Mega Time Squad
Directed by: Tim van Dammen
Run time: 86 minutes
The Lowdown: In a perfect world, New Zealand’s genre filmmakers would receive the same kind of attention and acclaim that surrounded the famed Ozploitation explosion in Australia throughout the 1970’s and ‘80s.
For a small country, the Kiwi’s pack a mighty punch when it comes to creating memorable movies, regardless of genre. From Dead Alive way back in 1992 to the recent flood of exceptionally indies (Housebound, Deathgasm, What We Do in the Shadows), if you’re not paying attention, you’re seriously missing out.
Tim van Dammen’s Mega Time Squad, however, may be the best film yet to arrive from New Zealand. Whip smart and blisteringly funny, van Dammen’s little time-travel comedy caper is sure to be at or near the top of a bunch of Best-of year-end lists come December.
John (Anton Tennet) is low-level lackey for Shelton (Jonny Brugh), the reigning crime boss of Thames. When he’s not out collecting payments from local business owners, he’s busy engaging in the kind of pop culture discussions that have come to define genre cinema (example, who’s the better Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, Leonardo or Donatello?), practicing kung-fu in his underwear and struggling to understand the hypnotic pull of Shelton’s sister, Kelly (Hetty Gaskell-Hahn).
But when he’s tasked with applying pressure to a new Chinese business owner, he accidentally steals an ancient amulet that can control time, but it comes with a cost. Anyone who uses its power and travels through time and meets themselves must contend with a soul-swallowing demon.
Mega Time Squad isn’t defined by its story, though. What sets the film apart from other, similar sci-fi mash-ups is van Dammen’s keen ear for back-and-forth banter.
When John is betrayed by his best friend Gaz, and brought forth to Shelton for punishment, Shelton commands Gaz to use his mother’s rifle to kill John. The gun misfires, striking another henchman, Terry, in the eye, which sets off the following exchange:
Shelton: Who sighted this?
Gaz: My mum.
Shelton: Well, tell your mum she did a shit job. Give me another bullet.
Gaz: I only had the one. Mum keeps them locked up.
Shelton: Fuck me. Terry, are you all right?
Terry: I’m worried about my eye.
Mega Time Squad wisely keeps to a limited set of time travel rules. John can only move back in time to a certain point. But, in doing so, he is able to continually meet different versions of himself in the past. Before long, he’s met enough iterations of himself to form a gang.
From its excellent score by Mike Newport to its exceptional performances (Brugh, in particular, is a profane riot), it’s difficult to imagine anyone not falling immediately under the film’s spell.
This is that movie, the one you invite a bunch of friends over to watch together on a Friday night. It’s a guaranteed cult classic, but even better, it’s one hell of an introduction to van Dammen, who proves with this, his second feature, that he’s going to be a force in genre films for many years to come.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Not really.
Drug use – Yes.
Bad Guys/Killers – Meet Shelton, the world’s most profane (and hysterical) crime boss.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Bohemian Rhapsody (Fox, 135 minutes, PG-13, Blu-Ray): Bohemian Rhapsody is an awful biopic about Queen, one of the most influential rock bands ever formed.
It never should have been nominated for Best Picture at the 2019 Academy Awards, and while Rami Malek is fantastic as Freddie Mercury, and deserving of being nominated for Best Actor, he didn’t do enough with the role to deserve Oscar gold.
There, I said it. Now, allow me to explain the hate.
Bohemian Rhapsody seems to solely exist in order to recreate Queen’s iconic performance at Live Aid, and while the 20 minutes or so of screen time dedicated to that performance is thrilling, and largely forms the film’s third act, it rings hollow when you consider the number of vital facts that the movie either manipulates for added “drama” or flat-out falsifies in order to deliver a show-stopping finale.
Personally, I would rather watch a movie that explores the hidden details behind the creation of a band’s most lasting songs than watch an extended Behind the Music that moves in a perfunctory manner from the band’s formation, the peak of its success, the inevitable rift between bandmates and the never-in-doubt revival where everyone puts aside past differences to give the fans what they want.
A movie about one of the most unabashedly flamboyant bands ever assembled should crackle with life and explode with creativity. Bohemian Rhapsody does neither. It exists to showcase Malek’s on-screen transformation into a beloved and mysterious musician, but it fails to peel back the curtain even the tiniest fraction to show us a deeper portrait of the tortured artist inside.
American Nightmares (Moonstone Entertainment, 89 minutes, Unrated, DVD): The new horror anthology, American Nightmares, should feel immediately familiar, and there’s a good reason why.
Darin Scott and Rusty Cundieff, who co-wrote and co-directed American Nightmares, have traveled this road before, with much greater success, with 1995’s Tales from the Hood and its solid 2018 sequel.
And while they have assembled a pretty impressive cast of current and former genre icons, including Danny Trejo, James Duval, Vivaca A. Fox, Clarence Williams III, Jay Mohr, Nichelle Nichols and more, the satirical precision and topical targets that worked so well in Hood fall flat here.
A big part of the problem is the setup, which is not presented in a coherent fashion. Two teens have set up an underground hacktivist network, where they target vulnerable digital feeds from webcams, surveillance cameras and more, to extract personal information from careless encounters to blackmail people.
Almost immediately, the hackers get hacked themselves by a strange transmission where they see Trejo appear in front of an unknown live feed to serve as a host and ringmaster of sorts. Trejo basically phones it in, but the bigger issue is that the stand-alone short stories are thoroughly devoid of a hook to invest viewers.
The first short, Mates, mines and merges online dating and A.I., to tell the story of a woman trapped in an abusive relationship who finds love with a cyborg. The second short, The Prosecutor, is about a Texas D.A. (Mohr) running for governor who must face the demons of his past in the form of the vengeful ghost of a man he prosecuted for a crime he didn’t commit. The third short, White Flight, stars Brendan Sexton III as a white nationalist who buys a time travel machine (okay, that’s just dumb), which he uses to transport he and his hillbilly clan to a new community, White Fork, whose slogan is, No blacks allowed. Ever. While there is an unexpected twist on the meaning of the word ‘black,’ it’s still a waste of screen time.
With three short stories finished, I realized there was still more than an hour to go in American Nightmares, at which point I hit eject on my player. I suspect you will do the same, if you even get that far.
Valentine: Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory, 96 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Three years after releasing Urban Legend on the movie-going masses, director Jamie Blanks returned to the multiplex with another slasher film in 2001, Valentine, which fell squarely in the obscure holiday-themed subgenre populated by April Fool’s Day, Prom Night, Mother’s Day and more.
While time has not been kind to Urban Legend, I’m genuinely surprised to note that Valentine has actually improved with age.
A good chunk of the cast (including David Boreanaz, Denise Richards, Marley Shelton, Katherine Heigl and Jessica Capshaw) went on to high-profile careers, though mostly in televised serials.
And Blanks’ film, revisited after 18 years, reveals a nuance that wasn’t as noticeable upon its release, as well as some spot-on social commentary about things like Speed Dating, that require the passage of time to appreciate.
Valentine still boasts one of the most ridiculous set-ups for a slasher film, regardless of the era it was released – an awkward, goofy kid gets rejected over and over again at a school dance before being shamed by a girl who wants to be popular, so she agrees to play a cruel prank at the behest of other boys. Years later, still seething with rage, the awkward, goofy kid exacts his revenge.
If that’s all it took for a young man to eventually become a serial killer, I would think that we’d have quite the pandemic of violence on our hands.
But the ensuing mystery, combined with the frequent kills, is engaging enough to hold your attention, even if you recall the killer’s identity, and I found myself surprised at the unusually bleak, twist ending that Blanks was able to get away with.
Valentine is never going to be a classic example of the slasher genre, but it’s also not nearly as bad as its setup and generic title would suggest.
Haunted Hospital: Heilstatten
Rick and Morty Seasons 1-3 Box Set
Four Weddings and a Funeral: 25th Anniversary Edition
The Poison Ivy Collection
Narcissister Organ Player
Now on Video-on-Demand:
2050 (Hewes Pictures, 104 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Yes, 2050 is the Dean Cain-starring, futuristic exploration of cyborg call girls, aka sexbots, which you may have heard about.
Before you laugh, know this: The film’s distributor, Hewes Pictures, has released two of the best anthologies in recent memory, 2018’s A.I. Tales and Blood Clots, so 2050 is definitely worth a watch because the company's track record is so good.