Future Justice (2014)

There’s nothing like a theme week — in this case, another “Apoc Week” — to expose us to a filmmaker that we’ve never heard of, well, at least not moi. Now, you know all about the B&S love for all things SOV, especially when it comes to the resumes of ’80s direct-to-video purveyors Dennis Devine and Brett Piper. (Why else do you think we dedicated an entire Drive-In Friday feature to both of their careers?) And with the advent of digital technologies, we now have a new guard of shot-on-digital filmmakers that are just as prolific as Dennis and Brett. And one of those filmmakers is Providence, Rhode Island-based writer and director Richard Griffin. During his now 20-year career, Griffin’s produced 29 feature films and 13 shorts in the horror genre. He’s the kind of filmmaker who can pinch out three films in a year without breaking a sweat. And, from what I can see, he’s never not been able to secure worldwide distribution for his product. I bet, if I go to Walmart right now, I’d find a couple of his films in the Wallyworld impulse-buy barrels in the electronics’ aisle.

I have to admit, after looking at over his resume, with retro-inducing titles such as Raving Maniacs (2005), Beyond the Dunwich Horror (2008), Atomic Brain Invasion (2010), Frankenstein’s Hungry Dead (2013), Seven Dorms of Death (2015), and Flesh for the Inferno (2015), I’m diggin’ the Griffin-vibes. I’ll have to see how many of his films I can exhume from the net’s digital coffers for a weekend of couch-grazing. And, as you can see, Richard Griffin loves his horror flicks. But how does he fair in the sci-fi genre?

Let’s fire up that retro-VCR for his lone — so far — sci-fi adventure, Future Justice.

We dig the ’80s retro-VHS cover art.

So, since we are in a digitally-based retro-land, the tentpoles on Future Justice are, of course, the earth-based, ’80s Italian ripoffs of Mad Max and Escape from New York, with a smidgen of George Romero’s The Night of the Living Dead and soupçon of that other Carpenter film (that J.C keeps remaking to lesser and lesser effect, i.e., the utterly shitty Ghosts of Mars), Assault of Precinct 13. And Carpenter’s pre-Assault film comes to play: Dark Star (more on that later). And keepin’ that Carpenter vibe going: you’ll see a touch of Luc Besson’s blatantly plagiarist Plissken romp, Lockout. And since we’ve got a maniacal ex-military man hellbent on ruling the Earth, we’ve got a little of Kevin Costner’s The Postman. But since we are in low-budget land: I’ll take the retro-vibes back a bit further . . . with Invisible Invaders, the 1959 John Agar-starring film that everyone seems to forget inspired George Romero’s zombie romp, which plays a sci-fi angle (of alien spirits possessing dead humans) in lieu of Romero’s later horror angle. And instead of Costner’s apoc-romp, we’ll evoke the cheaper, 1984 Canadian apoc’er Def-Con 4, with that film’s Earth-fallen astronauts besieged by a self-appointed, maniacal ruler run amok in the woods of Nova Scotia.

Now, if you’ve seen Lockout — or any of the countless “space prison” flicks released over the years in the wake of David Fincher Alien 3 (another of this film’s influences; also Fincher’s Pitch Black with its Riddick character comes to play) — then you’re up to speed in the Griffin-verse as we meet the solar system’s most infamous criminal: Python Diamond (screenwriter Nathaniel Silva). After serving out his five-year cryo-sentence on the prison moon of Titan, he’s now ready for transfer back to Earth to complete his sentence. And in mid-transport . . . the five-man military police crew in charge of our reluctant hero loses contact with Earth . . . and comes to discover a nuclear war has devastated the planet.

Of course, with these space marines, Semper Fidelis isn’t their motto: they need Python Diamond on their team — and they’ll see to it his faux-Plissken-ness gets a Hauk-esque full pardon for helping out. And, with that, our Magnificent Six fight their way through the anarchy and come to defend a group of scientists in a warehouse bunker laid siege by the Earth’s now crazed, radiated survivors. Oops, they’ve just lead the paramilitary crazies right to the very scientists trying to save the Earth.

I know, I know. Where’s the logic with these “space prison films” shipping the Earth’s malcontents to the Saturn’s moon to freeze them, then defrost them and ship them back? Hey, don’t blame Griffin: he’s homaging the films that came up with the ol’ prison freezing snafu in the first place. (And don’t get me started on my disdain for Demolition Man and its prison-freeze tomfoolery, which is only matched by my acid-refluxin’ for Starship Troopers . . . and upchuckin’ for Carpenter’s Escape from L.A., but I digress.)

Look, are these apocalyptic proceedings a wee bit plastic and cardboard in appearance? Is the thespin’ wooden to manically over the top? Is the embattled group of outsiders battling against overwhelming odds in a cramped space a bit trope-laden? Of course it is. And you’d be remiss to expect otherwise. However, my jam on this film is that it looks awesome during its time in space, as the in-space set (that’s where the Dark Star comparison comes in) is pretty impressive, considering the film’s reported $20,000 budget. And the CGI, while obvious, is equally against-the-budget impressive than most of the CGI fails of today’s indie streamers. The costumes — especially the black-clad military gear of our space cops — looks good, too (dig the insignias). And the soundtrack by Daniel Hildreth is pretty fine and oh, so very Carpenter-esque evoking.

Is this all as good as Steve Barkett’s and Chip Mayer’s respective, somewhat similar astronaut-returns-to-a-nuked-Earth apoc-romps The Aftermath (1982) and Survivor (1987)? Eh, depends on how far your nostalgia miles may vary.

Not the U.S.S Dark Star, but still impressive, none the less.

Then, after those first 12 minutes are over and everything falls to Earth . . . everything falls apart (at least for moi), as we end up with just a whole lot running around an old warehouse and make-piece paramilitary dolts in fatigues and hockey gear. Granted, kudos are given for Griffin securing a pretty impressive, out-of-commission warehouse — that makes me think of the past inventiveness of Sergio Martino using an abandon yogurt factory for his Eurac headquarters for his not Plissken-romp, 2019: After the Fall of New York. Truth is: Future Justice, if under the thumb of Martino, would have worked great as the further adventures of Parsifal sequel.

That’s not saying the rest of the not-spaceship bound Future Justice is awful, as the film would play nicely on the SyFy Channel or even work wonders in filling up a two-hour block on the national cable channel Comet. I was just left so impressed by Richard Griffin’s inventiveness with his interior spaceship designs, I just wished this was retooled to remain on the spaceship or ended up on a space station-cum-prison. In the end: Griffin does a good job in stretching the most out of his budget and seamlessly mixing practical effects with CGI. If you’re burnt out your re-watches of the apoc-romps of old and you need a new film to watch, you’ve done worse on the scorched plains of the post-apoc terra firmas.

You can watch Future Justice as a free-with-ads stream on Tubi. We’ve also found an authorized upload — just released on February 14th — courtesy of my You Tube rabbit holin’ on Sci-Fi Central‘s web-channel. There’s a lot of interesting stuff to stream on that Australian-based page, so check ’em out. The DVD release of Future Justice also includes the 2010 short Mutants of the Apocalypse, which apparently served as the test film in creating Future Justice, as well as commentary tracks from the director, cinematographer, and some of the cast.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Shameless plug review piggy-backing alert!

Join us for our Drive-In Friday Nights with Dennis Devine and Brett Piper, won’t you?

SON OF KAIJU DAY MARATHON: Godzilla (2014)

After the release of 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars, which celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the franchise, Toho announced that it would not produce any films featuring the Godzilla character for ten years. They made good on their promise by demolishing the gigantic water stage on its lot that had been used in so many films. And TriStar Pictures, which had the rights to make two to more movies after 1998’s American flop, let the rights expire.

An unlikely hero would arise to bring back the King of the Monsters.

Yoshimitsu Banno, who had directed Godzilla vs. Hedorah and was banned for making another Godzilla film while producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was alive, secured the rights from Toho to make a Godzilla IMAX 3D film called Godzilla to the Max, which would have been a remake of Hedorah.

By 2008, the team making the movie expanded and got the rights from Toho to move from a short to a full-length 3D movie, which brought on Legendary Pictures for backing. Sadly, Banno would pass away in 2013 but is listed as an executive producer on all of their Godzilla films.

In licensing Godzilla to Legendary, Toho made a few rules. Godzilla had to have been born of a nuclear incident and the movie had to be set in Japan. While not one of the rules, the filmmakers made great pains to create a Godzilla that looked more like the real thing, not the iguana design of Roland Emmerich’s film.

The film starts in 1954, as Godzilla is lured to Bikini Atoll to be nuked out of existence. 45 years later, scientists from Monarch — an organization that also appears in Kong: Skull Island — find a skeleton similar to the beast and some spores in the Philippines. Meanwhile, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) sends his wife and her team to test a reactor before a plant collapses, but they all die, sending him on a lifelong question to find out why the seismic activity was so off the charts that day.

Fifteen years later, he’s arrested for trespassing in the zone around the dead reactor and his military son U.S. Navy EOD LT Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) must come to bail him out. Soon, the MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) emerges and kills him in an event reported as an earthquake.

The MUTO end up being the real enemy and not Godzilla, as they destroyed his entire race leaving him the last survivor. By the end of the film, humanity comes to see the creature as a potential savior.

With Elizabeth Olsen as Ford’s wife Elle and Ken Watanabe as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa, this film has a great cast and an engaging story, staying closer to the original tone of Godzilla than any film since.

Eight year old me would like to inform you that it takes an hour for Godzilla to show up and he’s only in the movie for eleven minutes.

Leprechaun: Origins (2014)

Zach Lipovsky, who made Tasmanian DevilsDead Rising: Watchtower, Freaks and the live action Kim Possible made this movie, which probably already had Leprechaun fans upset because Warwick Davis was gone and in his place was WWE wrestler Hornswoggle.

This version of the character isn’t making jokes and appears in a movie that’s closer to Midsommar than a slasher. It actually doesn’t have anything to do with the original films other than the name and the idea that it features leprechauns. Otherwise, it’s very much its own movie.

Now, whether or not that’s a good thing is up to the viewer. It’s fine for what it is, but as you may have learned this week, I have no great love for this series of films. They could make a movie in space, err, in the hood, err…look, they could make any kind of movie they want in this series and my life will be just fine. So a reboot to a less talky little guy doesn’t make me get misty eyed.

Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage (2014)

Actor/director Shahin (Sean) Solimon is the first Persian-American actor to play Sinbad The Sailor in an American made film, which would be this movie, which now has director’s cut and expanded stop-motion VFX and new scenes.

This looks like old claymation mixed with modern desktop special effects, as well as narration by Patrick Stewart, which had to have cost something, you’d think.

How did they get to the fifth voyage of Sinbad? They’re counting The 7th Voyage of Sinbad as step one (which would make this the eleventh voyage, right?) and The Golden Voyage of SinbadSinbad and the Eye of the Tiger and even Enzo G. Castellari and Luigi Cozzi’s Lou Ferrigno-starring Sinbad of the Seven Seas as previous chapters.

Becca didn’t grow up watching these movies, so she’s not going to like a Sinbad movie as much as me, even if it features the hero battling monsters, vampires and Satan himself.

Do you know how many streaming movies I’ve watched lately? Becca asked me to shut it off and I told her it only had two minutes left. She angrily grabbed the remote and said, “It says it has more than ten minutes left!” I replied, “Watch. The credits are going to be about ten minutes long or more to pad this all out.”

So yeah. This is obviously Solimon’s pet project, so who am I to deny him the opportunity to learn how to use After Effects and try to make something that shoots for Harryhausen and ends up somewhere around the clay creatures in Night Train to Terror?

You can learn more on this movie’s official Facebook page and official website. You can watch this on Amazon Prime.

2020 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 30: Dark Dungeons (2014)

DAY 30. BRING IT ON HOME: Something filmed in Seattle.

I love Jack Chick.

Completely and utterly love everything he ever put out.

Dark Dungeons is one of his best tracts.

I went to a high school that had decided that Dungeons & Dragons was a gateway to Satan and banned it from being played. Imagine my surprise when I learned that RPGs were mostly arguing about rules, not getting laid and doing way too much math.

Did Jack Chick lie to me? I was hoping for an awesome underworld of murder and Satan and suicide and heavy metal and hot raven tressed Dungeon Mistresses ordering me around and I got a bunch of dudes drinking Mountain Dew and talking about Gelatinous Cubes.

Writer J. R. Ralls came up with the idea of filming an adaptation of this influential comic but didn’t follow through until he won $1,000 in a lottery. He asked Chick for permission and surprisingly got it and made the movie after a successful Kickstarter.

Made in Seattle, this is an incredibly faithful adaption of the comic that plays it completely straight, which is perfect. Trust me, I have read this so many times that I know it by heart. They even got the font right on Marcie’s suicide note!

Marilyn Manson, who knows quite a bit about the lure of Satan for 80’s teens, once stated, “If every cigarette you smoke takes seven minutes off of your life, every game of Dungeons & Dragons you play delays the loss of your virginity by seven hours.” Seeing as how I didn’t get laid until I was 24, you can only guess how many times I made Charisma rolls and battled Kobolds.

You can watch this on The Fantasy Network and learn more on the official site.

SLASHER MONTH: Watch Me Die (2014)

Spoiler warning: I hate found footage movies. I see them as flimsy excuses to either put handcuffs on a production or a cheap way to cut costs. It rarely, if ever, works for me and I’m often bored within minutes. Why shoehorn yourself into one way to tell the story when cinema offers so many other ways? Ah well, I realize I’m writing a losing battle.

Watch Me Die was once called Murder Death Kill. It’s been released by our friends at Wild Eye as part of their Wild Eye Extreme line (and they were kind enough to send it to us).

A killer named The Surveyor spends most of the movie taping the murders of gorgeous young women he’s hired to make adult movies. However, he just might be the main character in someone else’s film.

Thomas Banuelos wrote, directed and stars in this. If you’re into a movie where a dude makes women drink wine glasses full of drain cleaner, I can’t stop you. I might not invite you over for dinner, but I can’t stop you.

I mean, long scenes of murder and torture with no story to really tie them together is less my jam than even found footage. But hey, different strokes, I guess. Probably literally.

2020 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 16: Frank (2014)

DAY 16. MASKS ARE REQUIRED: You guessed it, at least one character has to wear a mask for the entire movie.

Chris Sievey was a comedian and musician who started his music career by hitchhiking with his brother and heading to the headquarters of Apple Records, where they did a sit-in and demanded to meet one of The Beatles. Instead, they got to play a song for the head of A&R Tony King.

His band The Freshies had their biggest hit with “I’m in Love with the Girl on the Manchester Virgin Megastore Checkout Desk,” but were mostly known only in Manchester. Then, a character that Sievey created, Frank Sidebottom, took over.

Frank was originally a superfan of The Freshies but the popularity of the character led Sievey to focus his output on strictly making records as Frank. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, Frank appeared on the British version of Remote Control, as well as live performances and even a comic strip. He disappeared until 2005, when his Frank Sidebottom’s Proper Telly Show in B/W appeared on television and then he never went away again until Sievey’s death. His song “Christmas is Really Fantastic” was a big hit and there was even a social media campaign to get his song “Guess Who’s Been on Match of the Day” on the charts.

Jon Ronson was the keyboard player for Frank several times, touring with him while beginning his writing career, which has brought him into the orbit of David Icke and Alex Jones before anyone in this country really knew who they were, unlike now when conspiracy theories are everywhere. His book The Men Who Stare at Goats became a movie, then he mined his past to create the script — based on his newspaper article and co-written with Peter Straughan — for the mask-filled movie we’re about to discuss.

Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) dreams of being a rock star, but has no idea how to get there. One day, by whim or fate or accident, he watches a man try to drown himself. That man was the keyboardist for the Soronprfbs, an experimental group that he is invited to play with that very night. Walking in off the street, he sees the lead singer, Frank (Michael Fassbender), a man with a very large masked head that he plugs a microphone into. Before he can get his bearings, the band begins to play and the performance just starts to come together when Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) flips out and destroys her KORG keyboard.

The band moves on. Jon cannot.

Soon, Frank calls him and invites him to join the band. Unknowingly, that means going to Ireland for an extended period to record an album. Jon struggles to be accepted by the rest of the band, which includes Baraque and Nana (Carla Azar, from Autolux, which is fantastic). As he secretly records the band, they begin to get noticed, which is the very thing that Frank both wants and fears most.

Stephen Rennicks from The Prunes wrote much of the music in this and it feels so real. The scenes where the songs come together are magical. And the scene in the diner, where fans are asking Jon about the band and wondering how crazy everyone is and not understanding that they are real people, underscores the issues of mental illness versus art that Roky Erickson, Wesley Willis and Daniel Johnston all really lived.

I’ve only seen one other Larry Abrahamson film before, 2015’s Room, but I really need to take the time and track down everything else he’s made. This movie really took me on a journey and I found myself filled with emotion at the end, as Frank is revealed.

You can learn more at the official site and Facebook page. This has my highest recommendation.

Remake Remix Rip-Off (2014)

As you may have learned from this week of films, Turkey is one of the biggest producers of pop culture in the world, despite a film industry that still has no budget, huge demand and little to no training. To keep up, often screenwriters and directors began creating cover versions of movies and characters from all over the world.

Creator Cem Kaya grew up with Yeşilçam movies from Turkish video stores in Germany. Over seven years of making this movie, he would meet with the directors, producers and actors who created these astounding films.

 

There’s a great moment here when one of the most successful Turkish TV producers looks back fondly at the past, sharing how much content they must crank out and how burned out the people making it are. The Yeşilçam movies of the past seem more filled with joy than the constant need to deliver more and more fuel for the furnace of a fickle public.

As you can tell from this week of films, we have a special feeling for the cinema of Turkey. This movie is a perfect introduction to what makes these movies just so strange and special. The personal touches that Cem adds to the film make it that much better. This is a perfect primer or refresher or reminder, no matter where your knowledge of these films lies.

You can learn more at the movie’s official site.

Late Phases (2014)

I loved Adrián García Bogliano’s Here Comes the Devil, so I was excited for this werewolf film. It’s not as amazing as that film, but there are some interesting parts to this story.

Will McKinley (Ethan Embry, Empire Records) has moved his blind vet dad Ambrose (StakelandWe Are What We Are) into a retirement home. Ambrose is angry, as he feels that he can live on his own. Despite the attentions of the ladies of this community — Tina Louise (Gilligan’s Island, Evils of the Night) Rutanya Alta (Mommie Dearest, Amityville II: The Possession) and Caitlin O’Heaney (Savage WeekendHe Knows You’re Alone) in great casting — but he only really cares about Shadow, his German Shepherd service dog. Then, one night, a werewolf breaks into his duplex and kills his neighbor (Karen Lynn Gorney, Saturday Night Fever) and his beloved canine companion.

Ambrose uses all his military skills to track down the wolf, as well as his enhanced hearing, as he recognizes a rasp in the breathing of the killer. Could it be the priest (Tom Noonan!)? The man in the iron lung? Or the strange James Griffin (Lance Guest)?

The film kind of plods along until the very intense close and emotional letter that Ambrose sends his son. I just wish that the film had more werewolves and less narrative leaps to make, like a blind man being placed in an unfamiliar home and not knowing where the furniture is.

There are parts of this movie that I realy liked, but I expected so much more. You may enjoy it more than me, so check it out on Amazon Prime.

Diamonds to Dust (2014)

Jayne Mansfield possessed an IQ of 163, played violin and piano at a concert level, had a degree in science, spoke 5 languages fluently and yet was known as a dumb blond. Her career was as short as her life was turbulent, with three ex-husbands, five children, addictions to booze and pills, and a car crash in 1967 that ended her life. This film looks at the final years of her career.

Hailey Heisick, who was in Don’t Look, plays Jayne. That’s a tall order, to be perfectly frank. But this is pretty much the Lifetime version of Jayne’s life, minus the Lifetime budget, so it’s going to be all sleaze and drama. Which, come to think of it, that’s what so much of her life was.

It’s sensationalized. It’s exploitation. And then again, that’s also the type of press that Jayne played with to keep her name in the headlines, even after the roles got smaller.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime.