Sunday, December 12, 2010

Bling Monkey Makes the Scene!

Bling Monkey on a Review Rampage!

Bling Monkey's been checking out some leftovers from the 2010 Halloween Film Festival

Hey gang! It's me, your new old pal Bling Monkey! Here's how I roll: movie reviews that don't eat up too much of your time, and you can tell how much I liked the flicks by how big my picture is over them! Simple enough, right?

Masters of Horror: Rob Schmidt - Right to Die  (Starz Productions, 2007)  First off - a quibble - I'm not sure Rob Schmidt qualifies as a "Master of Horror." To be sure, I enjoyed his best known feature - Wrong Turn - but he's only made a few movies and none qualify for classic status as yet. I'm thinking he was more "Master of Availability" for this episode of the Showtime series. So there you go. Cliff (Martin Donovan - Unthinkable) survives a horrendous car accident with his wife Abbey (Julia Anderson - SGU Stargate Universe) that leaves her a burned up mess, hanging by a thread and uncommunicative. Cliff came through without a scratch, and is devastated at Abbey's injuries - or is he? At the urging of his sleazy lawyer (the always welcome Corbin Bernsen - TV's Psych), Cliff sets up a Do Not Resuscitate protocol with the hospital, much to the disgust of Abbey's mother. It turns out to be a bit of a moot point because Abbey's injuries are so severe she is scheduled for a plug pull in a few days anyway, before her pain escalates beyond any help. Her only hope is a skin graft donor, but the odds are against her since a lot of factors have to line up for that to happen. Then things take a turn for the supernatural as Abbey dies briefly, then is revived. In the moments her heart was stopped, Cliff sees a horrific apparition of his wife at their home! When this happens a few more times, Cliff comes to the terrifying realization that Abbey is primed and ready to become a vengeful spirit at the moment of her true death, and with her spectral rage directed at him for secrets kept, Cliff must do whatever it takes to keep Abbey alive, even if it means finding a skin graft donor, willing or not.

He didn't realize it, but his attempt at escape would lead to his death
being termed a climbing accident.
This was a good episode, as always what could have been a padded feature trimmed down to a zippy hour. It has a good mix of sardonic humor, creepy moments, and some A-1 grossouts. The acting is mostly good, with Bernsen walking away with top honors effortlessly. Donovan hits a couple of weird notes in his performance but most of the time is solid. Definitely worth a mention castwise is Robin Sydney, who plays Cliff's "special friend" She's appeared in a few Charles Band movies where Charlie's obvious affection for her has kept her cast as the good girl, which is admittedly a role she plays well. But guess what other role she plays well? The bad girl who gets nekkid, that's who! Grisly gore courtesy the fine KNB duo (Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero) supplemented with just enough CGI; and some terrifically nasty deaths make this one worth watching for those so inclined, so grab it up!

Masters of Horror: John Carpenter's Pro-Life  (Starz Productions, 2007)  John Carpenter's second stab at the series is a pretty good little scarepic, another case where you get what could have been a padded full length feature trimmed down to an hour, and without any extra poundage, it really moves right along. The Masters of Horror series gave some of the directors a chance to push some hot button topics, and this episode at least ostensibly deals with abortion, but that's only really a McGuffin fence to separate the characters so they can come together in conflict. The story opens with a young woman named Angelique (Caitlin Wachs - Inspector Gadget 2) stumbling through the forest and onto a road. In a bit of a coincidence, she is picked up by Dr. Alex O'Shea (Mark Feuerstein - TV's Royal Pains) and Kim (Emmanuelle Vaugier - Wishmaster 3), who are doctors working at a nearby women's clinic. It's coincidental because Angelique is pregnant. As the doctors take her to the clinic and start an examination on the girl that proves this ain't no ordinary pregnancy, her father (Ron Perlman - City of Lost Children) and brothers show up outside. They have a strong religious streak, a dislike of clinics where abortions are performed, and a van full of firearms. Trouble ensues.

Ron Perlman helps this episode get a leg up on its competition.
Going in, I wondered if this episode would be grounded in reality, or take a supernatural bent; and it wastes no time letting the viewer know when Angelique tells the doctors how she got pregnant the previous weekend, then starts ballooning up in the belly area every time we cut back in to the examination room. Overall, while not as strong as Carpenter's previous Masters entry Cigarette Burns, this is the right amount of gruesome and works pretty well. The biggest asset for the show is Perlman, always a solid actor and here just terrific as the father who wants his daughter back and eventually goes over the edge. All of the other actors are fine, there's some great effects work from the KNB boys and there are some truly nasty and graphic moments in store. If you like your horror a bit...wet, this would be a safe bet.

Puppet Master: Axis of Evil  (Full Moon Features, 2010)  Wow it pains me to write this, but after about a year of buildup by Charlie Band, videocast after videocast from the set in China, and a special trailer screening at the 2009 Full Moon Roadshow, the movie finally hits DVD, and its...

...not much, I'm afraid. We start off with a bunch of scenes from the first Puppet Master movie mixed in with a little new film shot in China on set reconstructions. Storywise it's 1939, and it's the Bodega Bay Inn in California. The new stuff seems to consist of one to two minutes of  lead Danny (Levi Fiehler) almost being present when the Nazi baddies arrive to kill Andre Toulon (the late William Hickey returning via old footage), then in the aftermath taking the puppet trunk from its hiding place and heading back to his place with it. Stop Right There! (as the lady in Paradise by the Dashboard Lights says). That trunk has to be present for the team of researchers to find in 1989 for the rest of the first Puppet Master movie to take place. (Not to mention the other eight or nine sequels). Now, my first assumption was that we're going to come full circle and end this movie with the lad returning the trunk to the wall where it was hidden...some secrets man was not meant to know and all that... but that's not exactly how it worked out... So, anyway, all this videocast noise about reconstructing the Bodega Bay Inn sets, and all we get is about 111 seconds of it? They could have taken the money and digitally inserted Fiehler into one of the first movie's scenes, built one small wall section to pull the trunk from, and achieved more, quite frankly. But okay, we're past that and now Danny has the trunk back at the little house he shares with his mom right next to their city's Chinatown section ('cause it was shot in China, see, and it's easier to explain the Chinese extras!). He pulls the puppets out, looks them over for a moment...then goes downstairs to piss and moan to his mom, brother and girlfriend Beth (Jenna Gallaher) about not being allowed to go to war due to his bum leg for about thirty minutes. Stop Right There! The first movie establishes Toulon's death as happening in 1939. You're using film from that movie in this movie. Danny came home with the trunk, went upstairs, came back downstairs, and America is somehow in the war? Two years early? This could have been explained with about another hour of script writing, but it wasn't. Anyway, we're now almost halfway into the movie, and the puppets haven't moved in any footage shot after 1989. Eventually, we get a smidge of plot about the two young Nazis who killed Toulon teaming up with three Japanese spies (the leader a woman in full geisha gear and full dragon lady mode) to blow up a factory nearby where Danny's girlfriend Beth works. Both Germans use their impeccable American accents to infiltrate the factory - accents so impeccable they never stop using them, even when alone or hanging with their Japanese buddies - and the Japanese provide them a bomb they apparently got from the Acme company, as it appears to be several 8 inch sections of sawed off red broomstick taped together with an old clock attached.
And there's the bomb now. Thanks, Blade.
Eventually somehow the Nazis realize Beth is shmoozing with the guy who has Toulon's puppets stashed away and since they're really in America to get the secret of Toulon's magic in bringing the puppets to life, they divert from the factory bombing to kill Danny's family and kidnap the girl. Danny somehow figures out everything that took Toulon decades to learn about transferring the souls of recently deceased pals into puppets in about three minutes, and with new puppet Ninja containing some of his dead brother Don's life force, takes Blade, Tunneler, Pinhead, and Leech Woman along as well with him to the easily found spy hideout in a local theater to get revenge. Stop Right There! Hmm, a new puppet created days after Toulon passes, which we haven't seen again in any of the sequels? You guys are digging a pretty big hole scriptwise, fellas! In any case, the puppets finally go to work, and a few dead bodies are soon scattered about the theater. At this point it's time for the climactic showdown between Our Hero and the Last Remaining Villain. No - instead - cut to credits.


    Yes, [spoiler alert] the movie ends on a freakin' cliffhanger! Sorry to take the plot description through to the end, but I couldn't avoid mentioning that this movie stops instead of ends.

    Having met Charles Band, and finding him to have been a very likable fellow, I so wanted to really like this. Sadly, despite enough positive elements to have made a decent little horror pic, this just doesn't cut the mustard. I put 85-90% of the blame on the script. I don't know who this "August White" person is who writes all of Full Moon's screenplays these days, but speaking from experience, you can still make a movie entertaining and fun no matter the budget if you write it correctly. August White puts enough words on enough pages for the script to be passed through into production. I could have taken all these same elements and made it work better, quite frankly. The first thing I would have done? Well, as Dr. Evil might say "Get the frickin' stars of the frickin' movie into the frickin' movie!" We're putting this disc into the player to watch little puppets move and do things. They don't have to move in giant ballets of motion and light, and they don't have to do things involving large budgets and giant production values. If a second camera and the puppet effects people could have on their own worked on just popping off shots of the puppets peering around furniture, listening, moving, turning, brandishing their weapon(s), scaring the family cat, ANYTHING, these shots could have been edited in all around and through those long dialogue scenes and would have at least added more puppetduction value to the flick. Then the script needed a rewrite where the puppets show Danny how things work with their magical chemicals and injectors and neck holes. They also could have been spying all around town (again, a couple of shots of them on the streets looking around, maybe another low-to-the-ground puppet-cam shot or two) and they could be the reason Danny goes to the theater. The puppets lead him there so they can all seek revenge together. Making our little pals from eight other movies a little more proactive makes them more sinister while still being heroic by default. It works. If the effects people weren’t up to these tasks I’ve described, then Charlie needed to invest more money and hire different effects guys. Period. End of story.

And end of review.

No, kidding, I don’t leave my readers with abrupt endings and cliffhangers. But I do need to wrap this up soon, or the reading of it will take longer than watching the movie. Yipe! So, script - mediocre. Direction? Well, David DeCoteau has made three other Puppet Master movies. He made the best (Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge), but he also made the worst (Curse of the Puppet Master). His other effort was Retro Puppet Master, which falls in between the previous two in quality. (and I think it's telling that he used his own name for part 3 and pseudonyms for the other two). And Axis of Evil is on a par with RPM direction wise. It's well shot, but bites off more than its budget can chew. The acting is fair, with lead Fiehler coming off as a second tier Chris Klein, and Gallaher an attractive (if awfully slender and boyish) girl-in-danger. The effects are okay, but as noted before they are far too sparse. And since they didn't shoot another movie with this one back to back, that cliffhanger ending is inexcusable. If announced tomorrow and produced in the same timeframe as this one, the next Puppet Master movie would be released in late 2013.
    If you've watched all the other movies in the series, you might as well rent this one, but this is certainly no place to start watching them. The first Puppet Master movie had the tagline "No strings attached." I wish that was true of this latest sequel, and it was referring to Charles Band's purse strings.
Well, I think I've gone on as long as I need to for this round.

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