Witchcraft 16: Hollywood Coven (2016)

She doesn’t appear in this movie, nor does anything remotely as cool as her

The Witchcraft series, thought dead in 2002 then again in 2008, is over once more. I know there’s been an instalment where chief warlock Will Spanner turned to the dark side and killed everyone (part 13) but this seems even more final than that – although if these managed to turn a profit for low-budget producer extraordinaire David Sterling, who knows?

The final scene of the previous movie was the couple who were so dull I didn’t even bother learning their names having sex in a hotel room (his thing being he couldn’t, er, “perform” if there were other people in the house with them), and her getting possessed by Sharon (Noel VanBrocklin) and killing the guy, because…er…

Anyway, we get that scene again, because scumbags think we’re still here for the partial female nudity, and…cut! We’re on the set of the final scene of “Crystal Force 15”! What?

I was as thoroughly confused as anyone about the changes made to the three main characters (Will Spanner, Detectives Lutz and Garner) over the course of the first twelve movies. Then part 13 (unrelated to David Sterling, so a casual search reveals) tied most of them up, give or take. Parts 14 and 15 then made it nice and weird again, giving us what amounted to two different takes on the same basic story, and now this? There’s no film-within-a-film after this first scene but everything else operates to confuse us, including the names.

The names of the actors are the same as the parts they’ve played in the previous two movies, so there’s a Lutz and Garner, and a Will Sparrow; but their character names in Crystal Force are only referenced in one scene where they’re gathered for a table read of part 16, and never mentioned again. Although, the clip they show us of part 15 has nude lady call herself Sharon, which is the name of the character in “Witchcraft 16”, but Sharon refers to her character in the “Crystal Force” movies as Linda, meaning nude lady should have called herself Linda when she was being possessed by her spirit. I think?

Also, it’s weird when you hear Lutz and Garner refer to each other by those names, as you know they’re playing different characters, even though they never take their holsters or badges off no matter where they are or what they’re doing, as if they filmed scenes for all three movies at the same time and they definitely didn’t have money to pay a continuity person to tell them what props they needed.

Mmm… yes, I definitely am attracted to you

I’ve tried a bunch of different ways to write the above paragraphs, but I think leaving them that confusing will give you, dear reader, a flavour of just what we viewers of these movies went through. This isn’t even bringing parts 1-13 into the equation (more on them later).

There’s an interesting and even funny idea here. As the characters are sat around the table read, they discuss how all the actors from previous instalments have disappeared from the business, which can be read as they were murdered to further the witchy ambitions of the producers of the “Crystal Force” franchise, but is obviously a joke at their own expense at the quality of the actors they tend to use in these movies. It would have made a heck of a lot more sense if they’d not invented a fake franchise and had just had this take place on the set of a “Witchcraft” movie, and thrown in a few jokes about the number of different people who’d played Will, Lutz and Garner, but so be it.

To prepare them for part 16, they’re given DVDs of the previous movies in the series and told to watch them. Despite them already appearing in two movies, you mean? Anyway, the villain of the piece (or so we think) is director Jamal (Ernest Pierce), who played the reanimated corpse in part 15; he’s using viewings of the old “Crystal Force” movies to either kill cast members or activate their witchy powers, depending. This leads to yet more confusion, as the clips they watch (mostly from 11 and 12, the only two Sterling has rights to) have characters with the names Lutz, Garner and Will in them. Seriously, movie, why not have the actors use their real names and have them be on the set of a Witchcraft movie? Why go out of your way to make the whole thing worse?

The thing that makes this annoying is, like I said, there’s part of an actually quite good movie in here. The writer can write a joke – example, as they’re watching a clip from part 11, Sharon says to Samuel, “how come the guys never get naked?” (a reference to every man keeping his underwear on and in shot in these damn things), and he responds with a casual “they have better agents” – and at least a few of the actors are totally fine – special kudos to Molly Dougherty, who seems comfortable in front of a camera and could go on to better things. It’s a series that’s ripe for mockery, but they just sort of give up two-thirds of the way through and have the last section be a boring witch battle followed by an equally boring conversation, the end.

My favourite bit is when they introduce a new actor to play the part of the guy who was zapped into non-existence in the previous scene. He walks in, gets the name of the movie wrong (he calls it “Witch School 16”, for absolutely no reason, and is not corrected) but then both Lutz and Garner both are overwhelmed with lust for the man. I mean, he’s a completely normal-looking man, a little doughy perhaps, which is fine (I mean, look at me) but would he have every character go ga-ga for him? I feel like maybe he helped fund the movie or something, like if you could write yourself into a movie you’d make it so you were super-hot and mysterious and everyone wanted to bang you.

My favourite actor, Zamra Dollskin as the eternally perky Tara, was barely in it, and Will Spanner the witch (not Will Spanner the low-budget actor) didn’t make an appearance, making it the second Witchcraft movie to not feature him or refer to him at all – he gets a namecheck or two in part 10.

I think the main problem was there was no real central character. The only person who made the slightest effort to drive the plot along was Garner, but he’s not really on screen enough to be the star. The two people who you might pin the movie to (Rose or Will) are definitely supporting players in this one, leaving no-one to really get behind. Maybe Jamal?

So, an entertaining if completely confusing end to what is definitely the worst of the long-running horror franchises, as it cements its place as the longest-running of the lot. If you have a very high tolerance for movies which operate at the lowest end of the budget spectrum, then give it a go. You could do worse!

Rating: thumbs up

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Witchcraft 15: Blood Rose (2016)

I was surprisingly okay with “Witchcraft 14”, despite its puzzling acting choices, non-existent budget and monster-sized plot holes. It had a sense of fun to it and didn’t overstay its welcome, but the same cannot be said of part 15 – surprising, as they had the same director, cast and crew, used the same sets, and so on. The only difference was in the choice of writer, but it’s not like the guy who wrote 14 is any particular genius (he also wrote some of director David Palmieri’s previous lowlights, for example).

I wanted to briefly touch on one of the ways that they found to save money on this production; it’s right at the beginning and it’s a doozie. Firstly, the company’s logo is sourced from what looks like a mid-90s VHS tape, like they had it made, lost the original and had to take the logo from one of their own old commercial tapes. The other is the long-running joke of the title graphic of the movie. The “Witchcraft” logo has been used, unchanged, since part 1, and what every single movie has done is just superimpose the number of that particular instalment in roman numerals in the corner of the pentagram. Part 13 even used a new logo! But by now, they can’t even be bothered to do basic photoshop, so we just get a scrolling graphic of the name and subtitle over the top of the logo from part 1, also taken from a VHS master. Never change, low-budget people!

One thing that definitely didn’t change between parts 14 and 15 is the weird continuity. The beginning of this movie is a re-edited version of the last few minutes of the last movie, but with extra scenes edited in? So now, the weird “why is Sharon walking into the yoga place with a different shirt to the one she was wearing ten minutes ago?” question is answered with “doing an extremely unconvincing lesbian scene with Tara in order to harness sex magic, duh”.

The first ten minutes of the movie goes out of its way to try and convince us that Sharon (Noel VanBrocklin) is actually on the side of good – alleged series hero Will doesn’t notice anything when he gives her a handshake, she’s making all the right noises about being a goodie, even when there’s no-one around to watch her, and even the protagonist of this new trilogy, Rose (Molly Dougherty) is beginning to trust her after the events of part 14, where she helped kidnap her Mum then tricked her into the final meeting with Samuel, lest we forget. So it’s even more confusing when it turns out that all this was a big trick – on us, for some reason. But more on that later.

Our favourite character, Tara (Zamra Dollskin) is now managing the yoga studio, and seems to have a real affinity for the admin and cleaning side of things. Her character has such hidden depths! Tara is still living with Rose, and they’ve got a new housemate (forced on them by Sharon), a woman whose subplot is so dull I shall cease to mention her or her even more tedious boyfriend. Lutz and Garner are back to busting prostitutes, Will is nowhere to be seen – at the beginning, anyway – and all is peaceful in the world of Witchcraft. Oh, Tara does have my favourite line, when they’re discussing murder – “to be fair, you have done it before”, directed at Rose, but said as if they’re discussing boys they like, or something.

Along comes one of my favourite tropes in low-budget cinema – the “guy keeping his underwear on during sex” scene. A fellow by the name of Jamal (Ernest Pierce) is having sex, and it’s filmed like he’s actually penetrating the lady he’s with, but his underwear remains on throughout, and clearly visible in the shot. If you’re going to have your actors keep their underwear on, which is a totally acceptable choice, don’t film that part of their bodies!

Anyway, Jamal dies, because Rose is tricked by Sharon into being a conduit for the use of the same murderous power she displayed in the previous movie; and now, Sharon can transport herself into other bodies pretty much at will. Sure, why not? So there’s the same group of good guys as part 1 – Lutz, Garner and Will, with an assist from Tara, against…well, pretty much just Sharon and the new housemate, along with the corpse I mentioned previously, which they’re hoping to fill with the demonic spirit of Samuel from the last movie. I’m not sure why they didn’t just help harder when he was still alive, as it would appear they fought against him for absolutely no reason (if the footage from the first five minutes is anything to go by).

This is definitely lesser than part 14, which I never thought I’d have to say about a movie. Like, I’m surprised two movies filmed back to back, with (if we’re being honest) largely the same plot, the same cast, the same crew, can vary so wildly in terms of quality. There’s that question that lurks in the back of your mind – is this incompetence or the microscopic budget biting them in the ass? Then I remember it’s David Palmieri and I veer strongly towards the former.

There’s the merely lazy stuff, like the yoga studio pervert being allowed back, like they were hoping we ‘d have forgotten who he was. Then there’s the spectacularly lazy stuff, which relates to a major-ish plot point, which I will try and spoil as little as possible. Turns out that Rose is the daughter of three powerful witches (I was a bit confused by that biological explanation too) and that she’s got special power, or something.

“What, you mean just like Will in the first few movies?” I hear you say. Firstly, kudos for paying attention through 15 of these reviews, and yes, you’re right! One might have wondered if they’d spend a few minutes of their non-nudity-showing time to pop in a bit of plot about Rose taking on the role of series protagonist from Will, having him tell her how tough it is to be the son of a powerful demon, but no. Not even anything close to that, in fact. That Will is still around and still playing a part in the denouement of these things is just extra confusing.

But back to things that actually happened in this movie, they show scenes of people having sex to illustrate that yes, Rose’s parents did indeed have sex at one point. Only, in typical ultra-low-budget cost-cutting fashion, the footage is just borrowed from previous instalments, meaning some of it features previous versions of Will himself having sex with randos, including at least one person who died long before they could have children, and one ISCFC favourite, Janet Keijser. Are they just hoping that none of us would remember those old movies? Actually, that’s almost certainly it. I barely remember them, and I did a review series on the damn things.

There’s a few interesting ideas, and a great line from Garner – “we have to stop the yoga witchcraft murder spree” – but it’s just bad, full of massive holes in logic that wouldn’t even have cost any money to fix. Just someone willing to spend a few minutes thinking, but I guess thinking time cuts into profits.

Rating: thumbs down

Witchcraft 14: Angel of Death (2016)

Long-time readers may remember my increasing exasperation at the “Witchcraft” series, which started off bad and got much worse over the course of 13 miserable instalments. It incorporated one movie bought and renamed with nothing to do with the other 12 (part 8), two directed by one of our more hated figures, Michael Paul Girard (parts 7 and 9, confusingly), one set in the UK (part 10), and barely raised itself above the level of a Cinemax-style softcore porno at its very best.

Part 13 came along in 2008, and I thought we were free! Maybe everyone had been collectively hit by common sense, and they’d all agreed that any more Witchcraft movies were sort of a bad idea. But a man by the name of David Sterling (who also produced parts 11 and 12, but not 13) realised there was a little more blood to squeeze out of this particular stone, and here we are.

Sterling has an interesting side business, and one which, were I a wealthy man, I’d have probably indulged in at one point. If you have an idea and at least $10,000, he will make you a movie – he’ll sort out a cast and crew, turn your idea into a script, find locations, all that good stuff. Heck, if anyone wants to give me $10,000, I’ll do it right now! But as well as turning your half-assed idea into a reality, he also does it for himself, and thus we come to Witchcraft. Sterling produced parts 14, 15 and 16 back to back, which is a guaranteed sign of quality, and as soon as my broke self can rustle up the money I’ll be treating you to reviews of the rest of the “trilogy”.

I’m something of a continuity nerd, and “Witchcraft” actually made half an effort to wrap up all the loose ends generated over the last 20+ years by the end of part 13, which makes it almost unique among horror franchises. Will, I think, fully embraced his dark side and became the Son of Satan, Lutz and Garner – or one of them, I’m struggling to remember – died, and all was finished. Then, for absolutely no reason whatsoever other than “dumbass websites like the ISCFC will review it”, the name was resurrected, again (there’s also a six year gap between parts 12 and 13) and all that work was completely undone. Yes, I know that expecting a micro-budget piece of garbage soft-porn horror movie to give a damn about its own history is a fool’s errand, but they’d already made the effort before!

There’s an alarm bell before we even get going, too, and that’s the name of the director that Mr Sterling has chosen to helm these three no-doubt classics. David Palmieri has directed two of the all-time least favourite movies we’ve ever reviewed – “Captain Battle: Legacy War” and “Disaster Wars: Earthquake vs Tsunami” – and I even suggested that if any serial killers or pyromaniacs read the ISCFC, they might want to pay Mr Palmieri a visit; this might be the least murderous-rage-inducing of his movies to date, which is about the strongest compliment I can pay the man.

Lutz and Garner are both alive, and still cops, although the only office looks like a small section of someone’s basement with very fake walls and no decoration whatsoever. They’re both moderately capable actors with a nice bit of banter, too, but I need to start at the beginning, and that is with a delightful young lady by the name of Rose.

Well, it’s not Rose, but a doughy and unimpressive couple, who we see in a hotel room about to have sex. They’d very clearly not met before that scene, but they’re supposed to feel a burning desire for each other – doughy guy is Rose’s ex-boyfriend, who she was apparently still in love with, and doughy gal hates Rose so much she sends her an email telling her to leave her alone, that his hands will be all over her tonight, etc. Rose gets angry and kills the gal with her mind, then kills the guy later as he’s stumbling through the streets, wishing death on his crazy ex.

The evil in this movie comes from…a yoga coven. Sure, why not? Silver Lake Yoga is a real place, and if anyone other than me gave a damn about this movie I imagine they’d have been upset about having their storefront used without any sort of permission. It’s run by Samuel, who gives it his all but plays his part as if he’s the camp best friend from a sitcom and not a direct conduit to some demon who enjoys having sex with women a lot. He also has the world’s cheapest prop knife, which isn’t really important but is so bad it made even a jaded bad movie fan such as I laugh.

I’m 800 words in and I’ve barely scratched the surface of this cinematic gem. This is going to be a long one, and I’m only writing it confident in the knowledge that none of you will ever watch it. So, Rose’s mother. She’s also a witch and knows what Rose can do (which, bear in mind, is kill people who piss her off) but chooses to laugh it off until the bodies really start piling up – then she gets kidnapped so who cares about her. But Rose, who’s genuinely troubled by her ability to kill people with her mind, gets involved with the coven, thinking they’re a nice group of white-magic witches, and…I need to go deeper! There’s so much craziness in this movie! Samuel and his assistant Sharon – who is a model in real life, but appears for no reason to be trying to look as teenage-boy-ish as possible here, discuss at the beginning how the coven is for white magic. There’s a scene near the end where Rose appears blameless. But there are several other scenes where major characters witness her doing evil stuff! Did they film two versions of the plot and just run out of time and slapped whatever they had together? Or is David Palmieri a talentless hack? whycan’titbeboth.gif

Onto my favourite character in the movie, the magnificent Tara, played by alt-fetish model Zamra Dollskin. I’m not even sure if she’s acting or not, but she plays the part perfectly, like she’s a friendly but slightly naive cheerleader trapped in the body of a….well, an alt-fetish model. Her energy and enthusiasm for every scene she’s in is a wonder to behold, and I’m genuinely delighted she appears to be in all three of the new ones. Two enthusiastic thumbs up for Ms Dollskin, who gets involved after ending up in LA being chased by witch-hunters (a sub-plot which goes absolutely nowhere) and decides to hide out at Rose’s house – you know, the house the police are watching and where Rose’s mother was kidnapped from. Safety!

I guess we ought to talk about Will, who’s been repeatedly mentioned as the most powerful witch on earth in the previous 13 movies. Here, for some reason, I guess, he looks like the oldest member of an early 00s emo band who still rocks the deep v-necks and mascara but has a sensible middle-aged sort of haircut; also, his powers are weak as hell and he needs Rose’s help to get out of the final battle. It’s safe to say Ryan Cleary (Will) isn’t much of an actor, but he tries and he’s so curious that I kinda grew to like him.

There’s an evil plan about summoning a demon or whatever, but the movie ignores it almost completely so I will too. From what I read, none of this (including that the lead character murders a bunch of people and doesn’t seem all that sorry about it) carries on to the 15th or 16th instalments, which have different scriptwriters as well. Let’s hope they’re as beyond-bargain-basement cheap as this one, too!

I feel bad for the women persuaded to disrobe for payment in what I presume is hundreds, as opposed to thousands, of dollars. I feel like that aspect of “Witchcraft”, the soft-porn for people who wanted to pretend they were watching a real movie, is a relic of the Blockbuster era and really really doesn’t need to still be going on in 2016. Although, some of the earlier entries, such as part 7, had truly ludicrous amounts of sex and nudity in them, so at least they’ve toned it down a little since then? I don’t know, the sleaze is so mild here, if I watched it for purposes of titilation I’d be demanding my money back. As opposed to demanding my money back because it sucked massive amounts of ass.

So. It’s not the worst of the lot (that prize must go to part 10, which is barely better than an average home movie). Heck, I’m not even sure it’s in the bottom half in terms of quality. I enjoyed it in places!

Rating: thumbs in the middle

PS. The great website Phelous has reviewed the new movies, and I discovered when watching their review that we’d made a few of the same observations. I like to think it’s because we’re both smart, or it’s sort of obvious, but all the nonsense I spout is from my own brain (feel free to watch their videos, though, because they’re excellent).

Blood Mercury (2014)

We’ve brought to you, dear reader, information about many movies whose titles start with the word “blood”, but all good things must come to an end. As must these reviews! Anyway, we Patreon backers of low-budget genre superstar Len Kabasinski were given an unexpected treat a few weeks ago, as he’d got enough funding to complete his 2014 movie “Blood Mercury”.

From the little information that was available about it, “Blood Mercury” sounded fascinating, a complete departure for Kabasinski, who to that point had made creature features and genre movies – zombies (“Swamp Zombies”); werewolves (“Curse Of The Wolf”); vampires (“Fist of the Vampire”); wendigos (“Wendigo: Bound By Blood”); post-apocalypse (“Apocalypse Female Warriors”); a Most Dangerous Game homage (“Skull Forest”); and his first ninja movie (“Ninja: Prophecy of Death”). This is a spy thriller with a whisper of a super-soldier-style serum in it, and far as I can gather, was shelved due to some funding not coming through. He moved onto other things, but thanks to his new funding model, with plenty of online distributors looking for content and a steady stream of Patreon money, he was able to wrap it up and release it to the world.

After seeing a woman in a lab (Lisa Neeld, Kabasinski regular) freak out and start throwing people around and displaying classic “whoops this serum worked too well” behaviour, we cut to some time in the future, when a group of secret government operatives are tasked with transporting a briefcase from place X to place Y. That goes south very quickly, of course, as there’s double-crosses and the last surviving decent person, Agent Wilkins (former Len regular Brian South, making his final appearance), escapes on foot with the case.

The government decides to send a bunch of black ops guys to kill Wilkins, led by Agent Kennedy (Len Kabasinski), who remains really good and I’m glad he trusts himself with bigger parts in his own movies these days. Wilkins has a friend on the outside, a biochemist he’s hoping will help him manufacture an antidote for this serum; but then there’s Cassandra Tobeck (Jessica Kabasinski, Len’s former wife which must have been weird when it came to editing) and her rather curious choice of bathwater…

The story rips along. Wilkins finds himself in a cabin out in the snowy wastes, occupied by a father and son who start off not trusting the strange injured man with a briefcase who wanders up to their front door – by the way, I didn’t catch the father’s name but imagine an aggressively heterosexual Andy Dick impersonator and you’ll be fairly close to what the actor looks like. There’s fighting and double-crosses and considering its troubled origin, it makes a surprising amount of sense. I like the army guy who’s super-determined to get the drug back, his increasing derangement is fun to watch.

So, a good solid thriller, and one which adds to Len’s reputation as someone who deserves more money from some producer somewhere. But, there are a few problems. His use of dutch angles borders on a weird fetish; plus, there’s a heck of a lot of extreme close-ups and handheld work which saved money but become a little difficult to watch at times. Also, I’m pretty sure one of the actors who was beaten to death at the beginning of the movie shows up later – but I may have gotten two similar guys confused, or it might have been a flashback. Nowhere near as egregious as the all-time classic, “Space Mutiny”, where a guy who’d just been shot shows up in the background of the next scene; but still.

But, dear reader, Len Kabasinski operates at budgets that would barely pay for craft services for a single day of most major pictures. He works on lunch breaks and weekends and does it for almost no money, yet manages to produce decent, entertaining movies every year or so. This might be my favourite of his up to now, and I think it makes sense for us to look past the technical shortcomings and look to the development of the storytelling.

If you aren’t a Patreon supporter, blu-rays of “Blood Mercury” go on sale in a few days, direct from Len himself (he’s selling them on eBay, and I think you can get them direct from him too). Support indie filmmaking.

Rating: thumbs up

Bloody New Year (1987)

Although we’re only just into December, I thought this would be a good pick to continue the “blood review” series – plus, a disappointing number of the remaining titles feature sexual violence as a significant plot point, and I’m beginning to get a bit tired of them. So many low-budget horror movies seem to be made by men who look very much like me (pudgy, white, into metal music) as an excuse to hang around attractive women and have them naked / abused.

But that’s for another day! What we have here is a good old fashioned slice of downbeat, nihilistic horror from my own part of the world, Britain; a movie which, it turns out, has nothing whatsoever to do with the new year.

“Bloody New Year” is the work of Norman Warren, who I’ve just discovered but from the mid 70s to the mid 80s made a number of fascinating sounding movies – unlike his contemporaries at Hammer, his had modern settings (in some cases, even futuristic ones) and rarely, if ever, gave us anything approaching a happy ending. His feature directing career ended with today’s review as funding became impossible to find, but he continued to find fans, had a documentary made about him in 1999 and remains a beloved figure among horror fans.

Early on, I began to wonder if someone had accidentally changed channels while recording, as we switch from a rather American-looking New Year’s Eve 1959 party, to a group of British people in their early 20s at a funfair. The funfair! Aside from “Carnival Of Souls”, every movie with a scene at a funfair sucks – there are presumably other exceptions, but I don’t care to know about them – and they’re awful in real life too. As this one is grotty and British, it’s even more depressing, but the clean-cut youths get into a fight with some carnies (who have a similar reputation on both sides of the Atlantic, it would seem), wreck a bunch of the rides before driving off. Well, one of the carnies hangs onto the side of the boat they’re towing before being punched off, which seems a bit extreme if you just want to get some kids to stop messing about. But whatever.

It turns out the youths (the only face you’re likely to recognise is character actor Mark Fowley, who’s done soaps and was a regular on “Starhunter” in the 90s) were going for a day out on the boat, which seems quite good fun until a rock holes their boat and forces them to take refuge on an island – given how small Britain is, I’m always vaguely surprised to see this sort of thing used as a plot point in a British movie.

After strolling round the apparently deserted island for a while, the six of them find a hotel, with roads to it, and the hotel appears to be decorated for a New Year’s party – but it’s July! And that’s when things get weird. Well, weirder. People are glimpsed in the distance, a table comes to life and attacks them, the TV only shows a news report from 1959 about an experimental aircraft that could actually rip the space-time continuum going on a test-flight…oh, and the carnies from before track them down to the island and start attacking them.

I don’t want to give too much away (although I’ve already done it, in a way) but it bears a slight resemblance to the denouement of “Prom Night 3: The Last Kiss”, one of our favourite horror-comedies. It shares the wildly bleak ending to that gem and a little of the sense of humour, too – although I don’t think anyone would call a movie this relentlessly downbeat a comedy by any stretch.

I grew bored of the way they were so desperate to split up and make it easier for them to die or get replaced by weird silver-zombie versions of themselves; and how, okay, they were sort of assholes, but did they deserve what they got? Perhaps I’m expecting some sort of karmic balance from my horror when the real message is, no matter who you are or what you do, a table could come to life and attempt to swallow you.

It’s interesting, for sure, such as the mirror imagery, and I’m looking forward to watching more Norman Warren movies, but I don’t think it was all that successful – this appears to have finished off his feature career, so it seems some people agreed with me.

Rating: thumbs in the middle