Army of One
3.5 star(s), 90 minutes, DVD and Streaming
If you’re like me, and you grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, then cheesy action movies are a thing to treasure. From “Stone Cold” to “Joshua Tree,” and anything starring Wings Hauser or Thomas Ian Griffith, said shoot-em-ups always involved a lone hero facing unimaginable odds.
To that end, “Army of One” feels like a VHS relic unearthed in a time capsule.
Ellen Hollman, who is set to have a plum role in the upcoming fourth film in “The Matrix” franchise, stars as Brenner, a retired soldier, who takes a trip with her detective husband Dillion (Matt Passmore) after Dillion finishes investigating a particularly nasty serial killer.
Within scant minutes of getting their vacay started, they immediately stumble onto a dilapidated cabin that a local gang of backwoods sex traffickers use to store an arsenal. Brenner and Dillion get caught. It doesn’t go well. But, thankfully, Brenner’s Army Ranger training kicks in, and she quickly starts kicking hillbilly ass.
“Army of One” is pure goofy fun, the kind of movie where you don’t care when Brenner throws a piece of rebar at a bad guy and you clearly see it bounce off his chest, but in the next frame, it’s firmly embedded in his eye socket.
Why? Because when it counts, “Army of One” delivers, particularly during the inevitable bunkhouse stampede when Brenner injects herself with an adrenaline shot and whups so much behind that you immediately understand why Hollman is getting legitimate buzz right now.
Climate of the Hunter
3.5 star(s), 90 minutes, Limited Theatrical (streaming as of January 12, 2021)
Fans of Onur Tukel (the genre cinema answer to Woody Allen) and Jim Jarmusch likely already know about Oklahoma’s Mickey Reece. For everyone else, including me, “Climate of the Hunter” is a wonderful introduction via this wacky slice of 1970s psychedelia steeped in the gothic trappings of classic Hammer Films horror.
Two stuffy socialite sisters, Alma (Ginger Gilmartin) and Elizabeth (Mary Buss), pass time in their family’s waterfront cottage waiting for the arrival of Wesley (Ben Hall), a well-known author, who just may be an ancient vampire.
“Climate of the Hunter” is very, very talk-y, but Reece punctuates his film with bursts of surreal imagery and unexpected sight gags, such as when Wesley has an allergic reaction to fresh garlic in his salad dressing, which causes him to cough up a bloody tampon at dinner.
3.5 star(s), 82 minutes, Streaming
Oh, the irony. I’ve now realized in my 50th year of life that the ocean absolutely terrifies me. The irony is that for the first five or six years of my life (once I was aware of my surroundings), all I wanted to be was an oceanographer.
In part, I blame movies like “Breaking Surface” for my fear. This Norwegian survival thriller, one of the best festival films of 2020 that I didn’t get to see until recently, is a white-knuckle rush of adrenaline about two estranged sisters who go for their annual dive in a remote location.
Faster than you can say ‘stay out of the water,’ the younger sister, Tuva (Madeleine Martin), becomes trapped by a rockslide, forcing Ida (Moa Gammel) to scramble against time to figure out a way to free Tuva before her air tank depletes.
Writer-director Joachim Hedén keeps his foot on the gas, allowing viewers to feel the gravity of the situation as the seconds tick away.
2.5 star(s), 150 minutes, Blu-Ray, DVD and Streaming
As the only big-budget Hollywood blockbuster to open in theaters during the Covid-19 pandemic, Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” likely benefited from the nostalgia I felt actually sitting in a dark theater and watching a movie. That would explain my original 3-star review.
Having now watched “Tenet” for a second time, on home media, I can report that Nolan’s ambition remains admirable, even as a repeat viewing exposed more flaws and plot holes than I initially recognized. One thing is remarkably clear, though. You must, and I can’t stress this enough, watch “Tenet” with subtitles or else you miss a ridiculous amount of critical information.
The first hour is by far the best with Nolan delivering two extended action sequences that only reinforce why he is one of the best, most meticulous directors working today. The second hour still bogs down for me, as the inevitable issues with time travel as a plot device also are reinforced with a second watch.
2.5 star(s), 73 minutes, Streaming
Jim Klock, who wrote, stars in and co-directed the latest holiday horror, “Slayed,” with his longtime collaborator Mike Capozzi, resides within a very specific brand of exploitation cinema. His movies, like “Massacre on Aisle 12” and “6:66 PM,” are goofy but harmless fun, often marked by juvenile humor, over-the-top deaths and gory special effects. For me, watching a Klock endeavor is akin to revisiting 1984’s “Night Patrol.” A lot of the gags fall short of being memorable, but the ones that land still prompt a chuckle and a groan, no matter how much time has passed.
“Slayed” is no different, even though it’s a much more serious movie. Klock opens in Arizona on Christmas Eve 2014 as a deranged Santa Claus has strung up a gaggle of nubile young women to slaughter just after midnight at the local water treatment plant.
Don’t expect to learn why Santa is punishing pretty women, even after the movie jumps to present day. Also, you should temper any expectation you might have about understanding why some characters like the plant’s uber-serious foreman Crandle (Capozzi) seem to exist for no other reason than to seek revenge on Santa, in the event he goes for a repeat performance now that Xmas Eve has arrived once again.
“Slayed” falls firmly near the middle on the holiday horror scale. It’s not a gory classic like “Silent Night, Deadly Night,” but it does have its moments, including one awesome death scene that shows Klock is getting better at utilizing special effects for maximum impact.
2.5 star(s), 99 minutes, Streaming and DVD
Some movies are so bad, they become renowned among fans as shining examples of just how good a truly bad movie can be. I call this the “Burnt Offerings” effect.
In my mind, the wonderfully sleazy and over-the-top “Burnt Offerings” from 1976 is one of those viewing experiences that imprints on your brain, and forever colors how you regard genre films.
Sadly, “Bad Impulse” is not on the same level, but that’s not for lack of trying.
The film, which opens very strongly with an unexpected sledgehammer massacre, focuses on Henry, a husband and father (Grant Bowler), struggling to provide for and protect his wife (Sonya Walger) and three children. After a chance visit by the mysterious owner of a security company (Paul Sorvino), Henry convinces his family to sign up.
The new system is IMP (Intruder Management & Protection), and it involves everyone being fitted with a small ankle band that has a microprocessor inside. Almost immediately, Henry, his wife, daughter and oldest son all begin making terrible, destructive choices.
From time to time, Sorvino appears out of nowhere like he’s auditioning for the De Niro role in “Angel Heart,” if only to encourage Henry not to scrap the system.
“Bad Impulse” wants desperately to be the kind of batshit crazy viewing experience that defies expectations; however, it never goes far enough to match its obvious ambitions.
Honestly, though, it’s highly watchable and once it hooks you, it’s nearly impossible to stop watching all the way to the inevitable reveal and conclusion at the end.
2 star(s), 80 minutes, DVD and Streaming
I’m a sucker for a good creature feature, and on paper, at least, “Shortcut” promises lots of practical effects goodness with a fully visible creature discovered in a secluded mountain pass.
The problem with “Shortcut,” which opens with five students being transported someplace by a trusty driver, only to have their bus hijacked by a notorious and recently escaped killer who eats the tongues of his victims, is that the movie can’t decide exactly what it wants to be or how far it’s willing to go.
The killer, really, is just a red herring. Once he directs the driver to forge ahead on a shortcut that runs through a deep tunnel built into a mountain, and viewers get an early look at the monster, the tongue eater basically goes away, which means the students have to carry the bulk of the movie.
Movies like “Shortcut” are frustrating because there are a ton of good ideas that get briefly touched on but never receive the focus that they deserve. There’s even a whole backstory for the creature, and a local resident who made it his life’s mission to kill the beast, but that story, which is far more compelling, doesn’t ever take center stage. The monster itself also is well done, even though there’s never a full body shot to give viewers the chance to appreciate the FX work achieved.
I think the best comparison that I can make is “The Descent,” Neil Marshall’s pulse-pounding underground nightmare. “Shortcut” could be on the same page as “The Descent,” if only it made better creative and story choices.
As it is, “Shortcut” proves to be a fitful and unsatisfying side trip down a road that doesn’t make much of a difference at all.
1 star(s), 92 minutes, DVD and Streaming
Director Darren Berry’s first feature film, “Paintball Massacre,” could have been a goofy goodtime gorefest centered around a reunion of high school classmates who gather to spend the weekend playing paintball.
Sadly, nothing works. The creative choices, including an out-of-left-field pick for the main bad guy, just fall short consistently. Sure, there’s blood and gore aplenty, but at what cost to viewers who shouldn’t have to waste $13 for a DVD or $4 to stream a movie that doesn’t even try to make sense for much of its brief runtime.
1 star(s), 82 minutes, DVD and Streaming
South African writer-director Reine Swart comes out swinging for her first feature film, also known as “Heks,” which introduces viewers to Dilanne (Coco Lloyd), a young British woman trying to move beyond her service industry position as bartender of a local pub.
Dilanne watches her mother get murdered during a Zoom call, which prompts her to travel back to South Africa to meet with her aunt, who is her mother’s identical twin. Mary-Anne Barlow plays both roles.
It’s clear that Swart wants to celebrate and explore her native country’s culture, which would explain the heavy emphasis on and supernatural influence of witch doctors. The thrust of the plot involves a series of portraits that Dilanne discovers in her mother’s studio, which may contain souls that were trapped on the canvas by whatever entity possessed her mom.
By the time “The Hex” gets to putting Dilanne in touch with a local witch doctor, Anathi (Mari Molefe van Heerden), Swart resorts to a seemingly endless cycle of dream sequences and supernatural encounters, while her movie lumbers toward its expected conclusion.
2 star(s), 82 minutes, Streaming
File “Phobic,” the sophomore feature from writer-director Bryce Clark, under What the Actual Fuck in terms of the MASSIVE swerve the film takes in its third act.
If ever there was a movie I wanted desperately to champion, it’s “Phobic,” which kicks off like a gory derivative of “Se7en” before morphing into a…wait for it…superhuman origin story.
The early stages involve Salt Lake City (UT) Det. Riley Sanders (Jacque Gray), who you learn has a dark and troubled backstory after being trapped as a child in her basement, unbeknownst to her cop father, for more than a day. Years later, Sanders is abducted and tortured by a masked antagonist who viewers are led to believe is a Big Deal. He’s not.
She gets a new partner, and immediately is assigned to a slew of similar cases where individuals with extreme phobias are captured and forced to face their most primal trigger fears. There’s even a secret scientific facility where Sanders was evaluated as a child that comes back into play at different intervals, but I think the sole reason for including the facility is to set up a possible sequel.
A lot of “Phobic” feels like heavy lifting with the anticipation and expectation that Clark’s film will warrant a second helping, which is why Sanders unexpected transformation late in the third act comes as such a surprise.
I sincerely wanted to come out of “Phobic” with a glowing recommendation, but even though that isn’t the case, it’s hard not to recommend fans of subversive, less than mainstream superhero cinema to check it out and form their own opinion.
1.5 star(s), 94 minutes, DVD and Streaming
There’s nothing technically deficient about director Seth Savoy’s debut feature, “Echo Boomers.” It sports an impressive cast, including Michael Shannon, Alex Pettyfer and Patrick Schwarzenegger (trying to maintain momentum after the impressive “Daniel Isn’t Real”). And it’s timely as hell with a plot focused on young millennials struggling to find livable income upon college graduation.
The issue I had, which I suspect will be the same for many viewers, is that there’s just nothing all that original about this tale of small-time crooks (Pettyfer and Schwarzenegger) who work for a gruff and uncompromising hoodlum (Shannon).
The Curse of Hobbes House
3 star(s), 103 minutes, DVD and Streaming
As far as zombie movies go, longtime fans – those who will watch anything undead-related – will find much to appreciate about “The Curse of Hobbes House,” which does a solid job building a mythology and backstory well before the first reanimated corpse claws its way from the ground.
But, as with many zombie movies of late, there’s not a ton here to keep viewers invested when it comes to the central characters, half-sisters Jane (Mhairi Calvey) and Jennifer (Makenna Guyler) Dormant, who inherit a sprawling countryside estate from their mother. The biggest issue I had was with how unlikable Jane is, in particular, which made it next to impossible as a viewer to form any connection to her or her plight.
Still, beggars can’t be too choosey when it comes to finding new content to stream during a global lockdown, and there’s enough zombie chaos in “The Curse of Hobbes House” to occupy a few hours.
Beasts Clawing at Straws
3 star(s), 108 minutes, Blu-Ray, DVD and Streaming
In a year that’s already seen South Korean writer-director Bong Joon Ho sweep the Academy Awards with his 5-star masterpiece, “Parasite,” the arrival of a new South Korean crime thriller is cause for celebration.
Writer-director Yong-hoon Kim, adapting a novel by Keisuke Sone, clearly cares about the colorful collection of low-lifes, dreamers and miscreants at the heart of “Beasts Clawing at Straws.” The film tracks a large cast all gaming, conniving and killing to take control of a cache of cash, and for long stretches, “Beasts…” is thrilling stuff.
Still, the influence and shadow of “Parasite” is wide, and I found it tough at times to match the same level of intensity that I felt as a viewer watching Bong Joon Ho’s superior movie.
0 star(s), 102 minutes, DVD and Streaming
When I first received my review copy of “Jiu Jitsu,” the kung fu versus space aliens epic co-starring Nicolas Cage and Tony Jaa, I immediately posted to Facebook that yes, Virginia, there indeed was a Santa Claus.
However, after three serious attempts to watch “Jiu Jitsu,” each of which ended with me falling asleep well before Cage ever stepped into the arena to swordfight some nasty E.T., I basically gave up.
Here’s a pro tip: If you’re making a cheesy action movie about an ancient order of fighters bred to stave off an intergalactic invasion, it might make sense to pack that puppy full of so much over-the-top fighting and pure Velveeta one-liners to keep fans enthralled, as opposed to snoring.
Also Available as of December 22, 2020:
Alone – An exceptional new survival thriller, “Alone,” fresh off the festival circuit, lands on Blu-Ray and streaming platforms just in time for Christmas.
White Riot – Sadly, it says a lot about 2020 that white supremacists have now firmly fixed themselves in our daily media coverage, national politics and the collective rage of a fractured society. “White Riot,” a new music documentary, explores what happened after Eric Clapton formed Rock Against Racism way back in 1976.
Vigilante: Limited Edition 4K Ultra-HD – William Lustig’s cult classic “Vigilante,” about everyday citizens taking the law into their own hands, feels more prescient now than ever before, especially in glorious 4K Ultra-HD from Blue Underground.
Tremors: Limited Edition – When the history of horror in the 1990’s is written, Ron Underwood’s ode to monster movies of the past, “Tremors,” deserves some hefty praise. Forget the umpteen sequels that have followed. Arrow Video has just released the definitive boxed set for fans of Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward’s wild ride.
Versus – Speaking of classics, Arrow Video also just released a high-definition Blu-Ray version of Ryûhei Kitamura’s epic time travel and zombies mashup, “Versus.” If you’ve never seen it, this is the time to get on board the bandwagon.
John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films that often get overlooked and interviews with cult cinema favorites like George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell and Dee Wallace. Contact him at Blood Violence and Babes.com, on Facebook @BloodViolenceBabes or on Twitter @BVB_reviews.