Alkis Vidalis made friends while serving time in prison. Friends, in the very loose sense of the word, with a corrupt and wealthy businessman, Daniel Bezerianos. When Alkis’s freedom is granted, he’s quickly picked up by Bezerianos’ gangster enforcers to contrive a public viral video with Alkis delivering a verbal message that would exonerate the still imprisoned crime boss and put the blame solely on a rival kingpin, Joseph Forkou. Held in Bezerianos’ rural porn studio building, Alkis commits to the plan that will, for now, save his own skin and as he’s going through the numerous takes to get an absolute resounding performance that will surely free Bezerianos, in the back of his mind, he knows will be undoubtedly be disposed of once his use to Bezeriano has dried up. Alkis’s fight tooth and nail survival and plan-as-he-goes quick thinking must ensure his fate through a multi-level building and a slew of heavily armed henchmen from two criminal factions who all want him dead before the video is uploaded to the internet cloud.
Not many Greek films come across my desk as a reviewer, but when they do show up at the door or in the mailbox, extreme anticipation salivation to pop the disc in the player and hit play begins its rampant course through the core of my body and shoots straight up to my bloodshot eyeballs. Dimitris Tsilifonis’ “Do It Yourself” is no exception as the 2017 action-thriller challenges us to take matters, big or small, into our own hands when push comes to shove and backed into a corner. Written and directed by Tsilifonis, the filmmaker takes the point in his first feature opportunity, aiming high and executing a non-linear, non-formulaic storyline that will keep viewers guessing how, what, when, why and who. “Do It Yourself” seizes the system as a calculated thrill ride that’ll entertain, equaling the same amount of narrative hip-slinging causticity of the last Greek film ventured by Its Bloggin’ Evil, a zomedy known as “Evil: In the Time of Heros” starring Billy Zane and directed by Yorgos Noussias.
As a small time pawn, Alkis Vidalis has prowess in formulating plans quickly; they may not go accordingly and he may break a nose or a leg in the process, but Alkis, like a cat, always seems to land on his two feet when in a skirmish with hired henchmen, coming out bloody but on top. Alkis isn’t a killer but has to become one in order to survive and even though he’s the central character to the story, mystery shrouds around him in what drives the favorable anti-hero to not cower and stay alive other than pure, animal instinct. Konstadinos Aspiotis has the chops to bring Alkis to the screen and express that oxymoronic quality of unsure confidence in Alkis’s mob misadventure. Tsilifonis writes voice over monologue in Alkis’s voice, as if he’s telling a story to the audience, for exposition purposes that describe the setup and the characters which fundamentally weakens the film, but for this particular tale, the voice over monologue is warranted. Aspiotis has numerous interactions with various characters but more so with Makis Papadimitriou as Peter, a low-level enforcer trying to make a name for himself. More like a caretaker than an enforcer, Peter has one job: to make Alkis think they’re friends and then kill him. However, Peter, who isn’t necessarily a screw up, fudges his task and caught in one of Alkis’ fly by the seat of your pants plans. The character is etched with more a selfish attitude toward everything when the tables turn on him and Papadimitriou cultivates all of Peter’s self-regarding desires into the correct power and survival categories while his dynamic with Alkis is looking at himself in a mirror. They mirror so much so that both characters receive their own perspective of the same event. Other characters intertwine with the two leads and they’re played by Mirto Alikaki, Christos Loulis, Argyris Xafis, Panos Koronis, and Themis Panou.
Tsilifonis script has an affinity for pop culture, referencing various films and TV shows by name, such as Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” or HBO’s “Game of Thrones” for example, to juxtapose events and/or characters on a mafia level. Films and television shows are not alone in this homage of iconography as social media websites and their viral and trendy sensations are integrated into the script as table talk conversations. 4chan, Youtube, and The Fappening are particularly referenced when the editor of Alkis’s testimony, also a porn editor with an inflatable sex doll, finds the conservatively torrent side of Google’s acquisition of Youtube distasteful for edgy content and the humor in the bare exposures of star-studded private lives and photos with 4chan and The Fappening while thumb jockeying a Playstation controller in midst of conversation with Peter who seems relatively neutral about these things. Even though suavely placed, “Do It Yourself” frequently uses the pop culture tag words in excess that render them redundant and tiresome that when in retrospect, Tsilifonis could have completely omitted them and “Do It Yourself” can, well, do it itself. The only other gripe with “Do It Yourself” is if the plot takes place entirely in a porn studio, then where was the nudity? Am I wrong?
Artsploitation Films delivers another knockout thriller title from their eclectic catalogue with Dimitris Tsilifonis’s “Do It Yourself” on DVD home video, presented in an anamorphic widescreen format, 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Between Aggelos Papadopoulous’ depth defying photography and the impressive visual effects that flawlessly moves and puts a building in the middle of nowhere, the transcendence image quality is one with this release as it’s practically impossible to conclude what’s real and what a visual effect. Other visual effects of displaying Ikea like instructions on the side of a building, showing the cell phone screen next to Alkis, or having subtitles embedded into portions of the wall are unique and clever, but too far and in between that ends up being an inconsistent inconvenience. The dim tint sets the tone while still mastering the color palate. The Greek language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound allows you to hear every glass break, every ping of a bullet ricochet, and every guttural and verbal echo in the reverberating car garage through the five channels. The prominently Greek with little English dialogue is in the forefront amongst a well-balanced range and depth of sounds like hearing the muffled voices behind glasses, the soft moans and groans of porn actors behind the fake walls, and, on the other side, the high squeal of a racing tire wheel. Bonus features include a three small featurettes that revels how the camera shot elevated up from ground level to the top, another was the visual effects breakdown in creating the building structure, and the last being two deleted scenes. Dimitris Tsilifonis’ has a commentary track and 14 minute short film “The Way of Styx” is also available. “Do It Yourself” is no Bob Vila special on how to repair the seeping drips from a leaky sink with your own two God-given hands, but the Dimitris Tsilifonis film bustles with fun in a deluge of crime and betrayal and that, my friends, is a priceless enlightened experience.
Ruthless mobsters crack down hard on barkeeps, strong arming their way into seizing every bar in town. When they mess with Jo Lee-Haywood, the too cocky gangsters messed with the wrong Southern gal as Jo turns out to be Jo Pickings, one of three dames of the notorious Pickings gang. Jo tries to abide by a straighten arrow inspired by her deceased husband and four kids, but crime tugs at her violent past, scraping the good from her clean off. With the help of her brother, Boone, and her sisters, Doris and May, Jo and her family of heavily armed outlaws aim to fight back against thugs and thieves in this modern day western.
“Pickings” is the freshman film of first time feature film producer, writer, and director Usher Morgan. The contemporary gritty western is a maelstrom of goliath turf wars that’s stylized with rotoscoping and other comic book fatigues to dress Morgan’s film as an aesthetically popping story with illustrative visuals, anomalies, and raw tooth violence. The clear cut message, a fairly popular thematic motif among westerns, is don’t mess with family, even if family has been through an estranged time, and though Morgan’s theme runs a fairly conventional line, the “Sin City”-esque overlay gives “Pickings” a strong double take. What’s an especially fun and unique concept is having one of the characters, Sam “Hollywood” Barone, be exhibited in black and white while everyone else is in color as if the character was pulled straight from a Humphrey Bogart classic.
Elyse Price headlines as Jo-Lee Haywood, a wife-mother scorned by notorious gangsters, but the tough as nails mother of four runs a tight-ship when it comes to her bar and to her family. Price doesn’t hold back, taking the gut-checking hits and delivering a twice as big response with a performance of contempt and revenge. Price is joined by Joel Bernard, the sole brother of the Pickens gang whose as tough as they come, especially when you’re the only boy with three sisters. Bernard does the job matching Price’s hard nose character with his own more subtle version. The two other sisters, Doris and May played by Michelle Holland and Lynne Jordan, barely scratch the surface in an appearance that makes their characters difficult to absorb. Aside from Jo Lee-Haywood, the only other character with a significant character arc is her daughter Scarlet Lee-Haywood filled in by Katie Vincent. Vincent’s softens up against her mother’s violence despite being a passive witness to her cornered brutality, but can adhere to the akin familiarities of her family’s long and violent history. The cast rounds out with Yaron Urbas, who in my opinion is a decent mobster, Michael Gentile, and Emil Ferzola.
“Pickings” doesn’t come without problems and one of the problems is is the story concludes on a really too clean note. The inner monologuing exposition of Jo Lee-Haywood conveying her start-to-finish tale of her involvement with the three dames, Doris, May, and Jo, is a good visual like the rest of the Morgan’s film, but is just that, a good visual, and doesn’t carry the weight of suspense and becomes even more diluted when Doris and May have little interaction with Jo and barely any screen time at all to put the oomph into conveying their badassness. Aside from being obvious and telling, the gun blazing finale is also a bit underwhelming and disappointing, chocking everything to a one sided victory without any, or the hope of any, dire loss to compensate just feels empty and, again, too clean for comfort.
Courtesy of Dark Passage Films comes “Pickings” onto DVD and Blu-ray home video. The DVD is presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio that capture the neo-noir facets of shadowing figures and haunting mysteries. Morgan’s film doesn’t necessary pop with color, but that’s particularly the nature of the genre. Aside from that, no real issue with the DVD transfer. The audio is a stereo option that has an ample dialogue track and a stocky ambient accompaniment. Katie Vincent’s bootlickin’ acoustical score never wavers, cracks, or looses range. Extras include deleted scenes, filmmakers’ commentary, “The Mop” a Pickings short, a behind the scenes featurette, and a spoof reel during the end credits. Loaded with female empowerment, “Pickings” is a violent crime drama with neo-noir battle garments of two warring clans ready to get along like the Hatfields and McCoys, but the undercutting finale puts a sharp spur in one’s couch melding backside, leaving much to be desired from a women scorned vendetta.
Can you remember the last good vampire flick? Does Underworld count? My mind can’t conjure up one better than Interview with the Vampire, but of course, all of these examples are mainstream, hollywood-produce examples. Am I shunning the back alley projects? Perhaps I’ve just seen too much horror movies. I can’t recall the last indie vampire project that was actually worth a viewing. Unfortunately, I still haven’t come across such a worthy viewing even if the topic of this review is a vampire genre film called Dead Cert.
A tough London gang are ruthless when it comes to territorial disputes, taking care of their competition with merciless violence, but when an Iranian businessman comes into town, Freddy and his gang don’t know what they’re getting themselves into. The Iranian businessmen are more than just land searchers, they’re legendary vampires looking to reclaim what they claim is theirs – the London land. Freddy’s club becomes their base of operations when Freddy’s boxer Dennis loses his bout against an Iranian brute.