Sunday, June 26, 2011

I Am the Law (1977) - 4/5

In the realm of Italian Poliziotteschi crime thrillers, there is a broad spectrum that the films cover. On one side there is the violent "Dirty Harry" and "French Connection" clones that follow a hard edged cop as they take down syndicates. These entries are high on action, lower on plot. On the other end there are politically charged thrillers that are low on action, and high on plot with judges or higher class officials taking on the mafia. "I Am the Law" easily falls in the latter end of the spectrum as it is extremely low on action, but full of politically charged intensity.

Unlike most politically charged Poliziotteschi films at the time which took place at the time they were made, "I Am the Law" actually takes place in a pre-World War II Sicily. What we have is a high class, determined Judge (Giuliano Gemma) arriving in Sicily to do away with the Mafia once and for all. It of course is not an easy job as the Mafia has their greedy little fingers in every aspect of the lives of Sicily's citizens. Gemma finds that he's on his own as the Mafia's influence infects all they up to the highest order in Italy.

The setting of this film is the biggest draw to this period piece as it is so rare for films in this genre to take place in a historical setting. The filmmakers realistically capture the backdrop of pre-World War Sicily with its amazing on site locations. These amazing historic locations mixed with convincing costume design ensures your going take a trip back in time.

The biggest surprise from "I Am the Law" is the solid performance from Giuliano Gemma. If you go into "I Am the Law" expecting the same cocky cowboys he portrayed in his Spaghetti Westerns with the boyish charm then you are going to be sorely disappointed. There is no silly charm to this character as he is all business. It's unique, almost bizarre to see Gemma play such a serious, stoic character with anger boiling in his veins. This however makes the performance that much better. Hell to be honest this might very well be the best performance as his career.

Director Pasquale Squitieri, a rather unknown director in Italy, handles the film with a sure hand and gives the film a stark, dark look, matching the films dark nature of its plot. His approach to the subject matter is comparable to the works of Damiano Damiani, only more dark and bleak. Ennio Moriconne's fabulous score on serves aid in the films dark atmosphere.

"I Am the Law" was quite a surprise for me. Though I still prefer my Poliziotteschi films to be more action orientated and over-the-top there's no denying that "I Am the Law" is a terrific film made unique by it's period setting , strong performances and visualistic direction. This obscure rarity was given a fantastic DVD release by Wild East Productions in a double feature with another politically charged crime film simply titled "Mafia".

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Blood Night: The Legend Of Mary Hatchet - 2/5

Blood night! Whoo! Generic holiday used to celebrate some sort of psychotic area history that includes stories of a killer ghost who haunts it on the holiday and occasionally kills people! Whoo! In all seriousness though, at least "Blood Night" was somewhat crafted from a 'real' legend in the area the film is based in. Unfortunately, that doesn't save the film from falling into mediocrity thanks to an oddly crafted script, poor acting, and a severely low budget. This film definitely has its own flair, especially when gandered at in a grindhouse sort of viewpoint, but it takes a lot of squinting to see it that way.

A group of local high school teens are out to celebrate Blood Night (a local holiday used to celebrate the life and death of Mary Hatchet, a mentally ill woman whose rampages of death are legendary themselves) and the return of an old friend (Harris) who has come to visit. They party through the night (lots of needless nudity and random sexual references included) and taunt the local ghost despite the warnings of Graveyard Gus (Moseley). Suddenly a bunch of them start turning up dead. Now its up to the survivors with the help of local legend authority Gus, to try to find a way to end Mary Hatchet's curse...or its decapitations for all of them!

I was tricked! Bill Moseley and Danielle Harris? Two horror legends in one movie!? Should have known better. Turns out both are more or less cameo roles and throw away performances. Damn. At least the rest of the film should be kick ass if they took roles, right?

Nope. Basic slasher film through and through. Although the film starts promising with its rather well directed and nightmarish re-telling of the Mary Hatchet tale and its rather horrifying performance from Facchi as Mary Hatchet, the film quickly delves down to retread water that a thousand other slasher films have gone over before. Group of horny teens out to party find themselves on the prey end of a murder spree. Nudity and carnage via some significant gore sequences are abound here and the story spirals down into a whodunnit mystery of relatively simple size. Yawn! Partner this with some low budget sets, low budget acting, and a group of characters no one actually gives two shits about who just make sex jokes the entire time and color me bored.

The one saving grace for this film is its director Frank Sabatella. Although the guy can't write to save his life, his knack for finding some very cool shots amid the script and horrible acting is rather uncanny. He makes that opening sequence work and is able to nab some tasty morsels of creativity as the movie drifts away into cliche sea. At times, I felt like perhaps he would be able to lift the film above its grindhouse style and into the next level (like Eli Roth did with "Cabin Fever" or Ti West did with "The House Of The Devil"), but it never happens to that extent. He does show some great promise as a low budget horror director and I would be looking forward to seeing more from him.

Other than a rather surprising directorial effort, "Blood Night" just saunters along content with being an average slasher film. Even the 'twist' ending was a 'been there, done that' moment. "Blood Night" was just relatively disappointing. With the hype of its 'hard to come by' status for years, I felt as though the movie garnered for more attention then it deserved. Unless you are just in the mood for gratuitous nudity and gore, this one might be a skipper. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Batman Forever - 2/5

With the commercial success of "Batman Returns", but the critical firestorm of how dark it was and un-family friendly, the obvious direction for Warner Bros. to take the franchise was to be more comic book like. Thusly, "Batman Forever" is a stark 180 whiplash of visual proportions as it tries to retain some of the dark psychological elements, but embrace the ridiculous comic ideology that the TV show had. This leaves us with a film that is entertaining to watch (if you don't have problems with bright lights/colors), but never rises above being a popcorn film with no real bones to structure itself on.

Batman (now played by Kilmer) continues to struggle in finding a balance between his two personalities of Bruce Wayne and Batman. With the rampages of Two Face (Jones) threatening Gotham over and over as the diabolical and horribly dressed  villain looks for who Batman is, our hero begins to consider retiring. With the recently orphaned Dick Grayson (O'Donnell) now living in the manor and a new love on the horizon (a wasted Kidman), it all seems to point towards a more stable life without the dark knight. When a brilliant scientist, Edward Nygma (Carrey) discovers a way to suck Gotham civilian's IQ with a 3D TV (I shit you not) and it contorts his psyche into The Riddler, Batman must face the most intelligent villain he's ever known before he moves onto dastardly deeds. 

"Batman Forever" certainly feels caught between two worlds. It still wants to be the character study film that the first two of the franchise were, particularly with Bruce Wayne's dilemma of his need for Batman, yet it wants to be the comic book hoot and wink at the audience that the TV show was. It never does find a balance. Yeah, it's fun, in sort of an eye rolling way (Batman's first line in the film is about getting drive thru with his Batmobile), but it's a rather hollow film in the end.

Most of the reason it feels hollow has nothing to do with it's over the top plot or Crayola vomit inspired design and look. It's the failure to give any of the characters any depth. Batman seems more like a one liner machine who occasionally looks torn and gives half assed speeches to Robin and both the villains are underused in their roles (although the casting is spectacular which only makes it worse at their lack of usage). The Riddler never seems to be all that clever in outwitting Batman and Two Face is diluted down into a gun wielding visual gimmick. The only one that seems to have any arc is Robin and his is obviously done as a subplot of basic outline. This is what makes "Batman Forever" so damn frustrating. Oh... there was a leading lady?

Otherwise, I suppose the film is a knee slapper. Not always in a good way, but it is hilarious. The colors and ridiculous plot elements make for a film no one can take seriously. Did the Batmobile just drive up the side of an apartment building with a giant grappling hook? I guess so. Did The Riddler just grab his crotch in front of the camera with a weird squeak noise? Creepy. Does the Batsuit have Batnipples? Awkward. The film is simply full of weird shit. It really is. Most of its rather nonsensical, but hilarious even if it is unintentional.

"Batman Forever" simply sucks compared to the first two. Fun to look at with its epic sets and seizure inducing color scheme, but not much more than that. It's relatively depthless and despite trying to add in some darker tones, it never blends. Leaving those of us who loved the first two wondering...what the hell just happened?

BONUS RANT: In the finale, Batman has to wear his new unfinished Sonar Suit to go face off with the villains and at one point the eyes get covered with a black shiny glass on the suit...but...nothing happens? What the hell? Was this meant to mean he could see in the dark? Why aren't we shown that? It's not dark! What the hell?! Why is the suit relevant then? Merchandising?

In the Line of Duty 4 - 3.5/5

IN THE LINE OF DUTY 4

Aka "In the Line of Duty IV: Witness", "In the Line of Duty"


God damn it! I hate viewing sequels without seeing the first film, let alone not seeing the first three films! Normally I wouldn't even buy a sequel without owning or seeing the first entries but in the case of "In the Line of Duty 4" I couldn't pass up on the opportunity as I scored a brand new out-of-print 20th Century Fox edition at a pawn shop for a measly $3. That and for the fact it stars major martial arts badass Donnie Yen, I couldn't help myself so here I am again reviewing a sequel without the proper knowledge of the previous entries to compare it to.
In doing a little research I discovered it is extremely hard to find information on the "In the Line of Duty" franchise despite the series being a monster hit in Hong Kong. Apparently the first two films starred Michelle Yoeh as a hardcore female cop and the films were titled "Yes Madam!" and "Royal Warriors" in most English language countries. Star Cynthia Khan (whose stage name is a combination of Cynthia Rothrock and Michelle Khan, aka Michelle Yoeh, whom she replaced in the franchise) took over the starring role for the remainder of the series which are known as "In the Line of Duty III", "In the Line of Duty 4", "In the Line of Duty 5: Middle Man" and "In the Line of Duty 6" in most English language countries. It gets really confusing, especially for completists like me who like to own entire franchises. Thankfully for me though "In the Line of Duty 4" is completely viewable on its own without having seen the previous entries.
So we get tough as nails female cop Yang Lei-Ching (Cynthia Khan) butt heads with a C.I.A. agent played by Donnie Chen as they are both on the trial to terminate a drug trafficking syndicate. Along the way an innocent illegal immigrant gets mixed into the mess by becoming a suspect and soon our two agents from opposite sides of the Pacific need to put their differences aside to bring the syndicate down and a corrupt agent along with it.
Cynthia Khan is one hellacious women! Not only is she gorgeous and has a soft side, but she also kicks so much ass that she might even be able to take down a God like Chuck Norris. However for this sequel she is almost outshined by newcomer Donnie Yen, who looks about 19 years old. Though he only recently has gained popularity with martial arts fans here in the states, "In the Line of Fire 4" proves he has been kicking ass since 1989.
Director Yuen Woo-ping in no stranger to directing amazing martial artists as he has directed both Jackie Chan in "Drunken Master" and Jet Li in "Tai Chi Master". He loads this film up with tons of amazing stunts and action scenes. We get Cynthia Khan in an aw-inspiring martial arts fight above and beside a moving ambulance and Donnie Yen in a white knuckle motorcycle chase... and these are just a few scenes in this non-stop actionfest.
"In the Line of Duty 4" brought a huge smile to this Hong Kong film lovers face. It mixes high caliber stunts and amazing martial arts to near perfection. The 'police fighting syndicate' plot can be a little by-the-numbers but fans don't watch these type of films for engaging plots... it's all about the action baby! It also keeps the slap stick comedy, which was common in hong kong films at the time, well balanced (Jackie Chan please take note!). I enjoyed this sequel so much that I'm putting a lot of blood, sweat and tears into locating American friendly DVDs of the rest of the series... and trust me as it is no easy task! This is a must for Hong Kong film fans that enjoy the police martial arts entries and also worth a look for Donnie Yen fans to see an earlier and kick ass performance by the actor.
Written By Eric Reifschneider

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Batman Returns - 3.5/5

With the success of the 1989 film version of Batman, it was a wonder that it took Warner Bros. any time at all to throw out a sequel. Not that it took them all that long, but the sheer merchandising rights and fanbase for the character might have sped them up more. Nonetheless, "Batman Returns" did come about with Tim Burton returning to helm it. Although not quite as good as the first film, this sequel has plenty of oddities to love about it and it remains one of my favorite underrated films.

With Gotham on the road to ridding itself of crime and evil with Batman's (Keaton) help, it was only time before a new villain arose to the fill the void left by the receding crime. From the sewers, a grotesque half penguin man, The Penguin (DeVito) finds himself set to partner with an evil business man Shreck (Walken) to create a powerful duel foe. Batman is set to find the secret's to The Penguin's life as he tries to stop the corruption from spread into Gotham. To add to his troubles, a distraught secretary (Pfeiffer) of Shreck's is handed a new split personality when he tries to kill her for knowing too much. Her new persona, that of Catwoman, battles the same traumas as Batman, but her animal side seems out to shred anything in her path. Can Gotham survive when three animalistic people collide?

"Batman Returns" sits rather oddly with most people. It's tone is very similar to the original, with its dark character studies highlighting the film and setting it apart from other comic book films at the time, but with Burton's greater creative control it also happens to be a lot nuttier with little reason for it. It tries to be more than the original in every sense and despite some great moments, it's also hindered by this ideology.

Personally, I love the darker tone of the film. Although critics initially panned it for being 'more violent' and 'too adult' in tone, I happen to think it really works. Some of the sexual innuendos (blatant as they are) can be creepy, but the added violence brought to light by The Penguin and Catwoman adds flair to the film. It makes it even darker and less childish, despite its more over the top designs. This partnered with Burton's nightmarish style and the films snowy black-and-white landscape give the film a very chilly vibe. Visually the film is quite impressive and even the odder more Burton design moments (Catwoman's suit, the look of The Penguin's old zoo lair) fit perfectly for the atmosphere and style of the film.

Just as with the first film, the casting here is more than superb. DeVito nails the creepy and sadistic animalistic tone of The Penguin with relative ease and Pfeiffer's transformation from coy Kyle to Catwoman is a well executed 180 of character. Just watching her do the flicking eye thing as she returns from her fall still sends shivers up my spine. Keaton returning as Batman is a well embraced move. The only one I thought was questionable was Walken as Shreck. His cheesy look and over the top acting didn't quite vibe as realistically as the others and it makes him the weakest casting choice of the film.

Yet, despite the wonderful visual atmosphere, darker tones, and casting choices, "Batman Returns" is quite flawed. Mostly due to its writing. It's impressive that they crafted a relatively solid origin story for The Penguin and the character studies of the three leads are well balanced (the split human/animal qualities is well executed), but at times the dialogue is pretty atrocious. The writing is just not as tight and with all the focus on our two villains, Batman gets the shaft with his character arc. There are just too many characters here that are all trying to the share the lime light. The film also falls to pieces in the third act. There are some great political undertones running through the film, yet as the shit hits the fan, The Penguin...get this...sends missile packing penguins to destroy Gotham. What?! The film takes a very sudden turn straight into wacko-ville here and despite some interesting visuals, just doesn't justify that this is where the film should have ended.

All in all, I still love this movie. Yeah, its pretty significantly flawed with its writing and overcrowded character arcs, but the more violent and darker tone works in spades. The Penguin is still one of my least favorite villains in the Batman universe, but they did him justice here. Don't quite take the film to the level of impressiveness as the original one had and I'm sure you will have a riot watching this one too. Just get sucked into the atmosphere and visual charisma and "Batman Returns" can be a lot of fun even with its flaws.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Batman (1989) - 4.5/5

With everyone's attention focused solely on Nolan's third Batman film, "The Dark Knight Rises" due out in 2012, I felt it was high time we take a break from the ramblings of casting for this film and travel back to 1989 to take a gander at the big screen blockbuster  that was (and still is) the best Batman film, "Batman". So, caped crusaders of the night, throw on your cowls and capes and let's look at Tim Burton's late 80s version of Gotham and it's prince.

Batman (Keaton) has just started putting a dent into the crime lords of Gotham City as the vengeance who stalks the night. When a set up goes awry at a chemical factory, the diabolical crime goon Jack Napier (Nicholson) is dropped into a vat of toxic chemicals and left for dead. Not all are smiles and Cokes though when Batman learns that Napier has returned with smiles as a maniac known to be The Joker. With the nelp of a new friend and news reporter whom The Joker has come obsessed with, Vicki Vale (Basinger), Batman must find a way to stop the ingenious madman before he slaughters all of Gotham just for a laugh.

Although previously Batman was seen as a somewhat comical character with Pows and Bams (thanks mostly to the Adam West TV/movie version of the character), Tim Burton and company's view of the Dark Knight returns it to the roots of which it original was meant to be: a darker toned vigilante film that questioned the role of justice in society. With beautiful painted backdrops of a 30s meets 80s inspired Gotham City landscape and some great designs, this version of the superhero ably homages the classic comic whilst bringing it up to date.

The darker (yet some what still comic bookish tone) is handedly superbly by Burton. His style isn't quite as wicked crazy here and most of the more nightmarish things are given meaning by a well written script that really focuses on the characters within the action film. The film mostly uses Vale as a sort of 'audience' like connector to allow us to delve into this world and begin to fill in back story on both Batman and his nemesis The Joker. This is a rather brilliant approach as it allows Batman to remain this mysterious and detective like figure throughout the film as he really isn't the protagonist until the final portion of the film. Polished over with some great action sequences (the bell tower finale is awesome) and even better special effects (although some of the animated additions sure date the film), "Batman" works the great struggle of its characters smoothly into an entertaining and exciting film.

Of course, at this point one must also compliment the fantastic casting choices that were made for "Batman". Although many mocked Keaton's initial casting as Bruce Wayne/Batman, his glaring eyes and odd 'I'm hiding something' eclectic demeanor works in spades here and his comedic bits seem all in the past as he really tackles this performance. It must also be said that Nicholson as The Joker is pretty fucking brilliant too. He's creepy as hell here as his comedic side borderlines insane (did he really just say "Never rub another man's rhubarb"?!) as he does some weird things on screen with the character. Nicholson runs with the performance and makes it his own navigating between the genius of the character and the sheer insanity. If anyone says its overplayed, I'll rip their lungs out.

The fact of the matter is, "Batman" hits the combination of dark and family friendly action oriented film damn near perfectly. The film is fun and ambitious with its vision, yet serious enough to truly let the viewers glimpse the psychosis of this classic comic legend. Although its not perfect, the Vicki Vale character is a definite weak point, this is still (to the time of writing) the best Batman film. Hands down.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ringo, the Face of Revenge - 3.5/5

As strange as it sounds it seems I have seen quite a few spaghetti westerns pertaining to treasure maps being tattooed on various parts of the human body. First I saw "Don't Turn the Other Cheek" where the loveable Eli Wallach had a treasure map tattooed on his ass. Then I saw "Blood Money" in which multiple women had parts of a treasure map tattooed on their luscious asses. Now I've seen "Ringo, the Face of Revenge", another film that has tattooed treasure maps, just not on asses this time.

What we got here is two strapped for cash drifters that save the life of a Mexican. They discover the Mexican has a treasure map tattooed on his back so they blackmail him into splitting the treasure. An eves dropping smarmy ass wipe (played by Frank Wolff) has different plans and in turn blackmails his way into a four way split.

The plot is full of double and even triple crosses to keep audiences interested and surprisingly the film has good enough narrative to allow the audience to know what the hell is going on (a luxury that a lot of spaghetti westerns lack). Director Mario Caiano keeps his visual flair to a minimum but at the same time gives the film an interesting enough look to hold interest.

The cast is just wonderful with Anthony Steffen giving a little more emotion to his role rather than his usual stoic self. He is the 'Clint Eastwood ' of Italy so it did shock me a bit to see him even cry in one scene. Well he just moved up a notch in my book with this more human portrayal. Eduardo Fajardo gives a likable performance as the drunken elderly sidekick (whose quirky nature of having a pet rabbit on a string had me rolling on the ground) but the film is almost stolen by Frank Wolff as the smarmy crooked thief who corrupts everyone he comes in contact with. Alejandra Nilo also shows up towards the end to give the audience some much need eye candy.

Overall "Ringo, the Face of Revenge" is better than average spaghetti western aided by a wonderful cast but could have been made better with a hair more visual flair from the director's standpoint. Otherwise I had a wonderful time with the triple crossing plot. The film is not helped by its title which was named in order to capitalize on the success of the Ringo name, popularized by "A Pistol for Ringo."

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Legend Of The Fist: The Return Of Chen Zhen - 3.5/5

Is it just me or does it seem like Donnie Yen is taking over the Martial Arts film world? The guy has been putting out some seriously awesome films lately in all kinds of forms. This is the main reason why "Legend Of The Fist: The Return Of Chen Zhen" was on my viewing list. Although it wasn't quite the impactful film I wanted it to be, the sheer awesomeness of the fight sequences and visual style make it a sound watch.

Chen Zhen (reprising his role from the TV series by Donnie Yen) has been around the world fighting for justice and humanity. When he returns from France to Shanghai in 1917, he assumes the identity of a fallen comrade to continue to fight the oppression of the Chinese people from the invading Japanese. With a group of freedom fighters in tow and a new secret identity to help him stay hidden, Chen Zhen finds himself on the brink of adding a unity to his people. To get to it though, he may just have to face an old foe from his past.

Directed by Andrew Lau (who gave us the phenomenal "Infernal Affairs"), "Legend Of The Fist" certainly has a charm to its visual style that works. The blending of 30s Western and Easter cultures for the look of the film makes for some vibrant landscapes and Lau uses it to full advantage. Although at times the rather clunky and confusing pacing (which makes the story of spies far too confusing on first watch) hinders the greater storytelling aspects, the general look and style of the film is well done. It paints an interesting portrait of the feelings of the period and this foundation works well here.

Of course, one doesn't go into a film like this just for Lau's directorial abilities. We want to see Donnie Yen kick ass and do it as mightily as possible. Although there were far less action sequences than I expected, he does just that. Choreographed by Yen, the first two thirds of the film really pile on some solid modern Martial Arts action. Yen ably balances his subtle acting abilities with the sheer awesomeness of his fighting abilities and Lau's modern eye for updating the genre, the film can really bring some brutal fighting. The sequences are a bit ridiculous and over the top at many points (like the high flying knife slaughter in the opening sequence), but it works. The reason it works is because the first two thirds of the film feel like a superhero origin story. Not exactly what I expected, but it feels like a transitional film for bringing the Chen Zhen character into a whole new mythos. If so, then count me in.

The highlight of the film is neither the visual style nor the action in the first two thirds of the run time. Nope, it's the final act of "Legend Of The Fist". Reminiscent of older kung fu films, the style of the third act takes a dramatic and well executed shift into a classic style kung fu film. The final stand off takes place in a dojo (like Chen Zhen's first rise against the Japanese) and it harkens back to the style and story that made Zhen's character great to begin with. Vengeance and sheer martial arts brilliance. I won't give it away, but let's say its a nut punching good time.

I desperately wanted "Legend Of The Fist" to be as good as "Ip Man 2" or better, but alas some odd pacing problems and a rather confusing plot hindered the overall experience. Luckily, it does overcome most of it with some great acting, a solid visual director, and fight sequences impressive enough to earn Yen even more genre points. Chen Zhen's return may not have been perfect, but the path this film indicates could lead to a beautiful friendship.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Zombie Diaries, The - 1.5/5

Although zombie films have become a staple of this horror generation's palate, there has been some interesting twists and turns into the regularly visited sub genre and how it has been explored. "The Zombie Diaries", for example, takes us down the handheld camera inspired "Blair Witch" path for an hour and a half. The aspirations are here and some clever ideas emerge, but "Diaries" easily falls short thanks to some amateur faults and a very, very low budget that leaves us with a film that makes "Diary Of The Dead" seem like award winning material.

Three stories of survivors during a zombie uprising in the countryside of England intertwine as three separate 'diaries' are played out via handheld camera. A group of documentary makers (convenient!) are witness to the first outbreaks, while a group of scavengers scour the city for supplies and a group of survivors hold up in a farm to fend off the hordes.

The idea for this film is fairly impressive. The three interweaving stories twist and turn in some unique ways as we are shown how the pieces of these tales interlock into one story. Although some of the ways it is edited and where the stories cut off are awkward and clunky, the idea is interesting. Along with this idea comes some well executed special effects (at times) to help the film push through and make the time pass.

I just wish they would have been able to execute it better.

The main issue with "Zombie Diaries" is just how boring it is. Nowadays, zombies run, vomit blood, and generally create a lot of chaos. This film decidedly takes the old school approach with slow moving creatures and isolation and owes George A. Romero some credit. Unfortunately, for this style to work anymore one has to have two things: tension and great characters. This film has neither. The handheld camera is a cost effective way to get the audience to feel 'in the action', but half the time I couldn't tell what was going on and the sacrifice of the artistic way of doing the film wasn't balanced off. The tension of the bouncing camera is annoying and ineffective here. Partner that with characters I didn't know or care about (and too many to really work some arcs with) and the movie just became a lot of irrelevant dialogue that bores and 'horror sequences' that are rarely horrifying as much as confusing. It is simply a frustrating experience.

There are people out there that love this movie. I am not one of them. I respect some aspects of the film, the makers certainly get an A for effort in trying some neat things with the interweaving stories and some solid special effects, but in the end, the film just doesn't work like it should. It drags on and never seemingly gets the connections where it needs.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Operation Condor [The Armor Of God II: Operation Condor] (1991)

Director: Jackie Chan
Notable Cast: Jackie Chan, Eva Cobo, Carol Cheng

*Note: This review is for the American cut of the film.

When the US starting acquiring the rights to various awesome Chinese films, it should have been a great thing. Too bad they screwed up most of them. Take "Operation Condor" for example. It's a pretty solid Indiana Jones knock off film with great stunt work, but its awful dubbing and horrid title sequence certainly spell out that the US didn't know how this was supposed to work. It's still a fun film with lots of traditional Jackie Chan humor and stunning action sequences, but it still leaves a few...holes that might be filled with the original cut.

Jackie (Chan) is brought back from his treasure hunting exploits to help find a lost horde of Nazi gold in the African desert. He is teamed with a desert expert and the granddaughter of one of the Nazi's who hid the gold and the three must battle their way through deception, spies, and gravity to be the first ones there.

At its least, "Operation Condor" is a fun and fancy flick that really utilizes its sets and plot well. By plot, I mean the random 'adventure' style flimsy script that is thrown together to piece up some great action sequences. Are their character arcs? Hell no. I'm not even sure if there needs to be honestly. If Chan's character wasn't named Jackie, I'm not even sure I would remember who he was. We get a random concept that allows Chan to do what he does best...slapstick humor and jaw dropping action scenes. One doesn't really need more than that here, even if its an obvious knock off on Indiana Jones with its tribes, traps, and Nazis.

The acting is sub par, although Jackie Chan is his usual charming self only this time with a gum chewing kitsch, with dubbing that makes it far worse then it probably is. The directing (from Jackie) is his usual stuff, mostly beneficial to just getting the film to the next sequence in as little time as possible. It's nothing to scoff at, as it does its job, but its certainly not winning any awards either.

The number one (and mostly sole) reason to watch "Operation Condor" is for the action pieces. Man oh man, are they ridiculous and fun. Although some of them are so out there to be asinine (see the hamster ball escape down a cliff), most of them are so well put together and executed that it shames every other aspect of this film. The air tunnel fist fight stakes its claim as the highlight of the film, comically too, but everything from the chain swinging leaps to the motorcycle wheelies to the slapstick gun grabbing in the hotel in the desert is sure to earn some grins and applause from even the most critical of fans. This is surely some of his best stunt work on film.

All in all, "Operation Condor" is a good film, but far from great. It lacks a cohesive plot, relevant characters, or any kind of legitimate connection emotionally for its viewers. On the other hand, the stunts are so awesome that none of the above matters. If you are a fan of the Chan then this is a definite must see. If only they had the original version available in the US.

BONUS RANT: Why the fuck does the US poster look like a Bond film? The film is an obvious rip off of a different action franchise, yet the poster rips on a separate one. Seriously...what the hell?

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, June 16, 2011

True Grit (2010) - 4/5


Although being raised on classic westerns has given me an affinity for John Wayne and his films (as I'm sure is obvious from my brother's penchant for the general genre), remaking "True Grit" seemed like a questionable decision. The only reason this film found its way into my viewing queue is the fact that it's directed by modern geniuses the Coen Brothers and despite some amazing performances and directing the film still feels rather...unfinished as a story. As if it could have gone even further with its tale of western woes and pushed even further into dramatic territory.
Mattie's (Steinfeld) father was killed in cold blood by one of his workers, Chaney (Brolin). She has decided to take her fathers affairs and finish them off. Picking up the horses he is owed. Making sure he gets proper burial. Hiring a liquored US Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) to head out into the wild to find and bring Chaney to justice. She partners up with the Marshall and a Texas Ranger (Damon) to track the notorious man through the west.
One cannot deny the power of this film in its executions. Behind the scenes, the Coen brothers craft a film of riveting shots and glorious vision. They know how to make a film work and they do their thing with "True Grit". It's got a snap pace to ride out and there is great banter for dialogue that displays the brothers ability to add awkward humor to most dramatic moments. "True Grit" also utilizes a stunningly well placed score of church music and tension building atmosphere to partner with the visual prowess.
To match the Coen brothers amazing directorial talents, are the onscreen acting talents that are displayed by a more than impressive cast. Our little lady lead handles the role with pride and unrivaled confidence. She is matched by the somewhat throw away performance by Matt Damon and both are shadowed by Jeff Daniels as the infamous Rooster Cogburn. Daniels easily shames the other two (and the relatively ill developed cameo of Josh Brolin) with a stunningly solid and well detailed show for the co-protagonist. Although John Wayne earned his Oscar for his performance of the same role, Daniels even buries that performance.
The reason this amazingly executed film doesn't get the illustrious five out of five here at Blood Brothers is that despite the illustrious performances from the cast and Coens, I kept waiting for the film to kick it up to the next level plot wise. Waiting. And waiting. It never really came. Yes, it's a complete story, but I kept waiting for more emotional relevance. Something to bring the tears to my eyes as a dramatic tale. It never came about. There is an attempt at this epiphany in the final moments of the film with a denouement of our lead as an older women, but it feels tacked on and relatively out of left field. Might as well have done a voice over and just been done with it.
"True Grit" is a great western. One of the best. It's not a perfect film. It still fails to truly make that connection with its tale of western woes even though it does its damnedest to with some riveting performances and amazing directing. Leaving another great film for the Coen brothers, but not one that was going to sweep out the rest of its competition.
 Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, June 13, 2011

Great Texas Dynamite Chase, The [Dynamite Women] - 3/5

Alongside disaster flicks another proprietor in 1970s cinema culture was the outlaw chase flick. So with the "The Great Texas Dynamite Chase" we get a Roger Corman combination of "Vanishing Point" and "Bonnie and Clyde", substituting Clyde with another Bonnie for an earlier variation of "Thelma & Louise". That means it's an entertaining, low-budget B-movie with high octane chases mixed with two beautiful broads robbing banks with dynamite. Sounds like a explosive good time.

Claudia Jennings escapes from prison only to rob a bank with a stick of dynamite in order to provide money for her family. Along the way she picks up a partner in the form of Jocelyn Jones, a down on her luck woman sick of the boring lifestyle wanting to spice it up a bit. Together they race across Texas giving the local law enforcement a headache as they rob banks with sticks of dynamite.

All the expected Roger Corman production ingredients are in abundance, meaning action, humor and of course nudity. Yes stars Claudia Jennings and Jocelyn Jones do provide audiences with ample amounts of skin but don't let that fool you into thinking they were only casted for their booty. They actually have great chemistry together and provide the film with plenty of humor and even dramatic moments. Girls aren't left out either as they get their fair share of beefcake men flexing their biceps at the screen.

The film is also surprisingly well paced by film-maker virgin Jocelyn Jones who mixes up the exciting chase sequences with character 'exposition', humor and even shocking drama. Our two loveable characters get mixed up in all sorts of antics while escaping the law that will be sure to bring a smile to exploitation lovers faces.

"The Great Texas Dynamite Chase" is the type of film I would imagine that made going to the drive-in fun. Who says a film has to have a $50 million budget to be entertaining? That's why these old Roger Corman productions are so loveable as they are extremely entertaining on a shoe-string budget. He provides simple ingredients audiences loves and manages to hire competent young directors to deliver the goods, as with "The Great Texas Dynamite Chase". Fans of cult drive-in fare of the 70s are sure to want to hunt this entertaining gem down.

Bonus Rant: As with many Roger Corman productions "The Great Texas Dynamite Chase" was released with two separate titles throughout the United States. The other title is "Dynamite Women", a title I definitely like less. Ironically I prefer the poster artwork with the "Dynamite Women" title as opposed to the cartoonish poster artwork that coincides with the far more catchy title "The Great Texas Dynamite Chase." Go figure...

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Bandidos - 3.5/5

I love coming across wonderful obscure Spaghetti Westerns as good as "Bandidos". The problem why "Bandidos" isn't as well known in the realm of Spaghetti Western is due to its completely forgettable title and for the fact it lacks any bankable stars. Don't let that detour you as this is a Spaghetti that you won't want to miss.

Our film opens with an extremely violent train robbery where a sadistic gang brutally kill passengers aboard in order to obtain their valuables. The gang leader leaves one man alive, his old sharp shooting teacher, but cripples him by mangling his hands. No longer a master of his own trade, the sharpshooter travels the country with young men he trains in order to make cash as a circus act. After one day when his partner gets killed, a volunteer nicknamed "Ricky Shot" agrees to become his protégée, but Ricky is not all he seems as he is a wanted criminal that has a beef with his master's old pupil that mangled his hands. Is vengeance going to be on the menu? That would be a YES!

Though the cast doesn't contain any bankable actors, the entire cast does a wonderful job and the acting is actually above pare compared to other entries in the genre. Jenkins and Salerno have a nice chemistry in their teacher/protégé relationship and Venantini is a wonderful, nasty villain. This film definitely gets a thumbs up for its strong performances without big names.

Director Massimo Dallamano is no stranger to the genre as he was the lens man on Leone's first two westerns "Fistful of Dollars" and "For a Few Dollars More". He gives the film a likeable harsh and gritty tone that he is able to sustain throughout the entire running time. He also loads up the film with plenty of violent gun battles and some sly humor to counterbalance the extreme violence. Why he never directed another western is beyond me.

All this comes together to make a very satisfying Spaghetti Western that is definitely above average for the genre and deserves more respect than it gets. Sure it lacks known stars but the acting is top, the directing is visualistic (especially during the opening train robbery) and the film has a harsh gritty tone that is a must for great Spaghettis. It may not be well known but this is a definite film to hunt down for fans of the genre.

In the U.S. a great looking widescreen print of the film was featured in the set from Timeless Media Group entitled "The Best of Spaghetti Westerns." "Bandidos" is one of many great films featured in the set and all in widescreen format.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Sky Full of Stars for a Roof, A - 3/5

"A Sky Full of Stars for a Roof" is hands down one of the most bizarrely titled Spaghetti Westerns I have ever seen but don't let the odd title detour you as this an interesting light hearted Spaghetti Western comedy from the director of the powerhouse "Death Rides a Horse" and two strong leads to complement to work with.

The film opens with a violent sequence where a stagecoach is brutally attacked by a gang who blow every last soul away. Morricone's haunting score starts in as the camera pans over the massacre and then stops in on the innocent face of a blond girl. In comes Giulano Gemma, who brushes dust from her face amidst a dust storm. With a despaired look, he and a stranger decide to bury the bodies. This opening is amazing and very moving thanks to Morricone's beautiful, emotional score.

This opening however sets up the film wrong as this isn't a completely serious western. The rest of the film we follow hustler Giuliano Gemma as he swindles block head Mario Adorf (whom Italian film fanatics might recognize from Fernando Di Leo's "Caliber 9" and "The Italian Connection") for the remainder of the film whilst trying to escape a deranged psychopath on his tail.

Gemma and Adorf have great chemistry together and it's nice to see Adorf in a more laid back role as all the films I have seen with him have been deadly serious. Gemma's role is also more laid back, lacking the violent mean streak I adored in many of his other films. Let's just say I'm glad this isn't the first Gemma film I ever saw as he isn't near as comfortable in the laid back comedic roles.

Director Giulio Petroni still has a nice style and makes the film look like it has double the budget it does with wonderful camera work and lots of atmosphere thanks to blowing sand. His cunning gunman / dimwitted gunman buddy plot works surprisingly well for the most part.

I'm not a huge fan of Spaghetti Western comedies but this one isn't bad but the amazing opening sequence makes the rest of the film somewhat of a letdown. This classic opening really doesn't feel like it belongs in the film, like it should be the opening of a completely different, serious western. Morricone's wonderful score also feels like it belongs in a serious western as opposed to a comedic one and for that his score can feel at odd with the images moving before your eyes. Perhaps if the entire film was treated with the same seriousness as the opening would this film be better known in the Spaghetti Western community.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Smokey Bites the Dust - 1/5

With "Smokey and the Bandit" and its sequel being huge hits in 1977 and 1980 respectively it comes as no surprise that rip-off king producer Roger Corman would jump on the comical 'good 'ol boy' chase film bandwagon (like you couldn't tell what film it ripped off from the title). This alone doesn't mean it's going to be unwatchable as Corman produced many loveable rip-offs in his heyday: "Piranha" was a loveable rip-off "Jaws" and "Big Bad Mama" was a loveable rip-off of "Bonnie and Clyde." Well "Smokey Bites the Dust" is from the director of the mega lame "Jaws" rip-off "Up From the Depths" and is a pieced together project stitched around stock footage of previous, much better Corman productions. In other words this royally sucks.

A high school jackass kidnaps the homecoming queen ('kidnaps' is not really the proper term as she really gets taken willingly) and he leads all the police in the county on a high speed chase. That's about it.

This pieced together monstrosity will give many viewers a sense of déjà vu as it takes stock chase footage from "Grand Theft Auto," "Moving Violation," "Eat My Dust!," and "Thunder and Lightening" and haphazardly throws them between newly shot footage of our annoying characters trying to give 'exposition'. So basically we get 80 minutes of mindless chase sequences intermitted with unwatchable plot sequences with horrid acting and feeble comedy.

As you can tell there is no plot, literally. It's just drive, drive drive. Even "Smokey and the Bandit" had somewhat of a plot and a goal of getting bootleged beer across state lines. Not here... just kidnap a girl and go.

The main high school character is a poor man's rip-off of the roles played by Ron Howard in his Corman productions and the comedy is just painful, with cartoon sound effects just making it bad enough to warrant the audience to vomit into their popcorn boxes.

"Smokey Bites the Dust" is bad, god-awful. It's so god damn bad that it even makes "Smokey and the Bandit Part 3" look like a respectable sequel. It's a cluster fucked mess that insults redneck audiences that even like the southern good 'ol boy chase flicks. Do yourself a favor and re-watch "Smokey and the Bandit" or one of the four films this poorly sewn together non-effort pulls it's stock footage from. At least with those films you're guaranteed a complete film with no stolen footage.

"Smokey Bites the Dust" was released in a wonderful DVD triple feature from Shout Factory alongside "Georgia Peaches" and "The Great Texas Dynamite Chase". Out of all three films "Smokey Bites the Dust" is the only one given the poor "Pan & Scan" full screen treatment. If there was ever a film to deserve the full screen treatment... it's "Smokey Bites the Dust".

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Pistol for Ringo, A - 3.5/5

Giuliano Gemma has really grown on me as a Spaghetti Western star. He just had a little too much boyish charm for my taste in films such as "Fort Yuma Gold" and "Ben and Charlie". Now after seeing him in numerous films, I can honestly say his boyish charm is grown on me as he characters also tend to have a lethal mean streak, as seen here in one of his most defining films "A Pistol for Ringo."

Christmas celebration in a small southern town comes to a complete halt when a Mexican gang rides in and violently robs the towns bank. With the sheriff and posse hot on their trail, the gang takes refuge in a ranch and threatens to shoot a ranch hand every morning and night for which they are not allowed to cross over into Mexico with money in hand. As a last resort the sheriff sends in a prisoner named Ringo (Gemma) in order to kill them off, rescuing the sheriff's fiancée.

Gemma is wonderful in the eccentric character of Ringo. Who else could pull off a character who is introduced playing hopscotch with kids before brutally killing two bastards in cold blood? What Gemma plays off so well is the duel nature of Ringo. The audience never knows if they can trust this guy. First of all he demands 30% of the stolen cash from the town in order to rescue the ranch owners. Then he sells out ot the gang for 40% to help the defeat the town, and then vice versa again. Don't let the clean cut nature of his character fool you into thinking that this is going to be hero... he's just as much an anti-hero as the scruffy Leone characters, just with a little more wit and silly charm.

The rest of the cast is competent, lead by Fernando Sancho playing the gang leader named, what else, Sancho. This guy is picture perfect as the fat, arrogant Mexican gang leader and he's played this same type of character umpteen times before. Seriously I've lost count how many times I've seen this guy playing the same skuzzy characters in Spaghetti Westerns.

My favorite aspect of the film is the dead on humor brilliantly placed by director Duccio Tessari. I openly laughed on more than one occasion and this isn't even a Spaghetti Western comedy. Of course there's the opening hopscotch killings, a bullet ricochet off a bell that kills a goon, some silly knife throwing scenes and of course the peculiar aspect that our antihero doesn't drink whiskey, only milk. The quotable dialogue also gets the laughs coming deep within.

Ennio Morricone's score, however, sounds more Americanized like it's more tailored for an American westerns. I know it's blasphemy to say anything against Morricone but this score just isn't very Spaghetti Westernish. I also wasn't keen on how many of the climatic sequences were filmed in that dreaded 'day-for-night' bullshit where they film in the daylight but darken the film.

Overall "A Pistol for Ringo" is a very satisfying Spaghetti Western and it proved popular enough to be followed by one official sequel ("Return of Ringo") and enough unofficial knock-offs utilizing the name Ringo to rival as many unofficial sequels to "Django." Giuliano Gemma also was catapulted into superstardom in Italy and went on to star in numerous entries into this loveable subgenre. As for DVD releases the only good release I could hunt down is in a box set entitled "The Best of Spaghetti Westerns". "A Pistol for Ringo", as with the rest of the films, has a decent widescreen transfer.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Masters Of Horror: Pick Me Up - 3.5/5

Directed By Larry Cohen (known for "It's Alive" and the oh so very awesome and catchy "The Stuff")

A group of people find themselves stranded on some desolate forest road when their long distance bus decides to take a dump on them in-between towns. Although the situation isn't as dire as some of them make it out to be initially, when a truck driver picks a few of them up a new terror is kick started on the roads. Unknown to the serial killer trucker, that also happens to be another hitchhiking serial killer coming through the same area.

Larry Cohen's episode of the fan favorite "Masters Of Horror" is an odd clip in the bunch. More or less a comedy of very dark proportions, "Pick Me Up" is a tale of very awkward moments, odd characters, and a plot that has to race by to fit it all in...in more than a few hilarious ways. The story is rip-roaringly funny in how clever it is and the use of awkward characters. Both of our serial killers are played to serious lines of crazy with weird personalities and quips that by the time they meet in the final act, we are anxious to see how this cab ride will turn out. To this, "Pick Me Up" works.

Otherwise, the episode is flawed from its lack of a true protagonist (or anyone to really root for period) and it has to fly through some of the secondary characters: read as waiting cadavers; to get them all to fit into the short. It's lack of heroes and lighting pace are made up for some by the random scenes and the eventual climax we begin to pine for about half way through.

Although the episode is rather random and not as solidly built as one would hope, it's quite funny and the story is far more clever than it should have ever been. This episode would have worked better as a full length film though as it needed that extra half hour to establish a lead and work out the pacing. As is, it's entertaining as hell though.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Visitor, The (1979) - 1.5/5

In the realm of Italian cinema it is easy to say that 99% of that country's output is style over substance. Some films even sacrifice coherence for style.... but in all honesty that's part of the charm. Dario Argento's films didn't always follow a completely coherent plot, then again that mixed with amazing visual flair gave audiences an interesting thrill ride. Even though they lacked coherence one could still follow a basic plotline. Some Italian films however sacrificed all coherence for style making a film that doesn't make one iota of sense. One of the most famous of these metagrobolizing films is producer Ovidio G. Assonitis overblown "The Visitor."

The plot is... lets say... confounded. In the opening narration in which Jesus Christ (Franco Nero, looking embarrassed to be sporting a yellow wig) tells a class of students the history of God versus Satan... whoops, they pronounce the dark one's name as Sateen in this. Sateen apparently crash lands on Earth in a space craft and after having a war with God with birds, he decides to knock up some human women who bare children to carry on his evil. Yes... all this bullshit is just in the opening. After that we get introduced to our main characters. Lance Henrickson plays a millionaire, hired by a devil cult, to knock up some broad who already has a child who calls the devil daddy. The cult wants her to have another child in order for her daughter to have a mate (incest... ewwww!). In comes archangel John Huston, who mostly just walks around with a smirk on his face as he tries to "help the confusion" of our mother-to-be and her devil child. Confused yet?

Instead of creating a somewhat coherent story, director Giulio Paradisi is too busy setting up odd camera angles, pseudo religious symbolism and bizarre special effects that just serve to confuse the audience instead of enthralling them. It took me two sittings through this film to truly grasp what the fuck was going on.

To aid in the confusion there is a shit ton of nonsensical bullcrap going on here. We get a boring, extended basketball game sequence that ends with the ball exploding while a player is in mid dunk. We get our devil child getting a loaded pistol for a birthday present, in which she drops and it conveniently shoots her mother in the back (really... where the fuck did that scene come from?). We also get an extended ice skating sequence where our devil girl dances with some young guys then decides to throw them through store front windows.... all never touched upon again. Our director also likes to make long drawn out stair climbs and descents to be overly dramatic smothered in an overbearing score.

Not only is the plot full of allegorical mumbo jumbo but it also rips off "The Omen" and "Damien: Omen II" to a great extent. Devil Child: Check. Devil Cult: Check. Bird attack: Check. Unexplained deaths: Check. Mother who doesn't trust her child: Check. Child that puts mother in the hospital: check. Ovideo... you're such a master of ripping off much better films.

The cast is wonderful which is typical of Ovideo G. Assontis productions but again it is far too silly of a film to warrant such a great cast. John Huston and Shelly Winters return from their Ovideo "Jaws" rip-off team-up "Tentacles" two years earlier. We also get Mel Ferrer (a veteran of cheesy Italian films) and even Lance Henrickson, playing a role very similar to his role in "Damian: Omen II". Hey, if you're going to rip off a film why not get an actor from the film you're ripping off to basically play the same character? Makes perfect sense to me.

I'm all for stylistic filming but not when it overtakes the story and makes it completely incomprehensible. This is truly a disaster of a film that is a mess from beginning to end. So much so that I highly recommend cult fanatics to see it! (The Code Red DVD is wonderful) The original poster artwork is even confused as it portrays a giant Eyeball hovering over a city with monstrous hands holding a piano wire as if it were going to sneak up behind you and strangle you, hitman style. What the hell does that have to do with the movie?

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Monday, June 6, 2011

Syndicate Sadists - 3/5

Seven years before the Sylvester Stallone picture "First Blood" made Rambo a household name, Umberto Lenzi cashed in on the name from the "First Blood" novel for the name for his protagonist in his Euro Crime film "Syndicate Sadists", the second paring of Lenzi and Italian superstar Tomas Milian which would continue on for a total of six films.

Milian is a scruffy drifter that rides his motorcycle into town to visit an old friend. His buddy cokes him to join a citizen police brigade but it only serves to get his buddy dead. Rambo gets pissed and decides to get revenge on the two warring gang families in the area, pulling a Yojimbo and pits the two families against one another until only Rambo is left standing after the bloodbath.

Umberto Lenzi was definitely inspired by Leone's "Fistful of Dollars" (itself being un unofficial remake of "Yojimbo") for the plot. Substitute a horse for a motorcycle and the wild west for a "modern" 70s urban environment. Still it's not a complete rip-off as there are many plot elements that are unique in its own including a child kidnapping.

Milian brilliantly portrayed a skuzzy, sadistic creep in Lenzi's "Almost Human" the previous year so he wanted to clean up his image a bit and portray a hero. Sure his character is more caring and empathetic but it he still has the lovable eccentricity that only Milian can so brilliantly portray. Milian will always be one of the most underrated actors of all time in my humble opinion and he greatly helps the film rise above many of its flaws.

Lenzi with his usual stylistic approach gives audiences plenty of violent shootouts and car chases to quench their appetite. However the plot seems stretched a bit with a lot of padding to get the film to feature length. Milian sometimes meanders with no real goal, but thankfully we got Lenzi to throw in a brawl or two to keep people interested.

Compared to Lenzi's other crime outings such as "Rome Armed to the Teeth", "Violent Naples" and the magnanimous "Almost Human", "Syndicate Sadists" comes up a solid step below. It's like a marine recruit that just cant get his chin over the bar for that first pull-up, though he gets close. The plot is unoriginal and there seems to be a lot a filler that is thankfully made up for with some intense action scenes. Not a bad Euro Crime film by any means but from director Umberto Lenzi this should have been so much more.

Despite being one of Lenzi's lesser Crime outings, "Syndicate Sadists" is actually one of the few to actually get an officially licensed DVD release here in the United States thanks to Shriek Show. I always find it ironic that many of the genre's best films still have yet to make it state-side, which is damn shame.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Bloodrayne 2: Deliverance - 1/5

How do you follow up a horrible vampire film like "Bloodrayne"? Obviously, you set it in the Wild West. Duh. In all actuality, a western style vampire flick sounds somewhat intriguing. Gun slinging, neck biting, general discourse for authority all around. I suppose one can say you get that in "Bloodrayne 2", yet it took me three days to finish this movie. Why? Because for a vampire flick set it the old west, it's BORING AS HELL. It's practically a snooze fest of epic proportions. It's not like I was expecting much considering the first film, but damn. Damn. What could have gone so wrong?

Oh yeah. There I see it. It says it's directed by Uwe Boll on the credits. Yep. That's it.

Rayne (now played by Malthe) has been wandering the western countryside and is returning to visit some old friends at a homestead outside of a little town called Deliverance. She finds the town overridden with vampires led by the super powerful Billy The Kid (Ward) who hold it hostage. She then bands together a group of gunslingers to end their tyranny once and for all.

I'm not going to waste too much of my writing time here. Let's get straight to why this film doesn't work.

A) The script sucks. It's basic with no nuances to give it stylistic flair to earn the merit the concept should have had and the dialogue can be atrocious. They even have a joke about why life is like a penis. Wow.

B) The acting sucks. Malthe goes through the motions with no emotions and the supporting cast easily overacts the decency of their roles with off beat enthusiasm. Ward is so wishy washy as the villain that its not even funny. Why does he have an accent? Cause he's old?

C) Boll makes a lot of odd stylistic choices as a director. The camera never stops shaking. It's like he knew the film was overly drawn out to the point of beating oneself silly just to stay awake, so he decided to make the film more 'interesting' by shaking the camera the entire time and making what little action sequences we have 'epic' by putting them in slow motion half the time. It's just rather confusing.

There. Let it be that "Bloodrayne 2" is now reviewed and I no longer have to think about watching it or writing about it. The film doesn't cut it on any aspect of how it was crafted and it even loses the few random things that seemed to make the original interesting (like random gore or even more random nudity). The idea for a fun B movie is there, but "Bloodrayne 2" doesn't utilize it at all.

BONUS RANT: What the hell is with the cover? It has a gothic tone and a picture of Rayne that looks little like the actress and has an outfit on that doesn't exist in the movie. What?!

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Today We Kill... Tomorrow We Die! - 3.5/5

This Spaghetti Western garnered my attention as it was scripted by visionary director Dario Arengto who would later lay claim to fame with is stylistic Giallo pictures. It's a damn shame Dario Argento didn't script more westerns as every one he touched is either epic greatness , as with "Once Upon a Time in the West", or just plain and simple admirable, as with "Today We Kill... Tomorrow We Die!" (released in the U.S. with the more forgettable title "Today is Me... Tomorrow You").

We open with a young man getting freshly released from five year stint in prison for a crime he didn't commit. He holsters up, bribes six quick drawers with ten grand each to aid him in his search for the sadistic gang leader that killed his women and set him up.

The plot is the a typical revenge fair aided by healthy dose of "The Magnificent Seven", or perhaps "Seven Samurai" would be more appropriate due to the presence of Tatsuya Nakadai who would gain fame from appearing in Akira Kurosawa's "Kagemusha". Argento mixes the elements well including little nods to "For a Few Dollars More" with Nakadai's villainous character and "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" in which a scene where Brett Halsey buys a pistol is eerily complementary to the famous scene where Eli Wallach obtains his pistol.

Relatively unknown director Tonino Cervi does well and keeps the film moving at a nice pace with it only dragging at a few moments. I do like how he atypically sets the backdrop of the film in a deciduous forest in the fall with the ground covered in leaves as opposed to the blasted desert landscapes of Spain. It's nice every once in a blue-moon for the filmmakers to give the audience a different landscape to keep the films fresh.

The ensemble cast is far better than the average Spaghetti Western. Underrated American actor Brett Halsey (under the pseudonym Montgomery Ford) leads the cast but is overshadowed by the presence of "heavy" weight Bud Spencer and of course the presence of Tatsuya Nakadai and his piercing eyes. Spencer gives one of his rare non-comedic performances so his die hard fans might be disappointed by his more serious potrayl. William Berger also makes an appearance as one of the seven gun slingers but fans of his might find it disappointing that his role is rather small with little dialogue.

So does "Today We Kill... Tomorrow We Die!" live up to the Dario Argento co-scripted "Once Upon a Time in the West"? Well no but does any Spaghetti Western? That's the crème-de-le-crème of the genre so a comparison is hard to make but on its own "Today We Kill" is a solid Western with an entertaining revenge plot and a strong cast to boot. Definitely a must see for fans of the genre.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Dead Men Don't Count - 3.5/5

I almost passed up on purchasing this Spaghetti Western on DVD. The reason is that Wild East released the film in a double feature with "Kill and Pray" and I already owned the old single film release of that film. Well the diehard collector in my soul finally got me to put up my old release of "Kill and Pray" for sale on eBay and low and behold it sold for $25. That was more than enough to purchase the new Wild East disc and I can honestly say I am kicking myself for almost passing this Western on by as it is an entertaining and satisfying example of the genre.

What we got her is two bounty hunters who ride into the town of "Blackstone" after massacring an entire gang of wanted outlaws in order to collect the bounty on their heads. While in town they find themselves intertwined in a rash of killings linked to a corrupt sheriff in cahoots with the local wealthy land owner in order to obtain land in the area.

The main plot element that fuels our villains is a complete steal from Sergio Leone's epic "Once Upon a Time in the West" but that doesn't mean it still isn't enthralling. The plot still has plenty of twists to keep the viewer guessing. It ends up being much more than your typical revenge fueled spaghetti western.

The best part of this film is the cast which includes genre heavy weights Anthony Steffen and Mark Damon. What makes it great is that these two are known for playing completely the opposite characters: Anthony Steffen as the stoic, silent type and Damon as the eccentric cocky gunman. Due to this they counterbalance each other wonderfully and the chemistry between them is impeccable. Steffen especially shines as he adds atypically a little humor to his role without over-acting or going over-the-top.

Director Rafael Romero Marchent keeps the film moving at a brisk pace with plenty of action without sacrificing the coherent story arc. To top it off the film has surprising tight editing and beautiful cinematography that's brought to life by Wild East's wonderful widescreen transfer.

The wonderful character banter, strong cast, tight editing, action-packed gun-play, and coherent story makes this a dynamite time for Spaghetti Western fans. Don't pass this one up like I almost did! Sell your old copy of "Kill and Pray" if need be as this Spaghetti Western is worth every penny!

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Bullet for Sandoval, A - 4/5

Well this was a pleasant surprise. Though I like main Italian star George Hilton I wasn't expecting much when going into "A Bullet for Sandoval". I guess I've just been soured due to viewing a handful of dreadful spaghetti westerns prior to this. Not only did "Sandoval" end up being a damn fine Spaghetti Western, but also one of the best I have ever seen, even biting at the heels of the classic Leone "Man With No Name" trilogy. Yes, "Sandoval" is that damn good.

Ever dependable George Hilton plays Warner, a brave soldier for the confederates that abandon's his post when he learns his old flame is giving birth to his child, a child he had no previous knowledge about. Going AWOL he arrives on her father's ranch to marry her but learns she has passed away during birth. Her father Sandoval, not too keen that this low life knocked-up his daughter, treats Warner like the shit on the heal of his boot and forces him off his property with his bastard son. While trying to raise the baby it comes down with a fever and dies so Warner snaps, gets a gang together and starts terrorizing the countryside before setting his sights on vengeance.

What I love about this film is it plays out like a complex Greek tragedy. I really felt pity for Warner as he truly wanted to be a good husband and father. Everything was against him from the Army, to his lover's father, to people who wouldn't help his dying child. He truly is a good man broke down and turned bad. A tragic figure that can't help but suck you in and George Hilton plays is perfectly. Classic American actor Ernest Borgnine is also a sublime ying to Hilton's yang as he is a truly detestable hothead fueling the fire with in Warner.

Spanish director Julio Buchs keeps the pace moving tightly and loads the film up with memorable visuals, especially the final shootout in a bull fighting arena that is eerily similar to the American western "The Wild Bunch". Oddly enough cult director Lucio Fulci is sourced as co-director on many releases of this film but from my research this is entirely false, with star George Hilton even stating this in interviews. Sorry Fulci fans... this isn't one of the late gore godfather's wonderful westerns.

"A Bullet for Sandoval" is a must see for fans of Spaghetti Westerns and is one of the best this hardcore fan has ever seen, and trust me, I've seen a lot (I own nearly a hundred on DVD). The Greek tragedy plot mixed with two great leads sucks the viewer in and the picture perfect ending will make sure this western will stay with you for a while.

The DVD release I have from VCI Entertainment in a double feature with "Any Gun Can Play" is odd. On a standard television "Any Gun Can Play" looks fine but "A Bullet for Sandoval" looks scrunched. Thankfully watching it on my widescreen TV in the living room I can get around this error by adjusting the picture mode. Just a word of warning to any potential buyers who only have a standard television.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Mimic - 4/5

In the 90s, the slew of revived slashers that piped through Dimension films (and others) was almost sickening. In this onslaught of "Scream" inspired mediocrity, there were a few films lost in the flurry including the massively underrated "Mimic". With an up and coming Guillermo Del Toro at the helm and a well cast ensemble, "Mimic" makes a rather basic science fiction/horror script into something much more then it should be and creates one of the best forgotten surprises of the era.

When New York is plagued with a cockroach carried disease that is killing off mass amounts of children, a desperate attempt to annihilate the cockroach population results in the gene spliced insect hybrid called Judas. Although it works, after three years of disease free time, a husband (Northam) and wife (Sorvino) team who designed the insect find that the species has not died off as it should have, but has evolved into a much scarier predator.

A giant bug movie that wasn't made in the 50s/60s? You're kidding, right? Essentially, that's what is so clever about "Mimic" as it takes that old school science fiction/horror concept of a man fucked natural creature that runs amok and modernizes it. Not only does it update it for the 90s, but it updates it smartly (its not nuclear fallout to create the monster, but gene manipulation) and it effectively executes it for the screen. Making a believable, in the world of the film, and well built film.

Guillermo Del Toro truly takes this film to the next level. As a co-writer and director he really embraces the protagonists and story arc of the film to lift it above its rather cheesy concept. That way by about half way through the film, the atmosphere and dread of these hungry insects is so heavy that we can only root for the survival of our cast. With slick camera work and a great use of tension and story build, Del Toro makes "Mimic" the lost gem it is.

Not only does the director raise the film above its own standards, but a well casted ensemble is rightly made. Our two leads are righteously human in their struggles and tragic mistakes and with a hell of a supporting cast (Josh Brolin, F. Murray Abraham, and Charles S Dutton in throw away roles that are made more than just throw away roles? Hell yeah!) to compliment them, there is so much more added here then what was necessarily in the script.

When the 90s was regurgitating slashers like there was no tomorrow, "Mimic" is certainly a diamond in a pile of coal. It's scary, tense, and smart as it moves with urgency to update a long gone genre with force that needs to be seen to be believed. One of my personal underrated favorites.

BLOODY TRIVIA: Guillermo Del Toro was not happy with the version show in theaters and released on video. Supposedly a director's cut of the film (that Del Toro is happy with) exists somewhere out there. Curious to see what is added to make it so much better that the director would change his outlook. Perhaps one day it will see the light and end up in my collection.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Friday, June 3, 2011

Drive Angry [Drive Angry 3D] - 3/5

Modern grindhouse cinema is an odd duck. Sometimes you get fully retro flicks like "Hobo With A Shotgun" and sometimes you get truly modern films that utilize the style like "Shoot Em Up". Then again, you get films like "Drive Angry" that try desperately hard to not be fully grindhouse knowing full well they are. This leaves this particular film floating in a sea of mediocrity.

Milton (Cage) has a mission. He has to get his granddaughter from the hands of a satanic cult leader (Burke) hell bent on sacrificing the baby for the sake of bringing our friend Satan to Earth. Here's the problem: he's not sure how long he has or where the cult leader is because he had to break out of Hell just to do it. Now he's leaving a trail of dead in his wake with the help of the trashy Piper (Heard) to get to his granddaughter before Hell's Accountant (Fichtner) get's to him first.

Re-read that synopsis. Yep, that is most certainly the synopsis for a great grindhouse feature. Yet, throughout "Drive Angry", the general feel and atmosphere of the film battles itself, not sure whether to take the entire thing completely tongue-in-cheek or go the dark and serious route. As is, it really ends up as neither. The balance is earned here and there with certain scenes, but more or less misses the mark for the majority of the play time.

That being said, enjoy the film for its grindhouse roots. Don't think too much about it. Enjoy it for its angry and ridiculous plot for a man's vengeance. Director Lussier seems to understand how it should work most of the time and fills the film with lots of style and bulks it up on random grindhouse characteristics like outrageous car stunts (cars flip ridiculously for no reason) and loads of pointless nudity (including a gunfight/sex scene that rivals "Shoot Em Up" for oddities). It's the rather awkward serious scenes that ruin the mood with its less than extravagant dialogue.  Lussier wasn't all the problem here either. I was severely disappointed with Cage's performance as Milton and wanted him to go ape shit on the role like we all know he can. Luckily, his lackluster performance is made up for by the quirky and scene stealing weirdness of Fichtner as The Accountant. He seriously works that role for everything it is and it's the best part of "Drive Angry".

It's too bad that "Drive Angry" was as lackluster in its focus as it was. With its fun story and the talent included both in front and behind the camera, this film should have really blown the old socks off. Not surprising it bombed in the box office as a grindhouse film desperately reaching for that mass audience. Maybe they should have worked the promotion through indie theaters and built its reputation that way. As is though, it's still a disappointing film considering all of the potential it had to kick ass.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, June 2, 2011

No Man's Land: The Rise Of Reeker - 2/5

As if "Reeker" wasn't complicated enough with all of its loose ends and odd twists of plot, the prequel/sequel "No Man's Land: The Rise Of Reeker" certainly makes it even more complicated. In some ways, this second film is better and worse than the original and evens out to sitting at about the same level. Is it as clever as the original? Not at all, but it does have a bit better execution for the screen.

A local sheriff around Death Valley is about to hand off his role as chief to his newly appointed son. When a group of casino robbers turn up at the diner where they are having a peaceful lunch, things turn ugly. And smelly. Now a group of local townsfolk, our two police heroes, and some of these robbers are out to find a way to survive one another in a strange variation of the world...and survive the wicked mechanical wrath of...the REEKER!

The one thing that made the original one so watchable (use that term loosely) was its clever story and wicked twist. Since we already know the twist, this film seems rather boring by the time we get into it. Not to mention the film doesn't know if it wants to be a sequel or prequel with its first opening scene showing us how the Reeker came to be...sort of. Thanks for half answering one of my questions from the first one, sequel! It then of course jumps to present day, which must be after the first one considering how it ends, and sort of fucks with your time line a bit too much. What the hell is this? This gives us 10 minutes showing us how the Reeker came to be...sort of...and you can subtitle it "The Rise Of Reeker"? Misleading!

Since the story line and clever twist are not there, then it has to be better executed right? Well that's a sort of too. At least it doesn't look like a made for TV movie this time around. In fact, the acting (in general) has improved even if the characters aren't near as charming or well built this time around and the special effects have taken a few steps up. There is a wicked scene where a few characters find themselves bound to the area by invisible walls (one by trying to drive a car through it!) and the overall gore and kill scenes are a bit better even if some of them come out of left field. None of these are spectacular elements to "No Man's Land" but they do improve over the original in many ways.

So really, "No Man's Land" sort of reverses the strengths from "Reeker" and still isn't able to top it. It just sort of matches it and decides 'eh, that's enough'. Not a great film by any means, but once again not a horrible way to spend a night on the couch with a low budget horror film. Would have loved to see it try to add something even more to its twisty premise instead of some minor details.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Reeker - 2/5

"Reeker" was somewhat of a challenge for me. Despite all of the solid things about this low budget 'smart' horror film, I innately felt as though the film was not all there. Like its smelly and fast moving villain, "Reeker" is fleeting with finishing anything off. It starts with some great ideas, throws in a solid twist at the end, and even gives us some fairly cheer worthy protagonists, yet as the credits rolled there was a void where all the connections didn't quite come together...least of all make sense.

A group of college students are off to the biggest party of the year and road tripping through the desert seems like a smooth idea. If you are a horror fan, you know that this is not the cast. After their car breaks down at away ward cafe and gas station, these young folk find that their world seems a big different. No one else is around and a mysterious smell keeps coming up. A smell of death. A smell of the REEKER!

There's a smart idea buried in "Reeker". It's fun, Stephen King style idea that carries the film for the most part. It carries it through it's hit or miss acing (although an appearance from Michael Ironside earned this film a bit of merit) and it's hit or miss 'made for TV' look and directing. It was this mystery to its plot that really kept me watching despite feeling as though it didn't make a lick of sense through the first two thirds of the film. This is truly the highlight with its interesting twist that made "Reeker" worth the watch.

Beyond that though, this film feels only half way there. As I mentioned, the acting is hit or miss with some charming performances, but nothing to write home about and the directing/design for the film flounders by the numbers for this kind of film. The dialogue can be rather silly (particularly from the ditzy character Cookie) and doesn't quite cut it when it comes to intriguing.

The biggest flaw comes in the form of its twist though. It's a great idea that is played out (and explained) to answer those nagging questions, but it doesn't answer all of them. It's still a flawed ending. I loved the idea, it just needed to answer ALL the questions and not just some of them. I don't want to give it away (it is the highlight of the film), but it left me with more questions than it answered. Particularly with what was the Reeker anyway?

It's a fun low budget and fairly clever film, it just doesn't quite have the slick writing or execution it needed to jump it up into the 'impressive' category. It was fun and a solid way to waste a late night on the couch, but after it was done I craved for it to be so much more. Now let's see how it's sequel/prequel holds up.

Written By Matt Reifschneider