Drones (2010)

One of the drums I used to beat regularly was “if you have cash, why spend it on some low-budget monster movie?” My theory, such as it was, follows thus – if you’re a producer with $200,000, the chances of you making a great monster movie with that are almost nil – it will look cheap, the actors will be bad, and no-one will like it. So why not give it to some comedians or an improv troupe? There’s a vastly better chance of a weird little comedy being a sleeper box office hit, you might get a big name to pop in for a brief cameo, and at the very least it will be different.

 

(ASIDE: Okay, I may be completely misunderstanding how movie financing works. But who cares? This is my damn site, I’ll write whatever I like. And I’m bored to death of cheap horror!)

 

But, we live in a world where there are almost literally endless amounts of zombie / vampire / shark / post-apocalypse movies, and precious few weird little comedy concepts. Which is why it’s so nice to find one like this, a genuinely odd but hilarious and quite sweet little movie, which could have easily been a stage play but uses its cameras in an interesting way, where a core cast of talented comedy actors nail their parts and a microscopic budget is used to its fullest.

OmniLink is a mega-corporation that seems quite nice, that gives us a training video where staff are compared to bees, but bees are super-good and do important work so that’s fine. We never find out what OmniLink does, unless I really wasn’t paying attention, but that’s definitely not important. Working there is Bryan Dilks (Jonathan M Woodward), who seems happy in his monotony; his best friend is Clark (Samm Levine), and there’s a handful of other, similarly happy, office folk – Amy, who he flirts with a little (Angela Bettis), Cooperman, the hippie who’s wood-panelled his cubicle (Dave Gruber Allen), Powerpoint-loving boss Pete (James Urbaniak), and the seemingly happy couple Miryam and Ian (Tangi Miller and Marc Evan Jackson).

 

Bryan’s world is turned upside down by two things – one, is finally getting up the courage to ask Amy out on a proper date, and two is walking into the office supplies room to witness Clark…I really don’t want to spoil anything, because this is a damned delight and I want you all to watch it. But it is in the trailer, I guess? Anyway, he discovers that his office has an unusually high number of aliens in it, and it turns out that they have designs on our planet. But are also cool with working for OmniLink and being nice and friendly and having relationships and stuff. The filmmakers described it as “The Office meets Close Encounters”, which renders most of my lame description moot?

 

Using aliens to comment on human activity is old hat, so it’s impressive that this feels so fresh and original – few aliens, admittedly, are that interested in alphabetical vs. chronological when it comes to file storage. It reminds me a little of Ford Prefect (the TV version, never seen the movie) from “The Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy”, and his odd but totally believable friendship with Arthur Dent.

Bettis and Woodward work very well together, and the central relationship is completely believable as well as having that sparking high-end comic dialogue that you’d normally get in a classic screwball comedy. This is down to writers Ben Acker and Ben Blacker, who are best known for being the creators / writers of “The Thrilling Adventure Hour”, the monthly live show / podcast which occasionally uses those classic screwball comedy tropes to great effect. The plot is fun too, there’s a ton of really funny jokes and brilliant comic business, and because they only have one set, really (a floor of an office, with a few cubicles and a conference room) they use it cleverly, making it almost cinematic. Well, okay, but it’s certainly never boring to watch.

 

The co-directors are two people better known as supporting actors on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” – Amber Benson and Adam Busch; Busch dealing with the actors, Benson the technical stuff. They also made a short film a couple of years after this called “Singlewood” but I wish this entire creative team had made a bunch more movies together. Perhaps I’m just annoyed at having seen more than my fair share of comedy from the Apatow / McKay / Feig stable and wishing there were more options out there that received the same level of publicity.

 

ASIDE: from reading about “Drones” appearing at festivals, I discover that the script was written in 2 weeks, and Acker and Blacker had never written a movie before; Busch and Benson had never directed before either, and worked out an unusual division of labour that worked well. Some of the actors improvised a lot, others stuck rigidly to the script, yet all those things which would normally spell disaster contributed to make this a winner.

Directors and cast

I won’t go on, because you need to go spend money on this movie. Maybe a sudden rush of purchases in mid-2019 will persuade some bean-counter somewhere to give them money to make another movie. It’s charming and funny and deadpan and sweet and even a little romantic and absolutely should be better known than it is. And I’m now determined to find one of those OmniLink mugs featured in the office and make it my very own.

 

Rating: thumbs up

 

GO BUY IT ON AMAZON BY CLICKING THESE WORDS RIGHT HERE

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Cy-Warrior (1989)

If any of this stuff had happened, it would have been a fun movie

Our Youtube Film Club reviews are a bit more spoiler-y, as it’s right there for you to watch for free. Go have fun! Then stop having fun and read this : (

Frank Zagarino is one of our favourite b-movie actors here at the ISCFC – we’ve enjoyed his work in many action epics, but of course his best work is the “Project Shadowchaser” series, where he portrays an android (well, I’m pretty sure he’s an android in at least three of the four movies, I think he’s an alien or something in one of them).

It would appear, to be honest, that he was working out the kinks in his “robot acting”, as this movie predates “Project Shadowchaser” by a couple of years, and he’s really weirdly terrible in this. He moves like a stereotypical boxy robot, except when it’s inconvenient for him to do so; he does a weird stilted sort of talking, except every now and again when he shows some sort of emotion, seemingly at random.

Italian genre cinema has gone in all sorts of interesting ways. They started off with the Westerns, obviously, and some time around the turn of the 1980s they switched towards post-apocalyptic movies, using their arid landscapes and empty villages to create convincing hell-scapes. Since, oh, let’s stick a pin in a board and say 1979’s “Zombi 2” (“Dawn of the Dead” being known by the title “Zombi” in that part of the world), filmmakers also discovered they could abuse Italy’s non-existent copyright laws and produce “sequels” to well-known franchises. Then there’s filmmakers like Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso who made movies that sort of look like normal Hollywood fare, only made for a fraction of the budget – action, horror and sci-fi were the order of the day for them and the people even less inspired than them.

1989 represents the very end of this period, though, when…this is the section when a reviewer who’d done more homework than me would tell you the tax law that changed, or the cultural shift, but I’m more a big picture kind of guy (or “lazy”). Suffice to say, while there were a trickle more movies of the sort we cover from Italy, by the early 90s it was all over with.

Onto the topic of the day, “Cy-Warrior” (aka “Cy-Warrior: Special Combat Unit”). The opening credits are laid over the top of the creation of one of these machines, but they go one step further by having goo poured over the top of the robot parts to form the human flesh. Problem is, the goo wasn’t mixed very well by some poor underpaid production assistant, so it occasionally comes out as powder, or is lumpy, or is too watery and spills all over the side. Or maybe that’s the correct recipe for cyborg warrior fake skin, I’m no scientist. A group of lazy naval guys are transporting Cy-W (for that’s the name he’s given) and accidentally knock against his box, which is all it takes to wake him and force him to kill the soldiers, who are levelling guns at him – most of which happens off screen, because of course.

That stuff is supposed to be under his skin, I guess?

So, we get a healthy exposition dump from a nerdy scientist, and then the great Henry Silva shows up as the US government guy tasked with getting Cy-W back. Only problem is, they dub him! One of the best voices in the game, and they dub him with some generic guy! So, Silva is immediately the most hostile guy in movie history, calling Cy-W a “goddamn bastard” and a “piece of garbage” when, I have to stress, he’s done absolutely nothing! I mean, he offed those few guys in the beginning, but that doesn’t count – he was defending himself! Anyway, Silva and his men use comically over-the-top language to describe their opponent throughout proceedings, despite him really not being any sort of threat to them.

Because…no damn reason I can think of…the movie takes a sharp turn into sentimentality too. Cy-W saves a kid, or the kid saves him (I’m certainly not going back to check) who then takes him back to his house to meet his mother / older sister (again, not going back to check). The mother is an ISCFC favourite, possible Hall of Famer, Sherrie Rose (“Summer Job”, “Lauderdale”, “No Retreat, No Surrender 4”`) and…well, my notes read “please ask What Is Love? In that dumb robot voice soon, please”. They take his being a robot designed for killing in their stride and soon they’re giving him encylopedias to read and changing his hair and clothes, making him burgers and taking him out dancing. Unfortunately, they can’t teach him to move his head like a normal human, but we can’t have everything.

Silva ratchets up his campaign to ludicrous levels, slaughtering dozens of innocent bystanders in a market and being delighted about killing hundreds more, again, to stop one escaped robot who’s not shown the least indication of being violent, and definitely hasn’t received the software to turn him into what the military wants. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even use a gun to defend himself at any point, which makes it even more ludicrous that they’d kill so many people to get him.

With Cy-W’s weird robot voice and the servo-motor sound (which isn’t there all the time, oddly), I feel like the sound guy had some fun working on this, but no-one bothered to tell the actors. Like, if they’d been told “we’re going to make this guy sound like a Speak & Spell machine, please react accordingly” the whole “are you really a robot?” conversation might have been a little quicker. I did like that he had a bunch of skin-goo on hand to repair himself after one tough battle, though.

The story comes to a grinding halt when Silva, with delight in his eyes, blows up the kid. I mean, I hated the stupid floppy-haired idiot, but even I was a bit surprised. Of course, the kid survives, and the final final scene, where the kid is in hospital but the power is failing, is one of the more absurdly melodramatic things I can remember.

“Cy-Warrior” feels like something produced by an industry that had forgotten what it was supposed to be doing, which makes the presence of actual real talent behind the camera surprising. Written by Dardano Saccheti, who also wrote “Zombie Flesh Eaters” (uncredited), “The Beyond”, “House By The Cemetery”, “New York Ripper” and “City of the Living Dead” and tons of ISCFC-covered stuff; also, directed by Giannetto de Rossi, who is more famous as a special effects guy (“Dune”, among many others). It’s just cheap and terribly dubbed and way too over-the-top with the simplistic emotional stuff and not original, even a tiny bit.

One to put way down your list of “rainy day Youtube movies”, I think.

Rating: thumbs down

Deadly Reactor (1989)

Some times, post-apocalyptic movies are made because the filmmaker wants to say something about the human condition when it’s under extreme stress. Sometimes it’s because they just want to make a cool movie and have loved other post-apocalyptic movies in the past. But sometimes, it’s because the producers are cheap and they really wanted to make another movie (let’s say a western) but didn’t want to pay for any sets.

“Deadly Reactor” falls into the latter category (obviously). It’s an unwelcome return for David Heavener, who we’ve covered before but are really struggling with the idea of continuing to cover in the future. He’s a bigoted right-wing fundamentalist who releases videos on Youtube (more popular than any of his movies were) with super-lurid titles like “They’ve Destroyed The Family Using LGBT as a Front!” and “Warning! Canada is Breeding Islamic Terrorists to Invade America!” He claims to have actual conversations with God although, sadly, God didn’t show up earlier in his life and give him filmmaking tips; and seems to be trying to fleece people out of their money – sorry, “crowdfund” – for a TV show called “The Last Evangelist”.

Apologies for continuing to dunk on David Heavener after I said I wasn’t going to review any more of his movies, but I need to try and get some entertainment from him. Friend of ISCFC and genre filmmaker par excellence Len Kabasinski suggested I carry on, and you know all it takes is one off-hand comment and I’m in for the long haul!

“Deadly Reactor” is a bizarrely edited, dull nothing of a movie which seems to be a vague homage to the Clint Eastwood westerns, just not as good or as interesting and with worse actors and script and direction. There’s a pull quote for an upcoming DVD release!

ASIDE: the opening credits reveal a link between Heavener and the Prior brothers! We had a “good” time reviewing their work last year, and it turns out that not only did they both make movies for the same company – AIP, Action International Pictures – but this movie is produced by Fritz Matthews, who acted in “Deadly Prey” and a bunch of other early Prior movies. Is this trivia of interest to anyone other than me? Probably not!

Right at the beginning, we get Heavener’s dull voiceover telling us about the nuclear apocalypse. Well, he mentions it once, and it gets one line of dialogue later on, but otherwise is completely ignored by everyone. So, there’s an evil gang, led by Hog (the excellently named Darwyn Swalve) who just rape and pillage all over the place – there’s a pretty high number of exposed breasts in this movie, which dates it almost better than a birth certificate – and Cody (Heavener) who had his family killed by the same gang and was left for dead by them. The gang find out about a town which was largely untouched by the bombs and has food and gas still available; Cody just sort of wanders into town after finally healing up from his wounds.

The guy who helps Cody recover also trains him in how to shoot, the implication being Cody is a sweet family man who’s never had to deal with such things before. He’s told that bullets are incredibly rare, and people are resorting to making their own, but if you then see the number of bullets that are just fired randomly throughout the movie, you might think someone is lying about something. Oh, and he asks Cody to read the Bible to him, which inspires Cody to become a preacher, I guess.

Because this is a David Heavener movie and no-one bothered to tell him that you should probably have exciting or interesting stuff happen, these non-events stretch to over half the movie’s run-time. This is without any backstory, really, for Cody’s character, which is par for the course in an Eastwood / Leone movie but not for some low-budget AIP effort. He gets made Sheriff of the town, lets out one of the criminals and trusts him to be his deputy (a trust that is entirely borne out, despite it making no sense whatsoever) and then trains the townsfolk to use weapons in preparation for the return of the gang.

Oh, and then he leaves town. Why? Absolutely no idea. There’s a huge gun-battle where no-one gets shot, and then Cody comes back to save his love interest, when he should probably have protected her a little more rather than riding off. Fight between main bad guy and main good guy, standard stuff, the end.

It’s not that “Deadly Reactor” is bad, although it’s certainly not good. There’s just enough acting chops and budget on display to stop its mere existence from being funny. It’s that it’s so, so boring. Monotone acting performances and shoddy gunfights and nowhere near enough action or incident to fill a movie – unless you’ve mainlined coffee just before the opening credits, you will be napping by the one-hour mark. And that’s what I think of this.

Rating: thumbs down

Triple Threat (2019)

There’s a long tradition of movies made in Asia having a white / Western villain – think of pretty much any Jackie Chan movie, for example – but most movies made in English, at least partially for a Western audience, with “big” names in starring roles, definitely hew to the template of the brave (white) hero going overseas and whupping ass.

But nowadays, Chinese cash is flooding the movie business, and things are looking different. At the top end of things, that means big budget normal Hollywood fare with a Chinese co-star (such as “The Meg”) and at the level we normally come in at, movies like “Triple Threat”. I presume the title is nothing more than a happy coincidence with the Ben Affleck-starring “Triple Frontier”, and I’m also pretty sure this will be a lot more entertaining, and proper action movie length (not over two hours, in other words).

But enough of my half-assed theories about modern action cinema! You want to know if you should spend your hard-earned time / cash on this movie! I think if you’re a fan of the sort of movies we cover here, then just listing the cast will likely be enough to have you heading for your nearest movie rental service. Tony Jaa (Ong Bak, Furious 7, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage)! Iko Uwais (the two “Raid” movies)! Tiger Hu Chen (Man of Tai Chi, Kung Fu Traveler)! Celina Jade (Arrow)! And that’s just the Asian stars!

On the other side of things, let’s start with Michael Jai White (Undisputed, Black Dynamite). He’s long been a favourite of ours, so it’s cool to see him in a big-budget movie doing his thing. Michael Bisping, former UFC fighter and surprisingly not-terrible actor, is here too; as is another ISCFC superstar, Scott Adkins. We’ve covered a decent amount of his movies and have enjoyed pretty much all of them, and it’s cool to see him here as a really unhinged villain.

There’s a plot, but it’s definitely secondary to proceedings. A criminal syndicate is targeting Chinese people and businesses in the Asian diaspora, but authorities are powerless to stop them. So, two things happen at once. One, Xian (Jade) inherits her family business and pledges her enormous wealth to putting an end to the syndicate and protecting the world’s Chinese people. Two, a group of soldiers led by Devereaux (White) moves through the jungle and murders everyone at an MI-5 black site, to rescue one particular prisoner, Collins (Adkins). Well, they murder almost everyone – one guy, Jaka (Uwais) is thought dead but he survived – he was beaten by Payu (Jaa) and Long Fei (Chen) and is looking for revenge – he didn’t see any of the other terrorists.

Collins, Devereaux and their gang are then sent to kill Xian. Turns out Payu and Long Fei were just trackers they’d hired and then also left for dead as they wired the black site with explosives and destroyed it, so after a fight – in an underground fight league! Never change, movies! – the three men, all from different countries, team up to protect Xian and take down the terrorists.

Nice and simple. The joy in “Triple Threat” is, well, not only seeing some of the world’s best martial artist-actors doing their thing. Director Jesse Johnson (who also works as a stunt performer) knows enough to get out of the way of these guys – they all hit their signature moves and the fights are well choreographed and crisply shot and edited. There are some pretty good set pieces, too, like the assault on the police station and the chases through the streets.

I think it’s hampered, if anything, by its script. Perhaps the stars, from all over the world, all wanted to push things in different directions. Perhaps the Chinese backers insisted on certain plot devices. It’s the clunkiest part of what is otherwise a superb movie.

I had a hell of a good time watching this. Had the feel of an old-fashioned movie while having all the exciting camerawork and effects of a 2019 movie. While a lot of the enjoyment comes from seeing a cast of such legendary martial arts performers work together, it’s not just that. Okay, watching Scott Adkins go toe-to-toe with Iko Uwais and Tony Jaa at the same time is pretty amazing, and their fight delivers in spades. If you’re struggling to understand what a big deal this is for martial arts fans like me, then imagine some superhero you like and some other superhero you like teaming up to fight some iconic villain?

Recommended wholeheartedly. Director Johnson and star Adkins have another movie coming out this year, called “Avengement”, which doesn’t exactly help his “naming a movie something very similar to another, bigger-budget movie” issue with this one. But anyway! It looks great, and more Adkins is a good thing.

Rating: thumbs up