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E. Lee Zimmerman "Trekscribbler (aka Ed)" RSS Feed (Earth)
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Space: 1999- Aftershock and Awe
Space: 1999- Aftershock and Awe
by Andrew E. C. Gaska
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.91
47 used & new from $14.20

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In A Word: EPIC, July 10, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Maybe eighteen months or so ago, I saw a copy of SPACE: 1999 – AFTERSHOCK AND AWE on the shelves at my local Barnes & Noble. It was sealed up in plastic so I couldn’t exactly flip through it to see if the story caught my interest – I was part of that generation that missed SPACE: 1999 in televised syndication in the mid-1970’s, but – as an ardent fan of practically all things Sci-Fi – I’d caught a couple of episodes in passing when it aired about the TV dial since those days. I’d followed many of the Sci-Fi trades of that era (i.e. that pre-internet civilization, kids), so I was marginally up-to-speed on the “controversy” surrounding the Gerry Anderson program; still – as I hadn’t seen enough of it – I honestly had no opinion of it myself. At that time, I chose to pass on the graphic novel.

A few weeks ago while I was exploring Amazon Fire TV, I stumbled across SPACE: 1999 as a suggestion following another program I’d just concluded. I took the leap, ordering up the pilot … and the rest, as they say, is history.

(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to my last paragraph for my final, unadulterated opinion. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)

For the uninitiated, SPACE: 1999 was a Science Fiction program produced in the mid-70’s exploring the crew of Moonbase Alpha. The premise in a nutshell is that man’s stockpiling of nuclear waste on our only satellite serves as a catalyst for an eventual explosion that propels the moon out of orbit and moving into deep, deep space. Instead of a starship, the program had a ‘moonship,’ and the stories of the crew ranged from tales of survival, invasion, and terror.

Naturally – as the late 60’s era classic STAR TREK ruled the roost in TV syndication in those days – Sci-Fi fans were kinda/sorta split on what to make of SPACE: 1999. So much of their collective effort had gone into demanding a new Trek series (one was on-the-boards but through circumstances it morphed into what inevitably became STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE), and I think maybe the feeling at the time was that they couldn’t openly embrace another TV show for fear of losing sight on achieving their first dream, that being a return to prominence for Capt. Kirk and crew. Also as 1999 had been sold into syndication right out of the gate – whereas Trek had its infancy and initial reputation from being on network TV – I tend to suspect that it wasn’t as easily found on the dial. Due to this and other reasons, 1999 rode down the middle of critical opinion, some liking it, some hating, but many others just not knowing what to make of it.

Now that I’d found it and explored a handful of what are largely revered to be several of its first season classics (I won’t even touch the debate regarding the show’s second season), I picked up that copy of AFTERSHOCK AND AWE (yes, it was still there). Having just finished it, let me assure you that I am in AWE of it.

Essentially, it’s two graphic novels culled together around the series’ pilot, though there are indications that scribe Andrew E. C. Gaska consulted earlier drafts of the script in order to produce this version. Where the recounting of the televised events end, the creators pick right up with an all-new tale, one exploring the events taking place on Earth after our moon was sent hurtling away and out of our solar system. While heavy on biblical prophecy, AFTERSHOCK is a brilliant apocalypse tale, a vision that borrows elements from the show’s canon and spins them in some wildly effective new directions, though I was a bit distraught with how much of a downright skank Commander John Koenig’s near-miss of a wife turned out to be.

These two scripts work brilliantly together, helping first to re-establish the program’s central characters from a more cerebral perspective in the minds of the reader and then to shake up the status quo by exploring the greater universe of possibilities that helped shape who they were before they found themselves on this great journey into the unknown. Separately, they’re quite good, but together they’re practically ‘required reading’ for anyone with even a modest interest in what was and what could still be in a Sci-Fi property that deserves another look.

Building on Gaska’s script, the visuals by Gray Morrow and Miki are at times derivative but never disrespectful to the unique 70’s appeal of the program. Once the story turns to Earth, the art duties are taken up by David Hueso and Miki; they continue to build on that original artistic scheme, but they deliver a jaw-dropping look at the unfolding Apocalypse with more pomp and circumstance than one expects from a big-budget cinematic blockbuster. Trust me when I warn you: the End of Times never looked so good!

HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE. If you were even a casual fan of SPACE: 1999 throughout its two televised seasons, then you owe it to yourself as well as all of fandom to run out and pick up a copy today (or, better yet, save a tree and get it digitally) of SPACE: 1999 – AFTERSHOCK AND AWE. What Gaska/Morrow/Hueso/Miki and Archaia Black Label have achieved here is nothing short on epic: sure, there may be a few narrative blemishes that don’t go down as well as they should, but otherwise what you get is a pitch perfect re-examination of the fictional events that set this greatly underappreciated series in motion from two completely exciting perspectives.

Now, Hollywood … where’s THIS reboot?!?!


SX_Tape [Blu-ray]
SX_Tape [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Ian Duncan
Price: $9.96

3.0 out of 5 stars Never Rises Above the Average, But It Does Have Boobs, July 7, 2014
This review is from: SX_Tape [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Again, I’ll start with this for the uninitiated: I tend to like found-footage-format films … so, if you don’t, then you might want to already head out to explore someone else’s review. This isn’t to say that I’ll automatically give a film of this sort a high rating; rather it’s only to make the reader aware that because I like them I tend to spend a bit more time defending the merits of the story than you probably want to hear. Now, that said, SX_TAPE really is little more than much of the same; however, at its core, there’s a terrific little presence worth your time provided by actress Caitlyn Folley. So if you’d like to know more, then hang on for this brief pause …

(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)

From the product packaging: “Jill’s an artist. Ian’s a filmmaker. And their love is off the chain. There’s no experience too wild, no dare too dangerous – not even when Jill lets Ian stray her to a gurney in the abandoned hospital they’re scoping out for their next art show. But he shouldn’t have left her alone. Not even as a joke. Now, Jill’s hookup with horror has awakened something in that place. Something with a lust for more than flesh.”

Yes, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT has wrought something unto modern cinema that many folks long tired of, but as SX_TAPE reminds those prudes we’ve certainly come a long way (baby) given the fact that we’re now trafficking in found-footage-sex! Though there’s obviously some hyped appeal around such an idea, to suggest that SX_TAPE only capitalizes on skin would be a disservice … for there is a great performance in a wealth of set-up delivered by relative newcomer Caitlyn Folley. She’s shows us an artist who almost naughtily down-to-Earth, willing to bare all for her budding filmmaker boyfriend who’s far too obsessed with capturing her on film when he ought to be holding her in his arms for good measure.

In the picture’s (roughly) forty minute set-up, Jill welcomes the audience in to her world (hint: there’s an obligatory set-up with a police detective from the beginning that honestly should’ve been left on the cutting room floor). She shows us her life, her art, her apartment, her attitudes, … her boobs. (Yes, fanboys, they’re in here, too.) And she does so in such a way as if to inebriate us with her very presence. After all, why else would any man with half-a-brain follow this lovely devil into an abandoned hospital? For – have we forgotten? – all abandoned hospitals are indeed haunted! Always have been. Always will be.

Once the film segues into those haunted hallways, it honestly stops being all that interesting (yes, it’s still full of thrills and chills, and there’s a particular effective scare wherein the audience knows things have gone decidedly wrong for Jill). Because this has been done before – I can think of three found-footage-flicks set in abandoned hospitals I’ve watched in just the last year – there really needs to be something vastly more novel or inspired than what writer Eric Reese left in director Bernard Rose’s capable hands. Otherwise, the scares become increasingly predictable if not downright pedestrian.

In fact, there’s a little coda (an epilogue) tacked on after the legitimate footage found that serves as the bulk of SX_TAPE’s story, and precisely because it’s tacked on really cheapens the story that came before. I won’t spoil it for you, but I’ll just say that more than anything having this little sequence perhaps shows that the film really wanted nothing more in its tank than that joint appeal of found-footage AND sex tapes. That’s a honest shame because the Jill from the first forty minutes was vastly more interesting than the Jill who shows up for this feature’s last 45 seconds … and I’d much rather spend more time with her, largely owed to Folley’s honest and earthy performance.

SX_TAPE (2013) is produced by Aeroplano and La.Lune Entertainment. DVD distribution is being handled by Well Go USA Entertainment (seriously, they have a terrific catalogue of titles). As for the technical specifications? Well, again, I hate to beat a dead horse but this is a found-footage-format flick, so you can expect all of the good and the bad that traffics hand-in-hand with similar productions, including the herky-jerky camerawork and occasionally muffled miking. Lastly, if you’re looking for in-depth special features then you won’t find them here, but there is a nice 20-minute making-of short that feels more like a bloated advertisement than it should.

(MILDLY) RECOMMENDED. I’m not sure what’s wrong with me as of late (or is it the films?), but when it comes to these found-footage-format flicks I’m honestly having more fun exploring the characters than I am the plot. This isn’t to say that SX_TAPE offers up great characters necessarily worthy of further study; it’s just that the central conceit of the picture – the big scares included – just aren’t nearly as interesting as the work being performed in the set-up. Maybe that’s a bit of evolution for the format. Or maybe it’s just me looking for good things in the wrong places.

In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Well Go USA Entertainment provided me with a DVD copy of SX_TAPE by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.


Killervision
Killervision
DVD ~ Damien E. Lipp
Price: $22.98
20 used & new from $10.51

3.0 out of 5 stars An Idea That's Been Done To Death Gets One More Go-Round In This Low-Budget Chiller, July 7, 2014
This review is from: Killervision (DVD)
I suspect that it’s truly difficult to find anything that would register as ‘revolutionary’ with today’s horror audiences, and that’s mostly because they’ve seen it all. Oh, every now and then something that puts a new ingredient in an old formula spices up the mix for a short time; the inevitable downside, however, is that once the flavor proves inviting then everyone has to offer the same taste. This ends up giving many releases an overall blandness that no amount of great acting or clever editing can usually overcome, and such is the case with Dale Trott’s KILLERVISION. It’s been done before – perhaps as far back as the Golden Age of Television’s THE TWILIGHT ZONE – and it’ll be done again … so the only thing that gives it a chance to find distinction are the talent, which just isn’t up-to-snuff here.

(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of person who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)

From the product packaging: “Jared Dwyer has it all – a gifted mind, his girlfriend Shelby, and a brilliant future – until he and Shelby climb into a car with Shelby’s drunken, drug-addled brother, Preston. The crash was inevitable and the brain trauma Jared sustained meant that life would never be the same again. Six months after the crash, Jared’s body is healed but his dreams, plans for the future, and memory are gone. One night, the images on his TV flicker and distort …”

As can happen with product packaging, the copy writer spends far too much time telling me stuff I don’t need to know instead of getting right to the sizzle: somehow Jared discovers he has a secret ability to see things in films that aren’t there, and what he’s seeing are the murders of those closest to him almost exactly as they’re bound to happen. Essentially, the young man (as played with far too much restraint by Damien E. Lipp) finds himself in a race against time to not only uncover what’s seriously afoot here but also to determine whether or not he can stop it.

See what I mean? This isn’t necessarily a new construct. That’s perfectly ok … but if we’re collectively to find a reason to revisit this old idea then it has to be somehow tied to caring about these characters. Lipp plays Jared with too much malaise for me to get involved in his personal struggle (basically he mopes from one scene to the next, even those that should be the cause for high drama), but newcomer Susie Kazda – she plays his girlfriend/fiancé Shelby – is worth notice. She gives the picture a stronger emotional core – she clearly cares for Jared, despite the fact that no one around her seems to notice him or her (with potentially good reason, though I won’t spoil it for you, viewers!), and Kazda imbues the young woman with a kind of fresh-faced innocence that’s rarely found outside mainstream drama. As the story unfolds, I found myself caring more and more about her (though I’ll admit I saw the ending coming well into the first reel), so I stayed with this one – despite the poor pacing – all the way to the end as I wanted to see if she could handle the truth. (FYI: she did.)

As can happen with ghost stories, there’s a certain amount of predictability spooling out along the way. Working from a script by producers S.C. Farrow and Kim Standring Jacobs, Trott keeps his cards close to the chest. I just wish the film were visually more interesting. Capturing the macabre on celluloid is tough enough, but when you do it with so little style it all ends up feeling like some horror-chilled After School Special. That didn’t interest me; nor does it most audiences.

KILLERVISION (2014) is produced by 21 Black Entertainment. DVD distribution is being handled by Brain Damage Films. As for the technical specifications? Meh. This tidy little thriller has some decent visual trickery that works in concert with Jared’s killer visions; it’s too bad that director Dale Trott didn’t try to give it a stronger video palate. As for the audio? The Aussie accents made it difficult for me to understand as often as I would’ve liked what some of the poorly-miked dialogue was all about. Lastly, if you’re looking for special features, then there’s about twenty minutes of behind-the-scenes footage to explore, along with some other added incentives to explore the film via short films. Nothing all that grand.

(MILDLY) RECOMMENDED. As is often the case with many of these smaller releases that intellectually mimic the B-movies of the 1980’s, KILLERVISION has a solid idea at its core: the flaw rests in the low-budget / no-budget execution. There’s a wonderful little bit of dark magic that allows the scarred Jared Dwyer to see the unthinkable. Can he somehow come to grips with reality before it’s too late? Of course not. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a movie here.

In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Brain Damage Films provided me with a DVD copy of KILLERVISION by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.


Star Wars Darth Maul Son of Dathomir #2
Star Wars Darth Maul Son of Dathomir #2
by Juan Frigeri
Edition: Comic
4 used & new from $3.25

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The (Dark) Force Is Strong With This Mini!, June 30, 2014
If you ask around, you’re likely to get a good handful of reasons why folks enjoyed Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire trilogy so much. For one, Zahn demonstrated precisely how adept he was at characterization by bringing Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, and all of the gang back to life in all new settings with all new circumstances. Also, Zahn rather deftly added a few new characters to the mix, giving the principles something new to work with while pushing the boundaries of the status quo. (i.e. Luke Skywalker? In love?) Lastly – and most important so far as I’m concerned – the author fashioned a terrific lead villain in the role of Thrawn, a die-hard military enthusiast who knew more than a thing or two about employing strategy to not only get what he wanted but what he needed to kick butt in any corner of the galaxy where he looked.

Dare I suggest that scribe Jeremy Barlow may be taking Darth Maul in the same direction?

(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)

From the product packaging: “With his Shadow Collective army stalled, Darth Maul calls on Mother Talzin for help and is sent reinforcements – the deadly Nightbrothers! Maul is ready again to take on the Separatist droid army, Count Dooku, and General Grievous – in a trio of simultaneous battles!”

To be honest, I wasn’t all that thrilled either when STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS actually brought Darth Maul back from the dead … but as we learned he wasn’t quite dead. As the story goes, he was kinda/sorta subsisting on all of the anger and hate that fueled his body in that netherworld (netherplace?); so it wasn’t really all that much of a logistical problem to reanimate the Sith. In fact, one could argue that the character was finally in the proper state of mind to do something with all of that rage.

Whatever your position, Maul is back; and – in writer Barlow’s hands – he’s actually taking a few steps forward. The Maul we knew from THE PHANTOM MENACE and THE CLONE WARS (to some degree) was never really depicted as the smartest Dathomirian Zabrak in the known galaxies. In MENACE, he largely brooded from one scene to the next, turning in a wonderfully kinetic experience in the saber battle where he bested Qui-Gon Jinn but then fell to (a weaker) Obi-Wan Kenobi. In THE CLONE WARS, viewers were given the sense that this new Maul – one heavily influenced by the darkest emotions – wasn’t going to go quietly into the night … and that’s certainly turned out to be the case in this comic book miniseries.

Essentially picking up moments after the first issue ends, scribe Barlow puts Maul in a position of humility as the Sith has to call on Mother Talzin for any and all assistance she can provide. No doubt, this only further fires the hate he feels in whatever is left of a beating heart; and this forces him to come up with an even grander strategy, one that’ll not only put Count Dooku and General Grievous well within his grasp but also one that strongly suggests the tide may be finally turning against Darth Sidious’s favor.

Because I’m willing to concede bringing Maul back into the universe maybe wasn’t such a bad idea after all, I’m having a lot of fun with this mini right now. Granted, it would’ve been nicer to have some bigger, more expansive artwork to go right along with the scope of the narrative (many panels are fairly light on elements, and some of the colors look downright uninspired); but as Dark Horse’s time with the STAR WARS’ license is winding down, perhaps this is the best we can hope for at present.

Still, things are shaping up pretty nicely. Can they get even better? We’ll have to be here in 30 days to find out!

STAR WARS: DARTH MAUL – SON OF DATHOMIR (#2) is published by Dark Horse Comics. The story is written by Jeremy Barlow; the pencils are supplied by Juan Frigeri; the inks are by Mauro Vargas; with the colors by Wes Dzioba; and the lettering by Michael Heisler. For those of you raised on an island, STAR WARS is the creation of George Lucas. The issue bears the cover prices of $3.50, and that’s still the best price in town for original STAR WARS material so far as this longtime comics fan is concerned. May the Force be with us. Always.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. As this tale involves Darth Maul and a fair percentage of fandom kinda/sorta rejects his whole ‘resurrection’ (of a sort), I’d imagine you know right now whether or not reading this interests you. Sure, maybe he was better off dead, but isn’t there something said for never being able to keep a good Sith down? The artwork may not be anything exceptional (some panels are Saturday morning cartoonish – not that there’s anything wrong with it), but a chess game set against the backdrop of a whole galaxy is definitely in motion before you reach the last page in this book. Buckle up, kid. This ain’t like dustin’ crops!

In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital reading copy of STAR WARS: DARTH MAUL – SON OF DATHOMIR (#2) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.


Star Wars: Dark Empire (3rd edition): Dark Empire II
Star Wars: Dark Empire (3rd edition): Dark Empire II
Price: $10.09

3.0 out of 5 stars Blast from the Past: DARK EMPIRE Reconsidered After All These Years, June 30, 2014
Now that Dark Horse Comic’s tenure with the Star Wars license is starting to wind down, I wanted to take some time to go back and reread some of the bigger, bolder titles that have seen release throughout the years. Like many longtime readers, I’m immeasurably bummed about the move of the comics from the Horse to the Mouse House of Marvel (I’m really not looking forward to the Vader/Wolvie crossover); and – in order to keep it real – I’m revisiting some of the yarns that made waves.

One of the first big breakthroughs was something called DARK EMPIRE. It went on to have a few sequels, but – for my tastes – I honestly didn’t much care for this tale even when it first hit the shelves. It isn’t that I disliked the idea of exploring an Emperor Palpatine resurrected in the days of the New Republic fumbling to establish a firm footing; it’s just that so much of Tom Veitch’s story felt like character retreads.

More after the break …

(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)

Essentially, the story that unfolds here is that the Empire isn’t quite as dead as our heroes – Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa-Solo, Han Solo, and more – long believed it to be. In fact, some lingering elements in the inner galaxies have gone a long way toward re-establishing their own union, putting the New Republic back on its heels and having to fight in smaller isolated conflicts once more. Naturally, this brings our gang back together, and they’re rushed to the front lines in order to give yet one more ‘New Hope’ street cred with faltering worlds.

Lo and behold, our young Skywalker – now a bit older – discovers that the Emperor (aka Darth Sidious) has been resurrected (in a sense). It would seem that his life essence has become a part of the living Dark Side – much like Obi-wan Kenobi, Yoda, and Anakin Skywalker have merged with the Light Side elements; all the former Palpatine need do is pull a younger version of himself out of a clone canister and – viola – new Emperor! Now, he’s using some massive new weapons known as ‘World Devastators’ to crush planets that won’t bend to his will.

Just as was the thematic undercurrent for the Luke Skywalker character in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI (and many, many Extended Universe tales since then), this new Emperor wants to turn our hero to the Dark Side. What makes this tale a bit different is that the Jedi seemingly does embrace it, though he admits to readers over and over again that he’s done so only to get closer to Palpatine so that he can inevitably defeat him. Leia, Han, and the others don’t see as clearly what Luke’s motivations are, so they spend the bulk of their time trying to contact the Jedi Master so they can ‘reclaim’ him for their side … and, so far as I can tell, that about wraps it up.

DARK EMPIRE is a worthy read, but it’s nothing that really smacks of originality or epicness (if you’ll pardon my creation of the word). The Emperor is the same – as are all of our regular players – so nothing new added to the mix pretty much leaves this tale tasting like something we’ve all had before. That in itself isn’t enough reason to resist the story’s obvious temptations – could it be that Luke won’t survive the Emperor’s machinations this time? – which is why I basically deem it worth a read but little else. Plus, DARK EMPIRE has a weird artistic template; it’s almost as if illustrator Cam Kennedy (who does terrific work) made some curious decision to color the worlds of George Lucas monochromatically, and, for the life of me, I can’t figure out how anyone thought that was a good idea. (???) One of the most enduring qualities of STAR WARS is how different the various worlds and machines and droids look from one to another, so casting so very many panels in as few color choices as possible makes no narrative much less commercial sense.

Heck, even the long-rumored dead Boba Fett shows up for what plays out like an almost obligator appearance, one meant to recapture the magic of the bounty hunters glory days instead of adding legitimacy to the web being spun here. I like Boba Fett. I get most fanboys like Boba Fett. But his appearance here? It just didn’t need to be.

RECOMMENDED. I’m smitten with most of the Dark Horse’s adventures from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away; still, there’s something about DARK EMPIRE that just underwhelmed me. There were a few moments of greatness – Luke’s commitment to kinda/sorta bringing the Force into balance; Leia’s love for family despite the obvious hardships; Han’s ribbing of his brother-in-law; etc. – but most of them underscore relationships already so firmly established that there was little new brought to the game. Otherwise, much of this tale flew on autopilot, and it was hardly as DARK as it could’ve been. Good – worth a read – but far from great.


Lucky Bastard
Lucky Bastard
DVD ~ Don McManus
Price: $19.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Found-Footage-Flirtation Dishes Better Conventional Drama Than It Does Anything Else, June 30, 2014
This review is from: Lucky Bastard (DVD)
Full disclosure: I tend to enjoy found-footage-films – so let me state categorically that if you’re really no fan of them then quite a bit of LUCKY BASTARD is going to mean absolutely nothing to you. Yes – if you’re curious – this is an NC-17 rated flick. Yes – if you’re still curious – it’s set to a story within the porn industry. And yes – assuming that you’re still here – I suspect all of the good, bad, and ugly that would go hand-in-hand with a porn film needs to be considered when choosing whether or not to spend the next 94 minutes of your life with its characters. But at the end of it is it worth all of the fuss?

(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)

From the product packaging: “When the adult website Lucky Bastard runs a contest giving the winner a night with a famous porn star, the outcome turns from fantasy to horror in a deadly nightmare no one could possibly have expected.”

Right off the bat, LUCKY BASTARD has some problems. For starters, I’ve read (rather widely) that this film has been dubbed a ‘horror’ film, and that’s egregiously incorrect. For the sake of clarification, there is nothing about this film that remotely resembles any traditional horror film. Is it a thriller? Yes … up to a point … but even in that respect LUCKY BASTARD probably veers closer toward a character drama with porn overtones than perhaps writer/director Robert Nathan and screenwriter Lukas Kendal probably wanted it to be.

As a thriller, I’m not even sure it worked effectively to ratchet up any legitimate thrills, and that’s mostly because all involved tried to imbue the project with a sense of the everyman – this could happen to anybody – but that’s not quite accurate. See, it could happen to any porn star; but given the fact that there are far more in the audience watching the film who aren’t porn stars then this specific reality isn’t all that likely to come true for us. Besides, setting the film within the confines of California almost guarantees that it isn’t likely to happen precisely this way in any of the other 49 states.

Now, when you set that big miss aside, then what you’re left with is two films: the set-up (about 50 minutes) and the pay-off (about 44 minutes). See, BASTARD was uneven – it felt like two thematically separate stories – and, as much as I hate to point out what may be the obvious, the more conventional stuff – the story of the porn star, her manager, their crew, and this nitwit who happens to win the online contest – works far better than the stuff that’s supposed to be thrilling. I suppose it’s safe to say that some of that might be due to the talent (or lack thereof) of the associated players – sure, Betsy Rue is pretty solid as the porn queen, and Don McManus is quite good as her seedy, sometimes-slimy manager-raconteur. But when your lunatic underplays the lunatic as weakly as Jay Paulson does here, then there really isn’t all that much to get your blood pumping except for the sex scenes … and those were far too conventional to honestly call them porn.

LUCKY BASTARD (2014) is produced by Vineyard Haven. DVD distribution is being handled by the Revolver Group. As for the technical specifications, the film is actually shot with some pretty good care despite being the usual herky-jerky nature of found-footage; most of the cameras in the latter half of the film are stationary ones, and that helps reduce any visual discomfort. As for the audio? It’s pretty good, though it could’ve been better. Lastly, if it’s special features you want, then you have a director’s commentary and a slew of differently-themed theatrical trailers for your consideration.

(MILDLY) RECOMMENDED. While others might find LUCKY BASTARD a bit thick to wrap their head around, I honestly had no problem with the more conventional elements of its lean and mean story, especially considering the fact that this was a found-footage-film. Granted, I know most folks don’t much care for films of this type – I ‘get’ that you think the sub-genre has essentially run its course – but there’s something to be said for creative types still trying to eek whatever life they can out of it, even when that means they’ve got to start mixing up film types (porn and found footage) to do so. However, once the film turns full force grim, the talent just wasn’t up-to-snuff to make this as special as it could’ve been.

In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Revolver Group provided me with a DVD copy of LUCKY BASTARD by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.


Female Teacher: Dirty Afternoon
Female Teacher: Dirty Afternoon
DVD ~ Yuki Kazamatsuri
Price: $15.40
20 used & new from $11.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Smart Talk On Skin: Sex As A Means of Apology, June 27, 2014
Sex and sexual awakening (of a sort) have always been near the heart of what I think most filmmakers tried to explore by way of Japanese pink films. Yes, some of the experiences were traumatic – many storytellers quite possibly saw sexual trauma as a catalyst for characters’ psychological issues – but I’ve often contended that these pictures were far more closely aligned with wish and wish fulfillment for those who suffered at the hands of their sexual aggressors. Almost all of them from the films I’ve seen find a way to overcome whatever obsession they have with the experience, and, by the film’s end, they’ve found ways to come to terms with it. Maybe it made them better people. Maybe it made them better lovers.

What you have with FEMALE TEACHER: DIRTY AFTERNOON is a pair of young women trying to put the pieces of their lives into an order that makes sense to them: one seeks to repair a life she believes she destroyed by wrongly accusing a man of rape, while another seeks to bring little more than happiness to the partners she couples with however briefly.

(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)

From the product packaging: A teacher, Sakiko Kurata, receives a phone call regarding one of her former students. Young Sueko is accused of being a prostitute, and has requested Sakiko’s help. This minx seduces random strangers for sex, but does not ask for payment. Sakiko has moved to another town and barely remembers Sueko, but there’s something about her that awakens painful memories of her own secretive past …”

What’s more than a bit befuddling is that one might expect a film from the FEMALE TEACHER series to actually (A) involve a teacher, (B) involve some school setting, and (C) involve many more than a single student. Sadly, DIRTY AFTERNOON really only flirts with the traditions that Nikkatsu explores throughout their FEMALE TEACHER series: Sakiko Kurata (played by Yuki Kazamatsuri) was a student teacher, and a telephone call from her incarcerated student asking basically for bail is the impetus that sets this plot into motion. In fact, Sakiko barely remembers Sueko (Ayako Ota): this is not because she wasn’t a good teacher but rather because she suffered a particularly traumatic sexual assault in the remote mining town where she served her time as a student teacher. Otherwise, DIRTY AFTERNOON is curiously absent any school, any school setting, or the usual libidinous student bodies.

That said, I found DIRTY AFTERNOON to be a bit bizarre when compared to more traditional pinky films I’ve watched. The plot feels a bit cookie-cutter – little here unfolds organically, and even the sex scenes feel far more like they’ve been inserted into some macabre ‘After School Special’ quality tale where the moral to the story is make sure you know the one you’re accusing actually did the deed before you level the accusation … otherwise you’re destined to deliver make-up sex for the rest of your days. Every one of these characters uses sex as a form of cultural compensation – the rapist seeks gratification; Sakiko seeks emotional fulfillment; Sueko wishes to make men happy; and Sueko’s mother (in a rather weird comic subplot) wants to keep her job at the corner grocer. There’s clearly more substance at work in this product as director by Kichitaro Negishi, and that’s probably because Negishi did work outside the pink industry and perhaps had other aspirations at a time when all he really needed to do was shoot the sex.

Still, I wouldn’t call DIRTY AFTERNOON a misfire. It’s interesting, that’s for sure. I just wasn’t expecting so make narrative symbolism from a TEACHER title.

FEMALE TEACHER: DIRTY AFTERNOON (1981) is produced by Nikkatsu. DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled by Impulse Pictures. For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is a Japanese spoken language release with English subtitles available. (There is no English-dubbed track.) As for the technical specifications, again I’m surprised at how well the film has held up given its age and subject matter; even the mono track is quite good. Lastly – if it’s special features you want – then you have the theatrical trailer to look forward to as well as a nice little essay in the liner notes provided by Japanese Film Scholar Jasper Sharp.

(MILDLY) RECOMMENDED. FEMALE TEACHER: DIRTY AFTERNOON isn’t the most interesting pinky/pinku film I’ve ever seen, but that’s largely because it kinda/sorta dabbles in too much unnecessary baggage (i.e. story, feelings, plot, motivation) given its fairly predictable yet theatrically contrived finish. I’m not sure that any audience really wants to watch a victim come to such happy-happy terms with fate she suffered or accidentally forced on others, especially when the solution she reaches on her own is one quite this bizarre. Or personal.

In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Impulse Pictures provided me with a DVD copy of FEMALE TEACHER: DIRTY AFTERNOON by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.


Two Lives
Two Lives
DVD ~ Juliane Köhler
Price: $16.30
27 used & new from $10.89

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Spy Drama Woven Against The Backdrop Of Family, June 27, 2014
This review is from: Two Lives (DVD)
Truly intelligent spy movies are in short supply these days. What with the end of the Cold War, it isn’t as if the current global political climate lends itself to the kinds of motion pictures exploring such subject matter in the previous few decades, and studios seem to have tried to crack the nut that is ‘the War on Terror’ in a decidedly different (say ‘unAmerican’) perspective whenever they get the chance. But for audiences hungry for those days when politically-based thrillers were far more about the individuals caught up secretly in the deeds and misdeeds of national governments, quality flicks are indeed in short supply … which is why I suspect they’ll be chomping at the big to sink their teeth into TWO LIVES. This is the kind of human spy drama Hollywood used to make – the 70’s were full of them – and it’s a welcome return (albeit a bit slow at times) to character drama in the world of spies.

(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)

I’ll dispense with the usual tactic of culling the film synopsis from the product packaging (it’s far too involved for my tastes), and I’ll instead try to hit on a few salient points. TWO LIVES chiefly investigates the story of Katrine Evensen (played by a radiant Juliane Kohler), a “war child” whose mother was a Norwegian woman who engaged in an affair with an occupying Nazi soldier during World War II. (History records that the fate of many of these children – they’re referred to as part of a Lebensborn Program, an SS-sponsored attempt to raise the birthrate of Aryan children in order to perpetuate Nazi beliefs – has been subject to much speculation.) Once the Berlin Wall falls in 1990, random attempts were made to reunite these children with their birth mothers, and this film tells the fictional (but history-inspired) story of Katrine’s escape in years prior to that fall with a twist of espionage.

Unfortunately, TWO LIVES is the kind of film one cannot speak about at great lengths without spoiling much of the plot. The gist of what happens is that a lawyer trying to expose the Norwegian government’s complicity with those nefarious Germans wants Katrine to testify at a hearing of global importance but for her to do so much uncover gaps in her story which point to questions of her true identity. As more and more secrets are revealed, it becomes clear that far more has been kept in the dark; and disclosure of the truth might put more than just one live in great jeopardy.

Co-directed and co-written by George Maas and Judith Kaufmann (though Maas appears to get sole notice in the film’s credits), TWO LIVES is not as tautly told as one might like; in fact, precisely where and when what takes place in its expansive story was never quite perfectly plotted out to my preferences. The film employs a few visual techniques – flashbacks are rendered stylistically in what looks like Super 8MM film – but as these events unfold across a timeline of perhaps twenty to thirty years they grow increasingly nebulous as the plot wears on. Mind you: this doesn’t mean that the audience can’t figure it out; rather, it’s just that the story employs a kind of forced theatricality in order for it to spool the way it does here. So long as you don’t mind the obvious manipulation (the storytellers are trying to preserve their trump card until the end, you know), then you can probably roll with the changes and make the best of it.

What’s exceptional are most of the players. Every one of them inhabits these characters with a contemporary earthiness – some only want to live out their lives oblivious to the facts, while others are only trying to expose society’s flaws with no intentions of breaking up families – and this gives TWO LIVES its necessary emotional foundation.

TWO LIVES (2012) is produced by a host of partners, including Zinnober Film- und Fernsehproduktion, B&T Film, Helgeland Film, and more (for a complete list, check out IMDB.com). DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled by MPI Media Group. For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is a German/Norwegian spoken language release – there is a significant portion of the film delivered in English toward the end – with English-subtitles available. (There is no English-dubbed track.) As for the technical specifications? This is a smartly produced film, and it bears some terrific quality sights and sounds consistently. Lastly – if it’s special features you want – then all you have to look forward to is the theatrical trailer.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Though the film’s pacing and narrative leaves a bit to be desired, TWO LIVES is the kind of smart and intelligent spy story that doesn’t come to the silver screen all that often any more. While some of the character moments feel a bit contrived, that’s an easy blemish to overlook due to the otherwise captivating richness of these relationships in conflict slowly being pushed from the darkness and into the light by a few unspeakable acts of espionage and violence.

In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at MPI Media Group provided me with a DVD copy of TWO LIVES by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.


Wolf Creek 2
Wolf Creek 2
DVD ~ Gerard Kennedy
Price: $23.77
11 used & new from $14.57

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Visceral Thrill-Ride That Redefines The Original In Surprising Developments, June 26, 2014
This review is from: Wolf Creek 2 (DVD)
These Films Can’t Be Good For Australian’s Tourism

I can appreciate a quality horror franchise as much as the next bloke, but I honestly didn’t care all that much for the first installment of WOLF CREEK. The story was all well-and-good, though a bit limited to the premise of exploring how far one mad Aussie could essentially torture other people while maintaining the interest of a willing audience, but that was about it. To my delight, WOLF CREEK 2 is a better feature; it improves on the original in ways I honestly didn’t expect (including character development for Mick Taylor), and it works hard to establish exactly where writer/director/producer Greg McLean (along with others) could take the franchise.

But between the thuggish highway patrol cops, the constant reminder of torture, and the scenes of a semi-truck mowing down a herd of unsuspecting kangaroos, I can’t imagine any of this is good for tourism.

(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)

From the product packaging: “Lured by the promise of an Australian holiday, exchange student Paul visits the notorious Wolf Creek Crater. His dream Outback adventure soon becomes a horrific reality when he encounters the site’s most infamous local, Mick Taylor (John Jarrat). When Paul attempts to flee, Mick pursues him across a hostile wasteland and eventually drags him back to his underground lair. After seeing the true magnitude of Mick’s monstrosity, Paul’s only hope of surviving, where no one has before, will be to use every ounce of cunning to outwit the man behind the monster.”

Well, you’ve come a long way from Crocodile Dundee, that’s for sure! The WOLF CREEK franchise is a solid modern-day entry into the stylish world of torture porn (though some may disagree with that assessment), the largest portion of the teeth coming from Jarrat’s portrayal of the snide and sneering Aussie with the worst attitude since MAD MAX. While his role in the first film (from what I recall) didn’t rely so heavily on one-liners, WOLF CREEK 2 certainly is banking on the comeback appeal crafting Mick into more of a bloody prankster than he was a vile, despicable villain in the first cinematic outing.

As far the WOLF CREEK 2 goes, it’s kinda/sorta uneven. It honestly felt like I was watching three short films that had been meshed into one single work; and – to complicate things – the tone of the three shorter works was wildly different, along with the quality. (For example, the product package’s synopsis implies that Paul is a main character … and that’s only true for the second half or maybe two-thirds of the motion picture. Clearly, he isn’t there from the beginning.)

The first segment – that involving Mick Taylor’s re-introduction for audiences as well as the vignettes involving the young German couple – had an 80’s throwback feel wherein it was far more important for the killer to have a crisp, almost anti-hero sense of humor (a wisecracking Freddy Krueger, without the glove). The second film focused on Paul’s taut captivity as the two men play an edgy, SAW-like battle of wits one against the other (my personal favorite and the creative highpoint of the film, I think). The last film – Paul’s attempted escape through the bizarre catacombs of Mick’s Aussie torture palace felt far too derivative of the vastly superior JEEPERS CREEPERS for me to enjoy it as much as I probably should have.

WOLF CREEK 2 (2013) is produced by Duo Art Productions and Emu Creek Pictures. DVD distribution is being handled by RLJ Entertainment and Image Entertainment. For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is an English-spoken-language release; however, that first third of the film in subtitled as the two principles speak almost exclusively in German. As for the technical specifications? Bravo! Bravo, indeed! This is one smartly produced film, and director Greg McLean serves up some terrific sights and sounds consistently. Lastly – if it’s special features you want – you have a handful of deleted scenes (nothing all that grand) and a nearly hour-long documentary on the making of WOLF CREEK 2 that is quite good as it explores the ideas around building a horror franchise. Nice work!

RECOMMENDED. Hey, look: it’s a horror film, OK? This isn’t Shakespeare. WOLF CREEK 2 sets up a premise, and even while delivering on it the film manages to become a bit more than the sum of its parts (and there are plenty of parts, all of them bloodied). Don’t look for all of it to make perfect sense – how did Mick get from Point A to Point B so fast without a vehicle; how is it that Mick’s able to constantly figure out just where his victims have gone or are headed; why is it no one thinks to legitimately fight back; etc. – because those things aren’t the reasons why we watch horror films. You want to be scared? Try to imagine yourself thumbing a ride off Mick Taylor, and that’s all the scare you’ll need for two lifetimes, afterlife included.

In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at RLJ Entertainment and Image Entertainment provided me with a DVD copy of WOLF CREEK 2 by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.


Axeman
Axeman
DVD ~ Scot Pollard
Offered by conjammenson
Price: $14.99
18 used & new from $14.86

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing Slasher Flick Fails To Make The Cut, June 26, 2014
This review is from: Axeman (DVD)
I do watch an awful lot of horror movies, and – being perfectly honest – modern-day attempts at traditional slasher gore inspire me the least. Why? Well, the biggest reason is that most filmmakers don’t bring anything new to the game. Instead of amping up the carnage or delivering some great pop and sizzle with the body count they’re far more interested in turning out something that’s practically a shot-for-shot retread of so many things that have already been done before. It isn’t that I can’t appreciate your average killfest ‘cause I do. It’s just that I wish folks would actually reinvigorate a genre with new blood instead of revisiting all of the dried up tropes of yesteryear.

(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)

From the product packaging: “In this 80s style slasher with a new school twist, nine vacationing twenty-somethings travel to a posh timeshare cabin in Cutter’s Creek for a hedonistic weekend. But their weekend of boozing and sex turns to horror when an axe-wielding local legend comes to life!”

Meh. Perhaps I’ve watched too much horror to appreciate a true homage the way other viewers can as I found so very much of AXEMAN to embrace far too much of the pretentiousness of its principal characters. And – for that matter – the Axeman himself is barely in this, showing up in far too few sequences, especially considering the runtime (way too long, by the way) clocks in at a lethargy-inducing 103 minutes. I’m all for carnage; I just hate spacing it out so much. There’s far too much time spent on folks you know aren’t going to survive the picture anyway; getting to know them better only makes you wish the Axeman wasn’t in so small supply or maybe brought along his friend – ‘The Stabber’ – who could’ve kept busy, too.

What works well in pictures of this nature is that the victims fit a certain profile. Sure, every one of them is more self-absorbed than the next, and – in that respect – the script turns a single into a double. There are former jocks. There are wannabe success stories. There are frisky lesbians. There’s the young couple just trying to find one another again. There’s the interracial pair. If only one of them knew how to act, then maybe AXEMAN wouldn’t have seemed so cut on the lines.

One of the chief reasons to sit and enjoy even the most formulaic slasher picture is because of the visceral thrill that goes hand-in-hand with watching the usual suspects get effectively hacked to pieces one after another. Viewers can revel in the fact that the axe-wielding maniac is secretly doing mankind a service, offing this bunch of self-obsessed twentysomethings and saving us from having to make small talk with them at the corner Starbucks. Is there any greater sublime release than watching the quarterback finally go down on something other than a cheerleader? Is there any greater satisfaction than watching that plastic Penny with the perfect hair, perfect boobs, and perfect butt bleeding out on the floor of some backwoods cabin? In fact, right now I can’t think of any better reason to watch ANY slasher flick!

Sadly, AXEMAN shows up in shockingly short supply in a film bearing his name. To worsen matters, when he does, he uses the axe but the blood and gore are left off-screen! Can you believe that? Writer/director Joston Theney doesn’t even give the audience the satisfaction of witnessing the grand comeuppance of these stock characters he created; instead, he throws in some squirts and spurts of catsup and expects us to forgive him for it. Well, I won’t.

AXEMAN (aka AXEMAN AT CUTTER’S CREEK) (2013) is produced by Blood Red Films. DVD distribution is being handled by Midnight Releasing. As for the technical specifications? Meh. I don’t want to make too much of it, so I’ll just say that there’s some good and some bad audio work, but the video work and cinematography is surprisingly uninspired, even for a slasher picture. Lastly, if it’s special features you want, then prepare for the disappointment: there aren’t any.

(MILDLY) RECOMMENDED. Bland, bland, and more bland. Because I do tend to appreciate horror and gore more than the next online critic, I can forgive some script holes or logic burps (there are more than I care to recount here); but what I can’t tolerate is being bored for 103 minutes. Yes, writer/director Theney had a recipe he was clearly following, but his mix lacks the depth, consistency, and flavor that a more learned perspective may’ve brought to this material. It isn’t a complete waste, but it’s pretty close. On the plus side? Well, the frisky lesbians do neck a lot.

In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Midnight Releasing provided me with a DVD copy of AXEMAN by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.


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