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Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus (2010)
Vengeance-Driven-Urkel Vs. Monsters
Urkel is on a U.S. Navy battleship conducting experiments on how to repel sharks by sound waves, because that's exactly what the U.S. Navy does on battleships.
About 20 seconds after his commanding officer poo-poos Urkel's theory that Mega Shark survived the last movie (Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus), Mega Shark leaps like Flipper over the battleship, inexplicably sinking it and further inexplicably fatally impaling Urkel's girlfriend with some nondescript shrapnel.
That gives Urkel His prerequisite "Noooo!" scene that establishes his character as Vengeance-Driven-Urkel for the rest of the film. And yet, for the rest of the film he's still just Urkel.
Meanwhile, Congo villagers mining for blood diamonds (because that Leonardo DiCaprio movie made that all topical and all), for no logical reason whatsoever unleash a buried Crocosaurus that appears to be digitally rendered with some sort of freeware downloaded from cnet.com.
So, a rep from the mining company who also happens to be a bodacious babe, and whose entire "look more awkward than hot" act relies completely on a pair of glasses, hires an Aussie monster hunter played by Not-Hugh-Jackman to catch the beast so the diamond harvesting may continue.
Oh, and later, the Mega Shark and Crocosaurus fight, because if there's one thing National Geographic has taught us (other than that rainforest tribal women go topless), it's that sharks and crocodiles are natural-born enemies.
Everything else in this movie is unimportant.
Stuff I love:
-- Mining company babe wears a little black dress and high heels to blaze a trail though the African jungle.
-- Not-Hugh-Jackman carries a machete and these giant syringes that look like he's Godzilla's meth dealer.
-- Urkel will never not be Urkel. Sorry, Urkel. Dance with the stars all you want, Urkel. You're still Urkel, Urkel.
-- Not-Hugh-Jackman totally points a pistol at an innocent kid's head, just for fun.
-- The scene in which everybody argues over who owns the binoculars. That's a movie in itself, right there.
-- Hey, Robert Picardo: Remember when you were in The Wonder Years and Star Trek: Voyager? Remember that huge mortgage on your LA home? Here you play "The Admiral..."
-- Mega Shark catches a submarine torpedo in its teeth and jumps hundreds of feet in the air before spitting it out, because sharks are smart that way. Then, The Admiral says, "Focus, people!" to his crew, as if it's their fault.
-- TV reporter from Miami (Is that where this takes place? Half the movie's gone by and this is the first I've heard) watches Crocosaurus destroy city and says, "This is amazing! Something I never thought we'd see again!" When has this EVER happened before?
-- What in the ever-living, blue-eyed heck is an "arc flash?" They explained it. They showed it. They used it against Crocosaurus. And I still have absolutely no idea what it was or what it was meant to do. No matter, because whatever it was, it failed, and the movie continued and never mentioned it again.
-- Giant crocodile egg in lab: "Crack! Crack!" Scientist babe: "What is that? Is that coming from inside the egg?" BECAUSE I'VE NEVER BEEN IN A MOVIE LIKE THIS BEFORE, NOR EVER SEEN ONE, AND I WAS BORN YESTERDAY.
-- The Admiral: "I suggest you bring your hydrosonic balls with you."
-- Submarine guy to pilot: "Slow and steady, lieutenant. We don't want this thing to buckle like a ping pong ball." Because ping pong balls are known to buckle at high speeds under water.
-- "I think the shark is headed for the first lock. Where's the croc?" "Outside the lock." "NEAR THE DOCK?" "LOAD YOUR GLOCK." "IT'S IN HOCK." "WHAT A SHOCK." "YOU'RE SUCH A JOCK." "PLEASE DON'T MOCK." "SORRY. YOU ROCK." "WHERE'S MY SOCK?"
-- Urkel: "Why aren't the bombs killing them?" Perhaps it's because no bombs have ever been shown in this movie.
-- "They just took out Panama! They destroyed everything!" Thanks for telling us, Urkel, because the movie didn't show that at all.
-- In almost every situation in which Urkel needs to explain something technical, he realizes half-way through he's full of it and says, "Look, just do it!" And they do.
-- Not-Hugh-Jackman as Crocosaurus and Mega Shark swim out to sea toward the horizon: "They're coming!"
Stuff I don't love:
-- Mining company babe gets eaten far too early in the film, far too stupidly and with far too many clothes on. Thankfully, director Christopher Douglas-Olen Ray learned his lesson by the time he got to "2-Headed Shark Attack." That film's all kinds of stupid, too, but at least Olen Ray gives weary viewers a peek at the good stuff before the babes get eaten.
-- Not-Hugh-Jackman's accent fluctuates between Australian and British so obviously, you can practically hear the actor thinking "What the hell. Same thing." And he slurs his speech like Johnny Depp in those myriad Pirates of the Caribbean movies, but comes off more like Peter O'Toole in My Favorite Year (or, really, Peter O'Toole in anything other than Lawrence of Arabia, and sometimes in that, too). Or perhaps he's actually soused.
-- Too much time is spent sending "experts" to determine whether certain giant eggs are crocodile or shark eggs. As if it makes any difference to the story at all.
-- Someone told the actress playing the government babe, "Want to appear to be a strong, confident woman? Act like the meanest lunch lady ever. EVER."
-- Worst helicopter crash ever. EVER.
Two stars for being among the most unintentionally funny of The Asylum's vast library of turdy flicks.
Girl in Woods (2016)
Surprisingly harrowing indie thriller
This indie effort is a surprisingly harrowing, sometimes unbearably tense thriller.
When Grace and Jim head into the Smoky Mountains for a hike to celebrate their new engagement, a tragic accident leaves Grace to fend for herself in the wilderness.
But Grace suffers from a mental illness for which she has left her medication back in the cabin.
So, for the rest of the movie, we watch Grace trying to survive being lost in the middle of a forest, while at the same time descending into a frightful psychosis.
Bit-part actress Juliet Reeves London gives a tour-de-force performance as troubled Grace, portraying multiple versions of the character as her various personalities interact with each other, in a conceit that works better than you'll expect.
Director Jeremy Benson vastly improves over his dreary 2008 effort "Live Animals." While there's little to distinguish this from other films in the "lost in the woods" genre, he successfully makes the viewer truly concerned about his main character, and forces us to experience her terror in a truly visceral way. I seriously cringed once or twice at what he put this poor girl through, and believe me, my threshold is pretty high regarding that.
That said, the lazily titled "Girl in Woods" does, however, stumble over pitfalls common to independent films such as it. Check it:
-- It's too long. Thrillers like this should be taut.
-- It's loaded with unnecessary flashbacks and dream sequences. I lost count of how many times the lead character awoke with a gasp from a troubling nightmare.
-- Some things don't make sense. She supposedly has no cell service in the woods, yet is able to use her phone to listen to music. Couldn't she have texted an SOS to somebody instead? And why did no one ping her device? Also, she never stopped looking pretty nicely groomed for a gal who spent upwards of a month eating leaves and drinking water with pollywogs in it.
-- Without the budget to afford a big name actress, it instead blows too much money on a B-level celebrity, when that money would have been better spent on a nobody who could act. So, it wastes and miscasts genre fave Charisma Carpenter as Grace's mother. Seen only in flashbacks and dreams, her clunky dialogue, stilted acting, and youthful look and demeanor come across more like an aging sorority girl than the woman in a troubled marriage she's supposed to portray.
But despite these shortcomings, I was nonetheless at the edge of my seat throughout "Girl in Woods," alternately aching for this girl's safety while rapt in witnessing how terribly far her psychosis progresses.
It's far. Terribly, terribly far.
My Bakery in Brooklyn (2016)
Mixed bag of a picture fails to charm
A charming performance from one of two female leads can't save this mixed bag of a picture that tries to blend RomCom, absurd humor and a dash of fantasy, and ultimately fails at all three.
Cousins Vivien and Chloe inherit their aunt's bakery, but disagree on how to operate it. Vivien (Aimee Teegarden from TV's "Friday Night Lights") wants to keep it traditional, while Chloe (Broadway musical star Krysta Rodriguez) wants to switch it up with modern, healthier recipes.
But their late aunt (the great Linda Lavin, hamming it up) left the place in debt, and an evil, even hammier-acting banker seeks to foreclose. So the plucky girls and their friends hatch a plan to keep it open.
The lazily titled "Bakery in Brooklyn" has a dream-like quality to it. With its obvious set pieces and soundstage, rich and vibrant cinematography, a charming, circus-y score, and fantastic elements such as a blind shoe-shine man who can divine people's personalities by caressing their footwear, the filmmakers are obviously shooting for New York-based magical realism like "Little Manhattan."
The result, unfortunately, is much less successful than that superior predecessor.
The biggest problem is the script, which is overloaded with ancillary characters, unimportant side plots and absurd situations.
While it distracts us with stories about a bumbling nerd trying to hook up with a beautiful Spanish girl, and an Eastern European drug dealer who finds a friend in the cousins' elderly uncle (Ernie "Pumbaa" Sabella), the movie short-changes us on the most important part of the plot -- the two cousins' personality clash. It's touched upon, but then driven to a heated confrontation in the first act. After that, there wasn't much interesting left about them for the rest of the movie.
And that's a shame, because Rodriguez is a joy to watch. Vivacious, witty and adorable, hers is the most enjoyable and well-developed character in a film otherwise stocked with rubber-stamped archetypes.
Meandering character studies, particularly those set in Manhattan, a city well-suited to meandering, can often be enjoyable, and transcend even the most threadbare of a plot.
But "Bakery in Brooklyn" is loaded with so much unnecessary nonsense, its story gets buried and it loses its heart.
And a romantic comedy without heart is like a cannoli without filling. It leaves you craving the sweet it's missing.
The Angriest Man in Brooklyn (2014)
Misguided, depressing downer of a movie
Toward the end of his life, his star having significantly dimmed, Robin Williams made a lot of curious independent features that served to pay the bills and keep him in the public eye.
Some, such as the almost impossibly dark black comedy "World's Greatest Dad," were bold, if nonetheless desperate choices. Others, like "The Big White" and the film adaptation of Armistead Maupin's novel "The Night Listener," were minor, meandering curiosities.
But there's nothing even remotely positive to say about "The Angriest Man in Brooklyn," which provided Williams his final starring film role.
Its Debby-Downer of a plot centers on a once happy-go-lucky man descended into seething rage and self-loathing after one of his two sons dies tragically.
Diagnosed with an inoperable brain aneurysm and lied to by a frustrated doctor that he has only 90 minutes to live, he decides to make every minute count by repairing his estranged relationships with his wife and remaining son.
You will like or sympathize with no one in this film, especially Williams, who tragically appears to be struggling just to get through it, and most especially overrated actress Mila Kunis as the terrible, terrible doctor who gives the Williams character his fake diagnosis out of sheer selfishness and conceit, and whose quest to find him and make it right is rooted in those two characteristics alone. The film wants you to root for her. You will root for the revoking of her license to practice medicine, and perhaps jail time.
This all builds to a schmaltzy climax on the Brooklyn Bridge, for no good reason, and the awfully unconvincing green-screen composite shot has to be seen to be believed.
The great Peter Dinklage, as the Williams character's brother, is brilliant as usual, but utterly wasted. Seriously, you'll wish for a sequel or TV series featuring his devout Jewish little person lawyer.
He's the only good thing about this movie, which is otherwise about as entertaining as reading the obituary of an old high school chum.
Wild Thing (1987)
Forgotten treasure of a film
It may be difficult for the young generation to imagine in the gentrified, Disneyfied 21st century, but New York City in the early 1980s was a desperate and awful place.
Times Square had been surrendered to the sex trade, the subways to street gangs, and the urban neighborhoods to hopeless, crumbling decay, as the rich majority and federal government made a conscious, overtly racist decision and effort to invest instead in the suburbs.
This awful situation gave rise to a curious genre of film set in a nightmarish contemporary Manhattan, populated by mulleted toughs harassing good citizens and engaging in choreographed knife fights in front of concrete walls sprayed with graffiti indistinct enough so as not to prevent a future network TV broadcast.
"The Warriors" may be the best known film in this category, but I argue "Wild Thing," though more obscure, is a gem that actually holds up better with time.
That's because it draws its conceit not just from its urban nightmare setting, but from Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic, "Tarzan."
After a young hippie couple is gunned down on a New York City side street, their infant child is taken in by a kindly homeless lady (Broadway veteran Betty Buckley).
The boy grows up wild in the Manhattan jungle just as Tarzan did in Africa, and becomes a legendary hero defending the innocent with his makeshift tools, like a bow-and-arrow and grappling hook.
The script by indie legend John Sayles is pure comic book pulp, with just enough social commentary to make you think.
The film is dark and dingy, but so was New York City then. So it works.
In fact, just about everything works in this forgotten treasure of a film.
When Wild Thing saves the day at the end (no spoiler there), and the kids on the street start chanting the Troggs' classic song, you'll be singing along, too. Trust me.
Pass this pretentious, half-hearted attempt at horror
This pretentious psychological thriller is low on actual thrills, or much of interest.
When we first meet May Canady, she's a little girl who wears an eye patch to correct a lazy eye condition.
On the first day of school, some kid says, "Are you a pirate?"
Apparently scarred for life from that remark, the next time we see her is at a sad birthday party where no kids show up.
As a comforting gesture, mom gives her a homemade doll that, because this is that kind of movie, is seriously the most astoundingly creepy thing ever made by anybody.
Fast forward to May as an adult. She's grown to be a socially awkward, weird, sociopathic loner whose best friend is that horror doll. Because some kid called her a pirate once.
But the camera focuses more than once on her bodacious booty, as does her crush Adam, who to get a piece of it is willing to overlook that May is obviously insane.
Meanwhile, her dim, lesbian co-worker (a terrible, scenery-chewing performance by Anna Faris) keeps coming on to her, ignoring the same thing Adam is, for the same reason.
When both let her down, May goes off the deep end, taking her mother's advice from long ago, "If you can't find a friend, make one," to grisly heart.
And that's it. After an hour of watching a mentally ill girl try to make friends with people, we're treated in the last 15 minutes to her chopping those people up.
This movie has nothing to say. There are no character arcs to follow for anyone, especially May, who we knew was a loon from the get-go.
And even those final 15 minutes are tedious, since it's obvious what she's doing. There's no big reveal about it. It's like watching somebody knit a sweater, but when they're done -- dom, dom, DOMMMM! -- yeah, it's a sweater.
After that, "May" makes a half-hearted attempt to shock in its closing moments, but it's too little, too late.
A terrifying thriller. Don't miss it
Here's a terrific movie called "Frozen" that's not *that* "Frozen."
As far from a merry, animated musical as a film can get, this 2010 indie is a terrifying thriller that will leave you, at times, with your heart racing.
Three 20-something skiers convince a lift operator to send them up the mountain one more time after closing. But a miscommunication on the ground leaves them stranded halfway up. And an ice storm is rolling in.
From this phobic what-if scenario, the filmmakers craft a horrifyingly realistic nightmare, as the young skiers resort to desperate measures to try to make it back to the ground before they freeze to death.
I don't think it was a conscious decision by the filmmakers, but that the three main characters are such unlikeable, entitled ninnies actually serves the movie well, I think.
They scam their way into the ski resort, then scam their way onto the deus-ex-machina ski lift, all self-satisfied and smirking at their craftiness.
If these were people I cared about, this film would be agonizing to watch. But watching a bunch of jerks try to make it through this situation makes for an enjoyably taut thriller instead of a heartbreaking tragedy.
With terrific stunts, cringingly realistic makeup effects and just the right amount of gore, "Frozen" is highly recommended. Don't let it go! (See what I did there?)
The Guilty (2000)
"The Guilty" is infuriatingly stupid.
Don't let the presence of the great Bill Pullman trick you into watching this, like it did me.
Bill Pullman comes from the same Do Anything For A Buck But Still Be Excellent Acting School that graduated the great Gene Hackman.
Indeed, Bill Pullman is awesome in a part that would have gone to Michael Douglas in a better movie.
But even he can't redeem this lame-brained thriller about a scoundrel lawyer who hires a hitman to kill the woman he raped, not knowing the hitman was the son he didn't know he had.
Read that last sentence again to yourself, out loud.
This movie is even stupider than that sounds out loud.
Characters say and do things in this movie only because it forwards the plot, logic be damned.
I watched this on my iPhone, and more than once I nearly hurled it at the wall in utter frustration at this movie, before reminding myself the device warrantee had expired, and I couldn't afford a new one.
After the phenobarbital, I was OK again.
I recommend you watch movies that don't lead to prescription drug use.
"The Guilty" is not one of those movies.
Free on PopcornFlix and YouTube.
Love's Kitchen (2011)
Perfectly harmless, somewhat charming little British trifle
If you thought the United States cornered the market on syrupy, Hallmarky romcoms, check out this British trifle about a chef who falls in love with a restaurant critic.
Dougray Scott, the Scottish actor with the distinction of having lost the roles of both Wolverine and James Bond, stars here as Chef Rob Haley, who loses his cooking mojo after his annoying pill of a wife dies crashing her car into a truck while speeding and dialing her cellphone.
His restaurant becomes terrible as a result, leading American food critic Kate Templeton (played by Scott's real-life wife Claire Forlani) to savage the place in an anonymous review.
When Haley buys the quaint English pub he and his late wife had their eye on before her death, he finds a new purpose, his cooking skills return, and Kate, for no other reason than it services the plot, becomes his advisor of sorts, falls in love with him and connects with his tween daughter.
Complications arise when Kate's stuffy British father tries to sabotage the place because he's miffed at the traffic the popular restaurant has created.
That's it. That's pretty much the whole story. It's a traffic issue. Told you it was a trifle.
Oh, yeah. Famous hot-headed TV chef Gordon Ramsay shows up in a cameo as an empathetic sweetheart of a guy who just wants everything to work out for this lovely couple. It has to be seen to be believed, and is worth your time with this otherwise twaddle alone.
If you go for this kind of thing, like I do, you'll find "Love's Kitchen" a perfectly harmless, somewhat charming little date movie.
If you don't, you'll be reaching for some rat poison to sprinkle on your gourmet supper.
Dragon Day (2013)
The preposterous premise of "Dragon Day," also known as "Invasion Day," is that the United States owes so much money to China that the Chinese just decide to invade.
By secretly placing malicious code into every electronic product manufactured in China, it effectively shuts down all communication, transportation, banking, etc.
What would China have to gain by coming into our country and ruining it, virtually guaranteeing we'd never be able to pay them back?
Now, because this movie cost less than your sofa to make, we aren't supposed to ask questions like that.
Actually, we don't see this invasion play out on the world stage at all.
No joke, this entire movie is about how the invasion of the United States by the People's Republic of China affects one guy and his family in their Oregon vacation home.
They get assaulted by hillbillies! They get threatened by cops! They run out of Coca-Cola!
Check it: There's one Chinese guy in this whole movie, and ironically he never meets this family.
One time, two starving kids knock on the door, and they each get handed a potato. That's it. You never see those kids again.
You'll just be going, "Wait, what?" at every turn of the plot, but you won't be able to take your eyes off it. This movie is like that weirdo bag lady who gets on the subway talking to herself, and your mom says, "Don't stare!" But you do. Because you can't not.
Apartment 1303 3D (2012)
Pedestrian spooker as frustratingly generic as they get
This pedestrian spooker about a haunted apartment is as frustratingly generic as they get, despite decent production values and a creepy score.
Julianne Michelle portrays a young woman who rents an apartment to escape her domineering mother, a faded pop star who has fallen into obscurity and alcoholism played with Shatneresque scenery-chewing by '80s movie sexpot Rebecca De Mornay.
When it turns out the apartment is haunted by the evil ghosts of its former occupants, her cries of help go tragically unheeded.
That leaves her sister (Mischa Barton) and her sister's married lover, (an undercover cop for no reason ever explained) to solve the ghostly mystery.
They don't. That's not a spoiler, it's a caution. Don't invest yourself in this movie that will let you down.
It's not scary, but it's not boring. It's not bad, but, man, it's not good.
A remake of the undoubtedly superior (I would guess) Japanese horror movie, "Apartment 1303" just is.
Like the McChicken sandwich at McDonald's just is. It's not bad. It's not good. It just is. It exists.
The best thing I can say about this movie is that it exists.
Monkey Shines (1988)
An enjoyable slice of pure '80s cheese
This lesser-known movie directed by George A. "Night of the Living Dead" Romero is an enjoyable slice of pure '80s cheese.
Athlete Allan Mann (Jason Beghe in the worst fake beard you will have ever seen) is hit by a truck and becomes a bitter quadriplegic.
He signs up for an experimental arrangement in which he is provided a monkey helper that has had its intelligence artificially boosted.
After a while, Allan seems to psychically bond with the monkey, which begins to act out on its master's fits of rage and murderous revenge.
Then, the monkey turns on him.
Romero's movies have traditionally been more straight-up gore-fests than tension-building mysteries like this, which is crammed with terror and suspense.
I'm not sure which of the two filmmakers I'm honoring or insulting more by calling "Monkey Shines" downright Hitchkockian.
And since it was released in 1988, you can expect a synthesized score, big hair, and a muddy, low-budget film grain that makes the movie appear to be shot through gauze (but in a good way).
Sometimes unintentionally funny, other times pee-your-pants shocking, "Monkey Shines" is definitely worth your while, and is celluloid gold for '80s movie fans and Romero completists.
Pizza My Heart (2005)
Delightful and adorbs retelling of "Romeo and Juliet"
This unrelentingly adorbs retelling of "Romeo and Juliet" imagines Shakespeare's play as a story of two Italian-American families with competing pizza places.
The Prestolanis and the Montebellos of Verona, N.J. (wink, wink), whose pizza places are inexplicably side by side and separated by a tall, brick wall like in "The Fantasticks," have hated each other's guts for centuries.
One family makes a pizza known for its wonderful cheese combination, the other for its delicious sauce.
When a Frenchman (!) comes to town looking to franchise a pizza place for no good reason other than it services the plot, Joe (Romeo) Montebello and Gina (Juliet) Prestolani must overcome their relatives' feud to save the family businesses and their star-crossed romance, too.
Populated with scenery-chewing character actors famous for portraying bombastic Italians, including Michael Badalucco (best known as lawyer Jimmy Berlutti in TV's "The Practice") and perpetually flustered Dan Hedaya (Carla's husband on "Cheers" and "The Tortellis"), the stupidly titled "Pizza My Heart" is actually quite delightful.
The blend of romance, genuine comedy, and Shakespeare references so subtle they might even get past your high school English teacher really, really works for some crazy reason.
I'm a sap for "Romeo and Juliet" adaptations, whether it's the '60s musical "West Side Story," '80s grindhouse sleaze "China Girl," the Jet Li chopsocky actioner "Romeo Must Die" or DTV kiddie fare "Romeo and Juliet: Sealed with a Kiss," the latter of which tells the story with, not kidding, animated sea lions.
This one's more like the sea lions one than Abel Ferrara's grim "China Girl," in that it foregoes the "tragedy" part of Shakespeare's tragedy and focuses more on a "love conquers all" theme that would have made the Bard throw the heck up, but is totally befitting of ABC Family, on which "Pizza My Heart" premiered about a decade ago.
And as such, it's a lovely way to spend an evening with your spouse.
Jug Face (2013)
What a hoot this movie is!
ThIs bonkers amalgam of "Deliverance" and "The Lottery" is seasoned with a tablespoon of supernatural horror.
A band of woods-dwelling hillbillies worship a small pit of muddy water they believe cures them of illness.
Every so often the spirit of the pit compels the mentally-challenged Dawai to craft a clay jug in the likeness of the next person they must sacrifice to it.
When teenage Ada, pregnant with her brother's baby, discovers Dawai's newest jug depicts her, she runs away, angering the pit spirit, which exacts its bloody revenge on the clan.
What a hoot this movie is! What an absolutely, mind-bogglingly bizarre way to spend 81 minutes!
And you know what? You'll care about everybody. Ada, her father who is the leader of the clan, her pious, judgmental mother (played by Sean Young, who's not really this frumpy, but may actually be this crazy), and poor, simple Dawai.
That's because the performances here are so endearing. It's almost as if the actors decided, "OK, this will be the most insane thing on my resume. I may as well play it straight." And they do. All of them are fully invested in this lunacy.
And you will be, too.
Check it out.
They Wait (2007)
Slow-moving but effective supernatural spooker
Don't let the generic title put you off. If you're a fan of ghost stories, you won't want to miss this slow-moving but effective supernatural spooker.
When young mom Sarah (Jaime King) and her half-Chinese son Sam (Regan Oey) arrive in San Francisco for a family funeral after having lived in Shanghai for six years, the little boy starts seeing ghosts.
Turns out they landed in Chinatown during the traditional Hungry Ghost Festival, in which it is believed the doors to heaven and hell are opened and the spirits of deceased ancestors visit the living.
Mom and son are soon embroiled in a murder mystery that's steeped in a past tragedy, and discover some of the people closest to them may be hiding terrible secrets.
Usually a bit player, King carries the movie as the troubled mom who can't begin to comprehend the culture she's immersed in.
But the star of the show is that culture itself, and how expertly Chinese mysticism is used to creepy effect. Even the jump-scares are effective.
Uniformly strong performances and decent special effects are all the better reason to cue this up, grab a snack and prepare to sleep with the lights on tonight.
Santorini Blue (2013)
Setting, casting redeem vapid Woody Allen clone
The beautiful Greek setting and some tongue-in-cheek casting choices almost totally redeem this otherwise vapid stab at aping Woody Allen.
Director/star Matthew D. Panepinto channels both Woody Allen and Jeff Goldblum as a vain, rapid-talking film director whose unfaithfulness prompts his wife to walk out and board a plane to picturesque Santorini, Greece.
As the wife, Deirdre Lorenz is charming and alluring in a role that begs credulity that she'd ever have looked twice at an obsequious cad like him in the first place.
She co-wrote the film with Panepinto, and unfortunately neither found it important to explore that Billy Joel/Christie Brinkley aspect to their relationship, nor to explain why the wife chooses to bolt to Greece, as opposed to anywhere else in the whole wide world.
But this is a positive review despite those shortcomings, and here's three reasons why:
1. Santorini, Greece is jaw-droppingly beautiful
2. Ice-T as a horny psychiatrist with a hot babe receptionist
3. Richard Belzer as a gay film producer with a little foo-foo dog. Richard Belzer totally kisses a guy full on the lips
All three have to be seen to be believed, and make this indie worth a watch, especially since it's free.
Charming and enjoyable despite odd premise
This one's an odd one that's actually oddly enjoyable.
"Zerophilia" imagines a world in which a communicable disease exists that causes sexual partners to suddenly change gender.
The change is triggered in macho Heath Ledger lookalike Luke, who promptly transforms into sexy babe "Luca" after a backseat tryst with a gal played by "Weird Science" hottie Kelly LeBrock, whose star has clearly fallen so, so far.
What's charming about this movie is the way the characters so awkwardly navigate their male and female selves. Some humor is tossed in as their friends struggle to deal with these abrupt changes.
The "odd" comes in at, of course, the premise, as well as how expertly the casting director matched the male and female representations of each character. Their physical similarities made the film's low-budget transformation SFX seem like straight-up magic.
It's not as laugh-out-loud funny as you might expect, but is a lot more enjoyable than you might expect, too, thanks to some endearing performances and a sensitive script.
A modern Western gem
Here's a modern Western gem from 1991 that's never been released on DVD.
Scott Glenn plays an injured ex-rodeo rider who returns home a Prodigal Son after years away.
The film follows his complicated relationships with his ex-girlfriend (Kate Capshaw), selfish wealthy brother (a surprisingly excellent Gary Busey playing against type), and aging father, a retired rodeo rider with dementia (real-life champion rodeo cowboy Ben Johnson in a touching performance).
As did many underdog movies of the era, the film awkwardly turns "Rocky"-like toward the end, when Scott Glenn's character mounts his rodeo steed once more for a chance at enough money to keep dad out of the nursing home.
And the end is jarringly abrupt, leaving several plot lines unresolved and questions unanswered.
But those are minor quibbles, when the rest of the movie is just pure joy, watching the characteristically taciturn Glenn navigate from one relationship to the other.
And the movie is peppered with old Western stars like Dub Taylor, to remind you that despite the soap opera drama, this here's a rodeo show at heart.
Immensely satisfying sci-fi thriller
An atmospheric and creepy sci-fi thriller that's still immensely satisfying today, despite '80s artifacts like a cheesy synthesizer score and Kate Capshaw's hair.
A young and devilishly handsome Dennis Quaid plays a psychic who, as part of a college experiment in sleep disorders, learns to enter people's dreams.
Intrigue and murder arise when the government takes over the program to train assassins.
Dreamy, intense, surprisingly sexy and sometimes scary as hell (stop-motion or not, Snakeman will haunt your own nightmares), "Dreamscape" still holds up after more than 30 years.
Kate Capshaw is alluring, genre greats Christopher Plummer and Max Von Sydow are, of course, tremendous, and '80s bad guy staple David Patrick Kelly sneers appropriately as the villain.
Weather Girl (2009)
Charming and watchable RomCom with a terrific lead
Seattle TV meteorologist Sylvia (Tricia O'Kelley) has a hysterically funny on-air meltdown over her failed romance with morning news host Dale (Mark Harmon), which promptly kills her broadcast career.
Reduced to waiting on tables, Sylvia moves in with her brother Walt (Ryan Devlin) and begins a friends-with-benefits hookup with his slacker buddy Byron (Patrick J. Adams).
Complications ensue when a video of Sylvia's meltdown goes viral online, and the ratings-hungry TV station offers her the opportunity to co-anchor with Dale, just as Byron realizes he's fallen in love with her.
The movie opens with her meltdown, and that's smart, because the humor in it really draws you in. But it makes you want the rest of the movie to be just as funny. It's not. It's nice, but it's not.
While the rest of "Weather Girl" doesn't quite live up to that awesome opening, it's still terrifically watchable.
That's mostly because O'Kelley, a bit TV sitcom actor, carries the movie as the sassy, pushing-40 weather girl frustrated with the direction her life has taken.
Harmon is the only big name in this indie RomCom, and it's ironic he's the least effective. Even us cis guys found this dude hot back in the day, but he's grown old to look like Dracula. His pale, pinched face and weird pursed lips are distracting and cast doubt over his role as a lothario.
Adams is one to watch, though. He's totally believable and relatable as a lonely Millennial website designer infatuated with his friend's older sister. He's remarkably charming.
The ending is totally predictable, but it's a fun 92 minutes getting there.
Sticky Fingers (1988)
Funky '80s style saves this standard caper flick
"Sticky Fingers" stars Helen "Supergirl" Slater and Melanie "thirtysomething" Mayron as a couple of quirky but poor New York City street musicians who come upon a satchel filled with ill-gotten money.
Slater, who is stunningly pretty, also shows a surprisingly deft comic ability. And Mayron, an often dull actress, holds her own well in a film she co-wrote.
The supporting cast is also made up of beautiful comediennes, including the always adorably funny Carol Kane and the late Danitra Vance, the first black female "Saturday Night Live" cast member, who lost her life to breast cancer in 1994. I still swoon at her smile.
Late character actress Eileen Brennan also stands out as the leads' impatient landlord.
Though the movie was written and directed by women, co-writer/director Caitlin Adams is no Susan Seidelman or Joan Micklin Silver. Her director's hand is unsure. She allows what should be a humorous take on female empowerment to be undone by protagonists who are classic screwball-comedy bubbleheads, and a plot that devolves into a standard caper film.
But I love it for its '80s style, its funny leads and supporting cast (I'd watch Carol Kane read the phone book), and the funky way it captures my beloved New York City, in a similar to, but somewhat lesser way than Seidelman's "Desperately Seeking Susan" did.
But see, I've always found "Desperately Seeking Susan" a bit of a bore. "Sticky Fingers" is flawed, to be sure. But it's enjoyable enough to watch all the way through.
For me, more than once.
Ghost House (2017)
Simple story, well shot and beautiful
Not sure why there are so many negative responses published here to this absolutely competent nod to the Asian "ghost" genre.
Yes, the story is cliched: An American disturbs some kind of relic and as a result is haunted by a vengeful spirit.
What raises "Ghost House" up, however, are some beautiful locations, some obvious guerrilla-style filmmaking, interesting and creative direction and a funky visual style.
Also, while the lead actors are often charmless and whiny, the supporting cast is a hoot, from an old hippie shaman to a Thai witch doctor whose facial expressions are extraordinary. It's obvious they hired a number of Thai locals in these supporting parts, and that lends needed authenticity to the film.
Most of the scares are "jumps," but effective, and there are a couple of real harrowing and haunting scenes.
At the end of the day, "Ghost House" transcends it's weaknesses to become, as a whole, a decent, interesting effort that's worth your time.
Airplane vs. Volcano (2014)
Don't h8 so much on this neato The Asylum comic book adventure
Oh, gosh, so many h8rs for a film that doesn't aspire to be anything more than worth every penny of your $1.50 at the Redbox.
You'd do yourself a favor to cut this The Asylum outing the break your IMDb and Amazon peers have denied.
The preposterousness and cheesiness of this comic book melodrama are actually redeemed by some winning performances; colorful and creative, if not convincing special effects; and a cast totally committed to this project, no matter how ridiculous the plot thickens like flowing lava.
The story: Some unclear natural disaster has created volcanic activity of such scale that it's essentially turned the West Coast into Mordor.
As it happens, an airline (for some reason, just one airline, and not hundreds) is approaching L.A. at that exact time, and ends up flying straight into the volcano.
It flies and flies and flies, for the entire 90-minute runtime, somehow, despite engine failure, pilot deaths, insane terrorists, low fuel, volcanic heat, flying lava balls and ash clouds so hot they turn beachgoers into piles of cinders.
How will they survive? How can the volcano be stopped?
You'll be surprised how much you'll care about those answers.
The cast: Dean Cain got too fat to be Superman, so now he turns up in The Asylum roles Greg Evigan turns down to preserve his dignity. He's OK in this one as one of those stock-character passengers who happens to know how to fly a plane once the pilots are dead.
Surprisingly endearing is a turn by Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, famous only as Freddy "Boom Boom" Washington on the '70s sitcom "Welcome Back, Kotter," as a grizzled air marshal. Somebody give this talented Hollywood veteran a cop series.
Robin Givens shows up, characteristically devoid of any charm or personality, as a volcano expert who exists only to forward and describe the absurd pseudo-science of the film's main conceit.
And as is true in pretty much every other The Asylum flick, the supporting cast and extras act their little nobody hearts out, as if this stupid DTV kerfuffle was "Terms of Endearment."
The SFX: Most of the time, it looks like a CGI aircraft superimposed on a Renaissance painting of the Catholic interpretation of hell. But you can't say that's not doggone pretty to look at. Most of this film is the fire-orange hue you wish Crayola made a crayon of when you were an insane little kid.
A couple of times, when a piece of lava hits the plane, or as the plane flies over vast magma fields, it looks really cool. Credit the editor as much as the SFX team for creating fine dramatic tension on the cheap.
Other times, it looks like a cartoon. Like a "Bullwinkle" cartoon.
The lowdown: Look, you watch a movie called "Airplane Vs. Volcano," you know It's from The Asylum, you can't fault the thing for wasting your time because it wasn't "Star Wars."
Few production houses require viewers to leave their brains at the door as often as The Asylum. But when we do, we're occasionally charmed by the end product.
"Airplane Vs. Volcano" is one of those pearls in an otherwise slimy oyster bed.
Mulberry St (2006)
What a wasted opportunity
This movie was so good for the first 45 minutes, I almost wept when the second half went all to hell.
Few movies capture the seedy underbelly of New York City in as raw a way. Parts of this movie look almost like they were filmed guerrilla- style. Indeed, in that respect, "Mulberry Street" hearkens back to the glorious '80s films of Frank Hennenlotter.
Alas, this is no "Basket Case" or "Brain Damage." Because although director Jim Mickle imbues the film with the same gritty, neon-lit, back-alley feel characteristic of Hennenlotter, his failure is that while Hennenlotter expertly married the surrealism of real-life Manhattan with his bizarre stories and creations, this film, while showing that kind of promise early on, unfortunately has so little confidence in itself it devolves quickly and quite unfortunately into B-movie idiocy.
The conceit is wonderful -- a new rat-borne disease is turning New Yorkers into flesh-eating zombies.
Wouldn't a "28 Days Later" set in NYC and directed by Frank Hennenlotter be awesome?
Keep hoping. Because although it looks like it's going that way for the first half, then the rat people show up.
Yes, this rat-borne disease not only makes people zombies, it freakin' turns them into rat people.
Ridiculous, pointy-eared, pointy-toothed rat people who squeak like rats and scurry about the floor on all fours.
I wanted to weep, seriously weep, halfway through this movie, because when the first rat person showed up after 45 minutes of Hennenlotteresque gritty New York cinematography, interesting camera-work and real, untrained New Yorkers as actors, it felt like I'd found a real super-cool, smart, pretty and sassy girlfriend, and just learned too late she had the clap.
Man this one looked like it was gonna be a real good one, too. What a disappointment.
Storm Warning (2007)
What a lie this movie is
I picked this up for three bucks, then 50 percent off at the why-are-they-still-in-business FYE store in the mall.
I was ripped the hƏll off nonetheless, and here's why.
This entire movie is a lie. The box, the cover, indeed the premise of this diaper-rash of a movie, promise a picture of gory suspense unlike anything you've ever seen.
But you've seen everything here, better, everywhere else. Including Chuck E. Cheese's.
There's nothing at all new here, except the Australian accents and the baby kangaroo that gets its head chopped off by a naked hottie in a bath towel.
Now, friends, you'd expect that to be the money, here. You'd expect the filmmakers to be pitching this movie to their investors with the promise, "A naked hottie cuts a m'thr f'kn baby kangaroo's head off. Then she inserts a jagged piece of metal into her hello-there so the psychopath she knows is going to r@pe her gets his Mr. Winky all bloody shred up. And ha-ha, that's the end!"
And you, the angel investor, would be throwing your grandma's inheritance at them and singin', "Hoo-ray for Hollywood!"
Good luck seeing a return on that investment, friends, because this is the most boring, predictable, bloodless, soulless piece of uninteresting nothing you'll ever have the unfortunate opportunity to experience, disguised as envelope-pushing indie horror filmmaking.
"Dumbo" is more disturbing than this.
These filmmakers have achieved the nearly impossible feat of making rape, torture, violence, suspense, poetic justice and b-movie gore, altogether, as boring and uninteresting as an episode of "The McLaughlin Group."
Hey, movie-loving friends... You see this movie for a buck-and-a-half at the FYE at the mall, you let it be. Spend those six quarters on a Starbucks or an Orange Julius or a Redbox rental. Or heroin.
Yes, heroin is better than this movie.