June 26, 2017


Starring Craig Fairbrass, James Cosmo, Nathalie Cox, Mem Ferda, Steven Berkoff, Nick Moran, Roland Manookian, Katie Clarkson-Hill. Directed by Mark McQueen. (2017, 95 min).

Huh? What was that?

I found myself asking this question a lot during London Heist, a British crime thriller starring a bunch of second-tier blokes who've popped-up in lots of other films, but their names escape you.

Craig Fairbrass (that soccer-loving thug from Cliffhanger) stars as Jack, the leader of group of bank robbers that pull-off what's supposed to be one final score before calling it quits, only to have it stolen by a local mob boss, who also kills Jack's dad (Steven Berkoff, that ruthless kingpin from Beverly Hills Cop). Jack hides his girlfriend, Nicole (Nathalie Cox, once talked into starring in Clash of the Titans), with family friend Ray (James Cosmo, Mel Gibson's uncle from Braveheart) while he seeks to avenge his father's death and get the money back. Ray, however, talks Jack into pulling off one more heist.

Everyone knows damn well who stole the cookies from the cookie jar.
It's a pretty standard "one-last-job" crime caper, full of the usual shoot-outs, chases, escapes, double-crosses and the obsessed cop hellbent on bringing the crew down (Nick Moran, one of the few guys from Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels who didn't really move up the totem pole). The action is adequate, though the film itself only moves in fits and starts and there aren't any real surprises. We've seen most of these characters before, so much so that we suspect who's behind it all almost immediately.

Worst of all, I had a really hard time following the damn thing. The plot isn't all that complex, but most of the characters (especially Fairbrass) mumble their dialogue with such thick British accents that I had to back up the film a few times just to understand what the hell they were saying. Every conversation was like listening to a cast of Ozzy Osbournes.

All of which makes London Heist more work to enjoy than the overly-familiar story warrants. Everything culminates in a predictable, anticlimactic denouement that isn't really worth the time invested. Ultimately, this is a film as generic as its title.


Movie News: Neill Blomkamp & Oats Studios present FIREBASE

The New Sci-Fi Short From Filmmaker Neill Blomkamp and Oats Studios Available June 28
From Oats Studios and filmmaker Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium, and Chappie), comes the science fiction short FIREBASE, available for free June 28, 2017 on the Oats Studios YouTube, Steam, and Facebook channels.  FIREBASE will be the second independently made sci-fi short released by Oats Studios following the success of the Sigourney Weaver helmed “Rakka”.
Set during the Vietnam war, FIREBASE follows American soldier "Hines" through an ever deepening web of science fiction madness. The fabric of space-time literally beginning to bend around him.
About OATS Studios
Oats Studios is a new experimental filmmaking "lab". The Studio is an independent incubator of ideas that has the capacity to handle all aspects of production from start to end. Oats Studios works in an open source format with the audience by allowing the fans to interact with the filmmakers and the studio directly and allowing the fans access to the actual film’s assets to then merge with their own creativity.   

June 22, 2017


Starring Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Erico Maria Salerno, Eva Renzi, Umberto Raho, Reggie Nalder. Directed by Dario Argento. (1970, 101 min).

Sometimes it's cool to take a look back at a legendary director's humble beginnings.

Before he was synonymous with such atmospheric Italian horror classics as Suspiria and Inferno, Dario Argento first applied his unique skills to The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, his 1970 directorial debut. Though not a horror film per se, it was hugely influential on, not only the giallo subgenre, but much of his own subsequent work.

Tony Musante is Sam, a struggling American writer in Italy who witnesses an attempted murder, suspected to be the work of a black-gloved serial killer who's already claimed three victims. For reasons that aren't really explained, Sam's intrigued enough to do some investigating of his own, with some extra assistance from Inspector Morosini (Enrico Maria Salerno). As the murders continue, Sam and his girlfriend, Julia (Suzy Kendall), become targets as well.

Suppose They Gave an Office Party and Nobody Came.
The story itself is rudimentary and laughably illogical at times. The characters and performances are uniformly bland, save for a bit of delirious scenery-chewing turn by Eva Renzi. Aesthetically, this film hasn't aged as well as those which would later gain Argento worldwide acclaim. Still, few are as skilled at staging a murder scene as Argento in his prime, and there are glimpses of the same visual mastery that would become his trademarks. The staircase/apartment murder sequence, in particular, is a disturbing, tension-filled marriage of imagery and sound (the latter courtesy of Ennio Morricone). 

The Less-Than-a-Dollar Shave Club
Though the film has been available on Blu-Ray before, this version features a stellar 4K restoration and a slew of all new bonus features that Argento fans are sure to like, including some retrospective analyses and a lengthy interview with the director himself. 

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage doesn't rank among Argento's greatest films, but everybody had to start somewhere. That alone makes this a relatively fascinating viewing experience, like looking back at Spielberg's Duel or Carpenter's Dark Star. While not nearly as graphic as his later work, it's easy to see some of the stylistic elements we identify with his classics. And sadly, like John Carpenter, it's still a damn sight better than anything Argento's done lately.

"The Power of Perception" - A 'visual essay,' spoken by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas over highlights of the film. This is quite informative & insightful;
""Black Gloves and Screaming Mimis" - Film critic Kat Ellinger duscusses the history of the film
"Crystal Nightmare" - A new 30 minute interview with director Dario Argento;
"An Argento Icon" - Interview with actor Gildo Di Marco, who plays Garullo the Pimp;
"Eva's Talking" - A 2005 interview with the late Eva Renzi;
AUDIO COMMENTARY - by author Troy Howarth
60 PAGE ILLUSTRATED BOOKLET (Not available for preview)
DVD COPY (Not available for preview)


Blu-Ray News: 2 Cult Classics Coming in July from ARROW VIDEO

PULSE [BLU-RAY & DVD] (July 11)

J-Horror fans are in for a big treat with a Dual Format release of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's haunting Pulse, which sees people in Tokyo compelled to commit suicide after visiting a mysterious website. The special edition features a High Definition transfer and brand new interviews with the filmmakers.


One of the most wildly popular horror movies of all-time! Stuart Gordon's enduring splatter-comedy classic returns to Blu-ray in a stunning restoration packed with tons of special features including an array of interviews, audio commentaries, a brand new featurette entitled "A Guide to Lovecraftian Cinema," plus the original 1991 comic book adaptation, reprinted in its entirety.

June 18, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: LIFE (2017)

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya. Directed by Daniel Espinosa. (2017, 104 min).

The obvious inspiration for Life is the original Alien, but that shouldn't dissuade sci-fi/horror fans from checking it out. While Ridley Scott's classic has been liberally ripped-off for decades, this is one of the better ones. And perhaps because my initial expectations weren't quite as lofty, I actually enjoyed Life a bit more than Scott's own recent prequel, Alien Covenant.

The crew onboard the International Space Station thaw out a single dormant cell from a Martian soil sample, which is given the nickname, Calvin. Deciding it prefers life outside the petri dish, it grows exponentially into a nasty, carnivorous, multi-tentacled monster. Calvin also proves to be highly adaptable, extremely intelligent and damn-near unkillable; efforts by the crew to destroy or send it into outer space appear futile.

"This is going right up my nose."
It's a familiar story, but told with a lot of panache with a few unique touches of its own. The entire film takes place in a zero-G environment, including an impressive 10-minute opening scene that introduces each character and takes us around the space station in a single unbroken shot. The film isn't particularly scary, but it does create a lot of tension with its claustrophobic setting and fatalistic tone. Calvin himself is an interesting critter. Though obviously a CGI creation, he's imaginatively rendered and sometimes kinda creepy. None of the characters resonate much, but at least they don't behave stupidly and some of their deaths, while not overtly gory, are stylishly gruesome.

Jake sits on a thumbtack.
Life also throws a climactic curveball which, quite frankly, I didn't see coming, something I always appreciate. The movie isn't gonna make anyone forget Alien, nor is it likely to end up on any year-end top 10 lists. But in the moment, Life is a solid, smart slice of horror sci-fi.

FEATURETTES: "Claustrophobic Terror: Creating a Thriller in Space; "Life in Zero G"; "The Art and Reality of Calvin"
"ASTRONAUT DIARIES" - Brief, fictional video segments featuring three of the main characters.

Rest in Peace, Stephen Furst

Stephen Furst (1955-2017)

June 16, 2017

Rest in Peace, John G. Avildsen

John G. Avildsen (1935-2017)


Starring Jackie Chan, Huang Zitao, Wang Kai, Darren Wang, Sang Ping, Alan Wu, Xu Fan, Jaycee Chan, Andy Lau. Directed by Ding Sheng. (2016, 124 min).


I suppose if any actor deserves to take a few victory laps, it's Jackie Chan. He's obviously slowed down a step or two, but that's okay. He's got nothing left to prove. Besides, as he demonstrates in Railroad Tigers, there's still some juice left in the tank. And if he wants to return to the type of freewheeling Chinese action comedies that first made him a star, is that such a bad thing? At the very least, we're spared another reteaming with Chris Tucker.

Chan does team up with a pretty talented cast (including his own son, Jaycee) to play a tight-knit band of scruffy freedom fighters (affectionately known as the Railroad Tigers) who rob Japanese army trains during World War II. After the Chinese army fails to blow up a nearby bridge - which would cut off the Japanese supply line - they decide to attempt it themselves by hijacking a train and using its cache of explosives. In addition to doing it for their country, Ma Yuan (Chan) sees this as an opportunity to avenge the death of his wife.

"I hate to break it to you kid, but this is the Train to Busan."
A potential suicide mission is sort of an odd premise for an action-comedy, sometimes shifting uncomfortably between slapstick comedy to brutal violence (though the latter is seldom too graphic). At 124 minutes, the film is also too long. The first hour or so is pretty meandering, and while most of these characters are affable and charming (even the villains have their amusing moments), one might grow impatient for the film to get down to business, which it eventually does...pretty spectacularly. The climactic train siege, gunfight & point-blank tank battle is rousing, suspenseful, phenomenally destructive and, yes, frequently funny.

Railroad Tigers won't go down as one of Jackie Chan's classics, though it's a nice comeback from his recent "serious" period, not-to-mention a definite improvement over the Hollywood hackfests he's appeared in lately. His glory years may be behind him, but this film is a good reminder of why we took him into our hearts in the first place.

FEATURETTES: "The Making Of"; "Directors Featurette"; "The Dangers of Shooting"; "VFX Featurette"; "The Characters"

June 15, 2017

Blu-Ray News: Star Vehicles & Star Crystals Coming in July

COMING JULY 25. Hired killers by day... devoted lovers by night! Charley Partanna (Jack Nicholson, The Missouri Breaks), a do-it-yourself kind of guy, has been loyal to "The Family" since he can remember. If you need somebody rubbed out he's your eraser, ready to kill at the drop of a dime. The mafia boss's daughter (Anjelica Huston, The Grifters) has eyes for Charley, but Charley has just married the sultry hired assassin named Irene Walker (Kathleen Turner, V.I. Warshawski). Their unlikely relationship hits a snag, however, as they find out that their next job is to ice each other. Now Charley must choose which contract to honor, the one to his wife or the one on his wife. Legendary filmmaker John Huston (The Unforgiven) directed this wickedly amoral killer comedy with a top-notch cast that includes Robert Loggia (The Marrying Man), William Hickey (Sea of Love), John Randolph (Serpico), and Lawrence Tierney (Reservoir Dogs). Winner of the 1986 Oscar® for Supporting Actress (Huston).

Special Features: Audio commentary by Film Historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson

COMING JULY 25. The controversial true story that inflamed a nation! Meryl Streep (Still of the Night) stars in this stunning, provocative and daring drama about one woman's struggle against a huge corporation. Karen Silkwood (Streep) lives a free-spirited existence with two friends, Drew Stephens (Kurt Russell, Death Proof) and Dolly Pelliker (Cher, Moonstruck), who work with her at an Oklahoma nuclear facility. It's only when she discovers she's been exposed to radiation that Karen's conscience awakens, and soon she is digging for evidence of wrongdoing at her company. But her sudden zeal for safer working conditions may come at a high price as she alienates friends and possibly even puts her own life in peril. Excellent direction by Mike Nichols (The Graduate) with a screenplay by Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle) and Alice Arlen (Alamo Bay) and a stellar supporting cast that includes Craig T. Nelson (Poltergeist), Diana Scarwid (Mommie Dearest), Fred Ward (Tremors), Ron Silver (Blue Steel), Charles Hallahan (The Thing), Josef Sommer (Witness), David Strathairn (Limbo), M. Emmet Walsh (Blood Simple), Tess Harper (Tender Mercies) and Will Patton (No Way Out). Nominated for 5 Academy Awards®: Actress (Streep), Supporting Actress (Cher), Director (Nichols), Original Screenplay (Ephron, Arlen) and Editing (Sam O'Steen).

Special Features: Interview with Producer Michael Hausman | Trailers | TV Spots | Reversible Blu-ray art

COMING JULY 11. A B-movie cult classic. In the year 2035 scientists discovered a new life form... they wish they hadn't. It was found during a routine expedition to Mars, buried just beneath the surface of the angry red planet. But what was initially thought to be just a curiously shaped rock turned out to be something much more: hidden within was an unknown alien species unlike any that science had ever encountered. And it has escaped. Now after the catastrophic destruction of their orbital space station, the ragtag crew of Shuttlecraft SC37 is adrift in space with limited oxygen, dwindling supplies and one very unwelcome guest. It is lethal. It is cunning. And it is growing larger and more intelligent with every horrific kill. With time running out, the surviving crew members must regain control of their doomed spaceship from an evolving alien predator who will stop at nothing to destroy them all... and to protect the startling secret that throbs deep inside the Star Crystal. Written and directed by Lance Lindsay (Real Bullets).

June 13, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: ALTITUDE (2017)

Starring Denise Richards, Dolph Lundgren, Greer Grammer, Kirk Barker, Chuck Liddell, Jonathan Lipnicki, Jordi Vilasuso. Directed by Alex Mirkin. (2017, 89 min).

I still can't decide which part of Altitude I loved most:
  • The scene where recently-demoted FBI agent Gretchen Blair (perpetually pouty Denise Richards) goes ballistic on an obnoxious airline passenger, who's occupying her assigned seat, with an amusingly expletive-loaded tirade.
  • Jonathan Lipnicki (you know, the adorable tot from Jerry Maguire) as a fabulous flight attendant who bursts-out into a suggestive twerk-filled dance while rapping the safety instructions. He gyrates his ass in passengers' faces, who are understandably horrified. This WTF moment has absolutely nothing to do with the story, and I'm still unsure if I was laughing with Lipnicki or at him.
  • Speaking of story, it involves a group of jewel thieves who stage an elaborate airplane hijacking in order the get back their stolen diamonds, taken by former partner Terry (Kirk Barker). Since they obviously already know Terry's whereabouts, plotting the death of 200 other passengers isn't really necessary. They could've simply nabbed him and the jewels before he even got on the plane. But what fun would that be?
  • Real-life Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robot Dolph Lundgren and Kelsey's kid Greer Grammer are the criminal masterminds, while UFC superstar Chuck Liddell plays a henchman who feels stupid disguising himself in now-dead Lipnicki's tiny uniform (what's the point of the disguise, anyway?). All are apparently overdue for a vision screening, since they can't locate an air marshal - whom they've already confronted once - clearly seated a few feet away.
  • Speaking of confrontations, the air-fists between Richards and Grammer are hilarious.
Denise Richards learns the in-flight movie is Blonde and Blonder.

  • During a moment when Lundgren pilots the plane through turbulence to keep the passengers in-line, Terry manages to sneak a kiss from Grammer, who's also his ex-wife. Apparently, he's willing to overlook the fact she's planning to kill him.
  • Then there's the glorious scene in which passengers escape by using an inflatable evacuation slide while the plane's taxiing at 180 mph. There's also a general disregard for even rudimentary laws of cabin decompression whenever airplane doors are opened in flight.
If you've read this far, you probably know we ain't talking Flight of the Phoenix here. Altitude is outrageously ridiculous from the get-go and appears to bask in its own stupidity. The goofy dialogue, ludicrous special effects and silly action scenes seem to reflect some kind of self-awareness behind the camera. Surely everyone involved is in on the joke...right?


It doesn't matter anyway, because Altitude is one of those movies where, if you aren't already on-board the tacky train, you'd rage-quit about halfway through. But if you're in the wrong frame of mind - maybe armed with a six-pack or two - there's a lot of fun to be had. I was, and I did.