Friday, March 16, 2018


Craig Jacobsen

Elliot (Joshua Coffey) is a disheveled technician who works in the bowels of a strange power plant. A creepy face (Robert Pristine Condition Gammel) appears on a screen ordering him to do his job, while a calm voice echoes throughout the complex about numerous malfunctions developing in the system. Elliot would much rather spend his time jacked-in to a fantasy world where he is clean and handsome, waited on by a Butler (Jay Sosnicki) and drawn to a mysterious dancer (Anna Muravitskaya). Elliot’s dream life begins to infect his waking life and it pushes him towards a search for what is real.

It is pretty fascinating that in an age when technology companies are pushing large format 4k screens and 3D sound design there has been an equally strong push by creators to embrace older analog video formats.  Analog video provides an immediacy and an almost impressionistic quality to a story. This format has found its most use in horror, where it is what you can’t see or at least can’t quite make out that can provide the fright. Couple this effect with the natural glitchiness of videotape and older equipment and you have an engine for creating unsettling images.

"Something has gone seriously wrong with my Viewmaster™. "
If Elliot is anything it is unsettling. The viewer is thrown into Elliot’s murky claustrophobic world with no guide or time to acclimate. The only character we are given is a person who is isolated, frightened and seeks only escape. It is not a user-friendly environment, but I think people attracted to a film like Elliot will count that as a plus. To punctuate the anxiety-inducing location, Elliot’s moments of rest are short. Just as he settles into his fantasy world or seems to be on the verge of uncovering the mystery of his identity, his disembodied boss begins barking orders at him or a Sentinel appears to give him a disapproving shake of the head.

Elliot is filled with a mixture of color and gloom. Shot on VHS the smear of color and shadow can often make it difficult to discern exactly what you are looking at, but at other times it coalesces into some wonderfully beautiful looking scenes. The costuming and technology of Elliot consist of lumpy techno-organic stuff that feels like it wouldn’t be out of place in Tetsuo the Iron Man (1989). The scenes set in Elliot’s dream world are the opposite, they contain a simple sort of retro-elegance.

A screencap from Elliot or 1970s era Doctor Who? You decide.
The sound design and music of Elliot are raw sounding electronics and processing that create an atmosphere that feels as alienating as the world. Once again there are brief respites from the alarms and buzzing of the compound but these more serve to heighten the contrast when we are shoved back into Elliot’s post-industrial hellscape than to give Elliot (or the viewer an escape).

Elliot is barely over an hour long and that’s probably for the best; it is an alarming and exhausting film but is also a compelling and at times a touching one. Elliot isn’t the easiest character empathize with but he’s our only guide in this nightmare we share with him.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Nemesis 5: The New Model

Nemesis 5: The New Model
Dustin Ferguson

[In the interests of full disclosure, I not only received a preview copy from the director, but he was also kind enough to cast me as an extra in this film.]

Nemesis 5 is the latest entry in the long-running action-science fiction series created by Albery Pyun, this the first entry not directed by Pyun, who turns the reigns over to Dustin Ferguson. The basic plot of the series involves humans and cyborgs, many of whom don’t get along, forming warring factions. The cyborgs invested in overthrowing humanity are the Red Army Hammerheads. Throw in some murky politics on both sides and a little time travel and you’ve got what feels like if Skynet had launched an attack on humanity with stealth and propaganda instead of nukes.

We are introduced to Ari Frost (Schuylar Craig) as a cyborg and terrorist hunter who was raised by Alex (Sue Price) a genetically bred warrior featured in Nemesis 2-4. Ari sent back in time to 2077,  and along with a small team, is on a mission to track down the leaders of the Red Army Hammerheads to end the conflict once and for all. Along the way, she faces enemy agents, drones, a killer nurse and even the most iconic villain of the Nemesis series, Nebula.

"Let me guess, you're here for the Kraftwerk concert."
With a nineteen year gap between Nemesis 4 (1996) and 5 the film begins with a lengthy opening text crawl that the sets the stage. Clocking in at 71 minutes including credits, Nemesis 5 doesn’t have any time to waste and it gets right down to business. Ari runs from shoot-out to shoot-out, gaining and losing allies along the way. At their heart, Nemesis films are action movies with science-fiction elements but, Nemesis 5 does put in the work to give Ari an internal life as she is drawn in between her humanity and her internal technology. This pays off in a surprisingly thoughtful finale. I would have loved to have seen the rest of her team been given some more moments of characterization as well, they are an interesting group.

On the technical side, Nemesis 5 is filled with bright neon colors, sterile offices, grungy bars, and vast open areas of land. Many smaller budget films confine themselves to just a few locations, but Nemesis 5 moves its story around to varied and different places keeping everything feeling fresh. This production really stretches itself with model work, CGI, and some practical effects.

Well now, who is that sexy cyborg in the back there?
Occasionally dialog is difficult to hear, this is especially problematic during the finale where the film takes a philosophical turn and Ari is tempted with a path to power over retaining her humanity. The soundtrack of Nemesis 5 is one of its strongest elements, it is a fantastic mix of old school synthesizer drones and beats, along with a few choice industrial tunes including a great theme from industrial music mainstay Velvet Acid Christ.

Nemesis 5 is ambitious and despite a few technical setbacks it harkens back to the best days of direct to video action films from the 1980s and 1990s. Despite being over two decades away from the original Nemesis (1992), Nemesis 5 feels right at home in the series.

Update: Director Dustin Ferguson informed that the official release will have an upgraded professional sound mix that will improve the Foley mixing and the hard to hear dialog!

Friday, March 2, 2018

Bionic Boy

Bionic Boy
Leody M. Diaz

Sonny Lee (Johnson Yap) is already an expert martial artist and certified genius at the age of ten. His dad is an Interpol agent and Sonny aspires to be one too. Things go sideways for Sonny when his family is bulldozered by a gang looking to take over the Philippines from the luxury of their disco fortress. Sonny’s arms and legs are crushed, but no worries, a wealthy industrialist pays to have them replaced with powerful bionic substitutes. Once Sonny recovers, he only has one mission in mind, find his parents' murderers and engage them in Kung-Fu battles.

Bionic Boy is a pleasant surprise, all too often you run into a film that touts its premise but does not bother doing anything with it until the final 5-10 minutes. Bionic Boy delivers on exactly what the poster and title imply, a super-powered ten-year-old beating the snot out of bad guys. What is unexpected is how little of the movie is played for (intentional) laughs. Sonny is out to murder people by any means necessary and that includes flinging people off cliffs so that they smash their skulls open on the ground, launching coconuts from 300 yards, and delivering underwater beatings to make sure some guards drown.

Ming the Merciless: After Hours
Bionic Boy’s straightforwardness works in its favor. If the film had been a jokey parody, I think it would have become tiresome quickly. Johnson Yap is a great martial artist, easily the best one on display. None of the fights are astoundingly great, but they are usually well choreographed and never drag on long enough to outstay their welcome.  Other big stunts in the film work well too, the bulldozer attack is brutal, and the final act is pretty much a non-stop shootout with lots of explosions and falling bodies.

All this serious business is undercut by the music and costumes. The whole film is peppered with bith cheery uptempo jazz numbers that feel like they wouldn’t be out of place in a 1970s car commercial, and gritty funk that oozed out of a nearby porno flick. The gang’s henchmen are all decked out in identical red berets and sweaters, while the gang themselves like to sport big mustaches, open shirts, giant sunglasses, and a selection of fun hats. Sonny himself is a big fan of brightly colored leisure suits complete with butterfly collars and massive bellbottoms.

Even his wardrobe is bionic.
Bionic Boy is an enjoyable cash-in on the then popularity of the Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, and it really does end up being a fun if slight action movie on its own. It keeps the momentum moving, and never really bogs down in overly talky scenes. It is more violent than I would expect from what seems initially to be a kid’s movie. Make no mistake, Bionic Boy is a full-on action movie albeit with a ten-year-old in the lead part. Bionic Boy spawned a sequel, The Dynamite Kid (1979) that I am curious to see.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Robot Ninja

Robot Ninja
J.R. Bookwalter

Leonard Miller (Michael Todd) is the creator of the popular Robot Ninja, a violent comic about a masked vigilante. His creation has been turned into a campy television show and he’s not happy about it. After failing to stop a gang of rapists and murders, he enlists the help of his friend Dr. Goodknight (Bogdan Pecic) to create a Robot Ninja suit of his very own so that he can go out and fight crime. Things do not go well for him.

Robot Ninja subverts the expectations of the superhero movie decades before superhero movies were even really a thing. Batman (1989) had just proven that comic books movies could be profitable, critically lauded, and appeal to both fans and casual viewers a few months prior to Robot Ninja’s release, but the formula for big-budget successful superhero films was still nearly twenty years away. Robot Ninja taps into the darker more cynical tone of comics from this period driven largely by the immense popularity of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, this movement would reach its absurd apotheosis in the 1990s, where even Superman would end up being a gun-toting lunatic.

Our hero looking almost competent for once.
Robot Ninja is interesting in that our hero spectacularly fails to accomplish anything. Virtually every interaction he has with the villains ends with hostages dead and the Robot Ninja himself on the end of a severe beating. He also manages to get hopelessly addicted to painkillers to a point where he is hallucinating. Watching all this unfold simply because Leonard Miller is upset that his successful grim and violent comic book has been turning into a light and silly television show just adds a sarcastic edge to the whole affair.

Robot Ninja’s action sequences are few and they are choreographed in clumsy obvious ways. There are no ninja skills on display, and people are reduced to flailing around on each other until someone is shot or stabbed. What the movie does offer is heaping buckets of gore, entrails spray out, pistols are jammed into eye sockets and fired, the Robot Ninja jams metal into his arm to shore up a broken wound. All this gore is over the top, but it is never played as Grand Guignol comedy.

Better like this or better like this?
There is a small amount of humor in the movie mostly delivered by Burt Ward, Linnea Quigley, and Scott Spiegel as people at a comic book company. These inserts have virtually nothing to with the plot and I feel like to were inserted only to lighten the pitch black tone. The true scene stealer is Bogdan Pecic as Dr. Goodknight, the inventor of the Robot Ninja suit, his good nature, and yooper accent make for some of the most fun moments in the movie. Maria Markovic is a notable comic book villain in that it’s rare to have a woman as the heavy, much less one who more than a physical match for the male hero despite his robot suit and wrist blade.

Robot Ninja looks like it might be a fun ultra low-budget action/superhero movie but in reality, it is relentlessly grim and violent. If you approach it with this in mind, it is, in fact, a neat little horror movie and nasty counterpoint to most superhero stories.

Friday, February 16, 2018


Umberto Lenzi

Superheroes are great and all, but supervillains are a lot more fun. Sure, there have been some successful antihero projects, but it is curious that the popularity of superhero films in the 21st century has not produced any notable supervillain centered movies. In the 1960s, Italy and France produced a slew very popular super criminals, Diabolik, Killing, and Kriminal among them. Produced for adults these comics and movies had no small amount of violence and kink.

Kriminal (Glenn Saxon) is a world-famous master thief and killer. We meet him for the first time already incarcerated and awaiting his turn at the gallows. Of course, Kriminal has things well in hand and makes his escape. Eventually, he finds himself conspiring with a wealthy socialite to steal a batch of priceless diamonds and engage in a little insurance fraud. Double-crosses abound and Kriminal finds himself not only plotting revenge on some would-be assassins but also working to stay away from the clutches of his arch nemesis Inspector Milton (Andrea Bosic). There are plenty of women who fall for his good looks along the way.

"For the last time, lady, I am not Arch Hall Jr."
Kriminal is most definitely a product of 1960s Italian genre film. It’s colorful, playful, accompanied by a smooth jazz sound, and mixes violence and comedy in equal measures. Despite all of the backstabbing and scheming from the characters, the movie retains a light touch. There really isn’t much story to the film, it is just a series of obstacles that Kriminal encounters and overcomes without so much as breaking a sweat. This does mean that things keep moving at a good pace which is vital for this kind of film.

Kriminal himself has a roguish charm about him. Glenn Saxon’s performance is stilted but he seems to be having fun with the role. One element that plagues Kriminal and is still a problem in many costumed character films today, is that he just can’t leave his costume on for more than a few minutes. Its fun to see him prowling around and knocking out goons dressed as a yellow skeleton man, but those times are few and far between.

Kriminal and the Case of the Missing Pelvis
From what I can gather the film version of Kriminal is far less dark than the comics in which he would regularly kill his lovers to protect his identity. Still, the Kriminal of the movie is without a doubt a villain. He disfigures and kills his opponents, lies, tricks, and steals all for his own gain. The film lessens the blow a bit by having his main opponents be criminals as well, but it is still interesting to watch a protagonist like this who has no interest in a redemptive arc. Kriminal and his ilk are almost the moral inverses of the suave Euro-spy icon, jet-setting, seducing and killing but for selfish reasons rather than in service of a nation.

The movie ends on a cliffhanger and is followed by the sequel Mark of the Kriminal (1968), but those have been the only two Kriminal films to come from a series that ran for over 400 issues. Kriminal is lightweight but it still should have no problem stealing 98 minutes of your time.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Little Marines

Little Marines
A.J. Hixon

Steve (Stephan Baker), Noah (Noah Williams), and Chris (Steve Landers Jr.) are fresh out of school for summer vacation, so they embark on a camping trip that they have been planning. After some preparation (mostly playing dress-up), they head out. Along the way, they deal with a dog, a crabby cop, and a sleazy guy trying to sell drugs. They finally make it to their campsite, build a tent, exercise to the song YMCA and generally putter about the trees pretending to be Marines.  Noah has been depressed and keeps having flashbacks to a friend who isn’t along with them for the trip, but why?

There isn’t a plot per se in Little Marines, just a series of events that are loosely strung together. In this way, it does accurately recreate the endless feeling of summer vacation as a kid. The emphasis here is on the endless part. There is an attempt to create just the slightest edge of danger with the inclusion of a cop, a drug dealer, a bully with a paintball gun and that perennial childhood film villain... cancer. This all could work if the kids were painted as anything less than perfect flag-waving Americans, but they aren’t, so it just feels out of place.

Taxi Driver 2: The Early Years
The three main actors are inexperienced but the script doesn’t help them one bit. The only real stand-out character in the bunch is Stevie who plays the most gung-ho goofball of them. He shaves his head, fails at things, and gets (marginally) the best lines. Chris and Noah are too bland and straight-laced to of much interest. Even Noah’s mysterious flashbacks that later reveal a recently dead friend don’t give him much depth.

A run-in with a drug dealer driving a Corvette feels like it came straight out of the 1980s ‘Just Say No’ playbook. I half expected this element to come back around near the end and have the kids face off against this guy or get him arrested, but that’s far too ambitious a plot development for Little Marines. Instead, we’re given a paintball assault by a fellow named Snake (Steven Brazil), which allows the boys something vaguely Marine-esque to do near the end of the movie. In the malfunctioning world of Little Marines, this is most praise I can give it.

No one told me this was a crossover with Nail Gun Massacre (1985).
Little Marines feels like what would happen if Stand By Me (1986) was made for $10 by someone who had never lived on Earth. Little Marines isn’t funny or dramatic, it is just aimlessly weird. Throw in some weird jingoistic overtones to the whole thing and you end up with a confounding yet horrifically watchable mess of a film. This is the magic of this era of home video, what would have probably been a half-assed YouTube video now, was at the time a full-fledged production despite every reason for it to not exist at all.

What? There’s a sequel?

Friday, February 2, 2018

Overlords of the U.F.O.

Overlords of the U.F.O.
G. Brook Stanford

In the 1970s UFOmania encountered a big resurgence. That meant there were people looking to make some money off off the public’s interest in the paranormal. Sure you could take the time and effort to put together a script, build sets, make some UFO models and hire actors, but that can cost a lot of money. It was much cheaper to slap together a “scientific documentary” made from stock footage and interviews with people who may or may not have a clue what they were talking about and string it all together with some barely coherent narration.  There were a number of these films released dealing with all manner of phenomena, Bigfoot, ESP, and of course aliens. Overlords of the U.F.O. holds the dubious honor of being probably the worst of the lot.

"I left my dignity somewhere around here."
Overlords of the U.F.O. starts out simply, it rambles through various UFO sightings without much rhyme or reason. It raises the question of why there has been no government confirmation of such widespread phenomena. It even goes so far as to blame NASA and Skylab for covering up the truth. This is all pretty standard stuff for UFO documentaries, a little dash of mysterious aliens mixed in with government conspiracies to hide it all.

The low energy first half of the movie in no way prepares the viewer for the mind-boggling oddity of the second half as all (admittedly low-effort) attempts at rationality make way for the revelation that UFOs are in fact vehicles from another dimension by the way of some aliens from a planet called Ummo. Somehow this all has to do with an alien invasion of Spain and then sham artist/psychic Uri Gellar gets involved for reasons that are still unclear.  This whole mess is happening because Earth is causing ‘spacequakes’ with our nuclear weapons and the aliens don’t like this one bit.

Dolphins also play into this. I'm still not sure why.

All of this nonsense is tossed at you by a constant droning narration The few interviews during the film are stiff and dull. There are also voice-over dramatizations of things that probably were never said during moments of pointless stock footage. This is a movie that could be much improved by turning off the sound and playing your favorite Hearts of Space episode. Perhaps the best things about the whole film are the abstract images and spacescapes that occasionally flood the screen. It gives all the incoherent rambling a slight psychedelic vibe.

"That wasn't a clay pigeon you were shooting at, pal."
There’s a good chance you could walk away from Overlords of the U.F.O. much dumber than you were before viewing it. It is a sloppy and poorly made faux “science documentary” that is much more interested in throwing out wild claims than actually trying to document anything. If you give in and just let the absurdity of it all wash over you there is some entertainment to be found here. Just remember that Uri Gellar restarting watches with his mind has nothing to do with flying saucers from another dimension.

I'm pretty sure that's Gamera.