Hatchet III

Directed by: BJ McDonnell
Category: Horror

So now we've come full circle. In case you need a recap, here's a quick one. I only recently discovered Adam Green's wonderfully bloody homage to classic 80's slasher films trilogy known as the Hatchet films. I may even be one of the few horror fans who hasn't seen these yet, that is until now. Hatchet, the first film in the series blew me away by it's hugely spirited take on the genre, reminding us why we loved those types of films in the first place, especially if you are a 30 something who grew up a teenager in the 80's. Hatchet II, while a solid straight-up horror film, took a more serious approach, while still offering some insane over-the-top gore. While not as enjoyable as the first film, it was a very solid effort and still a much better horror film than most that come out these days. Which now brings us to Hatchet III.

Picking up minutes after the events of Hatchet II, Marybeth is arrested and blamed for the bloodbath that took place in the swamp. With the help of a local hack reporter, she soon uncovers the truth about Victor Crowley's curse and together, must try and come up with a way to stop Victor Crowley for good. 

Right off the bat I'm going to tell ya that Hatchet III was a far superior film than Hatchet II. While it again doesn't possess the cleverness and tongue-in-cheek humor of the first film, it's a much stronger and better film because this time around, creator/writer/director Adam Green has handed over the directing duties to his longtime cameraman BJ McDonnell, and boy what a difference that makes. While I can certainly appreciate what Green has done with bringing this franchise to life and keeping it old-school, I've never considered him a strong visual director either. I think Hatchet II drove that point home for me. But by hiring his trusting camera operator to direct this time around is a blessing in disguise because it's apparent right from the opening frame that McDonnell has a strong visual eye and that we're in for a much more stylish take on Hatchet than the two previous films.

You're probably wondering how the fuck Victor Crowley can come back from the dead after watching what Marybeth did to the guy's head at the end of Hatchet II. Even I was curious. Well, apparently the Crowley curse is the reason he's able to recover rather quickly from certain death no matter how you kill him. I'm not entirely sure, but I don't think the whole "curse" thing was mentioned in the previous films. But it's a nice touch because as it allows him to regenerate every single day, he can return to doing what he does best, and that's killing Victor Crowley style! This curse is also the driving force behind the story this time around as Marybeth teams up with the reporter to try and put an end to it, thus ensuring that Crowley does in fact stay dead.

Much like with Hatchet II, this film again takes a more serious approach to the material, and you know, it works for me. Only this time around things move at a much more frantic pace, which keeps the film moving along rather nicely. I don't know about you, but I found the second film to be somewhat lacking in several departments, with it's pace being one of them. Scream queen Danielle Harris again returns in the role of Marybeth, much to my disdain, and somehow manages to comes off as a much bigger bitch than she was in the last film. It's true. And let me clarify, I like Danielle Harris as an actress. I think she's great. I think in the case of the Hatchet films though, it's just how her character is written and let me tell you, I can't make sense of a lot of her behavior in this entry. Like, I thought her whole purpose was to find her missing father and brother, but when she finally learns of their demise, it seems that she's just hellbent on being as difficult and uncooperative as possible from then on. It just doesn't make sense, because I would think that she would want some kind of revenge or what-have-you, but all she ends up really doing is being a pain in the ass for everyone and refusing to help in any way. But hey, that's just my opinion.

 One of the things I love about Adam Green is that he infuses his films with a plethora of cameo's, as does Rob Zombie, and his casting is always genius, and this film is no exception. In this entry, we're introduced to quite a few new characters, all played by horror icons. First off, Zach Galligan (Gremlins 1 & 2) plays the local sheriff. Caroline Williams (Stretch from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) enters the picture as a reporter struggling with not being taken seriously, who thinks the legend of Victor Crowley is true and with the help of Marybeth, can finally get the story of her career. Sid Haig (The Devils Rejects) makes a small cameo as a racist bigot. And my personal favorite, Derek Mears (Friday the 13th-2009) plays the head of a swat team who leads the charge into the swamp for a search and recover effort until Victor Crowley decides otherwise. And then you have Danielle Harris returning to the role of Marybeth and of course, the one and only Kane Hodder as Victor Crowley.

Jason vs. Jason, eerr, I mean Kane Hodder vs. Derek Mears
While it was great seeing Zach Galligan on screen again, for me personally, the casting of Derek Mears can only be described as exhilarating for me. You see, if you don't already know, he played Jason Voorhees in the criminally underrated Friday the 13th reboot - a great old-fashioned slasher film if you ask me. And so here you have two Jason's in the same film, which only gets more awesome when they finally go toe-to-toe in a fight and much like the experience of watching Candyman and Victor Crowley/Jason fight in Hatchet II, it's a total geekasm, because as we all know, Kane Hodder is everyone's favorite Jason Voorhees. So here you have two titans who have both played Jason Voorhees battling it out and it's just fucking epic. Pure glee is the only way I can describe watching this and so thank you Adam Green. Thank you for understanding what it means to blow the minds of geek horror fanatics.

While the overall tones change from one film to the next, two things that do not change is Green's insistence on no CGI, and most importantly, insane, bloody, over-the-top kills. I still can't get over Reverend Zombie's (Tony Todd) death from Hatchet II! How insane and badass was that?! As we move into Hatchet III, one thing remains constant and that is that the gore content is pure. Let's be real for a second. How many films in a series can deliver the level of brutality for 3 straight films all relying on the most inventive, innovative kills ever to grace the screen, only to one-up themselves with each successive film? I can't think of any, can you? But these Hatchet films deliver on that promise wholeheartedly.

One thing you may have noticed in Hatchet II is that Victor Crowley's makeup looked different. Again in this film, the makeup department takes a different and slightly fresh approach to his look, making him bigger, bulkier and much more gruesome overall. It's a much more exaggerated take on the characters look compared to the first film, as if each film becomes more and more brutal, so does the look of Victor Crowley. While we're on the subject, Aunt Dolly's Garage again returns for makeup/special effects duties and again deliver a standout and amazing body of old-school practical effects work.

Aesthetically, Hatchet III is a much more visually streamlined looking film, and that is due to BJ McDonnell as director. I have to admit, I can't remember the last time I'd recently seen a better shot horror film. It's rather impressive and for me, that's what stands out more than anything. I think Hatchet creator Adam Green is a solid director in his own right, with the first film demonstrating his strongest skill at directing. When he returned for Hatchet II, it felt much more "anything goes", and while he never goes the shaky-cam route, he does shoot the entire film with a steadicam, so for someone who likes a little style with their substance, like myself, I wasn't really a fan of the visual tone of the second one. However, McDonnell seemed determined to end the trilogy on a high note, because from a technical and visual standpoint, Hatchet III is just awesome. Imploring much more streamlined and stylish camerawork, Hatchet III aesthetically blows the other films out of the water, there's just no denying that. Which is interesting considering director BJ McDonnell was originally the steadicam operator for the first two Hatchet films. So you kind of assume he's just going to do all steadicam stuff then because, well, that's his specialty. Apparently not. McDonnell did his homework, and despite reports that the production on this film was put under awful and intense conditions (at one time Hodder himself proclaiming it was the toughest job he'd ever done) having shot the film in an actual New Orleans swamp for the first time and not in California, it ultimately ends up being the most stylish of the bunch and the most aesthetically pleasing. Trust me, there are some pretty killer shots in this film. Combined with some impressive lighting and of course, more over-the-top kills and gore, Hatchet III is the perfect ending to an incredible trilogy


8 Bit Jason Voorhees Toys R Us Exclusive. Please Help!

Okay, so this is the first time I've ever done this and I know, it's kinda lame but hey, drastic times cause for drastic measures. Being a collector, every so often a line of figures or collectibles come out that gets me really excited and reminds me why I never gave up collecting figures in the first place.

When NECA started their line of 8 Bit figures based on classic video games, I found my new favorite line. With these figures, NECA went above and beyond to create something that caters to the nerd/geek in all of us, especially if you're in your 30's and grew up in the 80's playing these original NES video games. Dude, even the packaging is stellar. If you want to get caught up in their growing line of these badass figures, check out my post about them HERE.

But back to my point. I recently learned that Toys R Us and NECA would be releasing this Jason 8 Bit figure, a variation of the very first figure in their line (The SDCC Exclusive), and the most sought after. This new figure resembles more of the MEGO dolls of the 70's, and well you can only imagine my excitement at learning of this figure/doll's release.

But there's a problem. I live 36 miles away from the nearest Toys R Us. So driving to and from their location is not an option for me because flippers have most certainly snagged them all by now, which would make it a wasted trip, especially considering how much gas is these days. So that's my dilemma. Next to the 8 Bit figures and the Michael Keaton 18 inch doll NECA has released, I can't remember the last time I've been so excited for something.

So I was wondering if any of you are collectors also, and if you frequent your local Toys R Us on a regular basis. If you do, I was hoping that maybe one of you would find it in your heart of hearts to pick one up for  me and ship it? I'd be happy to pay whatever the asking price from Toys R Us plus shipping would be. I have a paypal account and would be happy to send the funds ASAP. But I refuse to pay the ridiculous fee's flippers are asking for, which currently is anywhere from $50-$75. Ridiculous! If anyone is willing to help a brother out, I'd be most obliged and insanely grateful. Please post a comment if anyone out there can help. Thanks!


Through several outlets via Facebook, I was informed that Toys R Us had finally put a number of these exclusives on their website on Friday, Sept. 29th. Knowing how hot this release was and how flippers have been raping collectors with ridiculous prices, I knew it wouldn't be long before they sold out, which they did in just a few hours, but not before I was able to snag one for myself. Sometimes the stars align and the universe throws me a bone from time to time. Thanks to anybody who took the time to try to find one of these for me. 



Low-Budget Horror: Satan's Little Helper

Directed by: Jeff Lieberman
Category: Horror

From time to time, you come across a film that you know is going to be of low quality. Sometimes it's in the title, or the cover art, or just in the fact that there's not a single name in the cast or crew that you recognize. Shit, sometimes it's all of the above, as is the case with this film. With Satan's Little Helper however, let's face it, it's got some cool cover art. You're intrigued, right? Only problem is that the misleading cover art is the only thing this terrible little bland excuse for a horror film has going for it. It's also not an accurate representation of what the character actually looks like in the film.

I'll be honest, I had high hopes for this one. Sure it's a ridiculous concept, but a lot of fun can be had if it's done creatively. Such was the case with the totally unexpected surprise Stitches. If you're committed to the fact that it's a ridiculous premise and utilize that to your full advantage, you can have a lot of fun; there are a plethora of ways to use that gimmick and just run with it. And if you have some actual talent behind the camera, well that always helps. Again, Stitches is a testament to that concept. Does Satan's Little Helper fall into the same category?

Heeeeeell no! I'm not sure how the hell I came upon this title, because I know I did recently on some list of horror films. When I saw it pop up streaming on Netflix recently, I jumped on it. I can only assume I heard about it from a list of underrated Halloween themed horror films? But there's just no way that this could end up on anybody's list of any type, unless it was a list of garbage because this film was so bad on so many levels. And you know, I love bad films too. I don't discriminate. Sometimes they're so bad that they actually end up enjoyable. It happens more times than it probably should. But that's not what we have here. I think writer/director Jeff Lieberman intentionally set out to make a legitimate horror film, but you know, it's nothing short of a train-wreck. And not even a brilliant one. As we all know, train-wrecks are fun. Samurai Cop, The Visitor, Hard Ticket to Hawaii. Brilliant train-wrecks and I love the shit out of them. What we have here instead is a film that's so bad in literally every department, instead of basking in it's ineptness or lack of cleverness, all you end up feeling is annoyed. 

A serial killer in a Halloween costume is going around murdering people on Halloween night. When a naive kid, who's obsessed with a video game called Satan's Little Helper, encounters this killer and mistakes him for the make-believe character of the video game, he thinks they're playing a game and unsuspectingly helps the killer in his killing spree.

Everything about this film is terrible, the look, the direction, the acting, the pacing, the set-up, the production. Yet, all those things can be forgiven if the film itself was at least enjoyable in certain areas, say for example with some awesome gore/effects work/kills. Nope. None of that here. That's a real shame too because if it had at least offered some decent practical or over the top makeup effects, then it might  have been passable. In fact, that was the only reason I even stuck it through to the end, in the hopes that maybe the last act would end in some sort of blood-bath that would maybe somehow make up for the rest of this lackluster effort. No such luck here. In fact, there was only 1 single kill that implored any type of actual makeup effects and it was nowhere near the level of quality we've come to expect these days, even from low-budget horror films. 

I think this film will go down in history as one of the best examples of stupidity ever to grace the screen. Every action, reaction, and decision that every single character makes in this film is the absolute worst one. And if it's not a bad decision, then it's an incredibly STUPID decision. That's not even an exaggeration. You'll be floored by the amount of insanely inept decision-making these characters are able to muster up on a minute-by-minute basis. You even begin to wonder if this is on purpose. That maybe writer/director Jeff Lieberman thought he was being clever by throwing every single bit of horror cliche'd stupid decision making that's ever been done. Like maaaaybe it's a tongue-in-cheek wink to the audience. It's not. It's just bad writing and that all falls onto Lieberman's shoulders. Has he only ever seen bad horror films, because he certainly couldn't write a decent line of dialogue, or even anything that marginally resembles any logical thinking. Nothing is plausible. Stupidity is the only word I can think of in trying to describe the actions of every single character in this film. It's maddening! You literally scream and hurl obscenities at the television screen in frustration because there's really nothing else you can do.

Image courtesy of Moviepilot.com

Here's a minor examples. There's a scene where the family of the boy is in the house and the older sister of the boy keeps telling the mother that the guy in the weird costume is not her actual boyfriend like she had thought for like most of the film, even though she could easily have just made him take that stupid mask off, but nooooooooo, this film doesn't follow logic that way. So she keeps trying to tell her mother that it's not the boyfriend in the costume, who also tried to sexually assault her just a few minutes before, which she seems to have inexplicably forgotten about since she's not mad anymore, and they need to leave. But of course, the mother doesn't believe her. Then suddenly the killer appears from one of the rooms, stabs the father repeatedly, pulls out his intestines and ties them to a chair nearby. Why? I have no fucking idea. And the family is just standing there in shock, screaming. The killer calmly turns around and walks back into the room from which he came from. Still, the family does not run away. They just sit there crying. The sister eventually runs into the kitchen to call for help while she leaves the mother still sitting in the dining room in shock. Why wouldn't they just leave and get to safety to call for help? I'm glad you asked. That's a very good question. I don't know. I'm not one to lay labels down on people, because who am I to judge anyone? But I can only describe everyone in this as retarded. And while I know it's not exactly PC to say that, it's really the only word that comes to mind.

So of course when the sister comes back from attempting to call for help using the kitchen phone, her mother is gone. Surprised? All the while the incredibly stupid little brother keeps saying "I'm sorry! I thought it was a game!". For real, this kid is seriously stupid. He literally hand fed the killer multiple victims all the while somehow thinking it was all just a "game". The fuck??? So here the killer has killed the dad who hasn't been seen for the entire film and just suddenly appears for this brief scene, only to be killed immediately. And instead of taking her kids and running out of the house to safety, they all just stand there crying. And that whole bit with the intestines being pulled out of the dads body and tied to a chair? It sounds much more awesome than it actually is. And unfortunately, that's the one and only gory kill in the entire film.

This kid. A lot can be said about this kids incompetence at......well anything. Though I'm assuming he's supposed to be just an average and insanely naive 11 year old who's obsessed with a violent video game and then unsuspectingly helps a killer plan and execute multiple murders, he ultimately comes off more of a kid who must have some serious mental challenges because even at 11, no normal kid would be this stupid and gullible. He's just incredibly stupid and worst of all, weird. No sane average kid thinks or acts the way he does in the real world, or even in shitty low-budget horror films. I have an 11 year old son, and I can guarantee you that even he isn't this gullible or stupid. I'm not even going to bother getting into the weird relationship he has with his beautiful older sister, which I might add is what starts this whole murder spree to begin with. You see, when he comes across this killer actually placing a dead body on a porch, his first thought is "Hey, can you come kill my sisters new super nice boyfriend because I'm jealous for no reason?". Even though he thinks it's all a game (Huh?), it's moronic and the kid only gets worse and worse coming off as just dim-witted and overly unintelligent.......even by 11 year old's standards.

The thing with this film is that it's so hard to tell what kind of film Jeff Lieberman was trying to make. I think a horror film, but I can't be 100% certain, because the plot is so utterly ridiculous and the way these characters go about doing even the most mundane things and fucking it all up at every turn leads you to believe that maybe he knew how silly all this was and was just trying to have fun with it? Yet it's not fun, or funny, not even in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way. And if he did know how silly this all was, he's terrible at even executing that kind of film because it's all played straight and it just sucks in every way. Everything is terrible with not one single redeeming quality.

So as I mentioned before, I decided to tough it out and see it through to the end because maybe in some alternate universe that somehow broke through into ours, the ending might be kinda badass. If anything, I just wanted to also see who the heck the killer was because he's in costume for the entire film. No such luck. They leave you hanging and just like with the rest of the film, it's infuriating. I don't know if writer/director Jeff Lieberman thought he was being clever by doing this, but it's not. It's really just the icing on the cake in terms of how much this film can possibly piss you off. Not to mention they literally point out who the killer might actually be several times, but does Lieberman follow through with that? Of course not. That would be too easy.

It's no real surprise that this films writer and director has only worked on one other project after this. I can only say, "Hallelujah for that!". The only reason I would possibly recommend this to anybody is to bash the shit out of it with a group of friends for movie night over some drinks. In fact, now that I think about it, this would make a great addition to RiffTrax.

While your at it, please take a moment to check out Jenny's House of Horror's take on this film HERE. We are on the same page with this one.


The First Power hits Blu-ray!!

How on Earth was I not aware of this films impending Blu-ray release? 
I love this film, as silly and ridiculous as it is. Having not seen it since it's initial release, I revisited it some time back and let me tell you, I loved the shit out of it. For all that it's lacking in originality, it seriously makes up for in it's execution. I'm not aware of anything else writer/director Robert Resnikoff has done, but personally I feel he killed it with The First Power. It's a hard-edged detective thriller with some supernatural overtones, with solid performances by Phillips and the one and only Jeff Kober as an unstoppable serial killer. Oh, and one of the things that surprised me the most, it's got some badass and killer stunt work.

It looks like it's set to hit the streets on October 7th, in a single disc Blu-ray. To date, no special features are available, and for all we know, there might not even be any to speak of, which would be a shame since part of the reason I love buying new releases of older films is the Special Features. But that's just me.

What we do get is a widescreen transfer. That's it. Amazon has a listing price of $27.98, which is pretty steep if you ask me, especially considering there are no supplemental material to speak of. Unless this goes down at some point, I'll be waiting for the used market before I end up grabbing this one. I mean, I like this film, but not enough to shell out $30 for a bare-bones Blu-ray.

If you're interested in my original thoughts on this when I revisited way back in June of 2012, you can follow the link below.


Hatchet II

Directed by: Adam Green
Category: Horror

Recently discovering the Hatchet franchise has been one of the best film highlights in years for me. If you know anything about me, then you know my love for old school horror is huge. I grew up on the stuff, so even though I have just as big a crush on macho action movies and science fiction, horror will always be in my DNA. So to come across a series that prides itself on being a throwback to these 80's horror films that I grew up watching and love so much, well it makes me all giddy inside.

Adam Green's original Hatchet floored me. In a world of over-CGI'd crap, his insistence on CGI-less effects and gore was a breath of fresh air. His first film in the series was just the right amount of fun, scares, insane over the top kills and practical effects wizardry that made these films in their heyday so much fun. In 2010, he released his first sequel, again as writer and director. But this time around there have been some changes made.

Picking up minutes after the events of the first film, Marybeth implores the help of Reverend Zombie (Tony Todd) to lead an expedition back into the swamp to help find her missing father and brother. Reverend Zombie, however, has an agenda all his own, and it involves Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder).

Hatchet II is a drastically different type of horror film than the first one, and there are a lot of reasons for that. Almost immediately, you'll notice that this is more of a serious straight-forward approach compared to the fun vibe the first Hatchet had going. While a few funny bits sneak in here and there, this is a much more serious take on the material. Another thing you'll notice is the quality of the film. While the first Hatchet had more of a professional sheen and quality, this first sequel actually looks more of a low-budget affair than the original, which is odd since Will Barratt was the same Cinematographer on all 3 Hatchet films. That could very well be because of the camera's they used though, but I'm not entirely sure. But that doesn't reflect the practical effects work though, which is again top notch and the reason we watch these films in the first place. Tony Todd, who had a small cameo in the first film as Reverend Zombie, again returns as the questionable and sinister character, only this time he's front and center and hamming it up in glory fashion. The lead character of Marybeth has also been recast, with horror icon Danielle Harris now starring in the franchise as the heroine. And while special makeup effects master John Carl Buechler does return in the role of Jack Cracker, and a much bigger part I might add, he's not doing the effects work this time around. That task fell to the folks over at Aunt Dolly's Garage. And you know what? Buechler is not a bad actor at all.

Cult icon Tony Todd (Candyman, Night of the Living Dead), this time in more of a starring role, was just fantastic and such a huge presence on screen. But it's funny because sometimes he spoke with a Jamaican accent, and sometimes he didn't. So you never really know if that was on purpose, to show you that the character is in fact a phony, or if it was by accident, showing us that perhaps Todd isn't very good at doing accents. Either way, next to Kane Hodder again delivering the goods as Victor Crowley, Tony Todd knocked his portrayal of the enigmatic Reverend Zombie out of the park. His delivery, while quite hammy, is without a doubt the best performance in here.

As far as straight-up slashers go, Hatchet II delivers the goods. It's an often-times tense filled orgy of creative kills one after another, with some outstanding practical effects work. But I didn't love it as much as I did the first film, and here's why. While Hatchet was full of spirit, mixing just the right amount of laughs, lightheartedness and horror, this sequel feels more like a run-of-the-mill effort, nixing a lot of the heart that went into the first film, for more of a serious approach. And you know, that's all fine and well if you know this going in. But after coming off of writer/director Adam Green's insanely entertaining homage/throwback original, this feels more or less of a letdown in comparison. And I know, you can argue that sequels rarely live up to the original, which is sometimes true, but not always. There are a ton of sequels that can and do actually top the original in many ways, but Hatchet II is not one of them.

Another issue I had was the casting of Danielle Harris in the role of Marybeth. Not sure what the deal was with recasting that role, but even though Harris is a great actress and one of the biggest scream queen's we have working in film today, I actually preferred the original actress in the role, Tamara Feldman. I can't put my finger on it, but Harris just didn't fit, and though I'd never seen the girl who played her in the first film before, I actually thought she was a much better fit. And not only that, was I the only one who found Harris annoying? It's odd, since I actually like her as an actress. But somehow in some way, she came off as incredibly unlikable. Am I alone in thinking this?

One of the great things Green does with these Hatchet films is he fills them with a who's who of the horror community. So I've already mentioned that effects legend John Carl Buechler returns in the role of Jack Cracker. But another horror legend, writer/director Tom Holland (Fright Night, Psycho II, Child's Play) also has a role in this. And if you're a fan of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise like I am, you'll surely recognize the name of R.A. Mihailoff (Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III), who played ol' Leatherface in Chainsaw III, but is virtually unrecognizable in this. And then you've got Tony Todd, Danielle Harris and Kane Hodder. Adam Green knows how to put some smiles on our geek horror faces, doesn't he?

* Minor Spoilers
There was a moment, where Candyman and Jason were fighting, and it was like my geek horror brain almost melted. I'm sitting here freaking out over the fact that I'm seeing Candyman (Tony Todd) go head to head with Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder-Jason) and it was almost too much to comprehend. And that's why I love these movies so much, because Adam Green knows what we love and knows what we want to see. I mean, who would've thought they'd ever see this? And the kill was nothing short of ...............brilliant. I don't think I've actually ever seen that particular kill, which was awesome! I wish this film had more geek-out moments like that, or that the fight itself would have been a little more outrageous, because here you have two horror titans battling it out, something we'd never thought we'd see. But you can't have everything, right?
* End Spoilers

My final thoughts are that while nowhere near as fun or spirited as the first Hatchet, it's still a well-made and enjoyable slasher film with a more serious and darker tone. In fact, while it didn't floor me the way the first one did, it's still leaps and bounds better than most horror films you see today, and for that, I love and commend what Adam Green has done with this franchise. Hatchet II again displays some insane kills, gore and impressive practical effects work that make you question why filmmakers and studios insist on CGI over practical effects work these days. Yea, I know the answer is that it's just cheaper that way, but still. While Green's direction seemed generally lacking in terms of style this time around, it's a minor complaint when you compare it to the overall entertainment value. It's a good sequel to a great film. It just won't knock your socks off the way the first one did.


2010: The Year We Make Contact

Directed by: Peter Hyams
Category: Science Fiction

Here's a confession. I only recently saw Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey for the very first time this past year. Gasp! Yes, it's true. I honestly don't know why I never took the time to see it either. But when I recently watched the stunning blu-ray, I was floored in a way that movies don't often affect me. It literally blew my geek mind. I became obsessed with 2001 and devoured every documentary I could find on it, as well as probably watching it a good half a dozen times within the next few weeks. 2001 easily became one of my top 3 favorite films of all time, and it will always be.

Then I remembered that somewhere in the 80's, one of my favorite directors, Peter Hyams, attempted to do the impossible, make a sequel to one of the best, most respected films of all time. The balls on this guy. And so seeing as how I personally love the guy, with a large chunk of his filmography being pretty stellar in almost every genre, I felt it my duty to track this film down and see if one of my favorite directors, making a sequel to one of my favorite films by another one of my favorite directors, could live up to that legacy. In case you were wondering, that film is 2010: The Year We Make Contact.

One of the things that's most impressive about 2010, besides Hyam's stellar camerawork, is the casting. Roy Schieder (always brilliant), Helen Mirren, John Lithgow, Bob Balaban and hell, even Keir Dullea, surprisingly, makes an appearance and of course, Douglas Rain returns as the voice of HAL; all deliver top-notch performances, as you'd expect. Along with some impressive model and special effects work, Peter Hyams's 2010 is a well made technical achievement, but does it hold up against Stanley Kubrick's monstrous seminal masterpiece?

No, it doesn't. But that's okay, because what film can? What Hyams has done is created a moody, atmospheric, and often times tense-filled science fiction film that can easily go up against the best of them in this genre. While it's nowhere the level of awesome that Kubrick gave us with his groundbreaking film in 1968, 16 years before this films release, working from another novel by Arthur C. Clarke as the foundation, Hyams has crafted arguably one of the better sequels to a great film that nobody ever talks about, yet doesn't get enough credit where it's richly deserved. I'm really surprised myself. If this past year has taught me anything, it's that there are a ton of great sequels out there that nobody ever talks about. Worse yet, there are great sequels that don't get the proper recognition or releases they need. Case in point, Exorcist III and Psycho II right off the top of my head. I actually found these two films more entertaining than the originals, and the fact that even as a sequel, nobody ever mentions them is staggering. Does 2010 fall into that category? Definitely not. But it's a good sequel as far as sequels go and my point is that even as a science fiction film, I find it rather surprising that outside of a sequel, it's never mentioned as a great example of sci-fi thriller on it's own merit.

Worse yet, that it's never received a decent DVD or Blu-ray release is beyond perplexing. While there has been a Blu-ray release going back to 2009, it seems Warner Brothers made no effort to clean the print up or fix some of those annoying special effects issues commonly found in early 80's films where you see pesky boxes around an effects shot that makes it stand out against the rest of the background. If you owned the original Star Wars trilogy on VHS back in the day you know exactly what I'm talking about. And if you read any reviews for this Blu-ray, it's pretty unanimous; a good film has been given a massively inferior Blu-ray release. Only time will tell if WB ever rectifies that.

2010: The Year We Make Contact is a sequel in every sense of the word. It picks up years after the events of the first film. The world is in tension, with threat of war looming overhead. Dave Bowman is still missing, and the presence of the black monolith is still unexplained. A U.S. and Soviet joint expedition is sent to Jupiter to try and reactivate HAL in the hopes of figuring out what happened on that fateful day years ago.

If you've ever seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, it is your duty to see this sequel, if for no other reason than it will help 2001 make much more sense. A lot of  it was never fully, or even partially, explained. In the case of 2010, author Arthur C. Clarke and writer/director Peter Hyams at least attempt to explain questions and ideas that lingered ever since the original. Like, "What is the black monolith?".

Having been made in 1984, seeing some visually creative futuristic design schemes through the eyes of the films production designer and set decorator circa the early 1980's are another standout. I wish design and decor really turned out the way the early 80's envisioned it. Regardless, Hyams, who usually always works as his own Director of Photography/Cinematographer, utilizes the design aspect to his full advantage, giving the film a rich visual sheen that compliment his assured visual approach.

Much more of a conventional science fiction film compared to Stanley Kubrick's audacious original, what it lacks in ambition, it makes up for in it's more straight-forward approach to filmmaking; the downside being that it's lacking any real creative spark. With 2001, Kubrick implemented elements and ideas never before seen on film. In fact, I can't recall any other film ever that utilized a lot of the stylistic and creative choices found in 2001, or since. 2010 has none of that. What it does offer is a solid science fiction film that takes it's time in telling it's story. No gimmicks, no experimental tactics, and no surrealism. It's a smart, slow-burn science fiction film that doesn't offer scares or action, but rather a thinking man's sci-fi tale full of intelligent ideas with style to burn. It's without a doubt a film worth checking out.


Low-Budget Horror: Wrong Turn 2

Directed by: Joe Lynch
Category: Horror

I had no preconceived notions going into Wrong Turn 2. In fact, I've never actually seen this first one. It just always looked like one of those soft horror films starring current hot TV stars, so I never gave two thoughts about it. And from what I've heard, much like the Texas Chainsaw films, none of them really have anything to do with the other so you can watch these out of order and not be lost. But as I'm recently discovering, there are a lot of low-budget DTV horror films out there from the last 10 years that I easily dismissed for being trite low-budget garbage that are actually pretty damn good. Along with the likes of Feast and the Hatchet series, Wrong Turn 2 is one of those films.

Let's get something straight. Joe Lynch's Wrong Turn 2 knows exactly what kind of film it wants to be. What is that exactly? I'm glad you asked. A horror film. Duh! But no seriously, a straight-up old school balls-to-the-walls bloody horror film and in that department, it succeeds and it is pretty damn awesome. 

Wrong Turn 2 is indeed a low-budget affair, and looks as such. Every once in a while when you watch a DTV or low-budget flick, you're surprised at the caliber of quality presented to you on the screen and you wonder why it never went to theaters if it looks so good and is made so well. Such is the case with the first Hatchet film. That is not the case with Wrong Turn 2. It looks like a low-budget film and feels like a low-budget film. But that's also one of it's strengths since the filmmakers have much more leeway in terms of gore content and holy hell does this film deliver. Much like Adam Green's Hatchet and Hatchet II, the kills are so ingenious and blood spillage so extreme that when it comes to old school type horror films with practical effects work, these films are just about the best in the bunch. 

Needless to say, there's nothing new or original about Wrong Turn 2. It's pretty standard as far as backwoods horror films go, except they add the element of a reality show into the mix. Thankfully, the film doesn't play to the reality show format, it's just a ploy to get a bunch of people into the woods for a specific purpose other than hunting. So you can breathe easy, it's not a "found footage" atrocity. Instead we have a group of people on a Survivor type of reality show that takes place in the woods led by ex-Marine Dale Murphy (a very badass Henry Rollins). They soon discover they're not alone in these woods, which also happens to be home to a family of deformed mutant cannibals. Don't you hate it when that happens?

I'm not going to say that WT2 is anything other than it's trying to be because it is what it is and sometimes, that's all we need. It's a low-budget horror film with a high body count, plain and simple, and for your money, you can't go wrong here folks. The kills - some clever, some not so much - always go that extra mile in trying to shock you and in that department, Wrong Turn 2 gleefully succeeds on a level that you're just really not that used to anymore, which is damn refreshing. I'm telling you, some of the shit in here, I've never seen on screen before. Even during the opening credits sequence there's a kill that.......quite honestly, blew my mind. And it's execution was nothing short of brilliant. That's the kind of shit I want to see in a horror film and that's the kind of shit Wrong Turn 2 delivers on a level that's purely satisfying.

If there was anything that Wrong Turn 2 could have benefited from, it may be a stronger director. While some of the kill sequences were quite ingenious, for the most part, Joe Lynch's directing style is exactly what you'd expect from a DTV horror film, and that's not saying much. To learn that he hasn't directed much since, save for a few short films and last years geek comedy Knights of Badassdom, isn't a surprise in the least. But it's a minor complaint because in all seriousness, it's not all that bad. Some sequences were pretty impressive, usually the kill sequences, and the rest is passable compared to some of the trite stuff we've grown accustomed to over the years, most notably John Gulager's banal and unimaginative "all over the place" style of directing depicted in Feast, another practical effects load of fun. Joe Lynch's camerawork is thankfully, a few levels above that, but above all else, his passion for gore and practical effects work is inspiring. And on another plus, the large ensemble cast is a solid one. Much like in the first Hatchet film and well......any slasher film that inspired the Hatchet series, you have your token characters; the slut, the black guy, the nerd, the tough die-hard contestant, and so on - but the casting was better than you'd expect and for that, I give the casting department props.

Here's what you need to know. It's low-budget. It's got some insane and brutal kill sequences. It's done entirely with old school practical effects. The ensemble cast isn't annoying. Henry Rollins as a marine is just a badass, the kind of role you wish he got more of. And it's one of the best examples of a throwback horror film in the last 10 years. What more could you ask for?


Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist

Image courtesy of Impawards.com

Directed by: Paul Schrader
Category: Thriller/Horror

After my experience revisiting The Exorcist III recently, I've decided that since III was so uncharacteristically awesome, I'd give the other sequels in the series a chance since I'd never actually taken the time to see any of them because of well.....bad word-of-mouth. We all love the original right? But any other film in this franchise has been ceremoniously crucified for their sins, and perhaps deservedly so. I haven't seen them yet, so I can't vouch for them. But that's about to change right now damnit.

After being haunted by an event during WWII, Father Merrin takes a sabbatical and travels to East Africa for an archaeology expedition when soon after a seemingly new and purposely buried church is uncovered. The appearance of a young man who's possession rocks the very foundation of Merrin's faith slowly begins to tie into the appearance of this newly unearthed church and the secrets that are buried with it. 

Here's what I know about Dominion and Exorcist: The Beginning. Apparently Golden Globe nominated writer and sometime director Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) was hired to direct this prequel to The Exorcist, but after having completed most of it, the studio got cold feet and shelved his film basically saying it wasn't any good. They then hired Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, A Nightmare on Elm St. Part 4: The Dream Master) to come in and remake the film again using the same actors (mostly) and the same sets, this time aiming for more of a straight up horror film as opposed to Schrader's psychological take on the material.  When Harlin's version was unanimously panned and died a quick death at the box office, the studio decided to give Paul Schrader's version another shot, putting in a few more dollars so he could complete it and releasing it a year later under the title Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. So what you have here is the same film, made twice by different directors offering a different take on the material. I agree, it's weird and confusing. I can only imagine how people felt not knowing any of this going into the theater to see Dominion after realizing that it's very similar to another Exorcist film from the year before.

Initially I went into this not expecting so much as a horror film per say, but rather a thriller. Schrader is a very talented writer, and knows how to offer up some gritty fare. Hell, he wrote Taxi Driver after all. So though he wasn't the writer this time around, I figured he could more or less gauge what goes into making a film a successful thriller. Though in his words, he was going for a psychological thriller. My thoughts? Not even close. What Dominion feels like more than anything is a drama, and a damn sloooooow one at that. I think the "thriller" tone Schrader was going for was somehow lost in the translation or editing process and what we have instead is a film so long and dull that you start to wonder, "Can Renny Harlin's version really be all that bad?". Honestly, I don't know, but I'm certainly going to find out.

I'm not going to bash the thing to death and say that it sucks, because it doesn't. It's well made, though surprisingly devoid of any real style or substance. It's just not the type of film you expect going in when the story is centered about the Exorcist mythology. It's a drama. A well made drama, but a drama nonetheless, and if you're not expecting a drama, then you'll be bored. Or at least, I was.

About halfway through when I realized this wasn't going to be anywhere near the level of awesome that the original and Part III possess, I decided to be a trooper and stick it through to the end, thinking maaaaybe the final act would somehow make up for the lackluster majority. Nope. It's an excruciatingly long and humdrum affair that packs no real entertainment value, other than to remind us why The Exorcist and The Exorcist III are such great films.

I'm not saying Paul Schrader is a bad director, because he's not. He's just not a very interesting one. And it's not all his fault. The screenplay by William Wisher (T2: Judgement Day, Judge Dredd) and novelist Cabel Carr (The Alienist) is nothing short of tedious, which is surprising considering the films Wisher has co-written before this. A severely missed opportunity would be putting it lightly because there's just nothing interesting about any of this. It's considered a prequel to the events of the first Exorcist film, yet it offers nothing in the way of backstory or completion. For example, if you never end up seeing this film, you won't be any less informed about what transpired before the first Exorcist film back in 1973. Nothing in here gives credence to the events in William Friedkin's first film and for that, Dominion is pretty much a wasted affair.

I'm going to say that I'm glad I saw this, if only for the sake of trying to complete this series of films. I don't think I was expecting it to blow me away the way Exorcist III did, but I at least expected to find the film interesting or even the slightest bit engaging. Neither was the case. Here's to hoping that Renny Harlin's more horror oriented take might actually end up being more entertaining than this drab contribution.


Edge of Tomorrow

Directed by: Doug Liman
Category: Science Fiction

What do you get when the studio that is supposed to be behind it's film 100% - in this case Warner Brothers - drops the ball repeatedly making mistake after mistake in it's gloriously inept marketing strategies to the point that one of the best reviewed films of the summer becomes a box office bomb? The answer; Edge of Tomorrow.

Edge of Tomorrow is one of those Tom Cruise vehicles that came and went without a whimper literally just a few weeks ago....the kind of film Cruise seems tailor made for and undoubtedly a sure bet as his next big hit. Touted as the next big summer sci-fi blockbuster under it's original title All You Need is Kill (before WB got scared and absurdly changed it to the lame Edge of Tomorrow), it received glowing previews and reviews and currently holds a 90% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. If you're not familiar with their rating system, let me assure, rarely does a film get a rating that high and when it does, it's wholeheartedly deserving of it.

IMDB's current 8.1 positive rating along with Rotten Tomatoes 90% fresh rating and Metacritic's 70% critic score/8.4 user rating ain't no lie. Edge of Tomorrow is a smart, engaging sci-fi thriller that is just about the best example of the type of big-budget sci-fi film theaters have been bereft of for a long time; let's just forget all this Transformers garbage for a minute. Not only that, it's also got some dark humor. Whaaat? Seriously, it's true. Since the trailers never hint at that because the studio is trying to sell you a big loud sci-fi picture, which it also is, the fact that you're not even aware of it's intense entertainment value as a top of the line sci-fi/thriller/action film that's also darkly funny, is a testament to Warner Brothers lack of good sense in their marketing department and should be ashamed of themselves. But I think it all begins with that ridiculous, sub-par and generic title change.

Based off of the original Japanese military/science fiction novel All You Need is Kill, Edge of Tomorrow is a great sci-fi film. It's smart. It's engaging. It's action-packed. It's clever and from time to time, even funny. Centering around a time-loop premise and the takeover of the planet Earth by a race of aliens, on a technical level, it's quite an ambitious film for everyone involved, most importantly director Doug Liman, who's career has seen him jump from genre to genre. While I've never really been that big a fan of his kinetic freestyle approach to directing, he is able to tame it down from time to time, like with Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Jumper for example. He's also done that here, and it's refreshing. Arguably his biggest film to date, it's aesthetically a daring one also. Maybe even his most visually impressive? Mixing some of his hand-held style with some really great steady camera work evenly, the enormous amount of CGI work here never falls into Michael Bay territory (Hallelujah!). Better yet, the action/battle scenes, of which there are a plethora, are damn impressive and most importantly, you can see what the hell's going on at all times.

Every aspect of the design of this film is stellar, with the robot attack suits being particularly kick ass. While I've been a huge opponent of any alien design in the last 10 years or so, though the designs of them here are somewhat similar (kind of shapeless with lots of arms and/or tentacles), they come off as way more organic and bottom line, more interesting and menacing. Are you with me on that? It's like every artist of an alien or monster from any film in the last decade follows the same rule of thumb in designing these things, and it's annoying. "Hey, let's make them look like huge insects with lots of arms/appendages that makes it difficult to make out what they look like or what they're doing!". Cut it out guys.

Cruise, to his credit, again delivers the goods. Though his star power is nowhere near the strength it was during all of the 90's into the early 2000's, he's still a huge box office commodity, especially overseas. You know, a lot has been said about Cruise and his personal life, all beginning with his Oprah stunt. Yea it was weird, and his stance on everything regarding Scientology and his personal views on....well everything else come off as......odd, but who cares? A lot of people shit all over the guy, but I've always found Cruise to be one of the most consistent and hardest working actors out there, and I continue to be a big proponent of this dudes talent. He's a badass; charismatic, likable, and not nearly enough A-List stars can possess all three of these qualities. Dwayne Johnson definitely. But who else?

It's a shame this hasn't done too well at the box office. If any film out there deserves to, it's Edge of Tomorrow. Maybe if the studio had kept it's original and more awesome title All You Need is Kill, it would have performed better? I personally think so. It sounds more on target. I'm sure when international ticket sales and then DVD/Blu ray and rentals are factored in, it may break even or even make a slight profit in the end, but it deserved much more than it got initially. But WB's marketing, or lack thereof, absurdness is confusing as all hell because it's painfully obvious they either didn't know what the hell they were doing or were so thrown off by focus groups uncanny ability to "not get it". Seriously, from what I understand, when it hits the home video market in the next few weeks, it will again have another title change to Live Die Repeat, which is somewhat better than the bland Edge of Tomorrow. But who knows? It may change yet again when it's all said and done.

Whatever the new title may be, do yourself a favor and check this out. It's a rock-solid science fiction thriller with an overabundance of charm and entertainment value and surely one of the best you'll see in a while. One of the best reviewed films of the summer is just begging to be seen.



Directed by: Adam Green
Category: Horror

The Hatchet films have been on my radar for what seems like ages now. Writer/Director Adam Green's love letter to 80's slasher films, the Hatchet series (of which there are 3 to date) have always popped up here and there on horror lists and articles, but for the life of me, I can't recall anyone ever really saying much about them. That is until recently when they were mentioned in a recent article praising writer/director/producer/actor Adam Green's passionate and spirited homage to the slasher film genre. A genre that's been pretty dormant for a while if you think about it. A throwback to 80's slasher films? Fuck yea. I'm in.

Hatchet is without a doubt one of the most fun, potent and entertaining horror films I've seen in.......hell, I don't even know. I can't remember the last time I had such a blast watching a horror film, and that's the truth. You see, it's evident right from the beginning that first time writer/director Adam Green, clearly an old school horror fan, has taken everything we love about these films - 80's slasher films to be precise - and has crafted a loving homage to these films using all the standard tricks that made us love them in the first place. Everything is successful in this. What's more, he cleverly mixes tongue-in-cheek humor that never gets in the way of the actual horror, effectively balancing the two in a way that horror writers today should seriously take note. 

A group of friends and tourists take a swamp tour in New Orleans, in the hopes of witnessing some ghost activity. When their boat gets stuck and they're forced to wander through the woods to get back to the city, they encounter something much more terrifying. The very real Victor Crowley, a deformed brute who was accidentally killed by his father with an ax to the head, who now resides in the swamp as a legend, killing anybody who wanders near his home. With a passenger on the boat who has an agenda all her own, they must work together to survive this terrifying night and hope to make it out alive.

What Adam Green has done here is given us a new horror icon to root for, and his name is Victor Crowley. In the flood of constant remakes, reboots and sequels, a new unstoppable killer roaming around hacking people left and right is quite refreshing. Other than the character of the Collector in both of Marcus Dunstan's films The Collector and The Collection, I can't think of another recent "new" horror franchise that so closely ties with the straight-forward slasher formula and so effectively. Not only that, he's taken a solemn vow only to use practical effects work when dealing with the gore, and let me tell you, it's spectacular. As practical effects work becomes more and more limited as everything is heading towards CGI (even squibs in action films for gods sake!), it's refreshing to see someone take the time to spray the screen with blood. In horror films, the kill sequences are the money shots, right? Green knows this, so he's hired one of the best in the business, and his name is John Carl Buechler. And let me assure you, he does not disappoint. The insanely over-the-top kills in here are nothing short of brilliant, and a testament to the power of good practical effects work. 

Adam Green first conceived the idea of Victor Crowley when he was 8. Having spent his life idolizing horror greats like Freddy, Jason, Leatherface and Michael, he knew what kind of horror film he wanted to make if he ever got the chance. When he was trying to get funding, he put a small crew together and shot a fake trailer to show potential backers what he was going for, which ultimately secured his financing. When you watch Hatchet, his passion for the genre is written all over the damn thing. It's funny when it needs to be, yet not too funny and never involving the horror elements. At the same time, it's a thrill-a-minute ride when it's on full-on horror mode. When the money shots come, they're worth every cent the price of admission. Best of all, it's far more clever than it has any right being. While nothing new or original, he's taken all of the best elements of our favorites and spun them into a paint-by-numbers storyline with all of the familiar trimmings that make these slasher films so great, yet implores some clever dialogue and kills that makes it leaps and bounds better than some of the later sequels of even the most popular horror franchises. 

Kane Hodder. Robert Englund. Tony Todd. Sometimes you can judge a book by it's cover and you're spot-on, and none is more evident than in the casting of Hatchet. Just look at that roster! Furthermore, a film that is brave enough to introduce us to, and ceremoniously kill, none other than Robert Englund in the first 15 minutes in glorious fashion is a ballsy one. Next to The Collection, I can't think of a better opening sequence, or a more gruesome one. It's the perfect little taste of what's in store. Though Englund only scores a cameo, as does Tony Todd (Candyman), it's really Kane Hodder (Friday the 13th Parts 7-X) who's front and center and he's as perfect as you could imagine in the role. Not only does Adam Green give the perfect platform to do what he does best - slice and dice people to bits as one of the best killers-under-prosthetic-makeup out there - but he also gives Hodder some room to flex his acting chops in a few flashback sequences that prove that the guy can indeed act without all the makeup. Kane Hodder is good both in and out of 30 pounds of prosthetic makeup, and Hatchet is yet another reminder why he is the best at what he does.

But it's not just Hodder's show here. Though Robert Englund and Tony Todd only sport cameo's in this, they're damn killer ones. What's somewhat impressive is the films rather large eclectic ensemble cast, you know, the group of tourists taking that swamp tour. Largely a group of stereotypes, Green managed to inject enough funny and witty dialogue that they never come off as annoying or unlikable. Quite the opposite. Despite being tokens of typical slasher films, the casting of talented fervent newcomers along with well-known seasoned character actor notables like Joel Murray, Richard Riehle and Patrika Darbo make this cast standout as an enjoyable one.

Hatchet is arguably one of the best examples of the term "throwback" that I've come across so far. While The Collection is a close second, I think the cleverness of this first entry in the franchise goes so much further in every department than you expect it to, that combined with writer/director Adam Green's uncompromising passion, results in easily one of the most fun horror experiences I've had in the last 20 years.

Okay, so now that we see what makeup effects wizard John Carl Buechler is capable of, can we please get an uncut version of Friday the 13th Part 7: The New Blood?? Which, as you know, was Buechler's drastically cut and edited directing gig in the Friday franchise.

The Hitman

Directed by: Aaron Norris
Category: Action

With any action movie star, there comes a point in their careers when they hit their peak, and then systematically fall hard into DTV territory. It happens to everyone; Van Damme, Seagal, Lundgren, and of course Chuck Norris. Hell, even Stallone's films (Anybody remember Avenging Angelo or Eye See You?) were hitting the DTV market on a regular basis before he single-handedly revived his own career with both Rocky Balboa and Rambo. I think so far the only one who hasn't fallen that low is Schwarzenegger, though none of his recent films can really be called quality, can they.

I don't know about you, but I can't recall a good Norris film from the 90's and beyond. It just seems that though most of his 80's output wouldn't exactly be called high art, they retained a certain kitschy charm and enough talent behind the camera that made them passable and awesome action films; films worthy of theatrical release, like the totally absurd, ridiculous and fun as hell Invasion USA. But as with any aging action star, they hit that peak and quickly fade into a DTV graveyard.

The Hitman is one of Chuck Norris's early 90's efforts, and the third collaboration with his brother Aaron as director up to this point. I can't quite remember if this made it to theaters or not, but one thing I can tell you is that of all the forgettable stuff he put out after 1986's The Delta Force, this is one of the better ones. You see, during this time, his brother Aaron Norris directed seven of his movies altogether, along with a bunch of episodes of Walker, Texas Ranger. Now me personally, I don't think he's a very good director, and I think that is a big reason why so many of his films from the last 25 years are about as average as can possibly be. Nothing about his directing abilities scream style or substance. I think if you had to categorize Aaron Norris the director, I'd call him "safe". He gets the job done and that's about it. You could never say that a film looks like an Aaron Norris film, because his particular brand of filmmaking offers nothing in the way of style. Why Chuck left the directing reigns to his brother so many times is beyond me. Personally, I think his films and his success suffered because of it. Sure, despite this and his waning popularity, a few managed to sneak into theaters like Firewalker, Sidekicks and Hero and the Terror, but surely nothing as memorable as his 80's output.

After being double-crossed by his partner and presumed dead, undercover officer Cliff Garrett turns up two years later as a mafia hitman with a new identity. When a new mob moves into town, Grogan (Chuck Norris) must try to turn them all against each other in the hopes of bringing them all down.

The thing that surprised me the most is that while I wasn't really expecting much to begin with, The Hitman is actually quite decent. Nothing to brag about, but it's a competent film and while a lot of it is absurd and sometimes laughable, it's straight-forward and dead-serious approach to the material and it's execution gives it that higher caliber B-Movie quality. And though you don't believe a word of.....anything, everyone is playing it with a straight face and well you know, it definitely adds something to the finished product. Like for example, we're expected to believe that Chuck Norris can easily schmooze his way into the Italian mob within a span of 2 years. Okay. And let's talk about this guy's look. That ridiculous mullet that gives Van Damme's Hard Target mullet a run for it's money. His oversized designer clothes. That oversized black trench coat. I mean, he just looks so silly, and all these things only make him look smaller than he already is. But you know what? His conviction is priceless and that's what sells it.

There are really only 2 things in this film that could have seriously killed it, the first being the inclusion of a kid into the storyline. You know, the kid next door who gets bullied and so the hitman feels sorry for him and takes him under his wing as sort of a father figure and then the bad guys use the kid to get back at the hitman and when they hurt him, he gets all pissed off and goes after them? Yea, they pull one of those, and it's cliche like a motherfucker. The second being that no matter how you look at it, Chuck Norris is just so horribly miscast in this. He looks utterly ridiculous and you can't help but wonder if this was initially intended for someone more suited for the part, like say Steven Seagal. In any case, thankfully for me these two issues didn't necessarily ruin the vibe.

I don't want to beat up too much on Aaron Norris, because I have to admit, The Hitman was pretty cool. It feels like he really tried harder than usual to give this film some style, and you know, he half-succeeds in that department. While easily a forgettable film, you can tell that everyone involved is really trying hard to pull off a good action film, starting with Aaron Norris, by no means a stylish director. But he does a pretty decent job here and if you're looking for a straight 90's piece of action nostalgia, for my money you can't go wrong with this.........if you can get past Chuck Norris looking ridiculous as all hell. You won't find wall to wall action or anything, but you will see some cool shots of Norris walking around in slow-mo in a big bulky black trench-coat and a serious mullet, and sometimes, that's just enough.


Johnny Mnemonic

Directed by: Robert Longo
Category: Cyberpunk

About a year ago, fellow blogger and film reviewer Francisco over at The Film Connoisseur did a thoroughly enjoyable and informative review of this mid 90's cyberpunk effort starring Keanu Reeves, and written by godfather of cyberpunk William Gibson, based on his work. Ever since Francisco's review, this film has been in the back of my mind, with the intent that I need to revisit it sometime very soon. Hey, Francisco liked it, and that carries a lot of weight in my book.

When I watch a film, I usually post a status update on Facebook, in the hopes of encouraging some good film conversation regarding said film as I'm watching it. It's a fun ploy I use to get people to talk films with me. With this particular film, it was pretty unanimous; they all stated that though they hadn't seen it in forever, they remember liking it. I on the other hand, had the complete opposite memory of this. I remember not liking it at all when I first saw it in theaters. I remember thinking that more than anything, I did not like the first time director's "vision", and that his lack of experience and creativity soured the experience for me because quite frankly, it was lame. Those were my initial thoughts on this way back in 1995 anyway.

Here's the thing. I started this review a few days ago, going on and on about little details that probably don't mean squat to a lot of you, and then I started to realize that it was becoming more and more apparent to me that I just don't care enough about it to go into that much of an effort to either talk smack or praise it for it's complimentary attributes. I'd much rather put my energy into reviews that were far more entertaining than this, which I will. But in the meantime, here's some quick thoughts on Johnny Mnemonic.

In a nutshell, it was just alright. Though it's got strong production value, a pretty stellar and random ensemble cast (Dolph Lundgren/Henry Rollins/Udo Kier/Takeshi Tikano!!), some cool neo noir/cyberpunk/futuristic/Asian-inspired production design, and an interesting premise, I just found it all rather dull. It's essentially just one long chase sequence, except nothing interesting ever really happens. The sparse action is forgetful and uninspired, and Keanu Reeves, looking bulky after starring in Speed the year before in the beginning of this film and then drastically getting rail thin through it's course, is as wooden as he's ever been. Not that he's ever been the greatest actor, but still.

New York based artist and first time director Robert Longo infuses the film with such a dull palate, it's hard to be stimulated even with the bland visuals, because everything about the look and camerawork is on a sub-par level, like something you'd see in any random *DTV low-budget sci-fi film. As much as I found the film to be just okay, if it had at least been visually stunning or impressive, then that would have been something to get me through the experience a lot easier. But it's overall unimpressive amateur aesthetic really bothered me. Being an artist, I assumed Longo would be a shoe-in for film work, as others have successfully made the transition, like Joseph Kosinski (TRON: Legacy, Oblivion), but I guess being able to make that jump is not always natural for some artists. Johnny Mnemonic was his one and only film as a director, and its no real surprise.

I know I base a lot of what I like about a film on the visual impact, but that's really important to me. I'm sure a lot of fellow filmgeeks don't put as much stock into camerawork/angles/shots, but as an artist myself, those things make a world of difference to me. I know a lot of films aren't always going to be written great, or cleverly, but if it has some cool visual eye candy, well then at least that's something. So when I see a film that could be so much better simply by putting more effort into the visual aesthetic, it's just frustrating to me, especially with a film and premise like this, where it should have been slam-dunk.

Hope this doesn't turn a lot of you off! It wasn't a bad film, but it was just a little on the dull side and they really should have put this in the hands of a more experienced filmmaker. It's interesting, whenever I ask someone about Johnny Mnemonic and whether they liked it, they almost all say they did like it, but can't remember why because it had been so long since they'd seen it. It raises the question, "Maybe we feel that we're supposed to like it because it's got so many great ingredients?" Good ingredients, yes. But clearly, they weren't mixed together very well. Looking back on it, nothing about it seems groundbreaking the way it somehow should. I will file this under "missed opportunity".

* Direct-to-video


Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem

Directed by: The Brothers Strause
Category: Action/Sci-fi

Of all the films I've seen these past few weeks, none surprised me more than this film did. You see, I never had any desire to see this....ever. After Paul W.S. Anderson's bland hackneyed PG-13 rated AVP: Aliens vs. Predator fiasco back in 2004, it pretty much killed any hope I had for seeing a badass Aliens vs. Predator film. So when this sequel came out 3 years later in 2007, I avoided it like the plague. I don't think I ever even saw a trailer for it, because as far as I was concerned, if Fox was going to put this property in the hands of the hack who gave us the Resident Evil films and Mortal Kombat, then I was just done with them. I did ultimately see the first AVP film, despite my objections, which was just as awful as I was expecting it to be, and so I had no interest in subjecting myself to another round of mediocre sci-fi/action/horror at the hands of two brothers I'd never heard of before. So why did I end up watching this the other night? I wish I had an answer, but I don't. As I browsed my local Blockbuster, something just said "Aw just rent the damn thing!", and so I did.

Let's get one thing straight. AVP: Requiem is a bad film, no doubt about it. In no way, shape or form does this, or it's predecessor represent anything we envisioned when the first Aliens vs. Predator comics started popping up in the 90's. No, no, no; not at all. What we get instead is a truly bizarre and twisted AVP film, one that goes so far out to left field that you have to wonder how the hell this ever got the green light. But you know what? This was awesome on a level that you're not expecting and I fucking loved it.

Before you lose your shit, hear me out. I already knew this was going to be bad on some level. I mean, come on. Nobody ever talks about this film right? No, they don't. Nobody ever really mentions the original AVP film either, but they sure as hell make more of an effort to not mention this one. Yet going in I thought, or hoped, that it had some kind of redeeming quality. Like, maybe the movie itself was bad, but maybe it would be all-out gory as hell and it would somehow make it worth the experience. You know, something like that.

15 minutes in and you're pretty much sold on what kind of film this is going to be. It's a low-caliber Aliens film. It's a low-caliber Predator film. It doesn't take place on an alien planet. It doesn't take place on a ship. It doesn't take place in space. So you can say it doesn't possess any of the things you kind of expect from an Alien and/or Predator film. But you know what? It's not PG fucking 13, and that's enough of a good starting point with me.

The story was all kind of nuts that it may be hard to try and give somewhat of a summary, but I'll try. An Alien infects a Predator on a Predator ship. When the Alien inside the Predator comes out, it's created a new Alien/Predator hybrid. The Aliens have commandeered a Predator ship and it crashed on Earth in some backwoods Virginia town. The Aliens soon start wrecking havoc and impregnating people left and right and creating more and more Aliens. One Predator takes it upon himself to seek revenge against the Aliens for killing one of his friends, so he also lands on Earth in pursuit of the Aliens to try and kill them off one by one, along with anybody armed with a gun in the process. In the meantime, we are introduced to a random group of individuals all with their own unique backstory, who must end up working together to survive their town being overrun with Aliens in the hopes that the Army will come and rescue them. Meanwhile, this new Alien/Predatory hybrid is creating more and more Aliens by impregnating as many individuals as possible. You see, unlike the face-huggers, this hybrid can shove a whole bunch of Alien eggs down your throat, so that when they're ready to pop, it's not just one, but a whole handful of them. Will the Predator warrior come face to face with this new monster hybrid in time to prevent this small backwoods town from becoming a new Alien home?

People. You have to understand something. This is pure B-Movie gold here plain and simple. And if you go in thinking this beforehand, you'll have a helluva good time with it, like I did. I'll admit, I was hoping for more of a mainstream sci-fi/action film, but when it became painfully clear that the quality of this wasn't even up to par with the first AVP, then I just kind of rolled with it and I have to tell you, I had a blast because it's utterly and completely ridiculous, yet maintains a constant kitschy charm. I really don't know how else to explain it. Thematically, this film went all over the place. The beginning takes place on a ship in space, then the movie moves to a small town in everyday America, and the woods surrounding it. At times it feels like they're trying to tell us an honest to goodness story by forcing us to care for these individuals - the bullied teen, the returning army vet who's daughter doesn't pay attention to her, the mysterious older brother with a criminal past that has a heart of gold, yadda, yadda, yadda - but then moves into slasher film territory, then an end-of-days scenario, then the army gets involved and it's a big loud action film, complete with helicopters, tanks, jets and whatnot. This film is all over the place and doesn't know what genre it's trying to be, but I loved it because it was silly, ridiculous fun.

The Brothers Strause (Colin and Greg) are visual effects guru's who have been working in the industry as visual effects supervisors since 1996 with films like The Avengers, Titanic, Galaxy Quest, The X Files and Constantine under their belts. AVP: Requiem would be there first film as directors, before going at it again 3 years later with Skyline, another universally bashed sci-fi film that I actually quite enjoy. It seems that these brothers operate on a different level than most. Whether intentional or not, their two films retain a constant B-Movie vibe and quality that you just don't see in films anymore. Director Jonathan Mostow did the same thing with Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. It could very well be accidental, or the guys know exactly what they're doing, but the fact of the matter is, whether it's the somewhat low-grade CGI effects, or the cheesy storylines, or the flat-out ridiculous nature of the films themselves, they're top quality fun guys. But I think what surprised me the most was that these guys can introduce some nice visual camerawork in the middle of all of this mess. Seriously, I'm as surprised as you are. They don't submit to the Michael Bay school of filmmaking, and thank the heavens for that, because from beginning to end, AVP: Requiem held a lush visual tone that I actually found rather impressive. Don't judge me!

Now, of the few blurbs I did hear about this, it was mostly that it was gorier than any of the other films. I watched the unrated version, and I don't think I can agree with that. Yes, it was gory, but not nearly as much as I was expecting, and while a few scenes came off rather shocking, like a little kid having a chest-burster exploding out of him, it never really comes across as anything worse than say Alien: Resurrection. Okay, maybe a little more violent than the 3 Predator films to date, but still. With the overuse of CGI, I kind of half-expected a little more gore.

Definitely not the kind of film I was expecting, yet on a whole other level, a badass low-grade high-budget B-Movie of the best kind. Senseless, ridiculous, violent, bloody, and quite bizarre. Thank you Colin and Greg Strause for making one of the funnest big-budget/low-budget horror/sci-fi/action direct-to-video quality films that made it to the theaters I've seen in years. And thank you for not using shaky-cam. No, seriously.