Attack of the Unknown Review

Official Poster courtesy of Mahal Empire Productions.

While major Hollywood studios have closed their doors during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has not stopped independent film companies from taking advantage of the situation by releasing their movies. One of those companies that is showing no signs of taking a break is Mahal Empire Productions. Mahal has become one of the leading companies for independent movies. Besides the quality and originality of their pictures, they’ve seized upon the concept of using campaign sites such as Indiegogo to ask fans for money to finance their films in exchange for perks. Mahal has exceeded their fundraising goals for each movie campaign and within a matter of days. They clearly know their market and have done it the right way as well as paving the way for those who want to get into the film industry. Now the company will be releasing their biggest release of the summer with Attack of the Unknown.

Directed by Brandon Slagle who in addition co-wrote the script with producers Michael and Sonny Mahal, Attack of the Unknown starts off as an action thriller as an LAPD SWAT team raids on a meeting orchestrated by notorious drug cartel leader Miguel ‘Hades’ Aguirre (Robert LaSardo). After a blazing gunfight, the Feds swarm in and take over the operation much to the disappointment of the team. From there, the story focuses on SWAT leader Vernon (Richard Grieco) whose life is starting to crumble. Besides going through a divorce, he is told by his doctor that he has cancer which has him caught in a miserable vice. Meanwhile in another part of Los Angeles, two police officers with a drunk driving suspect in the back of their vehicle come across what looks like a damaged spaceship in the desert. The ship explodes as the officers reach it only for them and their suspect to be killed by a strange tentacle that jabs them once. From there, a giant spaceship hovers over the city and an alien invasion begins. Vernon and his crew get caught up in it as they are transferring Hades to jail only to have them and their crew work together to figure out what these aliens want and how to defeat them.

Richard Grieco confronts an alien in “Attack of the Unknown.”

Attack of the Unknown takes the ingredients of various science fiction eras, most notably the 50s and the 90s, adds modern day action followed by some solid digital effects, polished cinematography and finishes it with some high quality sound, puts it in a film can and through the projector releases a movie that is all killer and no filler. It’s a film that has some serious tones, but in the end is a homage to the cheeses B movies of past and present. Considering the content, Attack of the Unknown works as a film that is perfect for a Drive In viewing since they’re riding the storm while theaters are hunkered down.

The highlighted performances in this movie are its two leads. First is Richard Grieco whose portrayal of Vernon reminded me of Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid 4 where he is on a death clock and musters the last of his strength for one final mission. In this case, Vernon’s final mission is to save the planet from its unwanted visitors. Grieco plays it with grit and is in no mood for games. Then there’s Hades played by Robert LaSardo, who has been a character actor for more than thirty years and I remember him from his appearances in such film and television most notably in Hard to Kill and Out For Justice with Steven Seagal, playing different criminals in NYPD Blue and more recently in Clint Eastwood’s The Mule. It was great to see LaSardo play a significant role in this as he plays Hades as an arrogant gangster who tries to get underneath the skin of Vernon and the other SWAT teams with his smug and cocky insults to stir up who he is antagonizing in order to get a violent reaction out of them. The rest of the cast offers their own unique traits and abilities including a survivor who runs a podcast and says he can kick some alien ass due to his nonstop playing of Street Fighter. There’s even a cameo from Tara Reid, another frequent Mahal contributor although she is delegated to a flashback.

Robert LaSardo’s performance in “Attack of the Unknown” is one of the highlights of this film.

Another positive about Attack of the Unknown is that it a fast paced film that doesn’t boggle down on tedious scenes that don’t progress the story forward. The initial raid scene in the beginning is fourteen minutes long, but doesn’t feel that way as your eyes are engaged at all the bullets flying and bodies piling up. It makes you feel like you’re playing a video game. From there the invasion starts to happen and the survivors are strategizing as to how they are going to make it out of the situation alive. The film clocks in at 103 minutes which is an appropriate length for a film of this concept.

The design of the giant spaceship borrows from the major ships in Independence Day and even move in a similar fashion. As soon as they arrive on earth, they don’t waste time and start blowing up buildings in downtown Los Angeles and causing a chain reaction where citizens are running for their lives. The design of the alien creatures are picked and pulled from infamous creations. their bodies resemble those of the Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation while their claws seem to be taken from Roger Corman’s Attack of the Crab Monsters and the helmets they used are lifted from Ridley Scott’s Alien. While the creatures look dated they are not to be taken lightly as they pack a wallop with their quick kill abilities. Kudos to the makeup and costume department for creating antagonists that pay homage to their sci-fi ancestry.

With a lackluster release this movie year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Attack of the Unknown is just the film that you need to watch to escape the real horrors going on in the world. The film will be released on Video on Demand on Blu-Ray August 28th with a DVD/Blu-Ray release to come in October. Be sure to mark that date on your calendar since it will be the first big release of what is shaping to be a fall finale for new movies to be released on home platforms instead of the traditional theatrical release.

Alternate Poster.

Masterminds

Official Poster.

Release Date: August 22, 1997

Genre: Action, Thriller, Comedy

Director: Roger Christian

Writers: Floyd Byars (Story & Screenplay), Alex Siskin, Chris Black (Story)

Starring: Patrick Stewart, Vincent Kartheiser, Brenda Fricker, Matt Craven, Bradley Whitford,

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

I want to take a moment to thank all of you readers who continue to support this blog. Thanks to your comments and feedback through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Fort this week’s review, I present to you a movie that is perfect for this kind blog. It’s a movie that’s only available through VHS and certain streaming sites as it’s never been released on DVD or Blu-Ray. It’s a movie which features a lovable iconic actor in perhaps his first villainous role.  The actor I’m referring to is none other than Captain Picard and Professor Charles Xavier himself, Patrick Stewart. The movie I’m referring to is 1997’s Masterminds.

In Masterminds, Stewart plays Raef Bentley, a man who is hired to oversee security at Shady Glen School, a prestigious private school where children of the wealthiest people in America attend. He uses his position to take over the school and hold several children hostage in exchange for (what else) money. However, his plan hits a snag thanks to a teenage hacker named Oswald (Ozzie) Paxton, played by Vincent Kartheiser. Ozzie is tasked with taking his stepsister to Shady Glen. Ozzie is well familiar with the school as he used to be a student himself before being expelled for setting the science lab on fire. Witnessing firsthand of Bentley’s goons taking out the security guard at the front gate, he goes into the school undetected and thwarts Bentley’s plans using his skills as a hacker among other skills. Soon it becomes a test of wits between the two individuals and only one of them will succeed.

Patrick Stewart plays antagonist Raef Bentley in “Masterminds.”

The movie is directed by Roger Christian, who is infamously known for directing the worst movie of the 21st Centurty (so far), which of course is Battlefield Earth. Christan along with writers Flyod Byars, Alex Siskin and Chris Black create a movie that is essentially Die Hard for kids. The concept, story and sequences of the film are lifted straight from the iconic action movie. Despite the unoriginal concept, I enjoyed this movie most notably for the performances of the actors and how they tried to get the most out of the script. It’s quite a long movie for this kind of concept, clocking in at one hour and forty-eight minutes, but there’s so much going on that keeps the film movie. There are some slow moments in the second half, but then it kicks right back into high gear.

The dialogue is pretty dated with numerous references to things going on during the time frame of the film. Some of the younger viewing audience who wasn’t born during these events won’t understand, but for those of you who grew up with will get it right away. There’s not much in terms of crude humor, but there’s many comedic moments and environmental situations that the characters get themselves into to give yourself a chuckle or burst out laughing to. The movie doesn’t rely on sex or vulgar language to keep the audience’s attention which makes this a suitable movie for children ages 12 and up.

Vincent Kartheiser plays protagonist and computer whiz Ozzie Paxton.

As mentioned, the performances are what makes this movie enjoyable. Stewart is perhaps the most likable antagonist I could remember in a movie. You can tell that he really enjoyed playing this role. He can take bad dialogue and make in fun and funny. Stewart also provides a bit of temperament for Bentley as he takes it upon himself to make sure that no one gets hurt especially the police which is quite charming and generous to say the least. Vincent Kartheiser is a formidable adversary as Ozzie and does a good performance as the nineteen year old outcast who is quick on his feet and is able to improvise a la MacGyver when it comes to slowing Bentley and his crew down such as jamming the controls in the boiler room to sweat and disorient the bad guys, to rigging a swimming pool to blow up with dynamite and a school timer to flood the underground basement of the school. His skills and tactics earn him the accommodation from Bentley who snickers at him during their first face to face encounter and hopes that he joins his team when he graduates. Irish acting legend Brenda Fricker has a medium role in this film as the principal of Shady Glen, Maloney. She’s a tough as nails and doesn’t put up with nonsense. Fricker was a great choice for that role.  There are small appearances from Matt Craven as Ozzie’s dad and Bradley Whitford as a billionaire corporate executive looking to purchase a major news media organization but is sidetracked when finding out his daughter is one of the children Bentley is holding to ransom.

For those of you who’ve managed to get through Battlefield Earth or is aware of its style would know that it was remember for being shot almost entirely at a Dutch angle. Roger Christian includes many Dutch angles in Masterminds. Some are used in appropriate scenes, but other times it looks out of frame and unwarranted. I don’t know what his obsession is with Dutch angles. I don’t if he’s trying to be inventive, clever or cute, but he needs to learn how to use them in the correct scenes. Christian does end up using appropriate angles in certain moments of the film including overhead shots of Ozzie looking at some of the henchmen while he’s in a vent shaft and during the many hide and seek moments shown. Other than that, the rest of the movie is enjoyable as you will be enamored by the many action scenes that take place throughout the film and will be quoting the hilarious one liners and other cheesy dialogue for time to come.

Patrick Stewart and Katie Stuart in “Masterminds.”

Masterminds is rated PG-13 and is a film that kids, and young adults will enjoy. Despite the concept being done before and is rustic in some areas, it hasn’t lost its overall luster. The fact that it hasn’t been released on current video formats except for streaming shows what a rare title this is and is worthy of the title “Guilty Pleasure Movie!” Masterminds is a great 90s nostalgia flick that’s worth the $5 to $10 to rent on the Xbox Store, iTunes or any other streaming service you used. I’m so happy I was able to find this movie because this is the perfect milestone movie to present on this blog.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • This movie made only seventy-six pounds sterling on its U.K. cinema release, making it the lowest box-office taking of 1998.
  • The setting of the fictional school is actually Hatley Castle. Sir Patrick Stewart would go on to film the X-Men franchise, which also uses Hatley Castle as Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.
  • This movie is not available on DVD and Blu-Ray as of November 2018.
  • Kelsey Grammar was the original choice for the villain.
  • When Bentley (Sir Patrick Stewart) makes his first appearance, he asks Principal Maloney to call him by his first name, “Raef”, to which she immediately replies “Fine”. This is a reference to Ralph Fiennes, whose name is pronounced “Raef Fines.”
  • Patrick Stewart’s character wears a Manchester United shirt in the film. In reality, Stewart supports Huddersfield, but since Manchester United is more widely known, the decision was made that he should wear the shirt.

AUDIO CLIPS

Boiling Babe For Dinner
I’m Always In Trouble
Feeding Your Face Again, Dough Boy?
Raef, Fine
Enough of This Happy Boy Business
We Got A Die Hard Situation
We Believe In Discipline
Wienerhead
Benltley Addressing The School
Come Here Little Boy
Is It Hot In Here?
This Is Ugly
I’ll Be Frying
Take It In The Chest
And They Say You’re Not Good With The Fellas
Find Them
United
Who Does This Guy Think He Is?
Yes, Yes, No

Graveyard Shift Blu-Ray Review

Official Blu-Ray Cover of “Graveyard Shift” courtesy of Scream Factory.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down movie theaters it hasn’t stopped Video on Demand nor home video companies from pumping out new releases. This past week Scream Factory announced several new releases coming in time for Halloween including a brand new deluxe edition of the “Friday the 13th” film series. That announcement alone caused their servers to slow down due to everyone attempting to pre-order it. Meanwhile, they have several titles releasing in a matter of weeks. One of those titles is the 1990 Stephen King film adaption of his short story Graveyard Shift.

For the first time ever Graveyard Shift gets the Blu-Ray treatment. In addition to film there are several extras including interviews with Producer/Director Ralph S. Singleton and actors Kelly Wolf, Stephen Macht, Vic Polizos and Robert Alan Beuth along with the theatrical trailer and radio spots.I pre-ordered the film when it was announced and was lucky to receive it by mail before the initial street date. After my initial viewing, I wanted to give you the reader my take on the release. To save you some time, I will not be reviewing the film itself (My full review of Graveyard Shift is posted to this site).

Graveyard Shift is a film that is in my Top 10 Guiltiest Pleasure Movies of All Time and it was great to see that it was receiving an updated treatment. The film is not presented in a 2K or 4K scan so if you were hoping to see it in those formats you are going to be disappointed. Despite that setback, the film still looks good in 1080p. Every shot in the movie is a clean update so you won’t see patches of scenes that didn’t get treated. There is a great balance of light and dark to its brooding atmosphere in the movie and you may notice some things you didn’t notice from previous viewings. There are two audio options to the film depending on your preferences one in the DTS Master Audio 5.1 or 2.0. I switched back and forth between the two audios to hear the difference especially since I viewed this in my bedroom television. Both of them sound sharp. You can hear every line uttered from each character with the exception of Brad Dourif when he introduces himself to Hall. He talks like Boohauer that I still can’t understand what he was saying. The others sounds cut like glass as every machine sound, rat noise, and human screams sound authentic.

The Blu-Ray edition of “Graveyard Shift” provides a great balance of light and dark to its brooding atmosphere.

As for the extras of this release, I was very disappointed that there were no Audio Commentary tracks. I love listening to the Audio Commentaries to listen to the stories of the making of the film, how certain scenes were shot, why they chose the cast, etc. I don’t understand why the decision was made not to have Audio Commentary especially not with the Director not the cast that was interviewed. Guess they couldn’t get a schedule to have them appear and watch the film while they talked. While there may be no Audio Commentary there are plenty of bonus interviews in this release. First, there is a two part interview with Producer/Director Ralph S. Singleton where he talks about his career and how he got involved in this film. Singleton provides some great insights on the making of this film especially his casting choices, the number of rats they had on set and how they were trained and shipped and some of the difficulties they faced during shooting, most notably how the giant bat/rat creature would not function properly and they had to improvise in the same manner as the mechanical shark in Jaws. I was also disappointed that there were no deleted scenes nor TV scenes included especially since it is mentioned in a few of the interviews that they shot more scenes including more of the relationship developing between lead characters Hall and Wisconsky. The interviews with Kelly Wolf, Vic Polizos and Robert Alan Beuth are all around an average of twelve minutes. Each actor talks about how they got into acting, how they got their roles and their experiences on set. All of them were in agreement that they loved shooting on location in Bangor, Maine. It was great that Scream Factory was able to secure interviews with them considering I haven’t seen much of them in any other shows or films with the exception of Polizos who has appeared in many notable films like Harlem Nights and Night of the Creeps.

For me, the best interview extra was with Stephen Macht who played the sleazy cheap antagonist Warwick. Macht, who not only is an incredible actor with many credits to his resume, but he is also an Acting Teacher and Associate Professor who earned a Ph.D. in Dramatic Literature from Indiana University. In his academia train of thought Macht psychoanalyzes the film from different aspects for the viewer. He talked about how his first acting roles were in morality plays and explains how Graveyard Shift is a morality play and further goes into his reasoning providing many examples. I was blown away by what Macht was saying and I could see right there how the film can be interpreted as a morality play. I also loved how Macht described how he got a dialect coach from Maine to help with his accent. He admits that he was told to play it a little over the top, but he sure did enjoy the challenge given that it’s a movie where the story was based in Maine and shot in Maine and wanted to keep it as authentic as possible.

David Andrews as Hall in “Graveyard Shift.”

Overall, while I felt that there could’ve been a little more in terms of bonuses, the Graveyard Shift Blu-Ray is a great pick up to add to your Stephen King collection or if you’re a fan of the film. The film is priced at $23.99 which is a good bargain considering that this isn’t a Collector’s Edition with a high end transition or a dozen extras. It’s a movie that is perfect to watch on a hot summer day considering the sweltering atmosphere that is shown on screen.

Escape From L.A. Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray Review

New Artwork Cover for Collector’s Edition of “Escape From L.A.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic may have put movie theaters on hold, it’s not stopping video companies from releasing new titles for fans to own. Shout Factory is no exception as they continue to release new Collector’s Editions of movies. This week they released a new title in their growing John Carpenter library starring one of his most iconic characters ever written for film. I’m talking of course about antihero Snake Plissken as he goes from the Big Apple to the City of Angels in the 1996 film “Escape From L.A.!”

“Escape From L.A” was pretty much a remake/retelling of the first movie. Set in 2013, Snake is once again captured and is tasked by the government to rescue the rogue daughter of the President of the United States whom is in possession of a device that could obliterate the world. The film was known for its near shot for shot resemblance of its predecessor complete with a big named cast for the time and dated effects. It’s $50 million budget was the biggest ever for a Carpenter movie. The film released to mixed reviews from critics and fans and recuperated half of its money at the box office.

Kurt Russell returns as Snake Plissken in “Escape From L.A.”

Shout Factory’s new Collector’s Edition of “Escape From L.A.” restores the film in 4K using the original negative and includes several new interviews with the cast and crew along with the Theatrical Trailer all in a special box with a reversible cover sleeve. Shout Factory continues to impress me with its original artwork. The color scheme made the film look bold and futuristic. As I do with all the Collector’s Edition movies from Shout Factory, I reverse the cover art on the Blu Ray box so I have the original art on the box and the official theatrical poster inside the Blu Ray sleeve. It’s a habit of mine, but I do it out of appreciation as I reflect on the film’s origins and its revival.

Reversible Cover Sleeve Features The Original Poster.

 I just finished watching the film. Although I do not have a 4K television the transfer of the film is slick. The colors and the lighting of the movie really come out onto the screen. One thing I was clearly looking for while watching this was how the cheap effects of the original print would look on this new transition. The scene where Snake travels to Los Angeles via submarine looks smoother and hides away some of the dated CGI. Another scene that improved from its previous theatrical and video counterparts is the motorcycle chase scene where Snake jumps onto a truck. That scene was cleaned up to make it not look like an obvious blue/green screen scene. While these are much wanted improvements, there are some scenes that still stick out like sore thumbs. The infamous surfing scene looks glossy and colorful but does not hold up. Overall, it was great revisiting this movie even if it’s nothing more than a doppelganger of its predecessor.

As for the bonus extras, there are a total of six new interviews featuring certain members of the cast and crew. The interviews feature Stacy Keach, Bruce Campbell, frequent Carpenter actor Peter Jason, Cuervo Jones himself, George Corraface, Special Effects Artist Jim McPherson and Visual Effects Artist David Jones. The Stacy Keach interview is rather short but talks about his relationship with John Carpenter and how he approached his character of Commander Malloy. He does talk about a personal moment on the film that changed his life, but I won’t spoil it. The Bruce Campbell interview is an audio only interview with clips of his performance and stills of the makeup he had to put on for his character. He provides some great insight on his experience doing film which was contrast from Stacy Keach’s experience. The interview does sound dated as he mentions that he recently worked with Kurt Russell again on “Sky High” (which came out in 2005). Peter Jason, George Corraface, Jim McPherson and David Jones have the longest interviews and they all talked about their background, previous jobs and how they joined the project. I have to say the McPherson and Jones interviews were my favorites because they had some great stories on set as well as how they approached their roles.

Kurt Russell and Peter Fonda in “Escape From L.A.”

The biggest disappointment from this Collector’s Edition release is there are no audio commentary tracks for the movie. I love audio commentaries and I put them on during my second viewings of a new release. It would have been great to have John Carpenter reflect on making the film and how he feels about it today. If they couldn’t get Carpenter to do a commentary, they could’ve gone after anyone else from the cast and crew. I’m surprised they didn’t ask any of the interviewees to provide a commentary on their experience and stories.

Once again Shout Factory does an impressive job of bringing a cult classic back to life and in the best format possible. Unlike The Surgeon General of Beverly Hills who botches his patients and requires numerous organ transplants, the facelift of this film is a success. Even if you don’t have a 4K television, you’ll be in awe at its look and the bonus extras and packaging give you the full experience of enjoying Snake Plissken’s next adventure. The Collector’s Edition of “Escape From L.A” is a great addition to their ever-growing library of John Carpenter films.