Don’t Let Evil Give You The Shaft! “Down” review!


One of New York City’s popular skyscrapers, the Millennial Building, is a modern marvel with 102 floors sought to be visited by national and international tourists, looking to reach the zenith and take a once-in-a-lifetime, awe inspiring gander across the Big Apple’s urban jungle landscape or seeking to be a working stiff inside the immaculate bones of the building’s historical foundation. Every day, thousands of visitors and employees ride the Millennial Building’s 73 elevators, assuming the safest ride possible to the touch the bottom of the sky, but when a deranged scientist implements a controversial biomedical computer into the building’s elevator vascular network, one tragic accident after another compiles fatal consequences within the vertical box that draws negative national attention. Elevator mechanic Mark Newman teams up with a rebellious newspaper reporter Jennifer Evans to investigate and uncover the a larger-than-life conspiracy behind a killer elevator organism.

Over three decades ago, Dutch filmmaker Dick Maas wrote, directed, and released the killer elevator film, simply titled “De Lift,” in the Netherlands. About 18 years later after his commercial success for “De Lift,” Mass spawned an American remake of the film entitled “Down,” also known as “The Shaft,” that transformed into the forgotten bastard when compared to Maas’ 1983 feature. To be frankly, “Down’s” terror-comedy knack with spunky characters and zany deaths put the 2001 remake right smack dab at the top of the repeat value charts and despite the lack of rigorous plausibility, the refreshingly no-holds barred, fun zone horror film doesn’t think twice, charging forward with gun blazing in an elevator ride to cinematic hell that shows no mercy and gives not one single care with each surpassing floor level. Be damned the backstory with meager exposition! Be damned the underdeveloped characters who are pivotal to the plot! Be damned the complexities of how the biomedical elevator system is able to live, breath, and reproduce through murder and mayhem! “Down” has a black and white, up and down glory that’s considered b-horror good that’s very reminiscent of the early films of Peter Jackson.

If you’re going to remake a killer elevator film, go big with the cast and Mass surely pulled through by signing cult genre stars of the time. Naomi Watts was just coming into the mainstream scene as she tackled well-received projects around that same time frame between David Lynch’s “Mulholland Dr.” and “The Ring” a year later, but the “Tank Girl” actress showed more than just her aesthetic assets, more than just shrieking horrific screams, and more than just displaying her big guns. In “Down,” she proved to be a gung-ho, rough-it-with-the-boys portrayer of a feisty reporter whose hot on the trail of a conspiracy helmed by surreptitious characters played Michael Ironside, who did not lose an arm in this film like he does in “Total Recall,” “Starship Troopers,” and “The Machinist,” and Ron Pearlman (“Hellboy,” “Cronos”). However, James Marshall, in the lead as the elevator mechanic, couldn’t ratchet tight a performance that called for concern and durability; instead, Marshall, known for playing James Hurley in “Twin Peaks,” schlepped clumsily on screen compared to the aggressively hungry Watts. Eric Thal (“The Puppet Masters”), Dan Hedaya (“Alien: Resurrection”), Edward Herrmann (“The Lost Boys”), and Kathryn Meisle (“Basket Case 2”) round out the remaining cast.

“Down’s” commercial success was plunging disaster. Reasons ranging from a flimsy premise to being an unconventional horror to the genre were, more than likely, not the major players in “Down’s” inability to elevate an audience. More so, the reasons stem solely between one or two factors, if not both. For one, Maas writes New Yorkers as belligerent morons, cocky, greedy, and deranged. Many of the characters are like this and if there was any that embodied any sliver of rationality or humanitarian attributes, there screen time was quick and fruitless. Secondly, though “Down” released in the spring of 2001, a film set in a New York City high rise with multiple mentions of terrorists and even verbally conveying a foiled plot to take down the twin towers probably hurt the film’s home entertainment value to the point where a DVD release didn’t surface until a good two years after the theatrical premiere.

Aside from all the delays, harsh reviews, and a shoddily cropped Artisan DVD release, Blue Underground delivers a godsend presenting “Down” on Blu-ray/DVD combo. The 1080 HD on a BD 50 dual layer disc has a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio and radiates with clarity; so clear, that I had a hard time placing the year as the image certainly outshines most turn of the century products. An immense amount of detail just exemplifies the extraordinary content without appearing as a discount deal for special effects. Audio options include an English and French 5.1 DTS-HD and an English and French Dolby Digital stereo with both including optional English SDH subtitles and Spanish subtitles. The amount of range is leaps and bounds beyond the Artisan’s par quality with the 5.1 channelling maximized quality and clarity. Dialogue track is clear and free from obstructions with the only stain being the horrendously dubbed diner jerk that punches James Marshall in the face, but that’s not necessary a make or break blemish. Bonus materials include audio commentary with writer-director Dick Maas and stunt coordinator Willem de Beukelaer, the making of “Down,” behind-the-scenes footage that’s exclusive to the Blu-ray, theatrical trailer, poster and still gallery, and teaser trailers of upcoming releases. The casing itself harnesses a collectible booklet with new essays by Michael Gingold. “Down” finally shines through with a stellar release from Blue Underground, a leader in restoring and releasing cult films. If in the mood for a story without much thought while desiring to choke on out of this world terror-comedy then “Down” is a must on the upcoming marquee!

Own “Down” on Blu-ray!

Oscar Wilde’s Not-So-Evil…”The Canterville Ghost” review!


An ambitious physics professor Hiram Otis obtains a research grant that requires him to study in England, pulling his wife, daughter, and two young boys from their Indiana home into a strange new world. In an age of obsolete aristocracy, the Otis family is able to afford rent at the grand Canterville Hall, a legendary castle with an infamous tale of death and suspicion that also might have resulted in being an affordable estate for the American family. Legend records have it that the lord of the castle, Sir Simon de Canterville, had subsequently killed his wife due to his obsessions and became the victim of his wife’s family spiteful vengeance by being chained to a dungeon cell. For 400 years, Sir Simon remained in that cell and his ghost haunts Canterville Hall, but despite their beliefs in the supernatural, the physics professor and his wife can’t see the ghost and only their teenage daughter and two young boys are able to witness him roam the halls, haunting those who live within the castle walls.

Every once and awhile, we’ll thoroughly review a light-hearted fantasy, horror, or sci-fi film and since we’re hot off the heels of the review for Wes Craven’s “Summer of Fear,” the made-for-television train might as well keep chug-chug-chugging alone with the 1996 TV movie adaptation of the Oscar Wilde novella, “The Canterville Ghost.” Distributed by ABC, the Sydney Macartney (as Syd Macartney) directed and Robert Benedetti teleplay written installment tries to differentiate itself and standout amongst a plethora of adaptations that span across the globe, but the American Broadcast Company, a subsidiary of the great and powerful Disney, aimed to separate from the masses by adding star studded power and the result brought a rejuvenation to the ye old tale over two decades ago.

The big name headliner is none other than Captain Jean-Luc Picard himself, Patrick Stewart, two years after his 7-year stint on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Stewart, who co-produced the film, adds his theatrical flair and is absolutely brilliant shaping drama monologues into dense thickets that define Sir Simon de Canterville’s ghost, but there’s an issue; the problem doesn’t lie with Patrick Stewart, but with how Benedetti’s teleplay expos from the story as a continuous, if not slightly jumbled, stream of old English that just feels like rambling. To alleviate that strain is Stewart’s co-star Neve Campbell to add a softer, glassy-eyed touch to the story with a pinch of plain jane American girl insecurities, characterized in Wilde’s story as Virginia Otis. Perhaps in the beginning portion of the height of her career, Campbell finds herself between “Party of Five” and hitting scream queen status as Sydney Prescott in “Scream,” but the “Wild Things” actress wasn’t that sultry or that chased in “The Canterville Ghost” who only took upon an annoyed teenage girl persona, wishing her life was back in America up until the mysterious spirit of Sir Simon de Canterville allured a spark into her dull life. Alongside Stewart and Campbell, Daniel Betts, Ciarán Fitzgerald, Raymond Pickard, Cherie Lunghi, Donald Sinden, Joan Sims, and the late Edward Wiley, who died shortly before the film’s premiere, costar.

Going into “The Canterville Ghost” was nothing short of knowing nothing other than the fact the Patrick Stewart and Neve Campbell were in the lead roles of a Disney backed, family film and to be completely honest, Macartney’s vision completely underwhelms. Along with the verbose nature of the script-to-teleplay alterations, the magical supernatural portions are inarguably cheap, even for television. The simple superimposing of Sir Simon de Canterville offered no stimulation as the the two scenes just didn’t splice together well to seamlessly make the grade. Firecracker explosions and party store cobwebs dilute even thinner the already slim pickings of special effects that top when Virginia Otis crosses over into a dense fogged ghostly realm thats chopped, cropped, and edited with such disorganization, the entire scene feels more lost than Virginia trying to escape the other side back to the living.

Sydney Macartney’s “The Canterville Ghost” is presented for the first time ever on Blu-ray courtesy of the U.K. distributor Second Sight Films. The Blu-ray is presented in the Academy ratio of 1.33:1 with 1080p resolution on a MPEG-4 AVC BD 25. Second Sight’s release will have the best looking version of this film, if the quality is anything like the screener sent to me, with a strong color palette, minor digital noise, and rich in great detail; so detailed in fact that the blemishes on Neve Campbell and Daniel Betts can be seen. The English DTS-HD audio track is lively, but not entirely boastful with more thematic and dramatic elements. Dialogue track is clean and clear and the score by “Dead Heat” and “Tremors” composer Ernest Troost augments his fairy tale rendition into the mix. Bonus material includes new interviews with director Sydney Macartney and producer-writer Robert Benedetti. Second Sight’s presentation of Hallmark Entertainment’s “The Canterville Ghost” has strong Blu-ray technical potential, but despite the big names of that time period and a visually stimulating setting, the fantastic adventure through a cursed ghost’s melodrama and a bored young girl’s tenure of self discovery unfortunately didn’t rivet with excitement or wonder, losing steam with it’s important message that life is more than being in a bubble of stagnant disappointment and guilt.

Evil Scores Big by Burning Rubber! “Death Race 2050” review!

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In the dystopian America of 2050, commercialism presides over the middle and lower classes in the constructed wasteland that is United Corporation of States led by an impeccable and blood thirsty Chairman. A popular, carnage-laden sport known as the high octane Death Race has become beloved by all Americans, giving them an escape from their mundane and pitiful existence. The Death Race is simple: war-modified cars trek across the United Corporation of States in a 3-day race to score points by running down citizens of an overpopulated nation as an encouraged way of resetting the out of control producing rate and racers can also seek glory to reach the finish line with best time. Four-time champion, Frankenstein, is the returning crowd favorite and seeks to win a fifth crown, unless the powerful and conniving Chairman decides otherwise.
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Under Universal Studio’s filmic sequel and reboot sublabel, Universal 1440 Entertainment’s “Death Race 2050” is a rip-roaring start toward 2017’s best intense action cinema and despite being pre-labeled as just another diluted and benign remake of the Roger Corman produced, Paul Bartel directed “Death Race 2000” from 1975, the modern day G.J. Echternkamp directed and co-directed film with Matt Tamashita honorably doesn’t lose the rich, yet full of cheap thrills, heritage that makes the original “Death Race” so fun, so entertaining, and so campy keeping the pandemonium on four high-performance, face-shearing tires. Even though Death Race has been quiet for over thirty years since 1975, the last decade has been riddled with Death Race films produced by the legendary low-budget filmmaker Roger Corman and all have been complimentary exclusive in their charm, mayhem, and versions of the lead character Frankenstein to thrill audiences, but it’s “Death Race 2050” that revs in true remake fashion of similar plot structure that changes all but one character.
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New Zealander Manu Bennet carries the torch in portraying the original character Frankenstein, a four time champion with a leather covered body that’s been ravaged and cybernetically repaired from previous race crashes. Manu’s charisma and rugged image will win over audiences as he perfectly embodies a conflicted champion on the brink of doing what’s right; a tone very similar in all “Death Race” films. Manu is paired with actress Marci Miller, as Frankenstein’s passenger proxy, who dishes out the good girl sex appeal with a self-reliant rind. Beyond these two characters, even with a moniker like Frankenstein, the remaining characters make Mike Judge’s “Idiocracy” a college course of rocket science! Deliveries were timely, actions were precise, and performances couldn’t have been more meticulous in scenes with Jed Perfectus, the genetically engineered and ambiguous pretty boy played by Burt Grinstead, Minerva Jefferson, the wealthy ghetto rapper forged to life by Folake Olowofoyeku, and with Tammy the Terrorist, a cult leader with a celebrity high power portrayed by 2007’s “The Signal’s” Anessa Ramsey. The relatively unknown cast is whole-heartedly glued together by the flamboyant performance of “Clockwork Orange’s” and “31’s” Malcolm McDowell as the Chairman.
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One could take a good stab in the dark on what the quality of the effects would be like for any Roger Corman produced film. In this instance, “Death Race 2050” channels much of Corman’s style with Echternkamp and his visual effects supervisor Anthony J. Rickert-Epstein (“Sharktopus vs. Whalewolf”) supplying rotoscope blood and dismemberments that pin-pricks a visual stimulate into the vein of the snobbiest of film aficionados and can be on an everlasting high. The simple, but effect, gasoline based pyrotechnics attest to the dedication of the crew and to the stunt work to know that if they miss their spot, they’re literally toast. However, the sometimes choppy, rapid editing drains some of the juice from the kills that attempt to piece coherent death sequences with humor and action. In fact, “Death Race 2050” redlines just like the modified, manslaughter vehicles used to rundown babies and the elderly to score points by quickly jumping to the next segment in order to sustain all the gory story’s girth.
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“Death Race 2050” is adrenaline flowing wildly adjacent with gasoline, exploding with gore, and is terrifically enjoyable. Echternkamp’s script bares no sense with the sensitivities, secreting American wealth, greed, and stupidity in an environmentally degraded America filled with large high fructose corn syrup soda, an addictive cheese whiz byproduct, and borders that are named after corporate conglomerate of brands such as Walmart or Texaco. Universal’s R rated Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD release of the New Horizon film is an 1080p of the 1.78:1 widescreen presentation that makes the film look cheap due it’s hi-def attributes. The image quality is sleek and vibrant with a wide range of rainbow hues and the definition doesn’t ever thrown in the towel. The three option audio selection that consists of an English DTS-HD Master Audio has a lossless appetite that delectable distinguishes the channels where explosions are bombastically LFE and the gory parts are viscerally squishy. The dialogue is surprisingly clear through the amount of chaos. Bonus features include “The Making of Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050,” “The Look of 2050″ featurette,” a closer look at the cars in a segment entitled “Cars! Cars! Cars!,” a cast car tour, and deleted scenes. Even if the story’s timing is a spastic, “Death Race 2050’s” a guilty pleasure from start to finish line under the caustic cinematic eye of Roger Corman!
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Buy it today on Bluray/DVD/Digital HD!

Evil Takes a Ride! “The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun” review!

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Dany Doremus, a lonely secretary roped in by her boss to work on a big project at his home, steals her boss’s car for a joyride to the sea as her boss and his family go away on holiday. When she makes numerous stops from town to town, the townsfolk approach her, claiming and swearing they know her even though she’s never been to this particular area before. If things couldn’t get weirder or even more suspenseful, a dead body is discovered in the car’s trunk. Dany wonders if she’s deranged and crazy or just a part of a some elaborate murder mystery conspired against her.
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“The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun” is a remake of the 1970 Anatole Litvak film of the same title. Though I’ve never seen the original Litvak film based off the award winning crime novel by Sebastien Japrisot, I’m sure director Joann Sfar’s film doesn’t stray much from the main artery that is the story, but Sfar spices up the tale through the addition of a young and feverishly heart-throbbing cast of actors and actresses. A murder mystery that sells sex more than thrills, Joann Sfar explicitly has Scottish born actress Freya Mavor and “Nymphomaniac’s” Stacy Martin do more than their fair share being sex symbol and straining the barrier of sexual tension, especially with a couple of highly eroticized topless scenes from both actresses. In a bombardment of thigh high mini skirts and tight at the waist dresses, the film setting is to reflect the 1960s to 1970s time period where if the story was in the technology age, “The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun” might have had a totally different outcome.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Like any good crime novels or films, noir plays a bit part and with the Sfar remake, noir is ever present from beginning to end. Dany’s noir scenario has her being plagued by a retraced trip she’s never initially taken, being roughed up by a glove-wearing mystery person in a duo of giallo familiar scenes, and discovering a dead body in the trunk of her boss’s Thunderbird. All the pieces come together to form one big elaborate undertaking with the big twist at the end and while I’m not sure if the novel and the Litvak film do marvelous work in the detail to wrap Dany’s adventure, I feel Sfar’s missed the mark by not filing in the holes that construct a twist ending. Maybe Japrisot’s novel a bit vague too, but there’s certainly multiple voids that needed to be filled to plausibly and logically explain the ending.
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As I said before, Freya Mavor’s sexiness couldn’t be any more potent. The relatively young in the industry actress has tons of potential outside the European film market. Stacy Martin has been on that fringe of the industry since her controversial breakout role in Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac.” Both Mavor and Martin work well together, creating the tension between their characters while pulling off a lustrous vision. The male lead playing Michael, Benjamin Biolay, reminds me of a young Benicio del Toro with a very reserved demeanor and calculating coldness about him.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Magnolia Pictures proudly releases the remake of “The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun” in limited theaters across the nation today, December 18th, and will also be available on demand. Another variation of an award winning story with modern actors set in a time period that has been long forgotten, “The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun” stimulates the whodunit objective that keeps you on the edge of your seat for every second.

All Evil Plans End Tragically. “Reckless” review!

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Ex-cons Victor (Tygo Gernandt) and Rico (Marwan Kenzari) kidnap a young woman named Laura (Sarah Chronis) in hopes to extort a four million dollar cash payout from her wealthy father. The two men are methodical, precise, and focused on their task, constructing a sound proof room, buying burner cell phones, and keeping one step ahead of their captive’s thoughts on escape. Keeping her tied to the bed in a vacant apartment, Victor and Rico don specific roles in their plan; Victor leaves the apartment to negotiate the ransom while Rico oversees their money making hostage. When Laura cleverly works on getting the upper hand on one of them, she discovers that there might be a secondary plan involving her willing participation and leaving the other ex-con high and dry without a payday. Victor and Rico hold a surprising secret amongst themselves as well, making this crime thriller a cat-and-mouse game between the three where tensions are high, trust is low, and the end game won’t be pretty.
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The Netherlands thriller directed by Joram Lürsen seems to be the polar opposite from the director’s previous directorial work. The “Reckless” niche focuses on being tight and concise. The film only credits three actors: Tygo Gernandt, Marwan Kenzari, and Sarah Chronis. That’s it and there isn’t even a voice over from a phone call or anything else of the sort, forcing the actors to only work off each other instead of being able to pick and choose who to bank off their banters and abilities. Secondly, the majority of the setting is in this small apartment that has become Laura’s cell which becomes another tight spot, literally. Finally, the story focuses on minor details with strict guiding dialogue that pieces together the story’s outcome and doesn’t make the plot wander into oblivion.
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The story, which is a remake of the 2009 British thriller “The Disappearance of Alice Creed,” strives off being simplistic; a kidnapping for ransom gone awry. However, there lies a mid act twist that keeps the situation fresh where constantly guessing to the real intentions of the characters is more fun than actually watching the ploy play out. Tygo Gernandt perfectly fits into the shoes of Victor by portraying the role extremely well of a hardened and a rule rigorous ex-con. Marwan Kenzari as Victor’s accomplice Rico relieves the other half of the tension Tygo’s aura emits with his soft eyes and gentle appeal toward Laura, but Rico scrambles to keep Tygo under control and that creates nail biting scenes between the three actors. Sarah Chronis as Laura offers so much to the table being the golden nugget for Victor and Rico, being their ticket for a new life in another part of the world. Chronis conveys being naive, conniving, and afraid well and acts upon her forced nudity with proper accordance to the situation and also uses her nudity, seductively and convincingly, to plan her intended escape.
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However, where “Reckless” strives on being a successful crime thriller, it’s also the film’s ultimate downfall and suffers sequentially from “Psycho” syndrome. Remember when Gus Van Sant remade Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” nearly shot for shot and critics condemned Van Sant’s film? The same situation happens upon “Reckless” where nearly every character quality has become a carbon copy from “The Disappearance of Alice Creed.” Yes, “Reckless” is a true to form remake and a good reproduction as well, but for the Lürsen film to stand out, to be something more, “Reckless” doesn’t break the established mold. Instead, the film relies on it’s actors to accomplish a more riveting appeal and that’s hard to do when Eddie Marsan, Martin Compston, and Gemma Arterton already made a great first impression in the original.
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The Artsploitation Films distributes “Reckless” in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio with super clear picture quality. The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio mix clearly appropriates the dialogue from the ambience form the soundtrack. The optional English subtitles sync well with the Dutch language track. I’m a little disappointed in the DVD cover as it resembles something that Dimension Films would have produced back in the early 2000s and doesn’t really speak to the film’s thrilling storyline. Overall, “Reckless” is a quality remake release for Artsploitation Films and for production company Topkapi Films that gave alternative, yet still quality, actors a chance to redo a role already grounded and established.