Saturday, December 31, 2011

There's Something Wrong with Aunt Diane (2011) - Drink Responsibly


Daniel Schuler, Jay Schuler, Dominic Barbara. Directed by Liz Garbus. Run time: 100 minutes. Rated: Not rated.

At First Bite: I caught the end of this documentary on one of the HBO channels. So, I waited three hours and watched the entire film on the West Coast version.

The film revisits the tragic events of the Taconic State Parkway crash in New York on July 26, 2009. Diane Schuler was on her way home from a camping trip, but halfway there she got on the parkway going in the wrong direction. Her 2003 Ford Windstar hit another vehicle head-on. The three men in the other vehicle perished as a result of the crash along with Diane, her two-year-old daughter and three nieces. Five-year-old Bryan Schuler survived.

Tough to Swallow: The stubbornness and reliability of Diane's husband, Daniel.

Something to Chew On: The documentary premiered on HBO on July 25, 2011.

On July 26, 2011, Daniel Schuler announced he would sue the State of New York for not keeping the roads safe. He also planned to sue his brother-in-law Warren Hance, the owner of the 2003 Ford Windstar.

In August 2009, New York Governor David Paterson proposed the Child Passenger Protection Act. The proposal became law in November 2009 making it a felony to drive drunk with a passenger under the age of 16.

The Law & Order episode entitled "Doped" from Season 20 aired November 6, 2009. The episode involves a similar crash with nearly identical deaths. A disorienting nasal spray was found at the crash in the TV version.

Aftertaste: I'm still not sure what to believe. I was on the side of the husband at first because Diane just didn't seem like the kind of person who would be so irresponsible. The surveillance footage and interviews done by the investigator hired by Daniel seemed to help their case. However, the family later admits Diane had certain vices and an incriminating piece of evidence comes to light.

Regardless of the latter information, I still find it a mystery. Personally, I think it was a mix of alcohol and a severe medical condition. But, we might never really know.

The documentary itself is oftentimes chilling and disturbing, especially when hearing the 9-1-1 calls.

Garbus might have touched on something when she delves into Daniel's family history. If Diane was secretly drinking, it's highly likely Daniel was the cause.

Although Diane killed herself and seven others that fateful day, there definitely seems to be something wrong with husband Daniel.


Friday, November 4, 2011

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011) - Happy Holidazed


Ingredients: John Cho, Kal Penn, Neil Patrick Harris, Danny Trejo, Thomas Lennon, Amir Blumenfeld, Paula Garces, Danneel Harris, Patton Oswalt, Eddie Kaye Thomas, David Krumholtz, RZA, Bobby Lee, Richard Riehle and Elias Koteas. Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson. Run time: 90 minutes. Rated: R.

At First Bite: I had a free ticket for a 3D movie eating a hole in my wallet. Plus, having watched three horror movies over the last few days, I wanted to see something funny. Luckily, the midnight show was nowhere near sold out. I wouldn't guess too many Christmas movies get midnight showings, especially 3-4 days after Halloween. It did seem a little weird to me.

Even though it's been just three years since the duo escaped from Guantanamo Bay, six years have elapsed in the movie world. Harold (Cho) is married, drug-free and working on Wall Street. Kumar (Penn) is on the splits with his girlfriend, and always looking for a new high. The two friends haven't spoken in a long time.

Harold's father-in-law, Mr. Perez (Trejo), and the rest of the Perez family are visiting for the holidays. Mr. Perez even brings a Christmas tree he's been growing for the last eight years. A package addressed to Harold shows up at Kumar's, so Kumar decides to deliver it to his ex-best friend.

And, that's when things unravel. Just like old times.

Tough to Swallow: The feces on Todd's driver-side window changes pattern/position in the shots following the initial incident.

When we're first introduced to Adrian, he has his back to the camera for his first lines. His mouth isn't moving in sync with those lines.

The same sync issue crops up when Neil Patrick Harris is talking to Gracie on stage after the rehearsal.

Said rehearsal wasn't recorded, yet Harold and the Perez family watch it on television (in 3D) later in the film.

On Christmas morning, Santa's hat is lying on the floor in Harold's house. Right before the credits roll, Santa flies toward the screen wearing his hat.

Brett Gelman is credited as T.V. Director. You don't abbreviate television (TV) with periods. It's one word.

Something to Chew On: The famous triple-dog dare scene from A CHRISTMAS STORY not only appears in the film, but it's also reworked.

There are at least three 3D references in the movie.

Three sisters play the role of Todd's daughter, Ava.

NPH's partner, David Burtka, appears, not as himself, but as a crazy version of himself (just like NPH has done throughout the series).

Sergei (Koteas) watches MADEA'S FAMILY REUNION.

The movie will feel topical for those seeing it in theaters because of the scene with the Wall Street protesters.

In the credits, a song on the soundtrack is titled "Dougie Houser" (by Envy). Listening to the song on, the group pronounces the name Doogie Howser. I'm going to chalk it up to a copyright issue instead of two misspellings.

Aftertaste: This is only the second 3D movie I've seen in theaters (HP7: Part 2). This film uses 3D to better effect. Eggs and traffic cones actually fly at you, and the pot smoking scenes are much cooler to watch. Nothing really popped out at you during HP7. I don't really understand the point of 3D when the film would look basically the same without it.

However, the characters (and filmmakers) here mock the use of 3D. I like a 
movie that can make fun of itself, and be smart about it. I wouldn't say there are a lot of laughs unless you're actually a stoner. It takes a lot for me to laugh out loud during a movie. This sequel didn't reach that pinnacle, but I remember four things that induced an under-the-breath chuckle: 1) Wafflebot commercial, 2) baby girl on drugs, 3) NPH wiping his mouth and 4) the real-life events happening during the clay animation scene.

To me, the scenes with NPH are the funniest, which is no different than the first two films of the series. I'm a big fan of self-deprecating humor.

I will say I would not have paid full 3D price for a ticket to see this. I refuse to pay to see a movie in 3D. Unfortunately, I've now used my two free 3D movie tickets.

If you like the first two, then you won't be disappointed in A VERY HAROLD & KUMAR 3D CHRISTMAS. I gave the original 2.5 stars, and the first sequel 3 stars. It's no BAD SANTA, but it is definitely an adult-themed Christmas flick that will draw the under-30 crowd.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Red State (2011) - Tricks and Treats Mini-Marathon

On the Menu:
RED STATE (2011)

Ingredients: John Goodman, Melissa Leo, Michael Parks, Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner, Nicholas Braun, Stephen Root, Marc Blucas, Kevin Pollak and Patrick Fischler. Directed by Kevin Smith. Run time: 88 minutes. Rated: R.

At First Bite: I remember hearing about RED STATE in late 2010, but was totally oblivious to all the drama between Smith and critics during Sundance. So, I had totally forgotten about the movie until it was released on DVD (October 18). It was pretty disappointing not to have been able to see the movie in theaters. Oh well.

Travis (Angarano) and his buddies are three horny teenagers looking for a good time. They find a willing lady through a Craigslist-type website. Unfortunately, things don't go the way the boys had planned. They've stumbled into something bad. Turns out the loonies at the local Five Points Trinity Church (think Westboro Baptist) have been trying to cleanse the town of sinners.

Oh boy.

Tough to Swallow: Maybe it's just me, but if I set up a tryst and arrived to see Melissa Leo step out of a beat-up trailer, I would get back in the car and drive home without thinking twice.

Based on their individual actions, I find it difficult to really label the three boys as friends. They're cowards with no gun skills.

The credit for Special Effects Foreman is misspelled as Special Effects Forman.

Something to Chew On: The budget was an estimated $4 million ($5,000 for special effects). The film made just over $1 million at the box office.

Smith self-distributed the film (SModcast Pictures).

The movie was shot over 25 days with the Red Camera.

A small group from Westboro Baptist Church protested the film at its Sundance premiere. Those protesters were outnumbered by counter-protesters made up of Smith and fans.

Smith invited WBC members to a screening in Kansas City. About 15 members, including leader Fred Phelps's granddaughter Megan Phelps-Roper, showed up to watch the movie. They even brought children. However, they walked out in disgust after 20 minutes.

The soundtrack consists only of songs sung within the film. Six of the eight songs are performed by Parks.

Smith has the final line of the movie. He's a prison inmate (off camera).

The credits are divided into three sections: Sex, Religion and Politics. These ideas basically represent the film's three acts.

Smith mentions in the credits that "[a]lmost this entire cast will return in HIT SOMEBODY. Coming over the boards in 2012."

Production assistant Tim Isenman appears uncredited as Jacob Harlow (news photo).

Apparently, the original ending played out as though the Rapture occurred.

Smith has stated there are 10 hidden jokes/surprises throughout RED STATE.

Aftertaste: I was totally psyched for a Kevin Smith horror flick. Finally, something new. When the original buzz was stirring, I decided against reading about the goings-on, casting, plot, etc. Which is why I didn't know about the Sundance controversy and critic-bashing stories. Honestly, what do I care if Smith is a prick to people in the business? He's not my friend or role model. The guy makes fun movies. The end.

In the beginning, you definitely feel the movie might turn in a HOSTEL direction. You know this isn't going to be a sex romp. The film is categorized as a horror by, which is interesting since it doesn't play as a typical horror movie. There are monsters, but the monsters are realistic. It's scary because, in this day and age, the plot of this film could come to fruition.

I spent a good portion of this movie being pissed. First, it was in reaction to the beliefs and actions of the church members. Then, it was in reaction to Smith for trying to make me sympathize with them. And, finally, it was in reaction to the lack of closure for some of the characters.

Parks and Leo are wonderful at being unlikable. The whole time I was 'praying' they would bite it hard.

Goodman steals the movie though, in my opinion. His character seems to struggle the most with right and wrong.

The chase scenes without the church/compound are intense. And, the switch from psycho-religious horror to straight-up action shootout is cool. Then, Smith goes from action to politics. But, it's during this change when we're given a comical (and ludicrous) explanation for the events that transpired. Personally, I'd rather have seen the original ending.

The movie might seem disjointed, but you can feel Smith wanted to get this stuff off his chest. In that sense, RED STATE reminds me of DOGMA. It feels personal.

It's a polarizing movie, for sure.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Ward (2010) - Tricks and Treats Mini-Marathon

On the Menu:
THE WARD (2010)
Amber Heard, Jared Harris, Mamie Gummer, Laura-Leigh, Lyndsy Fonseca, Danielle Panabaker, Sali Sayler and Susanna Burney. Directed by John Carpenter. Run time: 88 minutes. Rated: R.

At First Bite:
I purchased this on a whim. I was like, "Wow, Amber Heard. Directed by John Carpenter, huh? Okay." I couldn't remember the last time Carpenter actually directed a movie. A quick IMDb search revealed the answer: 2001. Unfortunately, that film was the ghastly GHOSTS OF MARS (1 star). But, the guy is also responsible for HALLOWEEN, THE THING and BIG TROUBLE LITTLE CHINA, so I took my chances with this one.

Kristen (Heard) is taken to a mental institution where the other residents are being terrorized by a ghost.

Tough to Swallow:
Ominous, empty hallway shots are gratuitous for a film that's only 88 minutes in length.

A multi-girl shower scene with only side-boob? Come on. You were working with an R-rating here.

The DVD doesn't have subtitles. Not that it's in a foreign language, but sometimes I like to catch all the dialogue (especially when watching late at night while trying not to wake the wife).

The DVD commentary from Carpenter and Harris doesn't really focus on the movie itself. They talk more about directing and acting in general.

Pretty sure the credit for Taper/Plaster should be Taper/Plasterer.

Something to Chew On:
 Carpenter is known for composing the music for his own films, but Mark Kilian filled in as composer for this movie. Carpenter also didn't have a writing credit like he normally does.

Carpenter says this is the first film he didn't shoot in Panavision.

The movie was actually shot in an abandoned mental institution.

Gummer is Meryl Streep's daughter. Jared Harris is the son of the late, great Richard Harris.

It's starts out as an interesting horror/mystery. People start disappearing and Kristen is searching for answers. Carpenter throws in numerous jump scares. Admittedly, I jumped once. I could sense it coming, but the scene was taking so long that I gave up on it. That's when he got me.

Heard reminds me of a blonde Jessica Biel. However, she might actually be a better actress. Problem is they both pick underwhelming movies. The first time I saw Heard was recently in the craptastic DRIVE ANGRY. Maybe THE RUM DIARY will turn things around for her.

The final reveal didn't surprise me at all. I'll admit I was expecting something more sinister. It's really difficult to talk about film comparisons without giving away the ending of THE WARD. You'll feel like you've seen this one before if you're a fan of Mangold, Shyamalan and/or Scorsese.

It's an okay psychological thriller with cheap scares.


Insidious (2010) - Tricks and Treats Mini-Marathon

On the Menu: INSIDIOUS (2010)

Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey, Ty Simpkins, Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson. Directed by James Wan. Run time: 103 minutes. Rated: PG-13. 

At First Bite: I've had this DVD for a while now, and felt, with Halloween creeping up this weekend, I should finally sit down and enjoy it. I will say I was slightly disappointed when the PG-13 rating popped up before the movie began.

It's a haunted house story, except, as the trailer points out, "It's not the house that's haunted. It's [the] son."

Tough to Swallow: What kid would be sitting on the stairs in a new house and NOT be freaked the f*ck out by a door creaking open by itself? I would have nearly broken my neck running down the stairs two steps at a time.

As he runs from downstairs to the attic, Josh's shirt goes from disheveled to tucked and buttoned (with a tie) in a matter of seconds.

Somehow the porch light blows out, but is back on moments later after Josh closes the front door.

The light switch in Dalton's room changes styles between scenes (switch to dimmer).

Tear streaks on Renai's face change within the scene where Elise gives her explanation of what's happening.

The demon's eyes don't exactly appear as they've been described.

The visualization of the spirit realm is a disappointment. 

Something to Chew On: A chalk drawing of Billy, the puppet from SAW, appears on the blackboard in Josh's class. Names that also appear above the drawing include James Wan, Leslie Borchard (hair stylist) and Yesim Osman (hair stylist).

Whannell, who plays Specs, is also the film's writer.

Joseph Bishara composed the music and was Lipstick-Face Demon.

The old woman was actually played by a man (Philip Friedman).

There's a brief creepy character moment after the credits.

The budget was an estimated $1.5 million. The film grossed over $13 million its opening weekend (nearly $54 million total).

The film was released on April Fools' Day 2011.

Aftertaste: Naturally, the movie is going to draw comparisons to POLTERGEIST. There's no getting around it. Sure, the misplaced books scene isn't as spooky as the chair pyramid in the Tobe Hooper classic, but the tracking shots following Renai through the house set up a lot of creepy moments.

Monsters are scary and all, but giggling specter-children and random ghostly faces popping up out of nowhere are much more unnerving to me. The use of Tiny Tim's "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" in the film is just as unsettling (another track in the closing credits is even more so). That use of music and the slight hokiness of the demon reminded me a lot of JEEPERS CREEPERS, which I thoroughly enjoyed until actually seeing the monster up close.

The visualization of the spirit realm, called The Further, was the major letdown. Meaning, the final third of the flick is pretty lackluster and corny.

I'm a huge fan of the SAW series, but I will say I am surprised that Wan made a decent horror film without any gore. So, there was no reason for me to be worried about that PG-13 label after all. The cinematography, acting and writing are so impressive that you don't miss the blood and guts, which proves you only need well-crafted suspense to make a scary movie, e.g., Robert Wise's THE HAUNTING or THE STRANGERS.

That being said, I prefer this film to PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2.5 stars).

P.S. I loved that one of the gadgets used by the paranormal geek squad is a tricked-out View-Master.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Bellflower (2011) - ActionFest Buffet 2.0: Plate #7

On the Menu:

Ingredients: Evan Glodell, Tyler Dawson, Jessie Wiseman, Rebekah Brandes and Vincent Grashaw. Directed by Evan Glodell. Run time: 105 minutes. Rated: R.

At First Bite: My original plan was to see the world premiere of A LONELY PLACE TO DIE at 9:45pm, but I didn't actually check my agenda before getting all of my tickets for the afternoon. So, I ended up seeing the 10pm regional premiere of BELLFLOWER instead of seeing it the following day.

All I needed to read was this movie was about two guys obsessed with Lord Humungus from THE ROAD WARRIOR, and they were building flamethrowers.

Woodrow (Glodell) and Aiden (Dawson) are best friends and pyros. They're slightly off-kilter, to put it mildly. Then, Woodrow meets a girl and it totally turns his world upside down.

Tough to Swallow: Some early scenes are blurry around the edges and have smudges of dirt on the lens.

When Woodrow takes Milly on the road trip he trades his car for a motorcycle. A short time later he's driving the car again. But, he makes it home on the bike.

Something to Chew On: None of the Medusa car in the film was faked; all parts, e.g., flamethrowers and security cameras, were/are functional.

Glodell and Wiseman actually ate live crickets in the scene where their characters meet (a cricket-eating contest).

Glodell also wrote the screenplay and built the flamethrowers and cars. He also, along with cinematographer Joel Hodge, created custom cameras.

The Medusa's 455 Chevy engine had to be replaced several times during filming. Production delays totaled about 8 months due to engine blowouts. had a nice piece on the car specifics.

Aftertaste: The movie starts out like it might be something strange, but then develops a love story. However, not long after that, it becomes something darker and more disturbing -- mostly because of Woodrow's accident. Obsessive love leads to brain damage.

It was really hard to like any of the characters in this movie (although Milly reminded me a little of Elisha Cuthbert), but it was Woodrow's movie and he was the most interesting.

Glodell definitely takes his character to a different level in the second half. The socially awkward Woodrow obviously has trouble expressing his emotions. Eventually, he takes his obsession with his favorite post-apocalyptic action film and merges it with his love life. In a sense, his breakup has become his apocalypse. The insanity level definitely gets bumped up a few notches.

I love the look of the film. The cinematography is great. There are some cool tilt-shift shots, plus a couple jump cuts to mess with your head a little more.

BELLFLOWER is a serious mind-f*ck of a movie. Not a lot of action (some sex and violence), but totally warped. Self-destruction at its finest. Lord Humungus would approve, I'm sure.


Monday, June 6, 2011

Bail Enforcers (2011) - ActionFest Buffet 2.0: Plate #6

On the Menu:

Trish Stratus, Boomer Phillips, Frank Zupancic, Christian Bako, Enrico DiFede and Andrea James Lui. Directed by Patrick McBrearty. Run time: 85 minutes. Rated: Not rated.

At First Bite: For the 7-7:30 time slot on Day 2, I had already seen MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED! and LITTLE BIG SOLDIER, and could always catch THE WRAITH on Hulu if I really wanted to see it. Plus, I found out on Twitter that the film's star Trish Stratus would be making an appearance (I would have known sooner had I read the film's synopsis in the program). I did procure two autographs and a photo with her after the movie.

Jules (Stratus) is a bounty hunter. Her team nabs an informant who has a huge price on his head. The problem with cashing in is that the mob has a vested interest in this guy. What we get is a showdown between the bounty hunters and the mob boss's assassins.

Tough to Swallow: There's a continuity problem in the fight at the brothel/massage parlor. Chase (Phillips) tackles a guy, but seconds later we see him standing up in the background.

There's an odd scene where Chase and Ridley (Zupancic) drive to a hospital and come to a stop behind an ambulance. Jules is put into the back, and the ambulance drives off. Ridley gets out of his vehicle and tries to chase the ambulance down on foot. Huh?

Some shots are blurry and the lighting is off at times.

Personally, I think there are way too many scenes with the characters talking on phones.

Something to Chew On: The movie made its world premiere at ActionFest 2011 on Saturday, April 9 at 7pm.

This is the feature film debut of Trish Stratus. She also co-produced.

It was independently produced and filmed in Toronto.

BAIL ENFORCERS is McBrearty's second feature film directing gig. His first film was PSYCHO WARD (2007).

There are outtakes during the closing credits.

The movie's status is listed as "Unknown" on, and you still can't rate it yet.

Aftertaste: The acting is hit-and-miss. Zupancic is pretty stiff. He reminded me of Jon Hamm without the acting chops. Phillips steals the movie as the comic relief. Unfortunately, Phillips was the lone star of BAIL ENFORCERS not to appear at the festival. Stratus is the main attraction, and the camera loves her. We get to see her in a schoolgirl outfit, and there's plenty of butt cleavage in the gym scene.

The story is so-so. Again, it's the action that makes the movie worth watching. Fight coordinator Riff Havok pulls off some nice-looking fights in close quarters, e.g., a restaurant bathroom and the back of an ambulance. The ambulance scene might be the most impressive.

The whole time I kept thinking of BARB WIRE: hot bounty hunter who also works at a strip club. Pam Anderson got naked though, which was really the only redeeming part of her movie. She ended up with a Razzy.

I hope Stratus will use this as a springboard into bigger roles, and I'd be interested in her next venture.


Bangkok Knockout (2010) - ActionFest Buffet 2.0: Plate #5

On the Menu:

Chatchapol Kulsiriwoottichai, Sarawoot Kumsorn, Sorapong Chatree, Gitabak Agohjit, Supakson Chaimongkol, Virat Kemgrad, Krittiya Lardphanna and Speedy Arnold. Directed by Panna Rittikrai. Run time: 107 minutes. Rated: Unrated.

At First Bite: For the first films of Day 3 of ActionFest 2011, I decided to choose this over the 1978 Burt Reynolds flick HOOPER. The other choice was LARGO WINCH, which I had seen the night before. The program mentioned it was the international premiere of the Thai film from director Rittikrai, who was the mentor of Tony Jaa (ONG BAK). I just knew there was going to be a lot of action in it.

A team of stuntmen win a challenge in order to go to Hollywood to star in a film. Well, that's what they were told anyway. During a night of celebration, they're drugged and taken to an area full of abandoned warehouses. Also, one of their girl companions has been kidnapped.

It's all part of the show though. They've become contestants in a game similar to THE RUNNING MAN set up by what appears to be an American. Basically, they end up fighting for their lives while rich people sit in the back of a truck taking bets.

Tough to Swallow: The acting all-around is pretty bad, especially from the group of bettors.

Something to Chew On: Rittikrai portrays the leader of the opposing fighters.

Aftertaste: The movie is chock full of awkward moments, flashbacks, crazy characters and broken English. As I mentioned before, the acting is pretty much horrible. Most of the audience I was with got a few good laughs in at the expense of the villains, e.g., the flamboyant fighting transvestite.

However, the reason to watch this movie is for the stunts. Period.

The wow factor increases with each stunt in the film. One scene includes a death-mobile and a masked man who just won't die (a la Jason Voorhees). You will definitely catch yourself watching this movie on the edge of your seat with your mouth hanging open. It's amazing these people didn't kill themselves trying to do some of this stuff.

I wouldn't necessarily seek it out unless you really love action films.


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch (2008) - ActionFest Buffet 2.0: Plate #4

On the Menu:

Ingredients: Tomer Sisley, Kristin Scott Thomas, Miki Manojlovic, Mélanie Thierry, Gilbert Melki, Karel Roden, Steven Waddington, Benedict Wong, Anne Cosigny and Nicolas Vaude. Directed by Jérôme Salle. Run time: 108 minutes. Rated: Unrated.

At First Bite: I had an empty time slot after SUPER and chose LARGO WINCH because I thought I would catch Takeshi Kitano's OUTRAGE the next day (I ended up going to a panel instead). The program mentioned it was "based upon a series of famous graphic novels," which piqued my interest a little more.

Nerio is the head of a major corporation, but he gets snuffed out mysteriously. So, the control of the company falls to Largo. Well, Largo has been distancing himself from his father's business for years. He's basically been traveling the world. His father's right-hand man tracks him down and brings him before the company's board. Since no one has ever seen him before, they're all very skeptical.

He doesn't want his father's business, but, as he sets out to prove his lineage, he discovers there might be something more to his father's death than just murder.

Tough to Swallow: A news program misspells Ann Ferguson's name as Fergusson.

There are some beard length continuity issues with Largo.

The ActionFest program misspelled Nerio (Largo's father) as Niero. Twice.

Something to Chew On: Largo Winch is a Belgian comic book series by Philippe Francq and Jean Van Hamme, published by Dupuis. It was originally written as a series of novels by Van Hamme, but the series wasn't very successful.

The settings of New York and Turkey from the comic series were changed to Hong Kong and Brazil, respectively.

The rights to the comic were bought in the late 1980s by Serge Silberman, who wanted to create a franchise to compete with the James Bond films. Silberman didn't get to see his dream realized; he died in 2003.

For the film, Sisley learned Serbian and performed some of his own stunts.

The action scenes set in Hong Kong were shot guerrilla style.

Aftertaste: Going in, I really had no expectations for this movie other than it would probably be a lot like a James Bond movie. And, it was.

Corporate espionage and murder mystery mixed with decent action. I enjoyed the chases through the streets and the rooftop fighting, especially. Sisler's Largo is definitely a hybrid of James Bond and Jason Bourne; a mix of charisma, intelligence and athleticism. There are loads of flashbacks, which might confuse at times, but definitely help flesh out the story.

This showing at ActionFest was the film's North American premiere. The next film in the series, THE BURMA CONSPIRACY, was released in Belgium and France two months prior to the festival (February 16, 2011). Maybe it will make it to ActionFest 2012. I'll go see it.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Super (2010) - ActionFest Buffet 2.0: Plate #3

On the Menu:
SUPER (2010)

Ingredients: Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Kevin Bacon, Liv Tyler, Michael Rooker, Linda Cardellini, Nathan Fillion, Steve Agee, William Katt and Rob Zombie. Directed by James Gunn. Run time: 96 minutes. Rated: Not rated.

At First Bite: I'm fairly certain the first time I heard about this movie was while watching the DVD commentary of DEFENDOR. With all the buzz about KICK-ASS, DEFENDOR ended up with a limited theater release and basically went straight to DVD. SUPER was also set to come out around the same time, but they played it safe by waiting nearly a year later. All I knew at the time of the commentary was, aside from Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page was in it. She's the reason I made sure SUPER was the first film I made time for at ActionFest.

Tough to Swallow: The opening credits animation went on too long, in my opinion.

Roger Ebert put out his review of SUPER via Twitter the night before I went to see it. Needless to say, he ruined a major moment in the film involving a major character. Really, how hard is it to write "Spoiler Alert!"?

Something to Chew On: Fillion and Rooker also appeared in Gunn's feature film directorial debut, SLITHER.

TROMA'S WAR is seen playing on TV in the film. Gunn got his start working with Troma.

There's a nice Bacon and eggs scene, which is chuckle-inducing.

Aftertaste: It's funny at times, but most of the time it's a depressing kind of funny. You really question whether you should laugh or not. SUPER is, in my opinion, much darker than KICK-ASS. It plays more realistic. The Crimson Bolt is a hero without powers, but he doesn't really have the intellect or resources to counteract that deficiency. He runs on pure recklessness and insanity... and love, I guess.

Wilson does a great job of creating sympathy for Frank, who loses his wife to drugs. But, he also brings the crazy. Page is a comic nerd's dream here; she knows her heroes and is super-excited to become the Crimson Bolt's sidekick, Boltie. Her excitement hedges on instability. She might be crazier than Frank.

Yes, her donning of a superhero costume is quite hot.

This movie is not for everyone. If you liked KICK-ASS, then expect to be floored by what you see here, especially toward the end. Seriously.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Little Big Soldier (2010) - ActionFest Buffet 2.0: Plate #2

On the Menu:

Jackie Chan, Leehom Wang, Sung-jun Yoo, Rongguang Yu, Peng Lin, Xaio Dong Mei and Song Jin. Directed by Sheng Ding. Run time: 96 minutes. Rated: PG. 

At First Bite: Jackie Chan is almost always entertaining. I say almost always because some of his Hollywood movies have been slightly disappointing. But, LITTLE BIG SOLDIER was filmed in China/Hong Kong, and his Asian fare is typically better. Needless to say, it became the second film on my ActionFest agenda for Day 2.

The movie opens with animation and narration describing the Seven Warring States and their battles during the time before the unification of China. We're dropped into the middle of a resulting bloodbath between two of those states, Liang and Wei. Big Soldier (Chan) has feigned death and discovers the enemy general, Little Soldier (Wang), is also alive, but seriously injured. He plans to collect the general and trade him for a reward of farmland.

The problem is someone else is looking for the general, and wants him dead. 

Tough to Swallow: There are a few instances where the subtitles are misspelled, e.g., the word "small" appears as "samll." 

Something to Chew On: Chan is also the film's producer and writer. He wrote the screenplay 20 years ago, and had intended to play the Little Soldier role. However, the project was stuck in development for those 20 years, so he ended up playing Big Soldier.

The budget was an estimated $25 million.

It premiered February 11, 2010 in Malaysia. Its U.S. debut was June 6th at the Seattle International Film Festival.

The release date for the DVD was November 18, 2010. notes this is Chan's 99th film. His filmography lists 103 films prior to LITTLE BIG SOLDIER, but  he is uncredited in 18 of those. Either way, the numbers don't quite add up.

There is a blooper reel during the closing credits. 

Aftertaste: What makes this fun to watch is Big Soldier's reluctance to fight. That doesn't mean there aren't impressively choreographed fight scenes, but those scenes mostly involve Chan trying to defend himself or escape harm. Coupled with his comical expressions, these fights oftentimes make us laugh or at least smile.

Big Soldier has a fake arrow rigged on his chest and back. He pulls a string and both ends of the arrow pop up making it seem he's been shot with deadly force. The employment of this gadget was my favorite part of the movie; it garnered three good laughs. Of course, there's plenty of slapstick as well.

The movie isn't all comedy and action though. It plays pretty dramatic, especially the end. Basically, the idea is nothing good comes from war, but one shouldn't lose hope. So, yeah, I guess you'd say it's pretty deep for a Jackie Chan flick. Pay attention to the final scene with the Singer (Lin).

Chan and Wang have great chemistry together. They play off each other well. LITTLE BIG SOLDIER is definitely focused more on the characters than it is the action, which is a good thing.

Oh, I did enjoy the opening animation sequence. And, Xiao Dong Mei is pretty cute. 


Friday, April 15, 2011

Machete Maidens Unleashed! (2010) - ActionFest Buffet 2.0: Plate #1

On the Menu:

Ingredients: Roger Corman, John Landis, Joe Dante, Sid Haig, Patrick Wayne, Judy Brown, Allan Arkush, R. Lee Ermey, Jack Hill, Dick Miller, Eddie Romero and Colleen Camp. Directed by Mark Hartley. Run time: 85 minutes. Rated: R for ridiculous (from the poster art and trailer).

At First Bite: I really enjoyed Hartley's NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD (4 stars), so once I saw this one on the film list for ActionFest, I made sure to put it on my agenda. It was Film #1 on Day 2, the first full day, of ActionFest.

Here, Hartley takes a look at American filmmakers, namely Roger Corman, who shot their flicks in the Philippines because it was cheaper. Ultimately, these would become drive-in movies.

Tough to Swallow: What happened to Colleen Camp? I think I asked the same question while watching FOUR CHRISTMASES. I'm sure you remember her. She was Yvette in CLUE and the Playmate in APOCALYPSE NOW. Well, she's definitely let herself go.

Something to Chew On: Premiered July 24, 2010 at the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Many directors got their start working for Corman, e.g., Coppola, Dante, Hill, Jonathan Demme, Ron Howard, James Cameron, Peter Bogdanovich and Paul Bartel.

Filipino actor Ernesto de la Cruz, known as Weng Weng, was 2 feet, 9 inches tall. He is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the shortest adult actor in a leading role.

Aftertaste: Right off the bat you're told the criteria for these movies were the 3 B's: blood, breasts and beasts. And, boy howdy, there are plenty of each to go around in this 85-minute doc.

Landis and Haig are, by far, the most entertaining of the interviewees. It was interesting to hear from the women, who starred in the less-than-stellar skin flicks, talk about their motivations and horrible working conditions. They actually refer to them as feminist films. If you think about it, they were probably the only films at the time with female leads.

The editing is pretty quick. But, not necessarily in a bad way. Most of the time, someone like Landis will give a one-liner and, boom, we cut to footage making what he said even funnier. Sometimes shots aren't on screen long enough to digest fully. However, we do get to see clips from many, many different films, which is a plus. The genres go from "crazy beasts" to "women in cages" to "blaxploitation" to "political revolution." We also get a glimpse of films made by Filipino directors, and sometimes the quality suffers drastically.

Of the films mentioned in MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED, I have only seen THE BIG DOLL HOUSE (2.5 stars), WOMEN IN CAGES (2 stars) and APOCALYPSE NOW (4 stars). The filming of the latter seemed to find disaster at every turn. Seriously, the tone of the doc takes a 180 from funny to almost depressing was it mentions Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 war drama. Coppola had asked for Corman's advice on shooting in the Philippines. Corman told him, "Don't go."

Three films that stood out as movies I'd want to see were MIRACLE (starring Paul Bartel), SAVAGE SISTERS and FOR Y'UR HEIGHT ONLY (starring Weng Weng). However, I can't find anything on MIRACLE, which is a shame because it was comedy about making movies in the Philippines. It was poking fun at what they had been doing for years.

All in all, this is a very entertaining documentary. In my opinion, NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD is more informative, but MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED! is more fun.

Here's a look at the trailer (warning: it contains the 3 B's):

John Ashley's line at the 1:12 mark probably got the biggest laugh in the movie. That and the quote, "You'd go to your cameraman and say, 'How long to make it excellent? How long to make it good? How long to get the image?' Then you'd get the image."


Scream 4 (2011) - Late-night Popcorn Premiere

On the Menu:
SCREAM 4 (2011)

Ingredients: Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin, Anthony Anderson, Adam Brody, Kristen Bell, Anna Paquin, Eric Knudsen, Nico Tortorella, Mary McDonnell, Nancy O'Dell and Heather Graham. Directed by Wes Craven. Run time: 111 minutes. Rated: R. 

At First Bite: Despite being slightly annoyed that my Ultimate Scream Collection DVD trilogy set was made redundant, I was still super-psyched to see the fourth installment. 

Sidney (Campbell), now a writer, is back in Woodsboro on a book tour. Her arrival coincides with the 10-year anniversary of the brutal murders from the original SCREAM. You know what that means. Let the killings begin. 

Sid's younger cousin, Jill (Roberts), and her friends are the new targets. Dewey (Arquette) is now the sheriff, and is trying to keep everyone safe, while Gail (Cox) is just looking for a story to write.

But, it's not your average horror reboot (sequel, whatever).

New decade. New rules. 

Tough to Swallow: The credit for Extras casting is listed as "Extra's casting." Apparently, it took two people to hire ONE extra.

Slightly less noticeable was the extra space in the 1st Assistant Director credit under the Additional Photography section (between 1st and Assistant).

Some of the shots looked blurry, and I did hear another theatergoer mention this upon leaving the movie, so my eyes are still good.

The douchebag randomly shining a red laser pointer at the screen for the first 10 minutes of the movie, and the guys in the row behind me intermittently making jokes and talking to the screen.

One reviewer somehow confuses Lucy Hale and Emma Roberts; writing the review as if Hale's Sherrie was Sidney's cousin. Another reviewer refers to Jill as Sidney's niece. Both reviewers pretty much railed on the movie, but obviously weren't paying too much attention to it.

Something to Chew On: Anthony Anderson's character is Deputy Anthony Perkins. Anthony Perkins is, of course, the star of PSYCHO and its three sequels.

Anderson previously appeared in the last two SCARY MOVIE sequels (numbers 3 and 4).

Brittany Robertson plays Marnie Cooper. MARNIE is another classic Hitchcock thriller.

I will assume, since this movie is set in Woodsboro, the character of Dr. Orth is the father of Steve Orth, who was Casey Becker's boyfriend and the 1st victim in the original film.

Aftertaste: This succeeds where the original did. It's self-referential and pokes fun at itself, but is still scary and gory. It's a sequel/reboot (more reboot) that trashes the idea of sequels and reboots. It's also a social commentary on today's youth being controlled by texting, Twitter, iPhones, etc., and becoming famous/successful for no apparent reason. It even takes aim at the post-SCREAM 3 horror trends of torture porn and scary Japanese kids. All of those little jabs made me laugh on the inside (and sometimes out loud).

The opening scene is very clever. It screams black comedy, and, I think, that hint is what you need to remember to really enjoy this movie. Otherwise, you're just going to say, "It's just the same movie. Why didn't they leave well enough alone?"

Honestly, I've said that about almost every other horror remake, although I found things I liked about Rob Zombie's HALLOWEEN and the reboot of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Ultimately, I'd rather see the original films get another theater run instead of a newer version, even if the movie looks dated like ROSEMARY'S BABY or THE BROOD.

I digress.

There's a plethora of movie references in SCREAM 4, whether they be spoken or visual. There are also nods to other films using character names (as mentioned in Something to Chew On). I love that kind of stuff. I'm so much of a nerd that I pointed out the appearance of a Mountain Dew bottle to my fiancée, Megan. Product placement is interesting to me,too. Hey, I said I'm a nerd, right?

I have to say this is the bloodiest of the franchise. The stabbings are pretty hardcore and extra bloody. Megan doesn't like horror movies, but braved this one (at midnight, no less). Her lone critique: too bloody.

The original trio of actors, as well as Roger Jackson, hold their own, but Roberts steals the movie. I mean, she is basically the new Sid. Rory Culkin should be propelled into bigger things now; he was great in MEAN CREEK and THE CHUMSCRUBBER, but the box office success of this mainstream flick should get his name out there. Look out, Kieran. And, I enjoy seeing Panettiere do anything really (even with the cropped hairdo).

I will say I successfully predicted half of the outcome about halfway through, but wasn't disappointed in being correct.

SCREAM 4, or SCRE4M as it is affectionately known, is better than its two predecessors (both of which I rated 3.5 stars). It's funny, SCREAM 2 wasn't SC2EAM, but SCREAM 3 did show up occasionally as SCR3AM. Despite there now being 7 "STAB" movies, I doubt there will be a fifth SCREAM installment. If it happens though, following the leetspeak example, I can't see them advertising it as 5CREAM.

But, who knows.

There's a strong possibility I'll see it again before it hits the cheap theaters.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Ironclad (2011) - ActionFest Buffet 2.0: Appetizer

On the Menu:
Ingredients: James Purefoy, Paul Giamatti, Kate Mara, Brian Cox, Jason Flemyng, Mackenzie Cook, Jamie Foreman, Aneurin Barnard, Rhys Parry Jones and Derek Jacobi. Directed by Jonathan English. Run time: 121 minutes. Rated: R. 

At First Bite: I missed out on the opening film at last year's ActionFest, which was CENTURION. However, this time around I took some vacation days in order to make sure I got as many movies as possible. The plot summary in the program for IRONCLAD piqued my interest. Basically, King John (Giamatti) is forced to sign the Magna Carta, but then goes back on his word to regain his tyrannical control of England. A Templar Knight named Thomas Marshall (Purefoy) teams up with six other men to defend the castle at Rochester, which was a major strategic position.

Tough to Swallow: The historical aspect isn't quite correct as King John and his men actually overtook Rochester by starvation. William d'Aubigny (Albany in the film) was imprisoned; he lived another 21 years after the siege of Rochester Castle. Not quite sure the French showed up either. All in all, a much bleaker reality.

The sword Marshall uses didn't exist in the 13th century; swords of the period were usually 3-feet in length and made for use with one hand. 

Something to Chew On: The movie was shot in Wales.

Richard Attenborough was cast, but had to drop out due to health issues.

Angus Macfadyen was cast as Coteral, but dropped out when the movie was refinanced.

Megan Fox was rumored to have a role.

Giamatti filmed his scenes in 7 days.

Stunt coordinator Richard Ryan said the stuntmen created a drinking game for the film -- each guy would take a shot when he saw himself get killed on screen. Ryan stated one stuntman died 15 times, and twice in the same fight.

Aftertaste: Well, the quick editing and close shots make the first few fights hard to follow. Once the story moves to Rochester, the fights are violently brutal. There's some serious head-bashing, limb-chopping and torso-splitting happening here. And, it's pretty freakin' sweet. Luckily, most of the two hours is spent in Rochester.

I have to admit it was slightly humorous to see Paul Giamatti in the role of King John. A majority of the theater audience laughed out loud when he first appeared on screen. But, no matter how odd the casting may seem, I couldn't help think it was a genius decision by the end credits. He's perfect at displaying skeeviness, dejection and patheity, but he also can bring the in-your-face insanity.

I've never seen "Rome," so I'm not all that familiar with James Purefoy's work. I only know him as King Edward in A KNIGHT'S TALE. He's Gerard Butler-lite, I guess you could say. He definitely kicks some butt and takes some names.

Not too sure about the love story, but Kate Mara is excellent eye candy. The one-liners fell to Brian Cox, who didn't disappoint. It was great to see Charles Dance again, and had I gone back to the theater at midnight I could have seen him in YOUR HIGHNESS as well.

Stunt coordinator Richard Ryan was in the audience, and did a short Q&A after the movie.

Bloody, bloody and bloody. A perfect way to open a film festival devoted to action.


Friday, April 8, 2011

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) - Movie Marathon Short & Sweet Review: Film #20

On the Menu:

Ingredients: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzmann, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Michael Gambon, Eric Chase Anderson, Wallace Wolodarsky, Owen Wilson, Brian Cox, Adrien Brody, Mario Batali, Karen Duffy and Wes Anderson. Directed by Wes Anderson. Run time: 87 minutes. Rated: PG.

Tough to Swallow: The scientific names of the animals should be in the form: Genus species, not Genus Species.

Young foxes are kits, not cubs.

Something to Chew On: Based on the novel by Roald Dahl, which was the first book director Wes Anderson ever owned.

The Fox family tree is based on a beech tree on Dahl's property, and Mr. Fox's study was made to look like Dahl's favorite writing spot (a garden hut).

Mr. Fox's wardrobe is based on that of Anderson's.

Of the 535 puppets made for this movie, 102 of them were of Mr. Fox. The human puppets actually have human hair.

Nominated for Original Score and Best Animated Feature at the 2010 Oscars.

Aftertaste: Fun and enjoyable. I've never been disappointed with a Wes Anderson movie (at least 4 stars for each). It's a shame this one didn't take home the Best Animated Feature Oscar last year. I loved UP as well, but this had better animation with just as good a story.

The detail in the animation is incredible. I'm not sure most movie-goers realize how much work goes into a stop-motion film. I don't even think I do, but I know it has to be painstaking.

It's considered a family film, but, like most every other animated feature in the past 10 years, FANTASTIC MR. FOX has adult themes and humor. However, it has talking animals, so it must be for kids, right? Ugh.

Anyway, it's funny and looks amazing.