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John Allman

If you’ve ever wandered the aisles at the video store or surfed the DVR pay-per-view options and seen a bunch of movies that you’ve never heard of, chances are John has watched them. Why? He loves movies. All kinds of movies. Good, bad, so-bad-they’re good, even the truly unwatchable ones. He mostly loves horror and science-fiction and drive-in exploitation movies that most upstanding model citizens wouldn’t dare watch. Then he writes up his thoughts so you can decide - watch, don’t watch or avoid at all costs. Sometimes he even gets to talk to the cool folks who make some of your favorite films.

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New Releases for Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Posted Jun 16, 2012 by John Allman

Updated Jun 16, 2012 at 07:10 PM

What’s new in stores and on video shelves this week:

Monster Brawl
Genre: Action/Horror/Comedy
Directed by: Jesse T. Cook
Run time: 89 minutes
Rating: Unrated
Format: Blu-Ray

The Lowdown: There’s a fine line between ridiculous camp and awesome drive-in cheese, and it’s apparently a really, really fine line that often can’t be traversed.

Troma Films for years has practically written the manual on how to produce unbelievably stupid movies that can’t help but entertain because they still resemble real movies with an actual plot and some semblance of structure. Really, how else could a flick like “The Toxic Avenger,” about a 90-pound weakling transformed into a grotesque but lovable vigilante, become a cult classic and spawn multiple sequels?

“Monster Brawl,” the second feature to be written and directed by Jesse T. Cook, starts off promising, at least through the opening credits. Then it all goes to hell.
But the initial promise is so tantalizing, the idea that someone has gathered together eight of the world’s greatest monsters to compete in a battle to the death for supremacy, that you can’t help but keep watching – for 30 minutes or so until it just becomes too much to endure.

The problem here is that Cook squanders a completely great premise by failing to come up with a good story to wrap around the bloody battle carnage between the monsters.

Cook obviously is enamored with professional wrestling, and he frames his epic battle within the structure of a pay-per-view event akin to Wrestlemania. That means we get extended back stories conceived as vignette packages about each fighter, which tell how each monster was picked to compete.

The actual fights are entertaining enough but not so over the top that they really thrill. This is a battle to the death! There should be mega violence instead of a few high suplexes and neck breakers.

Worse, the first two fights utilize the same finishing move. Epic fail.

The death knell of “Monster Brawl,” though, is the incredibly long, draggy stretches between bouts. Poor Dave Foley, so great in The Kids in the Hall, is stranded on an island surrounded by piranha and the stilted, generic announcer-speak he’s given to recite sounds like the dying words of a man about to swim out into the abyss to become dinner.

Seriously, I hate to repeat myself, but a movie about monsters fighting to the death should be anything but boring.

The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – No.
Gore – You will experience the gore first hand when you claw your eyes out watching this train wreck.
Drug use – You should take drugs in order to make this more enjoyable.
Bad Guys/Killers – They’re all killers, the monsters gathered here, but the true death is the 89 minutes you lose watching this mess.
Buy/Rent – Neither.
Blu-Ray Bonus Features – Commentary, Featurette, Outtakes of Jimmy Hart being, well, Jimmy Hart, the Mouth of the South, which was much funnier when you were in eighth grade and still thought pro wrestling was real.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (Sony, 96 minutes, PG-13, Blu-Ray): Take heart, Ghost Rider fans. There is some good news to be found in this sequel to the 2007 abomination that was the original film.

“Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” is a better Ghost Rider movie.

The bad news is that it’s just not a very good movie overall.

Co-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor have never been accused of being overly mature in their approach to filmmaking. Anyone who has watched either of their “Crank” films can attest to that.

However, Neveldine and Taylor also appear to have no internal governor, so anything that fancies and delights their inner-8-year-old is likely to make the leap from drunken idea to cinematic recreation. That’s the only way to explain or justify having to watch Nicolas Cage, as Ghost Rider, pee fire.

Thankfully, the directing duo managed to fix most of the truly offensive elements from the first go-round, namely the appearance of Ghost Rider and his voice.

Sadly, they forgot to draft a compelling story to plop the fiery one into.

And by the third act, the wheels have long come off with established character rules and abilities being broken repeatedly to satisfy the action on display.

Suffice to say, much like the Hulk, Marvel has yet to find a proper vehicle to introduce one of its darker superheroes to the masses, and after two failed tries, it’s doubtful there will be a third, unless the success of “The Avengers” prompts some studio executive to order a big-screen adaptation of “The Champions,” a second-tier team anchored by Black Widow, Ghost Rider and Hercules.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Warner Bros., 129 minutes, PG-13, Blu-Ray): Like a never-ending Thanksgiving feast, Guy Ritchie’s two “Sherlock Holmes” movies are so chocked full of action, disguises and twists that you can’t help but feel overstuffed well before dessert and coffee.

“A Game of Shadows,” the second adventure starring Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as his trusty companion Dr. Watson, is basically more of the same from the first film. If you liked “Sherlock Holmes,” you will probably be satisfied with this chapter.

But for people who didn’t like the first film, myself included, Round Two will push you further to the fringe, especially whenever Ritchie utilizes his love of slow-motion (which is often) or whenever he telegraphs each fight scene by having Holmes envision what he’s going to do before he does it, thereby forcing you to watch each punch twice.

Also Available:

Spider Man 1, 2, 3 – Just in time for the reboot, relive Sam Raimi’s take on the first three big-screen adventures of everybody’s favorite neighborhood web-slinging, web-swinging superhero.

Meatballs – Classic comedy from Ivan Reitman and Bill Murray that will leave you cheering, “It just doesn’t matter!”

Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels: Season 6 Part 1 and Part 2 – The Demon weds the Playmate.

Pawn Stars: Season Four – Totally addictive show, not for the personalities but the incredible artifacts brought in by customers hoping to make some coin. Spoiler alert: No one ever gets paid as much as they want.

In Darkness – Award-winning World War II drama.

Demoted – Workplace comedy featuring the always subversive David Cross.

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Season Five – The final season of this fun “Doctor Who” spin-off, thankfully completed prior to star Elizabeth Sladen’s untimely death.

Doctor Who: The Seeds of Death and Doctor Who: Resurrection of the Daleks
– Early adventures with the second and fifth Doctor, Patrick Troughton and Peter Davison.

Scandal: The Complete First Season – Will somebody tackle Shonda Rhimes and make her stop creating new shows? Please!

Episodes: The Complete First Season – Matt LeBlanc won an Emmy for playing himself. Here’s your chance to see why.

Top Gear: The Complete Season 18 – The best show about cars ever, designed both for gearheads and people like me who just like to drive.

Eros School: Feels So Good and Zoom Up – Two more titles in The Nikkatsu Erotic Films Collection, these soft-core manga adaptations skirt Japan’s censorship laws, offering titillation and controversial subject matter,

Accident – Hong Kong import thriller about an “accident” artist who is really a hitman who stages his murders to look like ordinary acts of unfortunate circumstance.

Thin Ice – If this black comedy crime caper makes you think of “Fargo,” it’s fair to say the filmmakers succeeded in their efforts.

Not to be Overlooked:

The Aggression Scale (Starz/Anchor Bay, 85 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): Most of you probably missed the gory, rough-around-the-edges low-budget zombie flick “Automaton Transfusion” back in 2006.

But thankfully, for those of us who discovered it and loved it, writer/director Steven C. Miller has continued making movies, and improving upon his craft.

Miller’s latest, “The Aggression Scale,” is a surprisingly effective slice of B-movie mayhem that avoids most of the pitfalls that plague low-budget thrillers.

Essentially a home invasion thriller, “Aggression” takes a novel approach to a tired genre, and imagines what might happen if the home invaders got much more than they bargained for during a routine smash and grab.

In this case, the “much more” comes packaged in a pint-size serial killer in training, the young son of the family being terrorized.

The boy, who never speaks, has been institutionalized for several years for fear that his homicidal tendencies might manifest full-bloom. But his father can’t live without at least trying to give his son a better life, so he takes the opportunity afforded when he comes in possession of a big bag of mob money and he buys his son’s freedom and a brand new house in a new town.

The problem is that the mob boss is about to be locked up for life, but he hatches a plan to escape to a non-extradition country, once he gets his money back, of course.

So he dispatches a foursome of fearsome killers to kill anyone whose name lands on a list of possible purloiners of his cash. The early scenes of random, innocent people getting blown away is both shocking and absorbing.

But the early kills are just a warm-up. Once the killers arrive at the last house, the house bought by the father who actually took the money, all hell breaks loose and the dad’s son goes full-blown psycho.

Granted, the kid gets a little too MacGyver at times, especially when he has to stop and create some improbably complex trap with just seconds to spare, but you roll with these few blips of inconsistency because the end results are so much bloody fun.

“The Aggression Scale” is like a long-lost drive-in thriller from the 1970s, repackaged but not slicked up, for modern audiences.

This is a definite must-see when you come across it.

The Three Stooges: Ultimate Collection (Sony, 64 hours, Unrated, DVD): There’s more Nyuck Nyuck Nyuck’s to be found in this amazing 20-disc collection than any fan of The Three Stooges will ever have time to process.
Really. It’s no joke.

For the first time, all 190 short films, two feature-length films, three cartoon adventures and 28 solo shorts from Shemp, Joe Besser, and Joe DeRita are gathered together in one incredible boxed set.

A must-have for fans and collectors alike.

Hoosiers (MGM, 115 minutes, PG, Blu-Ray): One of the greatest sports movies ever made. Who didn’t cry during the emotional championship game when Jimmy Chitwood drained the winning shot? C’mon, it’s OK to admit.

Missing in Action, Missing in Action II and Delta Force (Fox, 334 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Chuck Norris doesn’t need a Blu-Ray upgrade to make his films look great in high definition. But he’ll take the upgrade just so the rest of us can finally see how awesome Chuck Norris looks on an everyday basis.

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