Death Race 2050


Marci Miller makes her point to Manu Bennett.

(2016) Science Fiction (Universal) Manu Bennett, Malcolm McDowell, Marci Miller, Burt Grinstead, Folake Olowofoyeku, Anessa Ramsey, Yancy Butler, Charlie Farrell, Shanna Olson, D.C Douglas (voice), Sebastian Llosa, Emilio Montero, Mark Doran, Karl Muse, Alberto Osterling, Robert Slattery, Daniela Vargas, Jonathan Fisher, Helen Loris, Hailey Livingston. Directed by G.J. Echternkamp

 

In all the annals of filmdom there hasn’t been anyone quite like Roger Corman. His oeuvre of cheap special effects and low budget with a dash of social satire and a low-brow tone has been with him through a nearly six decade career. The original Death Race 2000, made in 1975, was one of his biggest hits, starring David Carradine and a pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone. In many ways a live action version of the Saturday morning cartoon Wacky Races, it has been considered a cult classic for decades. In 2008, a remake entitled Death Race was made with Jason Statham starring. Eschewing the light-hearted satire of the original, it was a darker hued straight action movie that was successful enough to spawn three direct-to-home-video sequels, all without Statham.

This one, with Corman’s presence as a producer, is not so much a remake as a reboot. It returns to the slightly off-kilter feel of the original as well as the approximate plot. The Chairman (McDowell) of the United Corporations of America convenes the annual Death Race, the biggest sports event in the world. In it, five racers with souped up vehicles weaponized to the teeth race from Nuevo York to New Los Angeles. It’s not about who gets there first; it’s about who kills the most pedestrians along the way.

=You see, robots have replaced human workers in nearly every job and consequently there’s 99% unemployment and overpopulation. The Death Race thins the herd so to speak. To placate the masses, the Race also offers a Virtual Reality version in which viewers can be in the cockpit of the car of their favorite drivers through proxies who carry cameras and microphones, periodically interviewing their heroes.

The drivers are Minerva Jefferson (Olowofoyeku), a hip-hop artist; Tammy the Terrorist (Ramsey) whose name is self-explanatory; A.B.E., a robotic entry not unlike Knight Rider; Jed Perfectus (Grinstead), a buff sexually ambiguous genetically engineered athlete and the favorite, Frankenstein (Bennett) who is the reigning champion.

Curiously, fans of the drivers line up in an attempt to sacrifice themselves for their favorite drivers. And drivers steal these easy group kills from one another. As they make their way across the country big rivalries develop between Minerva and Tammy and especially between Perfectus and Frankenstein.

There is also a resistance out there who aim to disrupt and destroy the Death Race by any means necessary. They are led by former network executive Alexis Hamilton (Butler) who has a mole; Frankenstein’s proxy, Annie Sullivan (Miller). However the further they get into the race, the deeper the corruption becomes until Annie, whom Frankenstein appears ambivalent towards – he only wants to win – is unsure of what side she’s really on.

The humor here is dark and over the top as is the violence and gore. This is for sure a throwback to Corman’s heyday both in tone and in execution and for that the filmmakers are to be commended. I’m not sure how involved Corman himself was with this but his name is in the credits and in some cases on the title. I’m guessing that if he didn’t have his hands directly in it, they are there in spirit. Certainly the filmmakers understood his style.

The acting is about what you’d expect it to be, but a special shout-out has to go to Bennett. He proves that his work as the smoldering Slade Wilson in Arrow was no fluke. The man has a bright future ahead of him if he gets a few breaks and the right role. He’s got the presence.

The special effects and CGI are bargain basement and that can be an acquired taste. Modern audiences may not tolerate it when they are used to big budget effects. Admirers of classic B-movies will likely be more tolerant but these days that seems to be pretty much a niche group. I also found the soundtrack to be a bit overbearing. It became noticeable on quite a few occasions.

This isn’t for everybody but I suspect those who can appreciate the satire (the Chairman is certainly based on Donald Trump) and the humor, not to mention the gore will find this entertaining. The cheapness of the production which is an art in itself will further endear some. However – and I can’t stress this enough – those that don’t appreciate the art of B-movies will probably find this anachronistic and boring. Keep that in mind as you select it for streaming.

REASONS TO GO: The film is surprisingly satirical. It’s a throwback to Corman’s 70s and 80s films.
REASONS TO STAY: The special effects may be too cheesy for some. The soundtrack is actually annoying.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a butt load of violence and gore, some sexuality, some brief nudity and plenty of foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The sneakers Jed Perfectus wears are Converse All-Star Hi-Tops.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Netflix, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/22/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cannonball Run
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: The LEGO Movie: Batman

Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made


Dr. Jones, I presume.

Dr. Jones, I presume.

(2016) Documentary (Drafthouse) Eric Zala, Chris Stompolos, Jayson Lamb, John Rhys-Davies, Eli Roth, Harry Knowles, Chris Gore, Kurt Zala, Casey Dillard, Rob Fuller, Ryan Pierini, Scott Lionberger, Ernest Cline, Tim League, John E. Hudgens, Karl Preusser, Mark Spain, Guy Klender, James Donald, Michael Mobley, Angela Rodriguez. Directed by Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen

Florida Film Festival 2016

The dreams of our childhood are often set aside in favor of those things that as adults we are required to do; to create a family and home of our own, to earn a living, to raise children. Those dreams don’t die completely; they stay with us, often as regrets which is what unanswered dreams generally become.

For a trio of boys in Mississippi in 1981, that dream was the Steven Spielberg/George Lucas collaboration Raiders of the Lost Ark. This tribute to the serial pulp adventures of the 1930s really captured the imagination of these boys and inspired them. For Eric Zala and Chris Stompolos, the solution was simple; make their own version of Raiders but shot for shot like the one Spielberg directed. And, that summer, they set about doing it themselves.

For seven more summers and several winter breaks as well, they did just that. Stompolos, who played Indiana Jones, aged from age 12 to 19 onscreen; Zala (who played Belloq and was director for the venture) went from 11 to 18. They were joined by Jayson Lamb who also stayed mainly behind the camera and did much of the special effects.

They were aided by many adults who gave the kids serious leeway, allowing them to follow their dream although later on when some saw the results of their labors accused their mothers of “bad parenting,” particularly in lieu that one fiery scene set in the Nepalese bar owned by Marion Ravenwood that they created in the basement of the Zala home nearly burned the house down.

What is striking is how the boys, with zero filmmaking experience, managed to think outside the box to make things work. For example, they substituted the family dog in place of the “Sieg Heil” spider monkey that is used in the Cairo scenes. The boys were too young to drive in the truck chase, so they got someone to lend them a truck without an engine and had someone who could drive (a parental chaperon as it were) haul the truck (you can see the hauling  vehicle in a couple of shots).

The boys eventually got every scene in the movie filmed but one – the scene after Indie and Marion escape the Well of Souls and stop a Flying Wing airplane from carrying the Ark to Berlin, blowing up the plane and creating general mayhem in the process. At seven years in and their friendships frayed to the breaking point (Jayson had already left the project), they decided to call it quits.

But the idea stayed with them and it bothered Zala and Stompolos to a lesser extent that they’d pulled the plug so close to completing their dream. They took the footage they had and edited it together, made a videotape of it, staged a world premiere in their hometown and went on with their lives.

The funny thing about dreams is that sometimes they refuse to die on their own. A copy of the tape made its way to actor/director Eli Roth of the Hostel franchise. He was blown away by what he saw and arranged to have the movie shown during a meal break at Harry (Ain’t It Cool News) Knowles’ annual birthday celebration and film festival the Butt-Numb-a-Thon at the Drafthouse Theater in Austin – Tim League, the influential owner of the Drafthouse was also in attendance.

The audience was so enraptured by the adaptation that they booed when the projectionist stopped the film to prepare for the world premiere showing of a Peter Jackson Hobbit film, no less – and gave the film a three minute standing ovation. League and Knowles were both impressed. The buzz about the movie began to circulate and a cult film was born.

Eventually word got back to Zala and Stompolos, both living separate lives and the two old friends decided to get the band back together again and raised a Kickstarter campaign to fund the filming of the final scene in their hometown of Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Even so, it wasn’t easy; Mother Nature didn’t cooperate and the very pyrotechnic-heavy scene proved more difficult to stage than they’d anticipated, even with a professional pyrotechnician calling the shots.

There is plenty of footage from the Adaptation as well as outtakes and interviews (I’ve been fortunate enough to see the Adaptation twice, once in the backyard of a friend’s house and the second time as part of a Raiders! Event at the Enzian) and while it’s true that the footage of the Adaptation is crude, you do get a sense of the love and care that went into it. Because of copyright laws, it is next to impossible to view the Adaptation theatrically, but it can be done so if you’re interested, contact your local art house theater and have them look into it.

The movie is about the heart and soul of a dream. Kyle Smith of the New York Post, who has distinguished himself as being one of the most clueless film reviewers in the country, sniffed that the venture is like “rewriting Moby Dick in crayon.” For one thing, he oversimplifies the difference between copying and adapting. The boys with no training at all proved to be resourceful and persistent, both traits that should be encouraged rather than torn down. They showed their love for a film that by paying tribute to it, putting their own stamp on it at the same time. Both of them, since this documentary was completed, have formed a production company of their own and quite frankly I’m eager to see what they turn out next (Lamb also works in the industry). Either way, this is the kind of movie that may inspire others to follow their dream, be it remaking a beloved movie shot for shot or making a movie of their own.

REASONS TO GO: One of those movies that sneak up on you and lift your spirits. Fascinating story.
REASONS TO STAY: Not everyone will get why this story is inspiring.
FAMILY VALUES: A little bit of foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Zala for awhile lived and worked in Orlando for EA Sports as a game developer.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/27/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 70/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Burden of Dreams
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: March of the Living

Bunny the Killer Thing


That rabbit is dynamite!

That rabbit is dynamite!

(2015) Horror Comedy (Artsploitation) Hiski Hämäläinen, Enni Ojutkangas, Veera W. Vilo, Jari Manninen, Katja Jaskari, Roope Olenius, Olli Saarenpää, Vincent Tsang, Orwi Imanuel Ameh, Marcus Massey, Gareth Lawrence, Henry Saari, Juha-Matti Halonen, Annilina Koivisto, Matti Kiviniemi, Päivi Komulainen-Vuoti, Maria Kunnari, Erno Michelsson, Marko Moilanen. Directed by Joonas Makkonen

What would you say to a six and a half foot tall rabbit-man hybrid with an 18” penis and a raging libido? Pretty much anything it wanted to hear, no doubt. Dr. Moreau ain’t got nothin’ on this.

In the mountains of Finland, a mad scientist has injected a strange fluid into a writer who escapes into the woods, mutating into something hideous. Not long afterwards a group of Finn friends head out for a vacation mainly of sex, centered around fashion designer Emma (Jaskari), her friends Sara (Ojutkangas) and Nina (Vilo), their erstwhile boyfriends Tuomas (Hämäläinen), Jari (Olenius) and Mise (Manninen) and stowaway younger brother Jesse (Saarenpää) who has an outrageous libido and a massive crush on Emma.

=Along the way they pick up a trio of Brits – Lucas (Massey), Vincent (Tsang) and Tim (Ameh) who were stranded alongside the road. They head to the group’s rented cabin (complete with sauna, a must for Finns) and get down to partying, Finnish style. Vincent and Sara develop a bit of a thing, although it is derailed due to acute alcohol poisoning.

In the meantime, the giant Bunny is hell-bent on crashing the party in its ongoing pursuit of pussy, which is essentially the only word it knows. It will rape anything with a vagina; in fact, even a drawing of one will do. Or an eye socket. Or a gaping wound that resembles one. Any hole will do. I’m sure the knotholes of the forest were in danger.

Based on an earlier short film, this is earmarked for cult status. A goofy hybrid of The Human Centipede, The Island of Dr. Moreau and Dead Snow, there is a wacky over-the-top vibe here that isn’t so much as endearing as just pure fun. Now using the term “fun” in a movie in which rape is so much a part of the plotline may get me criticized in some quarters; this is not in any way to trivialize the crime of rape any more than a comedy set in the Civil War era is meant to trivialize slavery and racism. Very little of the rapes are actually seen onscreen and because the rapist is basically a visible Harvey who likes to swing is penis around like a lasso, the ridiculousness of the situation mitigates things a bit. However, those who are survivors of rape should only view this if they have a great big sense of humor about it.

The creature effects are, I think, deliberately cheesy and the gore, while plentiful, tends to be also a little bit on the “oh no you didn’t” variety. Don’t expect a whole lot in the way of character development and backstory – we never really get a coherent explanation as to how the transformation takes place or why – but to be honest, that’s fine with me. This is meant to be a twisted creature feature and the filmmakers seem content with essentially taking a bunch of beautiful, sexy women and a group of guys who are in no way shape or form in their league and throwing a monster into the mix. There’s mayhem and chaos in goodly amounts and the squeamish need not even think about this one.

It takes a little while to get going but once it does, it’s a roller coaster ride of bizarre insight into the male libido, a hoot and a holler creature feature from the 90s and a Rocky Horror-like cult film. This isn’t going to grow on everybody and some will find it truly offensive but for those of us who are able to get around the films flaws (some of which are, I believe, deliberate) then this might well be one of those midnight movies that you’ll want to view again and again and turn your friends onto.

REASONS TO GO: A cult classic in the making. Over-the-top in a good way.
REASONS TO STAY: The sexuality may be a bit much for more reserved American audiences. Some of the effects are of the bargain basement variety.
FAMILY VALUES: Given the plot description above, you can expect (and will receive) plenty of graphic violence and gore, graphic nudity and sexual situations, scenes depicting rape, a crapload of profanity and some drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was originally based on a short film by Makkonen made in 2011. He’d wanted original actor Tuomas Massa to return to the feature film but Massa was unable to do so. The character was renamed Tuomas in honor of the actor.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/30/16: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Human Centipede
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Marguerite