Wednesday, May 2, 2018



It's been 27 years since the movie world was provided with their first glimpse of the creature known as the graboid in the film TREMORS. The small town of Perfection, NV, was besieged by these giant shelled wormlike creatures tunneling beneath the sand and drawn to vibrations when hunting their prey which was man. The movie provided something that a movie studio loves to hear: a franchise. Yes there have been 4 sequels and a 13 episode series for fans to devour. Now a fifth sequel arrives and takes us to new territory: the arctic north. That's where TREMORS: A COLD DAY IN HELL takes place.

The movie opens in the arctic north where a research taking core samples when the earth begins to shake and a giant graboid pops up eating the team members. Through the magic of movies we immediately transport to Perfection where graboid expert Burt Gummer (Michael Gross) is the sole proprietor of the single store there. An IRS agent arrives to tell him he owes back taxes and the government will be there soon to take possession.

His son Travis Welker (Jamie Kennedy) arrives and while they begin talking about the situation a phone call comes in. The research team needs him to come to their aid. At first he thinks they don't know what they're talking about until one member of the team comes on and identifies herself as the daughter of two main characters from the first film. Off to the great white north Burt and Travis go.

The first attack on Burt takes place in the air before he even has a chance to touch down as a** blaster graboid (those that shoot flames from their posteriors) buzzes his plane before flying into the engine. The plane lands safely and the first people he meets is the head of the nearby group, a DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) station, which leads into his standard conspiracy buff mode. He then meets the team who sent for him including Valerie (Jamie-Lee Money). Burt immediately begins arguing with them that the graboids thrive in desert terrain not the ice covered area they are in. But this is a geothermal location with hot springs nearby. It could be where the species originated from.

Within minutes of learning what's going on another attack takes place during which Burt collapses.
They fight off the flying creature and after Burt is examined learn that he has a graboid parasite in his bloodstream that got there when he was inside one years ago. It's trying to kill him from the inside out and the only cure will come from an anti-venom made from the glands of a living graboid.

Their communications tower taken out, the DARPA facility destroyed as Burt's team tries to arm themselves it falls to Travis to band the wagons together and face the greatest threat they've ever encountered as well as capture a living graboid to save his father. If he can't do so...well end of franchise so going in you should have realized where this would lead.

From a technical aspect the movie is incredibly well made. The cinematography is great from locations to cast to the creatures on hand. They've chosen to include practical effects with the creatures this time around rather than rely solely on CGI created monsters, going back to how it all began with the first film, and the result makes this one of the better films in the franchise. The cast is directed with skill and allowed to do what they do best.

Their best involves playing this straight from two different perspectives. One is that of the research team who can't believe what they're seeing and react in various ways. The second is the over the top, intentionally so, performance that is Burt Gummer by Gross. Spouting conspiracy theories from memory, screaming at top volume in drill sergeant speak and demanding the best from all involved is just how Burt rolls. In the hands of someone else it might look more cartoonish than these films call for but Gross handles the character he created as if it were a second skin.

Some will make fun of these films and talk about how ridiculous they are but in some ways so are all monster movies. But they provide a certain amount of escapism that has always made watching films like this the joy that they are. It's man versus monster for the survival of the human race. Sure the odds of armor plated gigantic worms taking over the world are slim to none but they provide an entertaining movie and that's what you'll find here. Just entertainment and escapism. Sometimes we all just need a little of both.

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While the war in Iraq remains somewhat fresh in the minds of so many there is a generation that really doesn't know all about it nor the things that occurred to push the war into motion at that time. Teens today may have born at that time but to them it's the past. And if they aren't aware of the war itself then the odds of them knowing about what occurred just prior such as the oil-for-food scandal are pretty slim. BACKSTABBING FOR BEGINNERS provides a look at just that moment in history.

Michael Soussan (Theo James) is an idealistic young man, successful in his career handling figures but wanting to contribute more to the world. He wants to follow in the footsteps of his father, a career diplomat killed in a bombing when he was a child. He gets his opportunity when his resume crosses the desk of Pasha (Ben Kingsley), the man running the oil-for-food program for the United Nations.

Michael is immediately tossed into the mix with a sink or swim move to have him condense research on the program for Pasha. Having worked with his father, Pasha guides him and instructs him to learn to narrow down the focus of any presentation he has to offer. And like that the two are off to pre-war Iraq.

Once arriving Michael begins to question some of the things he's seeing and hearing about. Supplies that are being sent aren't being distributed equally with some sects of the country with close ties to Saddam Hussein getting the lion's share and the Kurds receiving next to nothing or spoiled goods, including medicine. He also begins to question the funding as bits and pieces of the money move about on the books.

Pasha assures him that this is nothing more than how diplomats negotiate transactions. But Pasha hasn't convinced Christina Dupree (Jacqueline Bisset) who's been doing her own investigation. Discovering widespread corruption and the channeling of funds into the pockets of others than who it was intended for she makes sure Pasha knows that her report to the UN Security Council will not be a whitewashed job for his sake.

Michael develops close ties with his interpreter, Nashim (Belcim Bilgin), a young woman who wants to do all she can to help those in her country. He learns from her that his predecessor was murdered for information he had, a list of everyone who'd taken kickbacks and payoffs from the program. As he learns this Dupree is also killed and her report tossed aside and replaced with one Michael has helped Pasha put together, one that he is called on to present before the UN.

Finding himself in the midst of what will turn out to be one of the most major corruption scandals of all time Michael searches for a way to either justify the actions of those around him or to leave it all behind. The list is passed on to him for protection and the decision of how to handle it goes to him. Along the way lives will be placed in danger and his career placed in jeopardy. But is it his career he is most focused on or his original goal to help others?

Much of the story told here was provided to news readers when it took place but the facts, figures and casts of characters involved were so vast that most would go on to forget it took place altogether. But in truth it displayed the amount of corruption that was found at the highest levels in the UN. It showed the weaknesses of the system put in place and this film does a great job of summing that up and making it much easier to understand.

James, known mainly for his role as Four in the Divergent series of films, presents himself well here. As Michael his character moves from nave to overwhelmed to seeking justice. In lesser hands the part would have come off as just lost start to finish. Kingsley's Pasha is well played and his penchant for accents put to use here. Some will find humor in the fact that whoever taught this character English apparently used the F bomb so frequently that Pasha accentuates nearly everything he says with the word.

No movie can present every single fact about a story like this one. But perhaps in being made it will cause people to revisit this story or at least encourage young people to learn more about it. As a movie it's entertaining and keeps you riveted waiting to see what happens next. It might seem dry to most since it's not non-stop car chases and hand to hand combat but it does hold your interest and is worth a watch.


Movie fans know well the name of John Landis. From the seventies to the nineties he made some of the funniest films ever created. While we all may recognize movies like ANIMAL HOUSE, THE BLUES BROTHERS, TRADING PLACES and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, few know the very first movie Landis made when trying to break into the business. That film was available in some truly bad releases on disc and to my knowledge never on blu-ray. That’s all about to change.

Back in 1971 a young Landis, discouraged by the Director’s Guild, went to see a bad movie called TROG. Thinking he could make a similar movie but better that’s what he set out to do. Two years later the film was done, he found a distributor and SCHLOCK! was unleashed on the world.

The movie opens to a town filled with dead citizens and a trail of banana peels. It’s the work of the dreaded “banana killer”. Tracking clues the police find…nothing. The local on the spot newsman reports from the scene ending his piece by telling folks to stay tuned for today’s afternoon movie “See You Next Wednesday”.

Local teens walk the area where the banana killer was last seen before heading to the local dance that night. They discover a cave and search it only to confront the banana killer, an ape of some sort. Two escape with their lives and bring back the police as well as a local professor who hypothesizes that this isn’t the work of a killer but the missing link that’s been sought for centuries, the schlockthropolus.

I could provide more of the plot but that’s pretty much all you need to know. Yes this movie is a spoof of all of those long gone monster on the lose films combined with the ape movies that were prevalent at one time. It’s a formula that Landis would go on to use to perfection with his next film KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE. He was responsible for the script here and many of the laughs show his love of old movies using plenty of slapstick style comedy in scenes as well as some witty dialogue.

Made for just $60,000 it shows but that was his intent as well. He wanted to show that he could direct a movie on his own having been working in the business for several years at this time. The production value for being such a low budget film is better than many that have long since been forgotten by directors with much less skill. That Landis could pull this off is a feat in itself.

The film also served as a kick off to a friendship and working relation that lasted for a vast number of Landis films. Looking for someone to create the man like ape for him he couldn’t afford anyone he knew in the business. A suggestion sent him to a home where a young man was living with his parents and also trying to break into the business but in make-up effects. His name was Rick Baker. The same Rick Baker who would transform David Naughton into a werewolf for Landis in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON.

Landis has said that the movie isn’t very good and that more than anything it was a learning experience for him. But the fact is it’s better than he might recall. No, it’s not a blockbuster film by any means but it has its moments. More importantly when placed in viewing order with his other films you can see the burgeoning talent that is there as well as watch the progression of his abilities from one film to the next starting with this one.

This new version of the film is being released by Turbine Media Group in an exclusive dual-format mediabook Blu-ray/DVD worldwide-playable combo set limited to 2000 copies. Not only are they releasing it in blu-ray for the first time but the extras are as interesting as the movie itself. They include an exclusive new introduction by Landis, a newly shot interview with Landis that’s informative and entertaining, vintage audio commentary by Landis and Baker from the 2001 Anchor Bay DVD release, Landis take on the film from Trailers From Hell, the original trailers for the film including its re-release title BANANA MONSTER, the original radio spots and an informative booklet with text and photos. The film also is a bilingual edition in both English and German.

So if you’re a fan of Landis work you’ll want to rush out to buy a copy before they’re gone since the print run is only 2,000 copies. If you love movies you’ll enjoy this as much as his fans will. It’s a lot of fun and reminiscent of a time when mavericks could pull together enough money to make a name for themselves with something like this before making major films. Alongside movies like ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES, SCHLOCK will be one to remember. 


While he had roles in a few TV series, STARGATE among them, it wasn't until 2011 that actor Jason Mamoa broke out and caught the eye of fans around the world. That was the year that he starred in the retelling of Conan as well as his role in the HBO series GAME OF THRONES. This past year he took on the role of Aquaman in JUSTICE LEAGUE and will have a solo movie as the character next year. The nice thing is that in the time he spent as a bit player up till his starring roles you can watch the journey he's taken towards leading man status. This week we have him as the main star in BRAVEN.

Mamoa is Joe Braven, the current head of a family owned logging business. He lives in town with his wife Stephanie (Jill Wagner), young daughter Charlotte (Sasha Rossof) and his father Linden (Stephen Lang). A dedicated family man he and his wife work opposite shifts not just to have two incomes but so that one of them can be there to keep their eye on his father. This strong man who once ran the business Joe handles now is suffering from dementia, enhanced when he crashed a helicopter the year before.

The dementia is bad enough that one night Linden walks out of the house to a nearby bar asking a young woman to leave with him thinking she's his wife. The girl's date take offense and he and his friends begin beating on Linden before Joe, called in by the bar's owner, gets there to take them on himself. When the police show they find the group handled by Joe but don't press charges against him or his father. The doctor suggest they get full time help for him.

As all of this is going on Weston (Brendan Fletcher), a driver for the Braven business, is taking a load of freshly cut trees to a nearby town. To make extra money he's agreed to pick up extra logs containing drugs, working with a low level dealer named Hallett (Zahn McClarnon). A blow out sends the truck and the logs off the road and the pair pack the drugs up in duffle bags before the police can get there. Weston knows that the Bravens have a cabin nearby and suggest they store the drugs there. Hallett calls into the man he works for, Kassen (Garrett Dillahunt), who gathers his men and heads to their location.

Joe and his wife have discussed the situation with his father and while she stays home with Charlotte the pair head to the cabin to shut it up for the season. In reality Joe wants time alone with his father to talk about his condition and to make the difficult decision of what to do about his failing mental capabilities. Once they get there they find that Charlotte has stowed away wanting to go along on the trip. They also find the drugs left in the cabin.

Heading into town it happens to be just as Kassen and his men have shown up and shut down the road heading to the cabin where they show demanding the drugs. Knowing that once they have them they'll be killed, Joe and Linden must do what they can to survive and to protect Charlotte. The siege is on and the battle for their lives begins.

The plot of the movie is simple in structure and has been done before. What makes it different here is the added complication of Linden's fall into dementia. He's there at times but drifts off at others. And yet Joe must count on him and his skills with a rifle to help him if they want to survive. Another difference between most films of this sort is the arrival of Stephanie who helps take on the bad guys from the outside. So instead of the stalwart hero we're used to we now have an elderly man and an empowered woman in the mix. And it works excellently.

While all of these characters play their part there are three main roles that it all circles around. Mamoa shows that he's been working on his acting ability. He handles the physical aspects well and is certain to enjoy a successful career as an action star. Lang could have drawn all attention to himself in his performance here but instead shows he's a giving actor providing a fantastic supporting role to Mamoa. Dillahunt's performance as Kassan is subtle and brutal, from his smashing in the face of a dealer who works for him when we first see him to the military like precision he commands those under him as they attempt to take the cabin.

There are plenty of action films that come and go, too many to count. Most of them offer a decent night's entertainment but few offer an actor whose star is on the cusp of rising like Mamao's is. Watching this film in addition to his other offerings shows he has the potential to become a top star. Couple that with his humble behavior on talk shows he's visited and one can only wish him well. BRAVEN is a step in the right direction and for action fans a movie to enjoy right now.

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I can remember when the movie JOE came out. I was 13 at the time and fueled by the counter culture movement that all of us in our pre-teens and teens were involved in. We all though the clothing and choices we made were our own and not part of some systemic norm we would be forced to take part in. Little did everyone realize that by assuming the same clothing, same attitudes and same quotes we were doing little more than every generation before us by revolting against our elders. It wasn’t something new and it wasn’t something individual. It was just something different.

JOE take those differences and adds the twist of violence to the story. It opens with a young couple Frank (Patrick McDermott) is a drug dealer in the seedier side of New York City. Melissa (Susan Sarandon) is a spoiled daughter of a successful white collar couple who has fallen from Frank. The two feed off of one another, Frank the attention he gets and Melissa the love she thinks she has for him. After Frank gives Melissa some pills while they’re out before heading off to sell drugs, she trips out in a drugstore whose owner calls the EMS to take her to a hospital.

Melissa’s parents Bill (Dennis Patrick) and Joan (Audrey Caire) show up and plan on taking her home once she’s released. Bill goes to her apartment to pick up her things when he runs into Frank. His disdain for Frank is on full display and Frank goads him on insulting him and his family. In response Bill attacks him and in the process accidentally kills him. Leaving behind a few of his drugs and taking the rest to dispose of he leaves the building and heads to the nearest bar for a drink.

It is at the bar he chooses that he runs into Joe (Peter Boyle). Joe is a blue collar worker and stereotypical of those at the time. He hates taxes, his kids, blacks, foreigners and hippies equally. He talks non-stop about all of them and how much he hates them to the chagrin of the bar owner. When he says he wishes he could kill a hippie Bill responds with “I just did”. Joe looks at him to see how serious he was and then the two laugh thinking it was all a joke.

The next night Joe sees the news talking about the death of Frank and the search for the killer. Realizing Bill was telling the truth he calls him and wants to meet. Joe has no intention of blackmailing Bill. Instead he thinks of them as kindred spirits, brothers in arms and a friend, something we get the impression he has none of. The pair drink and talk and Bill loosens up deciding he likes this breath of fresh air unlike the backstabbing suck ups he works with in advertising.

Joe invites Bill and his wife to dinner and Bill accepts. It goes smoothly but the man on edge at all times is Joe. He seems ready to jump at any moment. When they finish eating he takes Bill downstairs to show him his gun collection. He calls Joan down and attempts to calm her down and tell her she has nothing to worry about.

But worry she will when Melissa escapes from the hospital after finding out Frank is dead. Overhearing a conversation between her parents when they return home from their dinner, she now knows who killed Frank and runs away.

Joe contacts Bill to ask where he’s been to find that Bill has been combing the streets searching for Melissa. Offering to help the pair take to the seedier side of NYC and begin their search. Their journey through the coffee houses and macrobiotic restaurants where they’re ridiculed by the hippies leads them to a group that makes fun of them. Learning Bill has drugs their attitude changes.

The unlikely group parties and gets wasted, has sex and then part of them take off with the drugs. Joe forces one of the remaining girls to tell them where they went and she lets them know. Guns in his trunk he and Bill head out to find them and get back the drugs and discover what happened to Melissa.

This may seem like a lengthy synopsis filled with potential spoilers but not really. It provides the bare bones but not the meat that is wrapped around them. The story itself holds your attention and the performances on hand, especially by that of Boyle (a breakout performance it turns out) make this movie one that holds your attention, even if he doesn’t show until 30 minutes or so in.

Made in 1970 what makes the movie even more interesting is looking back on the story and the culture war going on at the time. The movie depicts three separate categories of people here who all seem more alike than different. Bill and Joan represent the white collar workers, Joe the blue collar and Melissa and her friends the hippy generation. Where the hippies claim individuality and independence they show none of it, all dressing alike, using the same comments and buying products to make be part of the group. It’s the same thing that people like Bill are hired to promote and make money from. Looking back we can see that now and realize it better than at the time the movie was released.

All three feel trapped in their own environments. Bill by the boring mundane life he must work to live the lifestyle he’s chosen, Joe in the daily grind working at the steel mill and feeling trapped by people who have more while doing less and Melissa and her friends who work just as hard selling drugs in order to pay for the things they want. None of the three groups realizes they are the same as each claims only theirs is the real thing.

When the movie was released it was considered quite controversial. It drew a lot of attention and discussion among movie goers. Some saw Joe as a hero and others as a villain. In truth he is both. But he is also us, the everyman out there. The movie was also a pivotal film for its director John G. Avildsen who three years later directed the critically acclaimed SAVE THE TIGER which won Jack Lemmon an Oscar for best actor and who six years later directed a small film called ROCKY.

The film is being released on blu-ray by Olive Films so fans can now have the cleanest looking copy of it they’ve ever had the chance to own. Extras are limited to the trailer but it’s the movie itself that is worth picking a copy of this up for. By the time the screen credits roll you’ll be stunned, you’ll be thinking about what group you fit in and you’ll realize how talented an actor Boyle actually was.