Monday, 19 January 2015

NINJAS VS MONSTERS

Directed by Justin Timpane, Starring: Daniel Ross, Cory Okouchi, Jay Saunders, Devon Brookshire. Martial Arts, Horror, Comedy. US, 2013, 96mins, cert 15.

Released in the UK on Blu-ray and DVD on 26th January 2015 by Left Films.

(To be read in dramatic trailer-voice). In 2008 he brought you NINJAs VS ZOMBIES; in 2010 he brought you NINJAs VS VAMPIRES; now he brings you the concluding part of the NINJA VS trilogy with: NINJA VS MONSTERS...

I confess I’m new to the NINJA VS... party, not having seen either of writer/director Justine Timpane’s two previous instalments. But it really doesn’t take much time to get up to speed with the characters, (there is a black and white back story montage which helps, sort of) but frankly it’s not essential as this isn’t a tightly plotted character-driven piece (it has “VS” in the title for crying out loud). So onto the plot. Dracula is turning in his coffin (not literally), fed up with how monsters and in particular vampires are now perceived thanks to the werewolf/vampire romance and sparkle of the TWILIGHT franchise. So he summons up his monster mates Frankenstein (creature/creator hybrid), The Mummy, Werewolf and a coven of witches to destroy our leading Ninjas (two of which have magic powers – just go with it).

I don’t know quite how modest the budget was for this ridiculously undemanding hyper-geek chop-socky monster mash – the seemingly obligatory Kickstarter campaign target was a humble $15,000 (total raised $17,319) – but I’m pretty sure the constant bombardment of effects shots and relentless action on screen represent a staggering value-for-money ratio.

Of course you have to make huge allowances for the production limitations in order to give it a fair viewing. I must admit after the opening 15 minutes I glanced at my watch thinking the remaining 75 minutes were going to be some of the longest of my entire life. But I was wrong. It’s fun, occasionally laugh out loud funny and played with a likeable geeky gusto by a cast who throw themselves (literally on occasions) head-first into the hokey mayhem.

On the technical side, Brian Anderson (who has since sadly passed away) as visual effects supervisor is owed a huge debt of gratitude (which is duly acknowledged by the onscreen dedication, the tribute on the ‘extras’ and the steady references to his work on the commentary tracks). 

On the acting front, head ‘ninja’ (the term needs to be used lightly) Daniel Ross as ‘Kyle’ leads the cast admirably, deftly breaking the fourth-wall along the way, and a special mention is warranted for Alexia Poe as ‘The Guide’ who threatens to steal the entire film as a kind of battle-axe wielding Xena Warrior Princess / dungeon-mistress cosplayer advising our heroes of the rules of combat when challenging their classic monster foes.

In the end, the constant stream of sheer unadulterated full-throttle geekiness batters you into submission. And whilst it belongs in a galaxy far far away from the mega budgets of the Marvel universe (now there’s a mixed-franchise analogy if ever I wrote one), it boasts a lot of genuine heart for its modest resources, and for that I award it three ninja stars. 

Extras: (Tons). 2 audio commentaries, alternative ending, deleted scenes, audition videos, music video, trailers and a tribute to Brian Anderson.

The Blu-ray version of this release also includes a free bonus copy of NINJAS VS VAMPIRES - (the screener provided was a DVD however).

***(out of 5*)

Paul Worts

This review was first published here.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

BEYOND (2014)

Directed by Joseph Baker and Tom Large, Starring: Richard J. Danum, Gillian MacGregor. Drama / Science Fiction, UK, 2014, 89mins, cert 15.

Released in the UK on Digital download from 15th December and DVD on 12th January 2015 by Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment.

Having survived an armed robbery in a mini-supermarket, Cole (Richard J. Danum) then ends up at a house party where his evening take a decided turn for the better when he gets talking to Maya (Gillian MacGregor). Now if only that giant asteroid possibly heading for a cataclysmic impact with earth could be diverted by US warheads then life would be tickety-boo. Actually, there is another possible scenario, that asteroid could instead turn out to be an alien armada heading to destroy humanity or enslave them or something suitably unsporting like that...

The trailer for BEYOND has (to date) been viewed over 2 million times on YouTube. Assuming nobody has watched it more than once, that’s over 2 million YouTubers who've (unknowingly) seen a complete misrepresentation of this low-budget, (very) low sci-fi, character-driven two-hander.


The cutting between pre and post-invasion scenes is initially jarringly effective, and the sparing glimpses of the (presumably) alien mother-ship are by in large passable given the budgetary constraints. But the emphasis is very much on the emotional strains placed on our lead couple by the uninvited extra-terrestrial harvestings and the internal struggles they are forced to come to terms with as a result of a moral dilemma.

In this, the performances of the two leads carry the film for far longer than it deserves, that is until the groan-inducing cliché twist ending which, given the way the film is being promoted, must surely constitute a breach of the Trade Descriptions Act.

Apparently world-premiered at the SciFi London Festival this year, its inclusion must surely have represented some kind of limbo-dance under the entry bar.

Then again, quite how this character drama masquerading as an alien invasion sci-fi thriller got the green light in the first place is frankly beyond me (pun intended).

Extras: Trailers  

**(out of 5*) 


Paul Worts