Agent Beetle (2012)

The only remotely true word on this poster is "Beetle"

The only remotely true word on this poster is “Beetle”

Watching this film was a puzzling experience. Several of the scenes were shot on what looked like a theatre stage (disguised with many many curtains) and the final battle took place in what looked like a backstage area, so it’s hard to shake the feeling that this is a rehearsal, or that a group of non-actors and non-filmmakers have borrowed equipment from after the real people have gone home and had a bash themselves.

It’s getting easier to spot the things that low-budget films do, the more of them I watch. When you see someone walking extremely slowly in a situation that doesn’t warrant it (in this case, a young woman walking on her own through a snowy industrial district with no-one else around) you know it’s because they’ve not got much set to work with, or their camera dolly is broken and can only move at 1mph. But this is just a way to introduce us to The Beetle, who definitely isn’t DC superhero the Blue Beetle, oh no, definitely not at all. Luckily, we get to hear a radio news show talking about the Beetle, with a helpful visual of a sound wave – only, a sound wave that seems to bear no relation to the sounds that are happening. Hurray!

This film takes place in city X, with the main baddies being Hive Pharmaceuticals. We get a CGI shot of Hive’s offices, a skyscraper in a literally endless sea of skyscrapers (I would not want to live wherever that is) and then get given the exceptionally simple plot. A company is using death row inmates and the insane to test out a new formula that gives people superpowers. Their group of people (Stinger, Roach, Widow and Mantis) are doing crimes, so a cop dumps his girlfriend then gets himself sent to prison so he can infiltrate their group. He gets superpowers too – just your generic set of superhero abilities, no surprises.

That’s it, really. Beetle’s girlfriend is an investigative journalist for a newspaper (sadly, all we see of the no doubt bustling office is one wall which looks like someone’s front room) so she’s trying to figure out what’s going on with Hive too. No irrelevant C plots, not really much of a B plot either.

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It’s a shade under 80 minutes, but that plot I described above would barely fill a 42 minute episode of TV, so there’s quite a bit of padding. Roach decides to visit what I presume to be some weird amalgam of a strip club and beauty pageant – four women in bikinis parade around the stage to the delight of the paying customers, but never come close to removing any more clothing. He says nothing, interacts with no-one, just watches semi-clad women for a few minutes then leaves.

Sadly, whatever budget this film possessed was not spent on microphones. The sound is poor at best, and absolutely incomprehensible at worst – that they didn’t even make an attempt to ADR the stuff you can’t hear indicates the budget was extremely low indeed. The main baddie is watching security cam footage of Beetle taking on her villains, and the footage is just the film, multiple camera angles and all. Right at the end, for no reason, we’re treated to a very crudely animated 30-second segment. It’s almost interesting in its complete lack of regard for the sensible way to make a movie, almost.

Beetle’s name in the movie is Dan Garret, which is the same name (down to the spelling) as the original Blue Beetle from the 1930s. Why do this? I guess they wanted DC to sue them for the publicity? I was really trying to think of something positive to say about this, but there’s nothing there. Proof that not everyone who wants to make a film should be allowed to do so, certainly. It’s just a horrible flat nothing, with no real reason to exist – it’s not even ripping off a character from an upcoming blockbuster. Let’s keep our fingers crossed these people go bankrupt soon, or are forced by a judge to never work in the entertainment industry again.

We’ve already reviewed one of this company’s films – “Captain Battle: Legacy War” – and it looks like Saint James Films is responsible for some real cinematic atrocities – http://www.imdb.com/company/co0352793/?ref_=tt_dt_co . They’re the place that people who are booted out of The Asylum for gross incompetence go.

Rating: thumbs down

AMAZING POST REVIEW EDIT: for its German release, this film was retitled “Die Fantastischen Fünf” (The Fantastic Five), just to make sure every comic company had reason to complain. Okay, there were five superpowered people in this film, but “fantastic”? Well played, sirs.

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Chupacabra vs. The Alamo (2013)

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Never has a film happened where I’ve been more tempted to just leave the review entirely and type “do you seriously need anything other than the title in order to make your viewing decision?” I’m really surprised they bothered making a film – just have the title come up, have the stars stood round with goofy grins on their faces for a while, show everyone the special effect of the creatures, job done! But they bothered to make a film, just, so I ought to bother reviewing it.

After seeing some guys from Mexican Stereotype Casting Ltd get eaten by a creature that looks a lot like a really mad coyote, we are treated to a full bore display of SyFy Channel’s favourite movie trope, the unhappy father-daughter relationship. The father is Erik Estrada, best known for his turn on “CHiPs” as a motorcycle cop (in case you forgot, there is A LOT of him riding his bike in front of a green screen in this movie) and the daughter is probably wishing she could fire her agent.

Estrada is a DEA agent, and while investigating the murder of the hispanic gents from the beginning of the movie, they find and kill a chupacabra. Now, I’m no scientist but, if I’d had the first confirmed sighting of a mythical beast, anywhere in the world ever, I’d be a bit more excited than Estrada is, which is not at all. Perhaps he’s ill, because he drives away from there without bothering to say goodbye to his friend, who wanders off into the wilderness chasing his dog and then gets eaten. It takes a heck of a long time for anyone to even notice he’s not there.

Oh, there’s his new partner too, the beautiful Tracy (Julia Benson, from Stargate Universe), who has qualifications coming out of her ears but still has to endure Estrada’s sexist nonsense. They’ll learn to be friends and Estrada will learn the error of his sexist ways, of course, but the almost-sort of romantic moment they share in front of his dead wife’s grave is a bit surprising. Oh, she’s just transferred there but already has a local ex-boyfriend she’s now repulsed by? I mean, I’m an idiot and I spotted that straight away. Don’t you have people to check stuff like this, SyFy?

You’ve got tons of those slightly implausible plot developments which SyFy movies do so well – creatures tracking main cast members for miles all the way to their homes; people being skeptical long past the point when it’s sensible to be so; a disused factory; and an implausible teamup (this time, between hispanic thugs with a heart of gold, and DEA agents). The chupacabras are some of the worst CGI I’ve ever seen, but the gore effects are quite decent (and plentiful for a SyFy movie).

Awww, who's a cute little chupacabra?

Awww, who’s a cute little chupacabra?

The one interesting thing this film does is about the Alamo. Estrada has a “Remember the Alamo” sticker on his bike, and the hispanics seem less than thrilled to be there. I assumed it was the home of some slaughter of Mexicans by Americans, but it turns out that the Mexicans were the aggressors in this instance (although, no doubt they’d say there was provocation from the other side). The slaughter was of Texan soldiers, so perhaps it’s just emblematic of the loss of Texas to the USA? I must say I’m confused. Anyway, chupacabras invade the Alamo, and that’s the final battle scene.

It’s rubbish, obviously. Most of the film is just CGI dogs eating people in a variety of locations, with a bit of an investigation that goes nowhere and solves nothing. There are too many endings in this film – like, there’s a bit where you think “this would be a good spot for it to end” but then there’s more after it, then another, then another…It’s just a cheap, lazy shambles, barely even good for a laugh.

Rating: thumbs down

Scavengers (2013)

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It’s the 12th season of some long-running sci-fi show. All the good original cast members have long since departed, and all the half-decent replacement actors have just left too. One long-forgotten film star who made a cult hit once has agreed to come on and play your bad guy, but he hasn’t really tried in years. All your good writers have gone, and anyway you’ve recycled your plots so many times that no-one’s really paying attention. Everyone’s coasting, expecting cancellation, when for no reason at all the show gets picked up for another season, and the network tells you to do a film bridging the two seasons. No money for special effects, of course, but you can use all the top-end sets and expensive cameras. This is what that movie would be.

We’re a long way from anywhere, it would seem. A huge interplanetary civil war is seen raging in the distance and two different teams of scavengers have arrived looking for stuff to scavenge. It seems we’re expected to know who these people are, as we don’t get much in the way of introductions and for a few minutes, I thought they were all on the same ship. Sean Patrick Flannery, formerly of “Boondock Saints” and sadly little else, is Jekel, the boss of…I can’t remember the name of the ship, and looking it up seems pointless. Anyway, Baddie-Ship, with its crew of people who either don’t seem particularly evil at all, or are such bad actors it’s difficult to tell and “The Revelator” (thanks, IMDB plot summary!) full of people who seem quite nice, but certainly aren’t better actors are after the Chaos Generator, which may be the most MacGuffin-y of all the MacGuffins the ISCFC has so far covered. It can tip the balance of power in the universe, apparently!

It also seems to be a battle between a group of unmedicated depressives and a group of people on Prozac. Jekel seems to be channeling Kurtz from “Apocalypse Now”, badly, and everyone else on Baddie-Ship just seems like they’re sort of vaguely unhappy with their lot in life, with the possible exception of Breathtaker (Kelley Whilden), who for reasons completely unknown is an indestructible fighter. Everyone on the Revelator seems fairly relaxed, even though they’re in the “darkest fringe of the universe” (which still has a huge number of very bright stars in the sky), with a psychopath after them and a gigantic space battle happening a short distance away.

 

"I'm pretty and can act. How did I end up in this movie?"

“I’m pretty and can act. How did I end up in this movie?”

As you might be able to tell, I didn’t think much to this film. The dialogue is ludicrous, full of “you’ll destroy this sector of space!” and other such white noise. None of the actors seem terribly thrilled about being in a sci-fi movie, like it was sprung on them at the last minute, which adds a rather odd layer to proceedings. Aside from my joke idea for the origin of this film above, it really feels like I missed the first 20 minutes of this, where they explained who the characters were, what their relationships with each other were, and why we should be bothered with this adventure they’re on. It feels like a smaller part of a larger whole.

Aside from the rotten acting and bad script, though, everything is fine. The film looks beautiful (apart from the space battles, which look like 1990s CGI), with good sets, including everything being well-lit, which sticks out like a sore thumb in low-budget cinema. But it’s just so dull! Did anyone seriously look at this and go “yup, this is definitely the best we could’ve done. I’m proud of this”?

Rating: thumbs down

God’s Angry Man (1981)

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Directed by: Werner Herzog

I remember watching QVC as a child on Cable TV. Some heavily made up dame would be trying to sell a set of gardening shears. You couldn’t get these shears at your local Homebase or B&Q; these were top of the line product, a real bargain. Every item sold on QVC was top of the range, limited edition and a product you needed, if not your life was not complete. Nowadays whole channels are devoted not just to selling gardening tools and other apparently sought after ta’ but to whole lifestyle’s. Fitness fanatics and lazy lard arses are given an opportunity to buy a DVD box set that will transform them into cartoonish superhuman’s with pronounced abdominal muscles, this ‘Insanity’ workout will change their lives forever. The advert plays on a loop with glowing testimonies. Buy Buy Buy… all major credit cards are accepted.

In America church ministers preach on television, back in the seventies and eighties they would demand that their sofa bound congregation would send in cheques and dollars or else they would go straight to hell. The gullible parted with their cash, fearing the wrath of God’s angry man. Gene Scott was a flawed, oddly charismatic holy man. He had a programme on the Faith Broadcasting Network, which was like a cross between ‘The David Letterman Show’ and a paranoid schizophrenic having a conversation with a mirror. When Scott talks he rambles bitterly, mostly at the non-believers and those who he felt were trying to shut him down.

Due to the length of this documentary which runs under forty five minutes, we are provided with a tantalizing glimpse of a troubled man, but Herzog is unable to get under the skin of his subject. That is a great shame, but back in those days Herzog was not aiming for a feature length piece.

Herzog’s runs the footage of Gene Scott as he attempted to drum up donations from his faithful viewers, including very brief snippets from Scott off set and hastily edited interviews with Scott’s parents. Scott’s show is bizarre to watch. Strange clean cut music acts sing songs about Jesus and then Scott rattles the charity box. At times Scott literally waits for the money to roll in, staying silent until he hears word from his production team that someone has parted with their cash.

This one’s up on YouTube, so take a gander,

– RJW
5/10

God’s Angry Man on IMDB

Deathstalker 4: Match of Titans (1991)

These magnificent drawings do not, sadly, star in the film

These magnificent drawings do not, sadly, star in the film

We bid a “fond” farewell to the Deathstalker series with this, where Rick Hill, star of the first film from 1983, returns to the title role; and he’s not the only thing returning (psst – it’s the plot and quite a lot of the footage).

Back in the days of VHS rental, film companies seem to have done this sort of thing all the time – “this sort of thing” being making films comprised substantially of footage from previous films in the series. Long-term readers of ISCFC will remember many such films, but this also borrows pre-borrowed scenes – so, this is now the third film where we’ve seen that unfortunate chap dragged through the forest by people on horseback, and the same goes for the bar scene with the pig-fellow in it. Thanks to a virtually comatose voiceover, we’re given a brief blast of Deathstalker’s story, backed with what could be the worst music I’ve ever heard – like the test music on a cheap synthesizer, but broken.

If you’re guessing this film is about a Princess trying to get her palace or town or magic jewel or whatever back, and Deathstalker volunteering to help after rescuing her from some bad guys, then that’s the least I’d expect from you. This is not an original plot, even in terms of this tetralogy, is what I’m saying. It’s an even more specific rip-off of the first film, being based around a tournament where the secret plan is to kill all the best fighters off. Seriously, you guys!

There’s not a lot to set this film apart from the others in the series. There’s a fun scene where Deathstalker and Dionara get trapped in a cave by a baddie who causes a cave-in, saying “you’ll never get out of here!” After taking her recently dead sister’s clothes for no reason, in the next scene, with zero explanation, they’re out of the cave and just trotting along. At the tournament, there’s also a large gang of lesbian fighters, which at least makes a change from women just throwing themselves at the nearest available man (although there’s still plenty of that). There’s also the standard Deathstalker-level of boobs in this film, including the evil villainess and, in fact, just about every female character.

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There’s a fun turn by Brett Baxter Clark as Vaniat, a fighter whose approach to the tournament is an athletic, not a “barbarian”, one. After some training on how to deal with women, he goes undercover with wicked Queen Kana (Michelle Moffet, whose career along with Clark’s didn’t really go anywhere, sadly), and pretty much saves the day while Deathstalker is doing the tournament-fighting. There appear to be simultaneous male and female tournaments, but luckily all the female fighters are skinny and beautiful. There’s a bunch of stone zombies too…

Anyway, that’s quite enough of that. It’s about as fun as parts 1 and 3 (in other words, not quite as much as it thinks) but air of no-one really giving a toss runs more strongly through this one. It’s edited by someone who’s clearly deranged, for one thing – the above cave example being the most obvious, but there’s tons of scenes that just end without any sort of resolution or buildup for the next scene or anything.

Imagine, a bunch of people called Dave and John and stuff like that, and you’re introduced to one of Dave’s friends, called Deathstalker (yes, I’m still annoyed by how stupid his name is).

Well, I can’t say I’m particularly sad it’s over. They’ve been fun, sort of, but hampered by crappy budget-saving measures and everyone except the main three or four cast members being a dubbed Eastern European. After such a great second film, the rest of them should have built on that, but didn’t, and the final film doesn’t so much have a resolution as everyone got bored of filming and decided to go home.

Rating: thumbs down

Deathstalker 3: The Warriors From Hell (1988)

No-one who looks even close to any of these people appears in the film

No-one who looks even close to any of these people appears in the film

After the second film, a genuinely funny, clever adventure, the producers decided that aiming for a film people might actually enjoy was too much of a risk! What is easy is a normal sword-and-sorcery film with a protagonist who’s sort of funny, a bit. So that’s what we get here, and we fans are left debating if “The Warriors From Hell” will be a title as equally misleading as part 2’s “Duel Of The Titans”.

Deathstalker, the most inappropriately named comedy thief of all time, is lounging about some fayre, off to meet his friend Nicias, a wizard with a strong resemblance to comic legend Alan Moore. Of course, trouble comes in the shape of Carissa, a princess with a magic crystal, the MacGuffin-est of things. The evil Troxartas, who apparently controls the entire continent they’re on, has the other magic crystal, and if they’re re-united then blah blah blah.

Deathstalker makes the comment “what is it about me and princesses?” which allows us to speculate. At the end of the last film, it looked like he was going to marry the fabulously wealthy Princess Evie (and he had his choice of many beautiful ladies after the first film too); I just think it’s easier to think of Deathstalker as being a James Bond-style title with no real continuity between the films, and part 3’s hero was referring to some other princesses. Or something. Who cares?

Even with henchmen as truly rubbish as the ones in this film are, Carissa is killed and Deathstalker decides to go and reunite the crystals and gain access to a city made of gold. In a filmmaking decision that makes absolutely no sense, he then encounters Carissa’s twin sister, Elizena, on her way to marry…Troxartas! It must be true about power being an aphrodisiac, because he not only has princesses offering themselves up in marriage, but a stunningly beautiful assistant / lover in Camisarde (Terri Treas), and he looks like every stereotype from Nazi literature of the evil Jewish usurer. Ol’ Trox hears DS’s name for the first time and goes “Deathstalker…I thought he was a myth?” which probably indicates he’s from a different universe to the guy who married the Princess and saved the world in previous movies.

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DS is helped by a woman (before he betrays her trust and has sex with her daughter, but she doesn’t know that) who tells him “you’ll be safe in this valley, don’t ride out tonight, wait til the morning”. They’re attacked in the morning by Trox’s troops and it doesn’t seem to be a trap either…anyway, Trox reanimates the corpses of 5 dead super-warriors and sends them after DS (hence the title, so it fits!), but DS makes a deal with them to free their souls, and everything congregates inside Trox’s castle – heroes, villains, undead warriors, sexy assistants, sexy farmer’s daughters, rebellious villagers and all.

I read that John Terlesky and John Lazar rehearsed for 2 weeks for their climactic swordfight in part 2. I’d be surprised if John Allen Nelson (DS) and Thom Christopher (Trox) rehearsed for 2 minutes for their swordfight in this – it’s slow, boring and clumsy, and there are ample opportunities, when Trox has a free arm with a sword in it but doesn’t use it to kill DS, where you can guess they were just pushed out there and told to improvise. It’s all a bit half-arsed, to be honest.

It’s not terrible, though. The evil assistant, after her boss / lover is killed, reveals she quite fancies Alan Moore the wizard, and his look to camera is funny – and not all DS’s lines are crap. But it’s a very pale imitation of its predecessor, and the air of pointlessness hangs over all proceedings. Still, part 4 has the DS from part 1 back to play the character, which might prove to be interesting. I wonder if anyone will make a “you looked weird for a few years back then” joke in it?

Rating: thumbs down

John Dies At The End (2012)

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The book that this film was based on is one of my favourite novels of recent years, so I was a little nervous when approaching this. How would they put in all my favourite bits? What about the actors playing John and David? Would they get the tone right? Most importantly, would the dog die?

David Wong is telling the story of his recent life to Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti), a journalist who specialises in the weird and the wonderful. This framing device is revisited throughout the film, but it’s also a capper to the story and…I’m getting ahead of myself. David and John are slackers who’ve stumbled upon a supernatural conspiracy to invade our universe, thanks to tiny flying worm things. They know about this thanks to “soy sauce”, some sort of by-product of weird crab-spider things, which when ingested will either kill you or give you beyond phenomenal powers of perception.

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As you can see, this film is a tough one to describe. It’s an absolutely superb adaptation, though – by stripping out some of the subplots and minor characters, they’ve taken a complex book and turned it into a surprisingly rich film (for a shade over 90 minutes). They’ve also made some fairly serious changes to a few characters, but it all works, so if you’ve read the book too and are wondering if you ought to risk seeing this adaptation, risk away I say. John and David become psychic investigators, and it’s their meeting with the beautiful Amy and her very intelligent dog that starts one of the main plot strands along.

Wait! Keep reading! I’ve not mentioned the director yet, ISCFC favourite Don Coscarelli, writer / director of the “Phantasm” movies and “Bubba Ho-Tep”. His love of dream imagery and logic absolutely helps this film along, even though there’s no indication any of this is happening in anyone’s head. It keeps several timelines and genres going at once, smoothly, with humour and while there aren’t too many genuine scares (it’s sort of difficult to be too worried about a film like this, which has a sarcastic voiceover at times) the escalating sense of chaos really works.

Because I can’t be too positive, David (Chase Williamson) is a little too flat, or he’s too detached from the story. John is great though, and so of course is Paul Giamatti (who produced too, which indicates he loved the story before getting involved – well, that and he’s the biggest name in this film by a mile). It’s also nice to see Angus Scrimm, the Tall Man himself, pop up in a brief appearance. Give it a go, I say. Don’t let it be dismissed to genre mashup purgatory like “Bubba Ho-Tep”.

Rating: thumbs up

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VMI acquires James Cullen Bressack’s ‘Pernicious’

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VANTAGE MEDIA INTERNATIONAL ACQUIRES WORLDWIDE RIGHTS TO BENETONE HILLIN ENTERTAINMENT’S HIGHLY-ANTICIPATED HORROR FLICK ‘PERNICIOUS’.

Hollywood/Santa Monica – Vantage Media International (VMI) has acquired the worldwide rights to the much buzzed about horror title Pernicious, it was announced jointly by Andre Relis, Founder and President of VMI and Daemon Hillin, President of Production of Benetone Hillin Entertainment (BHE).

Ciara Hanna (Power Rangers), Jackie Moore (100 Ghost Street) and Emmy-nominated Emily O’Brien (Young and the Restless) star in the film directed by James Cullen Bressack. One of the hottest young directors in this genre, Bressack is perhaps best known for numerous 2013 releases including To Jennifer, Hate Crime and 13/13/13.

In the vein of such horror fest standouts as Hostel and The Grudge, Pernicious follows the plight of three American beauties whose dream summer adventure in Thailand quickly turns into a nightmare when they unleash the spirit of a murdered child with only one thing on her mind…revenge.

“VMI is thrilled to acquire the worldwide rights to Pernicious and to further diversify our slate with such an intriguing and beautifully shot feature film,” said Relis. “We look forward to sharing Pernicious with an eager global audience.”

“We are proud that Pernicious was one of the first films to be produced under the newly formed Benetone Hillin Entertainment banner,” said Hillin referring to the recent merging of Hillin Entertainment USA and Benetone Films, the largest foreign film production company in Thailand. “The film reflects the high quality, universally marketable feature films shot in breathtaking and unique locations that BHE is committed to producing. We are excited that Pernicious is now in the extremely capable hands of VMI.”

Hillin and his BHE partners Rachvin Narula and Kulthep Narula served as producers on the film. Executive Producers of the project are Rajpal Narula, Deepak Simhal, Farid Khan, Ajay Vasu and Albert Sandoval.

About VMI

VMI is a worldwide distributor of quality independent film, documentary and music content with an impeccable reputation in the industry. Founded in 2003, VMI prides itself on its lasting and loyal relationships with its producers where the goal is to promote not only the current production, but also upcoming projects. The company has an extensive network of buyers and has cultivated longstanding direct relationships with the top networks, distributors and releasing companies throughout the world. To that end, VMI attends and exhibits at all major film and television markets including: NATPE, Berlinale, Hong Kong Filmart, MIPTV, the Cannes Film Festival, LA Screenings, DISCOP, MIPCOM, AFM and ATF in addition to regular sales trips throughout the world.

About Benetone Hillin Entertainment

Benetone Hillin Entertainment (BHE), a merging of Hillin Entertainment USA and Benetone Films, the largest foreign film production company in Thailand, is poised to become a one-stop-shop for everything production related in the United States and Asia. The newly formed international production and servicing company is a strategic partnering of Santa Monica based Daemon Hillin who serves as President of Production and oversees the domestic arm of the company and brothers Rachvin and Kulthep Narula who remain on site in Thailand where they also operate Benetone Films.

BHE is committed to producing beautifully shot, high quality independent films of all genres and budgets.

For more info about James Cullen Bressack check out:

Twitter: @Jamescullenb

IMDB: www.imdb.me/jamescullenbressack

2013 Director’s Reel: https://vimeo.com/69502582

2012 Director’s Reel: https://vimeo.com/50051844

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JamesCullenB