It’s 11:24 pm
Trying to grasp once again that we are supposed to get snow on St. Patrick’s Day. The last two days saw the melting of the snow we just got and instead of the rain we were hoping for,we are getting snow!
Decided to try something a little different today. Normally I would review a book/movie by myself and post it. But during a recent media hunt,my buddy Romey and I saw a DVD from The Asylum called “Sinister Squad”. Its was just the latest release from a film group the thrives and does well in making “mockbusters”.
What is a mockbuster? Say there is a very popular movie coming out at the theaters,like “Suicide Squad” for example,The Asylum will fast track a cheap knock-off for very little money and slightly twist the name and plot and push it out to the public.
Hence “Suicide Squad” becomes “Sinister Squad”.
Mockbusters have been around for decades and you can read up about them by clicking on this link.
The Asylum has a good formula for their mockbusters,a lot of very budget studios also do this and I blogged about that in my second film review which you can read here.
Casting some good genre names will help with getting the film’s name out there but terrible production values and extremely rushed film schedules always leave a bad taste in the viewer’s mouth.
That is my biggest gripe about these types of movies,I don’t mind seeing a mockbuster like “Hercules Reborn”. What sucks is knowing that if The Asylum had just slowed filming down and juiced up the budget to at least a million dollars,these films could work.
When you hear directors commenting that they only had a 250,000 budget for the entire film,it makes you cringe. Just because you have no money doesn’t mean you have to let the viewing audience know.
A prime example…I watched a little indie action film that was released in 2011 called “Cross” which was directed by Patrick Durham. The movie was made on a two million dollar budget but looked like a 20 million dollar film. Durham was incredibly creative in converting his one main shooting location and making it appear like he shooting all over Los Angeles. The movie comes across much bigger,like Durham spent every penny on the film.
Where as “Hercules Reborn”‘s 250,000 budget looked like a weak episode of the old Kevin Sorbo series. All you do is sit back and laugh at how terrible it is or worse,return the movie to the store and write a bad review. Me,I feel bad for the cast and crew,many of which this is their first movie experience. Imagine getting paid not very much money and getting saddled with something like this.
Another Asylum title I watched recently was “13/13/13” directed by a fresh young director,James Cullen Bressack. He started following me on Twitter so I decided to buy one of his movies and see what he was all about. I chose “13/13/13” but didn’t realize it was a Asylum film until I got home. No matter,I decided to listen to the Director’s commentary and hear how the movie was made. It was a eye opening experience…the movie when I first watched it felt rushed in many places. Action that seemed important were destroyed by the background activity taking place. Important plot development either were stunted or never took place.
Actors seemed a bit lost and disjointed with dialogue,you were left wondering “Does Bressack know what he is doing”? But watch the movie with the commentary and see how badly Asylum has set up a promising director with a good story (written by James) up for failure. No budget,poor casting and a 12 day shoot!!! James mentions that he would have liked 25 days but Asylum only gave him 12 days to shoot “13/13/13”. Sacrificing a good director and his story for a quick buck.
I know a lot of film buffs will laugh and say “It’s The Asylum,what are you expecting,art?” Maybe not but when you see a fun Asylum film like “Sleeping Beauty”which was a really fun take on the classic fairy tale and had a good budget for an Asylum movie (5-6 million dollars),you know they can come up with better even if they doing only mockbusters. I rather spend my money on a film I know where the producers tried their best (like Cross) then one like “Sinister Squad” where it looks they cast the first 20 actors at a cattle call audition,slapped a little make-up on them and threw them in a warehouse…..all for 25,000 bucks. I just think as long as you’re in the movie business,I think you owe it to your audience and your film cast and crew to make the BEST movie,not the cheapest that you can.
I asked two other film buffs to chip in their opinions as well….Bobby LePire,who I featured in Have Cheetah,Will Review #34 – Our favorite YouTube Movie Channels,is a big fan of The Asylum films and I asked him to write a few words about “Sinister Squad”.
Because I wanted to get this up now,I’ll be adding my buddy Romey’s take of the same movie. Once he sends his opinion,I’ll add it here for you all to read.
Before we get to the meat of this, I suppose it is only fair to briefly mention my opinions about the movie this is a sequel (of sorts) to, “Avengers Grimm”.
I was crazy excited for that title, in part due to my love of Casper Van Dien, in part due to an utterly amazing trailer, which is absolutely still one of the best The Asylum has ever put out. While it did not quite live up to those lofty expectations, due to some bad acting (the lady that plays Snow White is really bad) and powers seemingly coming out of nowhere, it was great fun thanks to Van Dien, Lou Ferrigno, inventive/ cool visuals, and a jawdropping score.
Why is all that important to know for a movie that can largely, and handily, stand on its own? So that the proper context can be applied when I state that in every way, save one, “Sinister Squad” is superior to “Avengers Grimm”. Let us get that exception out of the way now-
It is true that both movies are from the same studio, The Asylum, and since (roughly) 2009 they have really amped up the look of their films, in some cases rivaling, even upstaging, the cinematography and epicness of a theatrical release (ie- “Sleeping Beauty”). Now, that isn’t to say you would view “Avengers Grimm” and confuse it for a big studio release, just that when compared to say, “Transmorphers” it looks better in all respects. Sadly, “Sinister Squad” does not share this trait. The cinematography is a bit grainy, perhaps on purpose as a callback to the likes of the “Dirty Dozen” and other movies of its ilk that it borrows from, but some of the shots are a tad unclear and awkward. “Avengers Grimm” had really unique and almost whimsical set design, but here things are very drab and sparse.
And aside from one actress, who isn’t so much terrible as miscast (more on that later), that is really it for faults I have with the movie. In terms of directing, returning writer-director Jeremy M. Inman amps up his game here (maybe to make up for the quality of the film being shot on), with shots and camera blocking that really bring a sort of realism to the magical universe at hand. The editing, also by Inman, is more intense this go around with the ending fight being a standout. Rafael Leyva’s cinematography is somewhat hampered by the issues already mentioned but that doesn’t mean it is down for the count. There is a tracking shot following a knife down a hallway that is one of the coolest shots in all Asylum history, and those sorts of tricks help overcome the budgetary constraints.
The entire sound department- Clifton Carlson, Michael Hardman, Andy Hurtado, Tomasso Pompei, and Lisa Ries (I swear I did not make any of those names up)- had their hands quite full, as for a good chunk of the movie, Rumpelstiltskin cannot speak, and uses cartoon sound effects which correspond to his hand and eye movements to communicate. I understand if this annoys some, but I thought it was a lot of fun, offering up a nice dash of levity and humor to a story literally about Death himself. Taking into account the sound effects for all the different kinds of weapons each person uses, plus the magic spells, and this is chock full of interesting noises.
Speaking of the eye movements, this brings me to the acting. Specifically, Johnny Rey Diaz, replacing Casper Van Dien’s Rumpelstiltskin in the alternate dimension the movie inhabits, who seems to have been cast (almost) solely for his wild eyebrows that seem to be able to move in any direction ever. He gets a lot of mileage out of those eyes of his, and that helps you really feel for this anti-hero. As Alice, the head of the Fairy Tale Crime Unit (I forgot to write down what they are actually called, but it is something very close to this), Christina Licciardi is quite badass. She exudes confidence, and the viewer clearly understands how/ why she is so protective of her underlings. Talia A. Davis plays the Queen Of Hearts, Gelda, and she knocks it out of the park! Veering wildly from sweet to angry to petulant child to destroyer of hearts (literally), she is clearly having a blast, leaving nothing off camera- I call this the kitchen sink approach to acting- and it doesn’t always work, but it does so here. Trae Ireland is Bluebeard, with a wry smirk and a killer glint in his eye, you believe he is a murderous rage monster. Randall Yarbrough as a techno crazed, drug enthusiast Mad Hatter is amusing, in a very physical role.
As main baddie Death, Nick Principe is big, intimidating, and you believe he can hold sway over these cult-ish figures that do his bidding. The weary, put upon-ness of the character is conveyed well, as is his desire to break free from his other dimensional bondage. Fiona Rene plays Death’s yes man/ lover, Carabosse, and is overacting like a champ. Whereas Principe is somewhat subdued (it makes sense in context), Rene is hissing like Cobra Commander and she becomes all the creepier for it. In a dual role, Aaron Moses plays both Tweedles Dee and Dum. While there isn’t much performance-wise to make the two distinct, that stems more from the source material than anything else. He makes them both lovable and sweet, versus just idiotic. Isaac Reyes plays Piper, and he is pretty great in the action scenes.
However, the greatest performance in the movie is Joseph Harris as the Big Bad Wolf. He creates a very sympathetic and broken character from a massive hulking monster (granted, some of that is the way the character arc is written) and delivers in a huge way during all of his scenes. He enters the frame and just commands it, which really energized my engagement with the movie overall. This brings me directly to Goldilocks, as played by Lindsay Sawyer. She does not fit this role at all. She sounds too whiny and needy to be such a high ranking member, and her fight scenes are the worst of the bunch (maybe rushed choreography there too?). If she were to play a more out there character, say Carabosse or Gelda, I believe she could have worked in those roles just fine. But not here, and not in her relationship with Piper; I told you we’d get back to the acting exception!
There are flaws here- the production quality is notably lesser, and one actor just does not work. But, “Sinister Squad” has everything I look for in a good sequel- a logical pick up point from the last installment, character arcs that continue in a good way, and more world building. On top of that, it is a bolder, more striking realization of the ideas from the first movie.
You can find Bobby’s YouTube channel by clicking on the link above. He is currently ranking over 170 superhero films on his channel and Bobby is not holding back. It’s a very entertaining series but definitely not safe for work!!
Thank you for reading and let me know if you enjoyed this new twist on the Have Cheetah,Will View review series.