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Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009)

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Universal Soldier: Regeneration ReviewReviewed by The Foywonder

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Andrei Arlovski, Mike Pyle, Garry Cooper, Emily Joyce

Directed by John Hyams

Distributed by Sony Pictures


So much of Universal Soldier: Regeneration takes place inside a dilapidated factory and the action consists so much more of kickfighting and mixed martial arts than the gunfire and explosions of the previous Universal Soldier films that they could have just as easily changed the genetically re-engineered zombie soldiers into androids and called it Cyborg: Regeneration.

Regeneration – more like the old generation if you ask me. Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren are both back for this direct-to-DVD sequel to the 1992 Roland Emmerich original, and boy, do they look old. If you saw JCVD, then you already know how world weary Van Damme’s face looks. Lundgren may be showing his age as well, but he still looks almost ten years younger than Van Damme despite being three years older. Van Damme already returned to the franchise once before in a 1999 sequel that effectively killed his big screen career for a decade, but for Lundgren to return, it really would have to be regeneration since the last we saw of his character were bits and pieces flying out of the hay harvester he got shredded in.

In the director’s chair this time is the son of veteran filmmaker Peter Hyams, who, in addition to 2010 and The Relic, also directed Van Damme in Timecop and Sudden Death. John Hyams’ most notable directorial work up to this point was the compelling 2002 mixed martial arts documentary The Smashing Machine about the rise and fall of ultimate fighter Mark Kerr. The younger Hyams could be the reason Universal Soldier: Regeneration boasts a heavy MMA influence.

Guerrilla fighters from a Russian breakaway republic have seized what remains of the Chernobyl nuclear plant and are holding the Russian President’s two children hostage as they threaten to blast the concrete chamber encasing the reactor that famously melted down in 1986; doing so would let loose a radioactive cloud described as being “100 times that of Hiroshima”. Their demand is the release of 110 captive political prisoners. I don’t know about you, but I think if someone has kidnapped a world leader’s kids and intends to unleash a nuclear holocaust unless his demands are met, the release of 100 imprisoned allies seems like small potatoes to me.

This is not lost on the rogue Universal Soldier scientist they’ve hired to hook them up with a UniSol for back-up firepower. Tension will boil over between the rebel leader and the scientist, who clearly dreams of one day commanding his own army of super soldiers to possibly conquer the world with, as to whether or not a more financially rewarding ransom should be issued. I really wish they had done more with this crazy nerdy scientist because his motivations were far more interesting than that of generic Russian nogoodnicks that cannot hit a target even at point-blank range.

That UniSol is played by former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei “The Pit Bull” Arlovski. You can count on a single hand the amount of dialogue Arlovski has. For the best, since he makes for a surprisingly imposing foe just silently annihilating adversaries, usually using what becomes in this film the trademark Universal Soldier finishing tactic: holding the opponent down on the ground with one hand while repeatedly punching their face until its a bloody pulp with the other. Arlovski is a new generation UniSol, or “NGU” for short. Allegedly an upgrade; I couldn’t really tell the difference other than the NGU possessing a nifty retractable wristblade that the alien drug dealer from I Come in Peace would consider to die for.

After the first attempt to infiltrate the power plant by Russian-American coalition forces and four Universal Soldiers results in a bigger failure than Universal Soldier: The Return, the commanders decide the solution is to reactivate original UniSol Luc Deveraux (Van Damme). This makes little sense for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that we just watched the NGU single-handedly – literally in two instances – terminate the quartet of UniSols sent in with the commando raid, so what makes them think one lone Universal Soldier that is of the now obsolete first generation model stands a chance?

Luc Deveraux currently resides in Switzerland, where a brilliant psychologist is working to reintegrate him into society. Comparisons are made to his treatment being like retraining a fight dog to live as a house pet. I can only assume Universal Soldier: Regeneration has chosen to completely ignore the events of Universal Soldier: The Return (probably for best) because, as you may recall, it was explained that Luc Deveraux had somehow been cured of death, had completely readjusted to his new life, and even had a young daughter. That made no sense in that film, and what we are told here makes no sense in this film. Nor does it make any sense that being injected with a special serum is all it will take to instantly revert Deveraux back into his super soldier fighting shape and mindset.

The science of the Universal Soldier films has never made any sense, and here it’s less than ever. None of it bothered me all that much because I have long since accepted that looking for plausibility in a Universal Soldier flick is as futile as trying to find a virgin in Michael Bay’s hot tub. You just accept the illogic and hope the action delivers. It does.

The first hour makes for an above average action flick of the direct-to-DVD variety, though still one dragged down by formulaic plotting, characters, and dialogue typical of such action b-movies shot in Eastern Block countries starring over-the-hill action heroes. About an hour in Van Damme finally gets reactivated and jumps right into the best staged action sequence he has been a part of in ages, laying waste to every Golan-Globus quality foot soldier in his way, only pausing long enough to switch from a machine gun to a side arm and then just cutting loose with a survival knife. Barely a single kick or punch thrown, a no-nonsense expression on his no longer pretty boy face, not saying a single word the entire time or even letting out so much as grunt, this was the most badass I think I have ever seen Jean-Claude Van Damme look in any of his films. From then on the quality of the action steps up, and there is almost nothing but solid b-level action until the credits roll.

If you’re tuning in for Dolph Lundgren, be advised he doesn’t even make an appearance until around the 50-minute mark and doesn’t stick around very long. In what very much feels like a tacked-on excuse to shoehorn Lundgren into the picture, the rogue scientist resurrects the undead clone of insane UniSol Andrew Scott. Unfortunately, Scott is even more insane and out of control than before. The way things were going, I was halfway expecting Van Damme and Lundgren to join forces to eliminate the NGU. Instead Lundgren and Van Damme engage in one hell of a sumo rematch during which the two of them burst through more walls than Kool-Aid Man has in his entire pitchman career. Their demolition derby ends with such a dynamic kill that it really should have been saved for the very end. Not to say the 15-minute showdown between Van Damme and Arlovski disappoints; just that the Arlovski goes out with a bang where as Lundgren goes out with a “Holy crap! Rewind that!”

3 out of 5

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Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product

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DesolationStarring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols

Directed by Sam Patton


I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.

The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.

So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”

As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.

  • Film
2.5

Summary

Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.

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User Rating 3.29 (7 votes)
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Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political

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Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside

Directed by Eitan Gafny

Reviewed out of Utopia 2017


Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.

Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.

Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.

The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.

The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Aki Avni as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.

So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.

Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.

The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.

Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.

  • Children of the Fall
2.5

Summary

While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.

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User Rating 3.16 (19 votes)
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Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama

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Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein

Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker

Reviewed out of Utopia 2017


One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.

The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.

Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.

The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.

While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.

All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.

  • Madam Yankelova's Fine Literature Club
3.5

Summary

Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.

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User Rating 3.67 (18 votes)
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