 Maurizio Merli had played enough inspector roles in Poliziotteschi films to have his stock character down pat. In comes director Umberto Lenzi who proved he had what it took to make gritty, nasty crime films with his 1974 picture "Almost Human". Lenzi teams up with Merli to give audiences something a little different to the stock Merli film by adding loads of ultra violence, sleaze and political incorrectness. Not saying Merli films before didn't have these ingredients, just not to the extent Lenzi provides. He loads up on it so much that he almost seems to be taking some pokes at the genre while at the same time making one of the most memorable and entertaining examples the genre has to offer.

    Merli plays Inspector Tanzi, a tough as nails cop that hates criminals as much as he hates crime. So what makes this character different than his Inspector Betti character that he portrayed previously in "Violent Rome" and "A Special Cop in Action"? NOTHING. It's the exact same character just with a different name and if you like this particular character (and I do) then you're in for at treat. Tanzi uses any means necessary to get information from thugs, even by beating it out of them (usually by the trademark Merli bitch slap method). Tanzi's boss isn't keen on his violent methods and is constantly hounding him while he is on the trail of a psychotic thug known as "Il Gobbo", a hunchback played by Tomas Milian. Can Tanzi stop the flow of crime before he and his girl bite the dust?

    Merli is perfect as usual in his typical tough as nails cop role. I really dig how his characters have no scruples and are even more mean and nasty than his American counter-part Dirty Harry. Milian, one of my favorite Italian actors, however doesn't get enough credit for his role as the slimeball hunchback. He proved he had what it took to play these despicable characters in "Almost Human" and he proves it here again by re-teaming with director Umberto Lenzi. The rest of the cast is made of up strong stock Italian actors most notably Ivan Rassimov as a steal faced sleazball drug dealer.

    Umberto Lenzi amps up the violence and sleaze compared to earlier genre outings by other directors and in doing so makes this far more memorable. I had a wonderful time with his more over-the-top approach to the genre. Lenzi will always be more remembered for his unforgettable gore flicks like "Cannibal Ferox" and "Nightmare City" but his true achievements were in the poliziotteschi genre and "Rome Armed to the Teeth" being a prime example.

    "Rome Armed to the Teeth" has everything an Italian cult fanatic wants: Great cast, great score, fast paced action and hyped up uber violence and sleaze provided by director Umberto Lenzi. It may not be as serious or classy as the works of Fernando Di Leo but it's perhaps more entertaining and more memorable thanks to Lenzi's adrenaline, amped up approach. Lenzi, Merli and Milian would also team up for a sequel entitled "The Cynic, the Rat and the Fist."

    "Rome Armed to the Teeth" is a bitch to come by on DVD. Grindhouse Releasing is slated to release this film sometime in the future under the title "The Tough Ones" but considering the company puts out what seems like 1 DVD every 10 years I figured I would be dead before they did. I instead obtained a DVD release from a grey market company entitled Alfa Digital and put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into hunting it down. It was well worth the hunt. The release isn't as strong as legit companies like Blue-Underground and NoShame but for what it is I was astonished by the quality. 16X9 widescreen, silver pressed manufactured disc and all. Friendly people at a company called "Plausible Denial Productions" were nice enough to go out of their way to special order the DVD for me. If you would like to purchase this disc then visit their website by clicking here or shoot them an email: customerservice@plausible-denial.com

    Written By Eric Reifschneider

    Thursday, March 17, 2011

    Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow - 2.5/5

    Is there ever films that you love the concept so much that you try to force yourself to like the movie just on that alone? That's how "Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow" felt like for me. The concept of creating a modern 30s style film that homages everything classic in film, whilst giving us a rousing good sci fi/action feature just tickles me pink. And that's why "Sky Captain" is so devastating for me to watch. There is so much I want to love about it, but it just feels so...depthless.

    Joe (Law), the Sky Captain of a group of justice upholding renegade military types, has just been called back into action. All over the world a group of giant robots have been ransacking different parts and materials for some unknown reason and disappearing without a trace. With the help of Chronicle reporter Polly Perkins (Paltrow) - and ex-girlfriend - the Sky Captain is going to have to give chase around the world to discover a hidden plot by a maniacal doctor. This could be the end of the world unless Sky Captain can save the day once more!

    The biggest issue that repeated itself over and over and over and over again with "Sky Captain" was that I was constantly trying to create the world of the film and failing. This mostly can be attributed to the fact that it feels like a sequel the entire time. We are simply thrust into this parallel world of 1939 and given no clue to the rhyme or reason of it. A lot of these details are homages to the classics (the separate military like group that Sky Captain leads for example), but I still wanted a reason. It's as if Conran (director/writer) was throwing random shit in there for giggles. Why the hell did the mad doctor create a world of new creatures? Why did he experiment on the people of Shangri-La? The characters are relatively flat and given no real back story to make us empathize (and enough with the he said/she said BULLSHIT with Joe and Polly! Just repeating it doesn't make it a good backing plot!) or understand who they are. I wanted something more about Sky Captain, like a flash back to why he is who he is, but he's left as this 2D character that we are simply expected to root for.

    That being said, the style and little details that homage the 30s style film are lavishing to watch. The sepia tones, the use of shadows to light and dark, the swipes used as edits, the ridiculously over the top style of acting and look for everything, and of course, the badass sound effect of the robot's lasers. This is the reason to watch this film and it nails it. Although the plot wanders around like a lost cartoon on steroids at times (believe it or not I think they tried to over-complicate the story with too many twists and turns and I would have enjoyed it more had they stuck to a 'mad scientist with a doomsday device' initial plot line) its a fun visual ride that truly inspires one to look back on the 30s film culture.

    As a result, "Sky Captain" becomes a film that sacrifices substance for style. The style is worth watching the film for any film fanatic and if you just sit back the film becomes a fun over the top ride. Unfortunately, when one tries to actually think about the film, it starts to crack under some faulty foundations of having us thrust into a world we truly do not understand. Trying to understand it is what makes "Sky Captain" fall apart and creates that disappointing rift this reviewer could not climb out of. It's a fun film, but not something I would call 'instant classic'.

    Written By Matt Reifschneider

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011

    Knight And Day - 2.5/5

    I love when a movie tries so hard to mix genres that it ends up confusing me by the end of it. What the hell did I just watch? That's the exact question I was left pondering as the credits for "Knight And Day" rolled. Was it meant to be a comedy? To be taken seriously as a spy film? Were those CGI bulls supposed to look real? What the hell did I just watch? If these are the questions left by a film, it's unusually a bad sign. Which is ironic considering that "Knight And Day" is not all that bad. The movie was fun, but it was just successful at being mediocre.

    June (Diaz) wasn't trying to be anything she wasn't. She just happened to get on the wrong plane at the wrong time. Now she is stuck with Roy (Cruise), a semi-spazz secret agent on the run from his own agency. Turns out he is being blamed for the theft of a very special item (cough battery cough) and has to keep himself and June alive long enough to clear his name and hers. Their trek for redemption will take them across the globe as they put the pieces together...and maybe find something in each other they had been looking for.

    "Knight And Day" might be the most mediocre fun you've had at a romantic comedy/spy/thriller/action film in the last few years. It is fun at times. The first act of the film as Diaz and Cruise meet up is actually quite hilarious. Cruise's almost tongue in cheek "trying not to be the bad guy" spoof on his Ethan character from the "Mission: Impossible" series starts off as a riot. The chemistry sparks between the two and his calm explanations of what is going to happen to Diaz are well written and funny. Unfortunately, this doesn't carry through the film and it quickly tanks about a third of the way through.

    This is when the film tries to throw in some serious drama and romantic squabbles into the script. It tries too hard to be a legit spy film with these over the top action sequences. It's as if they forgot to be funny about half way through. It's frustrating is what it is. The character Roy suddenly loses his edgy and borderline insane rambles and becomes this serious and thoughtful spy. Diaz becomes this depressing person. The film loses all of its energy and chemistry and tries to fill it in with action and leaping sporadically from fancy location to fancy location. It just doesn't work like it could have and it gets rather boring.

    Some of the action sequences are solid, but if they were going to go over the top they should have really embraced it. Instead it just seemingly works as filler towards the end. Some of the humor works, particularly when it has this mysterious frenzy to it, but it loses the energy half way through and gets too serious. "Knight And Day" tries desperately to blend genres into a fun romp but it just comes off as muddled and ill focused making it a mediocre film. The potential was there but it was rarely met.

    Written By Matt Reifschneider

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011

    Shanghai Knights - 2.5/5

    Although a sequel was a given considering the box office success of "Shanghai Noon", this essential rehash of the first film does do itself some justice. Although it lacks in almost every layer to its originator, "Shanghai Knights" still retains some of that great chemistry and cleverness to make it worth the watch. Although the film is inferior, its hard not to smile through the entire experience if you take it for what it is.

    Chon Wang (Chan), now a sheriff in Carson City, receives a disturbing letter from his sister in China. His father has been murdered and she has chased the murdering party all the way to London. So Chon hauls off to New York to get his money that his partner Roy (Wilson) has supposedly invested. From there, the two set off to London to recover a stolen Imperial Seal and deal out a bit of vengeance to this murderer. What they find in London is a bigger conspiracy that threatens the rule of both England and China.

    Ironically, the same foundation that the first one was built on (outsiders trying to cope with unusual lifestyle of a new land) doesn't work near as well here. It's partially because we are now playing with three cliche characters (China, USA, and England) that exemplify their area. This does work at times and with many moments, including a very humorous sequence where the two sneak into a high class British party, but more often than not it simply doesn't have the polar opposite effect that worked for the first. Many of the British tidbits they throw in are hilarious (including a short scene with Jack The Ripper) and highlight the general choice for location.

    Having the location change does allow some new and very cool fight sequences to occur. A fight scene with an umbrella highlights these, but most of them work to relative success. Most of the fights are far from being as memorable as they could have been (the fodder for using this time period in England doesn't promote the best settings or objects for the fights) and although they are still fun, its not near as clever as it could have been.

    The duo of Chan and Wilson do return to some solid moments too. Although the plot tends to have them repeat the same damn character arcs we surveyed in the first one including some very similar scenes with one getting their feelings hurt yadda yadda, but their chemistry still works in spades. The best parts are when they bicker and banter about things and this leads to some great moments like when Wilson starts throwing beer bottles at Chan. The duo works well on screen, but it would have been nice to see them cover new ground for each.

    In all honesty, I like "Shanghai Knights" for its moments of humor and being able to watch Donnie Yen and Jackie Chan throw down (its a kung fu guys dream come true even if its short lived and relatively uneventful), but the film isn't near as funny or as action packed as the first. It's a good sequel but a far cry from the cleverness it should have been.   Mostly for fans of the original and not much past that.

    Written By Matt Reifschneider

    Shanghai Noon - 3.5/5

    Jackie Chan's emergence into American mainstream film might have been somewhat of a surprise for most, but its films like his Kung Fu Western "Shanghai Noon" that fully displays why he was successful at the crossover. This little action/comedy (which is what Chan does best) combines all the elements that set this stunt master aside from his peers. Although its far from being perfect or even one of Chan's best, "Shanghai Noon" embraces the fun aspects of film watching and runs with them.

    Chon Wang (Chan) finds himself in an odd situation. Part of the Imperial Guard in China, he allows Princess Pei Pei (Lui) to flee to the American west (convinced to do so as part of a kidnapping) and he feels it is honorable to make his way there to help bring her back by paying a ransom. In the west, he is quickly separated from his fellow guards when a train heist goes wrong at the hands of notoriously bad outlaw Roy O'Bannon (Wilson). Both of them left out of their element, they must team together and figure out how the west was won as they uncover larger issues upon their way to rescue the Princess.

    "Shanghai Noon" is funny. It's quirky. It's heart warming. It's got great action sequences. Really, its what makes a Jackie Chan film good. The concept lends itself to some great situations as it plays upon western film cliches (we get train heists, bar brawls, brothels, hangings, duels, Native Americans, and a church shoot out for its finale) and the film makers, along with Chan, use the settings and situations to all the right ways. Chan is able to make some memorable choreography by utilizing specific sets and items. Pine trees, antlers, horses, and of course, the train are all made use of during the fights which even furthers how cool the kung fu and westerns mix in this film.

    "Shanghai Noon" also comes off as remarkably funny. The writing isn't always in top form as Owen Wilson tends to ramble far too much, he only gets in some solid one liners occasionally, and the plot seems to meander a bit to fit in all the Western motifs (why do they have Chan climb through the mountains again?). The 'buddy cop' formula of Chan and Wilson works quite well (just as solid as the Tucker/Chan duo two years prior) and the chemistry between the two carries the film out in its more heartfelt aspects. Not to mention all of the references to westerns that make it worth the watch for Western fans. "Shanghai Noon" can be very funny at times.

    Although not near Chan's best work, "Shanghai Noon" comes across as a well put together and executed kung fu/western. It's far from perfect (mostly due to writing issues and some pacing problems) but the sheer fun that one has watching Chan/Wilson bicker and worm their way out of cliche western situations is worth the time spent.

    Written By Matt Reifschneider

    Sunday, March 13, 2011

    Stag Night - 1.5/5

    Despite starting out on the right foot with some serious John Carpenter inspired score over the opening credits and having a cast of cult film add on actors, "Stag Night" quickly goes 'stag-nant' in this relatively rehashed film. Although it has a bit of charm to its low budget finesse, the lack of consistent pacing or purpose tends to make this Ghost House Underground release fall flat and makes for an unmemorable time in front of the television set.

    After a night at the strip club for Mike's (Pardue...that guy from "Rules Of Attraction"!) bachelor party, four guys (including Scott Adkins, resident badass and ninja and Breckin Meyer...that guy who fought a video game Freddy in "Freddy's Dead"!) and two strippers find themselves lost in the underground railways. When they witness a cop get brutally murdered by three Rob Zombies...err...homeless and super violent men, they have to run for their lives and find a way out before they find themselves in the hands of CHUDs....whoops, I mean Rob Zombies...dammit! Hobos or whatever. 

    In all seriousness though, the first portion of this movie is actually pretty good. It kicks off with that Carpenter score, it builds this great character interaction with the four guys and the two strippers, and it establishes a solid atmosphere with the setting and time of day. It has this great build that many horror movies seem to lack anymore, and if there is one thing that makes this film worth the watch, its how this is done.

    Unfortunately, from that point on, the film slowly circles down the drain into unmemorable obscurity. The plot quickly fizzles into a mish-mash of slasher and hellbilly cliche's as our team inexplicably take detours and perform idiotic feats to get themselves killed. The high intensity sequences will give people motion sickness as the camera bounces at a frantic pace in the low lit setting, not allowing a single soul watching it to actual see what's going on. Then the plot seemingly just forgets that it needs to be memorable by having insane hobos as the villains. The moments where they could have built some sort of mythology to script (how the homeless people seem to use these violent folk as police or the weird trailer with the TV and mannequin) are left under huge question marks and no hints to their inclusion for the film. The film quickly becomes frustratingly cliche by its end.

    With such a promising start, its sad to see "Stag Night" collapse into itself as it plays on. Despite some solid casting choices (I'll watch anything with Adkins!) and some good initial set up, this film just...well...kind of sucks. Too cliche. Too open. One of the oddest choices for Ghost House Underground for sure.

    Written By Matt Reifschneider

    X-Men: The Last Stand - 2/5

    After kick starting the comic book to film trend once again with the debut film of the franchise and then essentially tightening all the loose screws for "X2", this blockbuster franchise decided to take a giant crap for the third film. Perhaps I'm a little harsh on this entry, but after viewing the stellar second film and seeing "X-Men: The Last Stand" its hard not to be hurt and disappointed as a fan. It's unfocused, too visually concerned, and tries to pile as much plot into a two hour film as in-humanly possible creating a giant cluster fuck of a film that looks cool, but rarely does anything beyond that.

    With Jean Grey's (Janssen) death hanging heavy on the heart's of all the X-Men, Wolverine (Jackman) returns to Xavier's (Stewart) school to help out while Cyclops (Marsden) copes with the loss of his love. To make matters even more complicated, a pharmaceutical company synthesizes a 'cure' for the mutant genes to allow all mutants a choice. This enrages an already pseudo-crazy Magneto (McKellen) who vows to wage a war on humanity if the 'cure' is not destroyed. Now the X-Men must choose a side (with Magneto's new army growing steadily) and with the sudden resurrection of Jean Grey as an instinctual and all powerful creature The Phoenix, it just might be the last choice these mutant heroes will get to make.

    There is just too damn much going on in this movie. It tries to splice together two very epic comic plots, that of Leech (the boy who's DNA creates the cure) and that of The Phoenix (Jean Grey's resurrection as an all powerful entity) and by sacrificing elements and details from each to make them work together, it does neither justice. Both arcs give the opportunity for great character work and meaningful symbolism, but the film desperately tries to mesh them together and forgets the details that made them fan favorites. When Cyclops dies (oops, spoiler!) its as if it affected no one. Not even the audience. That connection is what this film severely misses.

    "The Last Stand" also suffers from way too many characters. We are given glimpses of tons of new mutants (Kitty, Colossus, Angel, Beast, and the list goes on) who are all part of the main story, but none of them get the character arc attention they should have. One assumes Angel is to play a major role with his origin coming on early and his escape to freedom being one of the cooler scenes, but then he's just left to drift off into nothingness. Don't ignore Ben Foster! He's too good for that! All of the character's are treated like this too. Even the major ones, like Storm, have no character path at all in this film. It's as if they began mashing in too many to give them their due and it hurts that symbolic and human part of this film.

    With that much ranting about what this film fucks with, I do have to admit that the action is pretty good. Irrelevant for the majority of the film sans the final showdown, but well paced and visually solid. You get some solid Wolvie claw action (against a guy with stick knives that he throws?!) and a pretty awesome show down at Jean Grey's old house with the much anticipated Juggarnaut (Bullettooth Tony...err...Vinnie Jones) taking on the adamantium structured hero. Unfortunately, that's all that this film has going for it is some great action sequences.


    "X-Men: The Last Stand" is just a ridiculously over complicated (and thusly, rushed) plot that has some solid action moments. Everything else is pushed to the side to get the plot moving, like characters, symbolism, and meaning, and the film seems to try to splash in some nice throw downs in the midst. Let's hope this isn't the final full X-Men film out there (we're not counting all of the spin offs including "Wolverine" and the upcoming "First Class") cause its a massive let down.


    Written By Matt Reifschneider

    House Of Wax (2005) - 3/5

    At this point, its silly to be afraid of horror film remakes. No use whining about them. No use boycotting them, because they are going to happen. Might as well support them and hope they keep our favorite franchises alive and in theaters (why else would one torture themselves on the new "Nightmare" film?). At the time of "House Of Wax" though, I was on a strict remake boycott and missed it. I found respect for its director later with "Orphan" which allowed me the courage to back track to this little Dark Castle release, only to find that it wasn't the pure 'shit' that many claimed it to be, but a fairly entertaining slasher with an over the top concept. It's not great - can anyone really use that word with a film featuring Paris Hilton? - but it is a slick and fun ride for horror fans.

    A group of college friends are on their way to Louisiana for the biggest football game of the year, when a young couple, Carly (Cuthbert) and Wade (Padalecki), find their car with a broken belt in the engine. Stranded, they accept a ride from a rather hillbilly-ish man to the closest town, Ambrose, to find the part they need. What they find in Ambrose is a disturbing recreation of life at the hands of two brothers whose obsession with finishing their mother's wax collection has started to take a twisted turn.

    Not at all resembling the original 1953 "House Of Wax" that this film pulls its title from, this modern horror slasher really doesn't pull a lot of new punches. It sticks to what works in modern slashers. Isolation from the rest of society (woods, empty small town). Group of young leads whose friends are relatively immature people. A killer with a mask (this time a man with a wax face). So for fans of horror, this isn't anything new. We've seen it before. They run the gauntlet of all the cliche's here including an abandoned factory that seemingly comes out of the blue for Hilton's death scene. Nothing about this script is all that new and exciting in all honesty.

    This film does seem to have a lot of fun with itself. Much of this has to do with Collet-Serra (director) and his knack for making B-movies look stylish and snazzy. There are plenty of cool shots, in particular a very cool scene with a swiveling camera shot around the foot of a pool table, and he treats the more ridiculous elements with an almost odd sense of artistic tongue in cheek. The art and set design help with this and raise the fun level of the film (the wax museum and church look very cool) and the odd moments of dark humor ring pretty true. An odd sequence where the brother Bo snips off our leading ladies finger comes to mind with how over the top and somewhat humorous this film can be.

    "House Of Wax" isn't reinventing the wheel here, but it has its charm and a good use of the humor it has in it. It's a fun little slasher that works better then it should thanks to some solid leads (luckily Ms. Hilton isn't a lead) and a director with a little pizazz up his sleeve. Not near the disappointment I was lead to believe it was.

    Written By Matt Reifschneider