New Releases for Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Directed by: Liam O’Donnell
Run time: 106 minutes
The Lowdown: In 2010, sibling directors The Brothers Strause unleashed Skyline on an unsuspecting public.
The CGI-heavy alien invasion thriller, which starred Eric Balfour and Donald Faison, those guys from Haven and Scrubs, respectively, was awful, regardless of what planet you hailed from.
Critics and fans alike heckled the film, as evidenced by its 16% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Why in the world anyone would think it was a good idea to invest in a sequel is beyond me, but seven years later, here we are.
Beyond Skyline, the follow-up no one expected or wanted, has arrived, and guess what – it’s pretty freaking awesome.
Why and how is this possible?
Three words: Just add Grillo.
I’m firmly convinced there should be a glass box on the set of every genre film set with a phone inside. If a director senses that his or her vision is not being accurately portrayed, they could run over to the box, smash it open and use the phone to call Frank Grillo and immediately insert him into the cast.
Grillo’s star has been on the rise for the past three years, ever since he was cast in Captain America: The Winter Soldier as Brock Rumlow/Crossbones, which likely resulted in him being handed the keys to The Purge franchise, which he has since helped elevate into a pulpy, drive-in ode to mass violence.
And make no mistake, Beyond Skyline is essentially a highlight reel of why Grillo is one of the best genre actors working today. The guy can do it all – action, comedy, family drama. He’s just relatable and has a natural ease in front of the camera. He’s the guy you want for a neighbor because you know he can help fix anything.
Thankfully, he doesn’t have to shoulder the film all on his own. First-time director and writer Liam O’Donnell, who co-wrote the original, wisely brought in another ringer, Iko Uwais, the Indonesian action star best known for The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2, two of the best action films ever released.
Together, the two stars elevate Beyond Skyline to deserved cult status.
Beyond Skyline pays a passing nod to its predecessor, but where the first film focused almost entirely on the alien threat taking all of humankind in Los Angeles hostage, O’Donnell’s sequel has grander ambitions.
Grillo plays Mark, an LAPD detective trying to get his delinquent son home following an arrest. As they are riding on the subway, the train is engulfed in otherworldly blue light and the subterranean tunnels begin to collapse. Pretty soon it’s clear why – there’s a massive spaceship hovering over Los Angeles that is literally sucking all the people up from the streets and into the ship.
Mark, his son and a plucky subway conductor named Audrey (Bojana Novakovic) try to lead a group of survivors from the train to safety. As they battle seemingly indestructible aliens wearing massive body armor that allows them to tower over average-sized people, Beyond Skyline finds its groove.
At this point, the film is already better than Battle: Los Angeles or Independence Day: Resurgence.
Then they too get sucked up into the ship, and boy howdy, things just get cray-cray from there.
It turns out there’s just one main evil alien, and it uses the brains of the people swallowed up to fuel an endless army of alien slave fighters. In rare cases, the human brain resists the transformation, and the reborn alien still has the memories of its human host fuel.
Don’t ask – just go with it.
Suddenly, Beyond Skyline turns into Die Hard in Space with Grillo’s Mark playing the role of John McClane, spoiling the alien invasion with little more than grit and determination.
By this point in the film, it’s clear that Skyline might have been a much better movie if O’Donnell had been the sole writer. Thankfully, with Beyond Skyline, he is free to throw everything possible into the mix, including an alien-human hybrid baby, which Mark helps deliver, on the mothership, surrounded by goo and dead bodies. The baby’s father is one of the few alien slave fighters that has retained the memories of its human host’s brain, and together that alien and Mark race against time to get the newborn off the ship, save Mark’s son and the plucky transit operator and defeat the invasion.
The resulting fight and spaceship crash is fantastically staged. If anything, Beyond Skyline represents a huge leap forward in the CGI and practical effects from the first film.
Normally, this is where most movies would end. Not this one. There’s still 46 minutes to go!
O’Donnell performs the cinematic equivalent of Rodney Dangerfield’s Triple Lindy, and completely flips the script again. The spaceship crashes in a remote part of Indonesia where, surprise!, Mark and Audrey suddenly find themselves face to face with a rebel insurgency led by Uwais, who gets to show off his incredible hand-to-hand fighting skills.
Uwais’ Sua is part of an underground freedom fighting movement that is trying to overthrow an oppressive government and avoid the alien insurrection.
Mark and Sua team up and somehow realize that the key to thwarting the Big Bad Alien is the newborn child’s blood. It also helps that the infant is growing at a rapid clip, and has aged into a young girl in a matter of hours. Before the dust settles, the child will have grown into a stupid hot adult female hellbent on destroying the alien scourge.
O’Donnell stages some slick all-out fight scenes with Mark, Sua and Audrey beating the crap out of the alien slave fighters. Then they try to execute their Hail Mary plan to destroy the mother ship.
But, wait, there’s more.
Mark’s son, who had his brain sucked up and deposited in an alien body, suddenly remembers who he is – he’s the son of Frank Grillo, man! This can’t be good for the lone evil alien.
And that’s when Beyond Skyline morphs once more into a giant alien-kaiju battle royal with giant alien exoskeleton warriors duking it out across a landscape dotted with ancient temple ruins.
You can’t make this kind of crazy up.
For a sequel that likely never should have been made, Beyond Skyline soars above expectations to deliver one of 2017’s most unexpected guilty pleasures.
And O’Donnell, clearly sensing he had done well, sets up a third film with a nice twist at the very end.
Believe it or not, I can’t wait to watch more.
Just be sure to add Grillo, and I know it will be good.
Beyond Skyline is now playing in theaters. It will be released on Video-on-Demand, Blu-Ray and DVD in January 2018.
The Stuff You Care About: Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – No. Gore – Lots of alien violence.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Aliens!
Buy/Rent – Go see it!
Halloween Pussy Trap Kill! Kill!! (Cleopatra Entertainment, 86 minutes, Unrated, DVD): Halloween Pussy Trap Kill! Kill!, the latest feature from writer-director Jared Cohn, really, really wants to be your next genre cult classic.
Cohn has 23 films on his IMDb profile, mostly low-budget horror and fantasy, including 2016’s Little Dead Rotting Hood. He’s worked with great actors (Bill Moseley) and genre regulars (Costas Mandylor).
Long story short, he isn’t a guy making his first feature, which is why Halloween Pussy Trap Kill! Kill! can be frequently frustrating – there’s some decent ideas, and moments of solid execution throughout, but the overall film keeps tripping over itself to be so purposefully weird that viewers are left wanting more – more backstory, more character development, more gore.
For example, Cohn’s Big Bad Villain, who is called The Mastermind (more on him in a minute) has two female helpers. One is a redhead vixen who gets off by killing trick or treaters with grenades disguised as candy. The other is a little person named Dorothy (genre actress Zahra Susan Ingersoll), who just rides a toy rocking horse and shouts out lines like, ‘Kill ‘em, Daddy! Kill ‘em!’
It makes no sense other than it’s really weird and unsettling.
BVB almost gave up entirely on Halloween Pussy Trap because the first 15 minutes of the film is set in Afghanistan and plays like a straight war movie. A band of soldiers is captured by a bunch of terrorists on – you guessed it – October 31, and as the terrorists are executing the soldiers, one of them tells the last soldier, before they set him on fire, that the true meaning of Halloween is fear.
Of course, that soldier survives – spoiler alert, he’s The Mastermind – and despite being horribly disfigured from burns, he somehow creates an elaborate torture house (with all of his VA benefits subsidies, no doubt) to force other innocent people to learn the true meaning of fear on Halloween night.
It’s like Cohn wanted to mash together elements of Saw and House of 1,000 Corpses and place the action in a remote setting similar to From Dusk Till Dawn’s Titty Twister strip bar, which was really a façade disguising the network of ancient vampire caves. The Mastermind lives in what looks like a ramshackle shotgun house, but underneath the shanty he has constructed a sprawling maze of subterranean rooms, each equipped with some type of killing apparatus. Some rooms have sprinkler systems that dispense acid. Others have eardrum-shattering loudspeakers.
Into this jumbled mix of metaphors and too-convenient coincidences arrives the five members of Kill, Pussy, Kill, an all-female punk band, and their male tour manager. The girls each have cool names – Amber Stardust, Misty Megan Strange, etc. – but zero personality. At times, they act like strangers to one another. Worse, they don’t really seem to like each other all that much.
The girls get themselves drugged by Dale (Richard Grieco, doing his best backwoods accent) and delivered to The Mastermind after they stop for gas at Dale’s filling station. When they wake up, the games begin. In order to advance from room to room, someone has to die. You’ve seen this done so much better in the Saw franchise, and it doesn’t help that The Mastermind is voiced by Dave Mustaine (yes, the Megadeath guy), who sounds a lot like Tobin Bell, which only fuels more comparisons to Saw and its sequels.
Cohn tries mightily to up the ante by introducing a second group of victims, all male, and while there are occasional moments of slight tension, you never feel the life or death stakes because you have no reason to connect to any of the people in peril.
If you want to watch a superior exercise in white-knuckle survival horror, go rent Green Room.
If you’ve seen Green Room, and the thought of watching something similar involving an all-female punk band as the main protagonists tickles your curiosity, then Halloween Pussy Trap Kill! Kill! might be right up your alley.
One of Us (Monarch Home Entertainment, 85 minutes, Unrated, DVD): Cults have long been a fascination for filmmakers, from the most recent season of American Horror Story and the upcoming television miniseries about the Branch Davidians to the fantastically intense 2011 feature, Martha Marcy May Marlene.
There’s just something deeply unsettling about a group of educated people allowing themselves to be swayed by a charismatic leader to only act in his or her best interest.
One of Us, the second feature from director Blake Reigle, nails the creep factor of cults, and it also does a good job showing why a handful of young, attractive women would essentially give up their independence to serve a man who really does nothing but oversee all their work. It also helps that the cult leader Brent is played by an actor, Derek Smith, who is capable of transitioning fluidly from charm to menace in a matter of seconds.
Brent’s vision, which he convinces the women to embrace, is entirely believable too. He wants to create a communal utopia where people live off the grid, live off the land and share in fellowship through the power of music.
Where the film falters – and this is more of a personal quibble than an actual detriment to anyone’s enjoyment of the movie – is in its depiction of a young investigative journalist. As played by Christa B. Allen, her character Melanie, who goes by the name Mary with the cult, has plenty of moxie but very little in the way of actual journalism skills. She breaks the law and lies to potential sources as if these are hallmark qualities of the profession.
Melanie is investigating the disappearance of a close friend when she discovers Brent’s cult, and she charms her way into the group by pretending to be a lost and disillusioned soul. This is not how journalism works, but, of course, I may be biased, having spent the better part of 25 years working for newspapers. At this point in my life I’ve mostly accepted that it is a rare film indeed that actually shows a working journalist in a realistic fashion. Most genre films just show the intrepid reporter, typically played by a woman, going to extreme measures to get the story, regardless of ethics or regard for personal safety.
One of Us isn’t going to make any year-end Top 10 lists, but it is a solid thriller with good acting and a decent story that hooks and keeps you watching throughout. BVB thinks you should give it a try!
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The Trip to Spain
Mysteries of China