Friday, May 30, 2014

What I Watched - May 19-25 2014

Note: I've decided to do weekly updates of all of the movies I watch. Any that don't get full reviews (either because they're not schlocky enough or because I don't deem a movie worth a full review) will have a short write-up of my overall feelings about that movie.

 WHAT I WATCHED - May 19-25:


 Manhunt for Claude Dallas (1986) VHS
- See full review here

 The Lego Movie (2014) AVI
- The latest father-son movie night offering, which we both enjoyed. My four-year-old son loves Lego and it was fast-paced enough to keep his attention, while I enjoyed all the in-jokes and clever little moments, which there are plenty of. Excellent family movie. 

 A Night in Old Mexico (2013) AVI
- Above-average drama about a grumpy old man (Robert Duvall) forced off his family land, who decides to head to Mexico for one last night of drunken debauchery, with his grandson along for the ride. Has elements of the crime, action and thriller genres, but in essence it's a story of estranged grandfather and grandson getting to know each other. It's just great to see Duvall in action again.

 Mad Mission 4 (1986) VHS
- See full review here

 Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter (2001) AVI
- Extremely low budget comedy offering that is actually very well done and, surprisingly, very funny in parts. I mean, who can resist a movie that pits Jesus Christ and Mexican wrestler El Santo (obviously not really him, just a guy in a Santo mask) against vampires? Worth watching just for the scene were JC and Santo kill vamps using whatever they can find as stakes (drum sticks, stool legs, even toothpicks!). This one's obscure, but hunt it out.

 Angel's Revenge (1979) Youtube
- See full review here

 Deadwood Season 1 (TV series, 2004) DVD
- I've been meaning to check this TV western series out for a while, having heard good things about it. I finished the 12-episode first season in the space of a few days, and I'm looking forward to moving on to Season 2. Brim full of great actors (Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Brad Dourif, William Sanderson and more), this is a fictional telling of the real life lawless gold rush town of Deadwood, most famous as the place where Wild Bill Hickock was killed. It's an HBO series so it doesn't skimp on the violence and nudity.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

MAY-DE TO BE MOCKED - Angels Brigade (1979)

 Note: Throughout the month of May I will be watching Mockbusters, those low-budget movies which are made purely to cash in on a recent successful blockbuster. I call this May-de to be Mocked!  

Angels Brigade (1979)
Director: Greydon Clark
Starring: Robin Greer, Susan Kiger, Jack Palance, Peter Lawford
Format: Streaming (Youtube)

Plot: Meet six women and a teenage girl who never expected to risk their lives fighting for justice. A schoolteacher had seen one too many kids succumb to drugs. A Las Vegas entertainer learned her brother had been beaten by a drug pusher. A martial arts teacher knew how insidious drugs were among children. A top model knew that drugs were destroying her life. A stunt driver was in shock when her brother overdosed  on drugs. Add a nosy schoolgirl and a policewoman and you've got the Angels Brigade who strike back against the evil fat cats pushing drugs to kids.

AKA Seven from Heaven, Angels Revenge

In the late 1970s Charlie's Angels ruled the TV screen, with it's lightweight tales of three beautiful women fighting the bad guys and solving crime, all the while striking poses in bikinis and perfectly-coifered hair. Sensing a chance to cash in on this, B-grade actor-turned-director Greydon Clark took this concept to the big screen.

But we all know that taking a TV show to the movie screen you need to make everything bigger. Charlie's Angels had three bimbo crimefighters? Well, let's double that! And then add one more! Yep let's have seven girls! And those TV Angels don't really cover the demographics very well, they're too white. So let's add in an Asian girl (a martial arts expert, naturally) and a black girl (a take-no-nonsense sassy stunt driver). The others can be a cop, a pop star, a schoolteacher, a slutty model… hell, let's throw in the cop's little sister to cover the teenage girl demographic!

Once our seven girls are assembled (rather briskly one must add, let's not let plot get in the way of things here), they soon target an assortment of drug pusher baddies. The big boss is ex-Rat Packer Peter Lawford (so sozzled he has to sit for most of his scenes), and his head henchman is scene-stealing bad guy par-excellence Jack Palance. Add in an abundance of machine-gun-toting, generic bad guys, and we're good to go.

Let's face it, you don't watch this kind of movie for the plot, dialogue or acting. Which is just as well, because all three are frankly awful.

Nobody behaves in the least bit logically. Two of the Angels break into a baddie compound and are walking out in the open when two baddies turn a corner. What do the girls do to avoid detection? They stand perfectly still, right out in the open, in daylight. And it works!

The lines are soap opera-level and except for some good supporting performances (from seasoned character actors like Palance, Jim Backus, Neville Brand and Pat Buttram), all of the acting from the lead bimbos is so bad it's unintentionally humourous. The worst perpetrator is the late Jacqueline Cole, who plays the schoolteacher. Her acting is so bad I looked up the credits to find out who she was sleeping with to get her (prominent) role. Sure enough, she was married to director Clark. Enough said.

But as I said, plot, dialogue and acting aren't overly important here. What really saves this movie is that everything is so corny, over-the-top and, well, "70s", that it gives it a certain charm. The lead girls are all attractive and it helps that they get to kick butt, even busting out a souped-up van full of hidden weapons that's like something out of an episode of the A-Team.

In fact, that's probably the best comparison I can make - Angels Revenge feels a lot like an extra-long episode of a Stephen J. Cannell TV show. I never really saw Charlie's Angels so can't compare there, but I grew up on 80s TV and this feels as fun and harmless as anything from The A-Team, Knight Rider or Macgyver.

Mad Mission 4: You Never Die Twice (1986)

 The cover of my VHS copy of Mad Mission 4

Mad Mission 4: You Never Die Twice (1986)
Director: Ringo Lam
Starring: Samuel Hui, Karl Maka, Sally Yeh

Format: VHS

Plot: Nancy Ho (Sylvia Chang) is kidnapped by villains who want to obtain a hi-tech prism, created by a Hong Kong professor, that can grant superhuman powers. In exchange for her return, Ho's husband Baldy (Maka), his buddy Sam (Hui) and the professor's daughter Sally (Yeh), joined by Baldy's son Baldy Jr, fly to New Zealand to deliver the hi-tech prism to the crooks. However, not allowing to let the crooks succeed, they must band together to prevent the prism from being used.

I haven't seen any of the prior three Mad Mission movies (which I understand were originally titled Aces Go Places). I picked up this VHS a couple of years ago and have been meaning to watch it, mainly because it's a Hong Kong action movie which is partly filmed in my home country, New Zealand.

This movie will mainly be of interest to fans of Jackie Chan-style martial arts action/comedy flicks, but has added appeal to New Zealanders like me. It's fun seeing some familiar sights (downtown Auckland, downtown Wellington, Auckland airport, Huntly Power Station etc) and how they were in 1986. Any Kiwi will easily pick up on the goofy geography used here - during a single, short car chase, our heroes leave Auckland Airport, drive over the Auckland Harbour Bridge and are suddenly in Wellington (which is at least an 8-hour drive from Auckland).

As I already mentioned, this looks and feels like one of Jackie Chan's Hong Kong movies, and leading man Hui even looks and fights like Chan (and has the same goofy facial expressions). His fighting isn't as intricate as Chan, but Hui still holds his own during the action scenes and is likeable enough.

Karl Maka is his bumbling sidekick Baldy (although the English language dubbing calls him Cody throughout), a role he plays completely for comedic value. Maka's goofy antics wear thin after a while - the best stuff happens towards the end when he's held captive and Hui and Yeh are allowed to operate without him.

The supporting cast also has some familiar faces, such as main baddie Ronald Lacey, the Nazi with the disfigured hand in Raiders of the Lost Ark. The script even plays homage to that particular role during the climax. Kiwis will also recognise prolific NZ actor Peter McCauley (LOST WORLD TV series) in the role as Lacey's head goon.

Movies like this fall or stand on their action set-pieces, and there are plenty of good ones (helicopter-speedboat chase, bazooka fired from helicopter, car jumping between high-rise buildings etc) showcased here. Director Ringo Lam would go on to helm a string of Chow Yun-Fat movies as well as a couple of late-90s JVCD flicks (Maximum Risk and The Replicant), and during this early effort he shows a good eye for fast-paced action. Sure, things get goofy Hong Kong-style, including a series of insane stunts involving a toddler falling off a skyscraper, but for the most part Lam keeps it from getting too groanworthy. The only major mis-step is a scene at an ice hockey game, which is played for pure comedy but isn't really funny.

In keeping with the Jackie Chan comparison, the end credits even feature bloopers and behind-the-scenes footage, something that Chan's movies are well-known for.

Mad Mission 4 is a lot of fun. Highly recommended for martial arts fans and those who enjoy their action mixed with wacky comedy.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Manhunt for Claude Dallas (1986)

 The cover of my VHS copy of Manhunt for Claude Dallas

Manhunt for Claude Dallas (1986)
Director: Jerry London
Starring: Matt Salinger, Claude Akins, Beau Starr

Plot: Claude Dallas (Salinger) is a man of the land, living it rough in the mountains of Idaho. When he is caught by a festidious game warden for hunting deer out of season (Akins) Claude shoots him and his fellow warden dead. He goes on the run as a manhunt ensues.

The first comment I have about this 1980s TV movie is that the cover of the VHS (see above) is puzzling. It features Claude Akins prominently, which at first glance would lead you believe that he is Claude Dallas (adding to the confusion is the fact actor and character are both Claude). But instead Akins features for only 10 minutes or so, before being killed and then featuring in brief flashbacks. Odd choice for a cover.

Okay, so with that out of the way, onto the movie. It's directed by Jerry London, a veteran of TV series and TV movies throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s, and apparently based on true events. More specifically it is an adaption of the non-fiction book Outlaw: The Story of Claude Dallas by Jeff Long, with a screenplay by TV veteran John Gay.

London and Gay knew what they were doing, and it shows. This is an above-average TV movie from an era when they really knew how to do TV movies properly. It follows the manhunt, then Dallas' capture and trial, with flashbacks thrown in to show his earlier life as well as some exposition surrounding supporting characters.

What really stands out is that this movie leaves it mildly ambiguous as to whether Claude Dallas was a cold-blooded killer or a kind-hearted man-of-the-land pushed too far by the government. The way that Dallas becomes a folk hero (even gaining his own "Dallas cheerleaders") is a theme that has been covered in countless movies, but remains as revelant today as it did in 1986.

Without having read the original book, I would guess that London and Gay stick pretty closely to the real life story. I say this because there were moments when a fictional story may have thrown in a plot twist, but here it was resisted. That's not to say it is entirely predictable, in fact by staying true to how real people act, it could be said that it's less predictable than your average Hollywood flick.

The acting is great across the board. Salinger (who played the titular hero in the doomed 1990 Captain America film) is an adequate leading man, eliciting sympathy while also showing Dallas' dark side. The supporting cast features several familiar faces.  Brent Spiner (Lt Data on STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION) is Claude's nervy friend who witnesses the murders. Pat Hingle (Jim Gordon in Tim Burton's BATMAN movies) is a friend who helps Claude. Rip Torn (MEN IN BLACK) is the cop that leads the manhunt. And Annette Benning makes her on-screen debut in a brief scene.

Perhaps not action-packed or exploitive enough for some people, fans of 70s and 80s TV movies should find this one an interesting enough watch.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

What I Watched - May 12-18 2014

Note: I've decided to do weekly updates of all of the movies I watch. Any that don't get full reviews (either because they're not schlocky enough or because I don't deem a movie worth a full review) will have a short write-up of my overall feelings about that movie.

WHAT I WATCHED - May 12-18:

 The Way Way Back (2013) AVI
- Charming coming of age story that was originally going to be set in the 80s but the budget dictated it be set in contemporary times. Still has that 80s vibe. Interesting to see Steve Carrell playing an asshole. Sam Rockwell is just awesome in this as a middle-aged waterpark manager who refuses to grow up. Funny, feel-good but never corny. Excellent.

Batman: Gotham Knight (2008) Blu Ray
- Another one my son and I sat down to watch together. Six animated tales, each one by a different Japanese director. As a result the animation varies across the tales, and is the most "anime" of any Batman animation I've ever seen. The stories range from okay to very good, but none are outright bad. Definitely worth checking out for Batman fans.


 The Act of Killing (2012) AVI
- Bizarre documentary that allows former Indonesian death-squad leaders to talk about and re-enact their deeds any way they want, whether it's as a stage play or while dressed up as cowboys in the jungle. The content is hard to stomach at times and while less than 2 hours in length, it just felt so long. I was in the midst of battling a bad head cold when I watched this, so that didn't help. I didn't finish this one.

Death Valley (TV series, 2011) AVI
- I don't usually include what TV I watch, but since I watched an entire series in one sitting, I think it's worth mentioning. While I was sick with a nasty head cold I decided to check out this 2011 TV series that I downloaded a long time ago but never got around to watching. Taking the concept of Reno 911 and adding zombies, vampires and werewolves, I found this extremely funny. It's a shame they cancelled it after just one season.

 Hansel & Gretel (2013) Youtube
- See full review here.

 Demon Rage (1982) AmericanPopClassics
- See full review here.

 Paranormal Entity (2009) AVI
- See full review here.

 Princess of Mars (2009) AVI
- See full review here


MAY-DE TO BE MOCKED - Princess of Mars (2009)

Note: Throughout the month of May I will be watching Mockbusters, those low-budget movies which are made purely to cash in on a recent successful blockbuster. I call this May-de to be Mocked!  

Princess of Mars (2009)
Director: Mark Atkins
Starring: Antonio Sabato jr, Traci Lords, Chacko Vadaketh
Format: AVI

Plot: A special ops sniper (Sabato jr) in Afghanistan is double-crossed and ends up close to death. His superiors use some scifi mumbo-jumbo to send him to a distant planet called Mars-something, where he becomes involved in the ongoing battle between humanoids (who control the machine making the planet liveable) and monster-looking sand people. He falls in love with the Princess of Mars (Lords) and fights to overcome her enemies.

This is a rare movie that cashes in on two blockbusters. It was originally marketed as "The classic story that inspired James Cameron's Avatar", and it then piggybacked on the 2012 release of John Carter, with which it shares an Edgar Rice Burroughs story as source material.

First an admission: I enjoy John Carter. I think it's a fun, pulp scifi movie that is unfairly maligned by many. With that out of the way, how did I enjoy this, another offering by The Asylum? The answer to that is, not very much.

The special effects are basic but passable and there's plenty of action to keep things ticking along (I particularly liked the fights with giant mutant spiders), but what really brings it all down is the acting. I wish I could say the acting is so bad that it makes this movie cheesy good fun, but I can't. It's not good, it's not bad, it's just there. And that's a problem when the whole story is built around a hero doing all sorts of swashbuckling, pulpy stuff. That hero needs to be charismatic, and soap star Antonio Sabato jr has all of the charisma of a desk lamp. Former porn star Traci Lords looks good for her age, but acting isn't her strong point - she just looks bored for most of the movie.

If you're bored and this is showing on TV or you've watched everything else on Netflix, maybe you might want to check this one out. Otherwise, it's definitely one you can skip.

We're only part-way through May, but I'm not sure if I can keep watching mockbusters produced by The Asylum. I need to find others, because watching Paranormal Entity and Princess of Mars on the same night has sapped the life out of me.

MAY-DE TO BE MOCKED - Paranormal Entity (2009)

 Note: Throughout the month of May I will be watching Mockbusters, those low-budget movies which are made purely to cash in on a recent successful blockbuster. I call this May-de to be Mocked! 

Paranormal Entity (2009)
Director: Shane Van Dyke
Starring: Erin Marie Hogan, Fia Perera, Norman Saleet, Shane Van Dyke
Format: AVI

Plot: A family is apparently being visited by the spirit of their dead dad/husband. But things start going bad, so they set up cameras throughout the house to find out exactly what's up.

Normally when I list the cast of a movie, I pick out the three or four main actors. But that list that you see above? That's the whole cast. Four people. Total. And one of them (Saleet) only shows up briefly towards the end and Van Dyke never shows his face.

So yeah, minimalist is the key word here. But when you're aping the Paranormal Activity phenomena, that's to be expected I guess. I couldn't find the budget for this movie (produced by mockbuster specialists The Asylum) but it can't have been any more than about $100,000. Four actors. One of those actors is the director/writer. No special effects. Shot on handicams in a house. Hell, maybe $100,000 is being generous. $50,000?

I should add that I'm an unashamed Found Footage apologist. I like found footage movies. Starting with Blair Witch Project (which blew me away when I first saw it), continuing through all the hundreds of imitators, I enjoy them.

So, the found footage gimmick isn't the reason I didn't enjoy this one very much. Whereas Paranormal Activity and its first sequel (parts 3 and 4 are best not mentioned) do a great job with a good, slow build, this mockbuster doesn't show that same patience. It tries to show things too early, and in doing so fails to build up any real suspense.

The acting is passable (Hogan is the standout as the sister/daughter/main victim). One major difference from Paranormal Activity is this movie doesn't shy away from nudity and swearing. I guess that's something.

The other major problem is that I watched this after already having seen the first 4 Paranormal Activity movies, and by now the whole concept has passed its used by date. I wouldn't say I disliked this movie - it kept me entertained for the most part - but it felt exactly like what it is, a low-budget imitation.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Demon Rage (1982)

Demon Rage (1982)
Director: James Polakof
Starring: Lana Wood, Britt Ekland, John Carradine

Format: Streaming (American Pop Classics)

Plot: Frustrated housewife Lisa (Wood) begins having nightly trysts with a tall, dark stranger who turns out to be a ghost from the other side. Thus begins her descent into dementia, as she begins to distance herself even further from her husband and kids while painting portraits of her enigmatic new lover.

As I mentioned in my last review, my Netflix is on the fritz, but I discovered another streaming service on my WDTV Live called American Pop Classics. In amongst the usual public domain stuff it offers (Carnival of Souls, Bucket of Blood etc), I spotted this one. I'd never heard of it, but it sounded interesting enough and since it has a 2.8 average rating on IMDB, and I'm a sucker for punishment, I decided to check it out.

Comedy director James Polakof (SWIM TEAM) takes a stab at supernatural horror for this early 80s effort, which is also known as Satan's Mistress, with disappointing results.

I'm not a James Bond fan (I quite like the Daniel Craig ones, but don't care for any of the older ones), but I understand that Lana Wood was a Bond girl. Apparently her character in 1971's Diamonds are Forever was called Plenty O'Toole. Eleven years later, her character here might as well be called Juggs B Free, because she sure does spend a lot of time with them uncovered.

A quick check of IMDB reveals that this is something of a Bond reunion, with fellow Bond girl Britt Ekland (THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN) playing the psychic best friend and bad guy Kabir Bedi (OCTOPUSSY) as the "demon". With his black clothes, dark hair and beard and arched eyebrows Bedi reminds me of Terence Stamp's General Zod  in the Reeves Superman flicks, but he does little more than brood and try to look evil.

While this might have some passing interest to diehard Bond fans (or 11-year-old boys keen to check out Ms Wood's ample assets), it really is a tedious affair. Weird stuff happens to Lisa, she writhes on a bed having sexy dreams about her demon lover, her husband gets angry… this pattern repeats over and over until a half-assed conclusion. By that time I'd sure had enough of hearing Wood's lusty moans mixed with the crashing of waves (her home is at the beach).

The demon also tries to possess Lisa's daughter or some crap like that, but yawn, yawn, yawn. For a horror this is not the least bit scary or suspenseful. There's a decent decapitation scene, but even that can't make up for the rest. I found myself counting down the minutes until this one was over. I can see why this public domain snoozer is an obscurity, and frankly it should stay that way.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

MAY-DE TO BE MOCKED - Hansel & Gretel (2013)

Note: Throughout the month of May I will be watching Mockbusters, those low-budget movies which are made purely to cash in on a recent successful blockbuster. I call this May-de to be Mocked! 

Hansel & Gretel (2013)
Director: Anthony C Ferrante
Starring: Dee Wallace, Stephanie Greco, Brent Lydic
Format: Streaming (Youtube)

Plot: A modern retelling of the classic tale has brother and sister Hansel (Lydic) and Gretel (Greco) being captured by an old woman (Wallace) who runs a bakery called The Gingerbread House and has tasty pies made with "special" meat.

After doing a bit of research, it appears the prize for most "mockbustered" movie in a calendar year goes to Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters in 2013. The big budget Jeremy Renner special effects actioner (which incidentally I liked well enough, even if it was a bit silly) spurned not one, not two, but three namesakes! There's Hansel & Gretel: Warriors of Witchcraft, Hansel & Gretel Get Baked (!) and this, the simplest-named of the three, produced on the quick by The Asylum.

I had been planning to watch this one earlier during the May-de to be Mocked marathon, but for the past week my Netflix has stopped working on my WDTV Live. I can still Netflix it on my laptop, but where's the fun in that? Luckily I discovered that some generous soul has uploaded this movie in full onto Youtube, which is how I finally checked it out.

Like most of The Asylum's work, there's no denying this was made in the hope that people would mistakenly pick this one up thinking it was big budget one. And reading some of the "reviews" on IMDB, the tactic seems to have worked, with several people complaining about renting this and being confused when Jeremy Renner didn't show up.

However, I'm pleased to say that this is a mockbuster in name only. It's nothing like Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. Whereas that one is based in medieval times and features a pair of wise-cracking brother and sister witch hunters taking on supercharged witches, this one is set in modern times and has little in the way of supernatural content. About the only similarity is the brother and sister are called Hansel and Gretel, and there's witches.

But, without wanting to give too much away, if you're expecting magical crones riding about on broomsticks here, you'll be disappointed. This is less a tale about supernatural magic and more of a mix of Motel Hell and Wrong Turn baked in a slasher pastry shell.

I think this might just be the first straight-up horror movie I've seen from The Asylum, without any scifi overtones and certainly no "monster". IMDB lists the budget as $135,000, a fifth of the budget of the last Asylum movie I reviewed, Alien vs Hunter. I guess cutting back on the number of washed up actors (here there's only genre veteran Dee Wallace) and not having to employ someone to make shitty CGI graphics really does save on the dough.

Speaking of Wallace (CUJO, THE HOWLING etc), she makes this movie what it is. Wallace channels her ET mom role as motherly Lillith in the early proceedings, before going full-on psycho in a performance she seems to be having a lot of fun with, spouting lines like "Be quiet or I'll cut your balls off and make you watch".

The rest of the acting isn't too bad, and the lighting and sets are better than what you usually see in one of this company's movies. Hell, most of the time while watching I actually forgot this was an Asylum movie. I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention the gore, which is pretty good and thankfully of the practical effect kind.

Is it a good movie? Well, no. But it kept me entertained from start to finish. The plot isn't anything too special, but keeps from being entirely predictable and throws in the odd spot of weirdness (scenes involving hallucinogenic candies and string that cuts like razor wire spring to mind).

Not that this is necessarily a glowing endorsement, but this is the best movie produced by The Asylum that I've seen so far. Check it out if you're looking to fill some time or are a big fan of Dee Wallace.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

What I Watched - May 5-11 2014

Note: I've decided to do weekly updates of all of the movies I watch. Any that don't get full reviews (either because they're not schlocky enough or because I don't deem a movie worth a full review) will have a short write-up of my overall feelings about that movie.

 WHAT I WATCHED - May 5-11:

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me (2012) Netflix
- I love a good music doco, especially one about a band that strived for but didn't achieve mainstream success. That definitely applies to Big Star, a Memphis power pop trio from the early 1970s, whose music gained a cult following and influenced future bands like REM, but didn't sell particularly well at the time. Mixed with the usual tales of self-destructive behaviour, intra-band feuds and the like, this is a good watch if you're into this sort of thing.

Wolf Creek 2 (2013) AVI
- Eight years after the excellent Aussie outback slasher, Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) is back to hunt, torture and kill more tourists. Director Greg McLean doesn't stray from the formula that worked so well in the first movie (including all that brutal violence), but knowing the killer from the outset takes away some of the suspense, so McLean compensates with more comedy. Think of this as the equivalent of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 - more comedic than the original, but still a fun watch.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) DVD
- I enjoyed parts of the first Transformers movie but fell asleep during the second one. So why would I want to sit through the third raping of my childhood by Michael Bay? Because my son is on a Transformers kick right now and chose it for one of our father-son movie nights. Understandably I went in with low expectations, and that could be why I actually ended up enjoying this. Sure, there are quite a few groan-worthy moments (pretty much anything that was intended as comedy), but the action set pieces are good enough and I found myself spending less time trying to figure out who was fighting who than in the previous instalments. 

Robowar (1988) Youtube
- See main review here

Strike Commando (1987) Youtube
- See main review here

How I Live Now (2013) AVI
- An American girl (Saoirse Ronan, THE LOVELY BONES) goes to live with her cousins in England when terrorists attack and take over that country. This reminded me of a zombie movie but with terrorists in the place of flesh eaters, as the young protagonists make their way across the countryside while trying not to get killed. A teen romance is the essence of the story, but the world-at-war scenario (which is never properly explained) keeps things interesting and there are some great acting performances. Definitely worth a watch.

UFO: Target Earth (1974) VHS
- Low-budget yawnfest that starts out like Legend of Boggy Creek but instead of townsfolk being interviewed about a swamp creature, it's yokels talking about "flying saucers y'all". Sadly the documentary style is quickly discarded in favour of a story about a reporter and a psychic woman investigating alien sightings. What follows has an over-dose of techno-babble, bad lighting and ridiculous dialogue and not much happens until a stupid ending with pseudo-2001 graphics. And we don't even see any UFOs! Excruciatingly bad.

The Lion King (1994) Blu Ray
- Another father-son movie night. Not much needs to be said about this Disney classic that hasn't already been said. Arguably Disney's last great animated feature (although I did like Wreck-it-Ralph and I haven't seen Frozen). Good family fun.

Alien vs Hunter (2007) DVD
- See full review here

Movies watched: 9

Monday, May 12, 2014

MAY-DE TO BE MOCKED: Alien vs Hunter (2007)

 Note: Throughout the month of May I will be watching Mockbusters, those low-budget movies which are made purely to cash in on a recent successful blockbuster. I call this May-de to be Mocked!

Alien vs Hunter (2007)
Director: Scott Harper
Starring: William Katt, Dedee Pfeiffer, Randy Mulkey
Format: DVD

Plot: A newspaper reporter is out running when a fireball crashes into the mountainside behind him. He soon discovers that it is an alien spaceship, and with several other residents of his small town, he's soon on the run from spider-like extra terrestrials. Adding to their troubles is the presence of a cyborg-like hunter, who hunts both the aliens and the humans.

Ah, The Asylum. The company whose production line of low budget movies led to the coining of the term "mockbuster", or at the very least made it popular. Snakes on a Plane was a hit? The Asylum offers Snakes on a Train! Transformers becomes Transmorphers, and I Am Legend gives rise to I Am Omega. Rinse and repeat.

Naturally the offerings of The Asylum were going to feature heavily in this month's theme, and first up is Alien vs Hunter, or AVH as it is known for short. I wasn't a fan of Alien vs Predator, so I didn't hold out much hope for this low-budget rip-off, and after watching it, hopeless is probably a good way to describe it.

One of the most fun things about The Asylum's canon is the way they drag washed-up stars out of obscurity and put them back on the screen. Here it's a moustachioed William Katt, who to anyone my age will always be Ralph Hinkley, the Greatest American Hero. And to horror fans he's Roger Cobb from 1986's House. The only other "name" on offer here is Dedee Pfeiffer, Michelle's little sister. That's marquee name value right there. Character actor Randy Mulkey plays a weapon-packed conspiracy theorist (this movie's equivalent of Tremors' Burt Gummer).

IMDB says this movie was made for $500,000 and it shows. The acting is just plain awful (Mulkey is about the only one who doesn't disgrace himself, while I kept hoping that Wittly Jourdan's annoying character would be killed so I wouldn't have to listen to any more of her whining). The special effects are ridiculous (especially the CGI work) and the low budget really shows in the filming locations, which are restricted to small rooms/tunnels and the woods.

With these kinds of movies the saving grace can be the cheese factor. Sadly it's in short supply here, with really only the design of the Hunter's suit standing out. This guy makes Omega-1 from the previously-reviewed Robowar look world class. It's like they put a guy in a suit of armour, then plonked a welding helmet on his head and a salad bowl on top of that. Don't be fooled by the DVD cover above, I'm not sure what movie the "hunter" on the right of the cover is from, but it sure isn't this one. The alien design is actually quite good - a mix of Alien and Predator on the top half and a spider's body on the lower half.

The bottom line is they could have had a lot more fun with this kind of material, but the script by David Michael Latt (SUPERCROC) is entirely predictable, director Scott Harper plays things way too seriously, and there's just not enough cheese. Hell, by half-way through I kept hoping against hope that William Katt would slide into his Greatest American Hero outfit and start flying about comically while trying to battle the alien and/or hunter. That would have made for a great movie. What we actually get? Not so much.

Entirely avoidable, even for fans of silly mockbusters.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

MAY-DE TO BE MOCKED: Strike Commando (1987)

 Note: Throughout the month of May I will be watching Mockbusters, those low-budget movies which are made purely to cash in on a recent successful blockbuster. I call this May-de to be Mocked!

Strike Commando (1987)
Director: Bruno Mattei (as Vincent Dawn)
Starring: Reb Brown, Christopher Connelly, Alex Vitale
Format: Streaming (Youtube)

Plot: Michael Ransom (Reb Brown) and his crack Strike team are double-crossed while attacking a Viet Cong camp during the Vietnam War. He survives and while recovering in a Vietnamese village discovers that Russian soldiers have made their way into North Vietnam. With the help of the villagers he returns to the American forces, but is told to get proof of his claims. Heading back into the jungle he finds the villagers slaughtered by Russian henchman Jakoda, and becomes a one man killing machine in search of revenge, against Jakoda, as well as his double-crossing superior officer.

After watching (and thoroughly enjoying) Robowar, I was excited to find out that Bruno Mattei and Reb Brown had teamed up a year earlier for this, another b-grade mockbuster masterpiece!

Bruno had a lot of fun ripping off Predator in Robowar, and here he does the same for another 80s action classic, Rambo. So naturally we get a lot of kills using an over-sized hunting knife, and plenty of shots stolen straight from Stallone's big budget blockbuster, such as when Reb rises out of a river and blows away the bad guys with his massive machine gun.

The action is once again top notch, with a lot of cool explosions, machine gun fire, electrocutions, flamethrowers, martial arts fighting and the like. There are some WTF moments, like Vietnamese villagers who wear white face paint and chant "A-mer-i-can" over and over like some weird cult, and an attempt at giving Ransom a human side, as he bonds with a young Vietnamese villager. Also adding to the appeal of Strike Commando is the fact that Chris Connelly (RAIDERS OF ATLANTIS) plays the traitorous Col Radek.

Most of the cheese factor comes from Jakoda (Alex Vitale) who is one jacked up skinhead Commie. Is it acceptable to call someone a Commie? Or is that un-PC? It doesn't matter, because this movie doesn't care, as evidenced by a black American soldier telling a story about stealing watermelons in Alabama, or Reb calling a Vietnamese soldier "rice ball". But back to Jakoda, this guy is so damn hammy. He keeps calling Ransom "American-ski", which starts off sounding ridiculous but becomes hilarious through overuse, and by the time Jakoda screams it during not one but two final showdowns with Ransom, I was laughing my ass off.

Okay, what you really want to know is: Does Reb yell a lot? And the answer is: He most certainly does! Ol' yeller is in fine form here. You'll marvel as he yells "Ja-ko-da" over and over while furiously shooting up empty village huts. One of my favourite lines is when Ransom is surprised by a VC soldier jumping out of long grass. Ransom knocks him out while yelling "Jesus! Scared the shit out of me!" Hell, even the lines where he doesn't completely yell, Reb still sounds like he's in need of a laxative, stat.

I think I enjoyed Strike Commando a bit more than Robowar. The plot is definitely more interesting, the support cast is better and Jakoda makes for a better villain that whatever the hell that cyborg thing was in Robowar. They're both awesome movies, search them out!

Friday, May 9, 2014

MAY-DE TO BE MOCKED: Robowar (1988)

Note: Throughout the month of May I will be watching Mockbusters, those low-budget movies which are made purely to cash in on a recent successful blockbuster. I call this May-de to be Mocked!

Robowar (1988)
Director: Bruno Mattei (as Vincent Dawn)
Starring: Reb Brown, Catherine Hickland, Romano Puppo, Jim Gaines
Format: Streaming (YouTube)

Plot: A team of American commandos is sent into the Central American jungle to rescue hostages captured by guerrillas. But it turns out their real mission is to recover a top-secret cyborg fighting machine, Omega-1, who lurks in the jungle and hunts them one by one.

If the synopsis above isn't enough of a clue, let me make it clear that this is a complete rip off of the Arnie blockbuster Predator, just with a government-made cyborg replacing the alien hunter. We're talking about complete scenes ripped off by Italian filmmaker Bruno Mattei, with a mostly Italian cast, shot probably on the budget of a small buffet meal in the land of awesome 80s action, The Philippines!

The early proceedings are fairly run-of-the-mill jungle action, but once Omega-1 turns up, oh boy do things get silly. And awesome!

Omega-1 is a cross between the Predator and Robocop in concept, but he has a costume which looks like a low-budget Power Rangers villain (I realise Power Rangers is low budget enough, but this is even worse). Naturally they attempt to pull off something akin to the "computer-assisted POV" of both the Predator and Robocop, but it comes across extremely cheaply. And the inane robotic chatter of Omega-1 sounds like a cross between Twiki from the 70s show Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and 80s hit Max Headroom. Just bizarre. See if you can watch any of the scenes involving this so-called killing machine without laughing your ass off.

The acting is pretty bad across the board, but the standout is Reb Brown, who plays Murphy Black, the leader of the commandos. He's our pseudo-Arnie, only with acting that's more wooden than anything the Governator himself ever managed (I know, incredible right!), and with a hell of a lot of yelling. If you haven't seen Reb in action before, he just looooves to yell at the top of his lungs. Most of his lines are along the lines of "Come on, we have to move!" or "Get out of here" or just plain old "Arrrghhh!". Reb can portray any emotion, as long as it involves yelling at the top of his lungs.

This was my first time seeing Reb Brown in action. I knew the name from reading about the two Captain America TV movies in which he played Steve Rogers/Cap in the 80s, but after watching RoboWar I definitely need to see more of this guy! If he's like this in all of his movies, I've found another inductee for the Crappy Action Star Hall of Fame.

There's a twist in the ending, but really the plot isn't anything special. If you've seen Predator or any other jungle warfare movie you know what to expect. But don't let that put you off. This bad boy is action packed with gun battles and explosions, and the unintentionally-hilarious robot design and Reb Brown's over-the-top goofy acting make this an easy recommendation.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

We're back!

After an absence of a year and a half, this blog is back in business, and with a name change to boot. What was once "The Barbaric Bs of Schlocky Creek" (my homage to the Z-grade schlocker The Barbaric Beast of Boggy Creek) is now the simpler Schlock to the System.

As before, this blog will be all about reviews of schlocky, B-grade movies that I watch. But one change I'm making is to give each month a theme. I'll continue to watch a range of movies throughout the month, but a certain number of the titles I watch and review will be attached to a theme.

First up is "May-de to be Mocked" - May is all about Mockbusters, those z-grade movies designed entirely to cash in on bigger-budget blockbusters. These days that mantle is upheld by companies like Asylum, and I'll be reviewing a good few of their offerings, along with older mockbusters by the likes of Bruno Mattei.