Thursday, December 31, 2009

Jay's Review: Skills Like This

Wrapping up a wonderful year reviewing for with a a fun little indie comedy worth checking out...



An exhilarating and humorous study of youthful anomie, Skills Like This revolves around a group of close-knit friends whose shiftless lives go topsy-turvy when wild-haired Max (Spencer Berger) drops his failed writing career and takes up something he believes he's really good at: stealing. His first bank heist plunges him into an unlikely but thrilling romance with sexy bank teller Lucy (Kerry Knuppe), who, after handing over a bag stuffed with cash, finds herself torn between Max and the law.

Faced with their friend's new career path, the doltish but impossibly upbeat Tommy (Brian D. Phelan) is primed for adventure, while straitlaced Dave (Gabriel Tigerman), ever the adult, worries about the consequences. As Max steps up his crime spree, the friends have to make hard- if not hilariously awkward- choices about the direction of their lives.

Artfully directed by Monty Miranda, Skills Like This shows "considerable intelligence and chemistry" (Variety) and bristles with rock'n'roll energy - underscored by the sounds of Denver's music scene. A comedy for anyone who's ever wanted to find something they're really good at, Skills Like This is as smart as it is funny.


Ever do something impulsive after a really bad day? I myself bit a neighbor's head off after a particular lousy morning. Max decided to rob a bank after his play's disastrous premier and dropping his wallet in the toilet. Well, we all have bad days...

Skills Like This is charming, a fast-moving and never overly-quirky Indie comedy about three aimless pals who find some purpose and renewed excitement in life when they decide on a whim to become bank robbers. Spencer Berger both wrote the film and plays Max, and does a good job of selling the idea that you can stumble into something you’re really good, never mind the repercussions, with humor. The romance with robbery victim Lucy doesn‘t feel forced, as Kerry Knuppe is charming (reminiscent of Jennifer Garner and Heather Graham) and you happily go along with her on the romantic ride in the film. Most “meet-cute” and “outsider” comedies work hard at what Skills Like This pulls off with ease.

Well-photographed (in HD video, except for bank robberies shot on film), fast-paced, and marvelously scored, Skills Like This is relateable to anyone who’s been through or are going through their awkward 20s. I found this film a pleasure, frequently flashing back on it’s early 90s outsider comedy forebears.

The disc features 13 minutes of Extended/Deleted Scenes, 16 minutes of Interviews, 2 Trailers for the film and a clip of the director Monty Miranda's SXSW Award Acceptance Speech. Other extras include the Tommy character's Resume (as a .pdf file) along with text information about the director, the film, and it's soundtrack. Skills Like This is presented in widescreen with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio and closed captioning available on the disc, though no subtitles.

Skills Like This
is an utterly charming Indie-film-bank-robbery-romantic-comedy that feels pretty timeless to anyone who’s ever felt a little aimless. Unrated, but okay for teens and up, it’s a real pleasure infused with an energy reminiscent of the best of early 90s Independent film.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Jay's Review: Train

A better-than-average Goreno reviewed for dvdsnapshot. This one's a pleasant surprise.


Touring Eastern Europe with her college wrestling team, Alex (Thora Birch) attends a debauched late-night party that causes Alex and several teammates to miss their train to Odessa. Her coach is furious, but a mysterious woman offers the coach and wrestlers a ride on an alternate train. The coach agrees, and the athletes, exhausted and hung over, gratefully climb aboard. But the train harbors a deadly secret, and for Alex and her fellow passengers, a blood-soaked nightmare is just beginning.

The probable American target audience for Train probably isn't going to have much experience with traveling by them. It's a far more European and old-school method of travel. That sense of the alien comes in handily when watching this film, originally supposed to be a remake of Terror Train. It morphed into something significantly more akin to Hostel on wheels.

Near the beginning of the film the lead character stops and frowns at a train. One can assume it's part of setting up a sense of dread having more to do with Xenophobia than anything really ominous. Stupid American college students and their coach wind up missing their scheduled train and hook a ride on a second one that turns out to be a rolling abattoir. From the creepy woman who invites them to a pair of grimy, sleazy "conductors" and a burn victim passenger, Train is less than a love letter to the Eastern Europeans. Thankfully, they quickly show their true, creepy colors lest we think there may be anyone nice on the entire continent.

As the American students make their first impression on most of the passengers when one runs through the dining car in only a jock strap, it's really kind of hard to fault them for the gory organ harvesting that follows. The killing starts quickly and stays grotesque, so torture porn fans are going to be delighted with this one. Skin is sliced off and eyeballs plucked in graphic detail. In fact things move so quickly that at the halfway mark most of the protagonists are out for the count. Thora Birch is talented enough to keep the second half of the film grounded and the atmosphere is tense throughout. Train is well-photographed but in many places the cinematography is so dark you can barely make anything out. For some of the gore scenes, that's almost a blessing.


This disc features trailers for Frontier(s), Captivity, the third After Dark Horrorfest 8 Films To Die For III collection, a set of Ghost House Pictures titles,, and Train is presented in Widescreen with English and Spanish Subtitles. Audio is offered in English 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Digital. There's a behind-the-scenes featurette that clocks in at nearly 14 minutes.


"Torture Porn" isn't everyone's cup of tea, and the Xenophobia runs thick in Train to boot, but on the whole, it's a satisfying and very nasty story of, shall we say, "medical capitalism" in post-Soviet Russia. Not for the kids, the squeamish, or the optimistic, this is 94 surprisingly well-done minutes for the Gorehounds who don't mind a little hopelessness to their travelogues.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Jay's Review: Sand Serpents

Another fun Saturday night Drive-In style monster flick reviewed for, enjoy!


On a final mission in Afghanistan, a small U.S. military unit confronts an astonishing, new enemy: a legion of prehistoric, six-story-tall sand serpents unearthed from the pit a thousand feet below ground. With the help of an Afghani refugee, Lieutenant Stanley (Jason Gedrick) leads his tiny band of soldiers on a terrifying invasion deep into the desert's vast underground tunnels for a war against terror they never imagined.

Sand Serpents is another of the "Creature Features" from the "Maneater" series, and was a SciFi/SyFy Channel Original. This one's taking it's inspiration from Tremors and Dune with it's desert-dwelling super-worms.

Even for a straight-to-DVD film of this caliber, this one gets rolling in a pretty paint-by-numbers fashion. A group of actors-barely-playing-soldiers, incredibly clean for being in the deserts of Afghanistan, claim to have "a bad feeling about this" within the first three minutes. At the six minute mark they're in a firefight (shoulda listened to those instincts, kids) that leads to the awakening of the titular sand serpents. You can't fault a movie for not wasting any time in getting the plot moving. From that point it's either attack by Earthworms or Taliban as they keep moving while their herd gets thinned. It's a good thing they keep it rolling, since it's the kind of flick with enough plot holes and military mistakes that if they slow-down, you may start paying attention.

Judged to the standards of the modern nature-amok creature feature, though, this one isn't bad. It rolls efficiently, if not always smoothly, and is actually pretty engaging even if it is a bit generic. Thankfully, when it slows it doesn't drag, and that's a big plus for this sort of film. The CGI works, and on the whole it's a smooth, low-budget entertainment. The biggest complaint I may have is that for a film of this type the gore is pretty minimal. There's a good body count, but it's almost dry as the desert.


The disc features trailers for other RHI Entertainment titles: Carny, Rise of the Gargoyles, Sea Beast, and Backwoods. Presented in a Widescreen format with English Dolby Digital 5.1.

Not sure how tactful it is to use the Taliban as a plot-point in a generic creature feature. Anyhow, for a rather generic "nature's revenge" creature feature, you'll find this an engaging enough way to spend a Saturday night. (They even say "I have a bad feeling about this" twice.) Grab the popcorn and a friend and "thrill" to giant equal-opportunity sandworms eating terrorists and soldiers alike.

However, it's possibly 88 minutes of sheer torture for anyone who's a stickler for military authenticity.