Lady Whirlwind

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“Because Lady Moderate Breeze wouldn’t sell as many copies.”

deepthrustI’m not saying this is a bad film. But when I watch one called Lady Whirlwind (though here is as good a place as any to acknowledge the wonderfully tacky alternate title featured on the poster at the right), I expect a good deal more lady whirlwinding. The focus is instead on Ling Shi-Hao (Chang), beaten and left for dead after trying to leave a gang. Wisely, he decides to continue with his death, hiding out in the country for three years with girlfriend Hsuang Hsuang (We). This anonymity is shattered by the arrival of Tien Li-Chun (Mao), who wants a word with Ling, along with ripping the beating heart out of his chest. For it turns out, he was a bit of a bastard who jilted Tien’s sister, leading to her suicide. Hence, when he thanks Tien for saving him, she replies, “I just didn’t want somebody else to kill you.”

Ling admits he deserves his fate, but asks for a stay of execution, so he can first take revenge on his former colleagues (who include Sammo Hung in an early role). Tien is clearly pretty laid-back about the whole vengeance thing, since she’s nowhere to be seen during the lengthy training montage that follows, after Ling helps a Korean herbalist, bitten by a snake, and is taught the deadly Tai Chi Palm style. Will that help him beat the bad guys? And will Tien then stop lurking off-screen and goddamn do something?

There’s certainly no shortage of action, though in comparison to some other Mao films I’ve seen recently, the fight scenes doesn’t seem as smoothly choreographed and frankly, get a bit boring – it also suffers too much from the “we’ll attack you one at a time, while everyone else circles about aimlessly” trope, common to many movies of the time. Indeed, I must admit, there was one of Ling’s battles in the middle where I actually fell asleep: never a good sign where a martial-arts films is concerned. The frequent use of musical cues definitely not composed for the film is also rather distracting: one, in particular, will be particularly familiar if you’ve watched James Bond movies, but other sources say the pillaging also includes the works of Ennio Morricone and Bernard Herrmann. Hey, if you’re going to steal, do it from the best, I suppose.

Mao does have some good fight scenes, particularly going one-on-many with a copious line of henchmen. But you wonder why she’s so apparently disinterested in her revenge, particularly at the end, which is entirely ludicrous, and all but negates everything that happened over the previous 80 minutes. Not one of her best, with not enough going on beyond her usual graceful performance, to merit your attention.

Dir: Huang Feng
Star: Chang Yi, Angela Mao, Pai Ying, June Wu
a.k.a. Deep Thrust

Gun Woman

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“What is this? A Japanese manga? Or a Luc Besson film?”

nullgunwomanThe above line is spoken by one character to another during one of the more outrageous plot twists – in reality, this is neither, but it’s an accurate assessment of this exercise in excess. It starts with a woman being shot in the shower, the assassin (Miller) and his partner head for Vegas, and on the trip, he tells the strange story of Mayumi (Asami, previously seen in The Machine Girl and the Yakuza Hunter films). A meth-head at the time, she was bought by a doctor (Narita), seeking revenge on Hamazaki (Kamata), the depraved, but very rich, sicko who raped and killed the doctor’s wife, because he blamed the doctor for the death of Hamazaki’s father. The sicko is particularly fond of necrophilia, and makes regular trips to a remote establishment where he can indulge the fetish. The doctor’s plan involves training Mayumi as an assassin, getting her brought into the corpse pleasure park after inducing a catatonic state with drugs, then letting her rampage her way through the establishment to Hamazaki. Oh, and the only way she can get a weapon in, is if the pieces are surgically inserted into her body first. Well, except for the magazine. No surgery needed for that, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

Yes, this is as totally mad as it sounds, and you have to wonder, might there have been an easier way to get vengeance? Mind you, the doctor is hardly any more sane than Hamazaki, with the Hippocratic Oath going right out the window. Anyhow, Asami literally doesn’t say a single word during the entire movie, and is completely naked for almost the entire second half, as she tries to complete the mission, taking out the guards at Club Necro in hand-to-hand combat. This is also rather less sexy than it sounds, because she’s also drenched in her own blood, after ripping the gun parts from her torso. [The doctor kindly informed Mayumi she would have 22 minutes to reach the first-aid waiting outside, before she bled to death from her self-inflicted wounds, so there’s a bit of a desperate time-crunch here.] But it’s still undeniably entertaining,  if you can handle the copious gore, with good performances from all the principals, and a script which comes full circle nicely – the opening killing turns out to be pivotal to the way things turn out as well.

This was definitely more than I expected, though admittedly, after the last few Zero Woman films, those expectations were not much above room temperature. Mitsutake has much the same budgetary limitations, but does a very good job of working within them, to create a movie that knows it has to find something different to stand out, and succeeds in doing just that. Say what you will – you won’t forget this one in a hurry! Asami continues to be among the most impressive of the J-gore actresses I’ve seen, and the news, after the end credits, that Gun Woman Will Return, can only be something to be anticipated by this site.

Dir: Kurando Mitsutake
Star: Asami, Kairi Narita, Matthew Miller, Noriaki R. Kamata

Cold Blooded

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“Give the policewoman a big hand!”

coldbloodedCop Francis Jane (Palmer) is assigned to guard jewel thief Eddie Cordero (Robbins), who was shot while being captured, and is now cuffed to his bed in an all but deserted wing of a local hospital. What should be a tedious task turns out to be far from it, as his former colleagues, led by crew leader Louis Holland (MacDonald) show up. They are eager both to discover the location of the stolen goods, and extract revenge for the death of one member, which they blame on Cordero, but which he swears was the act of a corrupt cop. The resulting assault leads to an uneasy alliance between policewoman and criminal, as they try to avoid his former colleagues. But is Cordero as easy-going and affable as he seems? Or does he have a hidden agenda of his own?

The film was basically the result of the producer having access to a deserted hospital, and getting a script written to fit the location. That’s not necessarily a bad idea, but it’s just one aspect of a storyline that requires too much suspension of disbelief. Another is the inordinate number of occasions one character or another is knocked unconscious by someone else, for exactly the amount of time necessary to the plot. Or, perhaps most obviously of all (at the risk of a spoiler), getting your hand sawn off by an untrained civilian not only does not lead to major blood loss, here, it’s the kind of injury you pretty much shake off, and which is little more than a minor inconvenience the rest of the way. Now, I guess there’s some precedent (127 Hours showed dismemberment can be non-lethal), but combined with the other issues, it’s a combo-breaker fatality as far as this story is concerned.

The characters deserve better. There’s a nice dynamic between Jane and Cordero, the latter frequently needling the cop that they’re not so different, and MacDonald makes for a fine villain, capable of conveying threat with a look or a few words. Lapeyre is obviously going for Reservoir Dogs, with a story that’s less about a crime and more about back-stabbing treachery in its aftermath, building to a confrontation in an operating theatre, with one participant strapped to the table, about to undergo the film’s second bout of impromptu surgery. But it never captures anything like the same sense of grit, playing more like a nasty, bloody cartoon. About all it’s missing is a few falling anvils and a pair of Acme rocket-powered roller-skates.

Dir: Jason Lapeyre
Star: Zoie Palmer, Ryan Robbins, William MacDonald, Sergio Di Zio

Zero Woman: Dangerous Game

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“Game for just about anything, but mostly moping.”

zero woman dangerous gameThe main mission given to Rie (Shiratori this time) is a little bit different, from her usual, straight-forward assassinations. Instead, she’s given the job of protecting a witness. Nana (Matsuda), the disgruntled mistress of an organ-trafficking ring, who has had enough and agreed to co-operate with the police. Rie is part of the protection detail, but soon finds out that the gangsters, under ever-so strange boss Kaneda (Nogami) with his transvestite tendencies, are not going to sit back and wait for Nana to take the witness stand. Oddly, the cops let Nana stay in her own apartment, perhaps figuring that’s the last place her former lover would look. but when that is unsurprisingly stormed, Rie takes the target back to the operative’s flat, where they hang out, exchanging small talk – that’s mostly Nana, of course, since Rie is about as talkative as the enormous pet fish she has in a tank, and to which she feeds goldfish.

However, there are complications, because it turns out that a senior politician has an ill daughter, who is relying on the organ trafficking ring for a black-market transplant. The word comes down to Rie’s boss, Mutoh (Ryu) that the investigation has been squashed, and Nana is to be dumped out of witness protection, as no longer of interest. That would almost certainly be a death sentence, because her betrayal of the gang isn’t limited to her knowledge of their actions, she also swiped a large suitcase of their cash before turning police informant. But has she done enough to endear herself to Rie, that her bodyguard might be prepared to go off-book and continue with the original mission on her own initiative? Or, better yet, entirely take out Kaneda – whose weirdness has now graduated from transvestitism to cannibalism.

This is too chatty to succeed, especially when the conversation is so one-sided, as are the ones between Nana and Rie. They do form a somewhat interesting contrast in characters, and Shiratori certainly has the physical presence to carry off the part of a cold-blooded assassin, to a much greater degree than some of the previous actresses in the series. But to reach the bloody finale, you have to sit through a solid 70 minutes of her moping around her apartment, with our without Nana, and that’s more than an entire month’s quota of mope for me. The L they’re missing from the sleeve probably is “lugubrious”. Kids, look it up…

Dir: Hidekazu Takahara
Star: Chieko Shiratori, Ichiho Matsuda, Masayoshi Nogami, Daisuke Ryu

The Lady Constables

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“Crazy people have to be good fighters.”

lady constablesI first encountered this in a dreadful copy on Youtube: dubbed, cropped to 4:3 and apparently filmed off someone’s TV during a Force 10 storm at sea. However, what was left after that, was still impressive enough to make me track down a better copy. Well, somewhat better: it had subs, albeit burned in and incomplete, while the 16:9 ratio was at least a vague approximation to the original widescreen print. Still, you take what you get, and this is certainly enough fun to overcome the adversity of any flaws in the format.

The film starts with a robbery, in which five priceless pearls are snatched by the Black Wind Fortress gang under Coldstar Tiger (Chang). They split up to avoid detection, reckoning without the investigative – and, more importantly, interrogative – prowess of leading ladies Ti Yung Hing (Mao), who despite the title, is the only actual agent of law-enforcement here, and Tang Lin (Lee), whose uncle was killed during the robbery. Although they have similar goals, they refuse to team up, each preferring to work alone; adding an extra angle is Hung Yi (Wang), the bodyguard to the prince for whom the pearls were intended. Gradually, and not without some bickering on the way, they work their way up the Black Wind Fortress chain of command, and finally reach Coldstar Tiger. Though someone appears to be trying to cover the trail by offing their prisoners…

Yeah, as stories go, it’s pretty basic, and it’s clear the invention here was reserved for other aspects, such as the characters and the kung-fu. All three leads have their own quirks and foibles. One of the weapon’s in Ti’s arsenal is the ability to shoot scarves out of her sleeves, like a mad magician, and use them to encumber her opponent. Meanwhile, Tang keeps a plentiful supply of coffins on hand for her revenge, and isn’t a follower of the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners, to put it mildly. And finally, Hung doesn’t speak – not because he’s mute, mind, he just doesn’t like to talk. He communicates instead with prewritten scrolls, which always have exactly the phrase he needs on them, and which he unfurls with a tinkly sound-effect.

The fight scenes are heavily wire-assisted, but that probably contributes to the action having stood the test of time better than many of its era (1978). They are no less imaginative than the characters, particularly at the end, with Mr. Tiger (Coldstar to his friends) wielding a mean umbrella/drone, on which one of our heroines hitches a ride. That previous sentence likely makes no sense if you haven’t seen the movie: if you do, then it will all become clear. Trust me on this, it provides a fitting climax to an entertaining piece of bare-bones action. With not one but two fighting ladies, this Taiwanese feature is deserving of a better presentation than it has received to date.

Dir: Cheung San Yee
Star: Angela Mao Ying, Judy Lee, Wang Kuan Hsiung, Chang Yi

The Viking Women and the Sea Serpent

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“Corman gonna Corman.”

viking_women_and_sea_serpent_poster_01I can see why, purely for reason of brevity, the title above was preferred to the full one of The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent, even though the latter is more accurate. For the Sea Serpent has a supporting role here, met once on their way in, and again on the way out – it’s much more about what happens in the middle. Three years after their men left, the women of the Stannjold clan leave their shores under the command of Desir (Dalton), trying to find out what happened to them. Encounter #1 with the monster leads them to be shipwrecked on the same shores of the Grimault tribe as their menfolk, whose king, Stark (Devon), has set them to work as slaves in his mines. After initially appearing to welcome the women, it becomes clear that Stark has plans for the new arrivals as well. Viking high-priestess Enger (Cabot) has her own agenda, however: having set her eyes both on Desir’s husband and, for more immediate and pragmatic reasons, Stark, she sabotages Desir’s first attempt to free the men.

Sometimes derided as among the worst movies of all time, it really isn’t that bad – it wasn’t even the worst movie I saw yesterday. Certainly, it’s guilty of biting off far more than it can chew. If the claims on the (quite lovely) poster above, of “fabulous” and “terrifying” are dubious, it’s the “spectacular” one that is widest of the mark, with a budget even the legendary Roger Corman subsequently admitted was woefully short of delivering on the concepts. [It didn’t help the scheduled lead actress demanded more money on the first day of shooting, so was fired, and replaced by Dalton] While Stark, for example, may be king of all he surveys, that appears to encompass about 12 men and a stretch of coastline obviously far more California than Scandinavia. And let’s not even get into rear-projection which dreams of reaching the heights of “utterly unconvincing,” or a sea-serpent which… Sorry, my supply of derogatory epithets falls entirely short of doing it justice, so best I don’t bother.

However, even if they look more like fashion models than Vikings, and act in some ways like giggly high-school girls, it’s still more laudable than, say, Mars Needs Women. The heroines here are actually portrayed as fairly competent – let’s face it, they survived without any men for three years – and brave, being willing to set sail in search of, and then attempt to rescue, their other halves. Both Dalton and Cabot are engaging, with the blonde naturally the good girl, though even the slutty one has an eventual crisis of conscience and is prepared to make a brave sacrifice for the greater good. At 71 minutes, it certainly can’t be accused of outstaying its welcome: while certainly dated, cheap and silly, this is definitely not boring, and its heart is in the right place.

Dir: Roger Corman
Star: Abby Dalton, Susan Cabot, Bradford Jackson, Richard Devon
[a.k.a. The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent]

Naked Avenger

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“Setting a new low, in just about every conceivable way.”

nakedavengerStar Jill Kelly is an adult actress. I mention this, because it seems highly likely that most of her 300+ other works – perhaps The Butt Sisters Do Philadelphia or Sodomania: Slop Shots 5 – are likely better scripted, filmed, edited and generally well-made than this dreadful piece of crap. I should probably have known, given Donald G. Jackson’s involvement – he’s probably the worst director I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter, and I speak as someone fully familiar with the works of Ed Wood, Andy Milligan, J.P. Simon and Uwe Boll. They are all pretenders beside Jackson, and even though this barely runs an hour, your patience will be sorely tried. And by “tried”, I mean at the level where gnawing a limb off to escape will seems credible.

The threadbare excuse for a plot concerns an international sex trafficking organization. This is apparently run by about three people out of a junkyard in Hicksville, with the women acquired by hanging out in the parking lot of strip-clubs, or picking up conveniently hitch-hiking strippers. The latter is what brings our heroine (Kelly) into the picture, with her driver (LeBreck) opting to pause on the way back to “sample the merchandise”. She breaks free, which leads to the excruciating middle section of the movie. This intercuts the chief pimp (Mizrahi) on the phone, with her wandering through the woods, naked save for a pair of shoes, carrying a gun. Phone-call. Wandering. Phone-call. Wandering. Then, just for variety… Nah, I’m kidding. Another phone-call and more wandering.

Eventually, she makes her way through the woods and there are some horribly constructed gunfire sequences. I wouldn’t even call them “gun battles,” because you never get the sense the participants are in the same zip-code. There’s no logic or continuity here. At one point the heroine is recaptured, wearing a shirt and about to be locked up; the next scene, she’s back, wandering naked and free again, without explanation. There are no real performances to speak of either, because the amount of interaction between the participants is negligible, and as mentioned above, if you want to see Kelly naked, there are many, many places you can do so to a far greater extent. These offer the additional benefit, that you won’t be subjected to the pathetic excuse for film-making present here. Between them, Kelly and the occasionally catchy electro soundtrack give this half a star; these are absolutely the only redeeming features to be found, and utterly pale in comparison to the flaws.

Dir: M.T. Bird + Scott Shaw
Star: Jill Kelly, Robert Mizrahi, Daren LeBreck

DC Showcase: Catwoman

catwomanThe character of Catwoman has had a mixed history over the years in other media than the printed page. TV has had the Julie Newmar & Eartha Kitt versions, a nod in Birds of Prey, and a teenage version of the character can be seen in the Gotham series which premiered last month. In film, we had Lee Meriwether in the sixties incarnation then, perhaps most famously of all, Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns [albeit only after Annette Bening, Nicole Kidman and Demi Moore all were linked to the part]. Then, there was Halle Berry’s Catwoman, still talked about in hushed tones as perhaps the worst comic-book adaptation of all time, and which arguably did more damage to action heroines than any other big-budget movie in history. Despite the massive success of the Batman reboot, it took eight years before the character would appear in another film, Anne Hathaway playing Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises.

However, it’s the animated versions – perhaps the nearest medium to the comic book – which are of most interest here. That dates back as far as 1968, when she appeared, voiced by Jane Webb (who also played Batgirl in the show), as part of The Batman/Superman Hour on CBS. A decade later, Melendy Britt pulled the same double-duty as Webb, playing both the heroic Batgirl and villainous Catwoman, in The New Adventures of Batman, another CBS show that began in 1977 and also used the voices of Burt Ward and Adam West, start of the original TV show. But it was the nineties when the form really took off. Batman: The Animated Series was ranked last year by TV Guide as among the top 10 cartoons of all time, and its style was clearly influential on the cinematic reboot of the franchise under Christopher Nolan.

Adrienne Barbeau voiced the character of Catwoman here and in The New Batman Adventures, later in the decade. This marked a shift, with the actresses being used for the role, even if never seen, becoming increasingly high-profile. 2004’s The Batman had Gina Gershon as Catwoman in five episodes, and the feature Batman: Year One had Eliza Dushku, With the third anniversary of the latter’s release this week, what better time to showcase the Catwoman-focused short below, which was originally included as a bonus feature on the Year One DVD. In it, Selena Kyle/Catwoman attempts to bring both a Gotham City crime boss called Rough Cut and his smuggling ring to an end, but stumbles upon a mysterious cargo shipment far worse than just smuggled diamonds…

The Athena Project, by Brad Thor

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“More illing than thrilling.”

the_athena_projectI first became aware of this novel through an article back in February about MMA champion Ronda Rousey and her move into movies, which said

Ms. Rousey’s supporting parts are a run-up to a planned starring role in “The Athena Project,” a movie about a team of female counterterrorism agents. The film is in the early stages of development with Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros. Producers cast her after one sit-down meeting and are working on the script now. That film “is what I would really like to make into my franchise,” Ms. Rousey said. “Like Stallone has his ‘Rambo’ and Schwarzenegger has his ‘Terminator’ and Bruce Willis has his ‘Die Hard.'”

Okay, that sounds intriguing enough, though whether it’ll come to pass is harder to say – the rights were bought back in November 2010, before the novel hit stores, so it clearly isn’t exactly rushing into production. I got a copy of the book and… was distinctly underwhelmed. I don’t generally “do” literature, so this review will probably consist of me flailing around, trying to explain why, but I do understand why this is easily the lowest-rated of all Thor’s books on Amazon. It gets an average of 3.2 stars, with the next lowest with any significant volume of reviews being a 3.9; frankly, the former figure seems generous.

The central plot isn’t bad. The Athena Project are a group of four Delta Force operatives, all women, who carry out missions requiring their special skills. In this case, they’re digging into an arms dealer responsible for provisioning a terrorist attack, but the further they dig, they murkier things get. Eventually, they uncover a scheme to leverage resurrected Nazi technology, and create a new generation of weapons, against which there can be no defense. There’s also an entirely separate side story, involving a cell of the villains honeypotting a guy into smuggling a component into the secret government facility buried under Denver Airport. That’s long been a belief among conspiracy theorists, so is kinda neat. But it’s woefully connected to the rest of the story, and there’s no payoff to this aspect. It feels almost like Thor had two half-novels written, and decided just to intersperse their chapters.

But the main problem are the female characters: Gretchen Casey, Julie Ericsson, Megan Rhodes, and Alex Cooper. I had to look those names up, because as heroines, they are completely forgettable and indistinguishable from each other. Maybe Thor would have been better off concentrating on a single character, as it seems he does in his other works [his main hero there, Scot Harvath, pops up briefly in this novel]. On the other hand, maybe that wouldn’t have helped, given literary gems such as “Considering what these women did for a living, they certainly wouldn’t have described themselves as being dressed to kill, but everyone else would have.” Or “I don’t know about Mr. Right, but he definitely looks like he could be Mr. Right Now.” Is there a world where women talk like that? Maybe, with the right actresses, lines like that might work on the screen; on the printed page, however, they come over as cheesier than a block of aged Cheddar.

What Thor does do well is action, and when he concentrates on that, the results are snappy and effective. Although the villains appear to come from the Imperial Stormtrooper school of accuracy, it’s easy to picture in your mind what’s going on, and it makes for exciting entertainment. That’s why I’m not immediately consigning the movie to the garbage can since, in the right hands, this could still be good. Thor seems convinced, stating after news of Rousey’s association with the picture broke: “We have never seen a chick kick ass like this. This is going to make Tomb Raider look like a Disney movie.” That’s tough talk – I’ll be hoping the film lives up to the concept’s potential, and isn’t such a disappointment, frankly, as large chunks of this poorly-written novel.

Author: Brad Thor
Publisher: Pocket Books, 432pp, $9.99

Blood Widow

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“The eighties called. They want their movie back.”

blood-widow_large_800In the slasher genre of horror, the perpetrators seem almost exclusively male: Michael Myers, Jason Vorhees, Freddy Krueger, etc. Women can play an important role, and we’ve covered some of them here before – but it’s much more often as the “final girl”, than the one wielding the machete. However, it’s often forgotten that, in the original Friday the 13th movie, the killer was not Jason, but his mother, so there is some precedent for the female antagonist. See also Nurse 3D, American Horror Story: Coven or perhaps best of all, SexyKiller, whose heroine manages both to be the killer and the final girl.

It was in the hopes of getting something novel along those lines that I went into this, only to be severely disappointed by a product which is very little more than a standard slasher. A group of photogenic, but vacuous and tremendously uninteresting, teens head out to a remote house to par-tay, only to break into the spooky dwelling on the next door property, engage in petty vandalism, drug-taking and other anti-social behaviour, for which they naturally pay a heavy price. About the only difference is, the mad, masked killer dispatching them with extreme prejudice is a woman, a former resident of the boarding school next door, who was tormented into psychosis. It’s an idea not without potential: the look of the maniac-ette is very stylish (even if the mask seems a Halloween knock-off), and the actress portraying her (Henry) does a good job, particularly considering her face is rarely if ever seen, coming over as menacing in just about every one of her scenes.

But beyond that, none of the potential is utilized, In fact, the gender of the killer is entirely irrelevant to proceedings, and the final scene seems more appropriate for a male psycho – it left me wondering if perhaps that was the original plan. Really, for a first-time feature, as this is for the director, I’d have tried to push the envelope much more, instead of apparently being content to tread the same ground as we’ve seen a million times before. Maybe this would have passed muster thirty years ago? Now, not so much, with viewers far more cynically self-aware, and wanting more than an uninteresting rehash of its predecessors. Save the gender of the assailant, there’s nothing new or of note here; it isn’t enough, when it’s little more than an afterthought, and everything else we get, has been done a lot better elsewhere.

Dir: Jeremiah Buckhalt
Star: Danielle Lilley, Brandon Kyle Peters, Christopher de Padua, Gabrielle Ann Henry