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Nothing new here...been done better.
15 September 2013
Slapped together with a boring narrator and lots of stock shots you've seen before, this copycat series won't tell you anything you don't already know. It begins, oddly enough, with the Boston Tea Party and you will see a few scenes that appeared in Mysteries at the Museum, the one with the original Tea Party crate! They justify this padding by pointing out that a "mob" was involved. And to make matters worse ALL the old stock shots and clips from '30's movies are STRETCHED to fill the wide screen ratio making the old-time gangsters look like obese little people. Shots of WWI...which have little or nothing to do with "the mob" are stretched as well and vintage troops fight with mobile artillery on egg-shaped wheels. Some of the stuff looks lifted from VHS tapes, low-res, blurry fuzzy shots, some shown at the wrong speed, a real mess. There have been so many good series about gangsters, prohibition etc that this one is simply unnecessary. Strictly for those viewers who want to see every last gangster themed show.
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Hidden in America (2012– )
Disappointing and shallow.
16 March 2013
This series pretends to inform us of strange and sinister groups and persons of which we would be ignorant but for this show. Thus the title. In fact the revelations are much more mundane. A show on "The Mormons" tells little that has not been revealed by previous documentaries or even the South Park show. A show about a scary "outlaw motorcycle gang" consists of a few fuzzy clips, an interview with the clubs alleged president's brother and some still photos. The few clips are shown again and again until the repetition becomes annoying. The photo of the evil scary biker is zoomed in and out, panned right and left, up and down until he becomes so familiar that he doesn't look frightening anymore. We are treated to the old "voice and appearance disguised" bit as a fuzzy blur tells us of the crimes of the cyclists in a gurgling altered audio track. Of course this out of focus blob could be anybody, perhaps the shows producer and it could be anybody reading....anything. In one ridiculous scene eight or ten people are seated in an office discussing the evil bikers. All but two have their heads fuzzed out and one person, seated in front of a window, is obscured by a large rectangle making him appear to have a carton over his head. I suppose there was a recognizable object visible in the window. Much is made of three "brave" cops, also blurred out, who infiltrate the gang and participate in their mayhem for three years, all to gather evidence to punish the bikers. But despite the narrators frantic rant we learn that all they have discovered is that the bikers fight and stab one another from time to time. Virtually no drugs, guns, WMDs, pornography, slaves or anything else is revealed. It's quite a letdown.

All the episodes I saw suffered from overly dramatic narration, use of inserts culled from Hollywood movies, blurring of details or even entire scenes, perhaps to hide the fact that they are using video clips of a totally different subject and endless repeats of the few minutes or seconds of actual relevant video. This show is on par with the "Gangland" shows and suffers from the same music video style editing. Every visual cliché is used to the limit; inserts with the edges out of focus, phony "scratches" to make digital video look like beat-up movie film, flicker-frame montages and more "Dutch-angle" shots than "Battlefield Earth"! Unless you are bored stiff and will watch just about anything that moves, forget about this series.
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All about the crew, not crime scenes
15 August 2012
Warning: Spoilers
After 12 years this odd documentary is just about lost. It has the look of a series pilot that didn't sell. If you expect to see bizarre crime scenes on the order of a "Hoarders" episode you will be disappointed. The show is mostly about the crew members who are made to look weird. One woman is homeless and sleeps in bus shelters. One man sexually harasses a woman worker. Several times the workers seem to be purposely acting silly just to make the scene entertaining. But the actual crime scenes are shown only in the briefest manner, perhaps for legal reasons. As a result the people profiled don't seem to be taking their job seriously regardless how much they talk about safety. Their job isn't funny and making these people into weird and goofy characters spoils the show.
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Fascinating but not altogether truthful documentary.
22 July 2012
It is ironic that this documentary about preserving films is itself almost lost. Today Amazon has for sale a single videotape of the show and I saw it only because someone put it on Youtube. While the show is clearly made by people who love film, they are sometimes wrong about the subject. Alan Alda opens the discourse and tells us about nitrate film. "First it turns green and then it turns to powder." Well, it doesn't turn green. And there are many stages of deterioration before the powder phase. We have film stock shown to us, supposedly old silent rarities that is clearly sound film. Old lost silent prints are presented wound on modern plastic cores. And the original camera negative of "The Great Train Robbery" is obviously a modern positive print, and it is about 400 feet shorter than the film it pretends to be. The very idea that something so rare as the original negative of such a landmark film would be rattling around in a METAL can without tissue or plastic wrap and wound in such a sloppy fashion is absurd.

OK, I'll concede some of these anachronisms would not register with the majority of viewers. What should not be ignored is the fact that the loss of so many titles and the deterioration of so many prints is due, not to fate or unstable film base or the ravages of time but to the carelessness and appalling policies of the film copyright owners. Roddy MacDowell begins to speak of this in one segment and is almost immediately cut off.

Leonard Maltin introduces us to a fellow who set up a Cinerama system in his home. Mr. Maltin thinks it's wonderful that this individual cared enough about the films to preserve them. What he doesn't mention is that film collectors were systematically hounded and harassed by the film studios and the FBI in the years before DVDs and videotape. Many had their collections confiscated and destroyed and some were sued just as so-called "film pirates" are today. Yet it was the collectors who saved the "one last print" of so many films that would otherwise be lost. The Cinerama guy probably paid somebody to give him the print that was destined for destruction and technically he stole it! Another segment describes how a silent film lover set up a silent theater and lovingly accumulated a library of rare silent prints. What they don't tell you is that the copyright owner of "The Covered Wagon" sued this man for showing the film.....even though they cared so little about it that they junked the negatives for their silver content decades earlier.

And one thing you might not notice until the show is over; where can you and I see these wonderful treasures that have been preserved and restored? Well in many cases, you can't. Unless there is a DVD release such as "Metropolis" received recently, you and I must depend on somebody leaking a copy when they get their hands on a DVD at a film festival. Films must be preserved for the future generations, but not for the likes of us. Well, at least we know they still exist. Better than nothing.

On the bright side, this is a fascinating show. Check it out on Youtube and hope that an updated edition might someday find its way to a DVD and maybe get packaged with a few of those restored treasures as well.
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The Forger (2012)
Hackers and forgers.
10 July 2012
This movie does for forgers what the movie Hackers did for hackers, which is attempt to make them look like the mainstream folks in the audience. Oh, sure, they had silly clothes and some goofy quirks but the bottom line was that they were like everyone else, only more so. And just as Hackers was nonsense, so is Forgers. Real hackers didn't sit around bragging about their computers' specs like a bunch of boy-racers talking about their engines.

In fact the Forgers characters are even worse, depicted as talentless con-men or child prodigies who can pick up a brush and dash off a flawless imitation of an old master in a few hours in a gloomy basement.

For a real insight to the persona of an art forger look up the career of Eric Hebborn, who really did paint stuff that was often mistaken for very valuable pictures. But he never became wealthy as a result of his work and he was not 15 years old at his peak.

Since the story is rather thin, the producers have made it more relevant to the intended audience by adding a drippy love story and a maudlin tale of parental abandonment, made even sillier by casting a 20 year old man for the part of a young boy. He is supposedly a high school freshman and at one point a character states that he thought the boy was "maybe 12 years old". There is no way Mr. Hutcherson would be mistaken for a 12 year old child.

One wonders why the writers didn't simply make the character a college dropout. The story would have been just as effective and the romantic dialog would have been more believable. The screenplay has all the traits of a work by a committee. Adults will probably find this movie tedious and rather predictable.Younger viewers may enjoy the romantic aspects of the story.
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McDowell 1, God 0!
24 June 2012
The idea of hauling The Devil into court to answer for his "crimes" has been done before but never as badly. There are two major problems with this low-budget indie show. First, the script is a shambles. Is the movie about a man coming to grip with his shortcomings? His shaky faith? His rage against corruption? His failed career? His grief over his mothers death? Take your pick from an overabundance of themes in this script-by-committee because every few minutes it lurches from dark comedy to weepy romance then back to a saga of "everyman against evil", and finally finishes as a maudlin endorsement of fundamentalism.

The second problem is the utterly unconvincing acting of Bart Bronson, the central character and semi-hero of the piece. A gangling clumsy fellow, he is unimpressive physically, unemotional in his delivery and alternates between sleepwalking through his scenes and simply yelling at the top of his voice. It doesn't help that the costumer has dressed him in a cow-boyish outfit more appropriate for a club than a courtroom and added a mop of hippy hair that would look great if the movie was set in 1970. He plays the part of the worlds most clueless attorney. His illogical arguments wouldn't get a traffic ticket dismissed and he commits courtroom errors that would have a real lawyer disbarred.

The only saving grace of this dreadful story is Malcolm McDowell who seems to have written his own lines. He is witty, clever and makes far more sense than stammering Bart. Casting Mr. McDowell opposite an unprepared hobby actor is a puzzling strategy and makes Mr. Bronson look even more inept.

Clearly the intended audience for this creation is fundamentalist Xians who will cheer for any story, however dreadful, that supports their particular beliefs. So much do they love this movie that they have apparently conspired to elevate it's deservedly low rating by reviewing it as a mindless mob, rating it a 9 or 10, that is, right on par with Gone With The Wind or Citizen Kane! Unless you are a "fundie" and feel required to buy or rent anything that screams "I am a believer!" as Mr. Bronson does, the only reason to ever watch this is to see a very entertaining performance by Mr. McDowell. But if you have a functioning mind, be prepared to be somewhat infuriated by the ridiculous and illogical screenplay that shoves religious nonsense in your face every few minutes.
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Tedious and annoying
15 April 2012
There have been many documentary shows about Madoff. It's a fascinating and horrifying story. But this example resembles a low budget episode of a "crooks and grifters" TV reality show. Obviously, video of Madoffs early career is rare. But the producers fill the void with stock shots, clips from old time movies and inserts that are clearly meant to provide something to watch as the narrator drones on. And to keep things interesting they rely on every cinematic bromide that their computer can manage: inserts with the edges out of focus, sepia toned clips to simulate "vintage" material and flicker-frame montages that repeat the same pointless visuals over and over and over. Its a 40 minute TV show inflated to feature length. Frontline, BBC and others have covered this material better. And the video is well laced with sobbing investors, folks rich enough to interest Madoff with their millions, yet foolish and careless enough to have blindly put all their nest eggs in the same basket. They claim over and over that they have "lost everything" when it is well known that the investors did get a substantial portion of their money back. The Frontline Madoff Affair is a much better watch.
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The Depraved (2011)
Underground plot holes galore!
8 March 2012
If all you want is a spooky movie with monsters and atmospheric settings, this is as good as any. If you expect anything like a logical story, well, maybe not so good. The film depends on a common misconception; every big city has endless tunnels beneath and they are all connected as well as lost and forgotten. And this is nonsense. Unlike Paris which has quarries beneath it, most cities do not have anything like a connected maze of tunnels. And most tunnels, even abandoned subway stations, are used for something and are well documented.

This film, like others of its type, substitutes basements or even abandoned factories with their windows covered for underground areas. One look at the brickwork of these phony tunnels is enough to reveal the sets are ordinary locations dressed as spooky tunnels. The huge size of many of the locations should tip off the viewer that they are seeing nothing more mysterious than an old warehouse.

And our explorers are totally unprepared for their adventure. The have no hardhats, no first aid kit, no proper clothing, nothing but a few dinky flashlights. If not for their "guide" somehow toting 5 sets of rubber waders in his tiny backpack they would never have made it through a flooded tunnel. We are further told that scrawny teens can climb 50 feet, hand over hand, on a thin rope. And thats up and down. Small wonder the actual climbing is not shown! And of course the abandoned tunnels are full of improbable characters who survive on.....what....rats? If you like to suspend your disbelief totally, you will probably enjoy this film. But if, like me, obvious plot holes spoil the experience you may wish you watched something else.
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3 Musketeers (2011 Video)
A comic book screenplay
15 November 2011
Imagine taking the dialog from the balloons in a comic book and simply using it as a screenplay. Would it work? See this movie for an answer. The story of the 3 musketeers has been shoehorned into a paint-by-numbers spy/secret agent/commando story by assigning the names and some plot points of the original to the rather un-original characters and story of this deadly opus. I admit I didn't make it through the whole thing so I'll tell you what I saw before giving up in disgust. A crack team of "musketeers" has penetrated some major military installation in (I guess) China and is trashing their warlike computer which has been cleverly designed to resemble some high voltage switchgear. The location has been cleverly disguised as a factory or oil refinery or something with a lot of pipes. In the process our heroes kill the half dozen useless guards, blow up an airliner, a helicopter and a few other things. The computer whiz hacks an anti-aircraft gun with his tablet computer, poking the poor thing savagely with his index finger. A dozen jabs or so and he has logged onto Chinese wi-fi, cracked the firewall of the internet enabled gun, aimed it, fired it and blown up the enemy fighters, all with less keystrokes (finger pokes?) than it took YOU to get the movie to play! We never find out exactly why they caused all this havoc. Somehow they get back to safety where they regroup and meet up with the girl "musketeer" who is meditating in a brief two-piece swim suit, perhaps hoping to remember where she left the rest of her costume. The single sentence, comic book balloon style speech continues throughout this mayhem, branding all involved as 2-D cardboard totally disposable and boring characters. Even the sexy girl is uninteresting and dull.

At first I thought this would be a spoof of this type of story and looked forward to some entertaining gags. But no, this thing is apparently meant to be "for real" and we must suffer through the antics of two brainless lugs and one bimbo as they karate-chop their way through life.

This clunker has the appearance of a costly production, what with many 'splodin' things, flyovers of a big city, cgi space satellites and such, but it's still small enough to require the crew to post bogus favorable reviews, hoping to bolster the pathetic rating and maybe con a few credulous viewers into buying or renting this wretched dog! It's a stinker of the bottom tier! Avoid!
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Movie makers that don't know how movies are shown.
11 October 2011
An anthology film with the segments bridged with supposedly humorous antics of ghosts and zombies who visit their own drive-in theater to watch movies about more ghosts and zombies. Why, you ask, do the undead go to a drive-in theater when they don't drive? Wouldn't an indoor theater be more to their liking? And such a drive-in! The film makers apparently had access to an actual drive-in theater but were not allowed to touch the projection equipment. So when it's time to show a film the print magically changes from 35mm to 16mm and an old pre-war Bell & Howell model 138 is switched on. The monster projectionist hasn't actually put the film IN the projector,but he gives the reel a spin and as we zoom in on the reel of 16mm film spinning like crazy the picture is somehow projected out of the big 35mm machine. And they do this goofy act for each of the segments as though the viewers won't notice. The films come in absurdly tiny cans which should hold a preview at most. Nit-picking? Maybe. But if there is one thing a movie maker should know it is what film is like. And these guys obviously don't. They can't act either. The ghost "manager" tries to do a funny/sinister accent as he tries to be a version of "The Cryptkeeper" but he isn't very good and drops his dialect repeatedly. Some of the undead actors don't speak at all so they thrash around trying to be over the top funny but just look silly. The performers in the story segments are so-so at best and none of the stories would scare anybody. I'd like to give these folks something for effort but considering they didn't even try very hard, I won't. I suppose you could sit through this if nothing else was on hand and you were really desperate for entertainment. Recommended only for those die-hard fans who want to see every last horror movie ever made.
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Attempt to cash in....
7 August 2011
Title was changed to cash in on the popular Cowboys and Aliens. Maybe the screenplay as well because the film starts out as a standard bounty hunter tale. The hero has an odd high-pitched voice totally incompatible with his character. Then we throw in a bimbo he "buys" from a wild west pimp, a bit of gratuitous partial nudity which is okay I guess but slows down the action. Its kinda tedious and slow for an action/horror movie. Lame, unconvincing dialog further hampers the entertainment value. Oddly, the costumes, props and set are pretty good. Maybe the extras were real reinactors at some restored historic park. Unless you just love anything about zombies, you might do well to look elsewhere for tonight's entertainment.
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Boys in Brown (1949)
A precursor of American Juvenile Delinquent stories
3 June 2011
Amazon notwithstanding, a DVD of this is available and I recently ran across it. The story is pretty basic and not very believable but you do learn quite a bit about the time in which it happens. Unlike the US where kids were already defining their own style of dress, their own music and gathering places devoid of adults, the British kids dress like miniature adults with clean white shirt, tie and dark sport coat....even when robbing stores! You get the feeling that success for them means getting what the adults already have rather than renouncing the world of their elders. And they are comfortable hitting a pub for a drink. It's no big deal. I guess the British drinking age is a bit lower than that in the US. But while the British world might have welcomed the youngsters into the fold, the British film industry took things to a ridiculous extreme; all the borstal "kids" are old enough to be guards themselves. Check the biogs of the actors. Several of them are in their 30's, playing teens. Hanley, playing the part of Bill Foster, is 32 and sports an enormous belly. He is almost old enough to have a son of his own in a borstal. Attenborough and Bogard are a little less obvious, but not much. Apparently Rank, like American International and Roger Corman, had difficulty finding suitable juvenile actors and simply used adults dressed as kids. After a while you get used to it since the teens act like little adults anyway. Actually a rather interesting picture from a historical aspect. If you can find it.
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Energy from the Vacuum (2006 Video)
Silly hokum, not even funny.
2 September 2010
Basically, an attempt to justify a perpetual motion device. While it is likely that the individuals in this documentary truly believe in their work, even a schoolboy will see that they have proved nothing and that the devices, as presented in the film, do not work. The video itself is as inept as the subject; much of the interview material is out of sync, some so badly I thought it was narrated. Much of the show is ego trip stuff with endless praising of the people therein. One of the people, a self-taught tinkerer named Bendini is flattered and fawned upon by the sycophant narrator until it becomes embarrassing. And he is alternately described as a genius on par with Tesla and a hunted man, pursued by evil scientists and government hit-men trying to ruin his earth-shaking research. No working device has ever been demonstrated by these people, even though they have been selling books and videos and do-it-yourself kit for 20 years. Debunked by the Mythbusters, they insult their adversaries personally. Debunked by James Randi, they call him "a buffoon". If these folks were a little less uptight and had made a shorter show, it might have had some entertainment value. As it is, this is just a silly, sad monument to several egotistical fellows wasting their lives.
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The Thaw (2009)
Are you OK?
22 October 2009
Yes, another flick where somebody asks "are you OK?" every 5 or 10 minutes. And its a standard "global warming" story where we are all going to burn up in a few years, evil humanity is going to die because we won't give up our cars, etc etc. On the forefront of this disaster we have two super grouchy girls, two clueless boys, a self-sacrificing black helicopter pilot, couple of confused scientists and a monster bug swarm. The irony is that the idealistic kids who grump about how people won't sacrifice to save the planet quickly revert to soap opera bickering instead of doing anything useful. And of course they don't do as they are told, don't heed warnings and are quickly infected. The half hour or so where the kids begin to realize they are screwed can be skipped. You've seen it in so many similar films that its just cut and paste.

I guess if you haven't seen many "evil parasite" movies this one is as good as any. But its like meeting an old friend. Not much you didn't already know. And if you don't actually buy into all the warming hysteria you will be groaning and looking at your watch a lot.
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Was irony the real message?
22 September 2009
Here is what I got out of the film: cops kept the residents of this area bottled up because the surrounding neighborhoods feared what would happen if poor black people began to spread out. In doing this the cops proved to be arrogant, unfeeling and cruel. Eventually, the people in this ghetto formed gangs. At first the idea was safety and self-defense. But somehow this evolved into rival gangs fighting and killing each other. The irony is that the residents of the ghetto became exactly what they feared and despised: an organized force that kept people behind geographical barriers, held power through fear and intimidation and was respected because the members were devoid of compassion and feeling. The gangs used the cops as role models. While it is alleged in this film that cops beat up people simply because they were black, the black gangsters beat up people because of the color of the bandanna in their pocket. Whats the solution? Who says there is a solution?

A riot is shown as a major turning point. All it showed me was that pushing people too far makes them do crazy things. In one scene we see rioters destroying a car. Later they pass a car turned upside-down. So whose cars were they? Some white slum landlord who fled on foot? I doubt it. I think some hapless resident of this neighborhood woke up the next day to find he didn't have a car anymore. And all so rioters could break something. What can you say about people who loot and burn down their own neighborhood? Wouldn't YOU want to contain them? Whats the answer? To me the moral was "get out of the area and don't come back", not "Join a gang and fight".

This film was difficult for me to watch because of the overuse of visual effects. Motion sequences were sped up or run backwards and forwards. Stills used "camera shake" or unnecessary zooms. And everywhere was the "old film" effect where phony edge flare, scratches, jumpy picture and even the effect of the film jamming in the projector and catching fire. This stuff is OK if used very sparingly. When applied to every sequence, it get really tedious. And less hip-hop scratch on the soundtrack would have helped.

Since I have never lived in this neighborhood, I can only guess how non-gang members feel. But somehow I think that a lot of folks who live in the neighborhood shown in the film wish the gang guys would just go away. To me, this film shows that the gangs hurt their own friends and neighbors a lot more than they help.
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Was this supposed to be funny?
16 September 2009
I could understand if this was a funny crime film where all the villains are cartoonish bumblers. This is played for real. We have Slater, a con-author who tells everyone how to run their lives but has made a ruin of his own. He runs afoul of Gooding, playing a prissy, effeminate, yet somehow feared smuggler of all kinds of stuff and his gang of over-age thugs. The head thug is a dead ringer for Patrick Troughton, the second actor to play Dr. Who. As such its hard to take him too seriously. The others are kind of old to be slapping people around. Yet, this gang is talented: they manage to shoot people, beat up men and women savagely, shoot up a hotel, crash their car, all in broad daylight and in public without attracting the attention of a single cop. And, like the evil killer in a slasher movie, they are unstoppable. No matter how fast or where Slater runs, how well he hides, how many people are witnesses, the crooks always catch him and beat him up. After a while the chase scenes become pointless since you know Slater is doomed from the start. And no matter how savagely he or his girlfriends are thrashed, a minute later they are just fine, broken ribs and fractured jaws forgotten, with maybe a little cut on the forehead to address. If the film had been played as a take-off on other gangster films, it could have been funny and entertaining. As it is, it's a plot hole ridden mess. Maybe I'm too critical. Others seem to enjoy it.
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Bringing Up Bobby (2009 Video)
Breathtakingly awful!
10 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
The story in a nutshell: James has waited 12 years for a recalcitrant judge to issue a death certificate for his deceased parents. Only now can their will go to probate. Since their deaths, James has lived in the parents house and raised his siblings, two brothers and a sister. As the titles roll we see James mugging to the camera, making funny faces, in general acting idiotic. In fact my first thought was that he was gay and this would be a story of how Jesus reformed him. Nope. He is straight, and a 35 year old virgin. But he is religious. Well, sort of. We never find out exactly what denomination his faith embraces, we never see a church, a minister, sing any hymns, but we get loads of homespun platitudes. Jesus, we learn, was the parents "anchor" and made James the wonderful guy who raised 3 god-fearing siblings. But as the story unfolds we find the late parents were a pair of compulsive hoarders who stuffed their tiny home with loads of clutter and junk. Furthermore, they have secreted thousands of dollars in cash just about everywhere and only James' lack of interest in cleaning the squalid house has prevented him finding the loot.

The sister he raised has become a a shrill, nasty and greedy harpy whose only achievement has been to marry an older, possibly mentally challenged fellow who she humiliates at every opportunity.

The next brother has become a drug addict and returns to town only to collect on the will. Since a hard-core junkie is not in keeping with the uplifting nature of this film, the writer/director has made the brother a funny retro addict, bypassing the contemporary image of a crack-head and the earlier hippy-dippy LSD freak image and making him a beatnik type who spouts political nonsense and acts befuddled like a bad imitation of Maynard Krebbs.

The last sibling is the eponymous Bobby, an indifferent goth kid who also dresses like a preppy of 1980's vintage when he thinks it will help his dating chances. His age is also up for grabs. The tag-line for the film calls him a 15 year old, he is said to be 16 in the film dialog, but he is able to legally buy and drive a car which would make him 18, at least in Ohio where the film was made.

There is also an honorary brother, Eric, a goth buddy of Bobby who lives with them when his drunken mother is having a bad day. His age too is a mystery. He is apparently a high school senior like his friend but his mom appears to be about 65 years old. I guess the booze really takes its toll.

Then we have James himself: Since he must have been 21 when his parents died in order to have custody of the siblings, and since we are told he has been pursuing the death certificate for 12 years, his minimum age must be 33. He has no apparent means of support, no job and his source of income is a mystery. We know he likes to dress up in funny costumes and he encourages Bobby to do likewise. He claims this is a biblical directive. And though his Christian philosophy has produced tragic results so far, he browbeats little Bobby constantly to "get right with God". James himself is a sorry role model: round shouldered, pot bellied, flabby, and largely ignorant of stuff like legal procedures, financial planning, home repair, just about anything a surrogate dad should know, he reacts to most situations by playing an over-age class clown, acting childish and silly when he is at a loss for words. Even little Bobby seems more mature.

If this seems like a dark drama about a dysfunctional family, bear in mind that this is a COMEDY! The film maker offers this as "something that's really unusual in the Christian market." There is more but if you want to experience the full measure of this films' madness you must watch it yourself, if you can find a copy. It had its premier at the Grace CMA Church in Middleburg Hts., Ohio so its not exactly a festival fave! The database does not provide a merchandise link although Amazon will sell you a copy. I think Redbox declined to get involved.

The film is "basically targeting a teenage audience and also meant for college students" according to the film maker but it's difficult to imaging even the most pious Xian teens greeting this story with anything but groans. My feeling is the target audience is made up of old deacons who sign the purchase orders for church study materials. For although this film is dreary and deadly in every respect, it is NOT offensive in the slightest. There is not a single kiss, no hugs, no romantic talk, no cursing, no introspective thoughts, and only the most vague and broad references to religion. There is no theological discussion here and, unless you are Jewish, nothing in this film will conflict with your faith, or lack thereof.

With the exception of the actor who plays James, (a credited voice actor and a professional clergyman) the players have but one credit, this film, to their names. By using hobby actors, their own home as a set, their own screenplay and non-union crew, the Staron twins have brought in a completed film for next to nothing. It's hard to imagine films like this losing money, especially since this genre is known for low quality product. While I find their film awful in every respect, I must admit their strategy is brilliant. If they make a few more of these niche films and maintain their high return on investment they may well be on their way to making better mainstream films. In the meantime the Starons can claim the titles of "Ed Wood" and "William Beaudine" of Xian films.
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Communist version of Flash Gordon?
1 August 2009
In case you wondered why Roger Corman scrapped the story line of German SF films he bought, watch one in its original form! This film is on par with Tom Baker era Dr. Who shows in most respects. Process shots, models, special effects are all pretty basic. Direction is very slow and the story predictable. Like many TV space operas, our explorers land amongst humanlike aliens, most of whom are enslaved by a mean tyrant. Fortunatly, they speak the explorers language, in this case, German. But instead of Ming the Merciless, its more like Clueless. Our tyrant boasts an army of about 20 guys, no real weapons except handguns, no death rays, no monsters, nada! He isn't even that mean. True, he makes the couple dozen natives of the planet mine some minerals or something with picks and shovels but there are no massacres or real evil deeds. His most violent act is to throw a hissy fit and trash his own bedroom.

Technically, Blakes Seven was way better. The sound effects and some of the background music as well are just oscillators going WWWWOOOOOO at different frequencies. The rocketship going out of control is cleverly suggested by flashing red lights and tilting the camera back and forth. The control room is full of big pilot lights all flashing in unison and signifying nothing. Considering the size of the control room set, the rocketship must be about 600 feet tall. It's never explained how people get in and out of this skyscraper of a space ship.

The entire population of the planet appears to be around 75 people. There are no cities, no factories, they never even show the tyrant's palace from the outside. There is only a little mine, equipped with 19th century style hardware. All the men apparently work in the mine and all the women dance on the leaders lawn all day long for his amusement. What do the people eat? Unlike Flash, the situation of tyrant/slaves/heroic space explorers/etc. is not resolved at the end of the film. You may well ask if there is another reel that somehow didn't get shown.

OK, maybe its unfair to dis a movie like this since the Communist film industry must have had a lot of problems. But if a clunker like this came from American International back in 1965 the critics would have panned it brutally. Its too dull and boring to be a lost gem and not wacky enough to be a cult classic. If I had to see stuff like this when I went to the movies I might have tried to tunnel out of the country too!
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Skull & Bones (2007 Video)
If Herschell Lewis were still making movies.....
29 June 2009
If HGL were starting his indie movie making venture now instead of the 60's, he might well have made this! The film is outrageous, on the cutting edge of any semblance of good taste, certain to offend just about everyone, and, like a horrible accident, impossible to avoid watching.

Its very low budget. It boasts a small cast of unknowns, so-so effects and clunky props. In one scene, a cardboard coffin is nailed shut. Torture implement are obviously bogus and blood fluids are a bit unconvincing.

Acting style and direction will remind some viewers of "BloodFeast", marked by shameless overacting and mugging to the camera. But this rough and primitive little venture into sadistic serial killers lives and the blackest of black humor might well be in the vanguard of the next wave of shock videos. For this little film is really like nothing else you have seen. More disgusting than "Mordum", more unsettling than "Midnight Meat Train" or "reanimator", it pushes the envelope further than Larry Clark ever dared.

The story: Two gay losers, sort of a modern day Leopold and Loeb combo, decide to embark on a career of serial rape/murder/torture/kidnapping. To soften the hideous escapades, the story is laced with black humor which should make you laugh and vomit alternately. Its not a film for everyone. In fact it is a film for a very few: fans of gore, shock and those on a quest for a film that won't bore or remind them of some other film. Personally, I think HGL would have been proud.

Now just try to find a copy.
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Not the Mandrake I remember
11 June 2009
If you have stumbled upon this title and think you will see the hero of your comic book youth brought to the screen you will be disappointed. Mandrake has been shoehorned into a stock serial plot that could have used any one of a dozen heroes from Batman to Dick Tracy. Once again, a wonder invention cooked up by a solitary recluse in his basement is stolen from a mostly unguarded private residence and now the world is threatened. The police and the FBI are apparently helpless so it falls upon Mandrake to set things right. Alas, this Mandrake is a pale imitation of the comic wizard. The hypnotically gesturing magus of the comics has become a stage magician, doing card tricks on an ocean liner. Instead of confusing his enemies with black magic, he slugs it out with his fists, implausibly whipping two or three thugs at once, all without displacing his top hat.

This is not to say the serial isn't entertaining. But most will likely view it as a 70 year old curiosity rather than the exciting thriller it was meant to be. Whether you want to invest almost 4 hours of your life watching it is the question. Incidentally, the title music would later be reused in the Columbia serial "The Vigilante, Fighting Hero of the West" in a somewhat re-orchestrated form. The story, of course, would be recycled again and again.
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Planted Evidence (2008 Video)
Tedious and unconvincing
28 August 2008
Low, low budget amateur drama about rich guys, the kind of stuff that gets entered in second tier film festivals. The characters appear to be hobby actors and are not very experienced. Lines are delivered badly or fluffed yet the take is used. The plot wanders here and there with apparent ad lib dialog. Much unconvincing "speaking for the record" dialog that takes far too long to get to the point, scenes are bridged with titles "the next day", "one week later" all very clumsy. And the titles look like they were made with the character generator that comes with the's shot on video. The sets are borrowed offices and homes, interiors only, we never see the outside. Wardrobe must be the actors personal clothing. These guys are high-roller big shots and they dress like car salesmen. Music score is a guy playing an acoustic guitar.....endlessly. Sound seems to be shot with the camcorder mic, quality varies from room to room, lots of echo, some of the dialog is hard to make out. And for good measure, the aspect ratio is 3:4. I'm sure the worked hard on this and maybe their next production will be better. But this is nothing but a student film that only their friends and professor should watch all the way through.
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The List (I) (2007)
Boring and tedious
2 June 2008
I concur with the poster who said that the glowing reviews were from persons involved with making the film! "Ensemble cast"? Hardly. We have McDowell doing a reprise of several past roles and hardly "spine tingling", Pat Hingle...OK...and a gang of fairly good character actors I've never seen before. Production value? Well we have some nice old house locations, couple of offices, nothing you wouldn't see in a TV movie, so no big deal. The languid music score only adds to the sleepy atmosphere of this talky melodrama...hardly a "thriller"! Suspense? Nope! The whole thing revolves around a super-secret list of families who conspired to create a get-rich-quick scheme back in civil war days. We are never told exactly whats involved and you must ask....what commercial ventures remain profitable, or even solvent, for 150 years? And top secret ones yet? The first half this looks like a boardroom drama, maybe a story aimed at CPAs. Then we begin to realize McDowell and friends have some supernatural thing with an old ledger and bloody fingerprints and such. And to counter them, enter a "missionary" a blissed-out saintly old lady with a permanent little smile who prays endlessly, apparently having a problem getting God's attention. Add a very overweight black lady who sings Amazing Grace or something similar and the plot suddenly goes downhill. Also, the black characters are portrayed as ever-helpful ex-mammys and loyal servants to the white folks in a manner that is demeaning at best. It is hard to sympathize with the hero who must be one of the worlds most clueless lawyers. The bad guys make devil worship look really dull and boring and I began to root for McDowell since he had all the good lines. Skip it and pick up something with Christopher Lee.
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Conspiracy (2008)
Unconvincing and boring
13 March 2008
Basic plot: a colorful person finds himself presented with a conspiracy involving the disappearance of a friend. Been done many times and can be very entertaining. But this is not "Bad Day at Black Rock"! First of all, Kilmer is clearly too old to play a crack marine. And he is seriously overweight and stiff. He comes across as grumpy rather than sinister. The setting is just as unconvincing: Supposedly this is a new town being built in the middle of nowhere using cheap Mexican labor. Yet many of the buildings are wild west era in style. Its obviously a generic western movie set, possibly located on Kilmer's own ranch. A 19th century "Dance Hall" is reached by a dirt street with a speed limit sign stuck in the earth, yet its flat as an airport runway. And its not a revitalized ghost town either. Everything is new, as though they just finished shooting an episode of Bonanza. Only the horse trough is missing. The small cast is comprised of stock characters: a young snotty cop who seems to be the entire police department, a beautiful girl running a dollar store with a precious little daughter, naturally terrified of telling the truth. She runs a lending library...with books! No vcrs, no dvds in this town although they have cable TV. Who thinks this stuff up? You are expected to suspend disbelief for dramas but when one anachronism is piled upon another goof on top of a plot hole, its difficult to take the story seriously. And the predictable story grinds on and on like a celluloid glacier. Go to the loo or make coffee, you wont miss anything. I hope this isn't an indication of the direction Kilmers career is taking as he is capable of much better. If you like daffy plots, watch a Steven Segal movie: at least they are entertaining.
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When good home movies go bad
20 October 2007
If you don't know, the makers of this film made several faux home movies, supposedly taped by serial killer and rapists documenting their exploits. They were certainly different and truly scary. The film makers use some of the same techniques here but its not nearly as effective. The characters are a bunch of losers who decide to drink and get high in a haunted building. A sub plot has a jilted boyfriend pursuing one of the loser girls. The girls and their male friends, played by actors obviously too old for the roles, chatter away, make out, talk trash and do what real losers do....but its not much fun to watch. In fact the goofy boyfriend is a lot more interesting. He is somewhat appealing in a geeky way and even though he flips out and turns into a stalker, you feel a bit sorry for him. The others have no real life apart from getting stoned and drunk and aren't even likable, just boring losers.

The set is apparently a basement with utility tunnels, one of which appears to be a cave. At least it doesn't have straight walls like a building would. Why they call it a tower is odd. There are no stairs. All the action seems to take place in the basement. And its a small set. We see the same window over and over even though the people comment about the "maze" they get lost in. The gore effects are quite good but they don't start until we have been put to sleep by the endless chatter from the dopey girls. The camera work is pretty good too. The lighting is so low key and dark that lots of the good gore stuff is really hard to see. I know its supposed to be a dark old haunted place and all but a bit more light would have made the effects much more entertaining. Its also rather sad to read comments from persons obviously involved in making the film trumpeting this film as a "10" in press release language. Nobody talks like that. It doesn't fool anybody.

This movie will be liked best by fans of the makers earlier work. For other viewers its average at best.
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Monster Night (2006 Video)
Uninspired, by-the-numbers kiddy pic.
7 December 2006
Overworked plot wherein young teens are forced to move to a weird town. Their new home is a huge fully furnished mansion, clearly worth a million bucks, but they hate it because the door falls off its hinges, it has cobwebs and a spider and looks spooky at night. Its haunted by pathetically boring non-threatening ghosts. Furthermore, their new home town is patterned after the "Eerie Indiana" TV show of the 90's. Their school teachers, bus driver etc are all goofy and talk in rhyme, for no apparent reason. The school principal appears to be out of Harry Potter and wears a monks robe. All of which would be fine if any of the jokes were funny. The writers seem to think kids will laugh at anything remotely silly. Boring gag after gag falls flat until the fast forward key becomes the only salvation. Even young kids are likely to find this film dull and predictable. The producers have spared every expense here and even shun the modern aspect ratio, presenting this shoestring quickie in full screen format. The kid actors are not particularly appealing and are given trite and unconvincing lines. Very forgettable. Your kids deserve better.
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