Wednesday, 30 September 2015


Title:  Arena
Director:  Peter Manoogian
Released:  1989
Starring: Paul Satterfield, Hamilton Camp, Claudia Christian, Marc Alaimo, Shari Shattuck, Armin Shimerman, Michael Deak, Ken Clark

Plot: In the year 4038 an intergalactic boxing style sport simply known as “The Arena” takes place on an isolated space station. Now short order cook Steve (Satterfield) prepares to compete as the first human in 50 years to enter the contest.  


Review:  Back when the “Rocky” franchise was in its death throws following the abysmal “Rocky 5” there was an enduring rumour that the next film would see Rocky sent into space for some intergalactic boxing. I mean it worked for Muhammad Ali Vs. Superman so why not for the Italian stallion aswell? Thankfully this idea never happened but for those who felt it was a good idea, unsurprisingly via Charles Brand who ran with the idea for this DTV release which would be one of the last films to be distributed by his “Empire International Pictures” label a few years before it folded, with Band going on to form the now legendry “Full Moon Pictures”. Its also a film which I remember originally watching as a kid when my dad rented it for me from the video shop, based just on the fact I thought the cover was cool.

Paul Satterfield here plays the aspiring fighter Steve Armstrong who dreams of fighting in “The Arena” were humans have been essentially counted out as lesser fighters unable to compete with the more dominate races which it attracts. However after he unwittingly knocks out an arena fighter he finds himself being given a shot via Quinn (Christian) whose fighter he left unable to compete. At the same time his six armed best friend Shorty manages to land them both on the radar of the underworld boss Rogor (Alaimo) who is also the manager of the current champion Horn (Deak).

Encase its not clear already, this film honestly could not be more of a Rocky clone if it tried as here we get the underdog fighter aiming for the title and battling against the heavily stacked odds to make it. We even get a number of bizarre training sequences including one where Steve spars with a T-rex looking alien called Stitches who has tiny arms and essentially is there just to be punched by Steve. At the same time it’s also a film when there’s not a fight happening the film starts to drag.

It’s a shame that this film doesn’t have a tighter script as there really is something here with Manoogian creating a believable “Star Wars” inspired world full of interesting character / alien designs who inhabit the station and who are brought to life via practical effects, with some elements of stop motion for some of the bigger creatures. Instead due to the hit and miss script the film is left to try and carry itself on the entertaining fight sequences with questionable results.

Satterfield is a likeable lead and here receives strong support from the rest of the cast who include cult sci-fi legend Claudia Christian who brings her usual sultry charms to this film several years before she got her breakout role on “Babylon 5”. Marc Alaimo makes for a decent if subtle villain which is hardly surprising that he chooses to play it this way when he comes with his sneaky and appropriately henchman Weezil played by the legendry character actor Armin Shimerman as well as his fighter Horn, a monosyllable monitor who seemingly can’t say anything without turning it into a brag about his abilities.
The fight scenes are pretty varied while at the same time are equally varied in their quality, with the setup of the arena meaning that Steve can essentially put up against any fantastical creation that Manoogian could cram into the film. What only adds to this is that while in the arena, both fighters are balanced via a handicap system so that neither fighter has an advantage over the other while also meaning that we get to see such fun scenes as Steve taking on the towering Sloth with some sense of believability, even if the matches frequently seems to be wildly one sided even with this supposed handicap in place.  The fact that the film is using practical effects though only helps these scenes as they have the sense of presence that you just don’t get with CGI effects.
It frustrating when the fight scenes are so fun that the scenes inbetween are frequently so tedious with Steve lusting over Rogor’s girlfriend or the unfocused direction of his character who whines about coming to the station to compete, only to turn down the shot when its offered to him. We also have him wanting to head back to Earth only again to change his mind as soon as he gets enough for a ticket. As such it drags things down and really stalls the pacing of the film, especially when it leaves you hankering for the next fight scene.
While a flaws film it’s still watchable enough to give it a casual glance even if its to say you’ve seen “Rocky in Space”!

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Red State

Title:  Red State
Director:  Kevin Smith
Released:  2011
Starring: Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner, Nicholas Braun, Michael Parks, John Goodman

Plot: Three horny teens Travis (Angarano), Jared (Gallner) and Billy Ray (Braun) who heads out to the countryside to meet up with an older woman, who has invited them out with the prospect of casual group sex, unaware they are being lured into a trap by the local fundamentalist church, lead by the highly controversial Pastor Abin Cooper (Parks). While attempting to escape one of the boys a violent stand off between the FBI and the church is triggered, with the boys now finding themselves caught in the middle as they try to escaping the increasingly escalating situation, especially with the church members refusing to go without a fight.

Review: Bursting onto the independent film circuit with his debut film “Clerks”, Kevin Smith emerged as an exciting new voice in independent cinema, with Smith soon developing a reputation for films featuring clever dialogue and frequent pop culture references, though despite his early films showing great promise, he soon seemed to be selling out his writing talent for the easier laughs of dick and fart jokes with many of his fanbase seeing the controversial “Dogma” which poked fun at Catholism and Catholic Dogma as the high water mark of his talent, especially with the films which followed such as the underrated “Jersey Girl” frequently failing to hit the same levels of humour as his earlier films. An option which was seemingly reinforced as the humour seemingly started getting lazier as Smith began favouring toilet humour over clever dialogue which had made his earlier films so memorable let alone quotable to a whole generation of film fans. Now just as I had given up on Smith actually making a film comparable to his early work again, especially after seemingly hitting rock bottom with “Cop Out”, he goes and releases “Red State”, a film which is not only a radical return to form for Smith, but also a bold change in direction as it also marks Smith’s first supposed venture into the Horror genre.

“Red State” is almost like Smith returning to the same indie roots from which he first emerged, with the film being made for 4 million his lowest budget since “Chasing Amy” and it’s also without the financial or distribution assistance of the Weinsteins who have supported Smith’s career on nearly all of his films, with Smith taking up the duties of self distributing the film Stateside via travelling roadshow, before releasing the film direct to DVD, citing it a response to the costs spent by studios on advertising, yet it seems that he has changed his mind for the UK release which has saw the film being promoted via numerous TV spots and Phone Box advertising for a full cinema release.

When it comes to drawing comparisons Smith seems to be making it very clear on were he is drawing his inspiration from, seemingly setting his sights on infamous pastor Fred Phelps and the highly controversial Westboro Baptist Church, who frequently cause controversy by picketing the funerals of dead soldiers and gays, with the Phelps earning the moniker of “America’s Most Hated Family” and seeing Michael Parks giving passionate rants about the moral failings of America, it is hard to dispute that Smith has created a character who embodies the hatred of Fred Phelps, even though Smith has not openly admitted that the character is supposed to be Phelps, stating that he instead represents “A Phelp(s) like figure” aswell as that the film is about those same subjects, view points and Phelps own position taking it to the absolute extreme and turning this group of radical Christian into a bunch of gun hording and quick to anger fundamentalists. Still this did not stop Wesboro picketing the film, only to be greeted by a rival protest group comprising of Director Smith and fans who also significantly outnumbered the Wesboro group.

Despite starting out like a typical Smith esq plot and some mild toilet humour, as the boys set out in pursuit of casual sex with an older woman, it soon become alot more darker than anything we have previously seen from Smith, especially with the church members treatment of their captives, meanwhile the boys are soon pushed to the sidelines around the halfway mark with Paster Cooper and the FBI’s Special Agent Keenan (Goodman) stepping up to take over as the leads, which comes as a surprise especially after building up the three young leads, but when Goodman and Parks are responsible for the two strongest performances in the film it’s hardly detrimental, with Goodman looking to have lost alot of weight recently, but certainly none of his screen presence, as he gives a largely shouty performance here, as he tries to take control of the situation which continues to rapidly spiral out of control. Meanwhile the rest of the characters are generally given the bare bones of characterisation with the all of Cooper’s group being generally of the same mind set and mainly provide targets for the FBI agents, while the local police get slightly more attention with fun characters such as the local sheriff desperately trying to cover for his closeted homosexuality, which Pastor Cooper taunts him with to keep him under his control.

One of the main themes being examined here is the power of religion and more importantly how it can be twisted to suit one man’s crusade, a popular subject in recent years having so memorably been explored in “Martyrs” as it is here if perhaps not as so deeply especially with Smith opting for an ending slightly less biblical then original planned one which included giant armoured angels and the four horsemen of the apocalipse all putting in an appearance.

What is especially intresting here though is that Smith has clearly got over his supposed fear of directing action, having stated in previous interviews that he generally avoided it due to the amount of effort it requires to direct such scenes, which only adds to the surprise here, when essentially the second half of the film is one big shoot out sequence, which will either make or break this film for you depends on how much of an action fan you are, while also seemingly echoing the 1993 Waco Siege, while no doubt breaking the record for the largest amount of shots fired in a single movie.

Despite Smith claiming that this is a Horror movie it’s claim that is way off the mark, for despite some elements of Horror and the setup in the early half of the film, all of these element vanish as soon as it turns into a siege movie, so anyone going into this one expecting to be scared whitless are only going to be painfully disappointed as this one is essentially more of a popcorn action flick than anything even close to Horror, but then the same could said for the “Askew Universe” fans coming out expecting to see appearances by Jay and Silent Bob, as this film seemingly belongs in a whole other universe to those other films and it’s also one were even Ben Affleck or any of Smith’s usual acting troupe don’t appear, almost as if Smith is keen to prove that he can stand on his own as a director without the support of his friends.

While “Red State” is bound to isolate the more serious movie goer, who likes some substance with their movies and while certainly not a serious dissection of certain more fanatical groups, “Red State” is still a blast of a movie which if you liked what you see in the trailer, it will certainly not disappoint you and while perhaps the ending might be a bit of a letdown, the journey there is so much fun it is easy to overlook and compared to the plans for the original ending seems focused morally on ensuring that the power stays with the right group. Still if your looking for a fun night out you could do a lot worse than this, so why not switch off your brain and enjoy as this is some pure cinematic junk food for the soul!

Monday, 21 September 2015

Chasing Amy

Title:  Chasing Amy
Director:  Kevin Smith
Released:  1997
Starring: Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Jason Lee, Dwight Ewell, Kevin Smith, Scott Mosier, Ethan Suplee, Casey Affleck, Jason Mewes Brian O’Halloran, Matt Damon

Plot: New Jersey comic book artists and lifelong friends Holden (Affleck) and Banky (Lee) are on the verge of breaking into the comic book mainstream with their “Bluntman and Chronic” comic book. However things look set to fall apart when Holden falls for Alyssa (Adams), a lesbian who Holden can’t help himself in pursuing even at the risk of his friendship with Banky.


Review:  Possibly the most underrated film on Kevin Smith’s directing C.V. perhaps alongside “Jersey Girl” both of which even now stand out from the rest of his films even if they are closer to the tone of his “View Askewniverse” than the likes of “Tusk” and “Red State” which no doubt would rate higher for most Smith fans. Perhaps because they are more emotionally based than the usual brand of pop culture infused onslaughts we have come to expect from him.

If anything this film is certainly one of his most controversial film even with various religious parties not taking too kindly to “Dogma”, it would be his portrayal of the lesbian community let alone the fact he’d made a film in which Holden is able to convert a lesbian which wouldn’t sit well with many, even with Smith calling this film his Sci-fi movie because “You ask any lesbian and there is no way that’s going to happen” he said when questioned about the films message during his first “An Evening With Kevin Smith” DVD. It is also worth noting that many of these digs at the community come from the films idiot in this case Banky and as such essentially lessens how seriously such comments should be taken, especially when they frequently to be being made as a form of self-defence as he finds himself unable to deal with Alyssa affecting his relationship with Holden.

Released following the critical and financial flop which was “Mallrats” which has since gone onto achieving like so many of Smith’s films a cult status. Looking to create something a little closer to his original breakout film “Clerks”. However despite Miramax owners (at the time) Bob and Harvey Weinstein liking the idea they wanted to cast Jon Stewart, David Schwimmer and Drew Barrymore as opposed to Smith’s cast choices which despite not having the same star power as Miramax’s casting choices would enable him to work with his friends who he’s written the film with them in mind. Refusing to fund a film featuring the cast Smith wanted he instead was given a budget of $250,000 (1/24 of his budget for “Mallrats”) with Miramax choosing on if they would distribute the film depending on if they liked it which luckily for Smith they did.

 A unique romantic comedy to say the least, not only because of its lesbian seduction angle but also because here we have a film which features a openly gay black comic book writer who taps into racial tensions to sell more copies of his book, a porn obsessed sidekick with no filter and Smith usual alternative takes on pop culture which includes an argument for “Archie” being gay. However despite this it is still a film with a lot of heart while the relationship between Holden and Alyssa is truly a genuine one and not about looking for cheap shock tactics as it would seem that Smith truly wasn’t aiming to shock but perhaps in some way give another nod to his openly gay brother which he has confessed to doing numerous times in the past, having felt that the gay community were never represented or catered to in movies.

It’s equally interesting that the main issue that Holden and Alyssa face is not in fact her sudden change in sexuality but rather Holden struggling to deal with Alyssa’s proud sexual experimentation, a concern which is only further fuelled by Banky’s intense investigation into her past and in particular how she earned the nickname “Finger cuffs”. Its also interesting that the moment of clarity comes from Silent Bob here, who gives one of his best speeches here as he shares his own experiences of being in Holden’s situation and in many ways represents the fact that help often comes from the least likely of places….in this case a largely mute sidekick.  Here though sexual experimentation is something that is embraced regardless of gender with Banky and Alyssa giving a fun spin on the classic war wounds scene from “Jaws” here trading oral sex injuries instead in an equally scene and one of the few warmer moments they share.

For the established fans the film adds further to Smith’s “View Askewniverse” with connections once again being made to his earlier films. At the same time though some of these links really add some interesting new spins to things such as Shannon (played also by Affleck) from “Mallrats” is named as being a guy who taped himself having sex with Alyssa only to them broadcast the tape on the college campus station, which makes it only the more fitting that the same thing would happen to him in “Mallrats”. Elsewhere Adam’s previous character Gwen in “Mallrats” is also named amongst her sexual experiences. Unfortunately perhaps in a lapse he also names the bookish and shy girlfriend of T.S., Brandi Svenning from “Mallrats” during the sexual injuries scene which adds a whole new (and out of character) angle to her character, though a stumble that Smith no doubt got away with thanks to most audience members not paying that much attention. I know I only on this viewing noticed it and that again was more to do with the fact that I had recently covered “Mallrats” on the “MBDS Showcase” and hence had the name still fresh in my mind.

As Smith has relied more and more on fart and dick jokes to drive his films, this film remains like “Dogma” a nice reminder of what he is capable of when he engages his smarter side which gave us “Clerks” than just taking the easier route to the laughs. It of course only makes it the sadder as his career has progressed that he has only moved further away from making these kinds of films, but hopefully one day he will remember how to write these kinds of films.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Wild Things

Title:  Wild Things
Director:  John McNaughton
Released:  1998
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Matt Dillon, Neve Campbell, Theresa Russell, Denise Richards, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Bill Murray, Robert Wagner

Plot: When high school guidance councillor Sam Lambardo (Dillion) is accused of rape by two students, the privileged and popular Kelly (Richards) and poor outcast Suzie (Campbell), detective Ray Duquette (Bacon) decided to investigate further believing that there is more at play than it seem.


Review:  Recently on the “LAMBcast” there has been a theory bounced around you’re your enjoyment of certain films can be determined by when you saw them. A theory which came about due to the show host Jay (LifeVs. Film) not liking “The Goonies” (shocking right) a film he’d only recently seen, compared to those members of the group in attendance who watched it as kids and seemingly as a result of those memories fiercely defended the film. Now here with this film I feel I may have found another example of this, for here we have a film I watched for the first time recently and its one I couldn’t help wondering if I would have liked it more had I come to it when I was younger, like so many of the fans of this film.

An unashamedly sleazy film disguised by its mainstream cast, it might be of little surprised to know that the film is directed by John McNaughton who memorably gave us the equally shocking and controversial “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer”. Here though he aims for something a little more mainstream with this erotic thriller which is probably best known for its sex scenes which again might have explained why I would have liked it more had I come to it as a younger viewer. At the same time this film also has those fans who love the numerous twists within the film and for that reason I will warn now that spoilers lie ahead.

When we first meet Sam he comes across as a working class teacher trying to elevate his status by working at this school especially when it gives him access to a taste of a more privileged life through his students like Kelly. At the same time Kelly is shown as the predatory teenage seductress who is determined to seduce Sam, as seen through her aggressive attempts at seduction, all which are countered by Sam, who blocks her through various distraction tactics with McNaughton teasingly cutting to another scene after he teases something happening between them as they stands in front of him soaking wet from washing his car, the sexual tension between them painful obvious and by cutting like this it leaves us cleverly thinking we’ve something happen which we haven’t perfectly playing into the rape accusations that Sam finds himself facing following this scene.

While the film could have worked perfectly well with Sam having to defend himself against the charges and have the film slowly reveal what actually happened which doesn’t happen here as instead we get a brief court case with Sam being defended by Bill Murray’s budget ambulance chasing lawyer in probably one of his more surprising appearances before we find out that the whole accusation was in fact a plot for Sam, Kelly and Suzie to embezzle Kelly’s mother.  From here the film switches its focus to the trio attempting to cover their tracks and make off with the 8.5 million that Sam is awarded as a result of the false allegations.

This first twist (of so many which are to follow) is a great surprise and one which is revealed as part of a graphic threesome that the trio have and one which Denise Richards declined to use a body double for so good news for her fans, while Neve Campbell’s no nudity clause in her contract means that her fans expecting the same are going to be disappointed even if she does have a swimming pool make out session with Richards which comes seemingly out of nowhere, while feeling that it had been included just to add to the already high sleaze factor here.  Of course I would question these scenes more if the film wasn’t already revealing in its sleaziness making it all the more surprising that McNaughton was able to assemble the cast that he did for this film. An equally interesting point is that Kevin Bacon’s contract all came with a no nudity clause, yet Bacon fans here get to enjoy full frontal Bacon nudity which is not only surprising seeing how frequently we’ve seen him various states of undress since he showed his ass in “Friday the 13th” and as the film’s producer essentially he could have sued himself for breach of contract. Perhaps because of “Boogie Nights” receiving such acclaim and the career boost it gave its stars that the cast here where hoping that they could achieve the same with film….it failed.

While it’s easy to let the film slide on its sleaze factor especially when the investigation being carried out by the detectives feels mainly like filler, especially when they never seem to achieve anything other than being constantly behind the trio as things between them start to slowly fall apart. The real issue for the film comes in the final quarter when it appears that the film has played its final hand only to decent into a series of ever more implausible twists so that it feels like McNaughton is constantly shout “But Wait!” to the audience as he twists the plot once again with each twist getting more random than the last it seems.  For some reason though McNaughton’s back up plan to cover for all of this is a series of scenes which appear throughout the credits showing how the plot actually played out, which I know a lot of fans have stated as being one of the things they love about this film, but for myself it just felt like a way to try and tape the whole mess together into something a little more coherent. Interestingly though this isn’t the case with the script actually being written to include this credit scene even though it feels like an afterthought.

A disappointing film which while certainly high on sleaze is low on substance and would perhaps be more forgettable if it was for the explicit sex scenes and nudity which as titles roll will probably the only thing you’ll take away from this film, other than the staggering amount of twists that McNaughton attempts to pull off here and whose success really falls to your opinion of how many twists is a twist too far.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Away We Go

Title:  Away We Go
Director: Sam Mendes
Released: 2009
Starring: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Allison Janney, Catherine O’Hara, Jeff Daniels, Paul Schneider, Carmen Ejogo, Chris Messina, Melanie Lynskey, Josh Hamilton, Jim Gaffigan, Maggie Gyllenhaal

Plot: Upon discovering they are expecting their first child Burt (Krasinski) and Verona (Rudolph) find themselves on a unique road trip as they search for the perfect place to start their family.

Review:  Originally I saw this film when it first came out and while I found it watchable back then I can’t say it left the same impression on me that it seemingly left on the critics giving it glowing reviews at the time. So seeing it come up as part of MUBI’s rolling 30 titles I thought I would give it another watch and see if my opinions on it had changed, looking at it as an older and perhaps slightly more cultured movie watcher than I was back then.

Coming off a string of critically popular movies when he came to direct this film, none of which managed to capture the spirit or energy of his movie directing debut “American Beauty” Sam Mendes (outside of that film) hasn’t really been a director that I would name when it comes to naming favorites. This film however sees him making a rare return to his indie film making roots inturn arguably producing his best film since “American Beauty”.

Incase you haven’t guessed already my opinion for this film has really changed in the years which passed and in which I found myself now coming to the film, perhaps more able to relate to the material than I had before having in the meantime had two kids of my own or maybe I was just in the mood for this film, but something this time had changed as I found myself truly caught up in this random road trip in search of the perfect place to settle down.

Opening with perhaps the most unique way any couple has discovered they are expecting a child, as we open to Burt going down on Verona followed by him proceeding to comment on the taste and how apparently the taste can change depending on if the woman is pregnant. How true this is I can’t be sure but it certainly grabs your attention with its raw originality let alone the fact that Mendes has chosen to open his film with an oral sex scene. At the same time though Burt and Verona are far from your typical couple that we have come to expect from this kind of film, with Burt practicing his woodwork as he seems more concerned about what sort of man he will come off as to his daughter than anything seemingly practical in preparing for the arrival of his first child but then this pair are true hipsters that only independent cinema can get away with as this pair are constantly shown to be so much in touch with reality aswell as each other’s emotions than any of the varied characters they encounter on their journey. That being said Krashinski and Rudolph are such likable leads that it’s easy to look past this aspect.

Its really an incredible cast that Mendes has assembled here and through the structure of the film ensures that they all get their moment to shine as they all bring such different things to the film from Verona’s old boss who refers to her breasts as looking like “an old man’s nutsack” when not calling her daughter a dyke. We also have Burt’s pseudo-cousin and new ager “LN” (Gyllenhaal) through to their college friends Tom (Messina) and Munch (Lynskey) who despite their happy and seemingly perfect family life is revealed to be a possible front for some much deeper and heartbreaking issues for the couple. Because we are constantly moving from place to place as the couple travel to Phoenix, Arizona on their way to Verona’s old family home each group of characters are kept to their own geographical location and each location offering a new group to meet with no two being alike it really makes the journey all the more enjoyable, while ensuring that if you don’t like a certain character its not long before their section of the film is over.

Considering that Mendes would return to big budget studio movies with “Skyfall” this film remains a curiosity on his directing credits clearly having got his desire to make smaller films out of his system with this film whose poor audience reception no doubt only further cemented the decision. This film at the same time essentially also provides the high water mark for the golden age of independent cinema, which would never quite be as interesting or original as it was, especially with so many of those who had come up with the scene going on to make bigger movies through the studio system.  While at the same time it’s a simple tale fights well above its weight due to the enjoyable performances and well-constructed scenes which make up the couple’s search.

Unquestionably more enjoyable than my first viewing this really is something of a lost gem and one well worth rediscovering, especially when its arguably Mendes best film since “American Beauty” a high benchmark that to date Mendes has yet to come close to beating.  But here at least he manages to remind us all that a road movie can have wider scope that desert highways and strange back water towns.

Friday, 11 September 2015

The Bling Ring

Title: The Bling Ring
Director: Sofia Coppola
Released: 2013
Starring: Katie Chang, Isrrael Broussard, Georgia Rock, Emma Watson, Taissa Farmiga, Claire Julien, Leslie Mann

Plot: Based on the true story of fame obsessed teenagers who broke into the homes of their favorite celebrities and their eventual downfall. 

Review: Is it a sign of the current state of society that this is now the second film I’ve seen now based on a magazine article a trend which started with “Pain and Gain” and with this being the second. Still thankfully this is far from dumb film making, even if its subjects are far from the sharpest tools in the shed as director Sofia Coppola continues her on going obsession with celebrity in its various forms with her fifth film, which this time draws inspiration from the Vanity Fair article “The Suspects Wore Louboutins” about the titular Bling Ring; a group of celebrity obsessed teens who broke into the houses of celebrities, stealing cash, clothes and jewellery and whom over the course of their crime spree stole in excess of $3 million in cash and belongings.

Shooting from a stand-off perspective here Coppola chooses to play observer rather than making the audience part of the gang, more so as their criminal activities continue to spiral out of control. Needless to say its only a matter of time before the group begin to enjoy perhaps a little too much the faux celebrity lifestyle they have carved out for themselves from their burglaries or from selling on the items they choose to not keep for themselves. Still what sets this film apart from the numerous true life crime dramas is the brazen stupidity of the group in question, for these high schoolers don’t don disguises or balaclavas and frequently brag to their friends about their exploits while posting pictures of themselves posing with their ill gotten gains over Facebook, so that it’s only essentially a matter of time before the law catches up with them, with of course the big question of course being just how long it will take before they come unstuck .

Making up the group we have ring leader and wannabe fashionista Rebecca (Chang), whose choice of fashion school only seemingly stretches as far as where there girls off “The Hills” go. New kid at school and Rebecca’s chief partner in crime Marc (Broussard) wants a lifestyle brand, while the trio of Nicki (Watson), younger sister Emily (Rock) aswell as Nicki’s best friend and adopted sister Sam (Farmiga) are home-schooled in lessons torn from the self-help bestseller (And general universe botherer) “The Secret” by their new age mum (Leslie Mann), which perhaps along with their already spoiled and care-free lifestyle might explain their lust (like the rest of the group) for celebrity.

Despite sketching out the group members with quick strokes and minimal focus on detail, what Coppola surprisingly does here is essentially tell us everything we need to know about these essentially shallow individuals, without any unneeded padding or attempts at trying to figure out what makes them tick, especially when all this group cares about is what can be seen on the surface even more so when their aspirations are soon so focused on fueling their faux celebrity lifestyle, especially as their become increasingly lax with their criminal activities, while flashing their cash and generally hovering up coke. Like with Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers” this is youth lived through excess and little much of a damn being given to the consequences of their actions, as they continue to fuel their own self-delusions.

Once more Coppola shows herself as a highly visual director, with each of the heists taking on their own style, from the single sustained wide shot of reality star Audrina Patridge’s home being raided as Marc and Rebecca work their way through it room by room. Elsewhere she takes a more voyeuristic trip around the rooms of Paris Hilton’s mansion which was actually shot on location, taking in the excess and trappings of wealth that the group so badly crave, as she shoots the scene like a criminally charged edition of “Through The Key Hole”. Elsewhere the crimes are followed via google earth and TMZ reports, while occasionally cutting away to an insight from one of the key players in this scheme often accompanied by them trying to place more of the blame on another group member, especially in the case of Nikki who frequently tries to play for the sympathy of the public, while trying to portray the image of a good girl lead astray, when the truth couldn’t be more different.

The cast assembled here while largely unknown with the exception of Watson and Chang, they still manage to give a highly believable performance as this group, while I would have to also at the same disagree with the exaggerated praise which Watson has received for her role here, which essentially just build on what she started with the irritating “Perks of Being A Wallflower” and as such see’s her once again trying to play against the Hermione role she has become so synonymous with, by exhibiting general low level bad girl behavior, while far from doing anything to stand above the rest of the cast with Chang for myself being by far the strongest player here, from the devious looks she flashes to Marc as she randomly breaks into cars, to steal left behind cash and jewellery, to her frequently cool demeanor as she attempts to escape to Vegas and pin the blame on her fellow group members.

The downside to the film though is that Coppola gets so caught up in the robberies and the downward spiral of the group, that when it comes to the sentencing it feels rather rushed, with no desire it would seem to focus on the aftermath of these events, outside of a brief catch up. Something which might be frustrating to some, especially when it leaves the focus of the film being kind of limited in scope, but nevertheless this is still another strong movie from Coppola even if it might not be her strongest work to date, it is still an engrossing watch while also providing an interesting statement on celebrity driven youth and the allure of the celebrity lifestyle.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Avengers Grimm

Title:  Avengers Grimm
Director: Jeremy M. Inman
Released: 2015
Starring: Casper Van Dien, Lauren Parkinson, Lou Ferrigno, Milynn Sarley, Marah Fairclough, Rieah Vanderbilt, Elizabeth Peterson, Kimo Leopoldo, Andrew E. Tilles, Justine Herron

Plot: Rumpelstiltskin (Van Dien) has escaped to the modern world using the magic mirror and now it’s up to Cinderella (Sarley), Sleeping Beauty (Fairclough), Snow White (Parkinson), Rapunzel (Vanderbilt) and Red Riding Hood (Peterson) to stop him, before he enslaves everyone on Earth.


Review:  So for some reason while sitting down to watch “Avenging Eagle” following a recommendation from Francisco “The Film Connoisseur” Gonzalez, but for some reason I zigged when I should have zagged and ended up for some reason stumbling into this offering from “The Asylum” whose production logo at the start should have been enough of a warning sign but alas here we are.

Seemingly taking a break from their usual shark related antics here instead they make their second stab at ripping off the Marvel Cinematic universe having previously given their stab at “Thor” with “Almighty Thor” and now turn their attention to “The Avengers” as they give them a fairy tale twist, replacing the comic book heroes with Fairy tale characters which honestly sounded like a pretty decent twist but alas wasn’t to be as like so many of “The Asylum” productions the construction never quite lives up to the premise.

Opening in the magical land of Once upon a time were the forces of good and evil are caught in a full scale conflict, with Van Dien’s Rumpelstiltskin hamming up his villainous side as he ruthlessly despatches the king of Once upon a time, while essentially giving us the fairy tale version of Loki with honestly not too shabby results, especially when both characters are known for being tricksters. From here we are then thrown disappointingly into the real world were things quickly fall apart.

While the main fairy tale princesses might be featured here, these aren’t your usual damsel in distress as what we get here are super powered warrior visions of these popular characters, with each having a power relating in some way to their story so hence Rapunzel uses her hair, Sleeping Beauty can put people to sleep and Snow White can use snow and ice….because you know she’s Snow white. The most interesting of the group though is Red Riding Hood here known simply as Red and who has been turned into a huntress obsessed with hunting down the humanoid version of the Wolf who here is less concerned with trying to disguise himself as Red’s granny and instead takes on the role of hired muscle for Rumpelstiltskin.

Once in the real world the plot quickly falls apart as it becomes unclear what exactly Rumpelstiltskin is trying to achieve for when the group arrive in the real world he has already taken over as the mayor of the city, while randomly turning those who oppose him into zombie like drones, which is something I don’t remember him ever doing in the original stories. By that same note I can’t remember him ever having a fondness for Nazi style uniforms which it seems under his regime are the style of choice, which bizarrely always seems to be the case when we see these kinds of adaptation much like “The Nutcracker 3D”. He also brings in a local gang boss called Iron John (Ferrigno) who soon lives up to his namesake when his body is turned into Iron, which essentially equates to Ferrigno playing a silver version of his Hulk alter-ego.

The cast are a mixed bunch with Van Dien and Ferrigno standing out as the better performances here, with Van Dien clearly having a blast playing the villain, while when it comes to the princesses they really are a mixed bunch of unknowns whose performances vary greatly as to be expected even if they are mainly watchable, its just more of a shame that they've not been given anything particular interesting or dramatic to get their teeth into, but hey this is an Asylum production so what were they expecting.

Action wise this film isn’t anything special thanks largely to none of the cast being especially fight trained it would seem with the two that are getting their own fight scene, which randomly takes place next to the LA river after a sudden smash cut which magically transports them from the building they were in front of prior to the fight in one of the most random scene jumps since “Sister Street Fighter” though its hard to say if this is more random than the silver hulk…I mean Iron John who charges into a fight only to slip on ice and fall out the side of the building, which  I guess only continues the theme of random fight scenes here while at the same time providing the same kind of head scratching logic that the guy falling through the floor had in the bell tower finale of “Batman”.

It’s hard to really say how this one could have been better as outside of a great premise and a couple of half decent performances this is pretty rotten throughout, especially when it attempts to take the story into the real world which was really the first warning sign of what would lie ahead. Out of the princesses though only Red is the one who really stands out and a character I would have liked to have seen been given her own film, especially if it was kept to a fantastic realm. What we have though here though instead is a grinding experience which fails at even the base level of casual entertainment as this is low even by the standard that we’ve come to measure any production from “The Asylum” ultimately this is one best skipped.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Turbo Kid

Title: Turbo Kid
Director: Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell
Released: 2015
Starring: Munro Chambers, Laurence Leboeuf, Michael Ironside, Edwin Wright, Aaron Jeffery, Romano Orzari

Plot: In a post-apocalyptic future, a BMX riding scavenger known only as the Kid (Simard) is forced to become a hero when he meets a mysterious girl called Apple (Leboeuf). Now assuming the role of his favourite comic book character and armed with an ancient powerful weapon, he must face the sadistic and self-proclaimed leader of the wasteland Zeus (Ironside)

Review: Originally starting life as the curious short film “T For Turbo” created for the original “ABC’s of Death” only to ultimately not make the cut, the film would instead remain a curiosity passed around cult / genre cinema fans who recognised its throwback 80’s styling, while at the same time lapping up its neo-grindhouse approach to gore and violence which thankfully has been carried across now it’s been turned into a full length feature. While this is unquestionably another entry in the opinion dividing Neo-grindhouse genre, which started with the Tarantino / Rodriguez double header “Grindhouse” and has since spawned in its wake films such as “Hobo With A Shotgun” let alone paving the way for the films of “Astron-6” who have so far given us the likes of “Father’s Day” and “Manborg”. However unlike the previous entries into this genre here we actually have a film finally which has some heart and warmth, rather than an onslaught of splatter and nods to the era these films are so fondly paying homage to.

Opening with the Kid as he embarks on one of his scavenger runs, this is a world perfectly introduced during these opening moments for while these barren and charred wastelands might seem familiar of countless other post-apocalyptic movies, the significant difference here is the lack of transport options with no active vehicles or even horses to ride, the surviving population are forced to get around on that other 80’s staple – the BMX bike! This fact alone really makes the film stand out for while it’s a cool aesthetic to have the hero riding around the wasteland on his BMX, it looks sheer bonkers when you see Zeus henchmen also do the same thing.

The Kid as his name suggests views the world with a wide eyed curiosity with every scrap of the old world, providing something of interest or to be utilised, this childlike behaviour becoming more clear towards the end of the film when we discover what happened to his family, but even his naivety is nothing compared to Apple who literally views the world with a wide eyed wonder, let alone a permeant upbeat nature, again something which is explained later in the film rather than leaving the audience to wonder if Leboeuf was just making some unique choices with her portrayal of this character.

When it comes to the villains Ironside is once more on top villainous duties as the eyepatch wearing sadist Zeus, who thinks little of having his captives’ battle to the death for his personal amusement before using the machine he’s constructed to extract the water from their bodies. At the same time it’s a warped humour that he brings to the film, as he gives us such great moments as belating a captive whose intestines have been attached to a bicycle wheel for giving up before he had a chance to use his invention, more so for how long it took them to set it up. The most random thing though is how similar he looks to Dennis Hopper in “Waterworld” which seems to be more of a coincidence than anything, especially when the two characters share nothing more than a wardrobe. At the same time he is also joined by possibly one of the best henchmen since General Kael in “Willow” with his own skull mask wearing henchmen “Skeletron” (Wright) who might be one of the best character designs since “The Plague” from “Hobo With A Shotgun” and who like them might run the risk of overshadowing the other characters in the film, especially with his wrist mounted buzzsaw blade launcher and the fact that he is completely mute for the whole film which only makes him more of a badass.

The film moves at a decent pace while certainly having more heart than so many of its neo-grindhouse kindred who tend to get so lost on the splatter and creating mood that they forget that the audience has to actually like the characters they are following. At the same time the connection between the Kid and Apple feels completely natural and never forced, even if it is an unusual connection with her permanent hyperactivity and his naivety yet somehow it works. Interesting this angle was seemingly only as well worked due to budget restraints forcing the directors to scale back some of their intended action scenes which might have worked for the better. Despite the action being scaled back from the film makers original intentions, this does not however mean that the film is lacking as we get several fun action scenes including a spectacular finale which insures that it ends on a high note. At the same time these scenes are heavy on splatter as bodies explode into bloody showers and the kills being especially creative and only added to by the use of practical effects and minimal CGI which is certainly a welcome sight in these CGI heavy times.

While certainly an highly original concept and one I would love to see continued further, it does however feel sluggish in places and as such took longer than I would have liked for the film to find its direction, with the finale unquestionably really clawing back a lot for this film and inturn adding to the experience. That being said this is the sort of film which will unquestionably play well for the cult cinema crowds which I've little doubt it will soon become a regular feature, while at the same time perhaps too random for the mainstream crowd to appreciate. As such it only makes me the more sadder that we live in these times were video stores are few and far between as this is the sort of film which would thrive on rental, making me hope that its snapped up by one of the streaming services as soon as possible to ensure it finds the audience it deserves.
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