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Sunday, June 17, 2018

Uberzombiefrau ! - Nazi Zombie Indie with a Small Giantess?

What can I say about "Uberzombiefrau"?  Not a whole lot, actually because:
A. The audio and attempts at German accents made it nearly impossible to understand about 30% of the dialogue, so I had trouble keeping up with the story.  I may have enjoyed the movie more if I had turned on the captions.
B. I fell asleep at one point, but because of point A didn't bother to rewind and rewatch what I had slept through.

"Uberzombiefrau" is a very ambitious indie movie in the very specific subgenre of "Nazi Zombies".  It has one or two interesting twists and an looks like overall it was trying to be a bit reminiscent of the "Ilsa"  movies of the 70s, but with nearly none of the sexual overtones of those movies. Bella Demente plays General Markus, and while statuesque, she isn't presented nearly as gigantic as the cover art used on Amazon Prime Video suggests.

The movie has a very impressive IMDB rating of 7.3!  Not bad for something with an estimated budget of $10,000.  The castle location is cinematic and well used, there are tons of extras for a smaller movie, and stock footage is MOSTLY used to good effect.  (A Black and White clip snuck in there.  Normally I wouldn't care, but it was a completely unnecessary shot and could have been left out.  I was wondering if it was used on purpose as an in joke for fans of such films, but then I would think a bit more out of place footage should have been used to help the joke stand out.)

The "problems" with the movie are evident in the opening scene, so once you watch that, if you stick around, at least you know what you're in for as the film progresses.  Much like the six minute opener of "Jack vs Lanterns" or the Refrigerator Scene in "Crystal Skulls".  In "Uberzombiefrau" we have a bit of an action sequence with an experiment on the dead going wrong.  The zombie costume is mostly impressive, but for some reason a close up of the zombie's un-decayed feet hitting the floor is used and we're also treated to a shot of the back of his head, which reveals the slit on the back of the rubber Halloween mask being used.  It's a high quality mask, but the slit sort of gives it away. (You'll notice the Lantern King in "Jack vs Lanterns" USUALLY wears a hood).  So, if you're prepared to accept small flubs like those, and realize that you probably hadn't understood anything that was said up to this point (seriously, turn on those closed captions if plot is important) then by all means, keep watching.  There will be some shaky keying F/X and explosions with nearly no sound, but towards the end of the movie there is a lot of zombie action.

It doesn't say so in the trivia, but I suspect what we see is some reenactors as zombies shambling around the live F/X they would use during an outing.  The use of "smoke" cannons is great, but far too quiet to sell as grenades exploding.  Several actors mime firing their weapons, but with little sound F/X and no muzzle flashes.  The zombies are made up to varying degrees too, with hands largely ignored (I'm guilty of this from time to time too.)  One really annoyed me though.  Since the zombies have controllers in their skulls, we're told by an Ally forces Scientist that shooting them in the head is the effective way to stop them.  Then we watch as one zombie, wearing a mask with the top of his head blown off, chases characters around in several scenes.

Oh, and watch for the orange tips on the hero's guns.  Seriously, some electrical tape or a sharpie could have fixed that.

I would suggest skipping to the end.  The chaos of the final assault on the Zombie Headquarters was worth the price of admission (that being included with Prime in this case).

If you're a zombie fan, Nazi monster fan, retro horror fan or fan of cheesy movies, then this one might be worth a watch.  Let's face it, if you're reading my blog, you likely fall into one of those categories...or you're related to me.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Lifepod: 90s Sci-Fi Mystery and Suspense

Strictly speaking, 1993's "Lifepod" is not an "independent film", but as a made for TV movie from the 90s, it certainly shares some of the limitations and charms that make indie movies appealing.

For one thing, there is the cast.  Robert Loggia certainly has his movie credits, but in the 90s he was doing guest appearances on TV and he was perfect in this.  CCH Pounder always turns in a great performance and Ron Silver was part of the ensemble cast and directed this movie.  Directing a movie touted as being based on a Hitchcock classic ("Lifeboat") is no easy task.

One of the types of movies I love as a low budget filmmaker, myself, is the isolation movie.  It allows for a small cast, limited locations, and thus a lower budget.  This also makes it a great genre for television.  The trick is to craft a solid story with interesting characters and make everything seem larger than what you're presenting on screen.  Keeping an audience interested in just one location can get very tricky.  "Lifepod" had the added attraction of being set in space and the in the future.  The sci-fi elements instantly appeal to a specific audience (if handled well, which I thought they were), while the characters and mystery can draw in other viewers.

For a movie of this type there was a surprising amount of action.  The opening "ship wreck" was handled very well and helped to set up the characters in their dire situation and lead us into the mystery that would follow.  Was the ship sabotaged? Did the saboteur survive? And if so, was he or she aboard this lifepod?

All in all I really enjoyed this one.  The sets created atmostphere without being so dark and dreary that the images were muddy. The acting was, as  you would expect from this cast, superb and the special F/X were pleasantly dated, using well crafted models rather than CGI spacecraft.  This is significant because of the time in the 90s when this was made.  CGI was coming into its own and was very popular while models were often considered "old fashioned", yet, in many cases, especially with lower budgets, CG simply wasn't up to the cast of being convincing yet and really well used models were the better choice.  I think they were used very well here.

The story develops a bit slowly, but there are, as mentioned, action sequences that break the monotony. The slow pace eventually helps feed into the despair that the characters are feeling about running out of supplies and possibly never finding rescue.  In the background of all of their struggles is the nagging question about whether it all comes down to bad luck or the intervention of someone up to no good.

If you're looking for a movie to watch that requires you to pay attention a bit, but still gives you cyborgs, explosions, sci-fi and even a little gunplay, then "Lifepod" is a good way to spend 90 minutes.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

"Collapse" - It Ain't "The Mist"

"Collapse" is currently available for viewing on Amazon Prime.

There are actually several movies on Prime Video by this title.  I am reviewing the one about a fog that eats people here. I mean, I think that's what it was about.  It's complicated.

"Collapse" is a strange kind of slow burn movie in that it starts out pretty strong and then drops quickly into a slow moving study on humanity.  It's not a horror movie for everyone and definitely leans more toward the drama side of its listed genres.

Cynthia Gatlin stars as Sheila, a physicist at the end of the world. (What is it about Sheila as a scientist's name? I named the entomologist in "Lumber vs Jack" Sheila.)  Sheila is the conscience of the movie.  The voice of reason in a set of characters that are trying to figure out this mysterious fog that has been wiping out life on the planet.  Eventually we are led to believe that we are looking at the four last adults on the Earth.  She recites poetry, quotes philosophy and generally tries to help the others, and the audience, figure out what's going on.

The rest of the characters are pretty much exaggerations of personality traits, with Heather, played by Kristin Barret, being the most two dimensional and annoying.  She's the "survive at any cost, nothing is my fault, I need to be in charge" character that is in all of these apocalyptic movies, but dialed up to 11.

Some other reviews make a point of insulting the acting.  I actually don't think the acting is all that bad, but the dialogue was awful at times. Sheila's monologues were even worse.  Or were they soliloquys? There is definitely an attempt at a Shakespearian style in this movie.  It didn't work for me.

I watched it because the description mentioned a monster or creature. I knew about the mist (not that mist), so figured I would never see much of the monster, but I never guessed that it really wouldn't play an important part in the movie at all.

If you're looking for a fun bloody 90 minutes, this isn't it.  If you want to listen to a lot of dialogue, explore some interesting concepts about humanity, and watch some people in a closed space get on each other's nerves during a dire situation, then this movie is for you.  Expect a lot of concepts to be thrown out at you and very few of them to be explored to any depth.

Technically the movie is very competently made.  Good sound.  Mostly good video and a couple of uninspired but effective computer generated visuals.

This is probably best suited for a high school sociology or philosophy class.


Thursday, May 31, 2018

"Something in the Woods" - Sasquatch. It's Sasquatch in the Woods

I don't feel like that's a spoiler in the title.  "Something in the Woods" doesn't give us a clear look at the creature early on, but it's not shy about letting us know there's a bigfoot out there.  It does take awhile to get to the action though. It's available on Amazon Prime.

The movie opens with a man asking his dad about a bigfoot sighting that happened decades ago.  The father begins to tell his tale and for some reason includes quite a bit about a confrontation his friend had at work with some of his employees.  They pop up later for another confrontation, but aside from that, their side story doesn't seem to serve much a purpose.

Let me be upfront and say that Bigfoot stories that play out like documentaries aren't my favorite and at various points during this roughly 90 minute flashback, that's what this movie reminded me of.  It's a specific taste of mine and may not bother other viewers as much.

There are also the requisite number of "boy that's stupid" moments played out by the characters.  They're needed for a horror movie after a certain point.  If a character doesn't refuse to move to safety or neglects to check on that sound in the woods the movie would end.  And let's be honest, we've all done some pretty stupid things, right?  Like the time I jumped out of an SUV with a camera in hand and ran across the road because my wife and I saw a bear run into the trees.  I had just hit the tree line when it clicked in my head that the bear was awfully small.  Probably a cub and momma would be none to happy to see me chasing it.  Stupid.  My wife agreed when I quietly walked back to the truck without my footage.  So, characters panicking and firing blindly into the woods isn't something I can watch and say, "Nobody is that stupid!"

The movie has a surprisingly positive 3.5 stars on Amazon as of this writing and that's from 300 reviews, so not likely to be just the cast and crew.  The reviewers that didn't like it mostly cite the acting, which could be understated at times and just plain weak at others.  Not every actor in a small film is going to be great.  But the main characters do a fine job and most of the supporting cast manages to put in okay performances.  (I am blessed by the talented people who are willing to work with me in movies like "Jack vs Lanterns" and "Stopped Dead")

But you want to know about the monster.  We get to see a lot of the back of our Sasquatch.  And at times the head is distinctly "cone shaped".  I kept getting flashes of the Jack Links Jerky beastie and that didn't help build the tension.

 When we finally do see the "hairy man" in his full glory, it's about what you'd expect. A professional costume.  At least it's not just a disappointing tall guy in a fake beard and fur vest.  It's actually a step above of a lot of indie monster suits I've seen ( or made ). Check out the store bought wonder I used in the "Alien Vengeance" movies.  I used that sucker twice.

The direction and cinematography are what kept me watching.  There is liberal use of drone or crane footage, making the people appear "small" and vulnerable.  There are some times when true suspense is built up, especially when the wife is left home alone with the children.  The director does a good job of establishing early on that Bigfoot is pretty strong.  We see him snap tree branches with ease as he runs and it's mentioned that he has made off with a "200 lb hog".

If you like monster movies, and if you're reading this you probably do, this one is worth a viewing.  It's not outstandingly special or overtly gory and it does take a bit of time to really get going, but by the time it's over I was left feeling bad that I doubted it.  Manage the first 20 minutes or so and you'll be in for a good, if not totally original, time.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

"The New York Ripper" - It's All 80s, Baby

"The New York Ripper", available on Amazon Prime as of the time of this writing, is a movie that will leave you saying, "What the F**K were they smoking back in the 80s?"  It's a pretty disgusting movie, but I say that as someone who realizes that this was the point.  There's all of the things that made bloody independent movies stand out way back when.  Blood, torture, nudity and a bit of a mystery.  The only thing really wrong with the movie is the killer's tell tale "Quacking".  The story seems to treat it fairly seriously, but I can't help but think that it was put in to disrupt the terror and shocking gore just enough to get past the censors.  It didn't work in some countries, apparently.

I say the movie has an 80s vibe, but really, it's a remnant of the growing gore industry of the 70s.  By the mid 80s gore was getting so over the top that it was becoming comedic.

If you're a fan of Lucio Fulci, you'll know what to expect.  Take a look at this NOT SAFE FOR WORK trailer for a small clue as to what you'll see.

There's plenty of blood and a few kills that will make you wonder how they pulled it off.  Overall the F/X are pretty solid, especially for the day.  There is one scene with a razor blade that made even me squirm a bit, but then a close up of the blood revealed the tell tale sugary crystals of syrup.  I guess the victim could have had really high blood sugar.

There is a side story of a rich woman who hangs out in the seedy side of town in her Porsche.  The role is played wonderfully by Alexandra Delli Colli.  It seems exploitive and unnecessary at first, but leads to one of the more suspenseful moments in the movie.

This is a good one for retro gore fans.  Might be fun to watch with someone who has only seen recent horror films just to watch them squirm at the old school F/X.  A bit of distracting voice dubbing, but nothing unusual for the time period it was shot in.

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movies on Amazon Prime.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

"Armstrong" - A Movie so Mediocre it Made me Want a Sequel

"Armstrong" is an indie "super hero" movie.  I put super hero in quotes, because the description refers to it as a super hero movie and in some ways it is, but it is lacking certain super hero movie qualities that don't ever seem to spring up.  But keep watching.  Like all the way through, to get to the super hero movie pay off.

What we have for the most of the film is a "buddy movie" with rotating buddies.  A woman rookie EMT and the two men who will teach her to be the hero she needs to be. Or is it three men?  In the end, does it really matter? Why did she need men to guide her?  Maybe I'm not being fair.  She's a rookie.  Someone had to guide her through new territory and to be honest, she is written as a flawed, but strong character.

I think the real missing link in the movie is the presence of an interesting and strong villain.  There is a criminal organization, but unless I missed it while getting a glass of water, the head of this organization never makes an appearance or talks to our characters.  What's Batman without the Joker or Superman without Lex Luthor? Aren't most super her movies defined by the super villain since the guy in the cape rarely changes?  Perhaps I'm nitpicking, but I think this movie would have benefited greatly from a stronger presence coming from the Fifth Sun side of things. Oh, The Fifth Sun is the name of the secret organization chasing Armstrong.

Don't get me wrong.  The baddies are out to destroy the world and that's a serious problem, but they are completely humorless about it.  Their plan has no style and the foot soldiers have no flair. They do have really cool body armor though.

The production values of this movie leave nothing to be desired.  The picture quality and lighting are gorgeous throughout.  The audio is nearly 100%. ( I had trouble hearing one or two lines.)  The film score...actually left no impression on me at all, so it was probably just fine.  The special F/X were not amazing, but they weren't cartoonish either.  The costuming was spot on.  Armstrong's titular mechanical arm could have been a bit less plastic looking, but I suspect this is the direction tech is going in.

Finally, let's discuss the acting.  I read some reviews (as I often do before I write my own in order to see what people are interested in discussing) that came down hard on the acting in this movie.  It's just not true.  The real flaw, I think, was in the dialogue.  Some of it was just unnatural and that can make it very hard to deliver believably.  The hero and the baddies were a bit wooden at times, but that was actually true to their characters, not the result of bad acting.  Vickie Juedy of "Orange is the New Black" has already proven her acting chops in that show and she does a fine job carrying the story here.  And I'll be honest, and I apologize if he ever reads this and takes it the wrong way, but everything I have seen Jason Antoon in, I have found him from a bit annoying to downright unlikeable.  I didn't like him much in this movie.  But, let's consider this, I saw him as a guest star in a couple of Law and Orders and this film.  He often is asked to play a foil to the heroes of the show he is guesting on.  My finding him a bit annoying in those cases is him doing his job, very well.  At the beginning of this movie his character gives his rookie partner a hard time.  Again, his job is to be pretty unlikeable during those times.  So, is it good acting to be a unlikeable as an unlikeable character? Yes!  (The answer to that is "yes", gang.)  So, solid to good acting all around in this movie.

I called a  movie with good production values, good acting and a pretty cool concept "mediocre".  That seems unfair, but the truth is, by the end of the movie I wasn't disappointed in any single aspect, but I did feel like the concept could have been served better.  I think like many "origin story" super hero movies, this one was more about getting things like the explanation of our hero out of the way and the adventure was treated like a side story.  Now I would like to see the movie where our hero and a really cool super villain take center stage.  I'd also like to see Kevin Pollack's character play a larger role in the next film.  Also, I would like to there to be a next film.

For as much as I like Super Hero Movies, I've never really made one.
I did make an origin story though.
ONYX ORIGINS is available on Amazon Prime.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Qaudrant 9eV9 - Old Fashoned Sci-Fi Horror

So, I watched "Qaudrant 9eV9" because it showed a four star rating on my Roku's Amazon App.  That's unusually high for an independent horror feature on there, so it set me up for high expectations.  I don't usually comment on whether or not a movie is good or give a star rating here, but four out of five is a bit too high for this movie.  That said, don't let the slow start keep  you from watching the film all the way through.  If you start to watch it, finish it.  The  last twenty minutes or so are paced like an entirely different movie.

It opens back in the 70s and flashes back there quite a few times to set  up the "cold war" experiment that eventually spawns our monsters.  As that story line develops a pretty predictable, but fun monster movie trope develops.  After the set up opening, we're introduced to our five college students, most of whom are annoying movie stereotypes and all of whom are pretty two dimensional.  Thinking back to college though, I knew a lot of people on a pretty two dimensional basis, so maybe younger people can relate. I think the movie would have benefited from more frequent flashbacks, however.

This would have been an amazing short film.  It could have been cut down to about 30 minutes of explanation and action and just flown by, but instead we're presented a feature that doesn't have a whole lot of extra action or character development to fill in the extra hour.  It's sort of like an old Corman drive-in movie, but with less crime intrigue as a side story.  There's some attempts at a romantic sidelines that half work.  I didn't like any of the characters enough to care about who they were "hooking up with", but none of it was terrible.  I'm guilty of my own "padding" to reach "feature length" on movies.  "Indiscretions" has far more walking in the woods than we needed for a modern audience, but I was trying to establish how deep into the woods the characters had gone (even though we never strayed more than a mile or two from our cabins).  In fact, watch for a similar attempt of this movie to seem "far from civilization" thwarted when we see a car pass on the not to distant main road. "Lumber vs Jack" suffered from a similar fate in that, while I could crop passing cars out of the shot, the sound was ever present.  I wrote a brook into the script to explain it away.

There's also a meteor shower mentioned and viewed by our characters, that surprisingly, has nothing to do with the monsters.  It is a simple device to bring together this very loose group of "friends" on a camping trip.  They're not the lifelong friends with close ties  you often see in these movies, but rather people who know each other because they're all in the same class and two are a couple of sorts. This leaves us with some unusual interactions for a movie like this, where characters are usually harboring long seeded guilt or feelings for one another that only come out when disaster strikes.  It's a bit of a twist, but not one I'm sure most people will like.

A cooler twist on the old fashioned "kids vs monsters" sci-fi horror genre is Lexi (Dominique Storelli). She's sort of the survivor girl we recognize from 70s and 80s slasher movies thrown into a 60s drive-in monster movie.  She's an axe-wielding outdoors expert thanks to her dad who taught her how to "survive in the woods with just a pocket knife".

Once the monsters finally do show up, they're pretty cool looking.  Simple men in make-up and masks, but well executed.  They've got super strength, but as far as a super soldier experiment goes, they weren't given much else to work with.  We're never let in on how well they see in the dark, they don't seem to have much special training as far as fighting or tracking goes and it's never mentioned, but they must be half deaf.  Still, they're menacing enough in a "zombie" kind of way.  There are a few exceptional action sequences that would have really helped the movie had they been spread out a bit more.  There's enough action for 84 minutes, but it all seems to take place at the end of the movie.

On to the production values!  I don't like to take independent movies apart for low production values because most of the time those are largely a result of shrinking digital budgets.  Fortunately for this movie, I don't  have to.  There's the slightest unevenness in the volume of dialogue to music, but overall the sound is pretty solid.   You can see some very windy conditions and they handle it brilliantly.  Sets are few and convincing enough.  The locations are mostly outdoors and some of them allow for some impressive shots.  The lighting is at times "too much". (I hate when characters in brightly lit night spaces use flashlights they clearly don't need).  But, when the situation calls for that murky, hard to see shadowy darkness, we get it without being left totally in the dark.  The scenes in the tents are cleverly lit.  The costuming on the monsters isn't super impressive, but it's convincing and clean, which is better than elaborate and doesn't work.  The fight scenes are mostly well choreographed and the gore works when it's used.  Overall a pretty solid production.  Most of the acting could be a bit better, but it's nothing less than you'd expect from something that was probably shot in a few weeks rather than over months.  Rehearsal time makes a big difference.

If  you're a fan of old monster flicks, I'd recommend this one rather than just watching "Teenagers Battle The Thing" again.

Here is the trailer so you can see some of it for yourself.

Self promotion alert!
You can add "Alien Vengeance" for more monster vs young people in the woods fun and make it a double feature.