Film Review: Death Race 2050 (2017)

Release Date: January 9th, 2017 (Turkey premiere)
Directed by: G. J. Echternkamp
Written by: G. J. Echternkamp, Matt Yamashita
Based on: Death Race 2000 by Robert Thom, Charles B. Griffith
Music by: Gunter Brown, Cindy Brown
Cast: Manu Bennett, Malcolm McDowell, Marci Miller, Burt Grinstead, Folake Olowofoyeku, Anessa Ramsey, Yancy Butler

Universal 1440 Entertainment, New Horizons Pictures, Universal Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Europe, Asia, cancer; we kicked ’em all in the ass! The only thing that can kill an American is another American!” – The Chairman

There is a drastic difference of opinion on this film based off of critics and non-critics. The film has a 3.7 out of 10 on IMDb yet it has 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. According to Google, however, 55 percent of people have said they like this movie.

I think that the really low rating on IMDb is due to the fact that the average person doesn’t understand the context of this film and what it is supposed to be. Looking at it at face value with no knowledge of its lineage probably makes it too confusing, zany and bizarre to make a whole lot of sense. And I don’t think that this film should have to rely on knowledge of its source material to work, it should be able to stand on its own. But since I do know the source material very well, I see this much more positively than the average bear. I think that the professional critical consensus is high because the critics understand what this is.

The point is, this is supposed to be cheap looking, insane, shoddy and really f’n weird. It is both a remake and an homage to the 1975 film Death Race 2000. This was made to be a more accurate remake to the original film than that awful Jason Statham movie was, which itself birthed some awful sequels.

I was initially unsure of what this was because going into it, I didn’t know whether or not it was a sequel, a remake or what. But it is a remake that is updated to take in some things that reflect how technology has evolved since the 1975 original. There are now VR experiences, camera drones, a drone car and a bunch of other new stuff. Still, this is as true to the original as you can get.

But maybe it is too true and that sort of hurts this film. It takes some liberties here and there but it is generally the same film and since it isn’t anywhere near as good as the cult classic Death Race 2000, it almost makes this film’s existence kind of pointless. I think it would have been better to actually just go with a straight up sequel.

I did like the cast for the most part. It is hard to replace the great cast of the original, which boasted the talents of David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone, Martin Kove and Mary Woronov. However, Manu Bennett played Frankenstein in this film and I loved him as Deathstroke on CW’s Arrow. Malcolm McDowell plays the Chairman, who is essentially the President. The rest of the cast is made up of virtual unknowns but Anessa Ramsey stole every scene she was in as Tammy the Terrorist. Additionally, I love, love, loved the character of Minerva, played by Folake Olowofoyeku.

Death Race 2050 was a good homage to Death Race 2000 and it was fun for fans of the original but without any knowledge of that 1975 film, I could see where this would just baffle and confuse people. It isn’t the type of film that works nowadays and the political and social commentary would just be over the heads of most.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Death Race 2000 and some of the modern grindhouse revival films: Turbo KidHobo with a ShotgunKung Fury, etc.

Film Review: Kickboxer (1989)

Also known as: Karate Tiger 3 – Der Kickboxer (Germany)
Release Date: April 20th, 1989 (West Germany)
Directed by: Mark DiSalle, David Worth
Written by: Glenn A. Bruce, Mark DiSalle, Jean-Claude Van Damme
Music by: Paul Hertzog, Stan Bush
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Alexio, Dennis Chan, Michel Qissi

Kings Road Entertainment, Cannon Films, 103 Minutes

Review:

“[to Kurt during final fight] You bleed like Mylee. Mylee… good fuck!” – Tong Po

Way back in 1989, it was Kickboxer that turned me into a big Jean-Claude Van Damme fan. I loved Bloodsport too but that’s just about all I had to go on. This film proved that Van Damme wasn’t a one-off success and had something that gave him an edge over the other martial arts action stars at the time.

Kickboxer follows two brothers. One is an American kickboxing champion, the other is essentially his water boy. When the champion gets paralyzed in a fight with the sadistic and evil Thai champion, Tong Po, the younger brother, Kurt, swears revenge. Kurt seeks out a Muay Thai master to teach him the art. In what seems like two weeks, he is suddenly a master himself and he crushes some chump in the local arena and calls out Tong Po.

What I remembered most about this film from my youth was that Tong Po was legitimately a scary ass MFer. I remember the rumor that floated around with middle school aged males that Tong Po was real. It didn’t matter that an actor was listed as playing him, every eleven to thirteen year-old boy was convinced that this guy existed as he did on screen, that’s how convincing he was.

Another thing that I remembered were the sweet training montages. It feels like half of this movie is training montages accented by Stan Bush songs. When I was young, like every boy, I wanted to be as badass as Van Damme. It was never about seeing what you could do in a real fight because let’s face it, no one wants to actually get kicked in the face, it was about whether or not you could train your body to emulate what Van Damme did in his training montages. Because if you could do a split or drop coconuts on your abs or kick up straight in the air at 180 degrees without tearing your groin or falling over, you were pretty sure you could conquer some 8th grade bully.

I know I am going on some tangents here but I think it is important to understand the context of what early Van Damme films were to a culture of prepubescent boys that rented these movies weekly circa 1990 or so.

Kickboxer is one of the absolute best things Jean-Claude Van Damme has ever done. It isn’t an acting clinic by any means but its masculine and goofy spirit is something special. It hasn’t particularly aged well but it is still a really fun film to revisit and it is better than most films like it. Hell, I’d take any Van Damme picture over a Steven Seagal movie. Seagal is the guy our out of shape dads watched and lived vicariously through. Van Damme was the guy we lived through because he had an amazing physique and could do some impressive, athletic shit. We didn’t care that he was into ballet before fighting. It kind of made him even more badass, actually.

This, along with Bloodsport, spoke to a generation of boys needing an icon. Sure, we had Schwarzenegger and Stallone but those guys couldn’t do martial arts for shit and Van Damme came on the scene when martial arts films were dominating the action genre, at least at video stores. The early to mid-’80s gave us stellar ninja movies and after that we got Van Damme, who was like a ninja that finally took his mask off and said, “Let’s do this!” before kicking some douchebag in the teeth.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Other early Van Damme films: BloodsportLionheartDouble Impact, etc.

Book Review: ‘Drink More Whiskey: Everything You Need to Know About Your New Favorite Drink’ by Daniel Yaffe

I like whiskey.

In fact, I drink it all the time.

It is my go to spirit of choice. While I primarily drink bourbon and often times Scotch, I do also find myself enjoying Irish, Canadian and Japanese whiskeys.

I have read several different books and articles on whiskey throughout the years. This book however is what I would point people towards if they want a real good primer on just about everything. It does a fantastic job of going through each type of whiskey, explaining the process, what makes it different and some of the history behind it.

This book is well organized, well orchestrated and actually, for all the information it provides, a pretty quick and concise read. I relished in it more than any other book I have come across on the subject.

This review may seem a bit short but there isn’t much else I can say other than this is a fine, thoroughly enjoyable and informative read for whiskey aficionados.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Whiskey Women by Fred Minnick, Tasting Whiskey by Lew Bryson and Bourbon Empire by Reid Mitenbuler

Film Review: The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy (1958)

Also known as: La momia azteca contra el robot humano (original Mexican title), The Aztec Mummy Against the Humanoid Robot (worldwide English title)
Release Date: July 17th, 1958 (Mexico)
Directed by: Rafael Portillo
Written by: Guillermo Calderon, Alfredo Salazar
Music by: Antonio Diaz Conde
Cast: Ramon Gay, Rosa Arenas, Crox Alvarado, Luis Acevedes Castaneda, Jaime Gonzalez Quinones

Cinematográfica Calderón S.A., 65 Minutes

Review:

Is this a terrible movie? Yes. However, within the context of what it is and how it was made, I can accept it and not just trash it for being total schlock. Besides, it features a friggin’ robot fighting a friggin’ mummy. Okay. maybe the monsters are terrible and move at the speed of a mentally handicapped turtles through a sea of molasses but still, it’s got a robot and a mummy!

This film was featured on the first nationally syndicated season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and for good reason: it’s a big stinker. But show me a Mexican science fiction film from the 1950s that isn’t?

The MST3K versions and really, any version available in the U.S., has English dubbing. Sure, the dubbing is also terrible but it sort of adds an extra level of goofiness to the proceedings and makes this film more endearing than it probably should be.

To be honest, you’ve got to love these sort of pictures to have an appreciation for this. A normal person would probably rather claw their eyes out but it’s certainly not the most dreadful thing ever made and definitely not the worst thing featured on MST3K.

The biggest negative isn’t the crappy monsters or the shitty special effects, it’s that the film has some really boring and drawn out moments. This thing could probably be whittled down to a twenty minute picture and you wouldn’t feel like you’ve lost anything important. Hell, it’d probably play better that way.

One of the highlights is the mad scientist. That guy was pure gold and dedicated to that insane role.

The robot was some knee-less hulking thing with a window that displayed a full human face but he was referred to as a “human robot” so I guess that works. The mummy looked more like the zombie version of Granny from The Beverly Hillbillies but I totally bought into it being a former Aztec warrior. Okay, that last sentence was me totally being facetious.

Even though I don’t hate this, it is shitty. I know it is shitty. It is impossible to deny its shittiness. Therefore, it must be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 6 Stool: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool.”

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: Lots of old school Mexican monster movies, especially some of the lucha libre stuff with El Santo and Blue Demon.

Comic Review: The Infinity War

I just finished up The Infinity Gauntlet mega crossover event, so naturally I wanted to jump right into The Infinity War. Plus, the next Avengers movie centers around these storylines, so I wanted to revisit them, as I haven’t read them since they were fairly current back in the early ’90s.

Like its predecessor, this tale is jam packed with more Marvel heroes and villains than can reasonably fit onto one page. There are more characters in this story than the previous one and everyone is present and accounted for, unlike the first Infinity story, which saw half of the heroes (and the universe’s population) removed from existence.

Sadly, this is not as good as its predecessor. The Infinity Gauntlet was very talkie in the first half and then just broke off into three giant comic book issues of straight up action. The Infinity War has some action but it is minuscule when compared to the previous saga.

Also, Magus was a cool idea for a villain but he didn’t even come close to having the presence and intensity of Thanos. Also, Thanos is pretty much neutered in this story and is more of a hero than a villain. I get that he is in someway atoning for his actions when he had possession of the Infinity Gauntlet but it seems like it is way too soon for him to be working with the heroes of the Marvel universe, even if the situation called for it. There certainly should have been more push back from the heroes.

Ultimately, the story was boring. It was a lot of talking… A. LOT. Hell, this story was mostly just talking and talking and more talking. The overall plot was dragged down by an extreme overabundance of dialogue.

I remember really liking all the stuff tied into this event more than the event itself. In the broader universe, Marvel characters were forced to face their evil doppelgängers. I’ll have to re-read some of the single issues I have that are spunoff from this main story arc.

I feel like this book was more of a gimmick than an attempt to really continue the Infinity saga in a way that was actually meaningful. Most of the book felt like it was just full of splash pages with as many characters as possible crammed into a large room, trying to dodge their speech balloons.

This was still a mostly fun read but it was a weak followup to the far superior Infinity Gauntlet.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: The other parts of the trilogy: The Infinity Gauntlet and The Infinity Crusade.

Documentary Review: Andre the Giant (2018)

Release Date: April 10th, 2018
Directed by: Jason Hehir
Music by: Rudy Chung, Justin T. Feldman
Cast: Andre the Giant (archive footage), Hulk Hogan, Vince McMahon, Rob Reiner, Billy Crystal, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robin Wright, Cary Elwes, Ric Flair, Jerry Lawler, Shane McMahon, Gene Okerlund, Pat Patterson, Tim White

Bill Simmons Media Group, HBO, WWE, 85 Minutes

Review:

I was anticipating this since I first heard about it’s production a while ago. Then, once I saw the trailer, I was really stoked.

I have seen a lot of documentaries about professional wrestling but they have mostly been the ones put out by WWE. Sure, those have great production values and even greater stories but I’m always skeptical about WWE releases due to their history of showing a lot of bias. Go back and look at their hit piece called The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior if you don’t believe me. In fact, WWE has sort of ignored that that film even exists after mending their relationship with the Ultimate Warrior and his family.

HBO put together and released this documentary on the legendary Andre Roussimoff a.k.a. Andre the Giant. So that alone puts it in higher regard than WWE’s own productions.

While it does follow his wrestling career, it was nice seeing some of the focus being put on his short acting career, as this documentary interviews those who worked on The Princess Bride with him: Rob Reiner, Billy Crystal, Cary Elwes and Robin Wright. It also showcases his childhood and his family but not as much as I would’ve liked.

Strangely, the film also features Hulk Hogan a lot. I get that they needed to foreshadow the importance of their epic WrestleMania III main event match but it seemed as if the Hogan material was distracting from Andre’s story. Granted, Andre was still the primary focus. Also, Hogan is a well known bullshitter that likes to present revisionist history. I had to kind of take what he was saying about his and Andre’s relationship with a grain of salt.

Negatives aside, this was still well done and it painted a picture of a man that was really a gentle giant. Sure, he would use his size to his advantage but ultimately, Andre was sort of a sweetheart that sadly suffered from a lot of physical, as well as emotional, pain.

But more than anything else, he was a man that was beloved by many.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: The recent Ric Flair 30 For 30 documentary by ESPN.

 

Film Review: Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010)

Release Date: January 22nd, 2010 (Sundance)
Directed by: Eli Craig
Written by: Eli Craig, Morgan Jurgenson
Music by: Michael Shields, Andrew Kaiser
Cast: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss, Chelan Simmons

Eden Rock Media, Looby Lou, Reliance BIG Pictures, Urban Island, Magnet Releasing, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Holy shit. We have go to hide all of the sharp objects!” – Tucker

I really liked this movie when I first saw it, which was way back when it came out in 2010. Weirdly, I hadn’t revisited since that initial viewing. Going back to it now was refreshing, as there hasn’t been a whole lot that I’ve liked in the horror genre, as of late. Especially in regards to comedy horror.

The premise of this film is great and it kind of makes you rethink horror films from the past. This is a movie that is about a series of misunderstandings and misinterpretations based on preexisting biases and well, other horror movies.

Tucker and Dale are two hillbillies that are driving to their vacation home in the woods. On their way, they meet a group of college kids and Dale is smitten with a girl in the group named Allison. He tries to talk to her but is nervous and comes off to the kids as a crazy, creepy, backwoods redneck. The kids are on the immediate defense because they’ve obviously watched too many horror films about killer rednecks in the woods.

Following the setup, the rest of the film is full of other misunderstandings that convince the college kids that these two hillbillies are trying to murder them. In reality, they are two nice and chill guys. The college students try to save a friend that the hillbillies have in their house, as she is recovering from an injury. As the college kids swarm the house, some of them end up killing themselves accidentally in the chaos. Tucker and Dale are left thinking that these kids are trying to kill Allison and have some sort of suicide pact. The surviving kids continue to think that Tucker and Dale are savage killers.

While the premise is fantastic it wouldn’t survive without good and clever writing and without some surprises thrown in. Eli Craig and Morgan Jurgenson penned a stellar script and Craig also did a fine job behind the camera, directing the action.

Tucker and Dale are incredibly likable characters, as is Allison. Other than that, it’s great seeing all the other kids get maimed, disfigured and killed in a myriad of interesting ways. I also loved seeing how freaked out Tucker and Dale were, as they couldn’t make sense out of what was happening.

Alan Tudyk played Tucker and he’s fun to watch in any role. However, Tyler Labine really stole the show as Dale. He was a true everyman and was just good at it. He wanted to win the girl, he didn’t look the part but through his heroics, bravery and loyalty to those he cares about, was able to win in the end.

There have been rumors about a sequel for years. In fact, a script was written but it was terrible and they decided against making it. So kudos to the filmmakers and actors for not just trying to cash in and ride the wave of success from the first movie. Besides, this is a very satisfying film on its own and doesn’t need a sequel just to have one.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Other good recent horror parodies: Cabin in the WoodsShaun of the DeadZombieland and What We Do In the Shadows.