Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Maniacs, Hulks, and Sci-Fi Classics: Tons of Reviews to be read and believed!

2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams

I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of a sequel to 2001 Maniacs, with news trickling through the websites about various attempts to develop the films story and casting difficulties. The project still remained within the capable hands of the films first director, Tim Sullivan, and that was all the promise a fanboy like me really needs. He promised more comedy, more blood, more grue, and when it came time to deliver he rushed his cast together and shot at a breakneck schedule in order to deliver on that promise. So, 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams hits the store shelves in a direct to DVD market that was frankly thirsting for some fresh blood.

Returning to the cast are Granny, Hucklebilly, and the two brothers. All four manage to steal just about every scene they’re in with psychopathic delight in the roles they were already familiar with. Granny, especially, manages to focus her character on more than just the occasional insane laugh or slapstick comedy by providing a sort of depth and emotional stability to the rest of the cast. The gory gags splatter the screen with due regularity and we even get a re-imagining on the infamous “Barrel Roll” scene from the original 2000 Maniacs that had been notably absent from the remake. But that’s about as far as the remake goes in satisfying any expectations.

Most notably absent from the original cast is Robert Englund as Mayor Buckman, who is replaced by horror veteran Bill Moseley. But this just isn’t any Mayor Buckman, this is George W. Buckman (GET IT?!?!?!!) and we are reminded of this fact with just about every appearance that Bill Moseley makes in the film. It’s a gag they repeatedly hit us over the head with, along with many more gags to come! Racial and cultural stereotypes strut across the screen with varying lisps, speech impediments, physical attributes, prowess, and on and on and on… some of it humorous, most of it insulting, and none of it really well done. Moseley lacks the charm and natural boyish humor that Englund brought to the role, taking the role in a far more slapstick villain direction as he rants and raves to one of his most disappointing roles to date. Moseley is capable of better and I don’t quite understand his failure in this film. Also notably replaced was the role of Harper by Skinny Puppy lead singer “Ogre” who lacks even the slightest shred of Southern Gentleman dignity that had been brought to the role by Guisseppe Andrews. With his black locks and eye make up, Harper comes across as a gothic poser rather than the ghost of a vengeful Gentleman displayed in the first film. Ahmed Best also joins the cast with little effect and stereotypes are filled out with the laughable performance from the character of “China Doll.”

I haven’t even started on the premise, which immediately jumps the shark by developing a scenario in which our proud and vengeful Southern Cannibal ghosts are forced to pack up and head out on the road. A chosen number of Happy Valley residents hop on a bus and scour the North in order to fulfill their debt of 2001 victims. So we get an opening montage of travel photos of the clan mugging for the camera before we meet our new cast of would-be victims. Celebrity sisters touring the U.S. in a camper are supposed to be heading into the southern state of Georgia (where Happy Valley is supposedly located) but make a wrong turn and end up in Iowa. There they decide to film their “Georgia” episode with the Happy Valley Travelling Jamboree… Oh dear god, why not just pop them in the real Happy Valley to begin with? I guess budget concerns forced the film to progress with little more than pop tents for location shooting? If you think that would be the end of your questions, you’d be horribly mistaken as you simply can’t lose yourself in the film as one moment after another makes you want to throw your hands up at the screen. The cheapness and rushed quality of the product continues to spiral around the toilet as we sink further and further into lazy writing, terrible puns, uncomfortable casting choices and moronic stereotypes. Director Tim Sullivan had a great many hurdles to overcome in bringing his vision to DVD and while the film occasionally delivers, the whole thing felt rushed and unpolished.

3 out of 5, barely.


Back in the late 80’s, you couldn’t throw a tennis ball in a video store without hitting a movie that featured Steven Guttenberg. His boyish charm and playful manners brought tremendous success to the Police Academy series, Short Circuit, and numerous other projects at the time. He popped up sporadically in a number of other projects in the 90’s, but the Guttenberg brand had pretty much gone past it’s expiration date and rendered the talented actor to large obscurity. When I saw his name attached to this low budget Indy horror project, I threw this baby to the top of my rental queue and waited for the Guttengerg Express to bring me to a new location.

Guttenberg’s appearances are mostly bookends to most of the films’ narrative. A serial killer is on the loose, dubbed the “Convenience Store Slasher” by the media. Steve is the delivery driver for several stores within Los Angeles and makes his appearance when he chases off an abusive john for one of the local “ladies” in the neighborhood. By that point, however, we’ve met most of our main cast of characters... several below average folk who work in a run down convenience store and a call girl who works the nearby corner. The store crew often get together for a poker game in the late evening and it seems the aforementioned “slasher” may have overheard them chatting about the terrible things they would do if they had a chance to cash in on the reward.

Largely a typical slasher film, the movie operates within the confines of a single location and comes up with a number of gruesome effects sequences. It was interesting to see Guttenberg in action and he still has a lot of his boyish charm and quirky humor. While having him in the film was actually the big seller for me, the rest of the cast manages to win over the audience with their unabashed sleaziness and underdog representations of society’s underbelly. Then again, I may be reading too much into the film and it’s not nearly as good as I thought it was… who knows? I actually thought it was a pretty fun little project and definitely worth the time I took to watch it. It was Gutten-riffic!

4 out of 5.

Galaxy of Terror

A number of Roger Corman’s classic projects are seeing new DVD distribution releases this year, including this somewhat obscure gem from the 80’s. Corman is the B-Movie king and he makes no apologies for blatantly ripping off several big budget Hollywood blockbusters and throwing them into a hodgepodge formula to eke out profits and often give younger film makers an opportunity to hone their craft. Galaxy of Terror was an early design project with a lot of influence from a much younger James Cameron and it featured a rather fantastic cast of future and past talents within the business. The film found notoriety through the inclusion of a rather graphic and risqué scene featuring the demise of a character beneath the crushing weight of a thrusting giant maggot.

The starship Quest is sent on a rescue mission to a distant planet where the crew discovers an ancient pyramid. After finding some of the remains of the crew they’ve come to rescue, some of the Quests’ crew members begin to face their own horrible deaths. There are a number of fantastically gruesome effects, especially for such a low budget affair. The story holds up against the test of time and the film is still relevant today.

*Special Featurette* The first disc includes a special featurette about the making of the film with a retrospective look back from Corman and members of the cast and crew. Notably absent, though much regarded (both positively and negatively) was James Cameron whose perspective on one of his earliest projects would have made an interesting tidbit in and of itself. Especially interesting was the actual and very real shame and dismissal of the film from the Writer and Director, who both felt the movie was beneath them and were surprised that it had any sort of a following. Other members of the cast and crew have much fonder recollections of the film and stories surrounding it’s production. Robert Englund, who constantly proves he’s a class act whenever I watch these features, puts the film in proper perspective as an open doorway for him to find better projects and learn more about his crazy profession. He actually ends the featurette, however, with a personal story regarding the film… attending an art exhibit and having a rather haughty and distinguished film critic approach him after he’d done a number of films, call him by name, and commend him for his work on Galaxy of Terror.

I normally don’t talk about the featurettes and extra stuff on a DVD but felt that it was warranted in this case. Galaxy of Terror has a warm spot in my own heart because it acted as an early introduction to films of the bizarre and twisted nature for me. I was very young when I first watched this movie at a friends house, but it left such a strong impression on me at the time that I’ve seen the film a number of times since. I’ve actually made friends with people through this movie as well as many others. It’s not the best film in the world, but it’s a fun little trip and I love it a lot.

4 out of 5.

Planet Hulk

Based on a successful Marvel storyline in The Incredible Hulk series, “Planet Hulk” starts off with the big green monster hurdling through space in a rocket ship. A recorded message from Earths’ mightiest Heroes explains their decision and the giant winds up crash landing on a rock populated by several warring races. Imprisoned, enslaved, and forced to fight within the Gladiatorial pits for the amusement of the Red King, The Hulk quickly earns the respect and admiration of the planets’ population.

With kids’ gloves fully removed, The Hulk smashes and rips through several monsters, aliens, and robots before the final act sees him take a stand against the Red King. The brute struggles with his own identity in this film as Bruce Banner never makes so much as a token appearance, and we find out whether Hulk is the savage monster Earth believes him to be or if there’s something more within him than a desire to crush and smash and break everything around him.

3.5 out of 5. (Very good!)

Summer’s Moon

Whether I’m writing about a good movie or a bad one, there’s always a sort of passion that drives me create a dialogue within a proper context. Summer’s Moon hits all the right chords for a film that should shock, appall, and ultimately sicken the casual viewer but lacks any sort of passion in pulling it off. The whole project seems a little bland despite the psychotic sickness that unfurls, and that becomes the films’ ultimate failing. It doesn’t really revel in its sickness and ultimately struggles to NOT be what it is: A grindhouse exploitation film. The script is decent, but the films execution comes off as dull and passionless. It’s a shame because there are some really good elements in this movie, but it just isn’t a lasting worthwhile experience.

2 out of 5.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Predators Reviewed


They’re not nice people. Soldiers, mercenaries, and criminals wake up in free fall above a tropical jungle. Parachutes open (mostly) and they land in a harsh environment, no clue as to why they are there or how they got where they are. They don’t know who brought them, either. They’re fully armed, however. They have their weapons and equipment and it seems that they have one another. Some are well trained, others are natural born survivors, and each person brings a certain specialization to the table. But these aren’t Heroes and their dependence can only go so far in this long awaited sequel to the original Predator series; a sequel that tends to ignore the prior sequels but does reference the events of the first film.

The Piano Player (Adrien Brody) bulks up to lead our rag tag group of survivors as they explore the strange new environment with a sun that simply doesn’t seem to move for several hours, an odd magnetic polarization, and finally a completely unfamiliar skyline with strange moons and planets definitely confirming that they are no longer on Earth. In point of fact, they’re on a planetary game preserve and they are being hunted by the titular characters of the film. They are also being observed and studied, marking a slight difference between the first films’ lone hunter and the Predators of this film. These aliens hunt in a pack, practice different tactics, and use different equipment. They’re a different breed of Predator.

This isn’t a reinvention of the wheel. It’s “The Most Dangerous Game” with aliens; complete with hounds, elaborate traps, and gruesome trophy displays. In many ways this is a love letter to the original film that, unfortunately, packs a few too many references to the original with a number of elements. Still, it never ceases to be less than what it promises to be with plenty of bullets flying, gory death scenes, and adrenalin pumping action sequences. I enjoyed the pacing and had some fun with the predictability of the death sequences. From the get go you can see how each character fits into the plot, how each of them will probably wind up dying, and I looked forward to each scene as it came up. Though a certain trailer moment is an almost utter fabrication, the rest of the movie delivers precisely what you would expect and never tries to be more or less than what it is.

Though I’ve often been accused of being a bit of a little harsh with some action flicks, I have to say that this movie hit all the right notes for me. There are plenty of faults to be found. Never running out of ammunition, obvious stereotypes, brief cup of coffee moment for an established actor, and on and on. But Robert Rodriguez produced this film and it pretty much shared several elements with his prior work… it was a B-Movie with a slightly better budget and no illusions. It was fun, gruesome, and a great roller coaster ride. The characters were pretty much token representations, but that was actually half the fun with typical goofy b-movie dialogue. The action and effects were over the top, and that’s what I want out of a film like this. A good afternoon spent away from the office, away from the responsibilities of life, and a dark theater with plenty of jumps, laughter, and wincing.

4 out of 5.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dresden Files RPG review

The Dresden Files RPG

In the novels a professional Wizard Detective solves crimes and encounters a number of threats both mundane and supernatural. Ritualized magic, demons, vampires, werewolves, angels, and so on interact in secret with modern cops, robbers, social elite, and dregs of everyday society. Most people aren’t going to know much about the supernatural, but that doesn’t really stop a lot of people from believing in it or being affected by it in some way. So you can really cater the game to any taste… high fantasy and adventure, gut-wrenching horror, gritty noir, or just fun and giggles. Unfortunately, it’s not a really unique concept and the books might risk a lot of comparison to other pieces currently on the market. There are plenty of other games out there that allow you to explore dark fantasy enmeshed with our own modern world.

What sets this game apart is the core engine system. I’m most familiar with previous usage of the Fate System in “Spirit of the Century”, where character creation was just as much fun as actual game play with regards to player interaction. The players are encouraged to work together much more closely from the very beginning, as other players connect their characters with shared background traits and a fantastic “city building” technique that I’d never seen before. Utilizing Fudge dice to determine action success and failure, characters are built with a much more generic system of descriptive “Traits” and various trademark stunts. Using these traits, rather than hard-line numeric "Trait" assignments can offer bonuses or penalties as they are invoked. Characters can become exhausted through physical, social, and mental challenges offering a little more flexibility in the type of character playable in the system. Game play may be a little less comfortable for those players who are used to crunching numbers, but offers much more narrative possibilities from both the players and the game master.

The Dresden Files RPG is divided by two books from Evil Hat Productions. The first book, “Your World” gives you everything you need to know in order to play the game fast and loose while building everything you might want from the ground up. It focuses entirely on what your imagination might bring to the table, with a very loose interpretation of the world in which Harry Dresden operates. In fact, the Dresden Files becomes more of an example basis for the things which are possible with the system rather than the cornerstone of the game world in general. Fans of the series will find all the good stuff they might want or expect from a game adaptation, while more generic RPers will find the bare bones minimum to create a wholly independent world based on modern magic, fantasy, and horror elements. In the meanwhile, “Our World” is the much more definitive “Dresden Files” core setting, giving you everything you might need in order to play within the same world as Harry and his merry band of heroic misfits. From the nuances of the Faerie Courts to the slums of Chicago’s criminal syndicates, this is the book for the die hard fan who wants to play in Dresden’s world.

The art is amazing and the books are both available in traditional full-size hardcover. Evil Hat continues to impress with their fan friendly approach to independent publishing, and an acquisition of new licensing seems a promise of bigger things to come.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Godzilla: Final Wars & The Last Airbender reviews

Godzilla: Final Wars

One of my earliest memories: Drawing a picture of Godzilla as he fought one of a half dozen huge monsters as the theme song played out the Saturday afternoon matinee of monster movies on either channel 11 or 9 in our local market. I wasn’t as picky back then as I am right now, but I still have a great fondness for the giant monster movies from Japan. This was probably where my love for the “retribution” storyline comes from, because my favorite Godzilla films were always the ones in which he became the reluctant “hero” of the day. When aliens would invade earth or robots from the future would try to dominate our society, the last and best hope for humanity seemed to lay with their greatest doom. I especially loved the Baby Godzilla films; they always showed a softer side of the great beast. There are generations of Godzilla films, each focusing on different aspects of the big green King of the Monsters.

“Godzilla: Final Wars” is the epitome of everything I loved about Godzilla films when I was growing up. Director Ryuhei Kitamura goes back to that six year old boy inside of me and presents the Godzilla I fell in love with. The only unfortunate part being that it takes nearly half the film to revive the King of all monsters! Some twenty or thirty years after the big guy was buried in the south pole, humanity stops warring with one another and focuses their defensive technology on combating other monsters who occasionally arise due to mans’ pollution, technology, or some other nonsense. Enough back story… FIGHT!!!! Human Mutants make up the majority of Earths’ defense and they spend their time sparring with each other, piloting monster fighting rocket ships, or complaining about guard duty…. FIGHT!!!! But just when you think things are getting too peaceful, the monsters suddenly embark on a mass coordinated attack on all of Earth’s major cities… FIGHT!!!! But we’re saved just before we defeat the monsters by a benevolent race of aliens who have replaced Earths’ leadership with robotic clones… FIGHT!!! The EVIL aliens really just wanted to use humanity for cattle and it’s up to the last remaining pocket of human resistance to revive Godzilla from his torpor… FIGHT!!! FIGHT!!! FIGHT!!!! Godzilla fights the other monsters… ALL THE OTHER VILLAINOUS MONSTERS!!!! No, not one or two… I mean ALL OF THEM!!!! Mothra beats her wings in to help the big guy for a brief bit, but this is all about Zilla and his ability to smash and blast his way through every single stock suit the Toho company had in storage. Even Baby Zilla (Minilla) gets in on the action, and we are in for one Monster Jamboree Battle Royale of immensive proportions. I don’t even care that immensive isn’t a word, that’s the only thing I can say to describe this movie!

Final Wars isn’t exactly Academy Award material, nor is it precisely going to change the world or bring attention to the social ills and environmental horrors that could have created a beast like Godzilla… it’s a monster smash up of a movie that simply doesn’t have time to waste on lecturizing the fanbase. Look, all you need to know about the movie can be summed up in the character of Earths’ leading human commander of resistance forces: He’s big, he has a bushy mustache, he talks with all the grit and glamour of Nick Fury on steroids, and he carries a katana for the heck of it. With a character full of this much testosterone, you have to wonder if King Leonidas might see this film and decide to put on frilly dresses. The Mustache itself, bushy and supernaturally attached to the face in a manner that seems to defy all logic, seems almost like a repository for the excess manliness this character exudes and may, in fact, act as a protective buffer from the grit and growl emitted in what passes for dialogue so that those who are near the character will not simply vanish in a blast of awesomeness. This guy isn’t even the lead character, but he’s so awesome that he SHOULD have his own movie spinoff where he takes an earth defense force rocket and pays a visit to the alien home world.

4.5 out of 5, losing only half a star for taking the better part of an hour to even free Godzilla but including enough awesomeness to keep me distracted in the meantime.

The Last Airbender

Playing like a Readers Digest abridged interpretation of its original source material; The Last Airbender is a fun summer blockbuster that rises above its controversial casting choices to present a decent adventure film. Aang is the title character, the long missing Avatar of legend whose purpose it is to bring balance to the world and prevent war from tearing it apart. Two youths from the Southern Water Tribe accidentally free Aang from his century-long torpor beneath the ice and set off on a journey to the Northern Water Kingdom so Aang can learn water bending and fulfill the next part of his training to gain all the powers of the Avatar. He is pursued by the Fire Nation who have already exterminated the remnants of Aangs tribe in their bid to rule the world.

Based on the Nickelodeon Cartoon series, the Last Airbender manages to condense a full season of stories into a two-hour feature but seems to lose much of the most beloved aspects in its attempt. Aang is no longer the care-free boy from the cartoon, laughing and playfully pranking his friends. He’s far grimmer in this adaptation, feelings of remorse and anger often overwhelming the audience with a portrayal that flatly ignores the lead characters charismatic appeal in the original series. Perhaps the role was simply beyond the abilities of a boy chosen, primarily, for his martial arts talent rather than his acting but the whole of the film suffers as a result. Instead, the film is largely stolen by the character of the Fire Nation Prince who seems at once far more intense and interesting of a hero than Aang ever manages to do. Other characters suffer from a lack of screen time while far more time is devoted to Aangs’ training with the Water Nation than seemed natural for the general flow of the story.

4 out of 5.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Suicide Girls Must Die & Red Shadow : 2 Reviews.

Red Shadow:

Three childhood friends come of age in an era of war and strife. Trained as ninja, the three teens face samurai and rival ninja as they perform their duties for the good of their clan. With a lot of standard fan service, comedy, and heavy wire stunt work, the film sort of throws a few ideas at you with a very loose narrative. Mostly, however, the film just tends to sit there and bask in its own “coolness” that could have been meant to be more tongue in cheek than it felt. It’s got a cool fusion jazz sort of sound track mixed with techno pop, a lot of cheerful hand signals from the main cast, posing, and the movie just sort of rambles on and on with several plot points that only sort of feel wrapped up by the end of the film.

The very beginning of the film introduces us to the concept of a very special metal used in the design of Ninja weapons and armor, an idea that only briefly warrants a second mention later in the film and then goes on to have even less impact than the majority of the other plot points. Characters are introduced, disappear, and then reappear only to go away again by the end of the film without explanation or warning. We lose track of the heroes and villains, save for the films main character who seems to be a constant even if we’re not entirely certain who he supposedly works for half the time.

3 out of 5.

SUicide Girls Must Die!

Featuring girls from the website in an unscripted and elaborate hoax, SGMD! Features a lot of vanilla fluffy alt. girls posing for a calendar between disappearances. In what amounted to a significant portion of time from my day being devoted to watching this wretched piece of annoying junk, I was able to sit there with my mouth hanging open at the utter stupidity placed on display for what I guess is a demographic I could never fully understand. With all the trappings of your standard “Reality Show” stupidity, the SG’s bicker, cat fight, become panicked, and eventually turn on one another as cast members mysteriously disappear one at a time. We’re somewhat forced to identify with two of the girls as they become the focus of the camera’s attention, one girl having been placed in charge of model coordination and the other a model (Joleigh) selected for the shoot. The latter is an emotional wreck long before the end as the other girls tend to either ignore the fact that several girls have gone missing, or they are far too easily distracted by the shining lights of their pathetic calendar shoot. She’s constantly dismissed and verbally abused by the shoot’s “Photographer” so that she’s virtually drowning in a bottle when she eventually wanders off. She does show a small degree of intelligence, because she leaves with a group of the girls who decide it would be a good idea to take a boat back to civilization. The coordinator is an utterly incompetent fool who seems particularly picked upon by her supposed “friends” as they manipulate, torment, and ultimately feed her to the wolves in this pet project that I can only describe as a small accident on the side of the highway.

Supposedly “directed” by cast member Sawa, the film pretty much kills itself and doesn’t really need me to give it a bad review. This is standard soft-core fluff shots you’ll likely get from any sort of Calendar Shoot video package… from Sports Illustrated straight on up the roster of Calendar projects. Intermixed are scenes featuring the personal dynamics of dummies mugging for the camera in the “confessional”, scary sound effects for the establishing shots, and girls drinking too much. Rent any slasher film for more horror, rent sports illustrated for the fluff, or watch late night infomercials for GGW for the rest that this film attempts to offer.

1 out of 5.