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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Bounty Killer, or: Stab Me Once, Shame on You

*Spoilers follow*

Once again, this week finds us walking the fine line between B-movie greatness and despair. Rather blatantly stealing from the Mad Max franchise, will this week bring us badassery on the level of Furiosa or is a repeat of Ouija Shark in the cards?

The Film:

Bounty Killer

The Premise:

In a post-apocalyptic desert wasteland, former bounty hunter partners compete for kills while unwittingly unraveling a conspiracy. In no way influenced by Mad Max.

The Ramble:

Ah, the future. Is there a single piece of media from the past 10 years where it isn’t a nightmarishly awful hellscape?

This one is no exception; in our film’s vision of the future, corporate interests have escalated into all-out warfare, leaving the world a barren wasteland. As those left behind attempt to rebuild society, the Council of Nine forms some sort of shadow government that people seem to virtually worship. The Council rewards bounty hunters with stacks of cash and fame for tracking down and killing the white collar criminals responsible for society’s collapse. Undisputed queen of the pack is Mary Death, a bounty killer who most definitely has an unspoken past with the aloof Drifter.

A woman leans out of the driver's side of a vintage car, aiming a revolver with one hand.

As Drifter receives the news that the latest warrant is for a friend and informant of his, Jack, a down on his luck gun caddy manages to join forces with the loner. Both Drifter and Mary are keen on claiming the bounty for this kill. When shady associates of the development company Second Sun track Mary down, she suspects they are connected to Drifter. Even more infuriated when she learns that the next warrant is out for Drifter himself because of his white collar criminal past, Mary is determined to kill him herself.

Two men ride across a desert landscape on motorcycles.

However, before bounty killers can take him out, Drifter decides to throw himself on the mercy of the Council. As Jack sabotages Mary’s car, she is left stranded with only her homicidal urges to keep her company. The Drifter and Jack aren’t far along on their journey when they encounter a hostile group of gypsies (regrettably, this word gets tossed around a LOT, and the group is only ever referred to in the most problematic of ways). Blaming Drifter for the escape of Nuri, one of their own, years ago, the duo seems destined to die unless they can get away. Before this happens, though, we’re going to get the entire tragic backstory of Drifter and Mary because spoiler/not really a spoiler, Mary is Nuri.

After assassinating the king, Mary escaped the gypsies and tracked down Drifter, demanding he teach her to be a bounty killer. Once her training is complete, they become both business and romantic partners…until the day Drifter suggests they settle down and Mary responds by stabbing him and leaving him for dead. I support people leaving relationships that don’t work, but it’s probably better to have a conversation rather than risk ending up on Snapped.

A group of three men and a woman are forced to kneel on the ground in front of a line of armed men.

In the present, Drifter and Jack escape, though with some high-speed antics. As they make their way across the Badlands, Mary catches up, only to make up with Drifter. Now a team, the three make their way to the Council to find it destroyed. When they are ambushed by the Second Sun lot, chaos ensues. Can our unlikely heroes compete against the forces that promise to destroy any hope for the future?

The Rating:

2.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I would almost give this a surprise 3, but there are a lot of issues, particularly in the first half. The plot is actually more developed than needed for this type of film, and some of the twists, while not especially shocking, are fun to watch unfold. I wish the storylines had been woven together better as, once the character relationships are more firmly established, the plot is significantly more interesting. Our villain Catherine is extremely one-dimensional, but I would have loved to see more moments of her simply being awful and evil.

Mary Death is the scene stealer here, and she has a stunning if rather male gaze-y appearance. No one in their right mind would think it makes sense to kill people while wearing white, especially when the alternative to being covered in blood is being covered in dust. I can’t help admiring the aesthetic of a woman who has bombs branded with her own logo, but Mary is simultaneously compelling and frustrating as a character. From a worldbuilding standpoint, it makes no sense to me that bounty killers gain a certain amount of celebrity–surely this would just make the job more difficult. Add in the fact that Mary has somehow dodged the gypsies for years while rising to prominence as a bounty killer and the logic is…negligible.

I would say that, in addition to the pacing issues and horrible dialogue, the portrayal of the gypsies and all of the racist nonsense around them is the worst part of this film. It’s so problematic that this group represents the vast number of people of color onscreen too.

I’d like to take this opportunity to register a formal complaint about the horrendous nicknames here as well. The Drifter calls Jack “kid” all the fucking time despite being 2 YEARS older. If anyone pulled that shit with me, I would resign immediately. This pales in comparison to Drifter’s terrible “Fender Bunny” nickname for Mary.

Though this is surprisingly good for what it is, most of the “edgy” social commentary and reflections on corporate greed fall flat. If you want a legitimately compelling examination of similar themes, try the Canadian TV show Continuum. Mostly because I (still) want more people to watch Continuum.

Would my blog wife back this one up as a gun caddy or chase it with a pistol across a desert landscape while driving a classic car with one foot? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Ouija Shark, or: Exit, Pursued by Ghost Shark

So bad it’s good or so bad it’s…bad? It’s a fine line to walk in B-movie land, and an extremely subjective one.

Except when it’s not. No spoilers (yet), but this week’s film is called Ouija Shark. And I’m guessing there aren’t a whole lot of people in the world who consider it a masterpiece of modern filmmaking.

The Film:

Ouija Shark

The Premise:

After summoning the angry spirit of a shark, a group of teens struggle to stay alive long enough to defeat the creature.

The Ramble:

Young Jill is looking forward to a weekend chilling at the pool with seemingly her only friend, Kim. At least, I think it’s Kim. The character names I remember from this film are as follows: 1. Jill.

However, due to her friend’s horrible directions, Jill ends up at a secluded beach. Rather than imagine she may have ended up at the wrong location, Jill jumps into the water for a splash…and emerges with a mysterious Ouija board floating beside her. Obviously she takes the board with her. Obviously.

3 young women sit in a circle on a grassy lawn. A Ouija board is in the center between them.

When Jill finally meets up with Kim and a group of friends housesitting, it seems Jill is something of the odd one out. It doesn’t take long for shared interests to unite the group: daydrinking and lounging around the backyard pool. In a subplot that has little (i.e. zero) relevance, one of the girls takes an interest in the neighbor washing his car and disappears for most of the film’s proceedings.

Meanwhile, the other girls have found it necessary to pace themselves on the daydrinking, shifting gears a bit to bring out the Ouija board. Though most of the group is skeptical, it takes only a few questions about the spirit’s intentions for the girls to be properly creeped out.

Jill later realizes she may have taken things a step too far with the summoning spirits thing when she has a shark-themed nightmare. After calling her dad, he solemnly vows to look into the shark dream and let her know if it’s connected to the Ouija board spirit. To his credit, he actually does do research on this ranging from internet searches to tarot readings, and even consults a medium about it. And, I mean, I’m sure mediums have gotten some odd requests, but communing with the spirit of a shark must be one of the more extreme.

A man sits at a table in the kitchen, looking intently at a laptop screen as he researches. A stack of articles related to sharks and the occult sits next to the computer.

Things escalate pretty quickly from here, with people falling victim to the ghost shark left and right. As the girls fail to make proper use of the buddy system, the shark…eats them? De-materializes them? There’s a lot of murder but very little blood is all I’m saying.

A young woman sitting at the edge of an outdoor swimming pool looks in surprise at the ghostly figure of an oversized Great White Shark.

As the police get involved with the disappearances, Jill’s father offers the sage(?) advice that she must stop denying her family’s history with the occult(?) and find the original owner of the Ouija board(???). You know that, whatever happens, Jill means business as she gets a black leather wardrobe change and acquires a shotgun. But, even when dressed in significantly more badass attire, does she stand a chance against a rather poorly defined spirit shark?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

That’s being generous, honestly. This film is extremely low budget, and it shows in everything from the script, pacing, sound/picture quality, acting, to the special effects. A nonsense plot only becomes more absurd as the film goes on. Mercifully, this film’s runtime is just over an hour.

I can’t really say this is so bad it’s good, but I will give the film some credit. I appreciate when people do make truly small budget indie films, especially given that the landscape for anyone not making a blockbuster looks so tough at the moment. The setup here is not the worst, and could have actually been reasonably interesting with better characterization and exposition. It’s nice to see something unpolished, including a cast that appears to all be wearing whatever they already had in their wardrobe.

While none of the cast here are getting award nominations, I have a special place in my heart for the performance of Jill’s dad onscreen. I get the impression that he’s the parent of one of the filmmakers and only appeared as a favor to his child. Legitimately, I did enjoy some elements of his scenes with the medium and the ghost shark.

One thing I overanalyzed: if you got eaten/dematerialized by a ghost shark, would you ever be declared legally dead or just missing forever? Would people keep looking for you? And would shitty insurance companies use the absence of a dead body as a reason not to pay out any kind of accidental death payment to your loved ones?

Chilling, right?

Finally, because I collect bad movie dialogue, here are some highlights:

  • “Dreams can be a doorway to the unconscious mind; I’ve told you that before.”
  • “Is that a shark or a ghost?”
  • “Thank god [the shark]’s going after him first.”
  • “Why would anyone want to summon a shark?”
  • “It’s unnaturally cold.”
  • “Oh no, I’m dead!”
  • “I’ve got to use my occult training. Mystic shield!”

Would my blog wife summon this one with a Ouija board or track it down, armed with a shotgun she casually keeps in her car (at all times apparently)? Read her review to find out!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Grease 2, or: Go Back to High School

Given this month is dedicated to good/bad B-movies, the time feels right to revisit another…classic? Though not one of my favorites, will a rewatch help change my tune, especially considering the intricately choreographed musical sequences and rather ’80s interpretations of early ’60s fashions?

The Film:

Grease 2

The Premise:

When English exchange student Michael falls for Pink Lady Stephanie, he adopts an alter ego as a cool biker to impress her.

The Ramble:

The gang’s all here for a sequel to the hit musical! If the characters from Grease you’re most invested in seeing again are Frenchy, Principal McGee and the secretary, the football coach, that one really dweeby guy, and the rival Scorpions gang member who’s an asshole for no reason.

Everyone else who’s back to school makes up an entirely new senior class, from the Pink Ladies and the T-Birds to the jocks and cheerleaders, and everyone in between. Geeky English import Michael has the misfortune to be the new kid just in time for senior year, though the recently reenrolled Frenchy has got his back. After all, Michael is cousin to Rydell High icon Sandy, who apparently had great things to say about the school? I guess if your high school experience ended with a literal ride in a flying car, you might look back fondly.

Michael, a teenager with hair styled in a pompadour, leans against a fence. On the other side of the fence, Frenchy, a young woman wearing a pink jacket, follows his gaze to an offscreen Stephanie.

I guess because he’s polite and wears sweaters frequently, Michael is immediately labelled a nerd and is bullied by the T-Birds. When Pink Ladies leader Stephanie checks on the new kid after an incident, he’s smitten. Unfortunately for Michael, independent Stephanie has recently broken up with T-Birds leader Johnny and will (famously) settle for nothing less than a cool rider. Also, it’s apparently a critically important rule that Pink Ladies only date T-Birds–so important that it never came up once in the first film.

Johnny, a teen with slicked-back hair and a black leather jacket, leans an arm against a wall close to Stephanie, a blonde teen wearing a pink jacket. He smiles, while she looks irritated.

After an innuendo-laden song about bowling, Stephanie is determined to demonstrate her freedom from Johnny, who has yet to accept their breakup. Boldly declaring she will kiss the next guy who walks in, Stephanie locks lips with Michael. Now (hopelessly) devoted to Stephanie, Michael vows to do everything in his power to join the T-Birds and become the man of her dreams. Too bad he’s just made a mortal enemy of Johnny and doesn’t know the first thing about motorcycles.

Making use of his nerdy reputation, Michael begins to write essays for his peers in exchange for cash. Eventually, Michael earns enough money to buy a fixer-upper bike and somehow learn to ride so well that he can do a motherfucking sidekick while driving by Scorpion leader Craterface just in time to save one of the lesser T-Birds from a rumble. Stephanie is extremely into this, especially when the mysterious cool rider eludes the cops and returns just in time to light her cigarette. Even as she proclaims her love to the unknown biker (after they’ve spent maybe half of a day together), she’s utterly uninterested in real life Michael.

Against the backdrop of an orange sunset, Stephanie leans close to Michael. He rests against a motorcycle, wearing all black leather and a dark helmet and goggles.

Meanwhile, the school talent show is on everyone’s mind, largely because the entire student body seems to be involved. Logically, the winners of the talent show will be crowned king and queen of the end of year luau, so the stakes are high. Stephanie’s main interest in the show is the opportunity to see her cool rider again. However, things take an unexpectedly tragic turn when the T-Birds chase off the biker, who takes a plunge from a cliff. Convinced she’s lost her love before even knowing his name, will Stephanie somehow see the mystery man of her dreams at the talent show, maybe in a dance sequence that’s not quite on the level of “Beauty School Dropout?”

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I enjoyed this a lot more than I remembered, but I’d still say the magic wasn’t quite there for me. Watching the sequel to Grease makes it even more apparent that the original musical/film was leaning so hard on its catchy AF soundtrack. There are a couple of reasonably memorable songs here, but they don’t hold a candle (or a lighter) to the first film’s songs.

Wisely, the film does get us the closest we will likely ever get to a Rizzo-centered sequel. Stephanie is very much a Rizzo type, living by her own rules and taking shit from no one. She’s such a feminist icon, dismissing the idea that she exists to be someone’s trophy. On the other hand, the Pink Ladies in this film don’t feel as much like a ride or die crew as those in the first film. We don’t get many of the bonding scenes that we did in Grease, and honestly the original one probably passes the Bechdel test more comfortably.

For better or worse, the comedy is played up here. Some of it falls flat, but we do get a more clear-cut criticism of the T-Birds and their ludicrous macho posturing. Johnny almost always looks like a complete tool, and the rest of the T-Birds are approximately on par.

I did make an intentional effort not to over-analyze this film, but the plot is stretched too thin to make much sense. The talent show gets almost an entire 30 mins–there’s that little going on here. And I feel even less of an understanding of motorcycle gangs as a result of this film. What is even the point of a motorcycle gang? Is it to be a man in your mid-30s (at a minimum) who exists solely to laugh intimidatingly and ruin teenagers’ parties? Because that’s the only thing the Scorpions do.

I will give credit to this film for the nonsensical but momentous return of Michael at the luau (though the luau itself is pretty cringey). I wish the rest of the film had been on the same melodramatic level, but I found most other facets not quite absurd enough to get invested in. On a side note, I don’t understand why the fuck Michael still wants to be a T-Bird by the end of the film, especially when Johnny and his friends psychotically pursued him to the point that they believed they were responsible for his murder (or at least manslaughter). If it had been me in Michael’s situation, I would have very quickly become a horror movie villain.

Possibly my favorite element of the entire film is that people treat Michael like he’s a complete alien who doesn’t know how to relate to people…all because he’s English. Obviously one of the more realistic plot points.

Would my blog wife buy a motorcycle to impress this one or shrug off its leather jacket with disdain? Find out in her review!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Tammy and the T-Rex, or: My Friend’s Brain Is in That Dinosaur!

Over the course of 6+ years of the Blog Collab(!), we’ve watched quite a few really great films that I’m so pleased have come across my radar. As much as I’ve enjoyed these, we tend to have a lot more fun with the Collab when our films are about as far from critical and commercial success as it’s possible to be and still get a movie produced. I’m thrilled to say this month is all about luxuriating in that campy, trashy, B-movie world that we would live in, without hesitation, if we could. And we’re kicking things off with a robot T-Rex brain swap.

The Film:

Tammy and the T-Rex

The Premise:

After an attack leaves her boyfriend in a coma, teenager Tammy is reunited with him…when mad scientists transfer his brain to a robotic T-Rex’s body.

The Ramble:

Tammy (Denise Richards) is a cheerleader who is happily dating her dream guy Michael, a very young Paul Walker who wears cut-off sweatshirts and bites the heads off of flowers. Not a euphemism. Though her best friend Byron wholeheartedly approves, Tammy cuts short the romance when she believes Michael is in danger from her unhinged ex, Billy. Spoiler alert: she’s not wrong.

Tammy, a teen with dark blonde hair, smiles as she introduces her boyfriend Michael, a tall white boy muddied from football practice, to her friend Byron, a black teen wearing colorful African-inspired garb.

Perhaps a minor grievance compared to…virtually every other plot element, but I find it so difficult to believe that there’s never been an intervention for Billy or a string of arrests when he is an actual gang leader whom other teens refer to as “boss” and fully grown adults are legitimately terrified of him. But that’s what we’re led to believe, at least until Billy, who still considers Tammy his girlfriend, picks a fight with Michael. Apparently the cops are clued in enough to realize Billy exhibits all of the tendencies of a spousal murderer, so he’s the one arrested when they break up the fight. However, Billy vows revenge against Michael. Uh-oh.

Meanwhile, in a mad science lab…mad scientist Dr. Wachenstein and his assistant Helga scheme to bring a robotic T-Rex to life. For murky reasons related to investors, and I guess what else do you do as a mad scientist. Though brainy henchman Bobby insists he can build a computer powerful enough to drive the machine, the doctor has his own plans in mind to acquire a human brain for his invention.

Guess who may be about to get another chance at life as a robotic dinosaur? After Billy learns that Michael has sneaked into Tammy’s bedroom at night, he furiously marches over to catch them in the act. Tammy encourages Michael to flee, but it’s not long before Billy and his actual gang of teens ok with being accomplices to murder catch up. When they dump a beaten Michael in a wildlife park that has the lowest number of security measures ever, he’s severely mauled and is comatose in the hospital.

In a hospital room, Tammy leans over Michael, who is comatose. Byron stands in the background, looking upset, while Michael's uncle sleeps in a chair against the wall.

As Tammy mourns, Byron is a suitably supportive best friend. Because both teens are quite naive, they’re easily manipulated by cartoonishly evil Dr. W. and Helga. The doctor declares Michael legally dead, stealing the body for a truly gruesome brain extraction. Apparently powering your robot dinosaur with a human brain is the easy part, as it’s not long before the Michael dino is awake, chomping henchmen left and right after the trauma of seeing his own dead body without a scalp. Surprisingly, Michael is pretty quick to connect the dots and realize that his brain is now powering a robot T-Rex body, even mastering dialing a pay phone with relative ease.

Dr. Wachenstein dressed as a surgeon prepares to remove a deceased Michael's skull along a bloody perforation. Helga assists, dressed in scrubs.

It’s not long before Michael’s goals become apparent: 1) find Tammy and 2) seek revenge. Not necessarily in that order. Michael crashes a high school party and does his fair share of chomping. When a frantic Byron is spared, he is mystified but doesn’t complain too much. His father, the sheriff, investigates the carnage at the party, disbelieving the multiple witnesses who claim the culprit is an actual T-Rex. Honestly, this is one of the only plot elements I accept as realistic.

Sitting against the wall of a barn, Tammy huddles in fear as a robotic T-Rex offers a yellow rose to her.

Since Michael has found revenge on the teens responsible for his murder, he visits Tammy, who is understandably petrified. I presume because their love is so true, their soul connection all too real, it’s not long before Tammy realizes the dinosaur is none other than her beloved Michael in a different body. Rather than question her sanity like a normal person, she schemes with Byron to steal Michael’s body to return him to his true form. But if there’s anything Team Mad Science has, it’s schemes of their own. Who will survive…and in which body?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Whoa–there’s a lot packed into this film’s short runtime. As a work of B comedy/horror, it largely succeeds. There is certainly a lot of humor that misses the mark (believe we’ll get into that), but the silly premise works. I legitimately got a lot of laughs from the Dr. Wachenstein character and Helga, who couldn’t be more transparently evil and out of place, yet the vast majority of characters have a straight-faced reaction to them.

While the plot mostly makes no sense, the film’s oddness kept me engaged; I was certainly never bored. For what initially feels like a breezy ’90s teen comedy, there is a lot of gore, along with some extremely unconvincing special effects–though that’s a large part of the charm here.

Not so charming: all of the homophobic jokes at Byron’s expense. Though he is something of a stereotype, I found him more of a fleshed out character than expected. But of course we can’t just let that stand; there has to be a ton of ridicule to go along with that, and very much the kind of tone that suggests the audience is meant to find all of this hilarious. I hoped after the first couple of times we could move on, but the two comic relief(?) cops frequently made truly awful jokes about Byron, and it was pretty difficult to move past those at times.

If you can get past that–and I recognize that’s a pretty big if–I can’t deny that I enjoyed the ludicrous, camp, and frequently grotesque experience of watching this film. I will likely lay on my deathbed with the awful dialogue still echoing in my brain, but I’m not even that mad about it, honestly.

Would my blog wife bring this one back as a T-Rex or shut down its evil plan before it could even locate a bone saw? Read her review to find out!