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.
Before being butchered in the woods of a small town, a frightened young woman, Lexie, sends her estranged Uncle Dominic a letter desperately asking for his help. Plagued by his own dark past and a penchant for being hot tempered, Dominic drags his wild, coked up daughter Kendall to his quaint home town which he had long ago abandoned. Most town folk don’t want Dominic snooping around, investigating a town that faces a sinister murder spree under the unmotivated supervision of a perversive and power hungry eye of the local sheriff. Dominic’s anger rages on, fueled by sheer vengeance, as he searches answers for the cause of his niece’s untimely and gruesome death in which three strips of her flesh were torn from her bloodstained thigh, but the closer he gets to the unbearable truth, those closest to him are swallowed by the town’s harboring unimaginable secret and that’s when Dominic’s true violent calling becomes unleashed upon the unsuspecting locals.
Self-described as a “modern, Midwesternized spin on the Giallo,” Jakob Bilinski’s “Three Tears on Bloodstained Flesh” is the writer-director’s comprehensive ode to the multifaceted cult genre. Set on location in Evansville, Indiana, Bilinski unapologetically implores an outrageous white trash horror story that can drop just as many F-bombs and be just as sadistically crude as any Rob Zombie production, but on an indie budget. A budget with unlimited constraints when pinpointing a genre identity as “Three Tears on Bloodstained Flesh” has the word play of a Giallo-like inspired title, even accompanied with masked antagonist armed with a switchblade in a complex plot, but also sharply pivots and dabbles heavily in subgenres such as the revenge thriller, the occult, and torture porn that engages a plot twist, after plot twist, after plot twist up until the very end.
Bill Gobin stars as Dominic and Gobin’s appearance and actions channel very similarly that of Michael Chiklis’ Vic Mackey from F/X’s hit cop drama “The Shield,” but with an important piece of Dominic missing to fully sell the performance. Dominic’s tender melancholy moments of his lost Lexie are to bring out the human side in a cold and stern tough guy, but Gobin lacks that rightful emotion, replacing the tearjerking moments with more of the icy blank stare used in just about ever other scene and to the point where Gobin just might smack his tears back into his tear ducts. Kendall (Kayla Crance) is the constant bittersweet thorn in Dominic’s life as the father and daughter are more like father versus daughter. Crance challenges Gobin very well, even overpowering him in select scenes, protruding a defiant brat without an inkling of remorse until bodies start to really pile high. While Dominic and Kendall are certainly scribed as emotionless mavericks, Stella (Angela Steel) brings us down to a more sensible and realistic character who grieves for her slain daughter with alcohol and depression while also rekindling a once extinguished flame in a surprising twist of events. The best character performance overall goes to Jim Dougherty as the local sheriff who can stand toe-to-toe with Dominic and spitfire insults between Dominic and Sheriff Rex scribed very well for the Indiana University studied actor. Rounding out the cast is Scott Ganyo, Rosalind Rubin, and Grant Niezgodski.
Perhaps a little too ambitious trying to compact a endless frontier, Grand Theft Auto world story into over two hours, clocking in at 142 minute runtime, that feels every minute of it. There’s, perhaps, too much going on here with the potluck genres and plot twists that once the apex of the story has finally been reached, the first acts take on a whole different significance that doesn’t build to the necessary resulting finale that ultimate defines Dominic who, in the beginning, starts off strong, a tough guy who doesn’t take crap from anyone and that’s including his rebellious daughter Kendall, but then flounders just after reaching the small town, interacting passively with his sister Stella and a few townies, to the point where Dominic is just an inquisitive visitor. Dominic’s purpose is the push, push, push the town folk into giving the answers he seeks, like Porter tracking down his share of the stolen money in “Payback;” instead, Dominic’s is the one being pushed to the point of breaking and, finally, then do we see the Dominic’s dark side and his particular skill set in torture and manipulation.
Unearthed Films and MVDVisual presents a not rated 2-disc DVD collector’s edition of Jakob Bilinski’s “Three Tears on Bloodstained Flesh.” The 2014 Cinephreak production is display in widescreen, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and the image quality above par with a clean picture composited with natural color tones and colorful filters to give some Giallo cinematography charm. The CGI bloodsplatter near the end is, well, CGI, but the run of the scene is fun and brutal that the generated pseudo-blood is used appropriately. The Dolby Digital 5.1 dishes out a well-balanced concoction of ambiance, soundtrack, and dialogue, with the dialogue being clean and clear even during more intense moments. Disc one contains the feature film with option audio commentary by writer-director Jakob Bilinksi and star-producer Bill Gobin. There’s also commentary by Cinematographer DP Bonnell along with Bilinski on the track. Disc two contains even more with a making of piece entitled “Peeling Back the Flesh,” 21 deleted and extended scenes, a gag reel, auditions, and Unearthed Films trailers. Under a stellar presentation within the plentiful content of a 2-disc set from Unearthed Films and MVDVisual, “Three Tears on Bloodstained Flesh” is certainly a “modern, Midwesternized spin on Giallo,” plus much, much more when considering the other genres that might have diluted the foul-mouthed scripted story and left the focus more fuddled, but happens to maintain a fun, semi-gory approach that can’t be argued.
After Thomas’ voluptuous wife’s immaculate beauty falls victim to a horrifying and scarring fiery car accident, the sex-addicted womanizer, fueled by a constant stream of strong alcohol, dumps his maimed wife and obsessively hops from one unchaste woman to next, but in the darkest shadows lurks a hidden danger toward his newfound, unrestricted fast and loose lifestyle. A sinister plot of revenge against him begins to quickly unravel and Thomas’ stretch of unscrupulous carnal behavior is about to be ‘cut’ short because, as the ancient saying goes, “hell has no fury like a woman scored.”
Alberto Barone’s vengeful sex-thriller “Gelosia: Vendetta D’Amore” is a short film laced with irrepressible desires and consequences, doused in pure hatred and nihilism, and packaged as a vibrant grindhouse homage garnished with a tightly-knotted black bow. Milton Welsh stars as Thomas, a man on a bulldozing sexcapade, and with Welsh’s raspy, baritone voice and slick back, greasy hair makes him, on screen, the perfect, middle-aged creep, hooking up with the shameless, uninhibited women. The German born Welsh has indistinguishable looks and talents with the impeccable “Doom” and Rob Zombie “31” actor Richard Brake that brings a lot of despicable enjoyment to not only the performance, but also with the monologue by Welsh throughout the short film. Welsh’s previous credits include the 2011 remake of “Conan the Barbarian,” “Aeon Flux,” and, one of my personal favorite Norman Reedus films, “Antibodies.”
Welsh’s performing cohorts makeup solely of very well-endowed, very offensive-embracing women that include a porn star, a dominatrix, and a couple of veteran genre actresses starting with the Southern France born Manoush (actress in Marian Dora’s “Cannibal,” “Philosophy of a Knife,” and, most recently, “The Curse of Doctor Wolffenstein”) as Heidi, Thomas’ discarded wife. This dominating role didn’t feel quite right, slightly forced, from the possibility of this role not being in Manoush’s native tongue, constraining the gushes of violent emotions that should be exploding from within the character outward. Manoush directly interacts alongside “German Angst’s” Kristina Kostiv, as a very seductive Eastern European escort girl in a manner that blurs the motivations of the characters, but we’ll discuss that later in this review. Rest of the cast fills every man’s, sometime woman’s, prominent fantasy with sacrilegious Nunspolitation and naughty nerd girl scenario roles, respectively donned by Tara Rubin and German porn star Lana Vegas. Both Rubin and Vegas steal from “Gelosia’s” root message with their provocative performances that leave almost nothing to the imagination. Tattoo model Alexa van Unique gets kinky in a brief scene of dominance that’s short and sweet and gets the message across.
“Gelosia” is Italian for Jealousy, but Alberto Barone’s written and directed film doesn’t hit hard with one of humanities irrational and vile attributes. More in line with the subtitle of “Vendetta d’Amore,” aka Revenge of Love, Barone tells two-stories: One of the monologuing, sex addict that objectifies women more than he wishes to understand them and a vengeful wife with a dastardly plot of deadly retribution against him. I just don’t see jealousy as the major player this short film is titled after and that, at least for me, dilutes much of the radical content supporting the story including the naked women, the gruesome violence, and the admirable cinematography.
“Gelosia: Vendetta d’Amore” is sexy with shock value. Produced by Ingravisione, the exploitation thriller seeks to debut in late 2017! Overall, Barone’s ultra-exploitation leaves an indifferent residue with me as I’m still hung up on a few difficult to ignore hiccups, but I love the short’s perverse freedom as a whole that’s vivid and modern while staying classic in style. “Gelosia: Vendetta d’Amore” is starting to hit festivals as I type this, bringing all the castrations and sex to an arthouse theater near you!
Three backpacking American tourists and good friends Daniel, Alicia, and Chris tour through the Georgian countryside, looking for that one last hurrah before Daniel and Alicia tie the knot. When the trip seems to be going well, Chris steps on an old landmine, leaving him grounded and motionless to the spot. The next series of events will determine their fate as an psychopathic local and his Rottweiler happen upon the frightened and helpless Americans. Caught in a maniac’s twisted game, their only chance for survival is to play by the local’s Machiavellian rules or otherwise take their own life-risking chances by stepping off the a shrapnel-exploding, flesh-piercing, life-ending mine.
“Landmine Goes Click” bares no one identity. The Georgian thriller from director Levan Bakhia cleverly abridges four genres together, resulting in one intensely merciless story of unfortunate and deadly circumstance intently set to destroy one’s emotions. Bakhia teams up again with writer Lloyd Wagner, both who’ve previously worked on heated horror chiller “247°F,” and are joined by Adrian Colussi to substantiate a story that’s dices through a range of plot subdivisions from thrilling and exploitive to revengeful and tragic.
Kote Tolordava, the late Georgian actor who tragically died of a heart attack shortly after filming, defines the look and the manner of a sleazeball psychopath. A straggly comb over laid upon unkempt shoulder length hair with a stubbly five o’clock shadow that rests beneath a bushy Georgian bred mustache combined with an over extended gut stretching a bulbous silhouette in a white under shirt that’s covered with a breast opened, military-like navy colored coat sizes up Tolordava’s Iiya character as a harmless human joke, but pair that look with a loaded Remington, a muscle-laden Rottweiler, and a taste for taking advantage of the situation and you have a maniacal genius ready to reap the benefits of your misfortune. Tolordava’s wears Ilya’s clammy skin as if it’s his own, playing the local kook with a sadistic hard-on.
But Sterling Knight, as Chris, carried the film to a jarring conclusion, especially in the last acts. My initial reception of Chris was a big question, why does Chris, whose unable to move from the landmine, severely antagonize a creature like Ilya? Once the characters progress to a level of no return, to a level of depravity and maliciousness, understanding Chris was no longer an enigma and how Chris follows up with Ilya begs, absolutely begs, for retribution. Knight’s day and night performance tells tales of his acting talent. Don’t let the youthful face, the deep blue-eyes, or the Justin Beiber vocals fool you, Sterling Knight demonizes handsomeness.
With Tolordava and Knight, Spencer Locke, K-Mart from “Resident Evil: Extinction” and “Resident Evil: Afterlife,” had the toughest role to be burdened with as Alicia being an object of affection for not one, not two, but three characters and, in two of characters’ cases, in a malevolent way. Locke’s scenes were the most difficult to gape at, but her character ends up being the driving force behind almost everything that happens, even to divulged information prior to the beginning of this film to which we are not privy. Alicia is essentially the epicenter that crumbles the foundations of lives around Daniel, Chris, and even Ilya and like an epicenter, Alicia becomes the butterfly effect that ripples devastation from a single event. Like I said, a role that bares a heavy burden.
Bakhia utilizes effects that can be easily overlooked. His use of miniatures of the Georgian countryside, compositing them with the live action motor vehicles, is a stunning visual, alluring to our minuscule selves in the world. Also, the director, I noticed, does many long takes by swerving the camera from side-to-side that may consist of a stationary position or even tailing to characters, obtaining individual reactions and letting the scene play out without as much as a single edit for a lengthy period of filming. My first experience with Bakhia at the helm isn’t spoiled with gaudy gore or an outlandish unrealistic script; “Landmine Goes Click” thoughtfully provokes our inner animal and is constructed and edited similar to the style of Oscar winner Martin Scorsese. No film goes without flaws as I thought some of the fade to black editing was oddly placed and the overlapping during genre transition didn’t settle with the mood at the time. However, I’m not a big fan of exposition, but I thought there was enough exposition to get us through on how Chris managed to step on a landmine and also to what really happened to Alicia. Any more footage would have been overkill, making the 110 minute runtime that much smoother.
“Landmine Goes Click” rightfully found a home as an Icon Home Entertainment Frightfest Presents. Spurred with volatile tension and a dynamically charged cast, “Landmine Goes Click” is the tip of the Levan Bakhia ice berg and watch out for more films from Sterling Knight, an actor that can steal a scene, or in this case, a movie right from under another talented actor Kote Tolordava. Since the disc sent to me was a screener, I am unable to review the audio and video qualities, but I can say that there wasn’t much bonus material aside from an introduction of the film by Frightfest’s Alan Jones and Paul McEvoy and the other Frightfest film trailers. Like a good concealed explosive device, “Landmine Goes Click” exploitatively shreds through your soul, cleaving barbed shrapnel to linger and rot in the confined spaces of psyche.
Twenty-one year old Eve has been chained to a basement structure of a desolate house in the desert. She turns the tables on Phil, her sexual predator, by clocking him hard with a stone brick and escaping his hellish domain, until she realizes, through Phil’s pictorial archive, that he has more girls in similar captivity. Driven by guilt over her sister’s own demise at the hands of their captor, Eve sets forth a nonstop mission to release girls no matter the cost even if that means bringing her injured rapist along for the ride. As they stop from location to location, not all the victims are as calm and collected as Eve and her predator isn’t the only dangerous one in this particular sex trafficking ring.
“Bound to Vengeance,” also known under the working title “Reversal,” would naturally seem from first glance reading the title as a rape-revenge exploitation film by José Manuel Cravioto, except the story begins in the basement with Eve’s escape. Cravioto’s film fast forwards past the pre-show character story development, the terrifying abduction, and the uncomfortable rape scenes or sequences. Instead, the story bee lines straight toward the revenge act, raising Eve out of the ashes like a worn torn Phoenix and obtaining the upper hand on Phil. From there, only sporadic interjections of her prior abduction are revealed through video tape footage of her and her boyfriend. Even without displaying all the horrible things that have happened to Eve, a successfully conveyed cognizance of her strife goes without saying, or in this case, showcasing because the Rock Shaink Jr. and the late Keith Kjornes, whom I remember from his first penned wacky work in “Repligator,” cover Phil’s monstrous and unquenchable sexual rampage through the scared and scarred eyes of all the victims Eve intends on liberating and from Phil’s spew of lies from his own snake forked tongue.
Dark Factory Entertainment, for a company as a whole, is as small as a guppy when compared to bigger, badder fish in the ocean; however, “Bound to Vengeance” is like a piranha, a flyspeck river fish with a vicious bite. I’m also impressed to see “Kindergarten Cop” star Richard Tyson presenting a delightfully decadent performance in his character Phil, whose a mid-40’s man living a double life, living the American dream with a beautiful wife, innocent young child, and living in a grand house while a darker, hidden side revels in an oversight role in the world of sex slavery. Phil represents the very definition of a very real evil inside our society and Tyson, through that slightly raspy and baritone voice of his, brings out the character’s warranted ugliness. Tyson opposites Stephanie Charles, saddling into the empowering female role Eve, and Charles meets the veteran Tyson eye-for-eye on all their scenes together, never once sensing a performance recession.
The rape-revenge flick, minus the rape, concentrates, just outside the surface, around the sex slavery ring. In fact, the insightful story is quite educational and informative, sectoring separate pieces of the sex trafficking ring from a simple abduction, restraint, and rape to a criminal empire consisting of various locations and various hands in this particular ring. Victims also go through stages of stockholm syndrome, such as with one of the girls Eve attempts to free, but she’s too far gone under the influence of Phil and his forceful philandering friends. And for a film that’s about sex trafficking, sex has nearly been omitted from the entirety with only some disheveled and scanty covered women, some with BDS&M outfits. Criavioto’s suspense thriller breaks the narrative barriers without being, story suggestively, sexually explicit and gratuitous.
The High Fliers distributed DVD and Dark Factory Entertainment production is a win-win for both companies where dynamic actors and sexually charged subject matter thoroughly straps you forcibly in the passenger seat and causes a five-finger death grip on the oh-shit handle bar. Prepare to have your eye balls glued to screen and your jaw drop when each scene becomes more intense than the other, from girl-to-girl, to house-to-house. Gravitate to this release as soon as possible as I swear disappointment will be far, far away from any reaction bestowed upon this Cravioto film.