Monday, March 29, 2010

Not so secret Ninja Fact: This movie sucks

Ninja Phantom Heroes (aka "Ninja Empire") (1987)
Starring: Glen Carson, George Dickson, Bruce Lambert, Dinny Yip, and Christine Wells
Director: Bruce Lambert (aka Godfrey Ho (?))
Rating: One of Ten Stars

A Hong Kong crime syndicate and an Evil Ninja Cult become embroiled in a turf war over who gets to sell illegal arms to the Arabs. A Good Ninja (Carson) and his homely girl sidekick (Wells), in the employ of the CIA, are tasked with putting a stop to all the arms-dealing shenanigans. Or something like that.

"Ninja Phantom Heroes" is a bewilderingly incoherent movie that's available under several titles, including "Ninja Empire", which is rather confusing, because the director of this film has made another movie that's ALSO titled "Ninja Empire". Still, it's not as confusing as this movie, which, near as I can tell, is two--perhaps even three-- separate films mashed together.

One film is a third-rate Hong Kong gangster movie/love story that is full of entirely too many characters and is brain-crushingly dull, except for a cool car vs. motorcycle chase that culminates in, of all things, a knife fight. (That action scene is way too cool to be part of the gangster/love drama, so I'm thinking it might not be from the same movie.

The second one is a very silly bit of filmmaking where two American Ninjas, once good friends but now deadly enemies, are heading toward a final showdown. And, boy, what a showdown that turns out to be! It's one of the absolutely lamest climaxes of ANY film ever unleashed upon an unsuspecting world.

(I think that if Ninjas truly were in the habit of flipping out and killing people, they would kill Bruce Lambert for exploiting their secret and sinister ways in such a crappy movie.

If trimmed to somewhere around 45 minutes, and viewed while drunk and with friends riffing in an MST3000 style, "Ninja Phantom Heroes" might be bearable. As it is, you should avoid it at all costs. I think my IQ dropped at least ten points as I watched the film, and I think I may have lost 2 more points while writing this review.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A naked witch not worth checking out

The Naked Witch (1964)
Starring: Robert Short, Libby Hall and Jo Maryman
Directors: Larry Buchanan and Claude Alexander
Rating: One of Ten Stars

A graduate student (Short) researching the history of a VERY ethnically German town in Texas digs up the corpse of a long-dead witch (Hall) and restores her to life. She the proceeds to take bloody revenge on the decendents of the transplanted Teutonics who murdered her.

To describe "The Naked Witch" as awful is to give it a backhanded compliment. Awful is the mildest of terms one can apply to this film. To make it even worse, it's BORING. What we have here is enough content to barely fill an episode of "Tales From the Darkside" or "Ray Bradbury Theater" but it's stretched out to twice that length. And, although the film barely clears one hour of running time, it feels like twice that.

The fact the script was suitable for a 23-minute TV show rather than a movie is only part of the awfulness here. It's compounded by the film's cast.

First, there's leading man Robert Short, an actor who was born 50-60 years too late. He would have been perfect for slient movies, because he can act with his face and his body language, but whenever he tries to deliver a line, he spoils everything. I am convinced that if you were to put a loaded gun to Mr. Short's head and say, "Act frightened or I will blow your brains out!" he's say "Please, no. Spare me. I have a wife and kids" in a wooden monotone. And we get to suffer through that wooden monotone as Short narrates many of the movies events.

Second, there's Libby Hall, the Naked Witch of the title. She is slightly better than Short when it comes to the acting but not by much. With her, the problem is more a physical one. Although I like nudity as much as the next guy, there really are some women who should keep their shirts on. Ms. Hall is one of them. I don't mean to pick on her, but someone involved with the production should have realized that if you're going to try to sell you movie with sex, you need to have someone a little more sexy doing it; Hall's breasts would have looked just fine if they had been left to the imagination, but when they're exposed, you find yourself seeing something you wish you hadn't. (That said, we don't get to see much of her breasts--not only does the Naked Witch not spend a whole lot of time Naked but when she does, there are often censor bars across the unfortunate boobies.)

Third, there's the fact the fact that every bit of dialogue in the film is atrociously bad... and it sounds even worse coming from the mouths of untalented actors. This isn't entirely the fault of the actors, but good actors can make bad lines at least sound passable. No such luck here.

The only thing that saves this film from a 0-rating is that Buchanan does show the occassional flare for dramatic visuals. There are some great scenes of the Naked Witch walking through the Texas landscape, and there's an almost-great scene where the blood from one of her victims spreads in a body of water. However, such visual moments are shattered by the bad acting and Buchanan's otherwise incompetent directing. He misses more moments to create spookiness or great visuals than he grasps.

All-in-all, I have to wonder why anyone would think this film was worth preserving and re-releasing on DVD. There is so little about it that is worth anything that it was truly wasted time and effort.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

'Boogeyman' among worst films of '05

Boogyman (2005)
Starring: Barry Watson, Emily Deschane, and Skye McCole Bartusiak
Director: Stephen Kaye
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

A young magazine editor finds himself and his love ones endangered when a childhood closet-monster comes back to haunt him in adulthood.

This attempt at a horror movie might have worked if someone had bothered writing a coherent script that took at least a half-hearted stab at relating the films elements to one another, or even at explaining some key events that come and go. It would also have helped if the director and producers understood that "tension building" becomes "boring" when you allow it to drag on and on and on.

The actors are decent, the camera work is decent... there's just no script or pacing to speak of in this awful film.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Stay away from 'Daddy Day Camp'

Daddy Day Camp (2007)
Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr., Paul Rae, Lochlyn Munroe, Spensir Bridges, Dallin Boyce, Telise Galanis, and Tamala Jones
Director: Fred Savage
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

In "Daddy Day Camp" the operator of a daycare center (Gooding) branches out into running a day camp. Along the way, he reconnects both with his father and his son (Bridges).

There's a friend of mine who will NEVER get to pick the movie ever again. She's Three for Three in picking garbage! It'll be me or her kid who picks the films from now on, even if she offers to pay my way!

Speaking of the kid, he enjoyed this film--although not as much as "Underdog", he said. And he did spend a lot of time laughing, so this is a movie that appeals to kids to a degree. Probably in the same way a McDonald's hamburger or Recees Peanutbutter Cup appeals to them. It's junk, but it's fun to consume.

There is really nothing good I can about this movie, other than what was in the paragraph above. The acting is universally horrible (Gooding is an Oscar winner, right? Maybe he should stay away from comedy?), the child actors mostly come across as annoying instead of likable, and while the father-son reconnection storyline is not bad, it's executed in a hamfisted way that it feels trite. To make matters worse, it doesn't feel like any of the characters learned anything from the lessons the movie seemed to want to teach.

A failure on every level, "Daddy Day Camp" is a movie to stay away from. The crude humor is sure to amuse undiscriminating youngsters, but there's not enough here for adults to enjoy.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Worst sequel ever?

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000)
Starring: Erica Leerhsen, Jeffrey Donovan, Kim Director, Stephen Barker Turner, and Tristine Skyler
Director: Joe Berlinger
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

After the disappearance of three film students, and the run-away success of the film based on their uncovered footage (the "Blair Witch Project"), many of the citizens of Burkitsville try to cash in on the tourism. Among these is Jeffrey (Donovan) who leads four thrill-seekers (Leehrsen, Director, Turner, and Skyler) to the foundation of the Blair Witch's cottage. That's where their nightmare begins.

In concept, "Blair Witch 2" could have worked. While some attempts were made at "realism" in it--news-reports, "based on a true story" disclaimers and so on--for the most part, it doesn't try to be anything but a fictional horror movie.

There are quite a few disturbing and shocking scenes and some intriguing mysteries in the film. So far, so good. Unfortunately, no one really bothered to write a decent script to support those disturbing, shocking scenes, nor did anyone make even the slightest attempt at coming up with even a hint at possible answers to the mysteries. Hell, there isn't even an attempt at presenting a sensible plot by the time the credits roll. It's not necessary for everything in a horror movie to make sense, but here there's NOTHING that makes sense at the end. "Something creepy and witch-like happens" must have been the high concept when this thing was pitched, because there's nothing resembling a coherent story here.

To make matters worse, the characters are all unlikable, annoying, AND badly acted. Not even stripping Erica Leehrsen down to her panties can overcome the awfulness of her and everyone else's total lack of acting ability. (Leehrsen CAN act--I've seen her do it elsewhere... I can't speak for the rest of the cast--so I can only assume we need to blame the director.)

While enough random, interesting, creepy things went on in the film to keep me watching, boredom set in repeatedly, and I figured out about ten minutes before the credits rolled that NOTHING was going to be revealed. And, sadly, the movie proved me right. This was a dissatisfying experience all around, and I hope Artisan took a bath on this turkey.

(By the way, has anyone gotten the "ESREVER" 'feature' of the DVD release to work? I can't seem to get it to run. Maybe there is SOME fun to be gained from this film, although I think I've already spotted most of the "hidden" secrets; several weren't really all that hidden.)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

'The Alpha Incident' is a non-event

The Alpha Incident (aka "Gift from the Red Planet") (1970)
Starring: Stafford Morgan, John Goff, Carol Irene Newell, George Flower, Paul Betzen, John Alderman, and Ralph Meeker
Director: Bill Rebane
Rating: One of One Star

After a dimwitted, clumsy railroad worker (Flower) breaks open the badly secured samples of a Martian virus being moved from one government lab to another, the agent escorting it (Morgan) must keep himself and a small group of local yokels at an isolated train yard until a cure can be found.

We have a typical Bill Rebane effort here. The acting is third rate, the story goes nowhere, the characters never even rise to the level of figures they're so badly developed, neither the writer nor the director seem to have much of an ear for dialogue, nor a sense of how to tell a good story. Whenever the film seems to start making a point--it repeatedly flirts with what stress and danger does to transform a person--it either backs off from it, or does it so ineptly the viewer (and just one viewer.., the person so wired on coffee and chocolate they've not been bored into a stupour, so they are still paying attention) must wonder if anyone involved with the production side has ever had any relationships with real people.

The acting here is generally better than what might be witnessed in the other Rebane opus I've seen, but the story is worse and even more pointless. Its slow, and, like the train featured in it, seems to start a trip but ultimately ends nowhere.

Take my word for it and skip this one. The only reason for watching it would be to confirm that Bill Rebane is, indeed, in the running for Worst Filmmaker Ever.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

'Sick Bastard' needed to get better

Sick Bastard (2007)
Starring: Ken Dirke and Jason Impey
Director: Jason Impey
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

A homicidal maniac (Dirke) escapes from a mental hospital. Being that he's the sick bastard of the title, he goes on a murderous rampage while a police detective (Impey) is hot on his trail and trying to stop him.

When I noticed a misspelled word/typo in this film's opening crawl, I knew I wasn't in for anything particularly professional--the murderer was "found wondering in the woods" the crawl declared, even as the voice-over stated that he was "wandering in the woods." But, being that I try to give every film that crosses my transom a fair shake, I watched "Sick Bastard" anyway. Plus, one typo does not mean a movie can't be god.

In this case, though, my optimism wasn't warranted. This is an amateurish film from beginning to end, and it's not even all that good. It's got every single hallmark of a modern-day bad low budget film except bad sound recording. While my hat's off to writer/producer/director/editor Jason Impey and his school mates and relatives for actually finishing a film production and getting it picked up for distribution, there is really nothing good I can say about their film.

Maybe Impey will continue to hone his craft as a filmmaker, and his next effort will be better. (He's only 27, according to his biography.)

Friday, March 5, 2010

'Underground Comedy Movie' is underwhelming

The Underground Comedy Movie (1999)
Starring: Vince Offer, Gena Lee Nolin and Michael Clarke Duncan
Director: Vince Offer
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

Sketch comedy is hard. The comedians that made up the Monte Python's Flying Circus group mastered it, as did a rare few of the "Saturday Night Live" ensembles over the many years. For the most part, everyone else is hit and miss when it comes to creating funny, short comedy bits. And, unfortunately for viewers, the creators of "The Underground Comedy Movie" serve up mostly misses.

Many of the sketches in this film have a seed of Funny at their heart, but they are too drawn out and too repetitive to really let that Funny fully emerge. "The Adventures of Dickman" and "The Watts Up Talk Show" are the only sketches that are short and sweet enough to be amusing. Others, which started pretty funny--such as "The Gay Virgin" and "Batman vs. Rhymer" drag on and get repetitive to the point where the Fast Forward Button is a blessing.

I'm giving this film a generous rating of Two Stars, because "The Adventures of Dickman" and "The Watts Up Talk Show" truly were funny. But everything else was too dumb or too belabored to be even close to working.

As of this writing, "Underground Comedy Movie" is out of print on both DVD and VHS. The clip included below illustrates why.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Girls in swimsuits vs. zombies =
Idiot proof concept? Alas, no.

Attack Girl's Swim Team vs. Undead (2007)
Starring: Sasa Handa, Yuria Hidaka, and Ayumu Tokitô
Director: Koji Kawano
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

All teenaged Aki (Handa)wants to do is to fit in at her new school. However, on her first day, the student body and teachers are turned into zombies by a mysterious virus... except for the swim team who are immune because of their exposure to chlorine in the pool. Now, they must fight off the undead (and mad scientist rapists) if they are to stay alive. Good thing Aki's been trained to fight undead from a young age.

That is one cool cover image, wouldn't you say? It certainly sold me on the film. That and the promise of boobs and bloody gore. Unfortunately, it is like the majority of American horror-themed softcore porn flicks, except with a better marketing department creating imagery to sell it.

The biggest problem with this film is that cheapness wafts off it like the moldy smell of a wet swimsuit that's been left in a plastic bag for too long. It was shot on video by a crew that didn't understand how to light a scene properly or even place the camera for maximum dramatic effect. It features actresses who were hired first for their willingness to throw off their clothes for on-camera nudity and simulated sex (both consensual and forced) and for their acting talents second. The make-up and special effects--from most of the gore effects to some very poorly done CGI explosions--is strictly amateurish and on a level that shouldn't be seen outside films made by high schoolers with extra time on their hands. Finally, most of the fight scenes are badly choreographed and even more ineptly filmed. It will probably never cease to amaze me how many filmmakers who think they know how to make actions films underestimate the importance of camera placement when it comes to making it look like the actors are actually beating on one another.

The movie is not all bad. It moves along at a fairly fast pace--faster than most American movies to this type--and there are a few scenes that do work. The scene where a zombified teacher starts killing students with a ruler and the one where another teacher goes at our swim team heroines with a chainsaw are fairly well done. The same is true of a couple of the sex scenes.

And then there's the vagina laser. One mustn't forget the vagina laser.

If you want to look at young Asian women in little or no clothing while getting a fair dose of blood and gore along the way, you'll find what you're looking for in this film. Just be aware that it's all presented in a fairly lackluster way. (Except the vagina laser. There's no way to present that in a lackluster fashion.)