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11 Blocks (2015)
The Warriors as a one man army
The plot: To rescue his sister, a tough guy has to fight his way through 11 blocks of a gang-controlled, dystopian city.
In a film like this, I have two major concerns: fight choreography and stunts. Sure, if the direction or acting is crap, it can be distracting, but for a no-budget action film, my standards are pretty low. This film has some pretty good action scenes. The biggest problem that the choreographers never really solved the problem of how to show one man fight against an entire gang. In most of the scenes, he fights them one-by-one, and the other people pretty much just stand around and wait for their turn to get their asses kicked. I generally prefer when the hero uses an ingenious strategy to even the odds, but this is more like side-scrolling arcade game. It's a failed opportunity to show us action fans something we haven't seen before.
The editing is probably going to bother many people. This isn't the kind of film where you really have much of a plot, so when you need to pad the runtime, it's either flashbacks or extended sex scenes. There's one scene at a strip club, but this film generally goes with flashbacks. Lots of flashbacks. In fact, several of them are repeated two or three times. However, after you get past the first 20 or 30 minutes, they become less common. Many of the flashbacks are from our protagonist's earlier life, when he was trained by his brutal father. Whenever he failed to perfectly execute a move, his father would beat him. While these scenes can be fun to watch for those who enjoy martial arts demonstrations, others will probably tire of them quickly.
If you're forgiving of low budget action films, then it can't hurt to give it a try. Maybe it's sign of how many bad action films I've seen over the years, but I've seen much worse.
Hangar 10 (2014)
An occasionally effective rehash of The Blair Witch Project
The plot: Three friends who go searching in the woods for ancient Roman coins end up finding that stories of UFO activity in the area are true.
I didn't dislike this film as much as most of the other reviewers. Mixed in with all the tedious scenes of walking, arguing over relationship drama, and more walking, there are a few effectively creepy moments. As everyone else has repeatedly said, the plot is simply a rehash of The Blair Witch Project, so much so that it verges on plagiarism. If you've seen that film, then you really don't need to see this one, as you've seen everything in this film already. If, like me, you didn't like Blair Witch, then you should probably avoid this film.
The special effects were alright for a low-budget film, and the atmosphere sometimes held up. The characters were alternately boring and annoying. The weird thing is that this seems to have been done on purpose. Although this may make the characters more realistic, it limits how involved viewers become in the film. Also, the lack of any real plot can make a film feel like it's dragging on without any point. Some films can pull this off, but they tend to be art-house dramas. In a traditional horror film, people are generally going to expect a bit more to happen than walking, walking, walking, followed by the film's entire plot, squeezed into 15 minutes.
Recommended only for hardcore fans of found footage horror films.
Død snø 2 (2014)
Bad idea to include unfunny Americans in a Norwegian zombie film
The plot: Nazi zombies return to carry out their 70-year old orders -- to destroy a Norwegian town. However, Martin, the hero of the prior film, also returns to protect it.
There are some pretty funny scenes in this film. If you have a sick enough sense of humor, you'll probably laugh when these Nazi zombies blow up babies. But there are also a whole lot of scenes that just don't work. I don't know whose idea it was to include a bunch of Americans in the sequel, but it was a bad, bad idea. They're painfully unfunny. There's also a gay character who's more stereotypical than funny. In fact, when Hoel (Martin) or Gamst (Col. Herzog) weren't on the screen, I was a bit bored. But their scenes were great.
The humor is pretty dark, and the gore is omnipresent. If you're not into that sort of thing, then you should avoid this film. On the other hand, if you like Evil Dead homages, then you'll probably enjoy this. There's a character who loses his arm, but instead of attaching a chainsaw, he has a zombie arm unwillingly grafted on. I've seen a lot of zombie films, but I've never seen that before. Too bad that there are so many unfunny characters mixed in.
Feminist science fiction that focuses too much on metaphysical questions
The plot: In a dystopian future, an Asian woman approaching middle age is fired from her job at a creepy multinational corporation because they want a younger, more racially ambiguous spokesperson. How far will she go to regain her job?
The premise is definitely interesting, and there were parts of the film that I really liked. However, the story continually came back to tedious metaphysical themes that bored me. In the end, I realized that the film was about the metaphysical themes, and this left me feeling a bit unfulfilled. I suppose it was even more so about cultural criticism, especially a feminist critique of how society treats female aging and beauty. But it kept coming back again and again to these questions of "why am I here", "what is my purpose", and "is there something insubstantial, such as love, that science can't replicate in a lab"?
Kim plays a woman who must make a life-changing choice. Unemployment is skyrocketing, men are pressuring women to leave the workforce, and older workers are seen as hopelessly out-of-touch with the modern market. In fact, humans themselves are being rapidly replaced, and the only way to secure any kind of hope for your child's future is for them to attend the most prestigious schools. The alternative seems to be child prostitution. Most of this is established in the background; if you don't pay close attention, you'll miss it. Unexplained explosions rock the sterility and eerie quiet of the world, and news reports hint at terrorist uprisings because of a hopeless, jobless populace.
So, when you lose your job, that basically means that you've lost everything. What if your employer offers to give you your job back if you'll let them control who you are? So, our protagonist becomes desperate to avoid forcing her own daughter to make these same kinds of desperate choices. What can she do but accept? The question becomes what price she has paid. As the film mulls this over, I began to lose interest. Normally, it takes very little for me to become heavily involved in a character's plight, but, in this case, I struggled. Maybe it's because I don't have kids. For a parent, maybe this would be a more harrowing tale.
There are many admirable aspects to this film, chief among them a woman-centric tale that feels genuine. In some science fiction films, the female protagonist seems to have been written as a male who then gets a gender-flip to mix things up. Or she's a sexual object for the viewers to ogle. There's nothing wrong with a bit of exploitative science fiction, but it's nice to see something with higher aspirations every once in a while. This certainly has that, but it goes so far as to seem pretentious at times.
Maybe this was simply too far outside of my demographic. On the surface, it's got a lot of themes and ideas that appeal to me, but the focus seems to be diametrically opposed to how I would have done it. Less metaphysics, more world-building. If you're interested in feminist science fiction, however, this is rare example. You should at least give it a chance if you're interested in such things. Perhaps you'll be more intrigued by the themes than I was.
A relationship psychological thriller ... with zombies
The plot: After being abandoned by their group, two struggling survivors of a zombie apocalypse find salvation in the form of a highly competent stranger who offers to help them.
Evie and John, a married couple, don't seem cut out to survive a post-apocalyptic world full of zombies. Both are academics, and they have little skill at foraging, surviving, or managing stress. Enter Charlie, a man who seems to be doing quite well for himself. He's got a rifle, car, supplies, and knows where to find more. He doesn't seem to want anything but a place to stay and companionship.
From this point, the film becomes a psychological thriller. John and Evie become increasingly dependent on Charlie, and the story becomes more concerned with their relationships than it does the zombies, who become more of a background element. It's not too different from your stereotypical psychological thriller, but the Australian setting and occasional zombie attack may make it interesting enough for viewers tired of Cape Fear ripoffs.
There are a few scenes that seem to drag on a bit. In one particular scene that kind of bothered me, Evie wanders through their dark and foreboding shelter, calling out quietly to John. Alright, a bit of suspense is good. But the scene just seemed to go on forever. I kept thinking to myself, "This is time that could have been spent on character development. Or plot. Or anything, really." Overall, the atmosphere was pretty good, but the intensity had a tendency to morph into melodrama at times.
The characters are a bit frustrating at times, but if you're willing to cut them some slack and see this as a character study rather than zombie-killing outing, it's a lot more interesting. The original Dawn of the Dead packed a lot of action, character development, and satire into its runtime, and that's my gold standard for a horror film. This doesn't quite measure up, but it's not even trying to be an action film. For fans of slow-burn dramas, this will be a more enjoyable experience, as long as they can overlook the low budget.
I guess it comes down to how tired you are of low budget zombie films and how much tolerance you have for slow-paced psychological thrillers. I'm fine with the latter, but low budget zombie films are becoming a bit tiresome. I'll still watch them, of course, but I've lost a great deal of enthusiasm for them in the past five years. I liked how stark and gritty this film was without becoming exploitative, but it wasn't exactly the most original thing ever.
Outpost 37 (2014)
Could have been worse, but I was expecting more Adrian Paul
The plot: A pair of embedded journalists document what goes on at one of the last remaining anti-alien outposts after a failed invasion of Earth.
In the 2020s, alien invade Earth. Nobody really knows why. After some setbacks, we finally drive them off. However, they leave behind a bunch of soldiers, and the replacement to the UN sets up outposts to clean up. Ten years later, our intrepid journalists document the final days of one of the final outposts.
The first thing that bothered me was that Outpost 37 looks like it is set in the 20th century. One soldier carries around an old-school photographs of his mom, like it's World War II or something. What happened to being in the 2030s? It's distracting. How much money would it have cost to give one one quick scene where he uses a holographic projection? It doesn't even have to be particularly convincing.
Alright, beside that, how's the film? Well, there's a lot of talking, interviews, and exposition. Don't watch if you were expecting non-stop action. Special effects are alright. I guess the aliens are a bit underwhelming, but I wasn't expecting too much. I was expecting Adrian Paul, though. I feel kind of cheated. No swords, no decapitations, and virtually no Adrian Paul. Shaky cam was mostly tolerable, but this is the wrong film if you hate that.
Characters seemed more-or-less interchangeable and generic at first, but they eventually grew a bit more distinct. They never really grew beyond archetypes, but I guess they don't need to in a military science fiction B movie. The plot was serviceable, but it struck me as basically a video game plot. The characters seemed quite a bit slower to recognize the game's rules than the audience. Thematically, it's just a shallow commentary on the Iraq War.
"Gee, this guy that I completely trusted has betrayed me, there's a suspicious incision in the back of his head, and we're fighting aliens. I guess it means nothing." Does this bother you? No? Then watch this film. You'll probably forgive all its flaws.
Bounty Killer (2013)
A campy pastiche of Mad Max ripoffs
The plot: A post-apocalyptic bounty hunter goes on the defensive when a bounty is issued for his head and his ex-lover comes to collect.
I didn't realize that this was directed by the same person who did The Last Lovecraft. If I had, I probably would have skipped it. Still, it was better than that horrid film, even if only marginally. I'm a sucker for exploitation films, post-apocalyptic films, and especially exploitative post-apocalyptic films, so I figured this would probably appeal to me. The concept does, but the film... not so much. If you're like me, nothing that I say about this film will discourage you from watching it. However, it's not really worth your time if you're looking for something more than a campy pastiche of Mad Max ripoffs.
The first big problem is the humor. I guess if you liked The Last Lovecraft, you'll probably find this hilarious. It's immature, shallow, and not very witty at all. There a few entertaining moments, but they seem to arrive almost accidentally amid the assault of failed jokes. Like the warmed over Sarah Palin jokes from Iron Sky, this film does attempt to pander somewhat to left-leaning audiences, but there's absolutely no substance it. You could probably find wittier humor on Cracked.com. The splatter is somewhat amusing, and there are quite a few scenes of decapitation. If you are endlessly amused by gratuitous violence, there's always that saving grace. The hero's sidekick was just plain horrible, though. It reminded me of forced quirkiness of Six String Samurai.
The second major problem is that the camera is constantly trying to have sex with the female star. It's downright distracting, and if you're more interested in watching a film than you are in ogling a moderately attractive B actress, this is going to be a slog to get through for you. Acting, characterization, plot -- pretty much everything comes in a distant second, if that. This isn't a deal-breaker, and it's kind of what one would expect from an exploitation film, but normally there is at least some pretense toward telling a story. This film seems mostly to be an excuse to shoot fanservice from a comic book. It's not terribly surprising to find that the director and writer previously collaborated on making exactly that.
The third and possibly biggest problem is that everything in this film comes from another film. If you've sat through more than a few post-apocalyptic films, then it's likely you'll feel a constant sense of deja vu. Sure, I guess you could call it homage if you're feeling kind, but how badly do we need another low budget ripoff of The Road Warrior? I mean, sure, I'll keep watching them as fast as Phase 4 Films, Lionsgate, and other direct-to-video distributors can keep pumping them out, but maybe a bit of originality would be nice in a while. I can't help but think that Roger Corman could have done more with this high concept premise, and it essentially gets discarded in favor of Mad Max homages until the climax.
If all you want is to ogle a B actress in a post-apocalyptic film with some good if derivative action sequences, then this is a good choice. In fact, it's probably a great choice. If you're looking for anything else, skip it.
Art is fine, but the story is terrible
The plot: In post-apocalyptic Texas, a rugged loner from a techno-atheist society discovers that the religious fundamentalists from a nearby city are planning an attack.
If all you want is post-apocalyptic cowboys, then you might enjoy this. For everyone else, I think it will be kind of underwhelming. It's a complete rehash of every post-apocalyptic film or video game that you've ever seen. The art is pretty nice, but the voice work, dialogue, and story are all terrible. Just about everything is stereotypical, overdone, or both. For example, the lead voice actor speaks in a ridiculously over-the-top Clint Eastwood-style growl. I guess if you're a teenager, you might find the themes pretty deep, but it's unlikely anyone else will. Given the rating, I think this was probably aimed at kids. So, I guess maybe check it out if you want a story about post-apocalyptic, atheist cowboys who never curse. Otherwise, skip it. Just watch Mad Max again instead.
Young Ones (2014)
A post-apocalyptic Western
The plot: After a catastrophic drought, a man and his two teenaged children attempt to survive in a post-apocalyptic society.
I wanted to like this more than I did. Everything about it seems like it would appeal to me. The problem is that I got a bit bored during a few slower parts of the film as I waited for the predictable plot to catch up to where I knew it was going. That's not a deal-breaker, but the scenes were telegraphed rather overtly early on, and anyone who's familiar with this sort of story can probably predict most of the film after twenty minutes. That said, it successfully avoided several annoying clichés in post-apocalyptic films: cannibals, biker gangs, raping all the female characters, and characters who do more yelling than talking. I was glad to see a post-apocalyptic film that was more concerned with characters than gratuitous elements such as these. Don't get me wrong: I love gratuitous exploitation films, but it's nice to have something a bit more restrained every now and then.
I would hesitate to truly recommend this film to fans of post-apocalyptic science fiction. There's certainly much to enjoy if you're starved for good entries in that genre, but it's nowhere near as good as The Road, which was a near-masterpiece. Certainly, the mood and atmosphere of that film was missing, and if you're looking for a truly bleak and depressing story, you won't find it here. This is a more traditional Western story in which a family survives in a near-lawless frontier. If you're more a fan of Westerns than post-apocalyptic films, then I can see how you might enjoy this more than I did. Even so, I think that you'd be better served by watching old Sergio Leone films. You won't get robotic mules, but you'll get much better cinematography and pacing. I can't remember a time when I was ever bored in a Leone film.
Not Safe for Work (2014)
A low budget thriller that is pretty much what you expect
The plot: On the day that he is fired, an idealistic paralegal witnesses a professional killer murder one of his former coworkers at a legal firm.
I guess the setup isn't too original, but that's fine with me. I'm always up for a thriller in which a witness is hunted down by a hit-man. The plot is vaguely topical, and it should appeal to those who rail against "big pharma". The setting is law firm engaged in legal action against a giant pharmaceutical company, and there is occasional commentary about corruption in the pharmaceutical industry.
There are a number of minor problems with the film, but I don't think any of them make it unwatchable. If you're more interested in entertainment value than originality, and you're forgiving of plot holes, I think you could do worse than this. The ending has received a bit of criticism here, but I thought it was perfectly fine. However, if you're the kind of person who wants every single plot element fully resolved, I can see how that would annoy you.
There isn't any gore, nudity, or excessively harsh language, and the violence is fairly restrained. There isn't really all that much atmosphere, but Mindhella and Feild do a decent job. For a direct-to-video thriller, I'd say it's about what you might be expecting: flawed but watchable, unoriginal but entertaining.