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BLOOD RELATIVE is an above average Wild Dogs crime thriller with good
helpings of action and suspense. In particular, it gets a lot of bang
for its buck with memorable action sequences sprinkled throughout.
Plenty of blank rounds are dispensed, cars smashed, and bloody squibs
discharged. Also on display in the action department are a bevy of bare
knuckled martial arts scuffles choreographed by John Ozuna (who
co-stars in the movie alongside lead Jeremy Koerner) and a memorable
scene involving a tough as nails Koerner wielding a claw hammer.
BLOOD RELATIVE also excels when it comes to the variety of locations and memorable faces it employs. Highlights included gorgeously photographed shots of downtown San Francisco in the movie's tense (and mostly dialogue free) opening, a superb foot chase through graffitied urban ruins, a mafia run bar, tattoo parlor, fight gym, and more. Liz Clare (who could easily pass for Bettie Page!) shines as Koerner's on screen sister who find herself in trouble when her tattoo artist boyfriend gets called on to fill in as a mafia hit-man. Koerner performs well, but he appears more comfortable and natural in the movie in full-on badass mode as opposed to his scenes working as a guidance counselor or playing a father figure to his kid sister in Clare. In a way that's kind of the point though and necessary as you learn more and more about his character. It's easy to gather John Ozuna is more of a martial arts expert than he is actor, but he fares well here for someone one can assume is fairly new to the acting game. James Allen Brewer and David Cordoni (HARD PROFIT) are great in roles as mob underbosses, while Joseph Camilleri makes for a fine kingpin (who happens to be given the funny character eccentricity of being a horrible wannabe lounge singer who can't stop belting tunes).
Look out for a twist ending that will no doubt have you thinking after the end credits have rolled. While it might seem to defy logic initially, it's a fun way to get the viewer putting the pieces together and writing their own epilogue. Seems to have been director Fredianelli's intent and not a mean spirited "@#$%* with audiences" moment. It's all in the subtext. In conclusion, BLOOD RELATIVE comes recommended. Not Fredianelli's best work, but still solid. Much superior to the filmmaker's crime thriller from last year HARD PROFIT.
Despite a strong start, VINCENT YOUNG is largely a misfire for Wild
Dogs Productions. The movie shares many of the same traits we've seen
in previous dark comedies from director Fredianelli, but instead of
scoring again with a similar formula and characters, the results are
mostly sterile. The movie doesn't manage to go anywhere particularly
interesting by film's end and doesn't have enough stand out scenes to
justify its brand of what amounts to mostly nihilism for nihilism's
sake. Sure there's humor, but most of the film's comedic beats are
inane and focus on bodily functions.
Let's talk about what the movie does get right though. The aforementioned opening act is a lot of fun. It's a prologue set in 1989 with all the fun art direction touches you'd expect to see for the time period. We get some fun insights into the lead character and his twin brother's childhood. The movie then jumps forward to the present with a blitzkrieg montage featuring the twins. Some nice production values are shown off including a Hawaii location and a hilarious shot involving multiple hookers and mountains of cocaine. The movie utilizes a fun video game motif that begins in the flashback and carries over to the rest of the movie. The retro 8-bit music and titles add some nice flavor along with some clever parallel editing that uses the game play on screen to illustrate a key point in the plot. There's also a nod to YouTube's The Angry Video Game Nerd later in the movie with Fredianelli providing his own AVGN inspired shtick that surpasses even the Nerd's own review of TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES for the Nintendo Entertainment System. While this is all well and good, it's unfortunate so much of the movie hinges on including so much unlicensed intellectual property. While the film does have other problems related to watchability, it's a shame it set itself up to probably end up reaching no further than becoming a YouTube upload itself because of this.
Another strong point worth mentioning about the movie is its cast. Everyone performs at the top of their game with Fredianelli (his funniest moment involving him clad as Santa Claus with game controller in hand and pillow-enhanced belly obscuring half of his face) proving capable once again of making the viewer feel sympathetic to an otherwise unsympathetic main character. The supporting players also stand out particularly well and are headlined with a group of actresses that are as charismatic as they are pretty (despite being largely the butt of the movie's bodily waste based humor). Though granted little screen time, an almost unrecognizable James Allen Brewer manages to outshine everyone as a grubby, homeless man with booze induced slurred speech.
As it stands, VINCENT YOUNG has some good ingredients, but never makes much of an impression as a cohesive narrative film. With what it does have going for it, it's too bad the sum of the movie's parts couldn't yield a more satisfying and funny movie.
Michael Fredianelli's STRANGE RITUALS is a tightly paced,
straightforward zombie movie. It goes back to the roots of zombie
stories and brings revenge and Voodoo curses into play as the cause of
the zombie rise. The movie's atmosphere is dark and dismal with lots of
rain, nighttime sequences, and unlit interiors. Like most zombie
movies, it's centered around a small group of characters who find
themselves in the midst of a zombie attack and fight to survive. The
protagonists are fun to watch with lead character Jeanne (played by
Lara Jean Mummert) being as believable and easy to relate to as she is
adorable. She's joined by her everyman boyfriend Dave (Paul Spadaro)
and brother Curtis (Jeremy Koerner) who brings a little light
heartedness into the mix as a smart allecky, snarky, almost Bruce
Campbell type. Supporting characters are also memorable with Skipper
Elekwachi as a Voodoo priest (complete with Baron Semedi like makeup
and garb), Mike Dinsmore (once again playing a creepy redneck), Michael
Nose (as a nerdy urban explorer), and Laura Warner and Bryan Wilks as
rowdy partyer types.
STRANGE RITUALS doesn't bring anything particularly new to the genre, but if you're a fan of its type, it delivers the goods. While restrained in the gore department, the movie's special makeup effects (headed by Stephanie Hancock) are a highlight. There are more than a few grotesque faces that standout out among an impressive horde of zombie extras. The movie's synth soundtrack by Dakarius is well suited to the action and sounds like it came out of an 80s Italian zombie movie. No doubt an entertaining movie, STRANGE RITUALS is recommended for fans of old school zombie fright flicks.
THE ENEMY OF MY ENEMY came and went (even for a Wild Dogs Production) largely under the radar. It's understandable why. One man show (and nearly just one location) movies are a hard sell. In addition, the movie comes across more like an experimental film. It's reminiscent of some of the student work of a George Lucas or David Cronenberg with some David Lynch thrown in. It's a weird ,trippy sci-fi tale spun around malevolent clones. The plot is kept thin and the movie relies on suspense, scares, and do-it-yourself sci-fi effects. In a way, it plays out a lot like Fredianelli's early short XENOBITES (a one man show that was later adapted into a fully fledged feature), but with the polish expected from a more seasoned feature filmmaker. Certainly some of the special effects are impressive. The robot psychologists the main character visits are the best realized and the standout among them is a glowing disembodied mask surrounded by orbs. We also get a wire frame CGI therapist that appears to be stock footage, but nevertheless makes for some effective usage. By in large, ENEMY is paced well enough and short enough in runtime to still make for an easy watch. However, there's something empty about it. We don't come off by film's end with the goods delivered in the standard movie watching sense. We feel more like we've watched Fredianelli play in his sandbox by film's end than watch an actual narrative feature. Would ENEMY have worked better if it were a short? Perhaps. With a stronger beginning and end and less of a meandering mid-section, the film could be more effective. Certainly some fat could be shaved off when we're asked to sit through opening and closing credits only to see one man responsible for everything. In, sum ENEMY is an interesting experiment with some fun ideas, but it's not exactly the most accessible or entertaining film you could seek out.
THE HOME INVADERS is a solid throwback to the film noir genre of the
40s and 50s. It's shot in black white, Academy Ratio, and is full of
moody low-key lighting. Probably the most spot-on of all Fredianelli's
period films, this movie is full of wonderful costumes, props,
locations, and sets. Even more important, the casting is pitch-perfect
and you've got actors that not only have the proper genre physicality,
but also perform like real actors from the noir period. Jeremy Koerner
(sporting a short back and sides haircut) gives a solid, nuanced
performance as newly paroled safe-cracker Sid Avery. Ray Medved gives
gravity to the role of bossman Frank Winters while the beautiful Maggie
VandenBerghe shines as a classic femme fatale in the Veronica Lake
tradition. Furthermore, Fredianelli himself shows up in a memorable
supporting role sporting a Brooklyn accent as a hard-nosed henchman.
While it starts off slow, THE HOME INVADERS picks up steam and proves to be a highly suspenseful caper movie. Heist movie fans will recognize the rudiments of everything from RIFIFI to RESERVOIR DOGS in the movie's DNA and Fredianelli exploits these tropes to maximum effect. If there's a flaw to point out, it's that the first act isn't quite as immersive as the rest of the film. While there's some seamless blending of stock footage, a lack of extras (specifically absent from a courtroom location where we hear ambiance, but see no one save the leads) and look at the outside world detract from what otherwise seems like an indie with high production values. As the movie progresses however, things fire on all cylinders and we're treated to the tensest of heist sequences as well as a powerful shootout climax in a crowded night club. While the movie plays more like a film noir "greatest hits" album than something completely fresh, that's not necessarily a bad thing. THE HOME INVADERS delivers the goods and stands as one of Fredianelli's most polished efforts. A fine piece of independent filmmaking.
GOLD MOUNTAIN is a fun film. It's lean, simply plotted, and is full of colorful characters and comedic gags. If you're a fan of any of the masters of silent comedy (Keaton, Chaplin, etc.), you will no doubt find something to enjoy about this movie. With GOLD MOUNTAIN, director Michael Fredianelli does a solid job recreating the aesthetic and overall feel of a real silent movie. He shoots in the square framed "Academy Ratio", applies a sepia tint, and amps up the action with those blitzkrieg fast frame rates. Furthermore, Fredianelli does a great job replicating the era's astonishing achievements in visual effects while also having fun incorporating some of the cruder aspects of silent movie production. While it's worth saying that some of the jukeboxy music isn't as effective as the pure orchestration picks, GOLD MOUNTAIN's public domain music score is a natural fit. The costumes and makeup help to create a pretty good facsimile for a 1920s "reel" American Old West. In fact, the production values shine to the point that we actually get to see a legit old fashioned railway station with locomotives in action! Only nitpick on the wardrobe/prop department are the modern aviator eyeglasses one character wears which would have been out of place in the silent film era never mind the real Old West. Still, this particular character looks so appropriately goofy (and creepy) with them on that it can be overlooked. In sum, GOLD MOUNTAIN is a hell of a good time at the movies! It's a good example of the kind of quality product a small group of people can make with just a fistful of Dollars and a passion for cinema.
With Fredianelli's HARD PROFIT, we get a southwestern US set crime
thriller that reflects much of the climate following the 2008
recession. More than simply cops and gangsters, HARD PROFIT deals
primarily with corporate greed and the nefarious business practices
that ultimately end up screwing everyone involved. While the main
concept behind the movie is compelling, HARD PROFIT is at best a mixed
bag when executed. So let's break it down:
The Good: HARD PROFIT has a memorable aesthetic. We get dusty country roads, dark clouds, and outbursts of rainfall. These visual elements underscore the film's ominous, and seedy tone while Aaron Stielstra's haunting score heightens the suspense. Stielstra shows with this film (and a string of rural set Wild Dogs joints) that he can mix his signature synth with folky, acoustic sounds to great effect. Then come the performances. The movie is fronted by Josiah Frampton (THE RIVEN) who has proved to be a great leading man for Wild Dogs. He provides just the right mix of "everyman" while still exuding a powerful edge. Frequent Wild Dogs star Jeremy Koerner also headlines the cast and showcases his ability to play the villainous wild card characters we love to hate. Aaron Stielstra also proves memorable in an extended cameo as company founder Randolph Park. Park is mysterious and creepy and nearly steals the show. Another asset the film has are its action sequences. The film features two tense set pieces that are easily the movie's most powerful scenes. As the credits seem to indicate, these scenes were storyboarded by artist/writer David Lambert and it shows! They are expertly executed and staged and provide some much needed "oomph" at the end of the film.
The Bad: Scenes that should carry impact feel weightless as they are dropped almost as soon as they are brought up. For instance, we get such juicy occurrences as an affair the lead character is having or an undercover FBI agent that shows up snooping at his house while his wife is home alone. While scenes like these are not the driving forces behind the plot, it's weird to see them sprinkled about without much registering. Furthermore, the film suffers from having seemingly too many supporting characters. This is particularly apparent with some of the minor redneck characters that spout off stereotypical and clichéd dialog that seems completely inconsequential. Even though the film runs slightly over an hour and a half, it's midsection seems to drag the movie out as much time seems invested in corporate politics and dialog as well as a tendency to "tell" instead of "show." Lastly, the movie feels tonally inconsistent. Penned in part by Stielstra (best known for his action/comedies), HARD PROFIT is by in large played dead straight. However there are some weird moments throughout where quirky Stielstra-esque humor shows up and feels oddly out of place. Things like hammy line delivery and excessive stock footage (in a corporate training video starring Stielstra himself) are seemingly played for laughs.
All in all, HARD PROFIT is average Wild Dogs. It's not the caliber of SCARLET WORM, BLACKFACE KILLER, or HUNTER AND THE HUNTED, but has enough enjoyable elements to grant it a viewing.
Michael Fredianelli returns to comedy with CROSS CUT. In some ways, it's an interesting change of pace for the director because it has a much different sense of humor than we've come to expect from irreverent tour de-farces like THE BIG SLEAZE. It's a witty film that is highly self-referential and brings to mind works like the Ted Post directed TWILIGHT ZONE EPISODE "A World of Difference" and the famous Chuck Jones cartoon DUCK AMUCK. As with those pieces, CROSS CUT is a meta movie with actor characters that are being manipulated by the crew in charge of them. It's a highly suspenseful film and director Fredianelli keeps up the pace with plenty of amusing twists and turns. The cast is a solid ensemble built around Maralynn Adams, Jeremy Koerner, and Fredianelli himself as the leads. All give good turns in their roles, but Adams comes off as most memorable in her first starring role. Female leads are somewhat less common among Fredianelli's oeuvre and Adams nails her character's Marilyn Monroe type routine and demeanor. Other movie highlights include a first act full of gloriously sleazy 70s art direction (easily rivaling much of the aesthetics of Fredianelli's real 70s set film THE BLACKFACE KILLER!), scenic ski lodge locations, and a wonderful appearance by canine star Martini. Somehow Martini seems right at home in front of the camera and is almost disgustingly cute in this. There's also a killer climax full of brutal (and yet still darkly hilarious in tone) wanton gun violence. While the filmmaker characters on screen are humorously slipshod indie types, the movie might have benefited from a Hollywood location or two as did HIERARCHY (yep, another past Fredianelli film!) as it would have given the movie making subject matter a bit more credence. This is a minor gripe however and CROSS CUT plays as a unique piece of indie filmmaking that entertains in spades!
With his latest directorial effort, Michael Fredianelli tackles the
backwoods thriller subgenre. At first glance (particularly if you've
seen the trailer), the movie might look like familiar territory. Do we
really need another movie about hunters or campers finding themselves
ambushed in the woods by killers? Well in fact, HUNTER AND THE HUNTED
has more depth than it might initially appear to have. At its heart,
it's a character study and the character's motivations are much more
complex than what you may expect them to be in what would seem like a
simple cat and mouse game of survival. As the protagonists, we've got a
group of predominately "bro" like characters who binge drink and
converse about GAME OF THRONES and THE DARK KNIGHT while playing
hand-held video games. They're rather unlikable people save for lead
character Mark (played by Michael Fredianelli in an understated
performance) who is the most relatable. There's purposely little
revealed about this character and he plays a little like the viewer's
playable video game character for them to project themselves onto.
While the "bro" characters are over the top, it's through the lens of
Mark that the filmmaker's (Todd Jurgess and Jeremy Koerner being the
other story crafters here) are able to say things about modern US
society and culture in a way that is even at times quite humorous. When
you put these show-offy "bros" in a hunting trip scenario, conflict
ultimately ensues and there are more than a few well realized twists
and turns along the way.
As a film, HUNTER AND THE HUNTED is a step up technically from a lot of what Fredianelli has been producing lately. There's ambitious camera work on display from cinematographer Tyler M. Manzo that gives a sense of scope and awe absent in most micro-budget indie productions. The effects are achieved practically and the use of squibs and blank ammunition go a long way in upping the film's action movie chops. Throw in a stunning car chase that rivals most of Hollywood's set pieces in the last decade and you've got a hell of a ride. Aaron Stielstra achieves high marks for a score that punctuates the film's suspenseful moments while actor Jeremy Koerner is outright terrifying as the loose cannon in the group of the hunters. Mike Dinsmore is pitch-perfect as the fanatical leader of a group of hillbilly antagonists (rivaling the inbred redneck cannibals in Fredianelli's BLACKFACE KILLER no less!) that the hunters inevitably encounter. Overall, a solid Fredianelli feature that ranks up there with THE SCARLET WORM and BLACKFACE KILLER as one of the best films in the man's body of work.
While the title SEVEN DORMS OF DEATH might bring to mind director Richard Griffin's earlier film MURDER UNIVERSITY (ok, it might bring to mind THE BEYOND too if you like your Italian horror), don't be fooled. SEVEN DORMS is a completely different animal. In fact there aren't many other films like it (though for tone, it easily rivals Giffin's ACCIDENTAL INCEST for dark humor and sheer madcap lunacy). The movie is a post-modern take on the slasher genre with a unique catch. It's framed as a faux 1980s Late Late Show TV broadcast (complete with ghoulishly eccentric horror host!) of a lost Z-grade horror movie! Of course the lost movie in question is Satanic themed slasher SEVEN DORMS OF DEATH itself. Together with this main feature, the movie will cut back to this Late Late Show wrap-around along with commercials and fake trailers. So from the get-go we have a movie that is very self-aware and tongue-in-cheek. Similar to what is done in movies like GRINDHOUSE or BLACK DYNAMITE, the movie includes intentional technical "goofs." However with the Late Late Show framing, this movie's goofy, meta nature manages to feel much more organic. Unlike the main pitfall of many a genre pastiche, SEVEN DORMS doesn't come off as obnoxiously "wink-wink" and the humor more often than not hits the mark. It's a rare kind of film in that it manages to pull off "bad on purpose" quite successfully. There is much in the film that really is "so bad, it's good." Despite being intentionally schlocky, SEVEN DORMS is an incredibly well made film. Heck, the movie begins with a colorful, RE-ANIMATOR inspired title sequence accompanied by a powerful synth theme that sounds like a lost work from horror composing legends Claudio Simonetti or Fabio Frizzi! There's some gorgeously effective lighting, slick camera-work, and a bevy of costumes and props that really sell the 1980s setting. The effects are created practically and there's even the inclusion of some glorious stop-motion creature effects! When it comes to acting, there are some real stand-out performances of truly over the top characters. Michael Thurber is hilarious (and nearly unrecognizable caked in makeup) as horror host Baron Von Blah (who even has an evil puppet sidekick!). Meanwhile, Aaron Andrade and Dan Mauro are great as a pair of tough as nails detectives who look like they escaped off the set of a 1980s Golan-Globus production! Another standout is Laura Pepper who unleashes comedy gold as a Transatlantic accented ace reporter who seems to have leaped out of a 30s or 40s Frank Capra picture. Everything about the movie is just so wacky and makes for an incredibly entertaining watch. If you're a fan of horror/comedy hybrids, you will love SEVEN DORMS OF DEATH!
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