Monday, August 23, 2010

Expendables, Evil Aliens, The Losers, and Witchville reviews and thoughts

The Expendables:

Balls to the freakin’ WALL!!! Big booms, big bangs, blood, guts, gore, and a healthy delivery of sarcastic quips peppered liberally with more bullets than you can shake a stick at! Sylvester Stallone continues to prove that he’s a relevant source for action entertainment with his latest blockbuster film, “The Expendables.” Gathering a cast of action film stars that includes Bruce Willis and the Governator (Each guy pretty much stopping in for the perennial cup of coffee) is a daunting enough task, but Stallone manages to throw together one of the best “Buddy” team pictures in a very long time. They just do not make them like this anymore. Stallone is a veteran soldier who’s seen a bit too much action, struggles to get by, and looks for some sort of connection within himself. Jason Statham is the hot shot British merc whose recent romantic troubles remind him that his life is far from normal. Jet Li is the dutiful friend and soldier lamenting the need to feed his growing family. Randy Couture reads “self-help” books and attends regular therapy sessions to explore his “issues”, while Jay Crews is the big man who loves big guns. The odd man out, however, is Dolph Lundgren as a drug addict riddled with psychosis on the verge of finally breaking after too long of a life spent on the edge. The group meets at their garage, where Mickey Rourke handles the day to day operations and focuses on various artworks (Tattoo, decals, painting, etc.). Stallone succeeds in creating a fantastic group dynamic between the films Mercenary Force, a group of men who seem straight out of the pages of manly “sweat” pulps of the 70’s and 80’s. In addition to the cast of Mercs, Stallone also brings in former Pro-Wrestler Steve Austin to assist a megalomaniacal ex-CIA operative played by Eric Roberts. Also, providing some more martial arts action, Stallone employs B-Action star Gary Daniels with a Fu-Manchu to stand in Austins’ shadow.

I know they’ve had a number of “Buddy” merc team films this year, including the A-Team, the Losers, and on and on… but those are modern day big budget soopah Visual effects. This movie was straight up practical in almost every way, with some gut wrenching fight sequences utilizing honest martial arts and wrestling instead of the “Matrix” wire work and CGI that the big studios are drowning in these days. Stallone delivers a smash mouth film and doesn’t let up from the get go. Bodies are blown in half, heads pop like melons, and on and on. It’s a throwback to the way films were made in the Reagan era, with all the glory and ultraviolence ramped up to an eleven on the volume control.

The story follows the men as they take a job from Bruce Willis; kill the Dictatorial leader of a small island nation off the coast of South America. The usual blend of twists and turns, including betrayals In addition to handling the job, some of the men are also dealing with personal issues back home. Charisma Carpenter plays the love interest for Statham, Lundgrens’ demons come up to haunt the team, and the turnstile door of Rourkes’ love life adds comedic flavor to a tragic anti-hero. Lots of action, practical effects, a good number of very gory gags, and fantastic performances from a number of the actors involve elevates this movie from a typical actioner to one of the biggest coup de grace of an era I’ve long been missing. Lundgren and Rourke are fantastic in their roles, with Statham adding the usual charm and caustic wit he brings to a number of his characters. Stallone offers excellent direction for an afternoon popcorn muncher.

4.5 out of 5.


I’m the kind of guy who actually enjoys a number of the Syfy Channel movies, going out of my way to watch them when I get a chance or order them through Netflix if I do manage to miss a few. But the truth is that this godawful title for a film inspired nothing short of a casual smirk in disinterest. Lazy Sunday afternoons with a back ache and a general feeling of lethargy is often enough to change my mind, however, and I flipped through a large number of channels before settling on this schlockfest at the very beginning and sticking it through the whole way. No real name actors, plenty of hokey effects, and a synthed out soundtrack brings me right back to the 80’s once again! So the story became rather predictable and the production values were fairly cheap, but I was raised on “Hawk the Slayer” and “Sword and the Sorcerer” as the epitome of Fantasy Film in a childhood that was bereft of a Rings trilogy. And in that vein, Witchville has a solid story and takes itself seriously enough to warrant more than a passing glance.

A Prince returns to his kingdom after the death of his father. He quickly discovers that plague, famine, and a pestilence have been plaguing the lands for some time. Let’s make a short story even shorter… the captain of the Guard is sent to retrieve the prince and bring him home. The Prince is a reckless drunkard lout who hangs out with the Captains younger and far more reckless brother. The three men quickly discover that a coven of Witches, led by the Red Queen, are responsible for the foul curse that has spread throughout the land. They join forces with a mad Witch-Hunter and track the witches to a small village… hence the title, I assume. They don’t spend much time in the village, the majority of the film taking up the journey to it and the protection of the Princes’ kingdom afterward. Such as it is, the title of the film was a real bad plan. There were witches, there was a village, but it doesn’t really work as a “Witchville” sort of thing… I mean, I at least hoped for a Who’s On First moment, but nope!

Some blood, bad CGI, and sword play round out this mediocre effort for a decent matinee flick. The guy from Eragon shows up as the Captains younger brother, fights, gets beaten up, tortured, and that’s pretty much it so far as big faces. Some guy from the band of 300, some other dude playing the Prince, and you get the picture.

3 out of 5.

The Losers

DC-Vertigo titles are for a “mature” audience, which usually means we get a couple of cuss words thrown around while people die and do outrageously inappropriate things with one another in the fantastic cause of pushing the envelope. They have a couple of well known titles, including Hellblazer, Sandman, and Swamp Thing… but mostly, Vertigo excels in obscure titles like “The Losers”. If you’re not familiar with the comic series, don’t feel bad… I only barely remember ever seeing the title on the wall of a local comic shop a few years back, and I honestly had no interest in picking it up. And when it came out in the theaters, my interest was only mildly elevated. Honestly, it looked like some director wanted to emulate the frenetic editing and terrible yellow filter lighting of the dread Michael Bay School of making movies.

But I’m a man of modern means and “The Losers” was honestly my cup of tea from the description, pretty much a roller coaster ride through the pulp sweats of the 70’s and 80’s. A military team of five crack specialists is betrayed by their CIA handler, so they’re out for revenge. It doesn’t get more basic than that, and they find the means to deliver said vengeance when a femme fatale walks into their lives and provides them with intel and funding to get the job done. The rest is all testosterone pumping action with an interesting performance from “Lost Boys” alumni Jason Patric as Max, the CIA handler turned Evil Global Terrorist. The rest of the movie is standard paint by numbers action formula with too much flash editing and an entirely useless special F/X shot of the “doomsday” weapon in action.

3.5 out of 5

Evil Aliens

HOLY BLANKETY BLANKS!!! This British import film tears the familiar pages from a number of low budget gore-masters and develops an entirely unique brand of twisted wackiness in this slapstick horror comedy. This sick film is going to become a cult hit in short time, featuring alien probes, alien pregnancies, dismemberments, crucifixions, and buckets of gore dumped across the screen. It’s the kind of movie you watch with a group of friends and laugh until your sides are splitting. The vomit inducing gags are hilarious and cringe-worthy at the same time… look, you already get the gist of what I’m telling you here so you don’t need me to spell it out for you.

The host of a “Mystery”-type haunted tales hunting ghosts and monsters type of show gathers a skeleton crew in order to film a local woman deliver her sad tale of extraterrestrial pregnancy. No one who works on the show actually believes in “aliens” or any of that rubbish, save for the one fanatic brought in as a “specialist” on the subject. Very quickly, the cast and crew find themselves under siege alongside the pregnant woman and her three brothers. The aliens are sadistic monsters and the film crew really isn’t much better as the two forces slice, dice, chop, and surgically mutilate one another in a nasty bid for survival.

5 out of 5.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Ass Kicking Reviews including in depth thoughts on TNA's HArdcore Justice PPV.


When Mark Millar hit the scene with a number of edgy renditions on classic and wholly original titles, it wasn’t long before his work was bound to hit the silver screen with some sort of adaptation after another. He has a feel for the pulse of a jaded youth culture and a negative outlook that would make Nietzsche proud. There’s a strong influence from Alan Moore in his approach to stories, especially in the finale portion where all things are brought to a head. He really started to gain a name for himself with his work on the Ultimate Avengers, notoriously having the Hulk perform acts of sadistic torture for the sure joy of it while also turning Giant Man into a wife beater, forcing Captain America to dwell within his anachronistic tastes, making Thor an environmentalist, and on and on. So, for those of you who know me, you probably realize that I’m not a fan of his work. “Wanted” saw a world ruled by Supervillains where a young man is chosen to carry the mantle of his Assassin father, and ultimately becomes no better and no worse than just about any other super villain with a psychotic fixation on abusing the world around him. He followed that independent title up with “Kick Ass”, a story about a milk-toast kid who decides to don a costume and play vigilante in the modern world. This wretched story sends you home with the same moral as “Watchmen”, that the people who want to do right in this world are sick and twisted people who should be put in a funny farm.

The movie removes a number of the more disheartening elements from the comic and delivers a fairly psychotic dose of ultra-violence played up with heroic themes. After the death of his mother and a life that pretty much drones on, a teen boy decides to don a costume and become a vigilante in order to fill some sort of a vacuum in his life. While he tries to tell us that there were no major events, no sudden catastrophes, no special reason for donning the costume it becomes apparent that he’s not really all there in the brain and this sudden break came after a series of lifes’ disappointments have threatened to swallow him whole. It doesn’t take long before the audience is let in on the fact that he’s not the only game in town, and the teen eventually meets the crime-fighting duo of “Hit Girl” and “Big Daddy”. The duo have been waging a personal and extraordinarily violent war with the city’s lead criminal empire, not so much acting the part of costumed vigilantes as they are purely psychotic serial killers.

The story depicts all the mental problems and insecurities that would drive most of these people to pursue these lives, but we’re too often asked to put aside the nagging disgust that rises when “Big Daddy” shoots his own daughter to get her ready for their mission. It tries to be “funny’ but often comes off as uncomfortable, and the fight scenes are far more vicious than you would have imagined from the commercials or ad campaign when the film came out. Another problem is that the films’ lead character doesn’t really do much and often comes across as a somewhat clueless putz, fawning over his romantic interest and narrating line after line of meaningless diatribes in order to sound hip and throw around comic book references. By comparison, the character of “Hit Girl” virtually steals the movie out from underneath the lead, Big Daddy is one of the best performances from Nicholas Cage in a long time, and even the awkwardly diabolical “Villain” comes off as a more endearing character than the lead.

4 out of 5, but I’m not even sure it really lives up to that rating. I’m torn on this film.

Gamers (spoiler alert)

Not to be confused with “The Dead Gentlemen” production or its sequel, “Gamers” is actually a mockumentary documenting the lives of a generic gaming group celebrating their 25th anniversary of gaming with one another and hoping to break a record on total hours played. Featuring cameos and bit roles from several established “stars” in Hollywood (John Heard, Olivia D’Abo, and William Kat amongst some few others).

Look, all five guys are portrayed as alternately stupid, socially awkward, obsessed, and infantile. None of the men have decent jobs, none of the men are shown to be in a steady relationship, and none of the men seem to have any sort of a life outside of their small little fantasy outing for a few hours on a given Saturday night. And, of course, the game acts a source of embarrassment for some of them and taken far too seriously by others. It’s actually a fairly insulting sort of a film and seemed more than a little bitter toward a hobby that many perfectly well adjusted people play on a regular basis. As a matter of fact, the end of the film finds the group breaking up in order to explore what else life has to offer them and somehow automatically become (somewhat) successful in their lives. All they had to do was give up their hobby, of course! Things like this kind of irk me, because these are people whose lives were messed up long before and after the discovery of a game. Perhaps the game actually helped them find connections and friendships they wouldn’t have otherwise? No… they just weren’t athletic or handsome or whatever, so they wound up with an RPG instead.


2.5 out of 5.

TNA: PPV Hardcore Justice

Let’s be honest… it was an ECW pay per view with TNA footing the bill. And the honest truth is that I’m glad it was precisely what it wound up being. I was really depressed for my birthday, dwelling on things best left alone, when I had a friend convince me to order the PPV and give it a go. I thought that maybe it would be a couple of guys from ECW and a couple of guys from TNA, but it was honestly just a start to finish ECW show with all the bells and whistles. The show was a solid salute to the old promotion, hitting all the familiar notes with some impressive build up and a “101” lesson in how to book wrestling shows and angles.

The FBI, Kid Kash, Simon Diamond, and Johnny Swinger opened the show with a good comedy match that featured dancing, goofing off, and a decent amount of work from the matches lead workers (Guido and Kash). It wasn’t much in the way of showing what ECW was made of, but it provided a light-hearted opening to the PPV. Kash and Guido were wrestling like this was an opportunity to show Dixie Carter that they could both still go and the rest of the crew actually did their best to put over the two men. Tony (Marma)Luke took an especially nasty bump from Kid Kash and got spiked into the mat with a double underhook piledriver. Nice stuff.

We then followed up with a number of testimonial features from the performers of yesterday and today, talking about the influence of the promotion and providing commentary on their memories. These kind of things played throughout the show. Al Snow, Steven Richards, and some members of a club dressed in Blue whose name was not allowed to be put to use did a good backstage bit where Snow did what he does best.

Too Cold Scorpio Vs. CW Anderson: A much more serious match with plenty of stiff shots on the part of both men. They’ve both been working, primarily, in Japan for the past ten years or so. And it’s the fairly traditional clash of styles… one a technician on the mat, the other an aerial high flyer. Both men worked a solid match with Scorpio hitting the Tumbleweed for a finish.

More video packages. I'm not going to bother giving the break down on all of them.

Steven Richards vs. PJ (Justin Credible): Credible doesn’t seem all that interested in being at the PPV and somewhat phones in a performance. Kind of makes me sad to think of this guy as washed up, but I think his confidence is frankly shattered beyond redemption and he figures he’ll never step up his game again. Richards, on the other hand, is a rising star in TNA and does his best to get a good match out of Credible. Unfortunately, the whole thing kind of comes to a bizarre end when Sandman hits the ring post match to dish out a beating on PJ with the Singapore cane. What’s worse is that this is the only appearance from the Sandman for the night, and it was kind of pathetic all around.

Brother Runt (Spike Dudley), Al Snow, and Rhino come down for an ECW classic 3-Way Elimination style dance. Good match with solid work from all three guys. Al Snow showed more than just a little of what he’s still capable of. The guy doesn’t look his age at all and hit a number of impressive moves before elimination by Runt. Great comedy bit with a triple down, with Runt and Snow trying to get each other DQ’ed and Rhino finally picks up the win after nearly cutting the Runt in half with a GORE GORE GORE!!!!

Chair Swingin’ Freaks hit the ring and call out any tag team… and they get a “Well…. Well…. Well… “ in response. Team 3D hits the ring with Tye-Dye and Joel Gertner for the traditional Brother Gertner opening poem. Bubba reminds the Freaks, one Axl Rotten and one “Kahoneys”, that no one is paying to see them “wrestle”. So we get a South Philly Brawl, which is just another way of saying a classic ECW rules “Hardcore” plunder and broken furniture match! This match was awesome, hilarious, and everything that’s missing from wrestling in this day and age…. It was FUN!!! Lightsaber duel hit the high point of the match with a flaming table in the finale.

Afterwards, familiar sounding music hit the arena and out come the Gangstas and a whole set of brand new plunder. They beat up everyone… and then they hug, celebrate, and head backstage. Not a very well-booked ending, would have rather seen them as part of the match in whole than for a quick little intro like that. But New Jack, Mustafa, JB, and So-Cal Val have a good little bit backstage after the match that I found fairly interesting.

Raven vs. Dreamer: Ultimately, the only real angle leading into this PPV was the end of a long running feud between Raven and Tommy Dreamer. They threw everything into this match, using their build up time to remind the fans of what has gone before and just what this feud was all about. So there was a lot riding on this match so far as writing, booking, and performing. Dreamer and Raven aren’t in their prime any more, they’re both in their late 30’s and early 40’s with two careers stacked with injuries. Despite the limitations, both men brought us back to the mid-90’s with a fantastic brawl. Best match of the show by far, which is actually a little surprising given the Main Event.

RVD vs. Sabu: Sabu shaved his head?!?!?!! Unlike the previous two men, RVD still seems to be in the prime of his career… but he’s really the only one who is. It would have been smarter to build a larger story around this match, putting some heel heat on Sabu and giving the ECW original freak a real platform to perform. AS it was, both men gave a solid performance but lacked any real psychology or story to build… on it’s own, the match would have been a solid one on one. As the Main Event to a Pay Per View?

Post match the performers hit the ring and gave a last call send off to the fans and one another, giving me warmth and comfort for memories I feel special to have shared with a number of like-minded individuals. But those are years long past… and that’s a little hard to swallow on a birthday.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Several Reviews: 1st Week of August.

Green Lantern: First Flight

I decided that I needed a little break from the usual rough and tumble gore in order to give this animated feature from DC a chance. Several classic comic book characters have been receiving some rather decent animated adaptations on direct DVD in recent years, so there’s a fairly solid track record that this movie wouldn’t be gank. Unfortunately, the general fan base consensus had pretty much written off this movie and left it in rental limbo for me without much of a desire to skip ahead and give it a go. It was on my list for a long time and had some time longer to go before I decided to shuffle up the list and give it a viewing despite several warnings to the contrary. To be honest, I’m glad I did.

The film plays fast and loose with Hal Jordans’ origin, puts the Lantern into an early conflict with Synestro, and is forced to prove his worth as a member of a the Green Lantern Corps.. The film sort of plays out like an animated version of “Training Day” with Synestro in the Denzel Washington role, a bad cop with a good reputation taking on a rookie partner in the form of Hal Jordan. The two men try to track down a nefarious crime lord in possession of the dread “Yellow Substance” that is the only weakness to the Green Lantern power rings. We find out that Synestro isn’t exactly on the side of the saints as Jordan slowly proves his worth and gains the respect of his fellow Lanterns.

The animation is good with solid action pieces and fantastic attention to detail. The voice acting puts me in the mind that perhaps Michael Madsen should actually BE cast as Kilowog at some point, but everyone else sort of falls to the wayside and pretty much phone in their performances. The script is decent, but no where near the level of writing many fans would have come to expect in following up the much more ambitious Brave New World project from a few years back. But with the upcoming live action film on the way, First Flight is a good prep toon for young fans to whet their appetites and maybe get into the fan boy spirit of things. And this is where I think a lot of reviewers have the film wrong… if they were expecting an edgier sort of “Batman”-esque feature, they’ve entirely forgotten what it is to be a kid and watch cartoons on Dad’s lap.

3.5 out of 5

*prelude Note*

The MPAA doesn’t always make a lot of sense to me. As an “industry run” ratings board, they are given a lot of leeway to make some fairly bizarre choices with absolutely no oversight on precisely what they do or by what criteria certain movies are judged. There’s a fantastic documentary on the MPAA called “This Film Is Not Yet Rated” and features a number of film comparisons, the reason for the boards’ initial existence, and closes with a revelation on the identities of several people involved with the MPAA. Ultimately, however, the MPAA is beholden to no one and they continue to cast ratings in ways that make very little sense to the viewers. I could do a whole rant about the MPAA and their utterly ineffectual existence with the day’s modern technology and means of distributing information regarding film content… but this is all actually a prelude to my review.


I’m not certain where the hard-R rating came from on this creature feature, unless maybe a few cuss bombs were thrown about a little too carelessly. The violence isn’t especially graphic, though it features several insects blowing up in white-gooey messes and spewing webs and such. It’s actually a fairly tame movie with some decent comedy, and a PG-13 rating probably would have guaranteed this film saw at least a slightly larger theatrical run… as it is, the film looks doomed to DVD shelves and late night Syfy Channel reruns before it will ever gather any sort of cult following. Despite the lack of B-movie theatrical experiences, video store desperation purchases, and the recent boom of big budget films available on demand through our cable or computers… I do think that B-Movies are an important aspect of the cinema culture, so it’s with that spirit and that sentimentality that I offer this review of “Infestation!”.

Archetypical wise crank “Cooper” wakes up inside a webbed cocoon and immediately comes face to face with a giant insect in the opening moments, only to discover that the entire city is overrun with these strange creatures and everyone has been asleep for more than two days. He starts to wake up other people, pieces together some of his missing time, and then sets out to return home to his fathers’ bomb shelter with a rag tag group of “survivors”. Fairly typical giant monster infestation story with a good number of gross out effects, the survivors are picked off but the human deaths are really not all that gruesome and most of the splatter comes from our insect buddies. The film does bring a rather haunting visual when we learn that some of the people are being transformed into “gatherers” for the insect queen… sprouting insect legs, looking fairly zombi-rific and carrying food to the hive.

The rating for this film, in case you missed it, kind of irks me. It’s a hard R film with a PG-13 mentality, the sort of film that introduces “creature” films to a younger audience while also entertaining the classic creature fan. It’s not like I would take my kid to see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but I have no problem with taking kids to see Gremlins. And that’s the kind of film “Infestation!” is; a fun little action horror comedy with wise cracks and only a little bit of emotional gravity. The grue is a punchline, a splattered bug on the windshield or a victim carried off into the sky and maybe dropped a good distance away so he bounces off a few roof tops. There’s a small fear factor, just enough to make you shift in you chair at a young age but with just enough humor to keep you laughing as the gags build up.

4 out of 5.

7 Mummies

The low point for the week features a number of convicts escaping into the desert with a hostage female guard and a couple weapons. Cutting the excessively long story short, they wind up in a town straight out of the old west where it’s rumored that gold can be found. Wow, even this shortened explanation is taking too long… shorter story shorter, the townsfolk are zombies controlled by mummies, of which only one of them is of any real significance. People die, people live, people run through the desert with really bad cinematography and the rest is z-grade nonsense masquerading as something more than what it is.

2 out of 5 with an extra half point for Danny Trejo’s cup of coffee walk-on role.