Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

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Review: Dragon Dawn (2013)

November 6, 2014

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In the near future, Duke Evans (Ethan Flower) is laid off from the NSA just as his house gets foreclosed on. He goes to his grandfather’s old and photogenic cabin in the mountains of drought-stricken California with his wife Leslie (Asa Wallander), incompetent sister Rachel (Jenn Gotzon) and daughter Emma (Hope Laubach). As they arrive, China, realizing that we will never pay back our monster pile of debt to them, launch a cyber attack against the US knocking out most of the infrastructure in the nation. Once the power goes out, the family must struggle with food, energy, water shortages, the people that instantly turn evil as soon as something like this happens,and a government that seems to have surrendered to the Chinese. Albert Grimes (William Knight) supplies the “crusty old curmudgeon” as a better prepared neighbor. Eloy Mendez plays a Mexican national the family is involved with when the cyber war begins.

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It’s made at about the same level as I suspect the independent films servicing the Christian community are at: low-budget but high-concept. The central idea is interesting – that the conspiracy rumor that China is adding Trojans to the chips that we produce as an economic Doomsday weapon rings a little truer than, say, the Invasion USA scenario. Not sure I buy the idea that the Chinese could turn off any chip that didn’t have a connection to the internet (Duke actually says that it’s due to a “nano core duplex microwave transmitter”). VFX in the movie was effective and subtle for the most part – budget probably has something to do with that. I’ll also give it credit – it had the balls to use China as the enemy, rather than North Korea like the Red Dawn remake.

As the film goes on, we’re introduced to turncoat Sheriff  Watson (Dennis Delsing). We need someone to hiss at, and Watson is what Director Jeffery Travis (sharing writing credit with Matt Patterson) gives us. Watson offers Duke some “Citizen Freedom Bands” (hereafter called CFBs, because I’m not typing the whole phrase again…)

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The CFBs seem to be made of Unobtanium and Star Trek technology – thin and light, unbreakable, but capable of SPOILERS carrying a lethal electrical charge along with a speaker, and some kind of smart chip that can recognize the wearer as they put it on, and also recognize that the wearer has crossed a perimeter around their house. How do they do that if the internet and power doesn’t work?

Problems with plot holes abound. Needing water, Watson pushes Duke around to fix a broken well pump on the property. Seriously, the assembly sits on top of the ground – how hard could it be to simply buy and install a new one? And Evil Sheriff can commandeer Albert’s old truck in an emergency no problem, but can’t seem to commandeer a new pump from the local Farm & Feed? Also, Watson seems to have the CFBs before everything happens –  doesn’t that seem to imply that the whole cyber attack was preplanned and that nobody in the US command structure told anybody that this was happening? Shades of 9/11 conspiracy buffs…

And the chips seem to selectively turn off as well. The Army seems to have working vehicles, but the Chinese attack supposedly turned them all off, but maybe they can  turn them on in certain situations? That hole could have been solved with a couple of lines of dialog.

I’m going with a “not recommended’ on this one – go watch the original Red Dawn instead.

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Review: Silver Circle

November 12, 2013

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…who would have thought that an independent filmmaker would be able to produce an animated feature for less that $2 M? I’m going to try to give this film a fair shake, due to its groundbreaking nature – that the film got produced at all deserves kudos to the filmmakers.

Short plot summary: It’s 2019 and the USA is in the grip of some pretty strong inflation. Jay Nelson (De’Lon Grant), an arson investigator for the Strategic Housing Reserve (which is a subset of the Federal Reserve) needs to investigate why a “terrorist” would blow up one of the first developments SHR was responsible for, in order to protect Victor Brandt (Peter Berkrot) the Head of the Fed, and his upcoming lifetime appointment to same. Why is Zoe Taylor( Philana Mia) so interested in the investigation? And will they be able to steer clear of Brandt’s creepy fixer, Mr. Quill (Victor Shopov)?

I liked the way the inflation posited was depicted matter-of-factly: LED signs instantly updating the prices ($152.25 per gallon gas!) As an ice-breaker to a discussion of inflation, the movie should work well. Plotwise though, I’m not sure I’m buying that the Fed, which seems to be close to all-powerful in the film, would be quite so weak. We live, after all, in a regime that will almost routinely do extralegal things to the citizenry – they need to pussyfoot around in such a world? In the real world, they’d probably just shoot Nelson in the back of the head and dump him in the nearby river.

As far as production values, the production company, which is supposed to be based outside Boston, used a lot of Indian animators in making the film.  Knowing that, it’s a fun game trying to figure out where the money went. For an estimated $1.6M (at least partially raised through Kickstarter). the film looks OK, if not up to Pixar standards (my guess is Poser was used exclusively for the animation) – some movements that should be fast (say, a punch) seem to move very slowly. Also – shadows seem to be problematic. Shadows falling on faces seem to be realistic, shadows of a car outdoors seem almost non-existent.  Strange flickering on the shadows at times. The character design seemed a little elongated to my eyes, except for the heroes of the film – though that may have been an aesthetic decision by the filmmakers. Walls of people’s homes are mostly bare. I used to think that Lighting TDs in Pixar films were a bit redundant – not anymore. The lighting in most of the film is really flat, except for the end, where it did get a little more atmospheric. Where were the armies of Poser experts (like the artists at Renderosity.com) when this film was being made? Maybe the way the film Renaissance (2006) would have been the way to go? Or maybe some sort of “soft focus” filter?

I seem to remember reading about The Simpsons back in the day, that the show didn’t really take off until the writers understood that, being an animated show, they really weren’t constrained by budget. Anything they could think of could be presented in the show. I think this is the major flaw of this film – for the money that they spent, they could’ve gotten a lot more Dystopia for the dollar, as it were. I’d say rent it, if you’re interested.

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Review: Atlas Shrugged II

October 30, 2013

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What if somebody walked up to you and asked you a rhetorical question: I’m tasking you to make an “ultimate” version of a film property – you can take the best bits, defined by you, from two versions of the same movie and mash them together, making one that’s better than either solo version. You could do that with a lot of properties – Dune, Star Trek, and so on. But would you do that with what was, ostensibly, a single story broken up into sections?

I’m not sure it was working for AS2. The script was good, again, making the plot-heavy story digestible for the casual viewer. But I think the casting (which I believe was changed up completely from the first movie – meaning nobody who was in AS1 was in AS2) was hit and miss. It’s fascinating to think about who they’re going to cast in AS3.

Not sure why Taylor Schilling needed to be replaced with Samantha Mathis. I could live with either actress in the role – Schilling as she had the Confident Dagny vibe going on, Mathis, with her looking like she was about to cry throughout the movie maybe showing the side that was genuinely strung out about Galt’s strike. Slight edge to Schilling though.

Another coin toss as to who’s the better Hank Rearden. Jason Beghe has the better voice, but Grant Bowler had the presence of cool confidence I liked. Esai Morales as d’Anconia hands-down wins in that department. Paul McCrane was a way better Wesley Mouch though.

Maybe the raiding of the Jericho cast was a wise move? I’d like to think that a strategy like that wasn’t pandering, and these were the best actors they could afford for the roles, but D…B… Swee…ney as Galt? Really?

Apparently, they were so embarrassed by casting Sweeney as Galt that, in the Blu-Ray release, they darkened up his face so you really couldn’t tell who it was.  Sorry – I was there in the theater when I saw…DB Sweeney…as Galt. Really? DB Sweeney?

The plot point I realize they had to have (but didn’t ring true today) was Lillian’s insistence on not divorcing Rearden to keep her social standing. Like that’s going to happen these days – she’d divorce him and take him for at least half of what he had, and still get to be a socialite

The only part that really made my teeth grate (besides…DB Sweeney) was a bit where Mathis, in a jet chasing Galt through the Rockies, about to pancake into a mountain, says in an exasperated voice, “Who is John Galt?” instead of “AAAAAAAAHHHHH SHHHIIIITTTT!”

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Review: Land of the Free (short)

September 21, 2011

Via WRSA :

Love the message – just going to critique the film (and I know that it’s a couple of years old now):

Pretty impressive filmmaking, if a little long.  The compositor who did the muzzle flashes/bullet hits really sold them (and yes, they were CG – do you seriously think that a student filmmaker is going to have the wherewithal to get real weapons for his film, when he’s got to pay for real film/processing/telecine and pay for his tuition as well. Film ain’t cheep, friends). I would’ve cut down on the camera POV at the beginning and sped up things like the title credits and such.  Not bad, though…

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Review: Cyborg (1989)

August 2, 2011

Prolly the last of the Pyun movies I care about…when I first saw this in the theater, I just about had a nerdgasm. Quite a lot of style for the budget. IMDB also says that Van Damme was an uncredited editor on the film.

Short synopsis – In the future, cyborg Pearl Prophet (Dayle Haddon) needs to get to Atlanta and the CDC with the cure to the plague that’s decimated the world. Unfortunately, she runs across evil warlord Fender Tremolo (Vincent Klyn) who wants the cure for himself. Before getting kidnapped by Fender, Pearl also runs across Gibson Rickenbacker* (Jean-Claude Van Damme) a ‘Slinger (short for gunslinger I imagine) who isn’t interested in saving the world. Fender picks up a Jiminy Cricket / love interest named Nady Simmons (Deborah Richter) who convinces him to rescue Pearl and have a face-off with Fender, who coincidentally happens to be the one who killed Gibson’s adopted family…

It’s obvious that the writer, Kitty Chalmers, had watched a couple of westerns before writing the script. I do like how Chalmers has Pearl willingly choose Fender over Gibson to get to Atlanta because she perceives Fender to be the stronger of the two, and the most likely to get her where she needs to be.

Really love the spoken word intro to this piece – talk about hooking the audience!

and it was a forced recut, says Pyun. Here’s how it was supposed to be.

Sorry – I prefer the first version, the version I saw in the theater.**

Here’s the crucifixion scene from this movie that probably was written into Cyborg by Pyun’s request, seeing how well it went over in Sword and the Sorcerer…

Little more interesting here due to the set design.

Again, Pyun seems to be a master at wringing every dollar out of a low budget. it feels bigger than one would think, due to some creative use of locations…

They got a lot of mileage out of that abandoned factory, simply because it’s big and interesting to look at. The rusty old boat Fender commandeers the same. (above clip is from a purported director’s cut – that’s fine, it illustrates my point.)

Another thing that made the film seem bigger: camera moves, rather than quick cutting constantly, as do may action films nowadays. Lets you get a sense of geography about what’s happening in the fight. Also lets you see how important a good second unit director plays in a decent action film.

Recommended – look for it in a used DVD joint or Netflix.

*Love these names!

** I have to wonder – is the version of something (a song, a movie) you originally saw always going to be the version you prefer, even if the original author tells you the version you experienced was wrong or flawed somehow?

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Review: The Sword and The Sorcerer (1982) / Tales of an Ancient Empire (2009)

August 1, 2011

Did I mention that I love Sword and The Sorcerer to you yet?

It’s billed at IMDB as the first film Albert Pyun directed, and I expect the reason he keeps getting money for new projects despite his Uwe Boll-like reputation. I can recall seeing this at a grindhouse theater as a younger man, with crappy projection and all (God, I’m old.)

I always liked the setup that the writers (Tom Karnowski, John V. Stuckmeyer and Pyun himself ) gave this, as it’s not a “fantasy world”, but our world in the past where these events happen.

The short synopsis : Evil Cromwell (Richard Lynch) resurrects sorcerer Xusia (Richard Moll) in order to win the kingdom of Ehdan.

In killing the royal family Cromwell misses young prince Talon, and, deciding he doesn’t need Xusia anymore, leaves Xusia for dead. Eleven years later, Talon (Lee Horsely) returns for revenge and gets caught up in a rebellion against Cromwell with the sister of the only legitimate heir to the crown (Kathleen Beller) and Cromwell’s plans to assassinate the kings of the rest of the world. Turns out Xusia isn’t dead either…

Horsely plays Talon like he was Errol Flynn reincarnated. David Whitaker’s music sounds like an old Errol Flynn film. Old-school practical effects, like in an old Errol Flynn film. California actors (for the most part) affecting British accents like an old Errol Flynn film. Stunts like in an old Errol Flynn film. Toss in a few hot naked women for the foreign markets and a sword that shoots swords and no wonder it gets “highest grossing independent film of 1982”. Pyun also gets a lot of mileage out of running around one location (a hotel I mentioned in another review here.

He also reuses the crucifixion motif in Cyborg (great – another movie I have to review).

If I have to nitpick, there are some bits that I would have done differently. The cinematography is really dark, I hope due to budget rather than by design. This actor should have been replaced…

Could they have gotten anyone less like Lee Horsely?

Also, there seemed to be a little love interest subplot going between Cromwell’s consort and Mikah (Simon MacCorkindale) the “king” in exile. It gets spoiled in the film: I would’ve had them get together the end for a nice happy ending…like in an old Errol Flynn film.

Curious – Producer Brandon Chase takes the possessory credit here (“A Film By…”). Maybe because it’s Pyun’s first film?

Strongly recommended if you can catch it anywhere uncut.

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Now for the sequel promised almost thirty years ago. Oy gevalt. I badly wanted to like this, and have it a proper coda to the first movie, but it was not to be.

I guess I’ll start with the writing.

The short synopsis: Two girls “born the same day in the Empire. One in the palace, the other on the desolate Isle of Sorrow. One named Tanis…the other called Kara.” Tanis’ mother was the queen of Abelard, Kara’s gets turned into a vampire demon. They’re half sisters, sharing the same father. Evil sorceress comes back from the dead after soldiers arrive at a mysterious island. Evil vampiress is looking for revenge, Tanis must find her real father in order to save the kingdom (although the current queen just gives Tanis a twisty piece of metal to identify him with – she couldn’t give Tanis a name? Or was her mother told his name was “Biggus Dickus” or something?).

Anyway, Kara (evil sister) is turned into a succubus and tasked to kill Tanis. Tanis goes to the city of Douras and finds Aidan (Kevin Sorbo). Aidan and Tanis go looking for more siblings to fight vampiress, more talking by all parties involved, yada yada…where it ends makes it seem to be part 1, with more footage sitting on a hard drive somewhere.

Pyun picks vampires (Ok, called succubus in one place in the movie, but vampires) to be the bad guys? I’ve written before about how cheap vampires are to do, but that just seems like lazy writing. Plus – Pyun has the same problem with the vampire fangs that Kurt Wimmer did with Ultraviolet; they make some of the dialog hard to decipher.*

I had thought that Pyun was going to repeat the same basic story structure as Sword when he opens the movie with soldiers landing on a deserted isle. We’d be introduced to an actor (here Kevin Sorbo) and a MacGuffin, we’d get around to Talon, there’d be some adventuring, and Talon would pass the gauntlet (ha!) to the next generation. Why fool around with complicating things? Instead, we get what I think was simply pandering to the Direct-to-Video market. Minute after minute of (admittedly attractive) female vampires in various stages of undress, plot exposition, and stuff that isn’t swordfighting.

At least the sword makes a proper cameo…

I didn’t have a problem with Kevin Sorbo per se being in the movie. I had thought he was going to be Talon Light (and he has the acting chops to prove it) but it never went anywhere for me.

Also: Pyun has this prologue thing going on that mentions 24 tales but the film itself only does eight tales. Then, just to annoy me further, the film has intertitles telling us which tales this is. Frigging annoying.

The music: mostly horrible generic metal. Stuntwork: next to nonexistent.

And when Lee Horsely finally does make an appearance in the movie (at almost precisely the one hour mark) for his approximately 2 minute cameo…

He’s wearing that? He’s got the glove (maybe, we never get shown a good look) but Jesus… I hope to hell this is all a terrible dream – he’s wearing what looks to be a gold-painted piece of wax on his chest. And he’s billed as “The Adventurer” in the credits.

Good to know that Pyun still has the low-budget chops to pull any kind of movie off. Does some nice things like get some stock footage in places. Sadly, where he does use CGI and greenscreen they’re pretty bad. Granted, Pyun doesn’t have the budget Sword had, but then, if you didn’t think you could do the first film justice at all, why bother with the attempt?

* And did you ever notice the vampire fangs have to get bigger for them to be noticed on-screen at all? Just like a male porn actor’s Johnson has to be bigger than average just to get in the door…

ADDED: I wrote up the review for Tales before I did the one for Sword.  After rescreening, I can’t put my finger on why Sword is so much better.  Was it the added writing? The bigger budget? Or did Sword just catch lightning in a bottle?

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Review: Captain America (1990)

July 25, 2011

(lots of aid from imdb.com)

It’s been a Pyun-ariffic week.

In preparation for Captain America (2011)*, SyFy decided to run Albert Pyun’s version of Cap last week – in what will probably be its only airing on cable for the next 20 years.  I’ve also seen Pyun’s “sequel” to The Sword and The Sorcerer (1982) called Tales of an Ancient Empire, which I want to review in a double-header manner next, since I love Sword to death.

The synopsis – Crippled (not just wimpy) Steve Rodgers (Matt Salinger) fights the Red Skull (Scott Paulin) during WWII, gets frozen, and revives to fight the Skull again in the 90s, this time to stop the Skull from kidnapping the President of the US.

Those who have seen the 2011 version have a good origin story to look to, so I won’t summarize the entire canon of Cap’s history.

Pyun has always had a hit or miss quality to his films.  For every Sword or Cyborg (1989) you have something like Arcade (1993). Good and bad (mostly bad) alternating.

In watching, I’m betting this was the biggest budget Pyun ever worked with, even with the budget problems IMDB alludes to.  Location shoots in Croatia and Slovenia?  Period cars and wardrobe? Assaults on Nazi strongholds (though filmed mostly in darkness, probably due to budget)? All awesome of course, but the story was the most lacking for me.

The writers for some weird reason made the Red Skull an Italian (probably for financing’s sake but WTF?)

The intro to Steve’s life before the Super Soldier Serum is handled pretty well, with a bit about how the serum can fix handicaps (I suppose the technology of the time prevented the wimp-turns-into-hunk aspect of the origin story). Cap does have a brief throwdown here with the Skull here, gets strapped to a rocket aimed at the 40s White House (diverted with Cap kicking the fin, no less!) and into the Arctic.  The “thaw” scene where he revives is pretty laughable, but at least this version attempted it on-camera.

We are also introduced to the President (Ronny Cox, in one of the few roles I can remember him being in that was sympathetic), who is so cool he wears jeans in the White House and wants to pass a lot of environmental bills.

The Red Skull is still around as well, just using a lot of foundation and a toupee in order to blend in better…

Anyway, Skull is now a crime kingpin, has to stop the President from signing a Green bill, Cap has to stop him, yada yada. Again nothing extremely memorable.

Other notable bits of the writing I thought were cool were:

– Ned Beatty, as a reporter sent to get Cap after-thaw, pick Cap up in a car.  Cap then starts looking around in the car, seeing former Axis powers build a ton of the stuff around him. A nice funny bit.

– A pretty nice exchange with the General who’ s in charge of Project: Rebirth in a plane. First time to my memory Cap appears in an Army helmet (most of the images Goggle found just now show Cap in the actual 40s comics in his usual uniform).

Not so cool:

Boy that uniform sure is smooth!

Cap’s home – couldn’t they have just SAID it was Brooklyn? The scene could’ve played out the same way…

All in all – don’t waste your time.

* Saw this too – go here for a good takedown of the movie.