The Crusaders #357: Experiment in Evil! (2008)

Furie! The Ace of Spades! Twilight! Sergeant Liberty! Dave!

They’re The Crusaders, a hero human team out to protect the world from evil and their movie looks like a comic’s pages being flipped. I liked the effect, even if it’s distracting at times, and the movie felt like watching a night of the old RPG Champions.

Director Robb Wolford has only made this movie, but I’d really like to see what else he can do. This has a lot of storylines going on but really has the look and aura of a 70s Marvel book.

It’s not perfect and overreaches past its budget, but it has heart. This is made by people who love comics and not commerce. With bad guys like The Seven Heads of the Beast (Zuromachi, Death Rattle, Countess Bathory, The Gorgon, Uncle Smiley, Dr. Omega and Speedtrip) and The Moguls of Doom (Warlock, Barbarian, Witch Doctor, Dr. Psycho, Captain Slaughter, The Masked Crusher, The Ogre and The Proletariat), as well as a plan to kill thousands on Christmas Eve, this is a high stakes superhero movie no matter what the cost to make it may have been.

So how about the next issue?

You can watch this on Tubi.

Punisher: War Zone (2008)

Ray Stevenson has done a great job of playing two of my favorite characters — The Punisher and Firefly — in two not-so-good movies, which is kind of sad. At least Marvel threw him something of a bone by having him play Volstagg in the Thor movies. But hey — he’s done well for himself. I just wish they’d made a better Punisher movie for him to be in.

Neither director Jonathan Hensleigh or star Thomas Jane — who said “What I won’t do is spend months of my life sweating over a movie that I just don’t believe in. I’ve always loved the Marvel guys, and wish them well. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to search for a film that one day might stand with all those films that the fans have asked me to watch.” — would return for this film. I mean, at one point, Walter Hill was going to be involved, but lack of a good script was one of the main reasons why Jane — who would come back to play Castle in a short called The Punisher: Dirty Laundry — walked away.

Director Lexi Alexander, a former soccer hooligan, World Karate Association world champion and United States Marine Corps close combat trainer, tried. She had famous battles with Lionsgate, who produced the film in the days before Marvel making all of their own films. She’d later say, “Marvel was an equal partner, but unfortunately when there were creative decision conflicts, Marvel would let Lionsgate be the tie breaker. I always regretted that I made a Marvel movie this way, because 99% of their notes were much better than the studios and I was more in tune with them.” There were rumors that she was taken off the film, which she denies, but she didn’t get final cut.

Roger Ebert referred to the film by saying “The Punisher: War Zone is one of the best-made bad movies I’ve seen” and it’s been reeavluated since its release, but this is the lowest grossing Marvel film — I don’t know if they count the earlier Captain America — making even less than Elektra and Howard the Duck.

I mean, I love Jigsaw. I love the Punisher. This feels like it wants to be something other than a story from the comics and when those flipping acrobats show up? Yeah, I’m good. Not every bad movie can be reclaimed.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 24: Karzzzz (2008)

Karzzzz is a remake of the 1980 1980 Indian Hindi-language movie that was based on The Reincarnation of Peter Proud, although influenced by Indian beliefs on reincarnation. While not a big movie upon release, Karz has grown in influence over time, inspiring remakes like Yuga Purusha; Enakkul Oruvan and this film, as well as Chances Are.

In fact, the original movie is so well-thought-of that even the titles of songs from that movie ended up becoming movie titles. Dard-e-dil, Paisa Yeh Paisa, Main Solah Baras Ki, Ek Hasina Thi, Aashiq Banaya Aapne and Om Shanti Om all owe their origins to Karz.

Ravi Verma and Sir Judah have been battling over the rights to thousands of acres of vineyards and Ravi wins the court case, then marries Kamini, the love of his life. As they fly to meet his mother and sister, he doesn’t know that Judah and his wife are working together. She sabotages the plane and parachutes out, becoming a princess, leaving his family penniless and killing him.

25 years later, Monty is a rock star in South Africa, but he has memories of a life he’s never lived. He’s in love with Tina, but must discover what Kamini means to him, how he can reclaim his past and save his mother and sister.

Karzzzz was not well-received but I wanted to cover it because it’s amazing that The Reincarnation of Peter Proud had an influence long after it left American theaters, even if it isn’t in its home.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 13: The Ruins (2008)

Based on The Ruins by Scott Smith, who also wrote the screenplay and is not related to the director, Carter Smith.

Jeff (Jonathan Tucker), Amy (Jena Malone) Eric (Shawn Ashmore) and Stacy (Laura Ramsey) are on vacation in Mexico when they meet Mathias (Joe Anderson) who last saw his brither Heinrich at a Mayan temple dig. As they follow him and his friend Dmitri, they end up accidentally stepping on some vines that cause the locals to grow insane at come at them with knives and guns, killing Dmitri.

It turns out that those vines, when touched, cause the natives to leave them alone. Those same vines also start to grow within their bodies, taking them over and consuming them. The vine FX are great, the scene where Stacy tries to slice herself apart to free her body of them is good but as for the rest of the movie, it’s just fine. They shot a ton of endings to this and seemingly picked the safest one. Oh well.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 11: Chemical Wedding (2008)

Simon Calow (Four Weddings and a Funeral) is Professor Oliver Haddo, a Cambridge scholar who is reprogrammed by a virtual reality machine into becoming the avatar for the spirit of Aleister Crowley. Now, more than fifty years after his death, Crowley begins his search for a scarlet woman to be part of his next working.

It was directed by Julian Doyle, who edited BrazilLife of BrianThe Meaning of Life and Time Bandits. He’s also directed music videos for Kate Bush and made Iron Maiden’s “Can I Play With Madness?” video. Speaking of Maiden, he co-wrote this with their lead singer, Bruce Dickinson, and two of his songs (“Chemical Wedding” and “Book of Sorrows”) and two Maiden songs (the aforementioned “Madness” and “The Wicker Man”) are on the soundtrack.

I learned from this movie that we live in the world where Satan is in charge, that you can fax sperm and that even a movie with this much nudity and depravity can be slightly lame. I wanted to love this and it got close, so close, but it’s charitably a complete mess.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 4: Bach ke Zara (2008)

In the pages of Ed Glaser’s How the World Remade Hollywood, I learned that Evil Dead was such a huge movie in India that numerous films took its artwork and tree attack as their own, with 2007’s Bhayam (The Fear) going so far as to outright take footage in an Indian-infused bit of Bruno Mattei-esque thievery.

Bach ke Zara (Tread Carefully) may not take footage, but it’s literally the same story as Sam Raimi’s film, with director Salim Raza going all out to deliver zombie and possession action on a budget somewhat even lower than Raimi had back in 1981.

Where his film differs is that we see how the archaeologist who found the Necronomicon was dispatched — only hinted in the first two Evil Dead movies — as well as filling the movie with no small amount of crowd-pleasing sex scenes.

There’s also a music video within the movie that has nothing at all to do with the actual movie and for that, I must compliment the filmmakers. It looks exactly like something Christina Aguilera would make, what with the muscle men and mud dancing.

So yes, when Sunny, Raja, Sweety, Nicole and Sheena were warned away from this house on the lake, they should have listened. But one look at the Book of the Dead they found and you’ll think it’s more cute than sinister and you’d probably read its pages too.

Also, there’s less of a tree assault and more tree-hugging, but the reverse way that you expect it. And hey, most of their countrymen don’t do burial, so the characters in this movie were made Christian. That’s the kind of explaining that movies try to do to make sense of Van Damme speaking in his accent, you know?

You can watch this on Tubi.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 1: April Fool’s Day (2008)

Ah, the 2000s, when every decent and not-so-decent slasher was remade. That means that even April Fool’s Day could be made all over again by The Butcher Brothers (Mitchell Altieri and Phil Flores), who had just made The Hamiltons.

Desiree Cartier (Taylor Cole) is hosting a party for her actress Torrance Caldwell (Scout Taylor-Compton from the Rob Zombie Halloween movies) and has invited Blaine (Josh Henderson), the brother she dislikes along with U.S. Senate candidate Peter Welling and his beauty queen fiancee Barbie (Jennifer Siebel), her enemy Milan, videographer Ryan and society reporter Charles.

During that April Fool’s party, a prank leads to Milan suffering a seizure and falling off the balcony to her death, which ends with Blaine losing control of the family’s fortune and Desiree becoming the executor. The death is ruled an accident.

A year later, the group is invited to Milan’s grave to watch a video of Charles being drowned. One of them killed Milan, a note states, and unless they confess, everyone will die.

While the score is close to the original, the film just doesn’t live up to the inspiration. But you knew that. It does have a nice giallo/Agatha Christie set-up. But it just doesn’t seem to know what to do with the story once it gets going.

MILL CREEK BLU RAY RELEASE: Superior 8 Ultra Brothers (2008)

The first Ultraman was introduced to our world — as well as the universe of this movie in 1966. As children, Daigo Madoka, Shin Asuka and Gamu Takayama were inspired by the show and never forgot about their hero, even after they grew up. Nor did they forget the strange girl they met the first day they saw Ultraman, who asked them to make wishes for their futures, with Shin wanting to be a baseball player and Gamu thinking of his scientist future in which he builds the ship that Daigo will fly to M78, Ultraman’s planet.

Decades pass and one day, Daigo has a vision of a battle between Alien Nackle and Alien Guts versus four of the Ultraman Brothers. Strangely enough, Daigo knows that the Ultras that are losing the battle are his friends Hayata, Dan, Go and Hokuto. No one believes him, but soon, he finds his way into another world where he helps Ultraman Mebius defeat Monster Gesura. That’s when he realizes that he must rally his friends to bring back Ultraman, Ultraseven, Ultraman Jack, Ultraman Tiga, Ultraman Dyna, Ultraman Gaia, Ultraman Mebius and Ultraman Ace.

After all, anyone who believes in Ultraman can achieve victory.

I loved this movie, which brings together so many Ultraman characters into one great film. It’s filled with so much joy and was the perfect antidote for the darkness I keep feeling creeping into the edges of life. It made me remember when I was a young kid, screaming every time Ultraman started losing power and wondering if he had enough to save the day.

You can get Superior 8 Ultra Brothers on blu ray from Mill Creek. The official page has all the information you need and you can order it directly from Deep Discount.

MVD BLU RAY RELEASE: Bryan Loves You (2008)

Shot in 17 days with a budget of $25,000, Bryan Loves You is a movie that truly surprised me. I usually can’t deal with found footage films, but this uses the form in a way that creates a story that couldn’t be told any other way.

After Tony Todd starts the film with a warning about what we’re about to see and how it could psychologically harm us, we learn about Jonathan (director and writer Seth Landau, who just directed Take Out this year), a psychotherapist who is concerned that a cult that worships Bryan has taken over his small Arizona town.

He’s right.

I wish that the film stayed in the first stage of the film, as we saw how the cult has taken over the town and established such a foothold on the people. Once it moves into the mental hospital, it loses a bit of steam, yet it finds its footing again with the psychodramas that have to be acted out as therapy.

It’s definitely not like any movie I’ve seen before as it plunges you directly into a world that feels fully formed. It’s frustrating that there’s so much world-building and we don’t get to see everything.

That said, there are tons of cameos in this. Everyone from George Wendt and Tiffany Shepis to Bobby Slayton and Brinke Stevens are in it. It’s not for everyone, but there’s something here. I’m not certain what that something is, I wish that it had been explored more, but I can’t say that I’m upset with the time I spent watching Bryan Loves You.

The MVD blu ray of Bryan Loves You is packed with extras, including new audio commentary from Landau and the 2008 commentary from the Anchor Bay DVD that features Landau, the cast and crew along with JoBlo critic James Ostar, Elissa Dowling and professor and religious expert Dr. Phillip Baker. There are also interviews with Wendt, Shepis, Stevens and Daniel Roebuck as well as a new trailer for the movie.

Bryan Loves You is available from JAL Smithtown and MVD Entertainment on March 22.

Grey’s Inbetween (2008)

This is the day in the life of Jane Grey (Natasha Bain, who also wrote some of the script), a black actress struggling between her career, her love life and how she’s dealing with it all. A breakup with a married man has done more damage to her self-esteem than it should have and she wants to see him one last time, all while getting ready to audition for a role that she’s certain that she can’t get.

It all sounds rather depressing, but as this is directed by Andrew Rajan, the long dialogue segments really inform you all about Jane and how she’s trying to keep her life from going to pieces.

Obviously, I’ll never be a black actress trying to live a modern life in London, but this film puts you directly into the mind and aware of the decisions that its protagonist makes.

You can watch this on Tubi.