Arnold Week: Sabotage (2014)

One of the amazing things about late in the career movies of big stars is that you can get stuff like, “What if Arnold Schwarzenegger was in a loose adaption of the Agatha Christie novel And Then There Were None?”

Yes, before he made the first Suicide Squad, David Ayer made this, which he co-wrote with Skip Woods and cast Arnold as John “Breacher” Wharton, the leader of a DEA’s Special Operations Team who steal $10 million from a drug cartel and blow up the building to cover their crime. Now, after being reinstated, members start dying and the police want to know why.

One of the team, “Smoke” Jennings, was killed during that raid. Now, Tom “Pyro” Roberts (Max Martini) has also been murdered when someone tows his mobile home into the path of a train. Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams) and her partner Darius Jackson (Harold Perrineau) are on the case, which has them find the next victims, Eddie “Neck” Jordan (Josh Holloway) literally nailed to the ceiling and Agent Bryce “Tripod” McNeely (Kevin Vance) was has been shot.  It looks like the cartel has come to collect their lost money.

James “Monster” Murray (Sam Worthington) and his wife Lizzy (Mireille Enos) were also part of this mission and reveal to Brentwood that the cartel had kidnapped Breacher’s family and sent videos and pieces of their bodies to taunt him. The team had told him to get over it — how can you get over it? — and it’s also revealed that Brentwood is sleeping with Breacher.

It turns out that two of their number — Lizzy and Julius “Sugar” Edmonds (Terrence Howard) — have been behind the murders, framing the cartel for sniper shooting Joe “Grinder” Phillips (Joe Manganiello) as well as all of the others. But the mystery is not done.

Sabotage had the worst box office of a Schwarzenegger movie in over thirty years. That said, it’s a fun Italian Western-like film that has no small amount of blood and guns.

The Duke of Burgundy (2014)

Peter Strickland — who directed and wrote this film — also made In Fabric and Berberian Sound Studio, two movies that felt like they were not of our time. This movie isn’t just in the world of Jess Franco; it was nearly a remake of the Spanish director’s Lorna the Exorcist.

The difference is that where Franco would make smut and say — not all the time, but enough — that it had political or literary reasons beyond just flesh, this is a movie that cloaks itself in the language of exploitation but is a romantic story about two people trying to remain in love when the opposites that attract them start to feel like they could all be too much.

Strickland even discussed the films that inspired this: Les Biches, Belle de JourFox and His FriendsMartaThe Bitter Tears of Petra Van Kant (which also inspired the poster for director Kevin Kopacka’s Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes), Terry and JuneMano DestraThe ImageThe Lickerish Quartet, All Ladies Do It, Venus In FursA Virgin Among the Living Dead and Lorna the Exorcist. He referred to Franco’s “very dynamic, very unique beautiful films” and “hypnotic trance,” which is so much of the reason why I keep watching his movies.

In The Duke of Burgundy, Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) is the teacher of Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) — the class is lepidopterology, the study of butterflies and moths — and while Evelyn is the maid in her non-classroom hours, she is really the submissive to Cynthia’s dominant side. But the truth is that Evelyn is always topping from the bottom.

The couple re-enacts the same scenes day in, day out — BDSM is nothing if not ritual —  with Evelyn scripting Cynthia’s role to her satisfaction. Evelyn gets off on their play; Cynthia worries non-stop and keeps worrying that she’s screwing everything up.

At night, Evelyn asks Cynthia to lock her in a trunk as mock punishment, which ends up bothering Cynthia in two ways: the physical separation upsets her and it reminds her of her age, as she hurts her back moving the heavy trunk with her lover inside it.

On Cynthia’s birthday, Evelyn takes her displeasure out on her by making her bake her own cake, then she eats it while rubbing her feet all over her younger submissives face, not even stopping at their safe word. This is when the true nature of a bad relationship reveals itself in BDSM; Fifty Shades of Grey was not a rough lover. It was a man taking advantage of trust, which is even worse in the context of a master-slave relationship. Again — the very nature of who is in charge in these relationships can be debated.

Cynthia begins paying attention to other teachers and Evelyn becomes depressed. It’s only when they attempt real communication that any progress seems made, even if the film ends with both playing the same roles and the same ritual and the same games over again.

Between the in and out of focus, the lighting, the colors and the way the film takes the feel of the sexual — without ever becoming base and crass — this film feels like Franco, except that it probably cost more to make than every film from Jess’ last two decades of filmmaking put together. I do love that the strange neighbor woman is named Lorna and played by Monica Swinn, who was in twenty of Franco’s movies including Shining SexBarbed Wire Dolls and Female Vampire.

What does the title mean? The Duke of Burgundy (Hamearis lucina) butterfly was given that name for reasons unknown, or as Matthew Oates said in his book In Pursuit of Butterflies: A Fifty-Year Affairany reasoning being lost in the mists of entomological antiquity.” That bit of insect intrigue makes sense seeing as how this is a movie that has the Featured Insects in Order of Appearance in the end credits.

A movie with no men, two women in love yet struggling and one that is actually sexy without being clinical, The Duke of Burgundy is a film that more need to see.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Mercenaries (2014)

Christopher Ray is, of course, the son of Fred Olen Ray. And Mercenaries is the female version of The Expendables starring Vivica A. Fox as former CIA operative Donna “Raven” Ravena, Zoë Bell as ex-Delta Force soldier Cassandra Clay, Kristanna Loken as one-time Marine Corps Scout Sniper Kat Morgan, Nicole Bilderback as Mei-Lin Fong the team’s explosives expert and pilot and Cynthia Rothrock as CIA Agent Mona Kendall. They’re going up against who else but Brigitte Nielsen as Ulrika, who has kidnapped the President’s daughter Elise and is holding her in a former Soviet prison known as The Citadel.

Speaking of prison — and The A-Team — all of Kendall’s ops were once in U.S. prisons, a place with a population of 2 million people — a 500% increase over the last 40 years — making America the world’s leader in incarceration according to The Sentencing Project.

Originally, Rothrock was going to play the Brigitte Nielsen role, but had a scheduling conflict. Her part was to originally to have been played by Rebecca DeMornay. She had just one day to get ready for filming.

Also known as Prison Raid and the wonderfully titled Expendabelles 3.0, this is about as good as you would expect it to be, whatever your expectations.

There was also another female Expendables in the works starring the women of the Andy Sidaris universe and how could that not have been made? There was also an official female version that would have had Sigourney Weaver play Stallone’s ex-wife.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Little Superman (2014)

Not everyone gets a romantic origin story. For Willy Wilson, a 12-year-old comic book fan, it takes falling into a manhole and getting trapped in a sewer for a few days to learn that he can fly and has telekinesis. So when he’s free, Willy puts on a mask and does what more than one remix remake ripoff Superman has done: hunt down his parents’ murderers and kill them in cold blood.

Directed, written and produced by Vinayan — who also made the three hundred dwarf-starring Albhuthadweep (Wonder Island) — Little Superman has sequences of low budget CGI and 3D that give it a cheaper quality than perhaps even Süpermen Dönüyor, the gold standard for the lowest of the low budget Men of Steel.

When Little Superman isn’t throwing parent murderers into buildings or letting them die in burning buildings, he’s embarrassing every single teacher at his school. They can’t discipline him or they’ll die, so you have to forgive them for their lack of authority.

You can watch this on YouTube.

House of Secrets (2014)

Jeffrey Schenck has 220 — maybe more in the time it took me to write this — production credits on IMDB, including Panic In the SkiesHoneymoon with Mom and Ice Spiders. He wrote the story for this, which was developed into a screenplay by Michael Ciminera (Jersey Shore Shark Attack) and Richard Gnolfo (The Dog Who Saved Easter). It was directed by Fred Olen Ray and fits into his Lifetime style of directing.

Julie Manning (Bianca Lawson, Save the Last Dance) has finally divorced her abusive husband Sam (Neil Jackson, The King’s Man) and is moving on with her life, selling the dream home he made for them. Until it goes off the market, she’s living there and supervising Tyler (Brendan Fehr, Roswell) as he fixes it up. But someone seems to be breaking in and stalking her with hidden webcams. Is it Sam, Tyler or someone else? Is it her boss Rick (Paul Johansson)? The intern (Daniel Booko) with a grudge? Maybe police detective Morrison (Costas Mandylor, who played a cop in just about every Saw movie) can help figure it out.

Seeing as how Julie’s ex used to lock her in closets, you can bet that PTSD is going to come back before the end of the movie.

You can watch this on Tubi.

JESS FRANCO MONTH: Llámale Jess Redux (2014)

Fourteen years after Llámale Jess, director Carles Prats (who also made Drácula Barcelona, which tells the tale of how Jess Franco’s Count Dracula and Cuadecuc, Vampir were made at the same time, uniting the worlds of genre and arthouse) made a totally new edit of the documentary that he made about Franco and Lina Romay.

After an entire month of Franco film, this was a great little palate cleanser before my next month-long deep dive into another series of movies. Franco is quite sharp, telling stories about his history of directing, walking the camera through a children’s arcade and smoking pack after pack of cigarettes alongside Lina, who laughs and smiles along as he keeps talking. You can really feel the joy between the two of them, as well as the passion that Franco still felt for film.

Ah man — I watched more than a hundred Franco movies in a month. I’d never recommend anyone ever try that, but on the other hand, I feel that I’ve learned so much about not only genre films, but about love, loss and life.

Call Girl of Cthulhu (2014)

Directed by Chris LaMartina (WNUF Halloween SpecialWhat Happens Next Will Scare You) and co-written with JImmy George, Call Girl of Cthulu is all about a virginal young man named Carter (David Phillip Carollo) who is looking for the right girl, who he thinks is Riley (Melissa O’Brien), a prostitute with a strange birthmark on her right ass cheek.

It turns out that she’s being sought by the Church of Starry Wisdom, who see this as a sign that she will become the bride of the Elder God who exists beyond the wall of sleep, Cthulu. Can your protagonist find a way to find true love — or lust — without losing his mind to the tentacled thing that should not be?

Beyond being a love letter to H.P. Lovecraft, it’s also a movie that combines gore, sexploitation and a willingness to really go there. Would it be too far to have a golden shower that melts a man’s face clean off? Monstrous male genitals? Tentacle scenes? Watching this, I get the feeling that everyone in it is still finding makeup and goop and gunk all over themselves even years after they made it.

For a movie that starts light, it gets surprisingly dark, too. And emotional. I’m surprised how much I liked this movie, as I kept waiting for it to fall apart, but that’s when I realized that LaMartina and George being good at making movies is no accident.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Army of Frankensteins (2014)

Alan Jones used to work at a grocery store until he got fired by a boss he hates. A boss who he just caught kissing to the coworker he’s in love with. And then, you know, a mad scientist named Dr. Finski (John Ferguson, who is horror host Count Gregore) kidnaps him and takes his eyeball before sending him back to the Civil War with a bunch of Frankenstein’s Monsters.

In order to get back to his own time, Alan must hunt down all of the monsters that have passed through the time hole. But then Virginia, a former slave and a medic for the Union, explains to the original monster how her life has been a lot like his, which means that suddenly the Confederacy is up against a whole bunch of undead stitched together monsters.

Of course, they get a monster of their own and there’s even a gigantic cat that starts tearing off arms and killing soldiers left and right.

So yeah — in case you haven’t guessed it yet I absoutely loved this.

And I don’t really want to tell you any more other than I wish the end of this film and the sequel that it sets up happened. How did Frankenstein get on the face of the $5 bill? You have to watch the movie!

You can watch this on Tubi.

Heaven is Hell (2014)

Ten years ago, we embarked on a journey that would take us places, physically and emotionally, one that would change us as artists and people, forever. Two and a half years. Fifty-two shooting days. Freezing cold. Scorching heat. Metric tons of Little Caesars, potential tetanus, and good, good times.
The filmmakers

Shortly after dying in a car crash, Faith, a devout Christian, arrives in Heaven — only to find it a barren wasteland ravaged by an apocalyptic war, populated by otherworldly, demonic-creatrues, and ruled by Zerach, a treacherous arch angel who has overthrown Heaven and enslaved God.

Her faith in tatters, Faith joins Judas, Thomas, and a team of rogue Apostles. Together, they lock n’ load to find an exiled Jesus Christ and reclaim Heaven’s throne.

This film — as with my recent, rabbit-hole discoveries of Mayflower II and 2025: The World Enslaved by a Virus — is a pleasant streaming surprise: one made for a mere $40,000. And when you experience the scope of this action-comedy/horror-fantasy hybrid, you’ll come to appreciate the filmmaker’s abilities to squeeze the most of out their slight budget.

Looking over the resumes of Chicago-bred co-writers and directors Mike Meyer and Chris Sato, along with fellow co-writer Jason Kraynek, you’ll realize they’re a trio of experienced filmmakers — ones with a lot of miles between them via various shorts, web-series, and music videos. And it shows in the frames of this Chicago-shot Christploiter that takes those outlandish, Italian and Philippine, post-apocalyptic knockoff flicks of the ’80s to task: only this is so much better than a chintzy Bruno Mattei or Cirio H. Santiago joint*.

Those apoc-sloppers, of course, got their start with John Carpenter’s Escape from New York; it’s important to mention that iconic film, because the spirit of Carpenter’s own action-comedy/horror-fantasy hybrid, the purposefully hammy Big Trouble in Little China, permeates, here. Simply remove the martial arts exploitation and a insert a little exploitation of Christianity. And let’s not forget the writer of that film, D.W Richter, also gave us The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension — which spins in the same wheelhouse as Heaven is Hell.

Raging Angels: Another Christian-based film* with a sci-fi twist.

However, looking over the two, lone IMDb user reviews, Heaven is Hell is a film with no middle ground: Christians are offended, referring to it as being “atheist,” “Satanist,” and flat-out “anti-Christian.” Secularists appreciate and applaud the parody.

The same derision met Luis Buñuel’s (Simon the Desert) surrealistic, but not as parody-driven, The Milky Way (1969). The British-made Monty Python’s Life of Brian, itself offering us the concept of “an alternate-universe Jesus,” suffered the irritations of Christians and Catholics, even though Eric Idle and his cohorts insisted the film was a goof on organized, man-made religions — and not a spoof on Jesus or The Holy Bible, itself.

Such a film is Heaven is Hell, again: a film made for $40,000.

Putting any offensives one may have regarding the threading of Christianity and Catholicism beliefs through the eye of the apocalypse, aside: there is no denying this is a very well-made movie, with all of the respective film disciplines firing on all cylinders. The actors “get” their material (as did the cast of the recent, parody-excellent S**t & Champagne) and the movie is all the better for it. It’s unfortunate the joke that the “sequel” Heaven Was Hell: 2 Holy 4 Eva was coming soon . . . never had a punchline.

You can learn more about Heaven is Hell on their official Facebook page and watch the full movie as a free-stream on You Tube. You can also sample the trailer.

* Hey, we know our ’80s apoc joints. Check out our two-part, “Atomic Dust Bin” round up with links to over 100 films. We also explored “Christian Cinema of the ’70s” with links to over 40 films.

The Judas Project: More sci-fi with a biblical twist.

— R.D Francis writes for B&S About Movies.

Left Behind (2014)

What can we say that hasn’t been already said about this proselytizing pablum of propaganda — of what is now, four films, three of which starred self-righteous douchebaggin’ bible-banger Kirk Cameron (Saving Christmas*) — except that it is awful. And that believers, aka the fans of the film, will say that we who bash the film are “anti-Christians” who simply love to hate Christians. (It’s a “pagan conspiracy,” so says the Kirkster, ye whom, once he was “saved,” then turned his cheek to assure Julie McCullough was fired from TV’s Growing Pains, once her Playboy past came to light. Which is why we remember her work in Round Trip to Heaven and not ye work in Like Father Like Son and Listen to Me. Amen.)

No, ye believers. We hate Left Behind — in spite of the presence of the Cage — for it is just bad movie making, replete with bad, well . . . everything. Especially movies that have to explain the “timeline” of their production: that this version of Left Behind isn’t a remake of the first movie, but a reboot of the first movie, and it’s based on and not a direct adaptation of the first book of the 12 novels in the series, and does not follow the book’s chronology.

Argh! This is worse than a post-George Lucas Star Wars production with all of the plot explanations in its advanced press.

If you skimmed (there’s no other way to endure it) the first Kirk Cameron version, pretty much all of the same characters from Left Behind: The Movie (2000) are in play in 2014 version — except for the Antichrist character of Nicolae Carpathia (the only intriguing aspect of those films, courtesy of actor Gordon Currie). That’s because this reboot takes a more personal, subjective approach to chronicling the effects of the Rapture through the eyes of Cage and his family. This movie isn’t about the “why” it happened, but the “how” of the non-believers surviving the chaos.

What-the-F-This-Movie-ever! Why does this movie of vanishing bodies and piles of dirty laundry even exist?

Is the film’s purpose to spread the gospel? To save souls? To frighten you — as is the case with most Christploitation films (see If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? and The Burning Hell to get you started) — into believing?

Nope. It’s to satisfy a lawsuit. So much for Christians loving one another on a unified front to bring glory and praise to God. In the end, it’s all about the money, the -sploitation, if you will, always and forever. Amen.

It turns out Christian writer Tim LaHaye wasn’t too thrilled with the Kirk Cameron-starring films produced by end-time flick purveyors Cloud Ten Pictures, so he filed two lawsuits. Those suits, in turn, effectively stopped the production of the Kirk Cameron timeline (which needed to be stopped); a timeline that ended with the third film World at War (2005). And this $15 million Asylum/SyFy Channel-esque version with the Cage — which had plans for two more reboot-sequels; productions so desperate for financing in the backwash of the bad reviews and box office returns, Cloud Ten had to go an Indiegogo campaign route — is the end result. (Upon the demise of Cloud Ten Pictures, defunct in the legal backwash, that studio’s CEO, Paul LaLonde, incorporated Stoney Lake Entertainment, which ultimately produced this remake.)

Ah, the stench of the horseman that is greed.

I, therefore ye, proclaim thy film as a new form of -sploitation: Cageploitation, that is, films that exploit Nic Cage to bamboozle us into watching a film about vanishing bodies and piles of wrinkles clothes on a plane. And for not making Left Behind: The Animated Movie or its live action counterpart series for the PAX television network (also defunct, now ION), we thank . . . well, “someone” . . . as it would be crass to evoke the big guy upstairs.

So, sorry, Nic. We loves yahs and all, but in this case: we can’t be your isle-seat bitch, for you were made the bitch of the producing Brothers LaLonde Peter and Paul.

“I want this dirty laundry off my gosh-darn golly-jeepers plane!

* Sorry, Kirk. There was no “pagan conspiracy.” You ruined Christmas all on your own, buddy — along with 19 other films — as foretold in our “Ten Movies That Ruin Christmas” and “Ten More Christmas Movies To Ruin Your Holiday” featurettes.

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