Murdercycle

Murdercycle

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Today’s flick is a little-known 1999 feature from the infamous library of Full Moon Entertainment: the amazingly-titled Murdercycle.

Murdercycle was distributed by Full Moon Entertainment, an outfit run by Charles Band that is infamous for b-level horror movies like Castle Freak, Demonic Toys, and Dollman, and notoriously terrible franchises like Puppet Master, The Evil Bong, and The Gingerdead Man.

Apparently, Murdercycle was created from the remnants of an unrealized Charles Band project from back in the days of Empire Pictures, which would have involved motorcycles battling each other in something called Battle Bikes. However, it didn’t get made before Empire folded, and Band went back to the drawing board years later under his new Full Moon label.

Between the director and two credited screenwriters for the movie, only one of them has any other credits to his name: writer Neal Marshall Stevens, who used his frequent pseudonym “Benjamin Carr” for the project. His other credits include Retro Puppet Master, Hellraiser: Deader, and Thir13en Ghosts, along with a handful of other low budget horror films.

The plot of Murdercycle is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A meteor falls to earth near a secret CIA military hideout and merges with a motorcycle and it’s rider to create an alien soldier bent on recovering an alien artifact. Military soldiers with the help of a female doctor that can read minds try to figure out what is going on and how to stop it before it kills them. They are also hindered by the CIA agent in charge of the base who refuses to divulge the hideouts’ secrets which could help them.

At first glance, Murdercycle seems to have all of the required elements for a fun b-movie. Honestly, I was sold on the title alone. A killer motorcycle? How could that be boring?

I went into Murdercycle without any other background than that. Based on the title, I thought of a few directions the movie might go. It could be a story like Death Proof or The Hitcher, about an unhinged biker who builds a rig equipped with blades, explosives, and gadgets for terrorizing people on the road. Or, maybe the motorcycle is just operating itself for purposes of mischief and murder, like a Maximum Overdrive or Killdozer situation. Either way, I would have been more than content.

Instead, Murdercycle has very little to do with the titular vehicular manslaughterist (which, as it turns out, is an alien that absorbs technology). The movie is, weirdly enough, a bit of a character drama, and spends a lot of time focusing on betrayals, interpersonal tensions, and widespread deception. The murderous wheeler is an occasional interjection of lackluster pyrotechnics into what is otherwise a military drama. While that might sound kind of intriguing to some, the characters and dialogue are pretty severely lacking, and the acting ranges from “soap opera adequate” to “community theater unqualified.”

The motorcycle itself is disappointing as well. It isn’t even a motorcycle as much as it is a dirt bike with a bunch of vaguely menacing accoutrements glued onto it. To say the least, it didn’t match the image of a bladed, chrome, roaring Harley Davidson beast with a taste for blood that was initially conjured in my head from the title.

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The Murdercycle
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Google Image result for “evil motorcycle”
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Google Image result for “killer motorcycle”

An unexpected amount of time in the move is dedicated to vaguely interesting philosophical issues, like the ethics of Artificial Intelligence and the potential boundary-violating practice of mind reading. Weirdly, though, the ability to read people’s thoughts is taken as a given,and is apparently public knowledge in the world of the movie: one of the central characters is a psychic, and no one is terribly surprised, alarmed, or even incredulous about that claim.

The real problem with the injecting of these philosophical ideas into the story isn’t that they are there (science fiction really should intersect with philosophy), but how they are written in. Every time one of these thought-provoking issues comes up, the movie grinds to a complete halt, and they are addressed with the subtlety of a hammer on a gong. Even worse, they are addressed really poorly, like you are sitting in on the first session of a Philosophy 101 course.

Likewise, the writers clearly wanted to slip in references to comic books in the screenplay, which is something that can be done well and effectively without distracting the audience. However, instead of making the references organic and natural, the characters are written to go out of their way to mention specifics about the Fantastic Four over and over again, beyond the point of saturation.

Honestly, this is one of the most disappointing movies I have seen in a long time. Not only is the title golden, but there were plenty of ways to make the movie better, even with the existing plot. I actually appreciate some of the ideas presented here, which indicate some ambition in the writing, but the execution was disappointingly sloppy. The end result of it all is a movie that is basically Predator, but with freshman philosophy discussions instead of over-the-top machismo, and an amateurishly-decorated dirtbike instead of a terrifying alien.

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Fateful Findings

Fateful Findings

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This past week, I had my first opportunity to experience Fateful Findings, a movie from the contemporary trash cinema master, Neil Breen.

Neil Breen, who performed just about every major role behind the scenes of the movie, is apparently a successful Las Vegas architect who self-funds his film productions with his profits. On top of his numerous behind the scenes duties, he also stars in all of his films, and Fateful Findings is no exception.

Fateful Findings was released in 2013, and is Breen’s third feature-length work. A fourth feature, Pass Thru, is due to release in 2016.

Fateful Findings is a movie that almost defies summary. There are so many sub-plots, dropped threads, and non-sequiturs that the story is barely coherent. On IMDb, the plot is broken down as follows:

A small boy discovers a mystical power as a child. He is then separated from his childhood girlfriend. He grows up to be a computer scientist who is hacking into the most secret national and international secrets, as well as being an acclaimed novel writer. His childhood ‘finding’ gives him amazing paranormal powers. He is reunited with the childhood girlfriend, mystically, on his hospital deathbed… as his relationship with his current drug addict girlfriend is deteriorating. The passions build between the threesome. Mystical, psychiatric and worldly forces rise to prevent him from revealing the hacked secrets. He attempts to reveal all in a Washington DC large press conference, with ‘fateful’ and dangerous consequences.

Fateful Findings is one of the most deeply incompetent films I have seen in a long time. Honestly, Coleman Francis, who could never quite figure out how sound worked on film, made more watchable movies than Neil Breen. Not only is Fateful Findings written in a confusing, convoluted, and rambling way, but both the sound and visuals are lacking on a near-parallel level.
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Any given sequence might feature an airplane flying overhead, a loud air conditioner, inexplicably loud ambient tones, or silence for no apparent artistic purpose. Really, the sound throughout the movie is a crap shoot in every way imaginable. There is even one sequence where the sound of keyboard typing continues in the background after the character is no longer on the computer.

The visuals are primarily comprised of awkward close-ups, with occasional strangely set up two shots. A number of sequences feature two or more people at a table, which rapidly become confusing thanks to the way the shots are structured, and the fact that Breen can’t seem to fit more than two people in any given shot.  Even worse, however, is the fact that the acting is all truly horrendous, which makes the pressure of the closeups unbearable. On top of that, the editing leaves in long stretches of silence between lines, that only serve to enhance the awkwardness of their deliveries.

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Honestly, I could go on forever nitpicking specific issues with this movie. However, here is the key takeaway: with the right group of people, Fateful Findings is a blast. This is a weird movie that takes itself way too seriously, and is all the more comedic because of it. It is almost artistic in its lack of cogency, and in how it revels in its own terrible form and practice.  Surreal might be the right word for it, but I would hesitate to give it that much credit: it is a nonsensical fever dream of a concept that somehow made it to film without getting translated into any language at all.

The Thing With Two Heads

The Thing With Two Heads

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Today I’m going to take a quick look at a b-movie classic: The Thing With Two Heads.

The Thing With Two Heads was a 1972 low budget movie that was presented by the notorious Samuel Z. Arkoff, and distributed by American International Pictures. The film’s writer/director, Lee Frost, had a long career making exploitation features, including 1975’s The Black Gestapo.

The plot of The Thing With Two Heads is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A rich but racist man is dying and hatches an elaborate scheme for transplanting his head onto another man’s body. His health deteriorates rapidly, and doctors are forced to transplant his head onto the only available candidate: a black man from death row.

The movie primarily stars Academy Award winner Ray Milland and former NFL star Roosevelt Grier as the mismatched central pair.

Effects legend and winner of many Academy Awards Rick Baker appears briefly in the film in a gorilla suit, and apparently did work on the effects as well, though without credit.

The score for The Thing With Two Heads was provided by Richard O. Ragland, who also provided music for Q: The Winged Serpent, The Touch of Satan, and Grizzly, among many others low budget features.

Nowadays, The Thing With Two Heads is regarded as an off-color cheese-ball classic of trash cinema, that certainly has a bit of a cult following. Roger Ebert gave the movie a 1-star review, and IMDb currently has it at an unenviable 4.1/10 from its user base, but it certainly hasn’t disappeared into absolute obscurity by any means.

The Thing With Two Heads is certainly a movie made for its time period. This reminded me in some ways of Bone, and in other ways of the standard field of blaxploitation movies that came out in the 1970s. However, its goofiness kind of defies classification: it is hard to call this anything other than a b-movie, though there are definitely blaxploitation elements. It isn’t what anyone would call progressive in its portrayal of race, but given the time period, it certainly could have been worse.

The movie certainly isn’t good by any stretch of the imagination, but it has some odd value as a silly relic of its time period. For b-movie fans who can stomach lesser Roger Corman movies, The Thing With Two Heads shouldn’t be any trouble, and might be worth checking out. The effects and stunts are in particular pretty hilariously inept, which are almost worth the experience on their own.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

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With the release of Suicide Squad this past weekend, I figured it was about time to take a look at DC’s previous critical bomb. And so, today’s feature is the much-hyped and highly divisive DC cinematic grudge match, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Dawn of Justice was written by Chris Terrio, most notably of Argo, and David S. Goyer, whose previous credits include Dark City, Batman Begins, Blade II, Demonic Toys, and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, among others.

The movie was directed by the ever-divisive Zack Snyder, whose previous films include 300, Watchmen, Man of Steel, and Sucker Punch. Snyder has already been attached to direct the Dawn of Justice follow-ups, Justice League and Justice League Part Two, and is a listed producer on all upcoming DC cinematic universe features.

The cinematographer for Batman v Superman was Larry Fong, who shot such films as 300, Sucker Punch, and Watchmen, and is working on the upcoming Kong: Skull Island. Before he made the permanent jump to blockbuster films, he worked extensively on the TV show Lost.

The editor for the film was David Brenner, who previously cut flicks like 2012, Wanted, The Day After Tomorrow, The Patriot, Independence Day, The Doors, and World Trade Center.

Dawn of Justice boasts a large cast list that includes Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, and Lawrence Fishburne, among others.

The plot of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Fearing that the actions of Superman are left unchecked, Batman takes on the Man of Steel, while the world wrestles with what kind of a hero it really needs.

Long before Dawn of Justice hit theaters, it managed to get on the wrong side of many fans of DC comics with the casting of Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne and Batman. Many couldn’t separate him from his unsuccessful string of action features, which included a stint as the Marvel superhero Daredevil, prior to his critical rebirth with his acclaimed directing career. Surprisingly, most fans now cite Affleck’s depiction of Batman (“Batfleck”) as one of the few highlights of Dawn of Justice.

batmansuperman3While Dawn of Justice is not the first film installment in the DC Cinematic Universe, as it follows the continuity of Man of Steel, it is undoubtedly the key launching point for DC’s imminent future on screen. It introduces not only Batman, but Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg as potential subjects for connected stories down the line.

Both the plot and aesthetics of Dawn of Justice borrow heavily from two key source materials: “The Death of Superman” and “The Dark Knight Returns.” However, the result manages to defy being faithful to either comic story, and likely wouldn’t please die hard fans of one or the other.

In July of 2016, an expanded cut of Batman v Superman was released on DVD and Blu-ray, which included 30 minutes of cut footage. This director’s cut has been marketed as an Ultimate Edition, and was meant to counter some popular criticisms of the theatrical cut.

The idea of a Batman and Superman team up has a long history, both inside and outside of the pages of DC comics. Series such as World’s Finest have seen the two iconic characters team up with fellow allies and get up to all manner of shenanigans, including occasionally traveling in time. Likewise, the characters have crossed paths many times in animation, such as the Super Friends ad Justice League series.

batmansuperman1Batman v Superman was greeted with a notably mixed reception, particularly online. The Rotten Tomatoes scores currently sit at 27% from critics and 65% from audiences, which is a significant gulf, and has been cause for claims of bias and conspiracy on the parts of some. The IMDb score is no less contentious: it currently sits at a 6.9/10, but that is only after alleged vote brigades inflated the score for weeks after the film’s initial release.

Batman v Superman is a movie that certainly has a fair share of flaws, but I think its biggest failing is the lack of character building in the screenplay. The movie so heavily relies on the audience’s recognition of the characters on screen, that it doesn’t bother building them beyond that. I have never had so much trouble feeling invested in characters in a superhero movie, and I’m including movies like Howard The Duck and Daredevil in there.

On top of the character issues, there is a strange lack of connection between sequences throughout the movie, to the point that long stretches just feel like bloated montages. It is hard to relate to anyone in the story as a result, because you don’t really spend quality time with any of them. Instead of the characters feeling like close friends of the audience via shared experience, they just come off as adjacent acquaintances. There is just no emotional bond built between the characters and the observers.

However, there are a few notable bright spots to the movie. Batman, on all fronts, is actually pretty solid. Jeremy Irons is a spectacular Alfred, and his dialogue with Affleck was the most real and relatable thing in the movie. Personally, I also thought the aesthetics of the Batman suit and paraphernalia were a welcome departure from all of the character’s previous film appearances. The armor and voice modulator were a nice touch, as hokey as they might seem to some, and Affleck absolutely nailed an aged and burnt-out Bruce Wayne. Honestly, I think that Batfleck would have been a better fit for a story like The Dark Knight Rises, in which his methods are either publicly frowned upon or no longer needed, but he is cornered into a return to form.

Likewise, Wonder Woman was definitely cool to see, and looked cool in action on screen. Gal Gadot has gotten a little bit of unmerited criticism for her accent, but I thought it fit the character pretty well, and it wasn’t exactly distracting. However, Wonder Woman’s presence also made the move feel even more bloated than it already was. She (and the rest of the Justice League) felt a little too forced and transparent as mechanisms to build branching paths for a sprawling film franchise. That might have been fine if they were worked in as minor references or as concluding teasers, but they are given a little too much focus, to the detriment of the story and film as a whole. The result is both a muddy story and a poor introduction to some key franchise characters. The Justice League either needed way more attention and a role in the plot, or way less time on screen.

Almost certainly the most mocked aspect of Dawn of Justice is the cause of the two central heroes’ ultimate alliance: the revelation that they both have moms named Martha. I can understand that this was an attempt to emotionally tie the two characters together, and give them common ground to come to terms on. Unfortunately, not only isn’t this commonality built up very well, but it is just too simplistic, and comes off as borderline comedic as a result. It is just too minor of a coincidence to justify burying the hatchet on a pretty serious grudge.

Overall, Batman v Superman isn’t unwatchable by any means, but it is definitely sup-par. Snyder does have a gift for crafting images, but he’s never really gotten a handle on story or characters, which are necessary to give those images genuine gravity. For fans of Snyder’s other works, this is probably a perfectly acceptable flick. Likewise, die-hard Superman and Batman fans may just be pleased to see their idols on screen again. However, in my opinion, this is not just sub-par, but disappointingly forgettable. What of this movie, in 10 years, will be remembered? Martha? Batfleck? The box office number? Almost nothing about the story or the emotion that should have defined this movie will last. As with many Snyder films, this is an exercise in spectacle that is ultimately all flash and no substance.

Death Ring

Hello, loyal readers! I’ve been a bit swamped as of late, and haven’t had the chance to write a full review this week. I do, however, have a quick recommendation:

Death Ring

Don’t let that trailer throw you off: None of Patrick Swayze, Chuck Norris, or Steve McQueen are in this movie. Instead, this movie stars a bunch of people who have common last names with those people, which is about as hilariously deceptive as b-movie gimmickry gets.

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This is a pretty clear cut Deadliest Game kind of human hunting movie, so the plot isn’t anything to write home about. However, the action scenes and the acting are delightfully cheesy. It may not be the unadulterated glory that is Deadly Prey, but Death Ring is a pretty good time for you b-movie fans out there. In particular, I enjoyed all of the creative cutting used to avoid moderately expensive gore effects. I assume they didn’t think anyone would notice.

The best part of the movie, however, is that fact that director R.J. Kizer has actually made it kind of big since the early 1990s. He is now an ADR editor with a whole lot of big studio credits under his belt. Deadpool, Inception, X-Men: First Class, Daredevil, Night at the Museum, The Dark Knight Rises, Jingle All The Way, Alien Resurrection, Street Fighter, and Showgirls are just a few among many movies he’s worked on since directing Death Ring in 1992.

Even better, he has had two other directorial credits in his career. One of them is a b-movie classic that you might be familiar with: Hell Comes To Frogtown.

The other one is Godzilla 1985.