Original vs. Remake: Maniac (1980 & 2012)

William Lustig (1980)
Franck Khalfoun (2012)

Joe Spinell - Frank Zito
Caroline Munro - Anna D'Antoni
Gail Lawrence/Abigail Clayton - Rita
Kelly Piper - Nurse
Rita Montone - Hooker
Tom Savini - Disco Boy
Hyla Marrow - Disco Girl
Nelia Bacmeister - Carmen Zito

Elijah Wood - Frank Zito
Nora Arnezeder - Anna D'Antoni
Jan Broberg - Rita
Liane Balaban - Judy
America Olivo - Angela Zito
Joshua De La Garza - Martin Nunez

Genre - Horror/Slasher/Serial Killers

Running Time - 88 Minutes (1980)/ 89 Minutes (2012)

It's been quite a while since I've done an actual Original vs. Remake post for Full Moon Reviews. In fact, it's been 14 months since. While I have reviewed original films and their remakes, they've been done separately due to me watching them at separate times. I was waiting for the right moment to return with one of these mega-posts, looking for a film and its reboot to inspire me enough to come back and tackle both at once.

Thankfully this past weekend, I finally got the chance to sit down and watch both versions of MANIAC - a grindhouse slasher original that has gained a massive cult following, and its remake that was ridiculed prior to released but mostly loved now that it's been released [you can now stream it on Netflix Instant]. While both films share the same story and present a similar tone, there are certain aesthetics that make one different than the other. And now having watched both versions, I can honestly say that one of these is better than the other - but not by much to be honest. Does the 1980 version of MANIAC still hold up for modern audiences? Does the 2012 remake deserve to exist? I think the answer to both is "yes".

Frank Zito (Joe Spinell/Elijah Wood) is a serial killer within the shadows of New York City/Los Angeles. His schizophrenic nature stems from a disturbing upbringing involving his mother (Nelia Bacmeister/Anerica Olivo), who was promiscuous and brought a lot of strange men into his life. After his mother's death, Frank just snapped - murdering beautiful women, scalping them, and using their scalps to top mannequins to maintain his victim's beauty forever.

Along the way, Frank ends up meeting Anna (Caroline Munro/Nora Arnezeder) - a beautiful photographer he takes a serious interest in. The two hang out, with Anna never realizing who Frank really is, until his feelings for Anna trigger his murdering spree once again - to the point of madness.

MANIAC isn't an entertaining film. It's not a film you would pop into your player to amuse your friends because you think they're going to enjoy it on a popcorn level. But MANIAC is a cult classic for a reason. It's gritty. It's raw. It's violent and maybe a bit misogynistic. But more importantly, it captures late actor Joe Spinell in a performance so fantastic, you can't help but want to watch this sleazy film from beginning to end.

There's not a whole lot to the narrative of MANIAC. It's mainly a character study in a way of Frank Zito [the name a homage to director Joseph Zito], a New York City serial killer stemming from dangerous mental issues that make him a genuine threat to society. We get just a glimpse of his backstory, which involves his mother - who may or may not been a prostitute [she was promiscuous nonetheless], which twisted Frank's feelings towards her and women in general. In fact, Frank seems lost without his mother, as he was in love with her. Frank's victims seem to be his way of coping with her death, seeing them as figments of his mother that he wants to recapture for all eternity. We watch Frank stalk these women, murder them, scalp them, and place the scalps on mannequins in his apartment as a way to maintain their beauty. He even has conversations with them, as if these mannequins are real people who he sees as his girlfriends, while still being haunted by his mother. It's a truly disturbing look at a man who has serious problems, which he deals with by being truly vicious and violent.

It's even more disturbing, and fascinating at the same time, when Frank is the only real character that gets any sort of depth. He's pretty much in every scene of the film. He's the one with the voiceovers and any dialogue that's considered important. Frank Zito is our narrator, and we follow him as he dishes harm to helpless women who aren't given enough time to mean anything to anyone in the long run. By default, Frank is the most sympathetic character in the movie because he gets the most screen time. It's a strange dynamic for most audiences, but an interesting one when our main character is more of the villain than any sort of hero.

Even though the narrative is seriously simple, it works because it succeeds in what it sets out to do. However, the love story aspect between Frank and Anna brings it down a notch. For one, Anna isn't really that interesting of a character. She's beautiful and loves to take photos, which is pretty much all we know about her. She also seems to have this fetish for liking sweaty, creepy men who don't exude enough charm or humor to be considered attractive to most. Yeah. Call me shallow, but I can't really get why this woman who want to date and hang out with this man for more than she had to. The love story doesn't really develop naturally because there's no real foundation for it. Anna doesn't get a lot of screentime. We know Frank is nuts, yet acts completely sane and normal with Anna. It just doesn't fit within the film for me. The only positive thing about it is that it gives Frank a reason to find new victims. But other than that, I can see why Lustig himself wasn't happy with this part of the story, even cutting out the dinner scene in certain versions of MANIAC. It's a decent attempt, but the execution is flawed.

I'm also not the biggest fan of the very end either. It probably wasn't as cliche as it is now, but I'm sure it still felt as cheap as it does now. I know a sequel was in mind, which unfortunately didn't happen due to Spinell's shocking passing. But it does nothing for me. This is a film that should have felt final by the end, instead of feeling as if it would lead to something else.

Probably the most memorable thing about MANIAC, besides Joe Spinell, is the violence. And boy, is MANIAC a vicious movie or what? There's no question why MANIAC was considered a Video Nasty. You get a ton of graphic scalping scenes. There's some strangulation. We get stabbings and slit throats. There's a memorable face being ripped apart. And the shotgun scene...oh man, probably one of Tom Savini's finest moments as a special effects wizard. Watching a head get blown into chunks via a shotgun to the face is probably second to the head explosion in SCANNERS a year later. Extremely graphic, yet you can't keep your eyes off of it. I love that it's shown in slow motion too, really adding to the effect. Just amazing stuff. Gorehounds will be pleased.

The direction by William Lustig [who would later visualize the MANIAC COP series] is a definite product of its time. It's gritty. It's dirty. It's sleazy. It's vicious. It's nasty. Yet, Lustig directs the film with such quiet subtlety that makes all the violent and crazy moments stand out more. I also love how Lustig really captures the shadows of New York City back in the late 1970's/early 1980's. Living in NYC now, it looks so completely different than how clean and family friendly much of the city is now. It's like a time capsule put to film. I also think the tension that Lustig infuses MANIAC with is just fantastic. Whenever Frank argues with his mannequins, you feel the mood of the scene thickening. Plus, how great is that subway sequence when Frank is stalking a nurse? The sequence takes its time and just builds with suspense. I think Lustig created a very effective film here.

The acting here belongs to one person and one person only: Joe Spinell as Frank Zito. Spinell was a great character actor, and he's just amazing as this psychotic serial killer. You can't take your eyes off of his performance. He's so damn convincing, you'd really believe he was playing himself. Hell, I even felt bad for his character due to his Spinell's masterful acting. He carries this film in every way, and Spinell is the main reason why people continue to praise MANIAC all these decades later. Top notch stuff by an actor who didn't really get his due until it was too late. Caroline Munro is hot and all [love her accent], but Spinell is the real star of this film.

When I heard a remake to MANIAC was being made, I was curious, while at the same time shaking my head in amazement that someone thought they could recreate such a gritty movie from the early 1980s in modern, more conservative times. Then the announcement that Elijah Wood was going to play Frank Zito, and the internet exploded in frustration and confusion to the casting choice. Even I was skeptical of the choice, although I do think Wood is a good actor. Then I saw screenshots, which showed how polished and artsy the visuals looked, making me wonder if this remake was worth my time or not. Thankfully, Netflix Instant had it available for streaming and I decided to check it out before the year ended. And to my surprise, I really dug this remake. It just worked for me for the most part.

I won't get into the narrative because it's pretty much the same story as the original. Frank Zito is still a serial killer. His mother was still a whore [although the backstory is given a bit more focus here]. Frank still scalps people and places the scalps on mannequins. He still becomes enamored with Anna, which leads to his downfall. Even certain moments, like the subway sequence, and a dry humping scene where Frank calls his victim "Mommy" are here. It's a more faithful adaptation to the original source than I had believed prior to watching. I actually appreciated that, since MANIAC showed a lot of respect for the 1980 version.

I gotta say though that the love story aspect works a hell of a lot better here than it did in the original. Frank and Anna's relationship is more developed and given tons of focus, allowing us to see why Frank would be enamored with this girl and how he struggles with trying to be normal for her. I think it's because Anna is introduced pretty quickly into the story [although the fact that she also loves mannequins is a bit far-fetched - I mean, seriously?]. Because of her earlier appearance, she's given depth to her character. She's Yin to Frank's Yang in a lot of ways. They share things in common. They actually hang out and behave like real people trying to establish a relationship of sorts. Even though Anna has a boyfriend, you can tell Anna has a thing for weird Frank. And while you still may call me shallow, I can actually buy that Anna would be into Frank in this version. Frank is a nice-looking, shy dude who doesn't seem at all threatening to the naked eye. He's somewhat charming in a geeky way, which I can see how that would be appealing. Although Frank's bruised hands were pretty nasty though, which makes me wonder if Anna was blind or something. That's why it works better here. I can actually buy this relationship. The original didn't have that effect on me at all.

I also thought the ending here was executed better than it was the original. I'm not a fan of that final scare in the original. This version makes Frank's story a bit more conclusive, which hopefully leads me to believe that there won't be a sequel. But you never know when it comes to these movie studios. They'll make a sequel out of anything these days.

What the remake doesn't have on the original is the violence. There's no real moment that stuck out to me like that shotgun death in the original did. Sure, we get scalpings. We get stabbings. We get a meat cleaver to the face. We get the face ripping from the original. But nothing as macabre as the 1980 version. Still, the remake is a violent enough film that will probably make some people wince while watching it. At least we get boobs in this version. Yay boobies!!

The direction by P2 director Franck Khalfoun is pretty damn good, I thought. It's a more polished, arthouse type of version than William Lustig's gritty, grindhouse version. And I don't think Khalfoun matched any of the tension Lustig placed in this movie. But I loved the look of the film. And I felt the POV approach to the story was an interesting take to an already established narrative. 95% of the film is in total first person point-of-view, putting the audience in the role of Frank Zito. There's only a handful of times where we see Elijah Wood's face, through mirrors and reflections on glass. The Wood dialogue was actually done in post, which makes it more impressive. I liked how the visuals made this MANIAC feel different from the previous MANIAC. I don't think I would have been as invested in this remake if it wasn't for this visual choice, because I knew it was the same film but it felt different. And that's what a remake should do, regardless if the execution works or not. It worked here big time and I dug the bold choice. By the way, I loved the homage to the poster of the original film. Pretty cool.

The acting was pretty solid as well. Elijah Wood is good as Frank Zito, although nowhere to what Joe Spinell did with the same role. Casting Wood was an inspired, interesting choice for such a classic cult role to many. I know people still hate that he was cast as Frank, but I thought Wood did his own thing with it and made it work. It was a more hipster vibe, which I didn't mind. Nora Arnezeder was also very good as Anna. She's very cute and has a lovely accent. I thought she was very likeable and thought she and Wood has some nice chemistry, even if they didn't share many scenes together visually. America Olivo showed her boobs as Frank's slutty mom. Thank you very much for that, Ms. Olivo.


- Frank Zito gets off on his women posing before sex. This season of America's Next Top Model is really desperate for ratings.

- Frank uses mannequins to replace the female victims he murdered. After seeing that he has so many, nothing's gonna stop him now...

- A dude on his date got his entire cranium splattered by a shotgun. When he was hoping for head earlier in the day, I don't think he meant this.

- In 1980, certain serial killers murdered women to preserve their youth and beauty forever. In 2013, we have botox for that.

- Frank tortured a young model named Mia. This is the most competitive season of America's Next Top Model. Needs more smizing though.

- Frank dry humps his victims after he murders them, thinking they're his mother. Even Norman Bates thinks this dude is batshit crazy.

- Frank finds female victims through cyber dating. This is the most extreme episode of Catfish ever.

- One of Frank's dates enjoys listening to "Goodbye Horses" by Q Lazzarus before sex. I guess this chick rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again.

- Frank slapped and strangled a date after she performed oral sex on him. She must have used teeth.

- A girl got her foot sliced by Frank while trying to escape. Who knew Elijah Wood would be this girl's Achilles' Heel?

- Frank was corrupted by his coke snorting, double penetrated, slutty mom, who made him watch her have sex. Sometimes it's not worth being THE GOOD SON in this SIN CITY.

- Frank thinks it's perfectly acceptable to scare his love interest. Then again, his best friend is an Australian guy dressed in a bunny outfit. So what do I know?

Two different versions of the same narrative, both takes on MANIAC work on various levels. The 1980 film is a gritty, sleazy affair that's driven by Joe Spinell's incredible lead performance and Tom Savini's gore. The 2012 remake is a more horror-arthouse deal with a very good performance by Elijah Wood, a better love story, and direction that might not work for everyone [but the first person point-of-view angle for the killer worked more than I thought it would personally]. Not everyone loves the original. Not everyone loves the remake. I personally love both, and I think each film does things better than the other. I believe both versions of MANIAC are worth watching, even if they aren't entertaining films on a popcorn level.

MANIAC (1980) & MANIAC (2012)
3.5 Howls Outta 4




Zombie Apocalypse: Redemption (2011)

Ryan Thompson

Johnny Gel - Knox
Fred Williamson - Moses
Joseph Scott Anthony - Robert
Tommy Beardmore - Lucas
Jerry Lynch - Rome
Alicia Clark - Sarah
Angelique Sky - Cienfuegos

Genre - Action/Horror/Zombies

Running Time - 101 Minutes

In the year 12 A.Z. [After Zombies], the Zombie Apocalypse Virus has wiped out most of the human population, to the point where zombies outnumber humans 10,000 to 1. An ex-military soldier named John Knox (Johnny Gel) escapes from prison with the help of a fellow inmate. The leader of the prison, Rome (Jerry Lynch), is upset about this and wants Knox dead for treason. While Knox is dying in the desert, he's saved by a group of soldiers before zombies attacked him.

While keeping an eye on him, the leader of this new group, Moses (
Fred Williamson), sees that Knox would be a useful member to his army. The other members don't trust Knox as easily, but start to once he proves himself against the prisoners and a hoard of zombies. Eventually during an excursion for supplies, their camp is destroyed by Rome and his forces - even kidnapping several of the members, including Knox's love interest, Sarah (Alicia Clark). This motivates Knox, Moses, and the others to attack Rome's group, while a city of zombies hopes to bite into the scraps of the aftermath.


I watched ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE: REDEMPTION for a couple of reasons. One, it was expiring on Netflix Instant. And two, I've been planning on reviewing every zombie movie ever made anyway, so I had to sit myself through this. I honestly had no idea ZA:R was a sequel [to ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, of course], and this film doesn't urge me to seek out the first installment. And although I read and heard really terrible things about this flick, I didn't think it was one of the worst films I had ever seen. It's far from great though, and a part of me wishes I hadn't wasted 101 minutes watching a pretty lame zombie-action film.

- The homages. ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE: REDEMPTION has an extremely generic and faceless script. It seemed to be focused on ripping off as many films from the 1980s as it could to tie together some sort of story that audiences would want to watch. And while these inspirations look and feel superior to the original copies, at least they were amusing compared to most other things in this film.

Much of the film seems inspired by THE ROAD WARRIOR, with the outfits and action reflecting as such. We also get an ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK moment, where a character decides to put an eye patch over his eye before fighting a group of henchmen after he's caught sneaking onto their home turf. And there's even a RETURN OF THE JEDI moment, where Sarah [after being captured] is dressed like slave Princess Leia. I can see both the director and screenwriters [all four of them] were fans of these films. I just chuckled at these acknowledgements, while wishing I was spending time watching those three films instead. But at least something about the story entertained me.

- Certain bits of dialogue. While most of the dialogue is generic as hell and unmemorable, there are a few lines that deserve attention.

"Did I fuck your mother in another life or something?"

"Holy Jesus Christmas shit!"

"When I want your opinion, I'll rape it out of you."

The best part about that last line is that the recipient gave the quoter a blow job right after. Almost SHARK ATTACK 3: MEGALODON level, but not quite.

- The soundtrack. It's not a focus of the film, but I enjoyed the subtle synth score that played in the background. The music fit the mood and tone of the film, which enhanced it somewhat. Too bad the score wasn't meant for a better film, but at least I couldn't complain about the audio.

- The direction for the most part. Ryan Thompson's direction was fine for what it was. Considering the low budget, I thought Thompson handled the visuals better than expected. The action scenes, while not perfect, were shot well enough to understand what was going on. The picture quality looked grainy, but in a good way. It reminded me as if I was watching this on an 80s VHS tape. Some of the audio could have been fixed in post, such as dialogue that was muted for some reason, as well as some off-sync tracking. And I'll talk about the special effects in a later section. But I thought ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE: REDEMPTION visually looked better than expected.

- An uninspired screenplay. ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE: REDEMPTION's biggest issue is the script. Four writers worked on this and... really?? This is what they came up with? A predictable, generic zombie-action film that takes the best elements of much superior films to create a story? The screenplay is the most important aspect of any film, but especially a low-budget film. You're not going to have money for great special effects, or high-quality cameras, or even professional actors. But it doesn't cost that much, except time and dedication, to write a more than decent screenplay. And this film fails at that.

Honestly, it's not the worst screenplay ever. It's actually okay. But it's so stale and lacks character. It's just there. We get typical stock characters. The ex-military guy turned hero. The badass boss of the group who chews the scenery. The boss' right-hand man who hates the hero at first, but becomes his best buddy by the end. The hopeful soldier who sees the light at the end of the tunnel. The tough chick who can fight, because she's the only chick in her group that can fight. You also get the creepy, hungry for power villain and his slutty girlfriend. It's a film about two gangs going to war against each other because they're the only humans left in their region. And they want control of it to make sure they survive the zombie apocalypse. It's DAY OF THE DEAD. It's THE ROAD WARRIOR. It's ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. It's so many other films I've seen countless times, and seen done better. It gets really old after a while. At least add a new element to the story that makes it stand out. But it just coasts on what's familiar. It's a lazy script that's just competent enough.

And you would notice that I didn't mention any zombies in the above paragraph. That's because they're the guest stars in their own film. For a film called ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE: REDEMPTION, there's better any inkling of zombies, an apocalypse, or any sort of redemption on anyone. If you wanted to have a gang vs. gang film, just do that. Why have zombies involved if they're not a focus? You'd be saving money and have a better focus. I admire those involved for being ambitious, but it didn't work for me. Sorry.

- The acting. For the most part, the acting in this movie is pretty terrible. While there are some decent performances, particularly by Johnny Gel, legend Fred Williamson, Alicia Clark, and Joseph Scott Anthony, most of the others were just dreadful. The one that really stood out was Jerry Lynch as Rome. I don't even know what this man was directed to do. But this guy was hamming it up like no other. Was he a vampire? A drama major in college? The villain should be badass, or menacing, or entertaining for all the right reasons. All Lynch did was make me laugh with his silly dialogue and line delivery. I just couldn't take the guy seriously. The film was silly enough. I wish the portrayal was a bit more serious.

- Terrible special effects. I understand the movie is low budget. But man, the CGI and make up for the zombies were terrible. We get CGI blood. There's a fiery explosion at the end that's supposed to destroy parts of a building. But right before it cuts, you can see the building has no damage done to it. The zombies look really fake, but better than the CGI used. It was pretty much SyFy quality, which is a shame. Appreciated the ambition though.

I had low expectations for ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE: REDEMPTION, and they were pretty much met. A lazy screenplay that's too focused on paying homage to better films from the past, pretty bad acting, and poor special effects bring this sequel down. However, the homages are amusing, the visual presentation is better than expected, and the synth soundtrack is sort of cool. Still, this low budget zombie-action film is below average and not worth anyone's time unless you really love zombies. The redemption I can take away from this viewing experience is that I will never have to watch this movie ever again.

1.5 Howls Outta 4


Machete Kills (2013)

Robert Rodriguez

Danny Trejo - Machete
Michelle Rodriguez - She
Mel Gibson - Luther Voz
Demian Bachir - Marcos Mendez
Amber Heard - Miss San Antonio
Jessica Alba - Santana Rivera
Carlos Estevez [Charlie Sheen] - President Rathcock
William Sadler - Sheriff Doakes
Sofia Vergara - Madame Desdemona

Genre - Action/Comedy/Science Fiction/Exploitation

Running Time - 107 Minutes

During a mission to stop a drug cartel from trading weapons at the U.S./Mexico border, Machete (Danny Trejo) and girlfriend, Santana Rivera (Jessica Alba), deal with a tragic loss as Santana is murdered by a man wearing a Mexican wrestling mask. Machete is blamed for the death, but is pardoned by President Rathcock (Carlos Estevez) - who promises Machete that he'll make him an official American citizen and erase his prior arrest records if he takes on a secret mission for him. Aided by Texas beauty paegant contestant named Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard) and freedom fighter Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), Machete must stop two criminals.

One is Marcos Mendez (
Demian Bichir) - a former revolutionary-turned-schizophrenic madman who has a bomb triggered to his heart. The other is Luther Voz (Mel Gibson), an evil mastermind who has global plan of terror in mind that involves clones and space. Along the way, Machete also encounters more adversaries like Madame Desdemona (Sofia Vergara), a bullet-bra wearing brothel madame, and El Chameleon (played by different actors like Lady Gaga and Cuba Gooding, Jr.), who also want Machete dead.


MACHETE KILLS is a film I wanted to see and review much earlier than this. But around the time of its release, I had a family tragedy and wasn't really in the mood to watch the sequel to a film I liked, but didn't love. I figured with the trailers hype, and the fact that 2010's MACHETE became a cult hit due to the character's appearances in 2001's SPY KIDS and in the classic faux trailer in 2007's GRINDHOUSE, MACHETE KILLS would do well at the box office. To my surprise, the film bombed and is pretty much forgotten after only a month.

I don't know why this particular film bugged me so much, but I had to see why MACHETE KILLS didn't appeal to a broader audience. So finally after watching it and taking it all in, I can see why it didn't do so well. The first MACHETE did okay because the hype was huge due to the cult status of GRINDHOUSE. But once many people watched MACHETE, they felt that it was a character that probably didn't deserve a sequel. Plus, the tone from the trailers was more over-the-top and humorous than what the first film had presented. Also, with the positive talk of GRAVITY [which I still consider 2013's best film so far] at the time, it overshadowed MACHETE KILLS [which kept moving release dates]. GRAVITY looked like a film worth a full price theater ticket. MACHETE KILLS looked like a film worth $8 on Netflix Instant. And sad for me to say, I'm glad I didn't pay full price for MACHETE KILLS. While it's an entertaining and funny film at times, it feels like a film that's less of a sequel and more of a prop to set up an even crazier installment that already looks more interesting than this one.

I think my major issue with MACHETE KILLS is the screenplay itself. It just didn't click with me as much as I had wanted to. I thought the script in the first film wasn't all that either, with its anti-immigration theme that hindered the film rather than make it memorable. But it was more cohesive than what this sequel was selling me. There's just too much going on in MACHETE KILLS, with characters that, while interesting, don't add much in the end. Also, there are so many plot elements being introduced, that it's hard to focus on a single thing. It's as if screenwriter Kyle Ward [in his debut here] just threw a bunch of random stuff to a wall to see what would stick. It's too scattershot for its own good.

Machete, as a character, isn't an interesting guy. Sure he has cool catchphrases and can kick major ass, but there's no emotional connection to him. Why should I care about his plight? He loses his love, yet proceeds to bang another chick minutes later! The guy doesn't seem to want to die either, making him less interesting now that he's a superhero rather than a real person who can be vulnerable to real problems. It doesn't help that the supporting characters around him are more colorful and full of life, even if they aren't developed as well as they should be. Voz comes off as a Bond villain, who reveals his plan to the hero before he actually makes it happen. Marcos Mendez is so crazy, that he comes across as fascinating, wishing there was a film about this guy. Miss San Antonio is sexy and seductive, but has an air of mystery about her that makes you interested. Madame Desdemona has a steel bra and panties that shoot bullets while speaking in an over-the-top Latina accent. Even President Rathcock is damn cool President. Machete is second fiddle next to all these people. It's a shame. I wish these characters were in a better film.

Speaking of Bond villains, MACHETE KILLS seems like a spoof of one of those films. MOONRAKER, or any Roger Moore era Bond film, came to mind many times. Voz comes across as a stereotypical Bond villain, who reveals his entire scheme before pulling it off. The stunts and gadgets are also very Bond-like. And Miss San Antonio, in many ways, comes across as Machete's M and/or Q. And I actually liked it, because it made MACHETE KILLS feel different from MACHETE. We also get moments that come out of STAR WARS towards the end. MACHETE KILLS is the best AUSTIN POWERS film without Mike Myers. It was a bit startling at first, but I found the spoof aspect to be oddly entertaining and fun. Too bad there's too much going on for it to really resonate in a meaningful level.

The best part of the script for me were the moments teasing us for the third, and probably final, installment - MACHETE KILLS AGAIN...IN SPACE! The film opens with a trailer for it, which shows how silly and ridiculous the direction of this franchise has gone. Justin Beiber supposedly playing a robot that looks like Twiki from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, that quickly gets destroyed by Machete. The villain, wearing an iron mask, played by Leonardo DiCaprio - although it's mentioned that the casting may change in a funny bit. Intergalactic action and silly sci-fi elements in a MACHETE film? Call me silly, but I'm so there! Established franchises that eventually take their characters to outer space always fascinate me on a "WTF?" level, so I really hope this installment does get made - even if it goes straight to home video and digital format. I think it could be a lot a fun, and seems to be more focused than what MACHETE KILLS presented.

And while I did have issues with the film, I did find MACHETE KILLS to be mostly a fun time. The dialogue was silly enough to make me laugh at times. The characters are so out there, that you can't help but be amused by them. Even the situations the characters are in are downright hilarious at times. Do I wish the script was a bit shorter and tighter? Absolutely. But when MACHETE KILLS works, it really works. But when it doesn't, it brings the sequel down - especially during the tedious last act of the film. The script just needed another rewrite and I think it would have done better.

What MACHETE KILLS does get right is the violence. My God, this film does not hold back on blood and guts. Stabbings. Gunfire. Decapitations. Amputations. Splitting people in half with a machete. There's helicopter violence. And probably the best thing about the film - a gun that disrupts molecules to turn people inside out. It reminded me of something from the Saints Row video game series. I loved it. It does get a bit repetitive towards the end, but it's definitely one of this sequel's strengths.

As for the direction, Robert Rodriguez does a good job. But it's not his best film and something felt off about the visual style here. For one, it didn't feel or look like a Grindhouse film. The film looked great, but it was way too polished. Plus, where were the boobs? This sequel felt really tame and too mainstream. Also, the pacing was a bit off as well. The action sequences were shot well, but the downtime scenes kind of ruined the flow at times. I felt that the sequel should have been about 15 minutes shorter.

Other than that, the direction was good. The editing was well done. The composition and framing were well done. I liked the 3D moment where Machete is getting down with Miss San Antonio. The colors were vibrant. The locations looked cool, even though I could see visible green screen effects. The CGI was cartoony, but it matched the film's tone. I didn't love it, but it was good enough.

The acting was one of the film's highlights. Danny Trejo is Machete at this point, and he plays the part well. I just wish he had more interesting things to do in this film. Michelle Rodriguez shows up to play the tough chick, She - a character she plays in every film she's in. Her part looks interesting in the next installment. Mel Gibson looks like he's finally having fun in a film again as Luther Voz. He plays a Bond villain, and he seems to enjoy playing a bad guy for once. Looking forward to his role in EXPENDABLES 3. Even better was Demian Bichir as Marcos Mendez. Playing against type, Bichir created a captivating villain who was evil one minute, and sort of heroic the other. I loved his madman performance, and I wish he had been the film's main villain over the stereotypical Luther Voz character. I also thought Amber Heard was pretty great as well. She's very seductive, and seemed to be having fun in her dangerous role of Miss San Antonio. The rest of the cast, including Sofia Vergara [looking uber-hot as usual], Vanessa Hudgens, Lady GaGa [who was surprisingly okay], Alexa Vega, Cuba Gooding Jr., Tom Savini, William Sadler, Marko Zaror, Antonio Banderas, and Carlos "Charlie Sheen" Estevez were good as well. I just wish there appearances didn't feel like extended cameos just to have a Who's Who for people to point out. But I did like seeing all these random actors in one strange film, making MACHETE KILLS memorable just for that fact alone.

While I did have fun with MACHETE KILLS, I'm disappointed that I didn't enjoy it more. It has great action, interesting violent moments, a super game cast, and even competent direction by Robert Rodriguez. But the narrative was all over the place with too many characters to focus on, feeling as if this was made just to set up a crazier sequel in mind. Plus, it was way too long and looked too polished to feel like a modern Grindhouse film. And judging by the box office receipts, it looks like that third film may not happen. But I hope it does, because seeing Machete star in a different setting within a different genre could be real interesting and fun. MACHETE KILLS is better than average, but it should have been better than it actually was.

2.5 Howls Outta 4


The Watchtower of Justice - Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Alan Taylor

Chris Hemsworth - Thor
Natalie Portman - Jane Foster
Tom Hiddleston - Loki
Anthony Hopkins - Odin
Stellan Skarsgard - Dr. Erik Selvig
Idris Elba - Heimdall
Christopher Eccleston - Malekith
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje - Algrim/Kurse
Kat Dennings - Darcy Lewis
Ray Stevenson - Volstagg
Zachary Levi - Fandral
Jaimie Alexander - Sif
Rene Russo - Frigga

Genre - Action/Adventure/Fantasy/Science Fiction/Comic Books

Running Time - 112 Minutes

By Mike Huntley

After his fight with The Avengers to stop Loki from destroying New York City and all of Earth, Thor has now returned to Asgard where he has been fighting to keep the nine realms of the universe as safe as possible. But, an ancient evil elf known as Malekith has began his mission to bring the entire universe into an eternal darkness. Meanwhile, Jane Foster and Darcy discover a portal between Earth and another dimension, which causes Jane to get infected with an ancient power in which Malekith wants back in order to complete his mission to bring the worlds back to the darkness that they used to be all those centuries ago. This prompts Thor to return to Earth and bring Jane to Asgard to find a way to get the powers out of her. Since his father Odin won't help him, Thor turns to the man who betrayed him and his family, his brother Loki. On their quest, Thor, Jane, Loki, and Thor's friends must find a way to stop Malekith from destroying this universe for good. 

Thor: The Dark World is a straight up science fiction/fantasy epic that is a total blast. While I loved the first film, my one complaint was not getting enough Asgard and exploring what's out there. This sequel gave me that. Sure, The Avengers is still my favorite Marvel Studios film, but Thor: The Dark World has probably become my 2nd favorite with the original Thor flying thunderously right behind it. While the film does have its dark and more serious moments for sure, it is downright hilarious. Most of the humor came from Loki, who I just adored here. But, also the direction they took Dr. Erik Selvig after the events of The Avengers had be rolling. That's another thing I love about Phase Two is the aftermath of what happened in New York. Everybody has been dealing with it in a different way. Tony Stark has anxiety attacks. Thor, Odin, Sif, and basically everybody has severe anger towards Loki and rightfully so, but it is done mostly in a humorous way. And the way Dr. Selvig deals with what happened in Avengers is probably the most hilarious thing I've seen in a Marvel movie. I was just laughing it up with this guy and so was the rest of the audience. We also get to see Loki really embrace his mischief side with his powers to distort visuals and the guy is just having fun with it especially when he makes himself look like an iconic character from the Marvel world. I just love this character and was happy to see him back, even though he wasn't played as the villain of the film. 

While Jane Foster is not the best "love interest" in the MCU (that one goes to Pepper Potts in the Iron Man films!), I do like the character. Darcy actually had me laughing this time around, and didn't kinda annoy me like she sorta did in the first film. I also liked her boyfriend who's an intern. I loved seeing Sif back and kicking ass. It's obvious that she has the hots for Thor, even though his eyes are on Jane. Seeing this babe sword fight and just kick a lot of ass was very nice. I do feel that Loki was the better villain than Malekith, but he did okay for the most part. And of course the two end credits scenes were good especially the mid credits sequence, which will tie into a future Marvel Studios film. 

 The direction by Alan Taylor was breathtaking. I love the look of this film just as much as the first. But, where the first film took place more on Earth, Thor: The Dark World really went beyond Earth and Asgard. Just great orgasms for the retinas. 

The cast was really solid. Chris Hemsworth is the superheroic God of Thunder as Thor. This dude just has tons of charisma and is just a cool dude. Tom Hiddleston, my favorite Marvel Studios villain as Loki but here we got to see other sides to the character other than hate and jealousy. Anthony Hopkins still rocks as Odin, King of Asgard. Jaimie Alexander is that strong warrior princess of Themys um Asgard as Sif. Stellan Skarsgard was delightfully hilarious as Dr. Selvig. Oh and look for Stan Lee's cameo, it's his 2nd best behind The Amazing Spider-Man. Kat Dennings was okay as Darcy, much more fun than she was for me in the first movie. And Christopher Eccleston was decent as Malekith, even though he didn't get a whole lot to do. 

Overall, Thor: The Dark World is a great time in the superhero/comic book brethren of movies. It's a smidge better than Thor, and flies directly behind The Avengers with Thor right behind it. It's hilarious, fun, action packed, sad/tragic, and is a booming rollercoaster ride of funsauce so go see it or Loki will sneak into your house and turn you into his ultimate flying monkey! 



The Watchtower of Justice: The Avengers (2012)

By Mike Huntley

When Marvel decided to form their own studio and started building solo superhero movies that existed in the same universe, fans were pumped for the inevitable Avengers team up movie that would be the icing and cherry atop an already delicious cake. Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk in summer 2008. Iron Man 2 in summer 2010, which was basically a prelude to The Avengers. Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger in Summer 2011. And now the moment fans old and new had been waiting for: The Avengers in an already packed superhero movie summer in 2012. Going up against both Batman (The Dark Knight Rises) and Spider-Man (The Amazing Spider-Man) is never an easy task to pull off. But The Avengers was the highest grossing film that summer and beat out The Dark Knight, which before Avengers was considered the best superhero movie of all time. Now, fans are kinda divided on which one deserves that mantle. While I do love The Avengers and it is the best Marvel Studios movie aside from Thor and Iron Man 3, I still prefer The Dark Knight Trilogy, Man of Steel, and The Amazing Spider-Man for personal reasons. I didn't grow up with The Avengers the way I'm sure many kids who loved superheroes did. Yes, I had heard of Iron Man and Captain America, but aside from the outfits and names, I didn't know shit about them. Yes, I knew who The Incredible Hulk was, mainly due to the short animated series. But all the others? Nope. Growing up, Batman and Spider-Man were and still are my top two favorites in the costumed hero department. Superman was popular on TV. The X-Men were a hit in animation. So, while I still love The Avengers and am a new fan, I will always have Batman, Spider-Man, and Superman closer to my heart. But that's not to say that I wasn't super excited to see Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, and Hawkeye take on aliens and the God of Mischief! 

 Loki survived his fall into a black hole and has come to Earth to steal the source of power that S.H.I.E.L.D has in their possession. First, Loki puts a spell on Dr. Selvig and Hawkeye to help him open a portal that could damn our world. This causes S.H.I.L.D's director Nick Fury to take action by assembling a team of the most powerful people on this planet. Those powerful people are Tony Stark/Iron Man, Steve Rogers/Captain America, Thor, and Dr. Bruce Banner/Hulk. Together they form a super fighting force to stop Loki from letting aliens destroy New York City.

 I will never forget my theatrical experience with The Avengers. I went with my Dad opening night and the showing we were going to see was already sold out, so we went ahead and bought tickets for the next show. We sat around in the van for a little bit till it was close to time for the movie to start. Just about every damn row from the very front to the very back was jam packed full of everybody from the elderly to parents taking their children.  I remember getting the distinct pleasure of sitting next to some big guy who had serious B.O. and having some boys sitting in front of me giggling and texting during the show. But, once the lights dimmed and the movie began, I forgot all about those annoying little boys, or my nose begging me for Oxygen. You know why? Because I was having a total blast watching Iron Man and Captain America stand side by side, Thor knocking Iron Man across a forest, and who can forget Hulk giving Loki a professional ass whoopin'? Yep, that was The Avengers. A total blast of fun, excitement, amazing visual and special FX, Hulk/Bruce Banner finally done to perfection, aliens crashing through a city, explosions, Scarlett Johansson giving me a nice boner, Tony Stark making me laugh my ass off, and just being the definition of a summer blockbuster. It's that roller coaster that you want to catch the thrill again and again. Yes, I am not as attached as I am a Batman, Superman, or Spider-Man, but it doesn't matter. I had a great time at the movies despite the unpleasant theater conditions. 

When I first heard that Joss Whedon was set to write and direct The Avengers, I was more than happy. This is the same man who gave me two kickass TV shows during my childhood with Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel. Sure, he had not had much movie making experience outside Serenity, which was the movie version of his short lived TV series Firefly. But, I always knew that Whedon had the potential to make it huge beyond the small screen and 2012 was the year of Joss Whedon with The Avengers and the horror film that he co-wrote and produced, The Cabin In The Woods. Whedon directs The Avengers with honor, respect, and love for these characters. The film never misses a beat, and Whedon's outerspace stuff looks frickin' phenomenal. If he hadn't already played in Marvel's toychest, I would have said that he would have been the perfect filmmaker to bring that Justice League film to life. Still curious who gets that gig unless Zack Snyder jumps up and decides to, or maybe Ben Affleck, although I have a feeling he will get to direct the solo Batman films.  Whedon also handles the screenplay well. We get that classic Whedon humor like when Stark tells Banner that he loves it when he turns into a giant green rage monster. And Hulk kicking Loki's ass certainly made me cheer and giggle in my seat, even though I had to hold the breathing part thanks to B.O. guy.  Nick Fury making a flying monkeys reference, and Captain America picking up on it made me chuckle. Speaking of Captain America, I LOVE his new suit. It's very classic Captain America whereas the suit in his solo film was more a military war suit. And that finale in New York City has gotta be one of the single greatest scenes in superhero cinema history. Words can't describe how awesome it was seeing all these characters come together as a team. 

The cast was spot on in their respective roles. Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark/Iron Man. The dude has enormous humor and tons of charisma that you just love. He's the kinda dude you just want to chill with. Chris Evans was a great pick for Steve Rogers/Captain America. Finally, that 1990 movie is wiped away from the character's identity. Chris Hemsworth is still thunderously awesome as Thor. The man is the definition of a superhero.  Mark Ruffalo replaced Edward Norton, but ended up giving us the best portrayal of Dr. Bruce Banner/The Hulk applied to film. Ruffalo was a nice surprise. I hope he eventually gets that Hulk movie that he deserves. Scarlett Johansson is smokin' fuckin' hot as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow. Plus, she can kick a lot of ass. My kinda woman! Samuel L. Jackson is great as the slick and cool eye patched Nick Fury. Clark Gregg is great as always as Agent Phil Coulson, who is most likely not dead and is sadly on that God awful Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D television series that failed to capture the awesomeness of these movies in every way. Jeremy Renner is really good as Agent Barton/Hawkeye. But, Tom Hiddleston just about steals the show in his reprisal role as Loki. I love Hiddleston's menace as a villain. You can tell that the guy is having a major blast playing this character and us audiences are therefore having a blast watching him having fun. Hell, the man even came to Comic Con in character and talked to the fans as Loki. So awesome, this guy. 

Overall, The Avengers is the best Marvel Studios movie to date. Love it and look forward to Phase Two going forward and leading up to summer 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron. The team will be expanding and the universe getting even more fascinating than it already is!



The Watchtower of Justice: Thor (2011)

By Mike Huntley

  Even though superhero movies or films based on comic book characters have been very popular ever since Batman's smashing success in summer 1989, it seemed that the genre didn't really get the kick off as a Hollywood trend until 2000 when Fox released X-Men, and in 2002 with the massive success of Spider-Man as big motion pictures. Marvel started becoming a household name and was pouring out a new film just about every year or every other year. We got The Punisher, Hulk, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Elektra, Ghost Rider, and sequels to both X-Men and Spider-Man. And while most, except for those Bryan Singer X-Men movies and the first two Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies, are hated or have audiences torn, Marvel decided to form its own studio to distribute the rest of its superhero properties. Producer Kevin Feige formed Marvel Studios and came up with the master plan to give longtime fans the biggest wet dream of their fandom lives by forming a cinematic universe just like in the Marvel comic books. In 2008, Marvel Studios released their first attempts at this shared universe with Iron Man and a reboot of The Incredible Hulk. Iron Man was a pretty decent success at the box office with audiences, with long time fans falling in love with Robert Downey Jr.'s now iconic portrayal of Tony Stark/Iron Man, who became one of the best characters in the MCU. While definitely light years better than the very disappointing Hulk movie in 2003, The Incredible Hulk starring Edward Norton did okay but much smaller amounts of cash at the box office. In 2010, Marvel released Iron Man 2 which did decent business, even though it wasn't on par with the first film. Which brings us to 2011, when Marvel gave the Asgardian God of Thunder his own movie with Thor, as well as creating the best and most iconic villain in the MCU to grace the big screen. 

In a world light years away from our own, Asgard sits high above the universe, looking down on the nine realms. Odin, king of Asgard has two sons (Thor and Loki) and wishes that one of them will take up the throne from him. The Frost Giants invade Asgard, leading Thor to take his friends and brother into the Frost Giants' dark icy kingdom to strike back. Thor's disobedience to his father causes Odin to cast his son out of Asgard and send him to Earth after taking his powers and hammer away. Odin places a spell on the hammer to only be lifted by one who is worthy. Thor lands in the New Mexico desert where he is discovered by research scientist Jane Foster, Dr. Selvig, and Darcy. Meanwhile, Loki finds that he is not Odin's biological son and lets his jealousy of Thor twist him into selfishness and he aims to take the throne for himself and kill anyone who gets in his way, even his own brother and father. Thor must find a way to stop Loki's reign of dictatorship and attack on Earth, powers or not.

While I loved Iron Man, and enjoyed The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2, Thor is probably my favorite film in Phase One, aside from obviously The Avengers. For starters, Asgard and all of the special FX are gorgeous to look at. This is how a sci-fi/fantasy movie should look and feel. It's simply breathtaking! I just get so bewitched by the visuals in this film, it's just incredible.  I think another thing that makes Thor stand out is how simple its narrative is. Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, and Captain America have very heavy narratives. Thor is simple and feels like it is on a much bigger scale. Probably because Thor is from a much more fantasy world, whereas Tony Stark lives in our world,  and so does Captain America except he's from a completely different timeline. But, Thor and Loki are Gods and live high above us in their land of beauty and wonder. My favorite scene from this movie hands down is Thor and his army fighting the Frost Giants on Odenheim. I want to see more epic fantasy battles with our God of Thunder and it looks like Thor: The Dark World will explore the other realms of this galaxy. More Asgard please! 

Another thing that sticks out with many fans is that villain you just love, which in this case is Thor's very jealous brother Loki, who is known in mythology as the Night God of Mischief. Loki is a ruler. He is like any great villain, his thirst for power consumes him. But, what I love about Loki is how his voice sorta changes when he turns from good brother to cold hearted and ruthless antagonist. He starts out kinda quiet and has a soft spoken voice, but then it turns into this cold accent where it sounds like he is talking down to you from a very high throne and is about to sentence you to a dark dungeon for all eternity. He almost feels more like an Aries God of War type, but he likes to play on his brother's goodness and that's what makes him one of the best villains in a comic book movie.  

Lady Sif is another character that I have grown completely fond of. She is a sexy warrior who may be easy on the eyes, but she can just as easily cut those eyes off with a sword. I am a huge fan of females who can be just as badass as the guys. While Marvel does have some great strong and powerful women in their midst, I do feel that DC Comics has the upper hand in this arena (Wonder Woman, Black Canary, Huntress, Catwoman, Batgirl/Oracle, Supergirl, Hawkgirl, Lois Lane, Lady Shiva, Poison Ivy, Zatanna, Katana). Sif is basically Marvel's version of Wonder Woman, who in my opinion deserves a movie. But, Sif is a great character who I am very much looking forward to learning more about. 

If I had any complaints about the film, it would be that Thor and Jane's relationship happened rather quickly. I do feel that Jane's characterization could have been stronger. But, this is just a small nitpick. Hoping it is further developed in The Dark World

The direction by Kenneth Branagh was incredible. Visuals were out of this world. 

The cast was also great. Chris Hemsworth is fantastic as Thor, giving us a superhero that is fun and charismatic. Anthony Hopkins played Odin, king of Asgard, with class and heart. Natalie Portman was okay as Jane Foster. Stellan Skarsgard was good as Dr. Selvig. Kat Dennings was a bit annoying here and there as Darcy, but she is one sexy gal. Idris Elba was great as the gatekeeper. Clark Gregg was great as always as Agent Coulson. Jaimie Alexander makes for a great strong female super heroine as Sif. I really hope she gets cast as Wonder Woman. I know the characters are similar and that DC/WB and Marvel are rivals but just let a God make it a reality. And how could I end this without mentioning Tom Hiddleston as Loki? Hiddleston owns this role. He is extremely charismatic and outshined almost everyone with his devilish grin and dictator voice. He can talk down to anyone it seems, well, except The Hulk but that's saved for a different review. 

Overall, Thor is a great superhero movie. Definitely one of Marvel's most fun and enjoyable films out there. Can't wait to check out the sequel! 


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