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New Releases for Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Cyborg: Collector’s Edition

Genre: Action/Sci-Fi

Directed by: Albert Pyun

Run time: 86 minutes

Rating: R

Format: Blu-Ray

The Lowdown: How is it even possible I never fully appreciated the epic achievement that is Cyborg?

Released in 1989, just as Jean-Claude Van Damme’s star was rising toward its zenith, and directed by genre icon Albert Pyun (with a screenwriting credit for Pyun’s non de plume, Kitty Chalmers), Cyborg is JCVD’s Commando, his own Rambo: First Blood Part II, and his personal Mad Max all rolled into one.

Forget how ridiculous JCVD looks during the many flashback sequences when he’s wearing a long wig that’s straight out of Tom Cruise’s closet from Interview with a Vampire.

This is early, monosyllabic JCVD, back when his fists and his feet did all the talking.

This is JCVD paired with a snarky, apathetic dystopian valley girl in Deborah Richter who gets knocked unconscious so many times she seems more like an NFL quarterback than an apocalyptic femme fatale.

This is the movie that confirmed JCVD’s reputation as the king of splits with its iconic image of the Brussels muscleman spread-eagle midway up a wall, waiting to drive a knife into the skull of a cartoonish-ly huge marauder.

This is JCVD as Jesus Christ – crucified, beaten and broken, only to climb out of a well like an Easter savior, ready to crack heads and destroy bad guys.

This is Teflon cult cinema, where the flubs only add to its majesty, such as a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in the climatic battle where JCVD goes to block a kick, his hand gripping a knife that goes flying off screen, only to have the blade miraculously return a second later so he can stab his attacker.

Cyborg is more than just another run-of-the-mill wasteland actioner. The practical effects are better than expected, including an early reveal of the titular female cyborg when she removes her wig to expose her wiring. It’s almost Stan Winston-Terminator quality. And the gratuitous carnage and many burned bodies and severed limbs lean much heavier into gore-heavy horror territory than I remembered.

There’s also a ton – I mean A TON – of homoerotic imagery throughout Cyborg – enough to rival its multiple Christ motifs. Scene after scene of shirtless marauders sharpening long blades at crotch level with slow, deliberate strokes.

I used to consider the JCVD holy trinity to be Bloodsport, Double Impact and Timecop, but it’s now clear to me that I need to revise that list.

The Stuff You Care About: Hot chicks – Yes.

Nudity – Yes. Gore – Yes.

Drug use – No.

Bad Guys/Killers – The marauding “Pirates,” and their Blue Steel-gaze leader, Fender Tremelo.

Buy/Rent – Buy it.

Den of Thieves (Universal, 149 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): If you’ve ever wondered what Michael Mann’s Heat might be like with Gerard Butler, the leprechaun from American Gods, 50 Cent and O’Shea Jackson Jr. subbing in for DeNiro, Pacino and Kilmer, you’re in luck.

The debut feature from Christian Gudegast, the guy who wrote A Man Apart and London Has Fallen, follows the same basic structure of Heat with equal focus on both the bad guys (Fiddy, Pablo Schreiber and Jackson) and the damn-the-rules LA County Sheriff’s investigators led by Butler.

Clocking in at just under two-and-a-half-hours, Den of Thieves is boldly ambitious but noticeably light where it matters most, namely the central heist at its core that commands much of the second half of the movie.

There’s a lot here you’ve seen before: Butler’s “Big Nick” is a shitty dad and husband, but a great cop when it comes to busting up bank robbers. Jackson’s Donnie Wilson is the deceptively quiet stooge who has his own plan for enrichment. Schreiber, so good as Mad Sweeney on American Gods, is the career criminal who won’t hesitate to pull the trigger.

Gudegast does a surprisingly effective job at drawing viewers in. Sure, the material is familiar, but it’s done well enough here to hold your attention.

Anyone looking for something more meaningful or cathartic would be wise to pass over Den of Thieves, but for those who simply love a good action movie about bad criminals and morally-conflicted cops, this is a worthwhile investment.

Grease: 40th Anniversary Edition (Paramount, 110 minutes, PG, Blu-Ray): When I was a kid, there were two movies that I loved so much and so thoroughly that I literally went to the theater more than 20 times each to watch them. It started with Star Wars in 1977 and continued with Grease in 1978. It’s a safe bet that I’m not alone in this feeling. That’s why I can’t help but recommend this new, beautifully-restored transfer of Grease to commemorate its 40th anniversary.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space: Remastered (Arrow Video, 86 minutes, PG-13, Blu-Ray): Apparently, in the late 1980’s, I was too busy learning how to hold my alcohol and failing miserably with college girls to pay much attention to the local multiplex.

That would explain how I missed the early boat not just on Cyborg (see above) but also on Killer Klowns from Outer Space.

For the past three decades, I have staunchly resisted the pull of KKOS even when I stumbled across it on cable. Please, someone slap me.

As directed by Stephen Chiodo, and written by Chiodo and Charles Chiodo, Killer Klowns from Outer Space is actually a solid, thoroughly entertaining slice of subversive horror-sci-fi. Sure, the titular clowns are silly as hell to look at, but the magic of Klowns is in the small details. The Chiodo brothers excel at creating a fully-formed universe for these marauding space jokesters to inhabit. From their cartoonish ray guns to their intricately-assembled carnival tent and the third act’s funhouse descent into madness, these clowns are no joke.

This is actually a title worthy of being called a cult classic. I’m glad the bandwagon finally slowed down enough for me to jump on.

Also Available:

Doctor Detroit

Paddington 2

Sleeping Dogs

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: In Concert

Now on Video-on-Demand:

Be My Cat: A Film for Anne (Terror Films, 87 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): It’s taken some time, but the “found footage” subgenre is finally starting to show significant signs of creative growth and technological advancement.

Almost 20 years after the release of The Blair Witch Project, horror fans have been treated of late to a host of found-footage films that range from pretty good (Red Eye) to must-see excellent (Fake Blood, Followers).

None of those, however, can hold a candle to the weirdness on display in Be My Cat: A Film for Anne, which documents the efforts of an unhinged Romanian director (Adrian Tofei) to convince Hollywood A-lister Anne Hathaway to star in his movie, appropriately titled Be My Cat.

Why is it called Be My Cat? As Tofei explains in one of his many rambling, disconcerting and ultimately horrifying monologues, he loves cats much more than people. To clarify, Tofei likes some people, but only those born female. He has no use for men.

The person Tofei loves most, though, is Hathaway, whom he saw in The Dark Knight Rises and fell in love with through her portrayal of Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman.

To convince Hathaway that he’s the real deal, Tofei cobbles together a video diary that shows him working with three young Romanian actresses. As he explains to the camera, he wants Hathaway to see why she should trust him to make her a cinematic legend. As viewers watch, we learn that should Hathaway accept his offer, that legend would be bathed in blood and steeped in infamy.

There’s a lot that could be said about Be My Cat and its depiction of violence against women, its portrayal of mental illness and its sheer chutzpah in focusing so heavily on Tofei and his maniacal giggle and off-putting grin. It’s pretty clear early on that Tofei, or at least his “character,” is bat-shit crazy. It’s also amply evident that the three actresses he solicits are but lambs for the slaughter. How much these women knew in advance about Tofei and Be My Cat is debatable. The film spends an inordinate amount of time showing Tofei berate them for not understanding his direction, criticizing their appearance and outright lying to them about his motivations and machinations. If they were in on the joke, then kudos to them for a hell of an acting job.

I personally didn’t find Be My Cat: A Film for Anne to be all that terribly shocking. It’s not like watching The Poughkeepsie Tapes for the first time and actually thinking you might be watching a genuine snuff film.

But I’ve read a smattering of critical reviews that applaud Tofei for creating just that, an approximation of a snuff film that skirts the edge of depravity with skill and verve.

That’s the beauty of film – it’s wholly subjective. I will give Tofei credit for channeling his inner-Andy Kaufman to create a character that’s both disingenuously charming and decidedly dangerous. But I would not call his film brilliant or inventive.

Viewers should be prepared – Be My Cat is not an easy watch. It’s challenging to sit through if only because Tofei consumes so much of the screen time with his manic gibberish. To be truly scary, it would have served him better to appear more competent early on before descending fully into madness. As it is, from the moment it starts, Be My Cat: A Film for Anne is unmoored, meaning there’s really no way for it to progress or narratively evolve.

Bus Party to Hell (Gravitas Ventures, 81 minutes, Unrated, VOD): Of all the actresses to emerge in the 1990’s, few have navigated the many ups-and-downs of Hollywood celebrity like Tara Reid.

From withstanding paparazzi scrutiny and body-shaming by online trolls to turning the Sharknado franchise into a mid-career resurgence, Reid is hands-down a survivor. She also comes across as someone who it would be wicked fun to party with.

It’s fitting then that Reid not only stars but serves as an executive producer for her latest B-movie adventure, Bus Party to Hell, which was written and directed by Rolfe Kanefsky from a story by Michael Mahal and Sonny Mahal, who also serve as executive producers.

Bus Party to Hell has a perfect horror movie premise – a caravan of oversexed, drugged-out young adults are en route to the annual Burning Man festival when suddenly they find themselves under siege by supernatural and possibly demonic forces.

And the trailer (included here) provides some serious money shots of gory carnage, mysterious creatures and boobs, lots of boobs.

So, why am I not promoting Bus Party to Hell as your newest cult cinema obsession?

Sadly, Kanefsky doesn’t do his premise justice with a script that fails to anchor the crazy horror shenanigans with anything resembling a coherent narrative story. Yes, the bus is packed with pretty actors and actresses more than willing to dive all-in when it comes to nudity and drunken bacchanalia. But viewers learn next to nothing about any of these party-goers, at least as long as I was able to watch before growing bored, and that’s a big problem.

Horror movie fans fall into different camps. Some watch scary movies simply for the gore and the creativity that goes into imagining the craziest kills possible. Other watch to imagine themselves in a similar situation and ponder how they would respond.

Gorehounds might not always care about the characters being terrorized, but your garden-variety horror enthusiast needs someone on screen to identify with. Whether it’s the blood-splattered hero who’s always quick with a quip or the seemingly impervious final girl who always manages to escape certain death, we cherish that opportunity to invest in not only what’s happening but who it is happening to.

Bus Party to Hell seems more interested in titillating its audience than taking the time to create any memorable characters, which is a shame.

Still, I can imagine there is an audience for this particular interpretation of the traditional stalk-and-slash scenario. Personally, I just wanted, and expected, more.

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