Saturday, April 30, 2011

Electra One - 3/5

"Electra One" (sometimes spelled "Electra 1" and also known as "With Death on Your Back") is one of the most rare films I've reviewed here on Blood Brothers. Why? Well it's because this insanely obscure 1967 Euro Spy film only got a very limited VHS release in a small number of countries and the DVD release here in America is part of a very limited DVD set (limited to 250 units) called "How Europe Does Babes, Bombs and Guns" and is packaged alongside the "Agent 077" trilogy. Yes... only 250 DVDs of this is in existence in the world so this is one fucking rare film. Well rare films are usually rare for a reason as they fall into the bracket of "not very fucking good and deserves to be forgotten." Is "Electra One" one of these such films? Well I can honestly say NO.

Some terrorists are up to no good in the swinging 60s as they have developed a gas that can make anyone do what they wish, like have a high ranking military commander go bonkers and push a button to launch missiles. America and Russia not surprisingly flip out over this new gas and the two countries join together in order to develop a cure and to capture the terrorists involved. In comes George Martin to throw a kink into the system as he is a master jewel thief that steals a brief case containing the antidote (stated early on in the film that it is the only vile as there was no time to make more... dumbasses). He sells it for cash but then gets involved in a multi-national scheme and now he has to clear his name and do the good dead of saving the world.

Unlike other Euro Spy films I have seen which are mostly Italian made, this little hidden gem is actually a Spanish Euro Spy film despite starring George Martin, an actor mostly known for his Italian pictures in the Spaghetti Western genre. Martin is loveable in the role as the James Bond-esque jewel thief as he portrays the character with a likeable cockiness and charm. I will say it is interesting making the main character a thief as opposed to a secret agent like most of these European knock-off films do.

Director Alfonso Balcázar loads the film up with plenty of action and humor. We get gun fights, foot chases, airplane chases and one hell-of-a car chase. The airplane chase towards the end also is highly reminiscent of the helicopter chase at the climax of the fantastic James Bond picture "From Russia with Love." His humor is also well placed without overbearing the story. My personal favorite humor touches include the banter between the United States and Russian secret services which include playful ways to kill each other.

The plot can get a little silly at times especially as its main plot surrounds a gas that, according to a character, makes people "do actions they normally wouldn't do." What?! At the beginning of the film they wanted to use the gas to cause a military commander to hit a button to launch some missiles and he almost succeeds. How the fuck did they know the gas would make him do that exact action? Can they fine tune the gas to make people do whatever action they want, like make a person take a dump in the middle of the floor? This is a ridiculous plot device but I'll role with it for a fun loving 60s spy romp.

For a low budget Euro Spy film I found this insanely entertaining. Great.. hell no but a lot of fun. It's got enough action, humor and eye candy to keep any fan of 60s Euro Spy entertained. As good as a James Bond film from the era? Well no but one shouldn't expect it to be. For what it is "Electra One" is sure to entertain.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Tuareg: The Desert Warrior - 2.5/5

Enzo G. Castellari, known for his amazing Italian action films in the 70s, was really struggling when the 80s came calling directing a laughable "Jaws" rip-off with "The Last Shark" and a number of frivolous yet insanely entertaining dystopian future flicks with the likes of "The New Barbarians", "1990: The Bronx Warriors" and its sequel "Escape from the Bronx." To be honest Enzo had become a full fledged B-movie filmmaker regulated to making cinematic sludge... entertaining sludge but still sludge none-the-less. It was time to redeem his name so in 1984 he decided to adapt the novel "Tuareg" into a serious, well-meaning film so he can once again be taken seriously as a filmmaker. So did he succeed at redeeming his career? Well considering this film is relatively forgotten in his filmography I would have to say a big fat NO.

Mark Harmon plays the title character, with Tuareg meaning "Desert Warrior" (as you couldn't tell from the subtitle). Two dehydrated men wander into his camp where Harmon and his clan aid them back to health but not long after their arrival soldiers show up to truck them off as apparently they are wanted for murder. Harmon doesn't take kindly to this as you see, apparently due to his cultural beliefs, guests cannot be forced out of their host's home so he risks his neck to rescue these two guys and lots of people die as a result.

What the fuck is up with this plot? This desert warrior risking his life, as well as his families, because soldiers come in and truck off two drifters they took in that are wanted for murder. They are wanted for murder... let them lock them up for Christ sake! Cultural differences my ass... what the fuck is this guy thinking? I'm sorry but I have a hard time rooting for a guy that's risking his life and his families to rescue two guys, strangers no less, that are wanted for murder.

Castellari gives the film his wonderful style and makes it a mish mash of "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Rambo".... just far too much "Lawrence" and not enough "Rambo". Enzo is foremost an action director and "Taurag" does have a few good action scenes but they are too few and too far between with most of the film being filled with rather pointless dialogue. To be honest I lost interest a number of times during the running time of the film... and that NEVER happens when I watch a Castellari film even when his pictures are at their worst.

I do have to say that Mark Harmon, having a resurgence of fame with his leading role in the television series NCIS, is sorely miscast in the lead. He does have the piercing blue eyes that Castellari adores but he just doesn't pull off an Egyptian warrior well. He gets all tan and beefed up for the role (complete with plenty of eyeliner) but my real problem is his delivery of the dialogue. He dubbed his own voice but he gives a dead pan delivery with no attempt to hide his American styled voice resulting in his performance appearing rather half assed, like he just really didn't a shit. If he put more effort into his dubbing his performance would have been magnified ten fold. To be honest this role was tailored for Franco Nero, a frequent collaborator with Enzo G. Castellari. Where is Nero when you need him?

From a technical standpoint this is Enzo's best film of the 80s.... just far from his most entertaining. He tries exceptionally hard to make a serious film with a wonderful style and cinematography but Harmon's performance, lack of action, and a plot that I can't get behind the hero for makes this a rather dull affair from the master of Italian action. This is why it hasn't received a proper DVD release and has fallen into public domain hell regulating it forever to subpar DVD treatments. It's not good enough to be respected by cult Italian film fanatics and it's not bad enough to have the immense entertainment value trash fanatics crave. It's just middle of the road and really won't appeal to anyone unless they are hardcore Enzo fans (like myself). Enzo will always be my favorite Italian film director but I will be honest when I say "Tuareg" is really one of the most uninteresting films in his entire filmography.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Special Mission Lady Chaplin - 3.5/5

The name is Malloy, Dick Malloy - Agent 077

Much like the third James Bond film "Goldfinger" perfected the Bond formula, the third Dick Malloy film "Special Mission Lady Chaplin" perfected the Bond knock-off formula. Seriously this is the most fun, action packed and entertaining of Italy's Agent 077 trilogy and defined what an Italian Bond clone film should be like.... which is a Bond film, what else?

The plot is typical Bond-esque espionage material with a sunken nuclear submarine somehow moving locations. In comes in secret agent 077 (damn that number makes me crack up every time... seriously could they reference the franchise they were ripping off any more obviously?) who discovers that the nuclear missile cargo as been stolen. Now 077 must track down a beautiful and lethal assassin known as Lady Chaplin to "charm" her into revealing her knowledge about the whereabouts of the missiles. Like Bond, the charming comes naturally.

Like a good Bond clone we get all the necessary staples. Car and foot chases: check. Bodacious European babes: check. A world domination plot: check. Gadgets: check (including a ejector seat car mimicking Bond's car in "Goldfinger" and a pocket air breather mimicking Bond's in "Thunderball"). A catchy title song: check. A heroic spy that's a wonder with women with a Conery-esque hairy chest: check. The only thing this film is missing (that the previous two 077 films "Mission Bloody Mary" and "From the Orient with Fury" got right) is a swinging 60s title sequence... seriously what the fuck? How could they miss out on that fact?

Collaborating director Alberto De Martino helps director Sergio Grieco brings some new life into the franchise (is "franchise" a proper term for an Italian knock-off trilogy?) with tight action sequences and an intriguing, though a little corny, espionage plot. Ken Clark is still very fitting into his spy role and Daniela Bianchi keeps your eyes glued to the screen with her beauty and lethality as our assassin. Does her name look familiar to you? Well if you're a Bond fan then it should as she played the leading lady in "From Russia With Love." Shit our filmmakers weren't content on copying the Bond formula they decided to steal some of that franchises leading actors as well! That's fine by me as Bianchi gets this reviewers mojo running any day.

Typical with Italian films the dubbing is a little off and some of the dialogue is hilariously translated. My personal favorite is when they find the location to the missiles, agent 077's boss (equivalent to M in the Bond franchise) tells him "that's the way the cookie crumbles" when no reinforcements will be able to back him up. Our "Bond" hero also isn't as "smart" as 007 per say as he was even oblivious that nuclear missiles don't detonate when a fire breaks out. Fuck even I knew that nuclear missiles were designed to survive a crash... and I'm not even to be educated to be a secret agent (you can thank John Woo's "Broken Arrow" for teaching me that little fact :-} ).

Some of the story elements are also a little silly and convenient for the plot. Lady Chaplin smuggles in rocket fuel for the missiles by soaking it into the fabric of some dresses which of course makes one unfortunate model hilariously explode into a ball of flame. Also our main villain conveniently keeps fucking scorpions in his missile bay so they can aid 077 in his mission. Really who the fuck keeps scorpions in their missile bay?

Other than those few hilarious plot quibbles I have to say this Bond knock-off is almost as entertaining as an actual Bond film. Like the previous two films it utilizes is low budget well by making the most of it's authentic European locations. Mix that with all the other essential Bond ingredients and you're guaranteed a fun espionage romp and a must for fans of the Italian 'Euro Spy' genre.

Note: Like the previous 077 films the Dorado DVD release has the picture ratio screwed up making the image annoying elongated so all our characters look 6.5' tall. Again, I keep my fingers crossed, I hope Dorado films fixes this defect on future releases so we all can truly enjoy this trilogy the way it was meant to be seen.

Dick Malloy will return in... damnit, this was the last 077 film! Shit... just when they perfected the formula.

Weekend Pass (1984) - 1/5

Crown International sure released some real comedy turds throughout the 80s with "Weekend Pass" floating to the near the top. "Weekend Pass" really could be a synonym entry for "boring" and could qualify for cinematic Chinese water torture. Yes... it's that fucking bad.

The plot (what plot?) has four teenagers fresh out of Navy basic training hitting the town of L.A. on their weekend pass and through trial and tribulation to get laid, they end up finding love. Really... that's about fucking it.

As you can tell from my very brief description paragraph that there is no damn plot to this movie. Get ready for a lot of montages of various signs and locations in L.A. flying by with shit, filler dialogue about our four guys jibber jabbering about pointless topics such as neon signs. Yea... sounds like a wonderful time.

Our guys hit a strip club for the first 15 minutes of the film and only director Lawrence Bassoff could make a strip club scene with some nice racks seem so trite. Later they visit the beeeeaaach... sorry... I was dozing off... and end up joining a fitness class in order for one of our blockheads to ask the instructor out. Out of the other three one wants to hits a stand-up comedian club (run by a young Phil Hartman no less!) to test out his comedy skills, one has a blind date with his colonel's daughter and the other wants to hook with an old girlfriend to get a quick lay. Get ready to down some Mountain Dews as you're going to need to be high on caffeine to make it through this cinematic equivalent to watching grass grow.

Out cast is made up of no-body's that can't act and the dialogue sounds like their talking with a mouthful of marbles. The bad acting, shit dialogue, dragging "plot", and unenthusiastic directing makes this a very, very trying movie experience. To top it off we get a couple of god awful 80s pop tunes that continuously play throughout the film with the title song making me wish for Lionel Richie's Dancing on the Ceiling you quall my eardrums from bleeding.

The Crown International symbol before a comedy picture should be a warning to anyone looking for an actual fun time. Like "Weekend Pass", you enter at your own risk as you're boarding a sinking ship. For me Crown International's weekend pass has expired permanently. Speaking of Crown International, a background character in the film is even wearing a damn T-Shirt with their symbol. Nothing like advertising that their proud of the shit that their film factory crapped out at an incredible rate during the 80s.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Primal - 2.5/5

Despite some valiant efforts to obtain some modern horror greatness in line with "The Descent" or "The Ruins", this Australian 'fucked up nature' horror flick comes off as a bit confusing and rather silly. It has some great moments and the execution of the horror aspects is high (including some very creepy gore sequences), but the charm and great moments don't cover up the gaping plot holes and conveniences of its story to save it. "Primal" becomes a rather mediocre film in the fluster to make memorable scenes and take a clever horror concept to the 'real world'.

A group of young people (how many horror synopsis' start off this way?) take a trip out of their element (and continue this way?) into the wilderness to look for some cave paintings that have been forgotten for generations. What they find on the side of this mountain is not necessarily what they were looking for as one of their members starts showing signs of odd physical developments and aggressive behavior. Is it simply something in the water making them paranoid, or is there something out there in the wilderness willing to go primal on their city asses?

The film has a very slick look to it. In very modern style, the director and writer (Reed) embrace the classic horror ideologies (isolation against a terrifying force greater than understanding) and persue it in modern amounts of gore and frantic camera work. This gives the film a high polish look, sans some oddly placed CGI work that is a complete miss, and largely uses the style to its benefit. The acting is well versed despite its rather cliche group of characters and the first half of this movie really uses the setting and tension to its benefit. I was stoked with how "Primal" was shaping up to be. It could make it up there with "The Descent"!

Then it gets weird.

The second half of the film moves from its almost zombie-film like approach of build and horror elements and moves straight into 'survivalist 101' as our group of survivors battles against their own logic and down into a spiral of unexplained elements and random plot twists. The final act takes a rather Lovecraftian style to itself (without much of a build towards it and lacking the atmosphere needed to pull it off) and the film quickly falls apart. What happened to the good character work? What happened to the damn logic? The characters seem completely unrealistic at this point, including the frustratingly idiotic character Chad and his weird jumps of loyalties, and the film just becomes a whirlwind of gore and silly writing. This leaves the film to end on a completely silly finale of poor CGI and senseless explanation for the events that occurred earlier.

"Primal" starts off in the right direction, giving us a simple but well executed story that tries to out smart itself by the end and becomes a cluster of poorly crafted 'unexplained' phenomenon. Although the look of the film and its special effects are quite the thing to watch, the film just falls apart half way through and ceases to be at all the realistic horror experience it could have been. The potential for a great film was buried there, but "Primal" rarely comes out of the darkness long enough to grasp it.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Demon Knight - 4/5

The first "Tales From The Crypt" film to make it the silver screen is a hell of a fun ride. "Demon Knight" piles on great amounts of gore, nudity, dark humor, and great one liners onto a story that aptly brings the atmosphere of the TV show into a new realm. Not quite a perfect film by any means, "Demon Knight" gets the job done bringing the loved TV show to theatrical quality while retaining all the elements that made its original format great. Not to mention its a laugh a minute for those with darker senses of humor.

Brayker (Sadler) may have finally outrun the demon collector (Zane). He stops off at a small motel in the middle of nowhere to rest himself and figure out a plan of escape. When the collector shows up though, Brayker and the fine people of an old church turned motel are going to have one hell of a fight on their hands. For the key that he protects, if lost, will let the demons have control of darkness forever.

The interesting aspect about "Demon Knight" is how well it works. Honestly, the script is barely better than one of the episode scripts for the show and without the talented work of its collaborators, it could have easily fallen into B-movie grade garbage. It doesn't though. In fact, the chemistry at work on this film is palpable. Director Dickerson seems able enough to build the atmosphere of horror and the sly wit of its humor together as one slick piece of work and combined with great art design, clever dialogue, and a great cast and this film works remarkably well.

That being said, at times it can be a bit cheesy. The film knows it and embraces this fact though and it smooths over any fractures this may have caused. When the owner of the motel lifts the stump of what's left of her arm and tells the collector she's giving him the finger, its a riot. It should have been stupid, but it was hilarious with its timing and presentation. To this, its helpful that the cast was so greatly chosen. Particular nods go in the direction of "Tales" vet Sadler as our ruffled and weather beaten hero and Zane as a hilarious demon knight with charm up the ass. Their chemistry on this movie and opposite styles make for great horror/comedy cinema.

"Demon Knight" is both scary and funny at the same time. With great designs (the setting is fantastic, the demons are creepy as hell with their beady green eyes, and the odd dream/memory sequences work nicely) and a great vision from the director, the film really shines when it needs too. The cast helps immensely too to create a fun and campy feel to the film. If only the theatrical "Tales" would have done better later on ("Bordello Of Blood" is hit or miss) then perhaps we would have had more great films to add to this series. As is though, "Demon Knight" is a treat to watch to this day.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Legendary Assassin - 2/5

Two words aptly describe "Legendary Assassin" - failed potential. The few movies I've seen with Wu Jing (the stellar "Invisible Target" and his brief but badass fight sequence with Donnie Yen in "Kill Zone") have shown him to be a charismatic actor with a strong presence on film. His debut directing effort shows that he is neither charismatic nor strong behind the camera despite his cold and rather subtle work on screen. This leaves the film prey to its rather cliche story and hit or miss cast. Not something that "Legendary Assassin" needed.

Bo (Wu Jing) is an assassin whose conscience is starting to catch up to his quick feet and fearless killing strikes. His latest target happens to be a very well connected mob man living on an island. After Bo takes his head, he finds himself stuck on the island due to a storm and caught between some rather under trained police officers and some under trained thugs looking to take him down. His new friendship with a police woman (Celina Jade) seems to be the only thing going right, but will she have to arrest him before he has a chance to escape?

Meh. "Legendary Assassin" is just one giant 'meh' after another. The casting is rather lackluster and despite some intriguing fight sequences (alright, I can admit that the final throw down of Wu Jing verses the entire black clad army of the mob is pretty sweet), the film lacks some serious flow and charm. The plot is pretty cliche and rather corny at times, his love for the police woman seems a bit ridiculous and their 'dance' sequence on the roof is hilarious forced, and the film fails to garner any momentum against it. Wu Jing does carry that intrigue with him onto the screen, but his presence as a cold/warm person of subtle quiet resolve and mystery just doesn't make up for the rest. His co-directing definitely fails to impress, its only his first so I won't be too hard on him - I still love to watch him, and this undermines an already sub par story.

The fights are pretty solid though. We get some great choreography for Wu Jing, although it does get a bit out there at times. He has a pretty stellar leap as it turns out. The final battle is pretty cool even though it is cliche in its build and look...I mean how many final fights happen in the rain? It does have some great choreography and stunt work and it makes up for what little this film has going for it.

"Legendary Assassin" is just too much cliche when it comes to its cheesy acting and run of the mill story. Wu Jing impresses on screen with some of his fighting and stone cold yet warm acting, but his co-directing rarely brings out the film's better moments and it hurts it badly. It might be a good rental (I got it out of Red Box) but not much more than that.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, April 25, 2011

Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift, The - 2.5/5

Let's be honest with one another here. Anything is a step up from "2 Fast 2 Furious" so its not that big of a shock that the third film in the franchise is an improvement. What is a surprise is how much of an improvement it actually is. "The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift" is a surprisingly fun and ridiculous ride through the neon and curvy streets of Japan. Although its not a great film by any means, it has its redeemable moments and it focuses on these qualities, which makes it heads over tales better than it should be.

'Bama boy Sean (Black) finds himself at odds with the law once again in the US so his mother sends him to live with his father in Japan to prevent him from going to jail. Logic? Not sure, but while he's there he only learns to hone his solid racing/driving abilities by learning to 'drift' from the local street racers. When he gets caught up in some Yakuza business, he finds himself between a rock and a hard place. Can his newly discovered drifting abilities save his ass from the Yakuza?

There is a lot of things wrong with "Tokyo Drift". It's got a half assed script that rarely explains things the way they should be developed that undermines its characters and rarely gives us the motivation to care about the outcome of the situations that come into fruition. These writing flaws are only made more gaping by its lack luster 'hero' in Sean. He's stoic presentation of what wants to be charisma never works and despite some fun supporting roles (particularly the villain and his 'teacher' Han - sorry Bow Wow, but it wasn't you) it drags the film down into places it should have risen above.

That being said, "Tokyo Drift" has one element that makes it worth the watch. Director Justin Lin. Although I never saw "Annapolis", his work here is exactly what this franchise needed. A clever eye for bringing out the fast and the furious elements of the film without making it feel like a video game (even with all of the setting's bright colors). He seems to understand what this film needs in pacing and visually and he brings it all to the table. This allows for exciting car stunts and races (finally good car wrecks!) with a flair for the ridiculous that embraces its rather half thought out story. He single handedly gives this film most of its memorable moments.

Although this one is the most 'on its own' sequel in the franchise (although it has a pretty cool final moment that links it into the rest), "Tokyo Drift" overcomes many of its fault with charm and visual pizazz. It's foundations are cracked and shaky at best, but this one still turned out to be a fun film and an enjoyable watch. Very surprising, in the end.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Slaughter's Big Rip-off - 3/5

I always felt sorry for Slaughter as he gets a "Big Rip-off" in his sequel title as opposed to Shaft who gets a "Big Score". What gives.... Shaft gets a piece of ass and Slaughter gets pulled a fast one on? In my humble opinion Slaughter is more badass than Shaft and if anyone deserves a great score, it's fuckin' Slaughter but don't fret as he does get plenty of ass, both black and white, in this entertaining follow-up to 1972 Blaxploitation hit "Slaughter."

"Slaughter's Big Rip-off" opens with a sequence one would least expect for this sequel open with... with Slaughter in cowboy drag in a horse race. Really... what the fuck? Where is my badass title sequence? Oh well but soon after a hitman flying an airplane attempts a hit on Slaughter who in turn misses and kills a few of Slaughter's friends instead. He heads out for vengeance but like the original, pisses off some law enforcement along the way and they give him make a deal to get them a ledger of names of corrupt police and political figures (hmmm... sounds like "Black Caesar" to me) in turn for Slaughter not going to prison. Plenty of bullets break the skin of mafia goons as a result.

Jim Brown seems much more comfortable in the title role this second time around as he makes the character even more badass. We get more hand to hand combat from the character and even some badass one liners (my favorite is "how would you like to pick your teeth out of your lips). He also seems to get much more ass in this film making him a blaxploitation rival for James Bond. In all the character of Slaughter is even more baddass in this sequel minus the awkward opening with him in western garb.

In an awkward casting moment the filmmakers hired Ed McMahon for the lead villain. For you youngins out there he was the sidekick for Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show" who mummered the famous line "Heerrree's Johnny" long before the likes of Jack Nicolson. I actually never knew Ed McMahon was an actual actor before his TV stints and actually he isn't terrible but I did have a hard time shacking his "Tonight Show" motif from my mind.

The plot however is rather haphazardly constructed making the film drag at some moments between the entertaining action sequences. Director Gordon Douglas does what he can with the script but the film sadly misses original director Jack Starrett who wonderfully directed the action sequences to wrap around its plot issues. Starrett was unavailable to direct as he hightailed it to Warner Brothers to make his film "Cleopatra Jones" and in turn pissing off AIP executive Samuel Z. Arkoff who responded with his own woman Blaxploitation revenge effort "Coffy" which itself is a completely different story.

The two things that annoy me the most is first how our evil hitman attempts to kill Slaughter. He makes Slaughter's main squeeze drive him off a cliff and then leaves within a few minutes before making sure Slaughter is truly dead. If I learned anything from "Under Seige 2" it's that "assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups" and this James Bond villain mistake annoyed the shit out of me. Second is how all newer versions of the film are emasculated of James Brown's wonderful original score. Damn I hate when soundtracks and score rights deteriorate for whatever reason over the years resulting with some films, like "Slaughter's Big Rip-off", having a replacement score haphazardly spliced in. Grr...

"Slaughter's Big Rip-off" isn't as good as the original due to a poorly constructed plot and the lack of original director Jack Starrett but Jim Brown seems more comfortable in the role making Slaughter even more badass in the long run. The film is left open for another sequel but sadly a third film to round out a trilogy never emerged.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Saturday, April 23, 2011

2 Fast 2 Furious - 1/5

The original "The Fast And The Furious" was a good movie wrapped in too much fluff to be taken seriously. "2 Fast 2 Furious" with its amazingly idiotic title, is a fluff movie wrapped in too much thought. Had they stripped down its "Miami Vice" cliche story to its bare nuts and bolts, embraced the awfulness of its acting, dialogue, and direction, then the movie might have been a blast. As is though, "2 Fast" thinks its the best film ever created when in all actuality its just a wreck...and not the cool kind of car wreck I wanted.

Brian (Walker) is living in Miami, no longer a cop, but lives on a boat and races street cars (just the hero I always needed as a child). When he's busted for street racing, he's brought in to help pin a large drug dealer getting ready to transfer some major cash out of the country. Brian enlists the help of an old friend and fellow car magician Rome (Gibson) to pull off the job.

More or less, the reason that the first film wasn't a great movie was that its balance of cop drama and ridiculous racing action was mismatched. With this film, they decide to ditch any of the good drama (leaving only the poorly developed characters to wade through a half thought through plot) and focus on the fluff. Despite the initial intrigue of seeing more car wrecks and brighter colors, John Singleton (director) seems content on creating a film that's all style and no substance. As pretty as its "Ridge Racer" video game inspired colors and blurry backgrounds is (do they go into Warp Five when they hit the NOS?), the film is a sugary sweet that leaves its audience hungry for more after a few seconds. Not something a film really wants to do.

Partnered with this asinine focus on the racing and ridiclousness of its 'I'm too clever for a plot' formula, "2 Fast" also remarkably lacks any kind of presence as a film. If anything, Diesel's screen presence and the first film's charm was the only thing that kept it a float and with neither the chemistry nor the depth that the originator had, this film sinks and wrecks like so many of the vehicles in this film. It's laughable in all the worst ways with its off the cuff buddy dialogue, glaze like sugary camera shots, and out of this world plot twists. The 'scramble' sequence looks cool, but seems completely out of the blue when one thinks about it.

"2 Fast" is just 2 stupid for its own good. It might appeal to that pre-pubescent boy hood dream of bright colored, fast cars and scantily clad women (was there any purpose to Suki's character?), but as a film it never leaves the starting line. Stalling when it comes to any kind of depth or well executed charm. I don't know about you, but this franchise didn't need all of this show when there was nothing under the hood.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Slaughter (1972) - 3.5/5

Unlike 80s hair metal "legend" Mark Slaughter, this Slaughter lives up to his name as Jim Brown sure knocks some dicks in the dirt in this high octane, James Bond influenced Blaxploitation effort.

Slaughter, an ex Green Beret, is POed as some assholes blew up his daddy's car with his daddy in it. He heads out for vengeance and guns down a few of the dickheads at a small airport but not without pissing off some federal agents who spent months tracking these drug dealers down. In order not to get thrown into prison, Slaughter agrees to go to South America to take the drug cartel down while at the same time satisfying his hunger for vengeance.

Ex-pro football player Jim Brown first got some acting chops in tough guy films like "The Dirty Dozen" before branching out and becoming a Blaxploitation icon. Does this mean he's a good actor? Hell no but he, much like the other ex-pro football player turned actor Fred Williamson, fit these roles perfectly making for some major touch guy icons as well as providing interesting film heroes for the black community.

Unlike Fred Williamson whose characters were always cocky and mouthy, Jim Brown's were always quieter, more repressed without losing the tough-as-nails edge. Slaughter is exactly this... mostly quiet but a tough mother-fucker who without flinching will shoot a guy in the back or chase them down with a car. Seriously this guy is one mean dude! And he seems like such a nice guy on the outside...

The filmmakers inject a lot of James Bond influences into the picture to with Slaughter basically acting as a secret agent. He goes to high rolling casinos attired in a tux, wins over villain's woman by bedding them, and most importantly can handle himself when it comes to action scenes, including but not limited to hand-to-hand combat and high speed chases.

The directing for the most part is solid with Jack Starrett knowing how to handle action scenes with a sure hand (he proved that again with "Race with the Devil). The only thing I questioned was his use of some odd squished picture ratios in his action scenes. I'm sure it was an attempt to be stylistic but it just takes you out of the movie for a moment making some think there DVD disc might be defective.

Is "Slaughter" a terrific film to be remembered for all the ages? Well no but it does what it intends to do.. provide audiences with an action packed Blaxploitation vehicle for Jim Brown with a heaping dose of sheer awesomeness. I enjoyed "Slaughter" immensely and am highly looking forward to watching its sequel "Slaughter's Big Rip-off".

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Men of War - 2/5

Thanks to the release of Sylvester Stallone's "The Expendables" aging action stars like Dolf Lundgren have been revitalized and due to this people are starting to look back at his old action films.... hell it even worked on me as I haven't seen many of his action films in years. As I go through my DVD collection of Lundgren action films it is easy to say that he hasn't had the most prolific career in the "action film" department compared to his action hero brethren due to most of his films being really, really forgettable. "Men of War" is one of his many action films that fall under the dreaded word "forgettable."

Lundgren is a special forces assassin who is brought out of retirement to gather his old crew of war buddies to head down to a tropical island in order to convince the local tribes to sign a contract so greedy businessmen can come in and mine for jade. Lundgren in good Pocahontas fashion falls in love with one of the tribal women, loses track of his mission and turns on his team and mission. Of course a blood bath ensues.

I don't expect exceptional plots when it comes to action films but Jesus Christ these type of plots have been done to death, even by 1994 when this was made. Really how many action films start off with a retired assassin or mercenary not wanting to come back, but later convinced to by an old friend only to end up being enemies with the very person that hired him. Fuck... I've lost count!

The cast is made up of some great character actors that many action fans will instantly recognize, most notably the Australian actor that played Kano in the "Mortal Kombat" film and other notable jackasses. Hell we even get a young Catherine Bell (famous now for the chick TV show "Army Wives"... you can thank my wife for drilling that bit of trivia into my skull by constantly watching that overly dramatic show) but her character is basically pointless other than providing the predominantly male audience with some eye candy. Dolf Lundgren himself actually doesn't do to bad of a job in the acting department and he really shows he's come a long way from the early days of "Masters of the Universe" and "Red Scorpion."

My main beef with this action film is the lackluster direction by Perry Lane. How did this guy fuck up so royally? He had a dream cast for an action film, a typical action packed plot but he ruins it by giving the film a very flat, made-for-TV vibe to it not aided by some very annoying uses of slow motion. His directing is so pedestrian I felt like I was watching an episode of "Tour of Duty" as opposed to a DOLF LUNDGREN ACTION FILM! Fuck I shouldn't be surprised to learn that all this asshole did after "Men of War" was direct hundreds of television episodes for various series... including fucking "Army Wives." No wonder I found myself losing attention...

Dolf Lundgren does a better acting job and the rest of the cast is made up of a dream team of character actors but thanks to our boring, made-for-TV like approach to the directing this action film never takes flight and it had the ability to be an insanely entertaining action film with the ingredients it had. Where's Cannon films when you need them?

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ip Man 2 - 4.5/5

With the critical and commercial success of "Ip Man" (its also easily the most read review on this site), the eventual "Ip Man 2", which is subtitled on the box here as "Legend Of The Grandmaster", was going to have some big shoes to fill, which it handedly does. Essentially, it takes all the aspects of "Ip Man" and tightens it all up and builds on it. The drama is more dramatic. The fights more intense and spectacular. The history a bit less over the top (it still is) but a potent part of the setting. This makes "Ip Man 2" a better film all around while never losing what made the original so great.

Ip Man (Yen) and his wife and child are now living in Hong Kong since fleeing his home town from the Japanese. It's now the early 50s and Ip Man and his family are struggling to make ends meet. He has opened up a school for Wing Chun, but it doesn't flourish. When he does start attracting a few students, he finds himself at odds with the other masters of martial arts. Along with this, a British boxing match is being set up and the tensions between the two cultures are clashing. Now its up to Ip Man once again to fight for himself, respect for the martial arts, and his people.

There are two things to be excited about for this movie. A) its a sequel to "Ip Man" (duh) and B) its got the fight reunion of Sammo Hung and Donnie Yen since "Kill Zone". Both of which, are great reasons to see this movie. As was mentioned before, this film simply tightens the screws on the elements holding it together. Although the drama seems a bit lessened than the first, the impact, particularly in the second half of the film, is just as powerful. This movie rocks the emotional investment the audience has with Ip Man and his cause for mutual respect amongst his peers and against the foreigners. The historical setting of Hong Kong in the early 50s is extravagantly used for great sets and a greater sense of realism. Partnering all of this with some great performances from Yen, Hung, and all the supporting cast and this film is really utilizing its story and execution well.

Of course, it must also be mentioned that amidst all of this great storytelling and acting, that it is, at its heart, a kung fu film. The fighting spectacular. Choreographed by Sammo Hung (who also did the first one), the fights are well shot with the director and well performed by all involved. We get a classic rematch between Hung and Yen (on a wobbling table of all places), a knife fight in a fish market, and of course, a brutal fight between our Western boxing champion Twister and Ip Man to finish it off. These all work well with in the confines of the story telling process and really ground the film into its kung fu roots and make it entertaining to boot.

The brilliance of the first film is outdone in almost every aspect with "Ip Man 2". It's one of the best martial arts films out there right now and is guaranteed to be a cult classic like its predecessor. If one is a fan of these genre films, then this is a must own, must see, and must worship kind of film. Now let the 'ip-sploitation' films commence.

BONUS RANT: Not sure who I felt, once again, by the Bruce Lee plug placed at the end of the film. Showing a young Lee show up at Ip Man's house might have been a nice touch (perhaps lead into a third film?), but it was a bit awkward with the written parts right before the end.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed - 3.5/5

After the cleverly thought through and impressive "Ginger Snaps" with its unique take on the werewolf film, a sequel seemed rather...well, stupid. How do you follow that up? Seemed like a one and done sort of tale. Yet, with its popularity in the underground circles, the all seeing 'they' decided that it needed a couple sequels. "Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed" and the prequel were filmed back to back. "Ginger Snaps 2" actually comes off as quite a well developed story that continues (and if you haven't seen one then don't bother, its VERY dependent on story arcs from one and never recaps it) the tale of a young girl inflicted with the werewolf curse. Although not quite as good, it does a fine job continuing where we left off.

Brigitte (Perkins) is still dealing with a few heavy things in her life. She killed her own sister Ginger (Isabelle) when she became a werewolf and now her ghost haunts her. Not only that, but she is now dealing with the werewolf affliction. The wolfsbane she injects isn't working any more and to top it off, she finds herself in an institution where they believe her to be a drug addict. The wolf in her is starting to come out though and she has to find a way to get out (with a little help from her new friend Ghost, played by Maslany). Although there seems to be a male werewolf out to find her too.

This movie has a lot going on. If you didn't see "Ginger Snaps" then do so right now before watching this. Otherwise you will be lost like Red Riding Hood in the woods with a lot of wolves looking to hunt you down. In this aspect, the sequel works. It doesn't use time redeveloping Brigitte's character, but takes her on new paths. Paths that add new underlying layers of blooming sexuality, some homosexual undertones, and lots of nuances of family ties, addictions, and blurred realities. These undertones is what made the first one so good and the new subtext is what makes this sequel a worthy one. Once again, the series makes a werewolf film that is only one on the surface and underneath the woolly hair and fangs it's a film about the struggle of human change. It works in spades.

The doesn't quite have the charm that it could have though. Some of the humor is a bit miss (some of it is really clever though) and the plot seems to want to scatter shot across the board. As I mentioned, its a loaded film with meanings and plot twists sometimes to its disadvantage and loss of focus. The film takes a big leap about half way through for change of settings and it doesn't quite flow like it could have through it. It's a logical move but one that doesn't quite fit right and the second half of the film loses a bit of steam until the final act.

"Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed" was a surprisingly solid film though and a sequel they made work far better then it should have. It's clever continuation of the original sparked many new places for the franchise to go (although it left a lot of questions open like who was this male wolf stalking her?) and its new symbolic subtext made it definitely worthy of its originator. Not quite as a good, but still an enjoyable watch with plenty to go around for multiple viewings. If you loved "Ginger Snaps" then "Unleashed" is a must see.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, April 18, 2011

Fast And The Furious, The - 3/5

When I first saw "The Fast And The Furious" in theaters a decade ago, I hated it. I wanted an action film with car stunts galore and wrecks left and right. What I got was a pseudo-serious cop drama based in the world of street racing. Not particularly the same thing. Now with the fifth entry on the horizon, it was time that I revisited this film knowing full well what it was. Was it better then I remember? Yes, but unfortunately its a film that rarely sparks enough chemistry for a franchise.

Brian (Walker) is desperate to get into the same ring as the street legend Dom (Diesel) and the underground world of street racing. Partially, because Dom is a legend of ferocity and calm collected victory and partially because Brian is an undercover cop looking to bust a ring of on the fly truck thefts. Brian thinks that Dom and his crew would know the perpetrators with his high standing, but how far is he willing to tumble into this addictive world before the lines between justice and loyalty begin to blur?

"The Fast And The Furious" is a film that wants so desperately to be a film regarded for its well built story and great characters, but is so awfully wrapped in mainstream fluff that it is torn through its entire play time. It tries very hard. At its heart, it is a good movie. It has a solid cop drama that could have really delved into an emotional depth of a man torn between two worlds. Unfortunately (more or less thanks to director Rob Cohen), it focuses on all the wrong details. It has its moments where the film hits its strides with the companionship and good acting, but they seem fleeting and the film moves at lightning speeds to get to the next 'sweet street car race'.

Believe it or not, the casting is pretty solid here. Walker holds his own (if one is willing to look beyond his pretty boy image) with the ensemble, but its Vin Diesel that steals this film. Despite his modern action star niche that he has fallen into, he has an onscreen chemistry that rises above his only partially good acting. This is one of the saving graces for this film and its easy to see why his stock rose quickly after this film.

Caught between two worlds, one of crime drama and one of glitzy fast cars and crappy action sequences, "The Fast And The Furious" is a film that could have been really good, but falls prey to Cohen's penchant for poor balances between the two. This second time around, I really did want to like the film, but it still doesn't do it for me. It works at times when the focus is there and Diesel's presence definitely lifts it by a rating. Too bad it just can't quite flow like the cars it showcases.

BONUS RANT: What is with the Speed Racer influenced first race sequence? With the blurring back ground colors and the audio fuzz of sound, I thought I was watching a live action anime for a few minutes. It sat poorly with me and still lingers at a concept that failed to work in the confines of the film.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Truck Turner - 3.5/5

Isaac Hayes wasn't content winning Oscars for being behind the scenes with writing and performing amazing Blaxploitation film soundtracks. He wanted to spread his wings and become a full fledged Blaxploitation star and Hollywood gave him a chance as they cast him as the title character in "Truck Turner." Did he have what it took to become a legend in the genre?

Well "Mac" Truck Turner is an ex-pro football player turned bounty hunter it's not an easy way to make a living. Day in and day out he and his partner risk their lives just to bring home ends meet. It even gets in the way of their love lives as Turner even forgets to pick up his main squeeze the day she gets released from prison and bribes her love back with a six pack of buds. The shit really hits the fan when they are forced to kill a pimp they were paid to take in and his women hires out the strongest gang leaders in L.A. to bring her the head of Truck Turner. Sounds like it's going to be a white hot night of hate to me.

Isaac Hayes proves he had the balls and charisma to pull off a likeable Blaxploitation lead and doesn't do half bad in the acting department. His wonderful deep singing voice does make it a little hard to understand some of his dialogue but his voice mixed with some thigh slapping hilarious one liners is fantastic ("either shit or get off the pot" is my personal favorite line). Hell I would even say he matches the screen presence of other Blaxploitation legends such as Richard Roundtree and Fred Williamson.

The highlights of the rest of the cast includes Yaphet Kotto as one of the mob bosses out to shoot off Turner's ass. Yaphet is such a bad ass villain that he should have been cast as a James Bond nemesis (whoops, my bad... he was). His character is so menacing that he even kills Turner's cat and hangs it to scare the living shit out of his girlfriend. The cardinal sin of this film however is that they don't utilize Yaphet enough as character has far too small of a part but still manages to make a nice adversary for Turner especially during a violent hospital shoot out.

The star that outshines Yaphet has to go to actress Nichelle Nichols. I will admit that I am a closet "Star Trek" fan (God forbid you might call me a 'trekkie') so I had a hell of a time seeing her spout off vulgar language like "...they better get used to selling their pussy in Iceland because if they show their faces here again I'm going to slit their fucking throats!" Uhura, do you kiss your captain with that mouth?

Jonathan Kaplan handles the film well and gives us some pulse pounding action scenes brimming with violence that the subgenre has become known for. Suspenseful car chases: check. Shootouts with pimps and naked hookers wielding knives: check. Bloody shootouts in hospitals that apparently have no security: check. Random violence against a housecat: check. Oh yeah, Kaplan knows how to make an entertaining Blaxploitation film.

So in answer to the question I ended my first paragraph with I would have to say YES as Isaac Hayes owns the role of Truck Turner. It's a damn shame the film wasn't a bigger hit in theaters as I would have loved to see Hayes in more films of this nature or even a sequel. Shaft, Slaughter, and Black Caesar all got sequels but not Truck Turner.... BLASPHEMY! In my humble opinion "Truck Turner" is one of the most entertaining films the notorious Blaxploitation genre has to offer so pick it up already!

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Chopping Mall [Killbots] - 2/5

Can you smell that? An almost pungent dairy odor in the air? Aged for a few decades. No? Well I do. It's the smell of 80s cheese and that wonderful odor seems to be coming from "Chopping Mall", or previously known as "Killbots". Haven't heard of it? That's because the damn thing was hard to come by, but its reputation as a great B-movie lead me straight to it. Although it is a bad movie at heart, its so implanted in an 80s state of mind with its ridiculousness that I'll be damned if it isn't a shit load of fun.

A series of young couples decide that their friend's furniture store in the mall would be a great place to party and fornicate. So they wait til the mall closes then start the shenanigans! What they don't realize (or do...but seemingly could care less about) is that this mall is protected at night with huge steel doors and three security robots with sleeper darts, electric prods, and, naturally, laser eyes with enough power to blow a person's head up. When lightning strikes the command console for these normally nice bots, they suddenly lose control to become DA DA DUM killbots! Now these young folk have to figure a way out to stop these mechanical monsters so they can see the light of the next day.

Despite its newest title "Chopping Mall" and ridiculous poster art which make it look like a slasher film, this 80s ball of ridiculousness is all about man vs machine with shoddy special effects, unsympathetic characters, over the top death sequences, and a score comprised mostly of 80s keyboards. Now if they sounds like a party to you then join in on the fun and stay a little late after the mall closes!

"Chopping Mall" is bad. Oh yes, it is very bad. It's story is thinly stretched over its time frame and it's hit or miss on all of its on screen elements. The director does his best to navigate the flimsy script with some clever visual fun bringing out the humor in many parts (how the robots say 'have a nice day' after each kill is pretty funny), but even that can't save it ultimately. The acting is prime 80s crap, not that the actors had much to work with, yet I found myself oddly still rooting for them. Not that I cared if they lived or died, but some of the odd plot ways they thought of to kill the killbots was intriguing. What mall carries open guns and live ammunition (a machine gun to add to it)? Where do they find all of these propane tanks? The film is so baffling that I found myself sucked into it. Most of it made very little sense, but I was intrigued to find out where it would go next! A true sign of great B movies!

This is one of those films that requires a certain...taste to enjoy. It's completely out there with off the wall plot movements, horrid on screen effects, and over the top acting, but its a riot to watch. There is something to be said about the magic and fun of the 80s genre film and "Chopping Mall" embraces that in spades. If you seemingly cannot stand any of the elements I mentioned above, avoid it like a robot about to run you over with its treads. If you have the guts and sensibility of a cult film fan, then this is a must see. Even if it is as bad as it is.

BONUS RANT: Dick Miller (from "Gremlins") has a bit part as a janitor that is one of the first to be knocked off by the killbots...oops spoiler. If only he had been in it longer, cause his part was awesome as a mouthed off to the robot as if it meant something. Sigh. He is only in it for a few minutes though.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Foxy Brown - 3.5/5

After the success of "Coffy" American International Pictures demanded another Pam Grier Blaxploitation vehicle as soon as possible and they employed writer/director Jack Hill with the nearly impossible task to release a quality follow-up within a year. Well he proves that lightning can strike twice as "Foxy Brown" is almost as good as his first Pam Grier match-up "Coffy" in every category making another quaint essential Blaxploitation classic

Foxy Brown is pissed... would you expect else? Her undercover cop boyfriend gets gun downed by the drug cartel he was undercover in but what makes it worse is that her low life brother ratted his ass out. She puffs out her enormous fro, straps on a pistol, and slips into the tightest, funkiest outfits of the decade to go undercover as a call girl to crumble the drug empire in a mass of explosions and gunshots.

Jack Hill makes "Foxy Brown" as graphically violent as his first entry into the genre and he happens to deliver a solid pulp dime store revenge story to wrap around grisly violence. Damn Foxy is hardcore! She covers a goon in gasoline and sets his ass on fire, dismembers a goon with an airplane propeller and even cuts off a guys dick and hand delivers it to his lover pickled in a jar. DAMN GIRL!

Pam Grier seems more comfortable in the genre now and her performance is a step above "Coffy". Her Foxy Brown character, thanks to her better acting is more of a strong willed, take charge women capable to carry out heinous acts of violence all in the good name of revenge. Did I forget to mention that Pam Grier has a body to die for? Don't believe me? Then pop in "Coffy" or "Foxy Brown" and you will have enough of her luscious skin to be stored in your fantasy banks for years to come!

Like all Blaxploitation films it is highly dated with its funky fashions and style but that's what makes these 70s Blaxploiation films so much damn fun! The plot is simple enough with the common thread of "revenge" to still resonate with today's audiences. I've actually run into people who were offended by the aspect that this film, along with "Coffy", had all the villains be high class, rich "white" people. No shit Sherlock! This is a 70s Blaxploitation film! It was another time with different viewpoints and I will happily watch such characters as Foxy Brown blow the living shit out of rich white criminal bigots who stomp on anyone in their path for wealth.

I can't say I liked "Foxy Brown" as much as "Coffy" but it's damn close and it's a wonderful follow-up by director Jack Hill who knows the exact ingredients these genre films need in order to be successful. For a great time go raid your trunk in the attic or the local salvation army to get decked out in polyester, throw on a James Brown album while making popcorn for a double feature of "Coffy" and "Foxy Brown". You'll be glad you did!

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Drunken Master (1978)

Director: Yuen Woo-ping
Notable Cast: Jackie Chan, Yuen Siu-tien

Kung fu movies have always been favorites of mine, but the original 1978 "Drunken Master" with Jackie Chan is a real gem. It's still a classic kung fu movie in all the right ways, but this film is truly created by the blooming careers of two men: star Jackie Chan and director Yuen-Woo Ping, whose combined over the top style sparks with ingenuity and significant amounts of fun. Combined with the killer choreography that combines traditional martial art styles and the hard as hell to master 'drunken boxing', "Drunken Master" is everything one needs in a fun martial arts flick.

Wong Fei Hung (Chan) is a mischievous son of a very high standing martial arts teacher. His antics repeatedly get him into trouble and his fight-first ways have earned him the distaste of his father. When he gets into a fight with both his aunt and a wealthy stranger in one day, his father decides it is time for him to learn from his eclectic uncle. For one year he trains in the style of drunken boxing to learn lessons on how to act and what dedication is. When an assassin comes for his father, his skills will be put to the test though. Did Wong learn enough from his trials to save the one person who put him through them?

The only thing that's missing from "Drunken Master" is a deeper story. Although its story is good enough to get us where we need to be with plot and pacing, this film could have done with a bit more emotional depth for its tale. As is, it works for the martial arts/comedy style, but I could have used a bit more here.

Other than that, "Drunken Master" is spectacular. From its initial fight sequence to set up the 'villain' of the story to the final (very well choreographed) extensive fight sequence between the assassin and Wong, this film is so enjoyable and fun to watch, it breezes by so quickly one wants to restart it just to keep watching. Jackie Chan really does the comedic element well with his "Three Stooge"-esque slapstick and his physical martial arts is ridiculously impressive. To see the things he does in this film, with all of the charm he can muster, is jaw dropping. Along with some well timed plot pacing and endless fight sequences (wanna have a fight over paying for dinner? Why the hell not?) and some well crafted directing, although his focus shots can be a bit shoddy, this film is a kung fu fan's dream.

I could go on and on about its awesome fights and comedic elements that work, but one is best off seeing it for themselves. It's so much fun and so impressive choreography wise, the lack of legit story seems easily brushed aside for better things. Something few films can do easily. One of the best out there.

Written By Matt Reifschneider 

Cyborg 3 - 1.5/5

"Cyborg 3" is by the far the rarest film in the so called "Cyborg" trilogy. It got a very limited VHS release with the title "Cyborg 3: The Recycler" and just recently got a DVD release despite the first two entries being available for more than a decade. Trust me... there's a reason. I never thought I would ask such an asinine statement but where is Albert Pyun when you need him?

Taking place in a desert-like post apocalyptic landscape, we continue the 'adventure' of sexy cyborg Cash now played by Khrystyne Haje (hmm... I wonder why Angelina Jolie turned this down?) who has outlived her human husband Casey Jones. Well she visits her 'cyborg gynecologist' and finds out she's pregnant. Soon she is being chased by a psychotic cyborg hunter known as The Recycler (Richard Lynch) and seeks help of a secluded cyborg technician (Zach Galligan) and an army of mutilated cyborgs that live in a hidden town to defeat the Recycler and his army of cyborg killers.

Director Michael Schroeder returns from "Cyborg 2" and I will give him credit for giving the film a similar landscape look like the original film (unlike the "Blade Runner" like setting of the second) but I may giving credit where credit isn't due as he no doubt was forced to film in the Nevada deserts as it is far cheaper than trying to make a film with a dystopian city landscape.

The budget is the problem here as this even looks to have a fraction of the budget of the second film. This is most evident in our Recycler's mobile "semi" that looks like a deformed bastardized cousin of the monstrous tech semi from "Universal Soldier." This damn thing looks like it's going to fall apart at any moment!

Schroeder also loads this film up with numerous moments of really lame comedy... possibly to help hide the shoddy production values. Most of this lame humor has to do with our ragged group of broke down cyborgs. How long does it take for a stuttering cyborg to get annoying? Answer: 1 second and it's a damn shame that Schroeder has it go on for a half an hour!

The cast, like the second film, looks promising and fans will gravitate towards the name Malcolm McDowell but trust me his role is nothing more than a glorified cameo. Richard Lynch steals the show as the Recycler. It's not a stretch for him as he was born to play these despicable villain roles but he does it well as usual. Zach Galligan phones in his performance like he was wishing he was doing "Gremlins 3" as opposed to "Cyborg 3". I should mention this film also stars Evan Lurie in a small role as a sword wielding cyborg. Don't recognize the name... well he was one of the main stars of the notoriously awful yet immensely entertaining "American Kickboxer 2." Any connection I can make to that film just brings a grin to my face.

"Cyborg 3" may have a setting more reminiscent of the first film but this low budget pointless film is rather lame with a slow moving plot, mostly bad acting and awkward and dumb humor moments. If Albert Pyun returned to direct this (I can't believe I'm saying this) this could have had some entertainment appeal due to unintentional laughs but as is they should have retired this lamentable trilogy after the original guilty pleasure.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Scream 4 - 2.5/5

What do you know? Even after a decade of sitting on the shelves of young horror fans everywhere, they decided to dig up this franchise and try to breath new life into it. Reportedly, this is to be the first of a new trilogy. Thusly, with Craven returning to direct and Williamson returning to write...some of it...we have our hands on "Scream 4" or the stupidly stylized "Scre4m". The results are rather mixed. It is the best "Scream" sequel out there (can you really get any lower than "3"?), but its still a rather flawed film. All in all, its fun, but still a rather cliche' slasher viewing experience.

Sidney (Campbell) now has a hit book out, like everyone else in these movies, and on the last stop of her tour she comes back home to Woodsboro, the illustrious home where the kills started in the first "Scream". Turns out someone else has also returned to the town dawning the mask and shiny knife of Ghostface. Blood starts pouring and the body count rises pretty quickly. Now its up to Sidney along with life long 'friends' Dewey (Arquette) and his wife Gale (Cox) to figure out who the new Ghostface is before all the teens in Woodsboro find themselves taking a dirt nap.

Sometimes it's baffling to me how this franchise took off. It's a self referencing horror film series. It worked in the first one, but the eventual sequels saw its cleverness buckle under the weight of its own idea. The same goes for "4". This time it references modern horror films (with direct call outs to the "Saw" films and all the ridiculous remakes) and how the game has changed. The slogan of the film is: "New Decade. New Rules." Despite this rather intriguing idea and the mass references to the first film - including a very cleverly staged finale with the reveal of our killer(s?) - it only works here and there. The film tries to use this idea that has been rather run ragged as a way to create a new improved cleverness for the series. Sometimes it thinks its way more clever then it actually is (the opening sequence did not sit well with me as it thought it was VERY clever) and half the time you find yourself laughing at the film's expense rather than with the film and its homages.

Luckily, the film does carry some charm to it. Having the original cast return was nice and they do their parts ably, but some of the new comers feel like they are caught on a crossroads. Not able to truly take the spot light for the previous leads, they sit in a purgatorial written state of being fodder in a film that seemingly wants to pass the torch on. Craven does what he can with his directing, showing some flair for the tense and suspense, but fleeting when it tries to show itself as a 'modern' horror film. Many of the scares do work and the added violence/gore seems fitting for modern audiences.

Although the film was still fun and had a rather clever idea to work on, I couldn't help shaking that dreadful cliche' factor. Although the idea was to mock on modern slashers, they missed some of the places they could have run with it (although essentially doing an homage the first "Scream" as a modern slasher worked) and the film still fails to find that balance that the series has been striving to achieve for so long. It's better and I appreciate the effort placed into the film, but it still falls short. Not sure how the reported next two films will fare as a second trilogy (where do you go from here? Really?) and it would have been nice for this film to tie the series up with a rather clever twist instead of the same old same old.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Cyborg 2 - 2/5

After viewing "Cyborg 2" I can honestly say that the writers originally wrote a script called "Cyborg". When they found out a film already existed by that title and went "FUCK!" and quickly slapped "2" in and haphazardly wrote in some lame references just to get by. As you can tell this 'sequel' really has NO connection to the original Van Damme vehicle and depending on your viewpoint that could be either a good or bad thing.

Well in the bleak dystopian future cyborgs are all the rave and two rival corporations are trying to destroy one another to make a monopoly. We then get introduced to sexy cyborg Cash (Angelina Jolie in her film debut) who has been injected with 'glass shadow', a liquid explosive so she can be detonated in the rival cyborg manufacturers headquarters. Well Casey Jones... errr.. I mean Elias Koteas falls in love with her and with the help of some weirdo tech goon that has a beef against the company, he escapes and has to lose a psychotic bounty hunter on their tail.

The look of this film is dramatically different than the first "Cyborg". That film was a braindead post apocalyptic action film set in a "Road Warrior" type future. Here we get bleak science fiction love film set in a "Blade Runner" type future. Sure the beginning shows a quick glimpse of some footage of the original film but I'm not buying it. Sequel my ass! This feels like a completely different universe. "Alien 2: On Earth" felt more like a sequel than this!

Looking past the fact that this in no way remotely looks like a sequel I have to say the filmmakers did try hard to make a 'good' science fiction film... emphasis on the word 'try.' They try to interject a loving relationship between our hero and the cyborg but it just mostly falls flat and I never truly felt the actors were into their roles... as if they knew they were in direct-to-video sequel to a Jean Claude Van Damme film. I did dig the dark, atmospheric setting of the future but again this is nothing new for films of this type.

The problem with this film is the pacing as it tends to drag on and on and on. We also aren't given much incite on many of the characters, especially the character played by Jack Palance. Why the hell does he want to help ruin this company so damn much? It's not explained very well. How the hell does he hack into their video system so easily? And why the hell does he only show his mouth?

The cast is surprisingly good for a film of this type. Elias Koteas is usually decent but he doesn't seem to be trying very hard here. Angelina Jolie is..... let's say she just wants to forget this film on her resume. Jack Palance plays his usual eccentric overbearing weirdo and we get Billy Drago playing his usual eccentric overbearing weirdo. Paycheck rolls for those two guys for sure...

"Cyborg 2" would have been better off not trying to have a connection to the original "Cyborg" as there really is no connection and the attempts to make some are extremely feeble and even laughable. It should have been its own separate entity. The filmmakers also try to make a decent science fiction film with romantic overtones here but the slow plot and lackluster characterizations keep this from breaking new ground. Hard core science fiction nerds might find some things to like here but give be the braindead Van Damme original any day over this... at least that one kept your attention.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Cyborg - 2/5

"Cyborg" holds a special place in this reviewer's black mechanized heart as it was the final film under the Cannon Films logo to be produced by both Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan. Yes the almighty chain of Golan and Globus would be broken after this film as each would go their separate ways but Cannon forged on with "Cyborg" being an insanely awful, yet entertaining platter of cheese that could only be served by the Hawaiian mastro of cheese himself, director Albert Pyun.

Jean Claude Van Damme kicks ass through a post apocalyptic landscape. He saves the life of a cyborg (for you non-tech buffs that is a half human, half robot organism) who holds the cure for a plague sweeping the world. Damme agrees to escort the cyborg to her destination but it won't be easy as she is being followed by a sadistic gang of thugs lead by the very guy that killed Damme's family. Sounds like there's going to be a throw down by the end to me!

Director Albert Pyun's hard on for post apoc movies with cyborgs begins here as I'm not shitting you he directed a shit ton later such as "Nemesis", "Nemesis 2", "Nemesis 3", "Nemesis 4" , "Omega Doom" among many others but none of them would match the sure entertainment value he displays with "Cyborg". Cult fanatics know he's a hack director but at least he loads the film up with plenty of action to keep our primordial brains entertained and ignoring the insanely simple plot. We also get plenty of chase sequences and slow motion kicks to keep us fans of no brain action grinning.

Damme is his usual self here playing a hardened survivor bitter at the very world due to the fact his family fell victim to the hell raining upon the human race... much like, what's his name... oh yea, MAD MAX! To counterbalance Damme's short nature Pyan cast a rather tall individual with piercing blue eyes named Vincent Klyn. Pyun apparently discovered this guy in Hawaii as he was a professional surfer. A surfer... yea sounds like a great idea to cast him as a villain in a MARTIAL ARTS POST APOCALYPIC film! As expected this guy can't fight worth a shit so we get Van Damme kicking the crap out of him while he growls and howls. Hell the writers even threw in a poorly developed love interest in a drifter that has the hots for Van Damme.

Not surprisingly "Cyborg" is a braindead post apocalyptic action flick that still manages to bring a smile to my face in its sheer ineptitude that only Albert Pyun would be so able to craft. Hell he even has the balls to throw in Christian references with Damme at one point being crucified but then again I'm sure I'm looking too deep into the allegorical meanings within "Cyborg." What can I say... I enjoyed it. Am I ashamed to say so? You bet but tough guys beating the shit out of each other in a post apocalyptic world with cyborgs thrown in the mix is enough ingredients for me to enjoy in a B-movie. "Cyborg" did get followed by two sequels in the 1990's, two of which Pyun surprisingly wouldn't return to direct.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Black Shampoo - 1.5/5

The poster artwork for this film has our afro bearing hero sporting a pistol in one hand and the other grasping a hair dryer all while having submissive beauties succulently grapple his legs. It's an amazing piece of art and for that alone it made this highly exploitative blaxploitation flick worth the five dollar purchase but I again was suckered by promising artwork and delivered a plateful overcooked chicken.

Jonathan is the extreme alfa male as he runs a gigolo ring out of his hair salon. Let's just say he's great at gelling up both sets of hair on women, both the attic and basement. Even though he's getting all the ass he could ever want, he still falls for his new receptionist who has an ass to die for... or at least to take the mob on for. She apparently used to be the main squeeze for a mafia boss and now her former boss wants her back but Jonathan won't have it. She escapes and our Black Shampoo hero straps on a chainsaw for vengeance. Trust me it sounds more entertaining that it is.

Out of all the blaxploitation films I have had the pleasure to witness, "Black Shampoo" is definitely one of the more exploitative entries when it comes to onscreen nudity and bloody violence. Our title hero gets so much ass I actually lost count. Exploitation director Greydon Clark actually has the film come to a complete standstill in order to have the camera linger on all tits and booty. Now I'm not against the female form but in this film it just comes across as cheap entertainment like Clark is trying to make up for the films other MARGINAL shortcomings by loading up on all the female flesh he can. We even get a sequence where our hero makes a house call only to get teenagers stripping around him before their mother comes out to give him a lap dance. What the fuck? This scene absolutely has no relevance to the rest of the so called "plot" and makes the film seem more like a cheap porno as opposed to a blaxploitation film.

I have a lot of problems with Greydon Clark's filmmaking as it looks cheap and sloppy. Now I understand this is a low budget drive-in picture but Clark doesn't even seem to be trying. I'm talking about bad zooms, poor pans and sloppy scene transitions (which he tries to cover with the on screen image going negative). The acting is despicable and the writing matches it. I haven't seen a film with so many pointless filler scenes in a long time. What's up with the barbecue sequence other than to pad the run time? Also if you like seeing people drive around then get ready for a shit ton of these long, boring scenes.

Sure "Black Shampoo" is high on 'exploitation' but it is low on actual film quality. I'm all for exploitation films but I prefer a little polish and good filmmaking to go along with those lovable ingredients. "Black Shampoo" just lacks good directing, good writing and good acting making this for a rather trying film experience and definitely one of the worst Blaxploitation films I have ever seen. If all you consider for a 'good' movie is nudity and violence then by all means give "Black Shampoo" a shot. The silly concept and promising poster artwork make this seem a lot more entertaining than it is.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Paranormal Entity (2009)

Well, here it is. My first zero rating. I couldn't think of a more deserving film. A film that not only is a complete rip off of "Paranormal Activity", but is a completely shit film that does nothing to earn itself any kind of redemption. Asylum is a film company that truly promotes the worst films (some in a good way), but "Paranormal Entity" is a complete waste of time. It's repetitive, cliche, poorly crafted, and doesn't make a lick of fucking sense. All in all, it's one of the worst movies I have seen in a very long time.

A family finds themselves at odds with a pissed off ghost/spirit/entity or whatever the hell it is, when the mother tries to communicate with the recently passed father. They begin to experience hauntings in their house not long after so the son decides he is going to document the entire thing with cameras in each room and a hand held. When the hauntings begin to get a bit scarier and more malevolent, the family begins to take action to sort of stop....or figure out...or just sort of...well they don't do shit. Sorry. Spoiler.

"Paranormal Activity" was a cleverly executed, effective, and respectable film that took its low budget and made it work. "Paranormal Entity" is none of that and it never works. When I call it a rip off, I really mean its a rip off. It blatantly tries to steal what worked in "Activity" tries to paste it together to no effect and then sends it off with such a poorly crafted film that one sits through it wondering just who could screw it up so badly. I mean, its a very basic idea that anyone with a couple grand could make work to some degree, yet "Entity" seems entitled to the idea of half assing it the entire time. The directing is shoddy. The acting is sewer level crappy. They didn't seem to even want to finish making the sets look real (did they only paint the doors with one coat of very thin paint? Why are the walls unfinished in the house?) and the story is so completely void of actual elements that it seems to be random dialogue and 'plot twists' that come out of the blue. No build. No atmosphere. No realism. Just what the hell is this movie?

I would call "Paranormal Entity" an exercise in bad filmmaking. Unoriginal and completely empty of any sort of redeemable quality, I'm just going to forget I watched it. Even the randomly placed scenes of nudity (of which there is really no need nor want for), seemed like it was a last minute addition to try to earn the film some sort of viewing audience. Didn't work there either.

I'm done with this film and I hope this review and its first ever zero rating for me serve as warning enough to those out there that are even thinking of watching it. Don't. It's not even laugh worthy like most Asylum films. It's just really sad. A bane on horror films everywhere.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Friday, April 15, 2011

Husk - 3/5

After Dark Horrorfest's 8 Films To Die For was somewhat revolutionary. They did quite a bit to get independent horror out to that larger market and it would seem After Dark Films is out to make themselves a full blown horror machine. Their first set of releases (under After Dark Originals) contains the following film "Husk", a rather new and fresh take on the 'killer scarecrow' sub genre. The film lacks logistics to its plot, but it does strike its own pose on things.

A group of young people (four guys and the plot necessary girlfriend) are on their way to a nice break from the real world. Unfortunately, they cut across some private land and immense corn fields to get to their unseen destination. When a flock of crows decides to play chicken with the car (ultimately both lose), the five youths find themselves stranded in the middle of the sea of corn. When they go to a close house to look for help, they come to odds with some very pissed scarecrows hell bent on their demise. Looks like its the kids that might be left hanging now (haha, that's a scarecrow pun).

Killer scarecrows might not be the most original idea out there (hell, even Goosebumps had a kids book about a killer scarecrow), but this rather clever take on the genre does itself a lot of favors. For every clever thing it does though, it also has a very illogical one. Nails through the fingers so the scarecrows can tear you apart? Awesome. Characters' ridiculous decisions to not formuate a realistic play of escape? Lame. Dead friends becoming part of the murderous army of scarecrows? Awesome. Why do the crows hit the vehicle in the beginning? Unexplained. The film is a constant give and take with this logic. There are even some very cool concepts that when thought through don't make a lick of sense. We discover that removing the hood seems to remove the dead person from the ranks of being a scarecrow. Then why are the 'possessed' to get up from the dead to make their scarecrow hoods to begin with? It's these little details that can make "Husk" a rather frustrating watch.

On the plus side, the film has a pretty solid production. The directing is a bit formulaic with how it goes about things with occasional gem moments of inspiration here and there, but the acting is rather good for a low budget film and the special effects are effective as hell. They use the isolation and fast moving scarecrows to their maximum effect it works on these levels.

"Husk" is a good horror movie that could have been a modern classic. The execution was there on most of the screen elements with decent acting and great special effects. The film even has a pretty original and clever plot. It just doesn't happen to be fleshed out enough to make a lot of sense. Things are left out to rot away in the corn story-wise and other things go by completely left unexplained or poorly developed. It just hurts the film too much in the end, taking it from one level down to the next. For fans of horror though, "Husk" is decent enough for the buy. It has enough of those shining moments to work its magic.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Karate Kid, The (2010) - 3/5

If you grew up in the 80s, the original "Karate Kid" was a staple of life. If it wasn't then you were surely deprived of its cheesy glory and heartwarming story. To remake such a film, would require a certain ability to modernize the tale without losing the underlying messages and cliches that made it a classic. To an extent, the 2010 version of "The Karate Kid" does just that. Although it takes its own path with the story (basing it in China this time around) it still retains many of the heartwarming family film aspects that it needed. Unfortunately, it's still quite a flawed film in its portrayal.

Dre (Smith) and his mother have had to make some major changes in their life. Like, you know, moving to China for a job opportunity. Despite his charm, Dre has found adjusting a bit harder than expected. No one understands him and a bully at school, trained in kung fu as one would have it, repeatedly beats him down. When a local maintenance man Mr. Han (Chan) comes to his aid one day, both of these outcasts find themselves dealing with a rather malicious teach of kung fu at the local facility. Now it's up to Han to teach Dre the real meaning and use of kung fu so that he can compete in an open tournament.

Oh yeah, "The Karate Kid" is still really damn cheesy. It lacks some of that ridiculous 80s charm, much to its disadvantage, and it comes off as far too melodramatic far too often. It plays the emotions up to 11 on the emotion amp and for a film well over 2 hours it tends to build up this Lifetime channel cheese that it can't overcome. The melodrama can be a little much and it makes the film drag a bit in its longer moments. This is the film's biggest obstacle that it struggles with.

Besides that - and some very American style fight sequences towards the end that are over edited and under displayed - "The Karate Kid" isn't half bad. The acting is pretty solid, proving with a subtle role that Jackie Chan can hold his own even in an English language film acting wise, and the directing really utilizes the land scape of China to awe the audience with its sights. They definitely make it seem very majestic with its heart of gold.

I was pleasantly surprised with "The Karate Kid". It was relatively inspiring with its modernization of the story and its unique flavors to distinguish itself, but it tends to fall under its own over the top drama. I wish that some of the film would have held more Eastern style to its approach technically (the fight scenes could have used a director who knows how to handle them), but overall the film works. It definitely could have been worse. That's for sure.

BONUS RANT: Is it just me or does little Smith act just like his father, Will Smith? There are times and lines with his street talk and attitude that it was very apparent whose offspring it was. It was just a little creepy.

Written By Matt Reifschneider