HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Monday, September 30, 2013

Get Ready for "12 Disasters"! Coming To You From Anchor Bay Films on DVD January 7th



On January 7th, Anchor Bay Films shocks you into the New Year with the unforgettable end-of-the-world tale "12 DISASTERS" on DVD

This Syfy Original Movie takes the ancient Mayan prophecy of the earth’s fiery demise to wilder and weirder new levels. Directed by Steven R. Monroe  (I Spit on Your Grave), 12 Disasters stars Ed Quinn (“Eureka”, “True Blood”, The Caller), Magda Apanowicz (“Kyle XY”), Holly Elissa (Ice Quake), Roark Critchlow (“Days of Our Lives”), Ryan Grantham (Altitude). The SRP is $19.98. The pre-book is December 11th.

As Christmas approaches, a local shop-owner and his family struggle to survive as their idyllic small town is torn apart by a series of disasters, which reveal an incredible link between the Mayan 2012 prophecy and a familiar carol: The 12 Days of Christmas. He soon learns that his own daughter is the key to everything, and must protect her from both the disasters themselves and the panicked townspeople who blame her for the destruction, all the while racing to find five ancient golden ring needed to avert the end of the world – before it’s too late.

Not a city will be standing, not even a house, after these 12 days are over. With super natural rings,  apocalyptic volcanos and deadly shards of ice falling from the skies 12 Disasters is fun, outrageous and utterly absurd, all the ingredients that have made these Syfy movies a cultural and ratings phenomenon. 12 Disasters is sure to leave you shaking and quaking…just like the last days of planet earth.

12 Disasters DVD
Street Date:                  January 7, 2014
Pre-Book:                    December 11, 2013
UPC #:                         01313261255380
Item:                            AF61255
Audio:                         Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:                     English SDH, Spanish
Retail Price:                 $19.98
Genre:                          Sci-Fi
Rating:                         R
Run Time:                   90 Minutes
Year:                            2012
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Friday, September 27, 2013

HELL RIDE -- movie review by porfle





Is the phrase "Quentin Tarantino Presents" before a film's title a reliable sign of quality?  After watching HELL RIDE (2008), my answer to that question would be, in a word, no.  And in two words, hell no.  If this is any indication, then Tarantino might as well start calling people into the bathroom after he takes a dump so that he can proudly "present" the results to them.

What little storyline there is often gets lost in the seemingly random editing, or is put on hold every time some mangy old biker dudes get their hands on the non-stop parade of salacious silicone babes who seem to infest this flick like tribbles.  What it all boils down to is that way back in 1976, some rival bad-guy bikers called the Six Six Sixers murdered good-guy biker Pistolero's girlfriend, and now, thirty some-odd years later, Pistolero (writer-director Larry Bishop), with the help of fellow gang members the Victors, decides to get revenge. 


I've read that Bishop used to be a biker himself and has firsthand experience with the lifestyle, which seems to add zero validity to this particular project.  Basically what you've got here is a bunch of middle-aged actors who have been roped into a turkey and they know it, so they're just goofing their way through it.  Michael Madsen, who has been known to sleepwalk through films he doesn't take seriously, invests about as much effort in the role of Pistolero's devil-may-care cohort "The Gent" (he wears a tuxedo jacket instead of a leather jacket for some damn reason) as he would if his neighbor pointed a home video camera at him. 

David Carradine, as rival gang leader "The Deuce", is there simply to lend whatever coolness factor he can to his few scenes, while Dennis Hopper comes off as nothing more than a silly old fart.  Even Vinnie Jones as evil, oral-sex-obsessed rival biker "Billy Wings" seems embarrassed here, which may be the film's most noteworthy accomplishment. 

As for young Eric Balfour as the mysterious newcomer Cheyenne, he seems to take the whole thing about as seriously as Bishop, meaning that he's just as arch and stiff a presence.  Nobody,  however, can match Larry Bishop's hernia-inducing attempts to be a badass--at times, he treats the simple act of standing in one spot with such sinew-stretching intensity that we fear he may implode.

The movie is filled with flashbacks, flash forwards, changes in style, changes in film stock, switches from color to black-and-white and back, zoom-ins, zoom-outs, focus fiddling, and most other types of cinematic frou-frou you can think of, but there's no rhyme or reason to any of it.  Bishop's clearly trying to be arty in several sequences, but his visuals look sloppy instead.  And when his character goes out into the desert and takes peyote in one scene, this gives the director an excuse to indulge in the usual meandering drug-trip nonsense with its skin-deep philosophizing.


There are homages to Tarantino's homages, such as a mysterious box whose contents we never get to see, and a POV shot looking up from inside the box that's a miniature version of the way Tarantino shoots people opening car trunks.  There's the jukebox soundtrack, featuring several truly ear-curdling songs.  And of course, there's the dialogue.  HELL RIDE contains stretches of dialogue that might make you wish Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega had never discussed foot massages or mentioned the words "Royale with cheese." 

At one point Pistolero and his aptly-named girlfriend Nada (sexy Leonor Varela) get into a pun war that includes every possible variation of the word "fire"--she's got a fire that needs putting out, he's got the firehose, she's a fire alarm, he's a fire-eater, etc.  It's a wonder they didn't manage to work "fire ants" into it somewhere.  Later, Bishop starts doing the same thing with the word "business", and you start wishing you could just grab a gun and shoot at the screen like Elvis used to do.

The impression I get from this movie's publicity is that if you liked GRINDHOUSE, you should love HELL RIDE.  But as far as I'm concerned, whatever you may have liked about one is sadly lacking in the other.  Getting the "right" actors together and having them be super tough and spout loopy dialogue at each other doesn't make a good movie if there isn't a decent story and a solid directorial vision.  HELL RIDE's problem is that it thinks it's a cool-as-hell movie to begin with, but doesn't have what it takes to actually be one.


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Monday, September 23, 2013

HALLOWEEN (35TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION) [BLU-RAY] -- review by porfle





Back in '78, a buddy and I went to see "Halloween" in its heyday.  I remember sitting in the middle of a giddy audience that was wound tight with collective tension, not knowing what would happen next and jumping every time something did.  It was the kind of shared experience that can make going to the movies a pleasure.  And  it was scary, too.  REALLY scary. 

Anchor Bay's new 35th anniversary Blu-ray edition of HALLOWEEN lets us relive that experience, or at least see the film in its original pristine condition just like back in the olden days when it was the next big thing in screen horror.  I'm sure some sharp-eyed Blu-Ray experts will detect various imperfections in the picture and/or sound quality of this new disc, but I used to record VHS tapes on SLP so I'm not all that nitpicky about such things.  Anyway, it looks great to me.

What impresses me most about rewatching the film now is how good it looks for such a low-budget independent effort.  Some reasons for this are the steadiness and freedom of movement that the new Panaglide camera gives cinematographer Dean Cundey--the camera becomes a part of the action in a way rarely seen before, as in the famous extended opening shot--in addition to beautifully-lit night exteriors in which the suburban houses and windblown trees have a ghostly look that manages to capture the way "nighttime" looked to me as a kid. 

But the main reason, of course, is the fact that the young John Carpenter was such a talented filmmaker.  "Halloween" is beautifully and imaginatively directed from start to finish,  filled with both dialogue and action scenes that are designed with economy and efficiency, but with a consistently eye-pleasing aesthetic. 

Carpenter's style isn't always slick (it never really would be, not completely) due to the fact that almost everything he's done has the air of an independent, homegrown effort without Hollywood's handprints all over it.  The story--babysitters menaced by an escaped psycho-killer--is as old and derivative as campfire tales, yet he and partner Debra Hill seem to be brimming with creativity in all other areas of the production.

Since the slasher-stalker film as a genre unto itself was just beginning to take off, there's both a newness and a disarming sort of immaturity to "Halloween" (including some dumb dialogue and awkward acting) that works in its favor.   At times it resembles a likable student film transcending itself thanks to its imaginative direction and sharp editing and cinematography, and hitting on just the right subject matter at just the right time and in just the right way.

Interestingly, there's almost no gore whatsoever, and the violence is hardly stronger than what Hitchcock subjected us to in "Psycho" eighteen years earlier.   Where other slasher flicks such as "Friday the 13th" would simply prolong the lead-up to each kill in tedious ways and then rely on graphic gore as a payoff, Carpenter is able to build and sustain actual old-fashioned suspense (along with audience empathy for his characters rather than merely the desire to see them die) of a kind that is much more effective and fear-inducing. 

Indeed,  the "kill" scenes here are almost cursory, coming after long periods of teasing buildup with a deceptively lighthearted air.   Annie (Nancy Loomis), whom shy Laurie admires for being so "with it", is secretly a klutz, while sexy Lynda (cult fave P.J. Soles of "Carrie" and "Rock 'n' Roll High School" fame) is a comical airhead.  Their deaths are shocking, but hardly the sort of gratuitous, makeup-effects-heavy moments that would come to define the genre.  Just as the almost childlike Michael Myers enjoys toying with his victims, director Carpenter would rather play around with an audience's expectations than bombard them with graphic violence.

It isn't until Laurie (appealing newcomer Jamie Lee Curtis) enters the house in which Annie, Lynda, and Lynda's goofy boyfriend Bob have been killed by "boogeyman" Michael that the film really kicks into high gear, with Carpenter pulling out all the stops to generate nerve-wracking suspense.  Curtis, while not yet a polished actress, really sells it too, screaming and fleeing in panic with the inexorable and seemingly indestructible Michael always a few steps behind her. 

Their classic showdown in a darkened house is the blueprint for many lesser films to come, especially when the apparently-dead Michael, like the Energizer Bunny, keeps coming back to menace the frazzled Laurie anew.  ("Child's Play" villain Chucky would later attain new heights of unkillability.)  Film  veteran Donald Pleasance ("The Great Escape",  "You Only Live Twice") adds his talent and stature to the proceedings as Dr. Loomis, a frantic psychiatrist bent on capturing or killing the escaped lunatic before he can unleash his evil on the world.  He arrives just in time to save the day--or does he?  At the film's blackout ending,  Carpenter's famous percussive musical score will leave you wondering. 

Anchor Bay's special 35th anniversary Blu-Ray edition of "Halloween" comes in a cool Digibook cover with new artwork and a colorfully illustrated making-of booklet.  The film is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby sound (7.1 and original mono) and subtitles in English and Spanish.  In addition to the usual "TV-version" extra footage (which I consider pretty dispensable),  trailers, and TV/ radio spots, there are two  featurettes--"On Location: 25 Years Later" and the all-new "The Night SHE Came Home."  The latter, which runs for a full hour, is a delightful look at Jamie Lee Curtis' only convention appearance (for charity) and how diligently she worked to make the experience a special one for each and every fan.

My favorite bonus feature, though, is the new commentary track featuring Carpenter and Curtis during a relaxed, chatty viewing of the film.  Carpenter, for the most part, yields the floor to his star, who gushes non-stop about it after not having seen it for several years.  While not fond of horror films in general, she's still this particular one's most  enthusiastic fan and, with sometimes surprising perception, explains in detail why each scene is so noteworthy and well-done.  Listening to Jamie Lee talk about HALLOWEEN has given me a renewed appreciation for it, one which enhances each viewing of John Carpenter's timeless horror classic as much as this new HD transfer itself.

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Friday, September 20, 2013

COMEBACK SEASON -- movie review by porfle



(NOTE: This review originally appeared online in 2006 at Bumscorner.com.)


COMEBACK SEASON (2006), which was written and directed by familiar "Kids in the Hall" alumnus Bruce McCullough but bears no resemblance to that style of comedy whatsoever, begins with two major fractures.

First, an arrogant, conceited high school star quarterback named Skylar (Shaun Sipos, FINAL DESTINATION 2) trips over an electrical wire as he's strutting onto the field for a big game and sustains a career-ending knee injury. Meanwhile, his next-door neighbor, Walt Pearce (Ray Liotta), a middle-aged family guy whose marriage has grown stale, shatters it by having sex with a co-worker. He regrets it immediately, but the damage is done and his heartbroken wife Deborah (Glenne Headley) throws him out of the house as their spiteful older daughter Chloe (Rachel Blanchard) eggs her on.

Before long, Walt gets into a shoving match with a motel clerk and Skylar, while drowning his sorrows in a sports bar, takes a beer mug and launches a forward pass through a big-screen TV, and the two of them end up in the same jail cell. (Did I mention that they hate each other? Of course they do.)

Since Walt has no home or money (Deborah has cleaned out their joint account) and Skylar's parents are away on vacation, it looks like they're both stuck in jail for awhile, until Walt's younger daughter Christine suggests that they live together at Skylar's house for the time being. That way, Walt will have a place of residence, and Skylar will have a guardian till his folks get back.

As contrived romantic-comedy situations go, this one is pretty good. Walt undertakes the arduous task of winning his family back while helping Skylar regain his self-confidence and the use of his knee. Skylar's influence shakes Walt out of his old-man funk and restores the youthful zest for life he once had.

It's fun watching the two of them learning to get along and finally becoming unlikely friends as they team up to solve each other's problems. Christine, who was once cruelly stood up for a prom date by Skylar, forgives them both for their transgressions and is on their side. I found myself liking her character most of all, and Brooke Nevin (I'LL ALWAYS KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER) is a winsome young actress.

Ray Liotta, on the other hand, has always seemed a bit creepy to me, mainly because I've seen him mostly in creepy roles (GOODFELLAS, HANNIBAL). So I was pleasantly surprised to find that, as Walt, he is quite capable of playing an affable, sympathetic character. He's funny, running around in Skylar's old kiddie pajamas and sneaking next door to swipe the business section out of his wife's newspaper, and when he stands in front of her house all night in the rain with a "take me back" sign taped to his shirt, only to have her call the cops on him, you feel for the poor guy.

As his wife Deborah, Glenne Headley (whom you may remember as "Elmira" in LONESOME DOVE) is surprisingly bland. Shaun Sipos does a convincing job as Skylar, at first so callous and full of himself until his injury teaches him humility and he eventually seeks to make amends to the people he's hurt before.

Contrition and forgiveness, you might guess, are the main themes of COMEBACK SEASON. Although it's a safe bet things will turn out all right in the end, it's an enjoyable time getting there and I felt pretty good after it was over. It's all standard and predictable stuff, but it capably fills its niche as a low-key feelgood movie, and sometimes that's all I require to be reasonably entertained for an hour-and-a-half.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

THE FALL: SERIES 1 -- DVD review by porfle



Bleak, melancholy--borderline depressing, in fact--the Brit cop series THE FALL: SERIES 1 (2013)  has enough going for  it to supply hardy viewers with plenty of hard-edged adult drama and suspense.  Yet those holding out for some kind of closure at the end of series one's five episode run may find it ultimately unfulfilling.

Gillian Anderson ("The X-Files", BLEAK HOUSE) plays DS Stella Gibson,  who's been summoned by the Belfast police to head a departmental review into a stalled murder investigation.  When other, similar murders point to the work of  a serial killer, Gibson urges her superior and former lover Jim Burns (John Lynch) to put her in charge of the case.

Meanwhile, we follow the everyday life of Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan, "Once Upon a Time"), a devoted  husband and father who works as a grief counsellor.  He also happens to be the killer DS Gibson and her new task force are searching for.  When not helping care for his ultra-cute kids Olivia and Liam or guiding a young couple through the heartbreak of losing their son, he's stalking young professional  women as a prelude to murdering them in extremely ritualistic fashion.


While Dornan plays the character with a quiet, smoldering intensity,  Anderson's DS Gibson seems mostly sullen and cold.  This is partially accounted for by the fact that she has no life whatsoever outside of law enforcement, and treats the one sexual encounter that we see--after an abrupt come-on to handsome  young cop James Olson (Ben Peel) to whom she's just been introduced--with less warmth and intimacy than a handshake. 

When Olson is gunned down in connection with a related case, Burns' objection to Gibson's casual encounter with him becomes fodder for series creator and writer Allan Cubitt's desire to inject gender politics into the mix whenever possible.   The scripts often feed Gibson weak male characters to get the best of and sympathetic female colleagues to  bond with, although none of this is as effective or relevant as Helen Mirren's struggles against sexual discrimination in the classic series "Prime Suspect." 

It does, however, give Anderson the chance to play an imperfect heroine who isn't particularly likable and, in fact, comes off as rigid, humorless, and emotionally-repressed.  We learn practically nothing about her past and thus haven't a clue as to how she became this way.   One might even call her character underwritten,  giving Anderson the task of filling in the blanks with her own substantial presence, which she manages to do quite well.

As for Paul Spector, so much is made of his family and professional lives that we sometimes almost forget that he's the killer, except for the times in which his public and private personas threaten to collide.  Strangely, he's just about the only male character who seems to demonstrate consistently positive traits--faithful husband, devoted father, caring grief counsellor--and he's so matter-of-fact while going about his misdeeds that we get little sense of how truly evil and deranged he would have to be underneath his bland exterior.


A not-altogether-successful attempt is made, through crosscutting, to draw parallels between Spector and Gibson as we see them going about their lives.  Both are predators of a sort--she conquers her male prey through impersonal sex while he dominates and kills his victim.  He runs, she swims; she pores over her case notebook while he studies his trophy scrapbook; and so on.  In one curious scene,  a shot of a dead victim sprawled across a bed is juxtaposed with a similar view of Gibson in a matching reclining pose after sex.

The murder sequences,  of course, are repellent but not played to chill or thrill except when things go wrong and chaos ensues,  as in episode four's botched attack.  This bit of excitement comes none too soon, as it's around this point that the series starts to drag a bit despite some mildly shocking moments which, even so, might have been directed a bit more sharply.  Other subplots which don't seem all that relevant distract from the main drive of the story.

As Spector fights to keep himself together,  a punchy phone conversation with DS Gibson provides the series with some of its most scintillating moments.  However,  this is the closest we'll get to a climax in series one, as the final episode ends with a cliffhanger that promises to stretch things out even more next season.  I would've preferred a resolution,  but if the writers go in a different,  unexpected direction next time it should keep things interesting.

The 2-disc set from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby Digital sound and English subtitles.  The sole extra is a 12-minute behind-the-scenes featurette.

THE FALL: SERIES 1 is substantial, involving drama that's worth watching,  although somewhat of a disappointment compared to some of the better Brit cop shows I've watched.  In some ways it even comes off as a bit half-baked at times.  And while I'm keen to find out what happens next season,  I'm not exactly on pins and needles.

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THE LAST DROP -- movie review by porfle




(NOTE: This review originally appeared online in 2005 at Bumscorner.com.)

No, it's not a feature-length commercial for Maxwell House coffee, although if it were, it would probably be a lot more entertaining.

THE LAST DROP (2005) starts out as though it might actually be worth watching, as we see a swarm of British bomber planes towing gliders filled with soldiers on their way to German-occupied Holland during the final days of WWII.  The CGI effects in this sequence are pretty good, giving the impression that the film we're about to see is a quality product, at least visually. 

But things go downhill from there as we discover that nothing else from this point will be anywhere near as impressive.  Camerawork and editing that are sloppy and choppy, respectively, combine with an often silly script, performances that range from bland to ridiculous, and a curiously underpopulated Europe to give THE LAST DROP the cheap aura of a made-for-TV movie that is reaching beyond its means to look like a "real" war film.


One of the gliders is shot down short of its landing zone and the soldiers, who are on a mission so top secret that only one of them knows what it is and he's not telling, are forced to make their way on foot toward their destination.  It turns out that they've been sent to protect a cache of priceless works of art stolen by the Nazis and stored beneath an old mill somewhere in rural Holland.  And they must get there before the goose-stepping kraut-snarfers come back and cart the treasure trove away for good. 

When the details of their mission finally become known to our heroes, a plan to snatch the loot for themselves pops into their sneaky little heads.  But they're not the only ones drooling for dollars -- there are also three greedy renegade Nazis on their way to grab summa dat booty, too.  

And as if that weren't enough, they're being hunted by a company of American G.I.'s led by "guest star" Michael Madsen, who has stumbled onto the fact that something's up and can't wait to stick his big nose right in the middle of it.


This might've been a passable flick if only the scriptwriters could've decided whether they wanted to give us a realistic war thriller like THE GUNS OF NAVARONE or THE WILD GEESE (on a considerably smaller scale, that is) or a grab-the-money-and-run knock-off of KELLY'S HEROES. 

In trying to combine the two, they've merely presented us with a cringe-inducing mess that doesn't add up to much of anything -- and the score mirrors this thematic indecisiveness by juxtaposing traditional orchestral music with, of all things, heavy metal. 

Some good actors such as Sean Pertwee (SOLDIER), Karel Roden (the lawyer from BLADE II), and Tommy Flanagan (the Irish mercenary who liked to make things explode in SIN CITY) struggle to bring underwritten characters to life, while TITANIC's Billy Zane wanders around in a role that gives him practically nothing to do. 


Michael Madsen, unfortunately, contributes his not-quite-A-list presence and nothing more (as he usually does in small films such as this), doing just enough to justify a paycheck while taking it about as seriously as he would mugging for home movies.  (His mug, of course, is plastered nice and big on the DVD cover as though he played a major role.)

Eventually, all of these sub-par shenanigans lead to a big -- ehh, not that big -- shootout as everyone tries to get to the plane that's been loaded with the art treasures and fly away.  It's not a very well-done or thrilling conclusion, and the tacked-on "gotcha" ending that's supposed to leave us with a smile sorta made me throw up in my mouth a little. 

Or maybe that was just my accumulated response to this entire movie, which I looked forward to seeing because I like a good war movie, and then regretted watching because I don't like a war movie that's boring, pointless, and just plain dumb.

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

AGATHA CHRISTIE'S POIROT: SERIES 7 & 8 -- DVD review by porfle



After being produced by British television from 1988-1996 and then lying dormant for years, the chronicles of private detective Hercule Poirot were once again brought to life by A&E and Granada Television for a series of feature-length TV movies.  The first four of these titles, starring the returning David Suchet in his brilliant portrayal of the eccentric Belgian sleuth, are remastered  and collected in Acorn Media's 2-disc set AGATHA CHRISTIE'S POIROT: SERIES 7 & 8, which, as always, is a must for fans.

"The Murder of  Roger Ackroyd" (2000) finds Hercule Poirot in retirement, puttering in the garden of his rural cottage where, for the fussy, obsessive-compulsive little gentleman, even such a modest pasttime requires impeccable attire and spit-shined patent leather shoes.   (Not to mention, as always, a perfectly-waxed moustache.) 

Yet the great Poirot cannot remain idle and finds that he must occupy his mind by solving mysteries.  A local factory owner, Roger Ackroyd (Malcolm Terris), obliges by turning up murdered in the study of his mansion, in a most complex set of circumstances withseveral likely suspects to choose from.  It takes little effort by the village M.D.,  Dr. Sheppard (Oliver Ford Davies, "Sio Bibble" of the STAR WARS prequels) to coax the detective out of retirement in order to aid in the investigation. 

Happily, since most of the series' regulars are M.I.A. here, Poirot's old friend Chief Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson) from Scotland Yard makes a welcome visit to the village and inspires him to get those "little grey cells" working again.  Japp's presence is in stark contrast to the less-than-friendly young local inspector who, at first, regards Poirot as an overrated nuisance and a threat to his ego.  Such characters are a staple in Dame Christie's works, although this one changes his tune soon enough once he sees Poirot in action.

As always, interesting guest performances (including a pre-"Battlestar: Galactica" Jamie Bamber) bring a host of quirky characters to life, while an uncharacteristically action-oriented finale with the armed suspect leading our detectives a merry chase through a hazardous factory setting may remind you of the Axis Chemicals sequence in Tim Burton's BATMAN. 

But my favorite part is a wonderful moment in which two men entering Poirot's residence early on notice that the clocks all chime in perfect synch and that the kitchen is arranged with an almost unsettling precision.  (This, in addition to his dapper gardening attire, is a delightful shorthand for Poirot's razor-sharp fastidiousness.) 

Exquisite art deco production design and lush period atmosphere are an indulgence common to all four mysteries featured here, including the next, "Lord Edgware Dies" (2000),  which was previously filmed as the 1985 TV-movie "Thirteen at Dinner" with Peter Ustinov as Poirot and David Suchet as Chief Inspector Japp!  Here,  a vivacious Hollywood actress named Jane Wilkinson (Helen Grace) becomes  the prime suspect in the murder of her millionaire husband Lord Edgware (John Castle) despite the fact that he had recently granted her a much-wanted divorce. 

In expected fashion, we find that just about all of the guest characters had a reason to wish the victim dead and an opportunity to carry out the deed, giving Poirot's deductive skills another strenuous workout.  With its nightclub backdrop and movie-star main suspect, the episode boasts an appealing theatrical air that Poirot adopts in his final reveal--which, as in this set's other tales, is drawn out and wrung dry of every last melodramatic drop.  (Poirot savors this reward for his efforts more than money--the chance to show off to his amazed onlookers the results of what his "little grey cells" have wrought.)

With Poirot's return from retirement comes a welcome reunion with regular castmembers Hugh Fraser as his dull but steadfast legman Hastings,  and Pauline Moran as secretary extraordinaire Miss Lemon, both of whom brighten the proceedings immeasurably thanks to the exquisite chemistry they share with Suchet.  Unfortunately, this set of four films contains the last appearances by these two supporting characters to date, along with the indefatigable Chief Inspector Japp, although I understand that they may reappear in the series' final season.

"Murder in Mesopotamia" (2001) finds Poirot in yet another exotic setting, this time an archeological dig in Iraq where the expedition leader's wife,  Mrs. Leidner (Barbara Barnes)--who has confided to him that she is the target of threatening letters--is bludgeoned to death in a room that had no apparent means of entry by the assailant.  This particularly devious murder taxes Poirot to his limit, while the foreign customs and traditions of Iraq disrupt his ritualistic sense of order to an alarming extent.   Fortunately, his staunch friend Hastings appears on the scene to render aid after suffering a financial and marital setback. 

Finally,  "Evil Under the Sun" (2001) offers yet another remake of a theatrical "Poirot" film.  I don't know how these compare since I haven't seen the 1982 film,  but I do know that Suchet's MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS stacked up quite favorably to the Albert Finney version in my opinion (as described here). 

After a visit to Hastings' new restaurant venture "El Ranchero" lands Poirot in the hospital with food poisoning, he's ordered to take a rest cure at an island resort.  With Hastings in tow he arrives at the scenic location in time to meet the usual colorful assortment of eccentric guests and then, his instincts sparked by various suspicious signs, he senses an impending murder in the offing. 

Unable to avert the strangulation death of another vibrant but irritating young film actress, Arlena Stuart (Louise Delamere), Poirot then applies himself to sorting through another assortment of suspects who all seem to have had a reason to want the woman dead. 

Again,  the disruption of Poirot's daily rituals while on holiday becomes a major annoyance as minute changes to his established routine prove comically distressing for him.  The increased length of these later stories allows the filmmakers to linger over the sort of character details that should delight fans of the fussy Belgian detective, while both delving deeper into the complexities of each mystery and giving Poirot ample time at story's end to take the assembled suspects on his customary "journey toward the truth." 

The 2-disc set from Acorn Media in in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby Digital sound and English subtitles.  No extras.

While there's still plenty of the old lightheartedness on hand, this set foretells the more somber tone the series will later adopt with its slower, more solemn version of the familiar theme music and a truncated main titles sequence that eliminates the former jollity of the visuals.  This, as I understand, reflects a similar turn toward a more serious tone in the Christie novels, although having seen some of the later adaptations I must say I missed the more breezy and somewhat comic moments such as the self-mocking passage in which a former acquaintance of Poirot,  Mrs. Danley, who was on hand during a murder investigation in Egypt, states: "I can't believe it--a second time.   Why is it that when you're around, people seem to drop like flies?"

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Other "Poirot" DVD reviews from HK and Cult Film News:
POIROT AND MARPLE FAN FAVORITES
POIROT: SET 1 and SET 2
POIROT: THE MOVIE COLLECTION SET 6
POIROT: SERIES 5
POIROT: SERIES 6
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DANIKA -- movie review by porfle



(NOTE: This review originally appeared online in 2006 at Bumscorner.com.)

DANIKA (2006) is one of those wickedly suspenseful "Twilight Zone"-type psychological thrillers that you know is going to have a twist ending, so all you can do is hope that you're not going to be disappointed with it. In this case, the ending doesn't make you do a mental doubletake like THE SIXTH SENSE or FIGHT CLUB, but it does tie up all the loose ends in a satisfying way and make you feel as though it was worth sitting through all the build-up.

Marisa Tomei gives a very effective performance as Danika Merrick, a devoted mother of three who is happily married to Randy (Craig Bierko, THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT), but whose constant fear that the evils of the world are closing in on her and her family is causing her to have vivid paranoid delusions that are gradually destroying her life. This isn't helped by the fact that every time she looks at a TV, she sees news bulletins about school buses exploding or children being abducted.

To make matters worse, a little girl she encounters on the sidewalk one day with a man she assumes is the father turns up in a news report about the discovery of a missing child's body, and Danika's guilt over not being able to help her results in her being haunted by frightening visions of the dead girl.


On the home front, Danika fears she's losing control of her own children as well. Her daughter Lauren (Nicki Prian) shocks her one evening by asking her what the "C" word (rhymes with Allen Funt) means, claiming she read it in a book assigned by her English teacher, Mrs. Zachary--and then shocks her again by saying, "I wish she would die a horrible death."

Danika storms off to the school for a parent-teacher meeting and faints dead away when Mrs. Zachary turns out to be the owner of a head Danika saw in one of her grotesque delusions (which is one of the really good "gotcha" scares of the movie). Later, the teacher assures her she wouldn't dream of assigning such a book to her students. Moments later, Danika imagines seeing the same teacher's violent death after a sheet of plate glass falls on her from above and slices her throat.

Meanwhile, her oldest son Kurt (Kyle Gallner) is spending more and more time "studying in his room" with Myra (Danay Garcia), a really (really) hot Spanish exchange student, whom Danika later catches giving Kurt a biology lesson that isn't in the textbook and throws her out. Myra shows up again later on in her skimpies, lying beside Danika in bed and shooting up heroin before flinging off her bra and heading off to Kurt's room to "study" some more. So, while Danika's delusions grow increasingly disturbing to her, they are often quite entertaining for us in various ways.


Needless to say, Danika feels compelled to seek psychiatric help. But Evelyn (Regina Hall) strikes her as too young and inexperienced to relate to her problems, and the sessions eventually end up serving little purpose besides giving Danika a chance to describe to us some of the stuff that's going on in her head. In one of these episodes, Danika goes into a store to buy a videogame for her youngest son and then, after viewing another horrifying news bulletin on a bank of display TVs, she turns around and suddenly finds herself seemingly the only person left in the world.

This is especially reminiscent of "The Twilight Zone", or the 1962 low-budget classic CARNIVAL OF SOULS, another film about a woman who is steadily losing her grip on reality and descending into a nightmare world. But although Evelyn may be ineffectual as a psychiatrist, she will return in a very unexpected way.

During all this I found myself wondering if Danika was simply losing her marbles, or if there was going to be some supernatural explanation--either of which would have been fine with me if handled properly. What I definitely didn't want (and was afraid I was going to get) was to find out that the whole thing was a plot to drive her crazy, concocted by her husband and his mistress in order to get rid of her (especially when we discover that Danika's husband once had an affair with their children's nanny).

Movies with this storyline usually end up going too far, with the plot to drive the husband/wife insane having to be unbelievably and often impossibly complex to explain all the various things that are made to happen in order to drive him/her nuts. (HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL comes to mind, although I forgive that movie its logical lapses because it's just so much fun.) Plus, that sort of plot twist is just way too predictable these days because we've seen it so many times before.

Thankfully, DANIKA doesn't go that route. She's definitely either going insane or suffering from something malevolently supernatural. I'll let you find out which, and hopefully you'll enjoy getting there as much as I did. By the end, when everything started falling into place, it was like the feeling you get when you fit the last piece into a jigsaw puzzle and finally get to see the whole picture, and it seems as though doing so was time well-spent. Unfortunately for Danika, though, it isn't a very happy picture.


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HARD LUCK -- movie review by porfle




(NOTE: This review originally appeared online in 2006 at Bumscorner.com.)


It's hard to settle into HARD LUCK (2006) because it's hard to figure out what kind of movie it's trying to be.  When bigtime street hustler Lucky (Wesley Snipes) ends up in prison, he falls for his case worker and they end up moving to New Orleans after his release and settling into a love nest, but their happiness is interrupted when Lucky falls ill and is rushed into surgery.  When he wakes up, the hospital is flooded and there are dead people floating around in the hallway.  That's right, Hurricane Katrina.  When he makes his way home, his wife is gone and he ends up on the wrong end of a National Guardsman's rifle. 

So, is Lucky going to be some kind of bad-luck Forrest Gump, stumbling haplessly in and out of historic situations and giving director Mario Van Peebles a chance to make more political statements?  Nope, he moves back to New York and starts at the bottom again, hawking cheap stolen merchandise on the streets for a young Jewish guy named Sol who wears Tony Montana leisure suits and says stuff like "Wut izzle, my nizzle?" Lucky also finds time to help run a recreation center for kids until the mean old government cuts their funding.  This is as close to "going straight" as Lucky can seem to manage.

By this time the opening credits were almost over, and I was still wondering where the movie was going.  Well, when Lucky goes along with Sol to his birthday party in a fancy strip club and ends up reluctantly accompanying him on a really big dope deal upstairs, with two briefcases full of half a million bucks and large scary guys with guns standing around, it looks like it's gonna be a crime drama.  Especially when the deal turns out to be a set-up by some crooked cops moonlighting with confiscated cash, which Lucky somehow manages to abscond with while everyone else is either blasting away or getting blasted. 


He steals a car belonging to Angela (Jackie Quinones), the buxom stripper who just gave him a lap dance, while she's still in it.  There's a cursory car chase with too much jittery editing and shots sped up for no reason (this movie has a lot of that sort of tomfoolery in it), and we soon wish Lucky had kicked Angela out of the car before taking off because she won't shut up.  Later on in their motel room, after a gratuitous but admittedly enjoyable scene in which Lucky makes Angela remove all of her clothing so she'll be less likely to run away, she opens one of the briefcases and finds out the hard way that they're both wired with exploding ink bombs. 

Which puts a crimp in Lucky's plan to simply return the money to the bad guys and be done with it.  So, with the cops--including Van Peebles himself as "Captain Davis"--and the bad guys both after them, Lucky and Angela must hit the road until he can find a way to disarm the other ink bomb and they can divvy up the remaining money.

Lucky and Angela bicker like an old married couple but we're just sure that by the time the movie's over, they'll be in love.  And we're treated to scenes like the two fugitives wearing old-people Halloween masks to hide their ink-covered faces, and Lucky accusing Angela of "blowing one" in the car.  As Haley Joel Osment sourly remarked in THE SIXTH SENSE, "I didn't know you were funny."  And it's with all of this set-up finally in place that it looks as though HARD LUCK has decided what to be--a comedy.  Or, rather, a kooky romantic comedy-slash-action flick.  But wait...there's more. 


During all of that other stuff, you see, we've been given glimpses of a totally-unrelated storyline concerning a middle-aged rural housewife named Cass (Cybill Shepherd) and her decades-younger Asian hubby, Chang (James Hiroyuki Liao), who live in a large farmhouse whose barn has been converted into an audio-visual recording studio.  But they're not just making any old home movies.  While frolicking around like lovestruck perpetual honeymooners, this odd couple likes to knock out random people with a tire iron, drive them home in their van, and horribly torture them to death in fun and unusual ways while making music videos of the procedure.  No, I'm not making this up.

Okay, so we know that eventually Lucky and Angela are going to cross paths with these lovable psychos, but why?  All I can figure out is that Mario Van Peebles and co-writer Larry Brand are going for a Tarantino thing here.  It's as though they really liked the "Butch and Marcellus meet Maynard and Zed" sequence from PULP FICTION and decided to do a whole movie about it. 

When the two couples first come into proximity with each other in a roadside diner, Pumpkin and Honey Bunny--I mean, Cass and Chang--are having some goofy stream-of-consciousness conversation in a booth while some kid runs around in a "Scream" mask going "RAAAAR!", and another couple we haven't met yet (Cass and Chang's next victims) are sitting at the counter having another conversation about why he should give up entering Extreme Fighting competitions, and then the camera starts floating around in slow-motion as various characters have inner soliloquies that bear little relevance to anything.  The director seems to be trying to deconstruct his movie the way Tarantino did with PULP FICTION, but he isn't nearly as good at fitting the pieces back together in interesting ways. 


Anyway, Lucky and Angela go off to the mansion of a mob-connected, flamboyantly-gay porn flick producer named Mendez (Luis Guzman, BOOGIE NIGHTS, TRAFFIC), who owes Lucky a favor, to switch cars, which gives Van Peebles another chance to inject some "wacky" into the movie as Guzman practically flies through the scene in a hair net and open-too-far bathrobe and the gay-o-meter turned up to "eleven." 

With this hilarity out of the way, Lucky and Angela head out again in their new car and promptly break down in the middle of nowhere.  They find an empty cabin to hole up in, where there's a mildly exciting shoot-out when some of the bad guys catch up to them, and Lucky must find a working phone because Angela has been shot.  But the only other house in the vicinity belongs to--you guessed it--Cass and Chang, who are even now gaily doing dreadful things to their latest torture victims.  I'll let you guess what happens next, and you'll probably be right.

My main reaction when HARD LUCK's closing credits finally scooted onto the screen was a muffled "what the f***?"  A lot happens in this movie, and some of it is entertaining, but the way it tries to assimilate all the different story and stylistic elements into a unified whole is like grabbing pieces from different jigsaw puzzles and jamming them together.  Mario Van Peebles has done much better stuff than this (POSSE, NEW JACK CITY), and Wesley Snipes probably spent the whole movie wishing he were back in BLADE II, or even DEMOLITION MAN--I know I did. 

And perhaps the worst thing about it is that, taken by itself instead of awkwardly stuck into another  storyline with a totally conflicting mood, the whole business with Cass and Chang probably could've made a really good twisted horror comedy all on its own.  It's not every day you see a perky, yet gleefully sadistic Cybill Shepherd in a Halloween mask and frilly apron, shoving a funnel down her bound victim's throat and dangling a live rat over it, or performing dental surgery on same with pliers and other tools.  If Mario Van Peebles had taken this plotline and run with it, he might've come up with a cult classic.

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Friday, September 13, 2013

"Ambushed" -- Anchor Bay Reunites "Expendables"' Dolph Lundgren and Randy Couture, Plus Vinnie Jones with Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack and DVD Out Nov. 12


WHEN YOU’RE A DIRTY COP IN THE BIG CITY, IT’S ONLY A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE YOU’RE...AMBUSHED

REUNITING EXPENDABLES I AND II CO-STARS DOLPH LUNDGREN AND RANDY COUTURE, PLUS VINNIE JONES!

Get the Jump On Blu-ray™/DVD Combo Pack and DVD November 12!

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – On November 12, Anchor Bay Films will release Ambushed:  a hard-hitting thriller about the law’s battle to keep order, bringing back together hard-hitting Expendables I and II ex-pats Dolph Lundgren and Randy Couture, with Vinnie Jones (Snatch, X-Men: The Last Stand, Swordfish) completing a holy trinity of action and thrills!  Directed by Giorgio Serafini, written by Agustin, and from the producers of Maximum Conviction, Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden and The Devil’s in the Details, Ambushed packs a punch full of fists and thrills, and will be available for an SRP of $29.99 for the Blu-ray™/DVD Combo Pack and $24.98 for the DVD.  Pre-book is October 16.

Ambushed charts the dark, seductive underbelly of Los Angeles, told from the point of view of two of its seedier denizens, mid-level drug pushers Eddie (Gianni Capaldi) and Frank (Daniel Bonjour). They want a chance to hit the big time. Unfortunately, they decide to achieve their goal by ripping off their middleman in a murderous bid for greatness, setting off a dangerous chain of events involving a ruthless crime boss, a dirty cop and the Federal agent chasing them all.

Agent Maxwell (Dolph Lundgren, One in the Chamber, The Package) is about to close in on an international cocaine smuggling operation run by criminal mastermind Vincent Camastra (Jones). When Agent Beverly Royce (Carly Pope, “24,” “Californication,” Concrete Blondes) goes undercover with the drug dealers, she finds herself in deeper than she can handle. Up against ruthless killers as well as dirty cop Jack Reiley (Randy Couture, UFC Hall of Fame, Hijacked, “The Unit”), Frank and Eddie will soon find that dreams built on corruption sometimes exact a heavy toll...

About Anchor Bay Films
Anchor Bay Films is a division of Anchor Bay Entertainment and provides quality distribution with operations in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and offers distribution capabilities in other key territories.  Anchor Bay Films uniquely offers the creative community a fully integrated distribution capability on all platforms and an international solution extending beyond the United States.  The company focuses on a platform release strategy for its films with an eye toward maximizing their potential across all ancillary distribution platforms.  Upcoming theatrical releases include Billy Bob Thornton’s Jayne Mansfield’s Car starring Robert Duvall, John Hurt, Kevin Bacon and Ray Stevenson and No One Lives with Luke Evans.  Films in its library include the recent theatrical release of Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem starring Sheri Moon Zombie, Bruce Davison and genre favorite Ken Foree, 10 Years starring Channing Tatum and Rosario Dawson, the critically-acclaimed comedy City Island starring Andy Garcia and Solitary Man starring Michael Douglas as well as Kill the Irishman starring Ray Stevenson, Vincent D’Onofrio, Val Kilmer and Christopher Walken, Toronto Film Festival award-winner Beautiful Boy with Maria Bello and Michael Sheen and Cannes 2011 premiere Corman’s World.  Anchor Bay Entertainment (www.anchorbayentertainment.com) is a Starz (NASDAQ: STRZA, STRZB) business, www.starz.com.

AMBUSHED Blu-ray™/DVD Combo Pack 
Street date:                              November 12, 2013
Pre-book:                                 October 16, 2013
Catalog #:                                BD60834
UPC:                                       013132608341
Format:                                    Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35)
Audio:                                     Blu-ray™: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 / DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:                                 English SDH, Spanish
Run time:                                97 Minutes
Rating:                                    R
SRP:                                        $29.99

AMBUSHED DVD
Street date:                              November 12, 2013
Pre-book:                                 October 16, 2013
Catalog #:                                AF60833
UPC:                                        013132608334
Format:                                    Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35)
Audio:                                     Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:                                 English SDH, Spanish
Run time:                                 97 Minutes
Rating:                                     R
SRP:                                        $24.98

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

LEONARD MALTIN'S 2014 MOVIE GUIDE -- book review by porfle


If you're like me, an integral part of your home movie-viewing experience has always been the latest paperback edition of Leonard Maltin's nutshell movie review books formerly entitled "TV Movies."  These days, of course, there are more movies than ever,  so Maltin's books have evolved into really hefty softbound doorstops--the latest of which, LEONARD MALTIN'S 2014 MOVIE GUIDE (subtitled "The Modern Era" as many older titles are now covered in a separate "classic movie" guide), is jam-packed with more movie summaries (over 16,000), cast lists,  running times, and other info than ever before.

Maltin, a respected movie critic and author of some great film reference books such as "Our Gang: The Life and Times of the Little Rascals" and "Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons",  admits that his inspiration was the original movie guide by Steven H. Scheuer, "Movies on TV" (1953-1993).  Scheuer's books contained capsule reviews and ratings of thousands of titles for those of us who craved info on all the films listed in the weekly TV schedules back before home video enabled us to choose what to show and when, and before infomercials drove the endless selection of afternoon and all-night movies off the air. 

I often disagreed with Scheuer,  who once referred to BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN as "trash" and dismissed A CHRISTMAS STORY as "Cute!  Cute!  Cute!", while regarding Maltin as more genre-friendly and sympathetic to my own tastes.  For example, Maltin rates the much-maligned THE DARK KNIGHT RISES three stars out of four ("...roundly entertaining,  with a highly-satisfying finale") and awards the "energetic, inventive" J.J. Abrams STAR TREK three-and-a-half.   The latest James Bond adventure,  SKYFALL,  scores a full four stars.

Occasionally ratings are revised--ALIEN now enjoys three-and-a-half-star classic status ("colorful, exceptional"), up from its previous two-and-a-half ("stomach-churning violence, slime, and shocks").  Nonetheless, there are times when I couldn't disagree with Maltin more.  Previous editions have contained confoundingly low (to me, anyway) assessments of such favorites as Tim Burton's BATMAN (2-and-a-half stars) and, worse, a low one-and-a-half stars to the delightful BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA.  This latest incarnation of Maltin's movie guide also dismisses my beloved MEMENTO as "pretentious pap" with, again, a withering one-and-a-half stars.

Still, no two people can agree on everything--indeed, the disagreements are as interesting to read as the instances in which our opinions are gratifyingly in synch.  In either case, it's always clear that Leonard Maltin knows a whole bunch about movies and has an unflagging enthusiasm for them.  Which makes LEONARD MALTIN'S 2014 MOVIE GUIDE just as irresistibly fun to delve into as it has always been. 

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

TWO TICKETS TO PARADISE -- movie review by porfle



(NOTE: This review originally appeared  online in 2006 at Bumscorner.com.)


Three past-their-prime blue collar shlubs on a roadtrip from Pittsburgh to Florida "find themselves" and discover what's really important in their lives in the comedy-drama TWO TICKETS TO PARADISE (2006), which was originally titled "Dirt Nap."  Their experiences during this life-changing journey are sometimes funny, sometimes touching, and sometimes bland and pointless.  This adds up to an affable guy movie that I neither loved nor hated, but kind of liked enough to not rip it out of my DVD player and shove it into the garbage disposal.

The cast is likable enough.  D.B. Sweeney, who played "Dish" Boggett in LONESOME DOVE and Travis Walton in FIRE IN THE SKY, is a washed-up former musician named Billy who drives a beer truck and is happy enough with his current circumstances until he walks in on his wife getting boffed by another guy.  His friend Mark has a wife, a kid, and a really bad gambling addiction that causes big, mean guys to threaten him with bodily harm.  He's played by one of my favorite actors, John C. McGinley, who was the "SWAT before dicks" guy in SE7EN and the weaselly sergeant who was always sucking up to Tom Berenger's character in PLATOON.  Billy's other friend, Jason (Paul Hipp), is a nerdy, happily single computer store salesman who just won two tickets to a big championship football game in Florida, which, incidentally, Mark has a bundle of money riding on. 

Since Billy is quits with his wife, Mark is being hunted by big, mean guys, and Jason doesn't have anything better to do, they all pile into Mark's car and head for Florida.  Much of the movie consists of their mildly entertaining adventures during the trip, such as accidentally burning down Vanna White's birthplace, tripping out on magic mushrooms, stopping to take a whiz in the dark of night and finding themselves surrounded by alligators, and unsuccessfully faking their own deaths. 

Their numerous philosophical and pop culture discussions consist of the kind of blather Quentin Tarantino might write if he had a spear sticking through his head.  Of course, we get the usual road-trip cliches like who gets to ride shotgun or pick the radio station.  But the closer they get to Florida, the less important the big game becomes as their interpersonal relationships implode and they begin to regard themselves as losers who have utterly failed to live up to their potential in life.

Thank goodness the more serious stuff is handled by such good actors and is fairly well-written.  McGinley and Sweeney in particular are very adept at this sort of thing and manage to give some depth to their characters, while Paul Hipp balances it all out as the less screwed-up character who has to endure their agonized dramatics. Thankfully, the scenes we're supposed to think are funny actually do prove amusing at times without descending into raucous slapstick, although little of it is memorably laugh-provoking or particularly imaginative.
 
Everything comes to a head when they finally get to Florida--one of them stumbles into an unexpected romance, another finally wakes up and gets his priorities straight, and the third ends up in the hospital with a cracked skull.  First-time director and co-writer Sweeney manages to get all of this on film pretty efficiently, with a good supporting cast including Pat Hingle, AMERICAN ANTHEM's Janet Jones, Moira Kelly, Rex Linn, Mark Moses, M.C. Gainey, and, in a brief cameo, Ed Harris as a one-armed carnival worker who teaches the guys a valuable lesson about lions and tigers. 

With this competent directing debut under his belt, D.B. Sweeney can hopefully move on to better things.  Meanwhile, TWO TICKETS TO PARADISE isn't likely to make a huge impression on anyone besides the usual hyper-excitable film festival attendees, but at least it's worth watching if you keep your expectations reasonably low.  And it might also help if you take a cue from our heroes and stock up on plenty of beer for the trip.


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Monday, September 9, 2013

REDACTED -- movie review by porfle



(NOTE: This review first appeared online in 2007 at Bumscorner.com.)


"It's a pretty juicy story though, isn't it?  A band of brothers...losing their moral compass and trying to wreak vengeance on a 15-year-old girl."

This is how McCoy (Rob Devaney) describes the events he witnessed the previous night when two of his fellow squad members go on a rape and murder spree in Brian DePalma's REDACTED (2007), one of the most unrewarding and depressing viewing experiences imaginable.  And despite his loftily-stated goal of bringing attention to the war in Iraq, I couldn't help but imagine DePalma the sensationalistic filmmaker getting a charge out of being able to sink his cinematic teeth into such a "juicy" story himself while basking in both the critical plaudits and heated controversy it was sure to evoke.

The film is a mockumentary mash-up of various styles of footage from different sources--a somber French documentary about American soldiers guarding a checkpoint in Samarra (these scenes were directed by second unit director Eric Schwab), simulated Iraqi newscasts, security cameras, various streaming video of soldiers' wives, war protesters, and terrorists venting their feelings online, and home video shot by a gregarious young soldier named Salazar (Izzy Diaz), who hopes to break into filmmaking after he returns to the States.  His squad includes nice guy McCoy, a big, dumb redneck named B.B. Rush (Daniel Stewart Sherman), and a lanky psychotic redneck with the non-too-subtle name of Reno Flake (Patrick Carroll). 


Long periods of crushing boredom punctuated by moments of frantic terror, during which the soldiers manage to machine-gun several innocent civilians who misinterpret their orders to stop at the checkpoint, lead the less balanced squadmembers--the two South'ren boys, of course--to contemplate the dastardly act around which the movie revolves.  Inevitably, Rush and Flake end up entering the house of an Iraqi family and raping the 15-year-old daughter before killing them all, while Salazar records it all for posterity on a hidden helmet-cam and McCoy agonizes over his inability to stop it.  Later, while the military investigates the crime, some outraged terrorists kidnap one of the soldiers and mete out bloody justice of their own.

Lacking any cinematic stylings or engaging dialogue--this may as well have been shot by your dad instead of the man who directed CARRIE and SCARFACE--we're simply presented with a BLAIR WITCH-style home video of evil, sadistic American soldiers brutally raping an Iraqi girl and murdering her family like dogs, then terrorizing their weaker companions into silence.  Technically, it doesn't even succeed on a BLAIR WITCH level, because that sort of thing demands ultra-naturalistic acting and dialogue that look and sound completely unaffected.  Here, we're never convinced that these guys are anything but actors reciting lines by a filmmaker dramatizing his own agenda.  It doesn't help that, for legal reasons, the cast was forced to stick to a carefully-worded script that left little or no room for improvisation.

Daniel Stewart Sherman as the much too conveniently-named "Rush" comes off like a deranged Chris Farley character, while Patrick Carroll's Flake could've stepped right out of a Roger Corman flick.  Rob Devaney tries his best as McCoy, but just can't make his unwieldy dialogue sound natural.  Only Izzy Diaz as Salazar and Ty Jones as the ill-fated Master Sergeant Sweet come close to intermittently giving the impression of real people.  As for the actors who appear in the brief online segments, most resemble either overzealous performance artists or melodramatic TV characters.


REDACTED begins with a title that reads "This film is entirely fiction, inspired by an incident widely reported to have occurred in Iraq.  While some of the events depicted here may resemble those of the reported incident, the characters are entirely fictional, and their words and actions should not be confused with those of real persons." Then, little animated scratch-out lines slowly obscure the words, implying that the matter has been hushed up and swept under the rug, or "redacted."  Yet the original event that this fictional account was "inspired" by was well-documented and widely-reported, and the criminal soldiers have already been tried and convicted (one faces the death penalty). 

With no actual entertainment value to speak of, we know that we're in for nothing more than a slow descent into unrelieved unpleasantness.  The cartoonishly bad soldiers start out bad and steadily get as much badder as the script can contrive for them to get until the inevitable rape and murder sequence, which is, of course, bad.  But with the focus being on an isolated outrage committed by a mutant microcosm of the American military, and considering that DePalma's 1989 Viet Nam film CASUALTIES OF WAR covered the same territory in the same way, you have to wonder exactly what all-encompassing statement he's trying to make.

I'm pretty sure it isn't "Support the Troops."  While most anti-war films target governments and politicians who use soldiers as pawns, REDACTED takes aim at the soldiers themselves.  Put Johnny in a uniform and turn him loose in a foreign country, and he's just a hair's breadth away from devolving into a slavering, kill-crazy rapist.  Needless to say, if you have family members serving in the military overseas, you might want to skip this film during your next trip to Blockbuster.


Besides the soldiers-on-a-rampage sequence, the most disturbing part of the movie for me is the terrorist video that features the close-up beheading of a kidnapped soldier.  This is the old straight-razor-in-the-elevator, chainsaw-in-the-shower DePalma at work, using bloody horror to punch his audience in the gut.  While he gets to do it here in the guise of a political statement, it's hard not to imagine the old shockmeister getting off on the chance to film disgustingly lurid scenes like this.

Finally, DePalma depends on a gruesome photo montage of actual civilian war casualties, which are of course shocking and tragic, to give his film a powerful ending that the narrative itself fails to achieve.  Yet even here, at least two of the images are fake--one recognizable as a still from an earlier mock-u-doc segment of the film, the other being the admittedly heartrending final shot.  At any rate, it's unclear whether or not the last moments of REDACTED are simply a calculated effort to easily manipulate viewers' emotions and to evoke standing ovations at film festivals.


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Saturday, September 7, 2013

THE BLACK WATERS OF ECHO'S POND -- DVD review by porfle



The sub-sub-sub-genre of a group of teens trapped on an island while getting gorily murdered one by one is given yet another recycling in the dumb but lively THE BLACK WATERS OF ECHO'S POND (2009). 

A colorful but rather unnecessary prologue that seems to have sucked up more than its share of the budget tells of a 1927 archeological group in Turkey discovering the underground tomb of Pan, and with it instructions for assembling a strange board game whose players, we'll find, become possessed by evil spirits and made to believe that their worst suspicions about each other are true.  Which, as you might guess, leads to bloody warfare within whatever group happens to be playing the game. 

Right on cue, we meet a gaggle of generic modern-day teens arriving at an island in New England and staying in a house that just happens to be the current hiding place of The Game.  In a scene right out of THE EVIL DEAD, one of this new crop of doofuses ends up in the basement,  finds the item in question, and urges everyone to participate.  (This elaborate prop, by the way, is a pretty impressive-looking creation.)  The "truth or dare" nature of the game starts out as fun but quickly turns sour as the questions get more probing and personal. 

While these characters are the usual insufferable stereotypes spouting mindless "party hearty" dialogue that should actually embarrass the screenwriters, they do get a bit deeper and more three-dimensional (but not much) as the game eventually causes all their simmering jealousies and resentments--not to mention good old naked lust--to be stoked by the fires of Hell into violent action.  Thus, the lightweight sexual titillation and goofy teasing of the film's first half turn deadly with everyone running around taking turns trying to kill each other as Harry Manfredini of  "Friday the 13th" fame cranks up the scary music. 

At this point, what has been a rather bland affair suddenly takes a jarring turn into some wicked violence and makeup effects that are unexpectely gruesome.  The gore is all refreshingly non-CGI (digital effects are reserved for facial transformations, with the possessed teens sporting black, bleeding eyes) although the most extreme stuff is shown after-the-fact rather than during.  Still, there's a chainsaw bisection, plenty of knife and meat cleaver action, a shotgun to the head, and a few things I'll decline to mention lest I spoil what fun there is to be gleaned from this otherwise unremarkable slasher flick.

While a bit shoddy-looking in spots, the film mostly maintains a technical level equal to that of a high-end TV series episode.  (Night exteriors are particularly well-done.)  James Duval (Randy Quaid's older stepson in INDEPENDENCE DAY), T-2's Robert Patrick,  and the ever-popular Danielle Harris (CYRUS, THE VICTIMCHROMESKULL: LAID TO REST 2) lead a cast that is in no danger of sweeping the Oscars any time soon, although their acting seems to improve once the screaming starts.   Of particular interest to fans of Robert Rodriguez' PLANET TERROR are the irrepressible Crazy Babysitter Twins (Electra and Elise Avellan) as good-girl/ bad-girl sisters who both end up as very bad girls. 

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic  widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  The sole extra is an alternate opening that actually beats the one used in the movie by a long shot. 

I can't recommend THE BLACK WATERS OF ECHO'S POND with unrestrained enthusiasm,  although once the killfest finally got under way I did derive a certain amount of enjoyment from it.   It's an extremely dumb, predictable, and by-the-numbers flick, to be sure, but let's face it--you sit back to watch something like this, you pretty much know what you're in for.


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Friday, September 6, 2013

SILENT BUT DEADLY -- DVD review by porfle



These days when filmmakers want to set a story in Louisiana,  they go to Louisiana to film it.  Or, they do what director Stephen Scott did--film it in Ontario, Canada and call it Louisiana.  Not that it makes much difference, since most people who make it through the made-for-Canadian-TV horror comedy SILENT BUT DEADLY (2011) probably won't even remember where they are when it's over. 

The lame joke of the title sets the tone for the rest of the story that begins when mentally-challenged farmboy Thomas Capper (the ubiquitous Jason Mewes) slaughters his abusive dad (William Sadler,  DIE HARD 2) for killing his baby goat with a shotgun in retaliation for Thomas peeping in on his lesbian stepmothers, Anya and Titianna, who are Russian mail-order brides. 

While it's hard to fault any film that begins with naked Russian lesbians having sex and lines like "What is it now, you Soviet sluts?", we soon get the idea that this modest production isn't going to be very effective as a comedy or a gore film.  For one thing, all the blood 'n' guts action is done with bad CGI,  which is about as much fun as eating a fast-food taco with the wrapper still on it.  The comedy, on the other hand, is often of the kind in which whoever screams his or her lines the loudest is deemed the funniest. 

At any rate, Thomas leaves the farm with his true love, Lisa the goat, in tow, and ends up working on a film crew that's shooting on location in rural (wink, wink) Louisiana.  He gets the job by making the perfect goat-milk latte for crabby, egotistical director Victor, played by former "The Red Green Show" co-star Patrick McKenna.  But when the craft services cook kills Thomas' beloved goat for lunch,  the heartbroken farmboy goes on a murder spree in which every impliment of death within reach is employed for slicing 'n' dicing.

Along the way there's some mildly amusing confusion regarding the nationalities of various crewmembers, not to mention some very  pleasing nudity by flakey actress Jackie (Nicole Arbour) and cutie-pie Sandra (Kim Poirier, DAWN OF THE DEAD remake), a documentary filmmaker doing a story on the local cops as they investigate Thomas' initial goat-revenge murders. 

"Little person" Jordan Prentice (HOWARD THE DUCK,  WEIRDSVILLE) and Benz Antoine (DEATH RACE) are sporadically amusing as redneck sheriff  Shelby and his unflappable black deputy Jimbo, who, along with the likable Sandra, are the main reasons why SILENT BUT DEADLY  is as endurable as it is.   In fact, the film actually manages to generate a few fleeting sparks of funny once this odd law-enforcement team goes after the mad killer who's leaving a trail of bloody bodies strewn around the movie location.  Which is a good thing since star Jason Mewes is about as exciting a screen presence as that goat-milk latte he whips up.  

The film plods along trying to evoke a quirky, lighthearted, mildly irreverent sort of atmosphere and not succeeding very often, until it finally jerks to an abrupt end.  Nice cinematography and capable directing help make it as watchable as it is,  but  a bland script, fakey CGI gore effects, and uninteresting lead performance work against it.

The DVD from Inception Media Group is 16x9 widescreen with 5.1 digital surround sound.  Closed-captioning but no subtitles.  The sole extra is a trailer. 

SILENT BUT DEADLY is the kind of low-budget comedy made by people who obviously have plenty of comic sensibilities but can't quite turn them into a funny movie.  I can imagine sitting through it if it happened to pop onto my TV screen one day and I didn't have the energy to find something else to watch.  But as far as actually going out of my way to see it--naaaaaaah.


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Sunday, September 1, 2013

THE CHRISTINE CONRADT INTERVIEW

 (This interview originally appeared online in 2005 at Bumscorner.com.)

When she's not playing a flesh-eating ghoul as in the upcoming zombiefest LAST RITES, she turns out screenplays for wicked flicks such as GHETTO DAWG 2:OUT OF THE PITS and A KILLER UPSTAIRS. She's the talented and prolific CHRISTINE CONRADT, and she just gave us the lowdown on all sorts of cool movie-type stuff!

Christine Conradt has won the Marguerite Roberts Screenwriting Award and placed seventh in the internationally recognized Writer's Digest Writing Competition. In addition to working as a reader and consultant, covering more than 200 screenplays and novels for small production and distribution companies, she also finds time to write numerous screenplays of her own, many of which have been turned into feature films. Two of these, GHETTO DAWG 2:OUT OF THE PITS (one of my favorite films of the year) and A KILLER UPSTAIRS, have just been released on DVD.

Christine recently made some time in her busy schedule to sit down and talk to us Bums about ghetto dawgs, serial killers, zombies...all sorts of neat stuff!


porfle: What led you to explore the subject matter of GHETTO DAWG 2?

Christine: I was actually approached by a friend of mine who was attached to direct GD2. Integration Entertainment wanted him to write the script and direct the film, but he was in the middle of another project and didn't have time to write the script, so he called me and asked me to meet with the producers.
I hit it off with them and wrote a draft. As it turned out, some things changed, and my friend didn't end up directing it... but I was impressed with what the Crook Brothers did. When I saw the rough cut, I emailed the producers at Integration and told them that I thought the directors -- and the cast-- did a really good job.


porfle: How did you achieve such realism in the dialogue and overall atmosphere?

Christine: I wasn't on the set when it shot in New York, but I can tell you that the most of the dialogue was changed by the actors and/or directors. They took what was on the page and really made it their own. I don't know how much was ad-libbed and how much direction the actors were given, but that gritty, realistic feel comes from them taking lines on a page and saying them the way they would say them -- or the way they feel their characters would say them.



porfle: So the filmmakers didn't always stick that closely to the script?

Christine: There was a lot of improvisation. The amount of improvisation is really up to a director and the producers... I've worked with other directors and producers that go over dialogue so closely before shooting that if the actor changes a line, they do another take and ask the actor to say the line as written. Some don't operate that way... On a low budget like this too, a lot of times the dialogue needs to change based on locations that you don't anticipate having during the writing phase, or the lack of locations you thought you'd get.



porfle: Were you directly involved in the making of the film?

Christine: No.



porfle: The original title was CHERRY. What does this refer to?

Christine: For a brief amount of time, it looked like funding for GD2 wasn't going to happen. At that point, the producers and I worked out a deal where I could shop the script myself to other production companies as a spec. So I retitled it 'Cherry' since
GD2 was a title Integration had. Before it could sell, funding came through and Integration ended up making it as GD2. It's not in the movie, but the dog's name was 'Cherry.' It was also a double entendre... Donte was cherry (a virgin) until he finally brought himself to pull the trigger.



porfle: Was this a spec script that was seen as a potential sequel to GHETTO DAWG? Or did you write it specifically as a sequel to that film?

Christine: When the producers at Integration and I sat down to talk about the project... they told me they wanted a sequel to Ghetto Dawg but they wanted entirely new actors, a new story, and no relation to the original-- except the title of course, and the same "feel." So I watched Ghetto Dawg to get a sense of what kind of film it was, and then wrote from scratch.


porfle: Certain scenes have a Martin Scorcese vibe to them.  Were you influenced by his films while writing GD2?

Christine: I wasn't specifically influenced by Scorsese during the writing... I think much of the scenes you refer to are a product of what the directors did with the script. That comes much more from the Crook brothers than it does from me.



porfle: (SPOILER) I love the last shot before the fade-out -- Big Daddy shoots an index finger at the unfortunate Donte with a self-satisfied smirk as Tyrone's dog sits beside him, and life in the pits goes on. Did you ever have an alternate, less downbeat ending in mind?

Christine: Actually, the end of the movie is different from what I put in the script. In the script, Cherry actually dies, Donte is arrested (like he is now), and Brynn doesn't get away. Angel's thug finds her and kills her. So the ending you see in the movie -- while still a downer -- is much more uplifting than the one I came up with.



porfle: Do you see yourself exploring this territory again in the future? Or is GD2 your final word on the subject?

Christine: Actually, I'm in negotiations right now to do a theatrical feature that is also a gang drama. I can't talk about it yet, but it's being directed and produced by an extremely talented music video director named Geo Santini. I would love to talk to you more about it once all the deals are in place and I am allowed to speak about it publicly. It has a very gritty, dirty RESERVOIR DOGS feel to it and I think it will be a terrific film.



porfle: When not writing urban dramas, you specialize in thrillers. What got you interested in the genre?

Christine: I actually love thrillers and horrors most... I am a big fan of the Law & Order series and Ann Rule books. I'm fascinated by the psychology of serial killers, so I think it was natural I would gravitate toward that genre.



porfle: Do you miss the days of the thriller anthology series on television ("Alfred Hitchcock Presents", "The Twilight Zone", etc.), as an outlet for talented writers?

Christine: I grew up on those shows and can attribute many sleepless nights as a child to Alfred Hitchock!
I do miss them... but I think there's much more opportunity now for talented writers to showcase themselves. With 200 television channels and the ability to make movies for so much cheaper on digital, if you have a great thriller with an original twist, there is definitely a way to get it in front of an audience.


porfle: You wrote A KILLER UPSTAIRS, which was just released on DVD, for the Lifetime Channel. Did the finished product turn out as you envisioned it?

Christine: Yes... actually AKU was my first project for Lifetime although I worked with the same producers on A Perfect Nanny for USA a few years back. The producers are very involved in the development process and we spend hours hashing out every detail from dialogue changes to blocking as the script is being written, so there are no surprises on those films.

It's always a thrill for me to see the finished product though... because even when you see photos of the location and meet the actors and all of that, it's still never quite the same as you envision it in your head.


porfle: How did you end up playing a zombie in the upcoming horror film LAST RITES, in which two rival street gangs must join forces against an army of flesh-eating ghouls?

Christine: Well... a fellow USC Film School grad and very good friend of mine (Todd Ocvirk-- who co-directed a film titled KOLOBOS which is somewhat of a cult classic now) is co-producing LAST RITES. In film school, there were only 5 girls in my class, so when it came time for everyone to find actors for their student films, there weren't many female leads to choose from so I got asked a lot. During our sophomore year, Todd made a kick-ass zombie movie and I was one of the zombies. When he was getting ready to shoot LAST RITES, he called me and asked me if I wanted to play a zombie 'for real' this time. I told him I'd love to and I showed up on the set and let the make up artists do their thing. I was in the middle of my own projects, so I was only on set for one day, but it was so much fun to stumble around in torn up clothes and spit up black gunk... I hope there's a sequel to LAST RITES so I can do it again!



porfle: Was this your first time in front of the camera?

Christine: No... I'd done several student films and I was actually an extra on The Bold & the Beautiful for a little while during the time I was in college. I enjoy acting. I'm a completely different person as soon as a camera is on me!



porfle: What was the makeup process like?

Christine: Wow. Crazy. The make up artists were so good, you'd think you were on the set of a studio film. It took about 2 hours to do hair and make up.
One make up artist spray painted my neck and hands and arms green while another one worked on applying make up on my face. Some of the other zombies are much more mutiliated than I was... I think they kind of wanted to keep the female zombies with a little bit of sex appeal (in a twisted way), so the guys ended up with the crazy teeth and holes in their faces. My hair is pretty long and when I sat down, the girl doing hair said, "I'm going to ruin your hair today."
And I told her to go for it. I ended up with the biggest, teased out hair style I've ever seen. It took me forever to get all the spray and stuff washed out.



porfle: One of the stars of LAST RITES is fan-favorite Reggie Bannister of the PHANTASM series. What was it like working with him?

Christine: Unfortunately because of my limited time on the set, I didn't have the chance to really get a sense of the leads and how they worked. Most of the time while they were blocking, the zombies were all refilling their mouths with what we called "zombie juice."



porfle: Can you give us a preview of some of your upcoming projects?

Christine: I have several coming on Lifetime. A LOVER'S REVENGE just aired and may still be airing off and on. The one after that is called MURDER IN MY HOUSE starring Barbara Niven and Gary Hudson. I was actually invited to set in Canada as that one was filming, so I got to spend quite a bit of time getting to know the cast and crew. I think it will be really good, so I'm looking forward to that one coming out in early 2006. The one after that (A PERFECT MARRIAGE) is shooting right now and then I have two more in the works. I'm really excited about the upcoming gang drama which will hopefully go into production in Feb.
2006. I'm also working on a couple of spec scripts that I would like to co-produce myself.



porfle: What advice would you give to someone who aspires to writing screenplays for a living?

Christine: Well, my best advice would be to stick with it. I actually wrote an entire article for Tailslate.com about this very subject. Writing for film and T.V. is an extremely competitive industry, and it's easy to get discouraged. You have to really love what you're doing, and not care about the money, and I think that is key. People who get into it for the money, get out as soon as they realize that you can spend years starving while you're trying to sell that first script. I've been there... I actually took out a loan to live on for six months so that I could have time to write every day. That's a huge gamble, but in my case, it paid off. The script I wrote during that time never sold, but it got me A KILLER UPSTAIRS. Every writer has a different story of what worked for them, so you just have to find what works for you.



porfle: Thank you very much for speaking with us. We'll definitely be on the lookout for future films that feature your name in the credits!

Christine: You're very welcome.


Some of Christine Conradt's films that we've reviewed:

GHETTO DAWG 2: OUT OF THE PITS
A LOVER'S REVENGE
CHRISTIE'S REVENGE
HOTEL CALIFORNIA

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