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Phantasm: Ravager (Blu-ray)

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Phantasm RavagerStarring Reggie Bannister, Angus Scrimm, A. Michael Baldwin

Directed by David Hartman

Distributed by Well Go USA


I just watched Phantasm: Ravager (2016).

That’s a sentence I’ll likely never say again. There are a couple of salient reasons why this fifth – and, sadly, final – entry in Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm series is a disastrous mess; chief among them being the decision to hand directorial duties over to David Hartman, a guy who has directed nothing but Saturday morning cartoons. What a director has produced in the past is not always indicative of their talents for future work, but I really don’t think the time to prove Hartman’s worth was for a much-anticipated entry in a long running horror series – one that has been helmed by the same man since 1979. To be fair, Ravager did start life as a web series devoted to following Reggie Bannister’s wandering ice cream salesman with no real plans to make it a feature. Coscarelli says he was with the project from the beginning, but I’ve heard differently…

Whatever the case, the real issue is that the transition from wannabe-webthing to legit feature film sequel was clearly rough. A fan service webisode is one thing – since they’re never expected to be incredible anyway – but putting footage of that caliber into a feature is dooming your picture to look like a SyFy Channel original. And this one does. The film’s ambitions far outweigh its abilities and in place of ingenuity or inventive camera tricks we just get loads of piss-poor CGI, from the flying spheres on up to full-scale cities. Nothing looks convincing. On top of that the plot is the most schizophrenic yet, jumping between “reality” and “dreams” so often that any semblance of an actual story is eviscerated. Even worse: classic characters popping in for fan service cameos that amount to jack squat in the grand scheme of things.

Reggie (Reggie Bannister) is still a man on a mission, shuffling through the desert in search of the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm). His beloved 1971 Hemicuda has gone missing… wait, never mind, it’s right here being driven by some guy who looks like he works at the local H&R Block. Reg gets the upper hand and boots out suit and tie guy just as two flying spheres enter the picture, one of which kills the car thief. Suddenly, Reggie wakes up and finds he’s in a hospital being looked after by Mike (A. Michael Baldwin), who explains that Reg was admitted after showing signs of dementia. Unconvinced Mike is telling the truth Reggie proceeds to tell him a story involving a girl, a guitar, his car, and those rascally evil minions of the Tall Man. During a dream-within-a-dream, Reggie imagines himself in a hospital bed next to an old man who looks exactly like the Tall Man but whose name is Jebediah.

With no concrete confirmation as to what is real and what is part of Reggie’s dream, the film bounces around between these planes of existence. In one reality the Tall Man approaches Reggie with a deal – stop messing with his affairs and the Tall Man will bring Reggie’s family back from the dead. Soon after Reggie finds himself in yet another reality, this one set in a post-apocalyptic world where the Tall Man reigns supreme and massive flying balls have laid waste to major cities. Reggie meets up with a group of survivors who are intent on killing the Tall Man and ending his war on Earth. A skirmish on the Tall Man’s home planet follows, with more questions being created along the way at every stop.

For over twenty years, I have stuck with this series through twists and turns and confusion and questions because Don Coscarelli has always made the films interesting. My introduction to the world of the Tall Man came around 1996, when a buddy and I rented a copy of Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994) from Wherehouse. I had never even seen the first two movies and was completely lost watching the third, but it still made one helluva impression on me and it has been a favorite of mine ever since. I eventually got around to watching the initial two pictures and the rich mythology only reinforced my enjoyment of III. Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998) came around not long after the third entry and it once again managed to push the mystery box further down the road, providing some understanding while also opening up strange new possibilities. I have been legit excited to see where Coscarelli would take things next after producing four (arguably) strong pictures.

But then we get to Ravager, which began production ten years after Oblivion and is the only film not directed or wholly written by Coscarelli. And, man, does it show. I can’t pretend I know what caused such a lengthy delay – I do know Don had been trying to get various sequels off the ground for years without any luck – but how he let someone else take the reins I’ll never understand. I thought this was his baby? There is zero narrative flow to Ravager, making the experience of watching it painfully frustrating. Reggie and Angus are the sole bright spots in what should have been a fan-servicing swan song for the series. A. Michael Baldwin looks tired and defeated, Bill Thornbury pops in for a terribly unsatisfying cameo as Jody, and Gloria Lynne Henry gets a last-minute appearance as Rocky from III even though there is nothing of value for her to do. Just seeing a character appear is pointless if they have no bearing on the story. Even the enigmatic Lady in Lavender (Kathy Lester) shows up for a key scene but it just… doesn’t work. Ever. At all.

Being that this was a digitally-shot production the 1.78:1 1080p image is very clean and very, well, digital. The upside to this is that fine detail is often excellent and colors appear vibrant and lifelike. Black levels are a bit dicey, looking clumpy in the darkest of scenes. The worst aspect of the image is the CGI, which has a difficult time melding with the live-action footage. At some points it looks worse than modern day video game cut scenes. That aside, there isn’t much fault to find with the live footage.

The English DTS-HD MA track is available in either 2.0 stereo or 5.1 surround sound. The multi-channel mix provides some strong moments of directionality, especially when the flying spheres are bouncing around from every corner of the room. The classic themes of composers Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave are woven into new compositions by Christopher L. Stone, whose score for this entry flip flops between forgettable and respectable. Dialogue is presented cleanly, with no issues detected. Subtitles are available in English SDH.

There is an audio commentary with director David Hartman and writer/producer Don Coscarelli that I have yet to hear, though hopefully it sheds plenty of light on just what the hell went on during production.

“Behind the Scenes” – This is all-too-brief and contains few revelations or anything of substance.

A few deleted scenes are available, along with “Phuntasm: Bloopers & Outtakes”, and a trailer.

Special Features:

  • Audio Commentary with Director David Hartman and Writer & Producer Don Coscarelli
  • Behind the Scenes
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Phuntasm: Bloopers & Outtakes

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  • Phantasm: Ravager
  • Special Features
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User Rating 3.26 (19 votes)

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Atlantic Rim: Resurrection Review – The #MechToo Movement Has Little Regard for the Ladies

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Starring Steve Richard Harris, Xavi Israel, Jenna Enns, Lindsay Elston, Samm Wiechec, Paul Logan

Directed by Jared Cohn


WARNING: This review does contains spoilers! It’s also a review of an Asylum mockbuster of Pacific Rim: Uprising so I’m not really sure it matters. You pretty much know what you’re getting. People inside giant robots punching giant monsters in the face. Sometimes shooting at them. Duh!

It truly is a bold creative decision in this era of #metoo to have the third act of your movie begin with two male characters, neither of whom has been shown piloting a giant robot previously, grounding the two female robot pilots by locking them in a room in order to go do their job for them and kill the giant monsters that have previously defeated the ladies. Oh, sure, there’s some “mechsplaining” as to how these two guys are sidelining the gals for their own well-being, but even then there’s something unintentionally hilarious about these fellas seemingly deciding to not even trust the women to succeed in what is tantamount to a suicide mission.

Not to mention that one of these young ladies has been infected, potentially fatally, by monster venom and hardly anyone seems terribly concerned about this.

But then I am talking about an Asylum production entitled Atlantic Rim: Resurrection about military officers and scientists piloting giant battle bots (that kind of look like 1980’s Tonka robot toys) to fight giant mutant crawdad-like creatures (that look like perfectly acceptable Ultraman foes) along the East Coast of the United States, even though the city being attacked looks suspiciously Californian. In fact, The Asylum website’s own plot synopsis seemingly forgot it was supposed to be set on the Atlantic seaboard and outright states the monsters are destroying Los Angeles. Their website also wrongly lists the film’s release date as February 15, 2017.

Keeping with those high Asylum standards of continuity, Atlantic Rim: Resurrection is The Asylum’s mockbuster sequel of the forthcoming Pacific Rim: Uprising, even though the original Atlantic Rim, released in 2013 to coincide with the original Pacific Rim, was actually distributed in North America under the alternate title Attack from Beneath for reasons I presume were to avoid matters of a litigious nature. Nonetheless, here’s a sequel with a very sequel-y sounding title despite most American viewers probably not knowing the previous film by that title.

And you know what? Absolutely none of that matters.

What matters is that this mockbuster follow-up finally answers one of the great scientific questions of our times: Robonet or Python – which neural operating system is the best for psychically synching Go! Go! Gobots! with their human operators? Or, as I found myself thinking after nearly 20+ minutes of technobabble that is truly more babble than techno, “Are they ever gonna shut up and punch a giant monster? I’m here to see big ugly monsters get face punched by big ugly robots, dammit!”

In the time it takes this sequel to finally get around to its first full-on robot vs. monster battle, the first Atlantic Rim had already seen more monster destruction and chaos, more molten hot robot on monster action, and far more entertaining scenes of a trio of monster-mashing robot pilots hanging out in bars getting plastered. The first had more of everything you would want from an Asylum knock-off of Pacific Rim about insubordinate alcoholics operating giant robots to save the East Coast from gargantuan sea dragons. Despite the main scientist brought in to get the robots and pilots fully synched up looking perpetually hung over, this sequel lacks the “Mighty Drunken Broski Ranger” attitude, the cartoonish delirium, and ham-fisted acting of the original that led me to pen a three-star review.

Not to say there isn’t any fun to be had here; just nothing that entertains quite like watching David Chokachi swaggering through a film like a drunk broski in dire need of an intervention as he and his fellow hard-drinkin’ robot pilots beat a seemingly lost and confused giant monster over the head with huge metal hammers while an unhinged, one-eyed military officer holds his commanding officers at gunpoint demanding they allow him to nuke something, anything. None of the stars of the go-for-broke original returns for this mostly by-the-numbers sequel I almost want to say makes the mistake of being too grounded in reality than its wacko predecessor except it’s hardly realistic.

For a film that devotes so much time to over-explaining the concept, I found myself baffled as to why the pilots still had to manually work gear shifts and push all manner of dashboard buttons to operate robots supposedly powered by their minds. Did my mind sink into the Drift during this endless mind-melding chatter and I missed something clarifying this sticking point?

Anyhow, let’s meet our heroic robot pilots:

  • “Hammer” – The black guy. That means he dies first. There’s also another African-American who’ll climb into a robot cockpit for the final battle. He’ll also die. The main Jaeger pilot in Pacific Rim: Uprising is black. Willing to bet he lives. Not woke, Asylum. So not woke.
  • “Badger” – Speaking of not woke, the men of the #MechToo movement will come to decide they don’t need no stinkin’ Badger.
  • “Bugs” – She’s got a lot of attitude. Claims her nickname is because she “stings like a bee.” She gets stung, alright.

The always dependable Paul Logan makes a brief appearance as a soldier because – why not? Paul Logan always plays a soldier. He isn’t given much of anything to do here, and that’s a shame. Logan already looks like the lovechild of G.I. Joe and He-Man. Why not go for the Transformers trifecta by strapping him into a mech and let him get his Rock’em Sock’em Robot on?

Logan’s primary function is to show only a passing regard for the well-being of his wife and daughter, a tacked on subplot that sees the two women fleeing on foot as kaiju of various sizes rampage in the vicinity. Of course there has to be a family separated, desperately trying to survive and reunite amid the calamity because, of course there is – it’s an Asylum movie!

The resolution to this subpar subplot could not have been any more anticlimactic if dad had just sent an Uber to pick them up from the danger zone, which, honestly, isn’t that far off from what actually happens.

One nifty twist is that a colossal crawdad from aquatic hell spews forth hundreds of little buggers into the streets of East Coast L.A. The characters will refer to these lesser chitinous kaiju as “insects,” “spiders,” and “arachnids” but never “bugs,” presumably to not cause audience confusion with the character who already sports that call sign. They mostly call them “spiders” in spite of the fact that they really don’t look like spiders. More like oversized earwigs. I’m not even sure they had eight legs.

Don’t even ask me to explain what the “Resurrection” in Atlantic Rim: Resurrection means, either. Since this is a mockbuster of Pacific Rim: Uprising, they should have gone with Atlantic Rim: Rising Up since the film begins with giant monsters literally rising up from the sea. Would have made more sense.

On the plus side, any movie where humans using state-of-the-art mind-controlled giant battle bots armed with super science weapons to fight otherworldly giant monsters from the ocean depths yet still has a moment where an injured pilot cracks open a control panel inside his futuristic robot and takes out a plastic blue case labeled “First Aid Kit” that is overstuffed with almost nothing but Band-Aids still earns a merit badge in audacity from me.

  • Film
2.5

Summary

Not nearly the Rimjob I was hoping for.

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The Cured Review – Ellen Page Fights for Her Life

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Starring Ellen Page, Sam Keeley, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Paula Malcomson

Written and directed by David Freyne


Taking a cue from AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” the new Irish horror film The Cured begins where most zombie stories end. Drawing more comparisons, the themes of mistrust and social upheaval are front and center here as well. We’re the real villains, and the infectious disease turning humans into monsters is only there to hold up a mirror to show the worst sides of ourselves. The Cured uses the zombie mythos as Romero intended as a commentary on culture, with a little cannibalism thrown in for good measure.

Against the backdrop of a military takeover attempting to reintroduce the recently cured back into society, two people try to return to some kind of normalcy in a war-torn Ireland that’s been turned upside down by the zombie menace. Recently widowed, Abbey (Page) allows her now virus-free brother-in-law Senan (Keeley) to live with her and her son, even though most survivors are forced to live in an army encampment. Under constant surveillance, Senan’s old friend Conor (Vaughan-Lawlor) radicalizes the mistreated survivors of the virus into open rebellion.

The treatment of the survivors isn’t entirely unfair considering that they still have a connection and are not detected by a small percentage of the infected that haven’t responded to the cure. As both sides size each other up, Abbey and Senan are caught in the middle as they try to restore their humanity before the powder keg around them erupts.

Given its far out premise, the story stays firmly grounded in reality, focusing on the growing resistance and its political implications, drawing parallels to the protest movements such as the “Black Block” that have dominated some recent news cycles. When the virus divided the population, it was easy to know what side you were on; now, the cure has created a new class structure where the lower class is maligned until they cross the line and overthrow the uninfected. Clearly still affected and haunted by the heinous acts they committed when they were infected, the cannibalistic rage they still carry reflects the rage felt by the mistreated masses hellbent on overthrowing the powers-that-be.

Whether for budget reasons or simply a style choice, the eating frenzies that occurred before the cure are never fully shown so any gore and graphic images that could’ve been showcases for effects are left to the imagination. Maybe they weren’t shown because these acts were so unspeakable that they are too horrific to see and too painful to fully be remembered by the survivors. The top-notch sound design ratchets up instead and roars to life to the point where just hearing the carnage is enough to make you turn away.

Page’s performance is the emotional core of the film as she goes from understanding to fear to dealing with the ultimate betrayal. It’s important for a slow-developing story like this to have an actress with some star power, and director David Freyne and his team were fortunate to have a high caliber actress ready to deliver in some of the film’s quieter, more intense moments. Freyne directs these smaller character moments with care and also delivers once things open up to show the inevitable anarchy brimming under the surface.

The Cured may feel too closed off at times to allow its bigger ideas to fully breathe, but it never pretends to encompass a more epic scope that would be more in the vein of something like World War Z. Without ever addressing it directly, Freyne, as an Irishman, seems well aware of the history of the country; and he and cinematographer Piers McGrail inject their film with a pathos that makes Dublin come to life inside the world of the undead.

  • The Cured
3.5

Summary

The Cured is a gritty take on the genre that fits nicely into the new type of storytelling that these stories need to embrace in a post-Romero world.

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Bad Apples Review – Rotten Fruit, Indeed

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Starring Brea Grant, Graham Skipper, Alycia Lourim

Directed by Brian Coyne


Like a seriously bad rash, some films stick with you regardless of whichever topical ointment you slather in generous fashion over your regions – ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce today’s orbital irritant: Bad Apples.

Directed (rather misdirected) by Brian Coyne, this lamentably sterile piece of celluloid follows a couple of murderous sisters, donning horrific (and not in a good sense) masks, and generally putting the sharp edges to random folk on Halloween night…case closed. Only problem here is this: the film has no pulse, no interesting characters to speak of, and basically nothing to redeem or recapture the time that you’ll have spent watching this complete dud. A husband and wife duo has a spotlight on them as well, but their tempestuous relationship makes rooting for them about as pleasing as sitting through 3 hours of Olympic curling…absolutely brutal. Also, you’re reading the babblings of a guy who loves to put the boots to any film that has been deemed “unwatchable”, but this complete wreck of a production is entirely that – something so remedial and uninspired that to type an endless array of rightful vitriol would be an utter waste of time.

So I’ll go on a bit longer with my public display of vehemence, as the casting seems WAY out of whack, and the production? Whoa…don’t even get me started on this – okay, I’ll go on a bit. With differing levels of sound editing, you’ll get the feeling at times like you could pick up a needle drop inside of a concert hall, and other frames of dialogue are so muddled they’re incomprehensible (not like you’ll feel the need to know what’s going on). Wonky camera angles and following shots are so horrendously captured, you’ll be wishing to watch your Mom and Dad’s old home movies just to gain a sense of stability. I normally pride myself on not begging this particular audience to take what I say to heart, or to shy away from something that could potentially ruin their eyesight, but believe me when I plead with you: do not waste your valuable time on this shipwreck – even if your time isn’t all that valuable: don’t waste it. Find something else to do and take a big ol’ pass on this wannabe slasher.

  • Film
1.5

Summary

I don’t mean to pick on the low-hanging fruit, but these Apples should be batted away with a Louisville Slugger.

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User Rating 2.5 (2 votes)

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