EVIL is Undead…And Rides a Shark! “Sky Sharks” reviewed (Umbrella Entertainment / DVD)

Former Nazi scientist Dr. Klaus Richter’s past has finally caught up with him after 70 years when a clandestine German laboratory, disguised as an aircraft-battleship hybrid, thaws from behind a globally warmed sheet of frozen ice and rock, releasing Dr. Richter’s regenerated legion of undead Nazi super-soldiers piloting genetically engineered flying battle sharks complete with guided missiles alongside their razor sharp jaws.  Loyal to the Third Reich, the sky sharks continue their master race patronage with a blitzkrieg in the skies, attacking commercial aircraft, boarding the cabins, and slaughtering every last person on board before crashing.   Now contractually working for the U.S. Government as the biggest name in technological advancement, Dr. Klaus, with the help of his two daughters, has a plan to nullify the sky sharks’ defenses to make them vulnerable to his latest newest experiment in warfare, Dead Flesh, under the guidance of his fellow covert government agency heads.

Apex predators of the waters are now apex predators of the skies in Marc Fehse’s ridiculous, frenzied, and utterly mad ultra-violent Nazi-exploitation, “Sky Sharks.” Soaring through the heavens soaking fluffy white clouds with blood, the Carsten Fehse and A.D. Morel co-written film took off virally in 2020 with the promise to the internet, especially horror fans, of zombified SS soldiers mounted standing on humungous Great White, Hammerhead, and Megalodon jet-propelled sharks. Fehse’s team delivered. “Sky Sharks” has not one single serious bone in all it’s cartilaginous gory-glory body in what’s Fehse’s second film behind the 1999, straight to video, “Mutation” involving the what-if factor of a surrealistically free reigning and sadistically unbridled Nazi force hellbent on winning World War II no matter how many lives needing to be sacrificed for the sake of the Führer’s dominion. The Germany-made production is a Fuse Box Films and Fantom Films.

“Sky Sharks” is studded with cult stars, but those studs pop out mostly after the carnage-laden opening scene of passengers on a commercial flight being ripped to shreds by undead super-soldiers hog-wild about killing. Robert LaSardo (“Strangeland”), Lynn Lowery (“Model Hunger”), Tony Todd (“Candyman”), Diana Prince (“The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs”), Mick Garris (director of “Critters 2”), Dave Sheridan (“Scary Movie”), Amanda Bearse (“Fright Night” ’85), Asami (“Gun Woman), Naomi Grossman (“American Horror Story” franchise), Lar Park-Lincoln (“Friday the 13th Part VII:  The New Blood”) and “Mortal Kombat’s Shang Tsung himself, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, make an appearance in some minor way, shape, or form, but since “Sky Sharks” is a German production, much of the cast is geared toward German and Austrian actors with Thomas Morris spearheading the lead role of the inverted mad scientist, Dr. Klaus Richter, a centenarian mastermind behind the birth and, hopeful, destruction of his monstrous airborne jaws of death experiment.  The role itself isn’t very exciting that refrains Morris to be nothing more but a talking head who recounts his failed World War II and Vietnam resurrection serum to turn the tides of war.  While Dr. Richter has immense blood on his hands from a long and rich background, the present day Richter has lackluster appeal and Morris doesn’t provide much zest either.  More complexities reside in Richter’s two tech-savvy and kickass daughters, Diabla and Angelique.  Their signifying names alone provide some foreshadowing of events, but the close sisters are boots on the ground with their father being the eye in the sky; yet, Diabla and Angelique have been kept in the dark from their father’s horrid past that factors little into parting ways from being daughter’s little girls.  Blonde beauties Eva Haberman and Barbara Nedeljakova successful roles in Germany and the U.S. include “Hostel” and the sci-fi tele-series “Lexx,” but their blind obedience to the patriarch roles downscales any moments to shine individually as free thinking agents of good.  Any other character factored into “Sky Sharks’” whiplash narrative come and go without a single ounce meaningful impact becoming background noise for the fray. There’s not even a singular villain to speak of as a focal point to direct a challenger against forces of good.

As much as the concept excites me on an obscurely dysfunctional level, a real telling tale of who I am as a person, who also praises “Snakes on a Plane” as cult candy, “Sky Sharks” has atrocious issues with pacing and story quality.  The opening scene sets up what to expect of gore drenched Nazis yoking back on genetically mutated sharks, zipping through high altitude to acrobatically infiltrate commercial planes for complete and total annihilation of every passenger onboard.  Tickles me in all the right places.  Yet, the sky sharks’ unveiling background whizzes past right into death from above world apocalypse, skipping keynote details resolving the giant warship beached on the Antarctic ice.  Fehse decides to redirect our focus with a bunch of explicit violence and sex and while that’s all nice and good…really good…the misdirection can’t coverup the necessities needed for a good story even if the story is absolutely bonkers. The visual effects are not distinct from the ream of shark-sploitation films that have become popular over the last decade in a cheaper slaved effort to capitalize on the majestic beasts of the sea…who sometimes mistake a surfer for a sea lion. The flying sharks swim in a stiffly pattern and move inorganically through their uncharacteristic ecosystem as they rocket in a school of steampunk nightmares. Not all visuals fall short of satisfaction when they’re appropriately blended with practical effects. Under that hood of tangible horrors is “Iron Sky: The Coming Race’s” Martin Schäper and, the legendary, Tom Savini, who we haven’t seen special effects work from since 2012’s “Death from Above” (an also fitting title for killer sharks in the sky). Schäper and Savini bring it with blood. Each plane sequence, there’s two of them, exhibit different deaths with each one more outrageous than the next. My favorite is the inverted periscope through a guy’s cranium and having a looksie at the screaming, bloodied passengers. “Sky Sharks” is, literally, an over-the-top scream of slice’em and dice’em fun.

Cresting through the blue yonder and painting the sky blood red is the deadliest gang of shark riding Nazi’s to ever grace a cinema platform in “Sky Sharks,” coming to DVD in Australia, no stranger to large, deadly sharks, courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment in association with Raven Banner. The NTSC encoded, region 4, rated R release will present the film in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. “Sky Sharks” is a turbulent wonderland of rustic computer generated visual effects with a Marco J. Riedl and Olaf Markmann cinematography, typifying a clashing style, of keeping actors tightly in focus to sell a futuristic fluorescent environment. A few scenes give a sense of layered paper mâché sitting in front a green screen as the forefront images seemingly pop out of their backdrops. The English and German Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix falls victim to an overpowering score of a weak dialogue track that washes key pieces of exposition that might explain more as the scenes fleet away in the rushed paced 103 minute runtime. Aside from a brilliantly detailed DVD cover robust with a glowing eyed, half-decaying Nazi soldier as centerpiece amongst flying, weaponized sharks and Robert LaSardo and Lynn Lowry cameoing off to the left side with a half-naked female warrior on the right, the DVD has no bonus features included. After the credits, a fake commercial for “Sky Frogs,” starring that half-naked female warrior I just mentioned, is a satirical happy ending full of even worse, 80’s caliber, visual effects worlds and frogs. Though not at the top of the food chain being one of the grossly ostentatious and shoddily visual effects films ever, the mindless, search and destroy, crudeness of “Sky Sharks” chums our oceans of entertainment with some of the bloodiest fun we’ve seen in a long time from a Nazisploitation.

Own Umbrella Entertainment release of “Sky Sharks” on DVD! Click the poster!

Being Slobby Drunk Doesn’t Excuse EVIL Deeds. “Promising Young Woman” reviewed! (Focus Features / Digital Screener)

On a weekly basis, Cassandra hits the night clubs and drinks herself into a stupor.  A male “Good Samaritan” will come over to assess her well being only to be selfishly determinedly for her to return to his place for a nightcap.  When on the verge of passing out or too immersed in drunken lethargy, the man makes his move with uninvited, unwanted show of handsy affection.  That’s when Cassandra springs her trap.  Feigning inebriation, the clearheaded Cassandra rouses a sobering, befuddled moment of blank expression, misplaced justification, and anger when the man’s seemingly easy lay catches them in an unsolicited sexual violation.  Her traumatizing past has molded her to become very good at pretending to be vulnerable until hearing a familiar name of a man, long thought to be out of the country, sends Cassandra down an itemized path of vengeance that not only includes ruining the life of the source of her unorthodox, yet necessary, campaign but also clump in every facet associated in with his shining existence.

If you needed a slap across the face in order to reassert yourself from the painful numbness of incessant news stories of young women being the vilified victims of sexual assault then “Promising Young Woman” is a stinging hot whack of four fingers, a thumb, and an open palm of wake the hell up!  From Emerald Fennel in her debut written and directed full length feature film comes a blunt narrative of systemic injustice involving rape and the social delusions stemmed out of grades of maturity, lengths of time, and levels of alcoholic drinking.  Coming off fresh from her recent role on Netflix’s period biographical drama, “The Crown,” Fennel draws motivation for her black comedic thriller from the infamous Brock Turner case of sexual assault on Chanel Miller that turned into a conviction judgement with abhorrent caveat in his early release for good behavior that the white, educated, star athlete’s life shouldn’t be destroyed because he’s a promising young man [sic].  “Promising Young Woman” targets every broken system that is meant to protect violated women despite their socializing determined conscious or unconscious state of affairs and has some mega star powers producing the social commentary material in such with “Suicide Squad” and “Bombshell” star, Margot Robbie, under her co-founded LuckyChap Entertainment along with the film’s star, Carey Mulligan, as executive producer. FilmNation Entertainment’s Glen Basner and Ben Browning fully finance the first real award contender of a 2021 release.

“Promising Young Woman” has an all-star, diverse class of actors surrounding principle lead, “Drive’s” Carey Mulligan as the methodically standoffish Cassandra, caught in a web of denial, self-depreciation, and straight up ignorance of the hurt caused directly and indirectly to whichever means to satisfy their own different shades of gray conscious. Mulligan is terrific as a coarse character rare to be juxtaposed against a veneer of bubble-gum chic with a reserved demeanor outside her burning the midnight oil working hours and coming out like a ferocious grizzly bear when calling out club scouting douchebags on their objectionable behavior. When Cassandra crosses paths with Ryan, comedian and “Eighth Grade” writer and director, Bo Burnham, Mulligan’s range is tested to take that disinterested and glassy eyed crusader and turn to a state of daily conformist complacency, the very dangerous thing Cassandra seeks to rectify one man after another, that slips Cassandra out temporary from her anti-heroine role until her dolled up, doughy eyes snap toward the camera and into a kill mode that goes straight for the pervert’s throat. An inclusive cast speaks volumes on not only how “Promising Young Woman” incorporates different ethnic and genre backgrounds and ages, but also doesn’t throw man to completely under the bus as Satan’s puppet on Earth with performances from Laverne Cox (“Orange is the New Back”), Alfred Molina (“Spider-Man 2”), Jennifer Coolidge (“American Pie”), Clancy Brown (“Starship Troopers”), Adam Brody (“Jennifer’s Body”), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (“Kick-Ass”), Alison Brie (“Scream 4”), Connie Britton (“American Horror Story”), and Molly Shannon (“Hotel Transylvania”).

“Promising Young Woman” wields a powerful theme to shed a brilliant light on everything that is fragmented with the way sexual assault accusations, trials, and punishments are handled.  The film also probes deep into the soul in how people who are not directly affected digest sexual assault but become accomplice in proximity in a range exhibited from complete, unnerving guilt to locking away the events in their mind in order to forget.  Fennel plausibly fashions a motif of passing judgement from assailant to victim while chiseling out the flawed logic in each deplorable excuse as to why a University Dean, a defense lawyer, and a good friend could cold-heartedly denounce, and frankly not lift one single finger threaded with moral fiber about, a young woman’s accusations.  The unpleasantry core of “Promising Young Woman’s” topical subject is nestled inside a sparklingly and colorful cladded showcase, housing an energetic and upbeat arrangement around a dark tone that, in a way, reflects the pretense goggles most see through to avoid any responsibility or conflict.   Empathy never seems to run it’s course as Fennel treads without fear on a mission to take back the blasted to smithereens dignity by deconstructing and exposing every unjust particle in this atypical rape-revenge thriller robust with heart paraded on by an ugly truth.

Remember when I said this film is a slap in the face wake up call? It’s more of a gut check, a conversation starter, and a watershed moment rolled up into one and now “Promising Young Woman” will land right into all the living room smart television sets in America with a Friday, January 15th VOD release from Focus Feature films. The rated R, 113 minute runtime release presented in a 2.39:1 aspect ratio will available for a 48-hour rental on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Vudu, Fandango, and Google Play, but if you don’t want to wait and want to brave a pandemic climate, select theaters have showings available. Benjamin Kracun’s camerawork, shot on an Arri Alexa, offers a lush and delicate milieu surrounding Cassandra who, with a Panavision lens, gleams in the scene and the soundtrack, comprised of early 2000’s pop inspired from Spice Girls, Paris Hilton, and even a strained violin rendition of a Britney Spears track, cues moments of levity before annihilating the live of the blank conscious. As far as special features go, there were no bonus materials or scenes included. “Promising Young Woman” revamps the way women approach vigilante justice with a candy coated shell and the maestro behind it all, Emerald Fennel, aims to redact or nullify the expression promising young man to no longer be a part of the conversation.

Pre-order “Promising Young Woman” on Blu-ray or DVD. Watch it on VOD come January 15th

Money is the Root of All EVIL! “Beasts Clawing at Straws” reviewed! (Blu-ray / Artsploitation Films)

A middle-aged man working a meager job at a gentleman’s bathhouse finds a Louis Vuitton bag full of money when routinely checking the storage lockers at closing.  Unsure about what to do with the money, he stows the bag away in the backroom and continues a moral, yet pauper’s, life while dealing with financial and family troubles at home.  Meanwhile, a border customs agent finds himself in severe debt with an unstable loan shark after his girlfriend skates and disappears with a large borrowed sum.  With a week to come up with the money, plus interest, he calls upon his distant cousin to assist in scamming a scammer who illegally came into some money, but things go awry when an overly friendly and clingy cop begins to snoop around.  Lastly, a prostitute grinds tirelessly to work off a large debt her abusive husband continues to blame her for with night after night beatings.  She jumps into bed with a young, handsome foreigner and her eager to support female boss to off her husband and collect the insurance money.  Yet, these troubled souls find that sticking to their convictions doesn’t always bode well as the unexpected happens in a blink of an eye.

The Asian film machine has mastered the art of the crime thriller from a proven track record that began with Akira Kurosawa films, if not even before that, and has chronically grown stronger, and sometimes more peculiar, with choice stylistic elements, suggestive themes, and extreme violence that has garnered, to much disdain, Westerner attention over the last 20 years with films like Park Chan-wook’s “Oldboy” and Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s “Internal Affairs” being Americanized with a Hollywood remake.  With that being said in an upward trend of remakes spilling over the edge, there would be no eye-brow raising surprise if the introductory film, the tri-narrative crime drama idiomatically titled “Beasts Clawing at Straws,” from South Korean filmmaker, Kim Yong-hoon, will one day grace the English silver screens in a diluted variation of a Brad Pitt featured carbon copy.  Based of the Keisuke Sone neo-noir novel of the same name, Kim Yong-hoon’s pulpy impression of against-the-wall misdeeds is dog-eat-dog dark comedy gold.  “Beasts Clawing at Straws” is produced by Jang Won-seok (“The Gangster, The Cop, and The Devil”) and is a production of Megabox Plus M films (“Zombie for Sale”) and B.A. Entertainment.

The three prong, greed-catapulting narrative converge characters separately at first and then string them linearly together when the picture becomes clearly what exactly each one of them is chasing, but every story is magnetized to a single focal point, a person under immense pressure, stress, and the malice forces that thirst for their humility, kinetically embarking on the bad choice choo-choo steaming toward the station of vary bad things.  Bae Seong-woo stars as a downtrodden Joong-man, a middle-aged man stuck in the rut of poverty with a geriatric, browbeating mother, a fatigued wife, and busting his rump in a dead end job.  Seong-woo combats himself as a man tight rope walking the thin line of ethic principles when opportunity knocks at his door, but his ill-timed strike to grab life by the balls blows up in his face in a farce of instant karma leaves him less than what he had before.  Then there’s a Tae-young, a comfortably Governmental positioned customs agent facing a different kind of hardship when his ex-girlfriend, Yeon-hee, disappears with a borrowed lump sum of a gangster’s money and he’s left on the fence.  “Illang:  The Wolf Brigade’s” Jung Woo-sung plays into the desperate stench of the superstitious and ambitious customs agent.  Slightly cradling the severity of the situation, Jung amply positions Tae-young’s dilemma that resembles spearfishing in a barrel and he’s the fish.  The last story follows the abused wife Mi-ran, played reservedly by Shin Hyun-bin as a desperate woman looking to bank her soon-to-be dead’s insurance money.  When Mi-ran is abetted by motive-dueling pair of instigators, she finds that paying her debt can be more severe than ever imagined.  While sitting back and basking in the stir-craziness of the leads’ turmoiled chaos, the best characters of the film are the supporting roles of Kim Jun-han as an intestine devouring, fanny-pack wearing henchman, Park Ji-hwan as Tae-young’s bumbling, but begrudgingly loyal distant cousin, and Jung Man-sik as a breezy mobster with a cherry, yet malevolent disposition.  Youn Yuh-jung, Jin Kyung, Jung Ga-ram, Bae Jin-wong, and Heo Dong-won round out the cast.

Non-linear yet interconnected in story, “Beasts Clawing at Straws” hawks a Tarantino layered thriller with colorful deplorables from all walks of life and luxuries.  Kim Yong-hoon nourishes the unbridled, free-for-all nature of diving into the murky, shark-infested waters uncaged and tethered with cuts of raw steaks dangling from the pelvis area in this two wrongs don’t equal a right account of mistrusting desperation and misguided optimism.  Kim’s style echoes the likes of the popular “Pulp Fiction” filmmaker along the lines of shooting techniques and a frank view of violence to tell the frantic clutching of hanging onto what is left of tattered lives and borrowed time while disavowing pure, unadulterated nihilism by at least giving characters a grain of hope.  With any non-linear, multiple moving part films, individual aspects tend to become lost in order for pacing and “Beasts Clawing at Straws” doesn’t fall into the excluded category as factors that play into the main quandary are left hanging, such as in Yeon-hee’s circumstantial results of jetting off with a mobster’s money as the assumption is there, but nothing is fully concrete in her storyline.  The same indiscernible spousal battery stemmed from Mi-ran and her husband’s severe debt that leads to transgressions beyond marital misuse isn’t privy to the audience of how circumstances come about surrounding their predicament and we’re forced to speculate and shoulder an explanation that doesn’t quite feel justified.  However, neither of the slapdash developments hinder “Beast Clawing for Straws’” steamrolling posture to get that desirable bag full of problem-solving, filthy lucre. 

Artsploitation Films delivers a stylish and avaricious South Korea crime drama with “Beasts Clawing for Straws” into the U.S. Blu-ray home video market. The not rated BD25, high-definition 1080p release is presented in a widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, and nears the epitome of flawless. Aside from the picture slightly flickering, more noticeably on solid colored backdrops, the hue palette is absolutely gorgeous with the neon lights of South Korean cities, the breathtaking silhouettes of the natural mountains adjacent to a lifelessly still lake, and the variety of settings from an airy fish house to a modern, symmetrically designed bordello denote a keen eye by Kim Tao-sung. The South Korean language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound couldn’t be any better with a crystal clear aptitude for strong dialogue balanced in front of a robust soundtrack accompanied by deep range of ambience from fire crackling to the faint hint of rain drops audible from inside a restaurant, solidifying the depth package as well. English subtitles are available along with an English dub track in a dual channel Dolby stereo. What’s lacking with this release is bonus material as there is virtually nothing besides four Artsploitation trailers and the film’s own theatrical trailer. Parlous and deadpan funny, “Beasts Clawing at Straws” amazes as Kim Yong-hoon’s first time effort with the technical grace and the story construction that has been a paradigm for only a handful of notable directors able to execute an impeccable result.

Own “Beasts Clawing at Straws” on Blu-ray! Click the poster to go to Amazon.com

This Dinner Party Dishes the EVIL! “Happy Times” reviewed! (Artsploitation Films / Digital Screener)

A small, but affluent, Los Angeles Jewish community dine together at a Hollywood mansion in celebration of the Shabbat.  Mixed feelings about each other compounded with mixed drinks stir the emotions of heated topics, including business ventures, religious attitudes, social statuses, marital qualms, and hidden desires.  Lines are being drawn and sides are being taken when one thing leads to another and undisclosed secrets become evident in a clash of suburban violence that pits friend versus friend, colleague versus colleague, and husband versus wife to the death. 

Director Michael Mayer reminds us that you should never mix business with pleasure with a keep your friends close, but your enemies closer black comedy entitled “Happy Times.”  The brawl of survival centered around Israel immigrants living in the U.S. is the second written and directed film from Mayer, following polar oppositely against another Israel themed, 2012 picture, “Out in the Dark,” a gay drama in the backdrop of the two rival and patriarchal sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The only conflict in this 2019 thriller-com is of the gravely plentiful and concentrated kind inside a L.A. mansion turned battle arena that sees about as much confrontation as the war-torn Gaza strip.  Co-written with Guy Ayal, “Happy Times” is a collaboration produced by Erri De Luca and Paola Porrini Bisson of OH!PEN and, the Israeli born, Gabrielle and Tomer Almagor’s Urban Tales Productions in association with Michael Mayer’s own company, M7200 Productions.

The Israel-nationality cast can be an immersive experience and a sign of good faith casting from the filmmakers as well as a show of open diversity from the production studios that casting Hebrew speaking, Israel background actors implies a serious interest and respect embroidered into the project. Mayer, born in Haifa, Israel himself, is a breath of a fresh air of non-appropriation in a time where whitewashing can still be prevalent in the movie industry. Israel born actresses Shani Atias, Liraz Chamami, and Iris Bahr command the screen not only as Israeli women in lead roles, but as different personas that interact and keep lively the one night, single dinner party narrative. Chamani especially dazzles in the details as the dinner hosting socialite wife and mother, Sigal, who exacts an assertive Jewish woman with a cooped up attitude and a knack for handling her own while also worried about her social status, an extravagant exhibition of a screen trope that you might experience on shows like “The Marvelous Ms. Maisel” or movies like “The Slums of Beverly Hills,” enacted on point when she’s handing a frightened dinner guest, outside their Jewish circle and fleeing from the scene, tin foil wrapped leftovers with a wide menacingly unsure smile, while holding a medieval crossbow to go frag another party guest, in the plain view driveway. The wives’ counterparts are equally as Jewish and equally as prominent in the fold of the affair with Ido Mor as a unscrupulous businessman co-hosting the dinner, Guy Adler as a construction manager with money problems, and Alon Pdut as an unhappily married Ph.D engineer bothered by his fellow dinner guests’ lack of education and tact. In all, most of the characters are undilutedly snobbish with the exception of Sigal’s struggling actor cousin, Michael, played by Michael Aloni, whose magnified Hollywood liberalism deconstructs the Hebrew bible as racist and inaccurate among other colorful adjectives and becomes the catalyst that begins all hell breaking loose. Stéfi Celma, Mike Burstyn, Daniel Lavid, and Sophie Santi become the filament around the principle leads that strengthen the kill or be killed melee in “Happy Times.”

As if dinner parties weren’t already stressful enough, having to make trivial small talk, possibly acquaint or re-acquaint with unaccustomed faces, or pretend to enjoy the slop being served as food, “Happy Times” turns the internally exasperating dinner party debacle on its head with guests and hosts who are just too terribly comfortable with each other as volatile personalities explode like little active volcanos plumed to reach every corner of the house in a deadly playground for unstable, on-edge adults spewing their strident emotions and Mayer is able to maintain a layered pace with a narrative that’s snowballing quickly.  Where “Happy Times” struggles is the redline occurrences that trigger things to go very badly.  Though hardly trivial episodes between the guests, involving innocent infidelity affections or a slight practical joke stretched beyond devastating consequences, the harried moments afterwards diverge into a blown out result while more nefarious consequential revelations are held back, in after the fact chaos, and these differently graded spurs seem unbalanced, if not flip-flopped, in the story.  The characters themselves adequately course into being delightfully insane and as about as relatable as the internal frustration against our friendly-façade enemies, but there’s a part of me that personally wanted more development.  Military vet Avner, for example, exhibits symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as the horror sounds of war play in his head when under stress.  As he stares into oblivion when the rage fills into his face, especially by a nagging, browbeating wife who doesn’t seem to be aware of his condition, the subconscious killing-machine overcomes the mild-manner tech engineer.  There’s also Yossi’s opaque tax evasion scheme, Michael’s thespian struggles, and Mati, the late arriving Rabbi, who pockets money on the side from Yossi and Sigal that factor into an erratic equation that’s a mind field surprise every step of the way.

“Happy Times” relishes in unpredictable violence as a round table of feast or famine hatred in this dog-eat-dog thriller coming to you from the Philadelphia based distributor, Artsploitation Films. Slated for a February 9th, 2021 release, the unrated film will be presented in a widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, in a gorgeously rich color of a modest, natural color scheme. Kazakhstani cinematographer, Ziv Berkovich, distills a solid, yet uninspiring, photography of mostly still cam mixed with subtle steady cam, rooting firmly to particular rooms without capturing the flow of a big mansion, reducing much of the in clover luxuries of the hosts. The Hebrew, English and some Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital mix offers well balanced layers of audio tracks with dialogue clarity and establishing good range with depth not really set up because of the close up or medium shot frames. Guy Aya;’s score offers a good blend of a violin-screeching from a murder mystery dinner theater with the inklings of traditional Israel folk sprinkled in to create an anxiety riddled brew of trouble. There were no bonus material included with the digital screener nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. The best of times and the worst of times doesn’t compare to the bloodletting of “Happy Times” in a wildly amusing dark comedy with every impulsive-driven and tension-wrought scene chockfull with bated breath.

Pre-order “Happy Times” on DVD or Blu-ray at Amazom.com (Click the poster)

Sit Back. Relax. And Wank Off to EVIL’s “Live Feed” reviewed! (Unearthed Films / Blu-ray)

While on vacation in China, five friends traverse the local festivities and drinking holes, relaxing in the surroundings of an alien culture of their getaway destination, but when one of them accidently bumps into a depraved Chinese Triad boss, they believe to have nearly escaped a localized international incident with the help of a Japanese vacationer who seems to know quite a bit about this particular Triad boss.  To blow off steam, and to blow off some loads, the friends patron the Venus Theater, a sleazy porno theater offering 1-hour couples VIP rooms.  Their short-lived, and short-comings, visit turns into a terrifying nightmare of broadcasted kill rooms as they find themselves trapped inside the theater owned by the Triad boss for his personal snuff cinema experience and fine dining of cannibal cuisine.  Fried dong and balls are 100% MSG free. 

With a Ryan Nicholson directed film, you never know just what to expect.  From our reviews of the Vancouver native’s work, his teen slasher “Famine” was an angsty disappointment, his destitute slaughterhouse “Collar” collided technical gaffes with sordid satisfaction, and his most renowned direction on the bowling-themed retro-slasher, “Gutterballs” displayed a primal brilliance that rolled one hell of a strike down the lanes of indie filmmaking, but the late, great gore hound filmmaker always lit up our screens with a single reoccurring theme – flashes of red.  Lots and lots of red blood that is!  The blood geysers and gushes in heaps in Nicholson’s 2006 release, the written and directed, “Live Feed” that touts SOV violence in an arcane snuff style.  Co-written with his father, Roy Nicholson (“It Waits”), the self-taught, special effects prodigy bursts onto the full length feature scene with an introductory exploitation and survival horror full of ambition, insane effects, and a narrative bred specifically for fountaining blood.  Self-funded under Nicholson’s Plotdigger Films, the ”Live Feed” legacy continues to output interest in the gore and snuff subcategories with updated home video distributed releases throughout the years, keeping the resourceful, twisted humor filmmaker alive and well in our hearts and collections. 

The story revolves around five friends, or more intimately, the hapless stars of a snuff theater production, who are not the most chaste or morally concerned individuals finding themselves center stage because of their wanton whims and uninhibited fortes.  Out of the touristy Americans in a given the impression of being a strange and sordid foreign land, one of them quickly becomes established as the primary beacon of hope as an unassertive wiser in Emily played by Taayla Markell in her first lead performance.  Though their long history makes for easy persuasion into participating, from a distance, in their lewd behaviors, Emily’s hemmed in around familiar perversities derived from her good friends and even her finance.  Mike, a muscular, drug-fueled blowhard develops his crass charisma from “Stan Helsing’s” Lee Tichon, Mike’s current and former girlfriends, Sarah and Linda, in tinge of tattered relationships by Caroline Chojnacki and Ashley Schappert, and Darren, Emily’s douchebag, philandering fiancé played by “Skew’s” Rob Scattergood, lead Emily astray from her own self-preserving inner voice when their arrogance and laxed attitudes place them in hot water with a sadistic Triad Boss.  Stephen Chang fills in the gangster roll with a plastic energy that’s over-the-top and absurd just like the two women who hang off each side of his arm in hackneyed fashion, offering very little to outshine as a sadistic megalomaniac.  Luckily for the out-of-towners who are soon-to-be-goners, they coincidently meet the conversant Miles Nakamura (“Mortal Kombat: Legacy’s” Kevan Ohtski) who round houses his way through a torrent of bad guys to save his newfound American friends, but for what reason goes over our heads other than the potential guilt of knowing he left them to their demise.  Greg Chan, Mike Bennett, Ted Friend, Colin Foo and introducing boner-fide stripper, Charlene McCulloch, with an in your face pole dance rounding out the cast.   

Whether in a stroke of good luck or an ill-timely misfortune, Eli Roth’s highly popular and profitable “Hostel” was released a year earlier in 2005 and while Nicholson’s surely cantered behind that gore porn locomotive in the early 2000’s that sauntered a path for many filmmakers to make unbridled torture and tits productions in the wake, “Hostel” undoubtedly provided some hinderance by scraping some of the shock value from off the sticky theater venue floors of “Live Feed.”  The characters were also nothing to write home about, or in this case, to write highly about, as the circumstances that churn the dynamics amongst their closed circle friendship don’t dissolve until well onto the cusp of being dismembered and thus becoming a moot investable or relatable venture that was, in a way, still crawling for the finish line with spotty payments on Darren and Emily’s acute about-face relationship, the only turbulent character context that saw contentious action.  Yet, there is wonder why “Live Feed” even attempts to brittle or outright break the bonds between friends and lovers in a film that’s all about the blood, about the blood, no trouble, as I channel my Megan Trainor phrases that probably sounds better in my head than in my review.   Unless Emily and Darren’s woes play later into the story, as a point of significant break from the other or in a glimmer of salvaging something between them, the purpose is purposeless and the blood should pool together the entire snuff narrative without an emotional hiccup.  Speaking of blood, the effects between Jason Ward (“American Mary”) and Ryan Nicholson couldn’t have been better executed with a pliable, tangible, and free from visual imagery arsenal at their fingertips with prosthetics upon prosthetics of grisly skirmish matter.

“Live Feed” has it all:  cannibalism, decapitations, sex, bondage, medieval torture, kung fu, snakes, pole dancing, barbecued penis, sword play, a “Big Trouble in Little China” old man Lo-Pan lookalike, and gallons of spattering blood.  All of the above now arrives uncut and uncensored onto an Unearthed Films Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release.  The region A BD50 presents the transfer in a widescreen, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, enclosed with various formatted styles from the poor resolution of SOV to a full-bodied and unstrained digital playback lit up with vibrant neon lightening by director of photography, Sasha Popove, to create an illuminating florescent color splay of a universal Asian urban district.  The sundry of styles can be weighty on the sequences that challenge what should be natural segues into the next scene, but the format choices, from mostly handheld vantage points, interrupt the flow with a nonsensical fluidity.  Unearthed Films amassed a legacy-stamping amount of extra content with a commentary with Ryan Nicholson and cast, a making-of segment entitled “Behind the Blood” which is geared toward being a tell-all on how they spun and produced “Live Feed’s” fruition, a return to the Venus Theater location with a low-key walkthrough of scene locations and you get a little X-rated show during a live project run, deleted scenes, alternate scenes and ending, the video feed footage, photo gallery, trailers, and a short film entitled “Womb Service” of the softcore feature playing background of the feature story. There’s also an “Adult version” of “Live Feed” in the bonus material that includes the original runtime feature but with edited in hardcore footage; however, personally, did not notice any sultry inserts. Maybe they’re brief and missable…? In the experience unravelling Ryan Nicholson’s work, “Live Feed” is the filmmaker’s second best movie with wholehearted intention to jazz it up with as much blood and exploitation as possible and his loss, as a person and an exorable filmmaker with room for ghoulish growth we’ll never experience, stings to this day.

“Live Feed” blu-ray now on sale at Amazon.com. Click the cover to go to Amazon.