There are certain times when you watch a film and aren’t quite sure what you’re watching, or what you watched when you’re through with it. Watching Stingray Sam provides one such experience. Its IMDb page genre listing describes it as a comedy musical sci-fi western, and this is as good a description as any, yet manages to fall short of illuminating the full oddness of this little picture. An independent film released in 2009 “on screens of all sizes” — the internet equivalent of direct-to-video, one supposes — Stingray Sam was written and directed by Cory McAbee, who also stars in the title role.
The film is at once a product of the modern era and an homage to the early days of film. It’s filled with post-modern humor, some of which works and some of which doesn’t (though a 50/50 ratio would be well above par for that type of humor). But it is presented as if it were a movie serial, similar to the old Flash Gordon stories; appropriately, its main character is a cowboy-like protagonist adventuring in the distant future. Continue reading →
Note: Due to spending some time on other projects (such as dealing with my spotty internet connection again), I didn’t have time to write an article for today. Instead, I’m digging up another old review of mine from my pre-blog days when I would occasionally write these on forums I was a member of. In this case, the review is from 2006, of a 2005 film entitled Edison Force, directed by first-time director David J. Burke. It was originally going to be a theatrical release called Edison, but a strongly negative reception at the Toronto Film Festival led to it going direct-to-video. Had I known that, I may have avoided it — but at the time I tended to watch first, investigate later. Admittedly, I still do; how else is one to discover hidden gems? Not that this is one. The review is left unaltered save for a few minor adjustments, so it may lack some of my current polish… though my snideness is in full abrasive force.
I’ll start my review with a bit of disappointment, as the movie doesn’t involve a science-fiction task force run by Thomas Alva Edison, which would probably have made a better movie. Edison Force is about a wannabe journalist (yes, not even a full-fledged journalist) who uncovers corruption in the Edison city police department’s “First Response Assault and Tactical” team. The lead is played by Justin Timberlake, of all people, and… his acting is about what you’d expect, which is to say, not much. Which is really disappointing considering the rest of the cast consists of such worthies as Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, LL Cool J (who plays the other lead, one of the cops, and does a good job), and Dylan McDermott, who steals the show as the truly psychotic cop Lazaroth. Bit parts are filled out by Cary Elwes, Piper Perabo, and other generally-recognizable actors. Continue reading →
Logos is an independent film directed and co-written by first-time director Michael Sorokorensky. It’s a new film for 2013 — so new, in fact, that as of this writing I can’t even give it a star rating on its IMDb page. Its official video release date according to IMDb is June 11, but it has already been released on Amazon Instant Video and possibly other sources as well. The story concerns James Carroll (played by Sorokorensky’s co-writer Paul Hine), a computer science student who has become obsessed with finding a mathematical formula for certainty since his father’s death in the 9/11 terrorism attack.
Though the film is new for this year, the footage apparently is not. Reportedly Sorokorensky shot the film over the course of four months, and then spent nearly 10 years editing it, feeling that it was unwatchable in its original form and making digital alterations in post-production. I obviously can’t vouch for how the original footage looked, but I have to say the final result isn’t all that great either. Continue reading →
There’s a scene early in Interstate 60: Episodes of the Road that sets both the tone and the theme of this peculiar little comedy. Ray, an eccentric doctor played by the eccentric Christopher Lloyd in a cameo, is administering a test of awareness to the film’s protagonist, who has just been concussed by a falling paint bucket. Rather than a standard test of awareness, Ray opts to test Neal with a card trick to see if Neal catches it. The trick is too clever for me to want to spoil it here, as a significant part of the delight of it is seeing it for yourself. Neal doesn’t pass, but as Ray notes, most people don’t. The trick demonstrates that most people see only what they expect to see… and that once you’ve seen the truth of a situation, you are more prepared to see what is actually there, no matter how odd or unexpected it is. But to see it, you have to be ready to see it. You have to be primed to look at things you never questioned, to look for things which — as far as you were aware — were never there.
There is no Interstate 60. This may not be readily apparent for people who aren’t intimately familiar with the Interstate Highway System, but the movie helpfully points this out early on. And yet, there is. Neal (James Marsden) finds himself traveling the rarely-traveled road when a birthday wish leads to unexpected opportunities. Neal is a struggling artist, working at a delivery warehouse by nights so he doesn’t have to have his father’s financial support. His father (John Bourgeois) is a high-power attorney who wants his son to follow in his footsteps, from career to car. Neal feels trapped by his life, and apathetic to making his own decisions; he makes major decisions by going to a website that’s a glorified magic 8-ball. For his birthday wish, Neal wishes for “an answer”; nothing more specific than that. And then he finds himself swept along in a road trip, instigated by Ray and accompanied by a strange fellow named O.W. Grant. Continue reading →
Oh, how Hulu loves to dig up obscurities. And just once in a while those obscurities ought to remain buried. I enjoy animated features, and I’m a big fan of Arthurian legend. So when I saw Camelot: The Legend in Hulu’s listings, I thought there was a good chance that it would prove reasonably entertaining. It is likely I should have done a little more research into it first.
The film was released in 1998, apparently direct-to-video. When I was younger and would visit the animation sections of video stores, I would often notice shoddy-looking knock-offs of current film properties. I remember seeing The Jungle King on shelves as The Lion King hit theatres, and companies putting out their own takes on public-domain fairy tales such as The Little Mermaid. I suspect that in the case of Camelot: The Legend director-producer William R. Kowalchuk Jr. was attempting to ride the coat-tails of Quest For Camelot, released the same year. Of course, while I haven’t seen that film, I’m aware that it wasn’t a huge success, which makes the notion of riding its coat-tails rather hilarious in hindsight. That may be the funniest thing about this film, which is a sad thing as it tries to be a musical comedy. Continue reading →
With the exception of the Morbid Curiosity Files, where I know full well what I’m getting into, I always hope that the films I’m watching will turn out to be good films. Actually, I hope that they’re great films, even though those are necessarily rarer. And at the least, I hope that they’re acceptable films. So it’s always disappointing when a film turns out to be rather poor. But most disappointing of all is when I watch a film that clearly had some potential, but it just didn’t manifest for one reason or another.
The Forger is one such film. Made this year, it was directed by Lawrence Roeck and apparently released direct-to-video. It has quite a lot going for it; it has a workable premise and it has a fairly high quality cast, including some big names. Unfortunately, it squanders it by spreading itself too thin and going for cheap melodrama. Continue reading →
One thing that I have to give this independent film credit for is that it lets you know just what kind of film it is from the title. Die-ner (Get It?) — and yes, the “Get It?” is part of the actual name — immediately positions itself as a comedic horror movie. Written and directed by Patrick Horvath, it was released in 2007, direct-to-video as far as I can determine. The film stars Joshua Grote as a serial killer named Ken (at least, that’s what he says), who comes to a remote diner and kills a couple of the staff members there, after having killed the trucker he hitchhiked with. He then gets ready to kill a couple of diner patrons who arrive after he has cleaned up his work, but is interrupted when he discovers that his handiwork isn’t staying put. His victims are coming back as zombies. Continue reading →
Perhaps it’s fitting that it took me a few weeks after my “Bat-Month” ended to get around to watching Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. After all, the title is also known as Batman of the Future; a certain amount of time-displacement in the review is kind of appropriate. Released direct-to-video in 2000, and directed by Curt Geda, it’s the fourth film spun off of the various DC Comics animated series; in this case, it came at the tail end of the Batman Beyond series, which focuses on Gotham City a few decades in the future.
Gotham in the future is a bit of a different town than in the main animated Batman continuity, and it’s worth going over a few of the fine points here for people who haven’t seen the series (though the movie does a decent job of standing on its own). Bruce Wayne (still voiced by Kevin Conroy) is too old to continue wearing the cape and cowl; the long nights and constant fighting have caught up with him over the years, and his heart is weak. But he still has a drive to see justice done in Gotham, and that drive is met by a young man named Terry McGinnis (Will Friedle). Terry’s father was killed early in the series, giving him much the same reason to fight crime, though he also feels a need to atone for his juvenile delinquent past. The new Batsuit is a marvel of technology, with flight capability, strength enhancers, and limited-duration cloaking. There’s still a Commissioner Gordon watching over Gotham and reluctantly accepting the help of Batman, but now it’s Barbara Gordon, the former Batgirl. And Gotham still has its assortment of thieves, assassins, and utter nutcases. Gene-splicing is used by some individuals to gain inhuman powers, and the city is plagued by roving teen gangs, most particularly the “Jokerz”, hoodlums who dress garishly and paint their faces in homage to the long dead Clown Prince of Crime.
But then Gotham is turned upside down by the reappearance of the real Joker, who takes over one of the gangs of Jokerz, and starts systematically attacking the members of the Bat-family and working towards a plan to leave the city in utter chaos. Continue reading →
There are some actors that aren’t quite on the A-list where they get to headline a lot of movies, and yet they’re so consistently good that even when they’re in a mediocre film you can expect a good performance out of them. Lou Diamond Phillips is one such actor, so when I saw that he was the star of the 2002 film Malevolent I was interested in checking it out, and wondered why I hadn’t heard of it before now. As it turns out, it looks like it was released direct-to-video, and after watching it, I can see why. Malevolent is one of those films where it seems like everything came together except for one key element; in this case, the writing. Of course, I’m not willing to put the entirety of the blame on writers Dennis Shryack and Peter Bellwood; a director always has the option to make a few changes to the script on the fly, and a few decisive edits from director John Terlesky would have addressed my biggest concerns here.
Phillips stars as Jack Lucas, an L.A. homicide detective with a hefty assortment of personal problems. His own mother was murdered a few years prior, he suffers from constant insomnia, and he’s under investigation due to his former partner being involved with a drug gang. And after someone drugs him at a bar, he finds himself engaged in a bizarre game of cat-and-mouse with a serial killer who seems to have a vendetta against him. Continue reading →
We’ll start Bat-Month off with one of the animated features. Batman and Mr. Freeze: SubZero is the second of three animated features spun-off from Batman: The Animated Series. The film was directed by Boyd Kirkland, and unlike it’s predecessor, Mask of the Phantasm, SubZero was released direct-to-video. Like Mask of the Phantasm, however, it continues to use the regular series voice actors for the characters, and primarily uses the same style of animation.
I say primarily, because there are several scenes, most particularly in the opening sequence but also during some chase scenes, where they use some computer animation to create the scenes. Although the CG animation is well done, this is one of the significant flaws of the film, as it is not just obvious, it also becomes rather distracting. It doesn’t blend well at all with the regular animation style that the cartoon uses, and which the film uses in most scenes. Continue reading →