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Reviews: December 9, 2007

9 Dec, 2007 By: Home Media Reviews


Street 12/18
Starz/Anchor Bay, Horror, $26.97 DVD, Available in ‘R' and unrated versions.
Stars Joel David Moore, Deon Richmond, Tamara Feldman, Mercedes McNab.

There's a certain glee to be had in movies that offer nothing more than a chance for the actors to splash around in blood and guts. The indie effort Hatchet, from writer-director Adam Green, certainly falls into that category.

Most of the marketing surrounding this film touts a return to the old school of horror films, which involve shaving a little too much fun with prosthetic makeup and fake blood. Green brags about not using computer graphics to enhance a single frame, but to hear him talk about the details of making the film, I'm not sure he could have afforded CGI even if he wanted it.

As detailed in the commentary and featurettes, the production team must have used every low-tech trick in the book to bring life to Green's vision. In a final, fitting twist, Green notes, a technical glitch forced him to rig a car battery to power the equipment to record his commentary.

Green was a huge fan of classic horror films such as Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street; horror icons such as Robert Englund and Tony Todd have cameos in Hatchet. Kane Hodder, who played Jason in the “Friday the 13th” films, plays the slasher of Hatchet, Victor Crowley.

Crowley was a deformed man accidentally killed with a hatchet who still haunts the swamps near New Orleans. He ends up stalking a tour group that wanders into his territory, giving him plenty of opportunities to give wholly gruesome and over-the-top deaths to the usual assortment of horror-film victims.

Hatchet is a little too straightforward to match up with the classics, but is pretty impressive considering Green's relative inexperience.

One of the more interesting aspects of the film is chronicled in another featurette, and involves Green's unique friendship with Twisted Sister rocker Dee Snider. At a young age, Green idolized Snider, and after a few chance encounters, they began to feed creatively off each other. It's an effective story about never giving up on your dreams despite the obstacles. John Latchem

The Killing Floor
Prebook 12/13; Street 1/8
ThinkFilm, Thriller, $27.98 DVD, ‘R' for violent and disturbing content, language and some sexuality.
Stars Marc Blucas, Shiri Appleby, Reiko Aylesworth.

When it comes to straight-to-DVD thrillers, the bar's usually set pretty low. But as long as you're not expecting anything thrilling, The Killing Floor manages to entertain.

Although the “shocking” twist at the end can be seen from miles away, the film is watchable because Blucas (of “Buffy the Vampire”) does a solid job going against type. He's no longer the nice guy, playing a money-hungry, egotistical New York publishing tycoon with a mysterious past named David Lamont, who's just moved into a multilevel apartment.

The film moves at a brisk pace for its 98-minute run time, and that's a good thing. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to piece together the mystery, so Lamont is not in his apartment for long before he starts receiving bloody crime scene photos and discovers his beautiful neighbor (played by Aylesworth of “24”) may be in cahoots with the previous tenant.

Blucas brings an emotional depth and panic to this role as he shrinks from king of the world to a frightened man cowering in the closet, armed with a fireplace poker.

Taking inspiration from such films as Panic Room and Perfect Stranger, The Killing Floor is more like a TV movie of the week than a thriller. In fact, the film doesn't even offer any real blood or nudity (hence the rating pending). It could easily play on TV without editing.

Those looking for suspense won't find much here. The more the mystery unfolds, the only thing that keeps your attention is Blucas' performance and, quite possibly, Aylesworth's appearances.

The DVD includes a commentary by writer-director Gideon Raff and a trailer. – John Gaudiosi

Street 12/11
TLA, Thriller, $19.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Nicholas Bool, Mads Koudal, Jared Morgan.

Footsteps is a tremendous independent film from newcomer Gareth Evans, who assembled a knockout cast that helps provide an edgy look and feel to the unpredictable storyline. It's hard to make a quality mainstream movie about snuff films — just ask Joel Schumacher, who gave it a shot with his star-studded 8mm.

Though the premise is tempting, as is the Hostel-esque murder-for-profit scenario, the subject matter doesn't appeal to a large audience for obvious reasons. That's why these kinds of movies are better suited for indie filmmakers such as Evans, who delivers a vile, graphic glimpse into the sordid underworld of snuff.Set in a nondescript Welsh town, Footsteps follows the morose life of Andrew (Bool), a detached young man who has just lost his futile factory job, is on the outs with his girlfriend, and whose best friend was severely beaten and left for dead by strangers on the street.

All of this causes something to snap inside of Andrew, whose quiet, mild-mannered nature quickly gives way to his inherent killer instincts when he brutally attacks a random man for talking to his ex-girlfriend.

Security eventually throws Andrew into the alley bloodied and bruised, where he is blinded by a light from a video camera and beaten with a pipe. When Andrew seems unfazed by a few blows to the head, the cameraman (Morgan) sees something exceptional in Andrew and invites him to join a sadistic gang that preys on local rejects to be stars in snuff films.

Andrew is partnered with Paul (Koudal), who does the dirty work of abducting the victims and then disposing of their remains.

At a refreshing 80 minutes, the film flies by while remaining suspenseful. The crew also does an amazing job setting the mood for each scene through gritty music and cinematography.

Footsteps has been a hit with U.K. audiences since its release at the 2006 Swansea Bay Film Festival, and is really one of the only films about the snuff industry that's worth watching. – Mark Miller

Beyond the Ring
Prebook 12/11; Street 1/8
MTI, Action, $24.95 DVD, ‘PG-13' for some violence.
Stars Andr? Lima, Martin Kove, Gary Busey.

Beyond the Ring is a family friendly, 1980s-style martial arts film starring Brazilian champion Lima and Hollywood wild man Busey.

Based on true events, the story follows Lima (who plays himself) as a struggling father of two who gave up fighting nearly a decade ago after the death of his wife. Now as a single father trying to make ends meet, Lima runs his own martial arts studio and writes self-defense books with the help of his friend and publisher Deluca (a great slimy role for Busey).

Just when his family seems to be returning to normal, Lima's young daughter falls ill with a brain tumor and needs an immediate and expensive operation. Unfortunately, his medical insurance won't cover the procedure, and he has only a limited amount of time to find the money before his daughter goes blind.

Deluca offers him the chance to participate in an underground mixed-martial arts fight in which he's promised a lot of money.

Without much of a choice, and only nine weeks to train before the bout, Lima, who is pushing 40 and hasn't fought in years, hooks up with a trainer who puts him through hell to prepare for the match against the undefeated Zulu (played by seasoned kickboxer Justice Smith).

Beyond the Ring is different from other low-budget martial arts films, as the focus is placed more on the drama of Lima's family life and struggle to get back into fighting shape.

In fact, the only fight in the film is the one between Lima and Zulu, which proves to be a hard-hitting, well-choreographed sequence that is worth the wait.

It's also impressive to see Lima in his first starring role, turning in a performance that is already far superior than Steven Seagal on his best day. – Matt MillerThe Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde Rock ‘N Roll Musical
Prebook 12/11; Street 1/8
Koch/Elite, Musical, $14.98 DVD, NR.

Few movies so eagerly await the return of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” as this laughably terrible anti-masterpiece.

If you manage to finish watching The Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde Rock ‘N Roll Musical, you might even find yourself wondering if the “MST3K” crew might come out of retirement just to do the obligatory commentary track for Dr. Jekyll.

Certainly, they might lend the film the precise air of disreputability that this contemporary look at the Robert Louis Stevenson classic sets in its sights. Few films, in fact, are as dependant on the notion that ‘B'-movie awfulness translates, somehow, into cult and culture status.

However, it is difficult to catalog the problems with Jekyll, as to do so would be to simply catalog everything that actually categorizes filmmaking. Nonetheless, the musical score, script, acting and direction are as amusingly bad as the production values.

The real question is whether the overwhelming host of problems makes for a better viewing experience than had Jekyll been merely sub-par. No doubt, there are enough people dressing up for The Rocky Horror Picture Show to give it a shot; hopefully they can find the fun here — or at least make some fun of their own. – J.R. Wick

Citizen Tanouye
Prebook 12/11; Street Jan. 8
WGBH Boston, Documentary, $19.95 DVD, NR.

This award-winning documentary takes a unique grassroots approach to exploring the experience of WWII-era Japanese internment camps, the all-Japanese 442nd Regimental Combat Team and, most specifically, Medal of Honor recipient Technical Sgt. Ted Tanouye.

Unlike Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story, another PBS documentary of the same ilk, and Ken Burns' epic The War, Citizen Tanouye puts one name to the many faces of the 442nd — the most decorated fighting regiment in U.S. Military history.

Focusing on a group of eight ethnically diverse Torrance High School students, directors Robert Horsting and Craig Yahata use the upcoming unveiling of the Ted Tanouye Memorial on campus as an impetus for an in-depth look into Tanouye by following the students' own investigation.

With the help of superior production values such as crisp cinematography and good historic photos, the viewer is apt to hang on long enough to let the storyline develop into a surprisingly insightful and emotional journey into the past.

Beginning with a search of the school's yearbooks, old newspaper clippings and historic Internet sites, the students uncover a profile of Tanouye as an all-American boy who went off to war to fight and die for a country that put his parents in a prison camp.

As their research goes deeper, the students discover not only what their town and its people were like back then, but how the war drew out prejudices.

With their research in hand, the students move on to interview veterans of the 442nd, whose motto was “Go For Broke,” taken from the dying words of Tanouye.

Extras include the Medal of Honor ceremony for Japanese American soldiers and their surviving families after 56 years of oversight by the U.S. Army, as well as the dedication of the Ted Tanouye Memorial on the 60th anniversary of his heroic actions on Hill 140 in Italy. Deleted scenes show how the students' personal exploration has brought them new respect for those who fought in World War II. It goes to show the soldiers' valorous actions will be remembered and carried on to future generations. – Brett Sporich

Everything's Cool: A Toxic Comedy About Global Warming
Street 12/11
City Lights, Documentary, B.O. $0.003 million, $24.98 DVD, NR.

No question, Everything's Cool is a film with a message, and the message is clear: Everything is not cool for the future of the human race.

With all the documentaries on global warming — mostly split between dire warnings and outright dismissals — this film studies the battle of conflicting scientific claims about the issue. Taking a page from Morgan Spurlock's playbook, the film uses colorful graphics and animation to illustrate concepts that are difficult to imagine.

The filmmakers leap right in with a fast-paced stream of vignettes of regular folks commenting on the issue, then move to longer profiles of experts working on the issue.

They trace the issue back to 1987 — when Time magazine first put the greenhouse effect on the national radar with a cover story — and look at who is funding the case against human causes of global warming. What they find are the anti-regulation Competitive Enterprise Institute, fossil-fuel producing companies and even the George W. Bush administration.

While nobody blames the White House directly for global warming, the film spends a good amount of time on orders from White House offices to sanitize environmental reports and congressional testimony.

Noting that global warming seems too abstract to most Americans, the filmmakers bring the issue to the common man by talking to snow groomers at a Utah ski resort, children in an Alaskan village who had to move because it was eroding away and whistleblower Rick Piltz, who left a cushy — if cerebral — administration job because he was told to squelch information on climate change.

Perhaps most interesting is the examination of how the issue is changing the environmental movement, forcing activists to make the issue real to ordinary folks and show them why global warming is relevant to them.

Because it examines the political battle, this film may end up preaching to the choir. But it is educational in its way, and the presentation is pretty accessible. It's filled with interesting discussion points and a few of the less-heard points of view. – Holly J. Wagner

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