Archives For Film Reviews

Founded in 2007, Astron 6 is a Canadian production company specialising in 80’s aping, schlocky movies that routinely dip their toes in the horror/comedy pool. The genius of Astron-6 is that you really feel that their works are a labour of love. Unlike something like Poolboy: Drowning out the Fury, they don’t just don a funny wig and wag their fingers at the clichés of the 80s in a snarky fashion. They embrace those clichés and tropes to add colour to their dark, comedic landscapes. They have a number of features and short films out, but here’s just a few of my favourites.

Manborg (2011)

Mankind has been taken over by the denizens of Hell led by the evil Draculon (Adam Brooks). A nameless soldier (Matthew Kennedy), brought back to life as a cyborg known only as Manborg, soon finds himself fighting tyranny alongside a gang of futuristic gladiators/freedom fighters. Can good overcome evil? Sure, why not.

Manborg has an incredibly tight budget, but that doesn’t mean it’s limited in scope. Director Steven Kostanski (The Void) uses a heady combination of green screen and models to create dystopian backdrops that utterly convince. Well, maybe not completely convince. This is, after all, a nod to straight to video flicks and a little complacency is more than allowed.

All of Astron 6’s films are laced with black humour of some kind, but Manborg somewhat bucks the dark trend with an almost innocent sense of self. There’s a lot here that reminds you of Mel Brook’s filmography, where prison guards lament unrequited love for their prisoners and our heroes stop the action to make noodles. In summary: it’s a definite must see.

Father’s Day (2011)

Chris Fuchman (Mackenzie Murdock) has become one of the most feared serial killers in Tromaville. Targeting only fathers, his crimes have become legendary. Hot on his tail is Ahab (Adam Brooks), a man hell-bent avenging the death of his own father. Joining him in his quest is Twink (Conor Sweeney), a young male prostitute and Father Sullivan (Matthew Kennedy), a naïve and eager to please priest (Matthew Kennedy).

Filmed on a budget of $10,000 and directed by Astron 6 as a collective, Father’s Day is a balls to the wall, schlock fest that tips its hat to the exploitation films of the 70s. As gory as it is funny, it delivers a ballistic 90 minutes that never lets up. It’s near knuckle jokes will not be for everyone, but if you’re willing to let Father’s Day wash over you then you’re guaranteed a good time. Plus, it has one of my favourite downbeat endings ever.

Cool Guys (2010)

Cool Guys is the tale of two nerds, Chad (Conor Sweeney) and Rick (Matthew Kennedy), looking forward to finally getting laid over the summer holidays. With Uncle Murphy (Adam Brooks) in tow to help guide the boys, they hit the beach, attempting to meet girls and avoid the steely glare of the Mayor’s son (Falcon van der Baek).

If you love your 80s nostalgia, then the above description will sound like any number of sex comedies, from Meatballs to Revenge of the Nerds. The twist, for want of a better word, of Cool Guys is the halfway gear change when directorial duties pass from John Hughes to David Lynch.

An act of debauchery (well, several in fact) is so sudden that it’ll take a while to process. Cool Guys’s short running time means there’s no time to process and as we enter the third act, Chad and Rick’s noble actions – to raise money to save a beloved building – is tainted by everything we’ve seen previously. The film having already played with, and destroyed, our expectation of 80s movies, now wants us to go back to what we though before. It’s like watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and expecting to still cheer Ferris on at the parade after you’ve just seen him beat a homeless man to death in the second act.

Cool Guys is a lot of bleak fun, but you will most certainly feel dirty in the morning.

Death Wish IV: The Crackdown (1987)

The Death Wish franchise trundles on with this new chapter that sees J. Lee Thompson take over directing duties from Michael Winner. Paul Kersey is back and has settled into a relationship with another disposable girlfriend who may as well be called ‘Token Female Character’. This plot progression in a skirt has a daughter who quickly dies of a drugs overdose, which of course lights a fire in Kersey’s belly for some instant justice.

With Death Wish 3 being such a euphoric high, Death Wish IV: The Crackdown sees its audience coming down hard and fast. This is a decidedly dull entry in the franchise that echoes Death Wish II with its lack of originality. Bronson has clearly given up the ghost, speaking his lines with one eye off camera checking to see if the ink has dried on his cheque yet.

By the far the only real interesting thing that happens in this after-school special of a movie is an opening dream sequence which sees Kersey gun down a perp that looks exactly like him. Waking in a cold sweat Death Wish IV suggests Kersey will do a little bit of soul searching and ask whether he’s become just as bad as the people he kills. Then, one overdose later, the prospect is thrown over a rainbow never to be seen again.

Death Wish V: The Face of Death (1994)

Well, it’s been seven years since the last Death Wish, so it’s time to warm up Charles Bronson in the microwave and stick him front of a camera. Cannon Films, the producers of the last two films, is dead but here comes 21st Century Film to save the day. It should be noted that 21st Century Film is owned by one half of Cannon. Yay! I think.

Paul Kersey is now under witness protection and in a relationship (yeah, I know) with Olivia, an ex-gangsters moll. Said gangster, Tommy O’Shea (Michael Parks) is up to shady business and when Olivia becomes a witness to his crimes, he sets about getting her killed.

If you’ve got this far in the series, you know where this is all going. However, despite the crushing inevitability of it all, Death Wish V reminds you that the franchise is actually somewhat watchable when it’s bathing in its own bloody-mindedness. Like Death Wish 3, Kersey has become a cartoon again; taking out baddies like a revenge thirsty Bugs Bunny. It’s all rather comedic and, as such, you can see a little sparkle in Bronson’s eye in the action. Yes, he looks way to old to be doing this, but he at lest looks like he’s having fun on set again.

Worth watching just to see Kersey blow someone up with a football.

Death Wish (2018)

Released only a few short weeks after the Parkland High shooting, anticipation for this remake of Death Wish with Eli Roth (Hostel) at the helm was running low. That said, when gun crime is so prevalent in American news, there’s perhaps no right time to release a piece of media that appears to champion gun violence. See, for example, Netflix’s Punisher.

Eli Roth’s films have never been particular favourites of mine. The Green Inferno is the only one that’s ever grabbed my attention thus far. Death Wish roughly follows the same plot as the original with Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis), now a doctor instead of an architect, seeking revenge for the assault on his daughter and murder of his wife. Actually, it’s about an hour of Bruce Willis looking terminally bored whilst he debates whether to get revenge before the final act sees his stunt man take over and skulls start getting crushed.

Willis has put more effort in the VOD films he’s been in of late than he does this film. When he laments over the assault of his daughter, you could almost be forgiven for thinking Roth edited in a rehearsal take by accident. The only person who comes out with any dignity is Vincent D’Onofrio as Kersey’s brother, and he is given very little to do. For a filmmaker who once showed us a man having sex with a roast turkey, it’s staggering how little imagination or energy has been pumped into this remake. Roth doesn’t even appear to be running on autopilot like he did in Knock Knock. This is just a tired film that tries to play both sides of the gun control debate whilst secretly championing lashings of spent bullets. So, I guess, in that sense, it shares a lot with the Michael Winner original.

Death Wish (1974)

Michael Winner’s Death Wish is loosely based on the novel of the same name from Brain Garfield. How loosely? Well, Garfield was so incensed by the interpretation of his work, he wrote a sequel to rectify the situation.

Charles Bronson (The Evil That Men Do) plays Paul Kersey, a liberal, pacifist architect. Or as today’s alt-right would call him: a cuck. When his wife and daughter are brutally assaulted – in a scene that truly never needed to be as long as it is and proves that Jeff Goldblum can only ever play Jeff Goldblum – Kersey retreats into himself, impotent with rage at a society that would let the perpetrators escape. This fire and fury is sharpened when our humble architect meets an Arizona gun nut, whose stance on justice encourages Kersey towards gun-ishment.

Sure, the film dips its toe into the debate about vigilantism and Kersey is seen throwing up after his first official kill. However, this is just foreplay before the inevitable shootouts that see Kersey running through the streets taking out mugger after faceless mugger. The fallout of which sees him being carried around New York city on the shoulders of the police, who love his strong defence against muggers. Okay, that’s not exactly what happens, but it’s clear that Death Wish, slickly directed by Michael Winner, is well and truly has its feet planted in the pro-gun lobby. If this doesn’t do it for you, the sequels are going to really bum you out.

Death Wish II (1982)

Eight years after the events of the original, Paul Kersey is now living in LA with his Radio DJ girlfriend, Geri (Jill Nichols) and his daughter from the first Death Wish, Carol (Robin Sherwood). Despite the events of 1974 leaving Carol a shell of a woman who doesn’t talk, life seems idyllic. That is until Laurence Fishbourne and his crew of violent thugs break into Kersey’s house, rape his maid and kidnap Carol. Carol is subsequently sexually assaulted in a warehouse, before jumping to her death to escape her attackers. With his daughter having been metaphorically stuffed into a fridge, Kersey gets the whiff of blood in his nostrils once again.

In a slightly more focussed rampage than last time, Kersey actually tries to track down the men who did him wrong, rather than simply taking pot shots at anyone running with a handbag. The drop in quality between this and its predecessor is staggering. It’s easy to point fingers at Cannon Films, famed for their act first, think later approach to producing, but the blame can also rest with the terrible script, Bronson’s phoned in performance, Michael Winner’s dull as dish water direction and the deep hatred of women that runs throughout the film. Yes, calling films of this calibre misogynistic is a lot like calling fire hot, but holy moly! A lot of sequels play up what made the first so popular, but surely no one was asking for more sexual assault? Surely.

Death Wish 3 (1985)

In 1987’s Batteries Not Included, the tenants of a rundown apartment building in New York find their lives up turned when they’re visited by tiny little alien crafts. These diminutive extra-terrestrials help their tenants stand up to ‘the man’ and everything works out for the best. Death Wish 3 is a lot like Batteries Not Included. The rundown apartment building in New York is a rundown apartment building in New York, ‘the man’ is a group of vicious Hispanic thugs (a number of whom are clearly not Hispanic) and the tiny extra-terrestrials are Charles Bronson returning once again as Paul Kersey.

Death Wish 3 feels like a coked-up executive somewhere said, ‘We should make a Death Wish cartoon! You know, for kids!’ A pilot was written up, dropped and then picked up to form the bulk of this second sequel. Death Wish 3 is utterly ridiculous and, after the despair of the previous film, is actually pretty watchable. What surprises the most is how we hit the ground running. After a friend is killed in their apartment, Kersey is already on the hunt for the killer before the film hits the ten minute mark. From then on, Kersey helps the other tenants to arm themselves like they’re in Home Alone, before finally running through the streets with a Colt Cobra and then a machine gun.

Death Wish 3 is as subtle as a slap from a brick and often makes little sense. It also can’t help itself when it comes to sexual assault, because, obviously, how is Kersey supposed to get really angry if no one is getting assaulted. A scene made ickier by the fact, the actor in question, Sandy Grizzle, would later claim Michael Winner used her as a sex slave.

And if you think I’m grumbling about the violence, I throw you over to Mr Bronson who had this to say about the film: ‘There are men on motorbikes, an element that’s threatening – throwing bottles and that sort of thing – and I machine gun them. That to me is excessive violence and is unnecessary.’

He came back for Part 4 though, didn’t he?

When it was first announced that Tony Stark would be making a cameo in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, minds were blown. Characters crossing over into each other’s movies was nothing new – Hello, House of Frankenstein! – but still, it led to many a fan and moviegoer speculating on the possibilities lying at Marvel’s feet.

In some ways, Avengers: Infinity War is exactly what many a fan conjured up their heads ten years  ago. Sounding like Patton Oswalt’s improvised pitch from Parks and Recreation, the film is the equivalent of throwing all your action figures at each other. Galactic tyrant Thanos (Josh Brolin) is making good on his promise in Age of Ultron and finally setting about collecting the infinity stones that have long played a McGuffin in some way or another in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

After an opening that utterly decimates the happy ending of a recent release, Thanos’ destruction ripples through to our heroes both on earth and in space. And due to numerous reasons, everyone is brought together only to be syphoned off into various groups. Through a mix and very little match effect, these team-ups allow Infinity War to play around with established cannon, whilst building upon it. The highly scientific Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr) is immediately at odds with the philosophical and mystical Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), whilst Thor (Chris Hemsworth) continues to flex his comedic muscle when teamed up with Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Walsh) and a teenage Groot (Vin Diesel, sort of). Elsewhere look out for a bearded Captain America (Chris Evans), a hardened Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), a stoic Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and a shell-shocked Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) struggling to control his inner Hulk, but not in the way you’d imagine.

Unrestrained from having to explain who everyone is – you don’t need to have seen every film, but some cameos may make you scratch your head if you haven’t – directors Anthony and Joe Russo, as well as screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, are allowed to turn their attentions elsewhere. As our heroes bicker and/or make new alliances, Infinity War takes time to flesh out the destructive force/purple Homer Simpson that is Thanos. Whilst not as morally grey as Black Panther’s multi-layered Killmonger (Michel B. Jordan), the exploration of Thanos’ motives, and his connections to other characters in the franchise, show an attempt to mould him into something more than an unstoppable force of destruction. He’s contemplative, a man who craves peace through destroying others. He appears to show empathy to those he crushes under foot. In a series of flashbacks, we’re even presented with a more compassionate side that never feels trite or overplayed. Am I saying there’s a potential for tears when Thanos is asked to make the ultimate sacrifice? Yes, I am. Will I admit that I cried? No, I will not.

With all this stirring up of the back catalogue, a large part of Infinity War, to be fair, feels patchy. Even whilst pushing the 2hr 30 mark, the film feels rushed as it puts everybody in their place ready for a colossal showdown. When it finally settles down, it manages to be a joyful experience. A lot of this joy is found in the cosmos, as the film’s more earth-bound sub plots are little bit dull. Marvel’s Phase One characters are beginning to show their stagnation, and the threat of Thanos doesn’t appear to breathe any new life into them.

Maybe this will be resolved in Avengers 4, the film that will be basically Part 2 to Infinity War. Yes, kept hidden from most, and arguably rightly so, Infinity War goes the route of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay and The Deathly Hallows, ending with a cliff-hanger not to be resolved till 2019. Is this a bad thing? Well, hard to say at the moment. Part 2 of Mockingjay highlighted the pacing issues of its first part, whilst the only thing anyone really remembers of Deathly Hollows Part 1 when the dust settled was that insufferable dance scene set to Nick Cave.

Infinity War is one of the better superhero movies out there, and a perfect reminder of why Marvel’s long game approach outshines DC’s reactionary filmmaking –  but it is really only half a film. Whatever occurs next year will show it up in new light.

Burke and Hare

Half the cast of Spaced get together with the director of An American Werewolf in London, John Landis, to bring us this black comedy retelling  of Burke and Hare, two men who were not only cold blooded killers, but also helped move modern science forward. This is by no means the best film in the world, but nor is it horrific. The titular characters, portrayed by Andy Serkis and Simon Pegg, are played for laughs than terror. Everyone seems to be having fun with it and, to be honest, the scenery and stage costume is sumptuous. However, with an uneven tone, and constant misses regarding humour and scares, Burke and Hare inevitably digs its own grave.

Storage 24

After Kidulthood and Adulthood, Noel Clarke changes tact in this straight to DVD schlocker which he co-wrote. Billed as a comedy-horror, this tale about a group of people getting trapped in a storage centre along with a flesh eating alien is, sadly, neither. The only real scares come from the film’s faint smell of misogyny that starts with a needlessly long shot of a Nuts centre spread and continues with its only two main female characters being nothing more than screaming harpies that need to stay close to Clarke’s frowny face.

Cradle of Fear

What were you doing in ’01? If you were Dani filth, lead singer of cheery, melodic death metal band Cradle of Filth, you were starring in this portmanteau film from director Alex Chandon. Several stories of blood and mayhem are linked together by ‘The Man’ (Dani Filth) as he seeks bloody retribution on behalf of Anthony Crowley’s illegitimate murdering paedophile son. No, really.

Chandon is pretty much all about equal opportunities when it comes to a massacre. Over the course of two hours, numerous goths, townies, gangsters and cops are ripped apart like so much jelly in a dog’s mouth. Sound fun? Well, it is. Kind of.  Only two of the stories – one which sees a one legged gangster search for a new leg, and the other about an IT worker who gets first hand experience of the snuff trade – really make much of an impact. Quite simply because they hark back to a simpler time when the likes of Amicus and Hammer Horror ruled the horror world.

Like a child let loose in an abattoir, Chandon flings gore at the screen till you become slightly desensitised to it all. It’s worth a go but you’re better off going straight to Chandon’s second, slightly more restrained film, Inbred.