Angel Of Death (2009)

Angel Of Death (2009)- * *

Directed by: Paul Etheridge

Starring: Zoe Bell, Doug Jones, Justin Huen, and Lucy Lawless

Eve (Bell) is a hitwoman in L.A. On one of her missions, during the course of a fight, she receives a head injury. Although she recovers, she begins seeing visions of a young girl who got caught in the crossfire. While trying not to get too distracted by this, she begins her revenge mission against the underworld mafia types who become the target of her ire. Meanwhile, she has to juggle the needs of certain people in her life, like her co-worker Franklin (Huen), her neighbor Vera (Lawless), her doctor, Rankin (Jones), among others. Not to mention there are enemies on her tail and the law wants to catch up with her. Is Eve the ANGEL OF DEATH for the baddies?

We really liked Zoe Bell in this. She especially shines in the fight scenes, and those are well-executed and fun to watch. There perhaps should have been one or two more of them, but the bathroom fight scene is definitely a highlight. The movie around her, unfortunately, is not that great. There's a certain heartlessness to it. There's a lot of stupid, mindless dialogue and the plot is nothing you haven't seen before. It reminded us of The Contract (1999) or Bounty Hunters (2011). It's not quite a Tarantino Slog, but it certainly has Tarantino Slog-esque tendencies. 

Because it was originally a web series that was edited into movie form, the running time is only 77 minutes, which we greatly appreciated. More movies should have that length. And because Ed Brubaker, who apparently is well known in the comics world, has a credit of 'Written and Created By', there is a definite comic-bookiness to the visuals. This comes out most obviously in the panels that we sometimes see. The score is Hendrix-like blues rock guitar and it more or less suits the film.

Ted Raimi has a cameo and Lucy Lawless has a small role as well. Both were involved with the TV series Ash Vs. Evil Dead - could there be a connection from that to this? Or is it just a coincidence? In other casting news, both Eve's boss and the main villain were both Fugitive Champion-esque twerps. It was hard to tell them apart because not only did they look alike, the baddie wasn't at all scary or threatening. He tried to be, but it just seemed like he'd be late for his high school classes. I guess it's all part of the experience. 

All in all, Angel of Death could have - and should have - been better (especially in the writing department), but Bell is engaging as usual and she helps to keep things afloat. It's sort of a "cheap, quick, and dirty" type production, and there are worse ways to spend 77 minutes.

Comeuppance Review by Brett and Ty


Angels' Brigade (1979)

Angels' Brigade (1979)- * * *

Directed by: Greydon Clark

Starring: Robin Greer, Jacqulin Cole, Liza Greer, Lieu Chinh, Susan Kiger, Noela Velasco, Sylvia Anderson, Neville Brand, Jim Backus, Alan Hale, Peter Lawford, and Jack Palance

Elaine (Robin Greer), April (Cole), Kako (Chinh), Michelle (Kiger), Terry (Anderson), Maria (Velasco), and their young assistant Trish (Liza Greer) are a special team of ladies assembled to take down drug gangs and evil militias in the L.A. area. All of them take time out from their day jobs when a baddie named Mike Farrell (Palance, not the guy from MASH) starts causing havoc all over town. Using their unique skill sets, and feminine wiles of course, they proceed to take down the bad guys in their own inimitable way. Armed with a high-tech van (it was the 70’s after all), can any force on earth stop the ANGELS BRIGADE?

A light, frothy, and some may say inconsequential bit of fun, this PG-rated actioner was clearly inspired by some of the TV shows of the day, most obviously Charlie’s Angels (Neville Brand plays their “Charlie”, but you can see him), but also The A-Team (hence the van), Wonder Woman, Knight Rider, and The Bionic Woman also come to mind. Even with the alternate titles, Angels Revenge and Seven Angels, the word “Angels” was never dispensed with.

Although clearly inspired by those shows, Angels’ Brigade was also somewhat ahead of its time, as teams-of-deadly-women movies mostly came later in the 80’s and into the 90’s with such films as Hell Squad (1986), Mankillers (1987), and Sweet Justice (1992), among others. The film is also reminiscent of the Cheri Caffaro Ginger series as well as Caffaro’s Savage Sisters AKA Ebony Ivory and Jade (1974). 

There are lots of stunts, shootings, and blow-ups, and it’s all very comic-booky, as reinforced by the “wacky” scene transitions and star-wipes and such. A lot of what we see is in the editing that way, such as the very cool opening credits sequence and a terrific montage as the ladies prepare for battle with their matching outfits and classic 70’s van. We did think, however, that with a little less goofing around the film as a whole could have been stronger. There’s only so many times you can hear the sound “BOINGGGGG!” during a fight scene before you realize the unserious vibe of the whole thing.

The girl power message of Angels’ Brigade is reinforced by the fact that the ladies are not just a formidable fighting force, but they all had good, independent jobs outside of their Brigade duties. There’s no nudity and the exploitation factor is low.

The character of Michelle is a professional singer, for example, and a movie highlight comes when we see her Vegas act, and Susan Kiger performs the song “Shine Your Love On Me” by Patty Foley for a reasonably enthusiastic crowd. Interestingly, Kiger was also in the movie Seven (1979), directed by Andy Sidaris, the same year as Angels’ Brigade. Apparently she felt safe with that number, having appeared in two movies with the number seven in one year. Coincidence?

As if the eye candy wasn’t enough, director Clark also brought on board what are basically a series of short cameos by not just Jack Palance and Neville Brand, but also Alan Hale, Peter Lawford, and Jim Backus, and there’s special mention of “Arthur Godfrey as himself”. Godfrey was an entertainer from a previous era of American history and his appearance in Angels’ Brigade was during the swan song of his life and career. An interesting way to go out, to be sure. 

In the end, while Angels’ Brigade has a positive, upbeat overall feeling to it, and is reasonably enjoyable for what it is (and not nearly as bad as some people seem to think), its one-dimensionality more or less sinks it in the end. But, then again, perhaps we’re overthinking it and it wasn’t meant to be examined that closely. 

For those of you out there seeking undemanding entertainment from the disco 70’s, you could do a heck of a lot worse than Angels’ Brigade. At the very least, it’s a one-time watch.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Angel Town (1990)

Angel Town (1990)- * * *

Directed by: Eric Karson

Starring: Olivier Gruner, Peter Kwong, and Theresa Saldana

Jacques Montagne (Gruner) is a Frenchman from Paris who saves up all his money so he can get an engineering degree from "Southern California University". On his first day in the United States, he has trouble getting off-campus housing. Not knowing the difference between where the "nice" areas of L.A. are and where the "ghettos" are, he finds himself in a gang-infested barrio. He ends up renting a room from a nice lady and non-gang member named Maria (Saldana). The local gang wants to recruit her son into the gang so they resort to the usual tactics such as terrorizing the town around them. 

Unfortunately for these gang baddies, Montagne had a troubled upbringing in Paris where he was forced to learn to fight. So, teaming up with his buddy Henry (Kwong) and the local wheelchair-bound Vietnam Vet, Montagne takes on the baddies using his considerable Martial Arts abilities. but will he be able to take on the gangs and win?

Angel Town is an amusing beat-em-up that's reminiscent of similar titles such as Street Corner Justice and Enemy Territory. A gang or gang lays siege to a house or houses and the hero has to fend them off or eliminate them altogether. It doesn't rise to the heights of Private Wars or The Annihilators, but there are some entertaining moments. 

The main problem is that it can't really justify its 102-minute running time. If Angel Town was 80 minutes, we'd be dealing with a classic. The idea of a French guy getting in the middle of a drive-by shooting by Mexican gangs towards college students (this actually happens in the movie) is a novel and almost-brilliant idea. There are some enjoyable brawls that go on, and Olivier Gruner is likable. They actually gave a reason why his accent is so thick, which isn't always the case. It has a good amount of un-PC dialogue, which was more than welcome, and there because the movie has a copyright of 1989 (though it came out in '90) - the golden era before political correctness ruined everything in our society. Perhaps we need Jacques Montagne to clean things up now more than ever.

What's interesting is that, in The Circuit series, Gruner plays the immortal role of Dirk Longstreet. Dirk Longstreet is a college instructor. Could Jacques Montagne be like a forerunner, or precursor, to Dirk Longstreet? Perhaps that's the Longstreet origin story we've all been asking for.

In other casting news, one Tom McGreevey plays Dr. Rice, a very rude and almost Animal House-esque college professor. He steals all his scenes and is a lot of fun to watch. There are also blink-and-you'll-miss-em early appearances by Bruce Locke and Mark Dacascos (credited as "Dacascus").

Director Karson has a history of churning out middling action fare such as The Octagon (1980) and Black Eagle (1988). So, despite its unnecessary length, that officially qualifies Angel Town as his best actioner. In any case, lots of vatos wear button-down plaid shirts with only the top button buttoned, with a hair net and sunglasses. They say "homes" and "ese" more than John Travolta in Chains of Gold. So it's not a total loss.

The songs are provided by Gil Karson (presumably the director's brother?) who also appears onscreen as a member of The Hot Heads Band, who play at the college party that gets driven-by by the baddies (is that how you would say that?) - anyway, the movie was originally released on an Imperial VHS, but now is available on Blu-Ray as part of the MVD collection. It's also available on Amazon Prime as of this writing, in a fine transfer that more than likely comes from the same place the Blu-Ray is sourced from.

Angel Town is a classic example of what was on video store shelves starting in the early 90's. As good as many aspects of it are, it overstays its welcome with its unnecessarily long running time. Though it does overextend itself, there are definitely bright spots throughout Angel Town.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

Also check out a write-up from our buddy, DTVC!


Black Oak Conspiracy (1977)

Black Oak Conspiracy (1977)- * * *

Directed by: Bob Kelljan

Starring: Jesse Vint, Albert Salmi, Seymour Cassel, Douglas Fowley, Robert F. Lyons, Janus Blythe, Jeremy Foster, and Karen Carlson

Ralph “Jingo” Johnson (Vint) is a hard-working stuntman trying to make his way in the tough world of low-budget action movies. When he goes back to his hometown of Black Oak, California (not Arkansas as you might think) to visit his ailing mother, he discovers some mysterious doin’s are afoot that can only be described as a BLACK OAK CONSPIRACY. 

An unscrupulous father-son team of mining bosses named Bryan and Harrison Hancock (Fowley and Lyons, respectively) are buying up all the land in town, and the corrupt Sheriff Grimes (Salmi) is backing them all the way. When they knock down Jingo’s beloved family home, he starts on the trail of unraveling – and putting an end to – the BOC. Not Blue Oyster Cult, but the Black Oak Conspiracy, of course. Jingo gets plenty of help from his buddy Homer Metcalf (Cassel), but he’s also trying to win back his lost love Lucy (Carlson), who has been stolen away by the nefarious Harrison. Will Jingo Johnson be the hero that saves Black Oak? Find out today…

We really enjoyed Black Oak Conspiracy. It exudes that wonderful 1977 atmosphere, and you can imagine people pulling into their local drive-in, putting that speaker on their window, and watching it. Clearly it was influenced by previous so-called “good ole boy” movies such as White Lightning (1973), Gator (1976), Walking Tall (1973), and Fighting Mad (1976), among many others. However, it pre-dated The Dukes of Hazzard by a couple years. This sort of plot and style was popular throughout the 70’s, and BOC is a prime example. 

Jesse Vint makes a likable hero and you really grow to love Jingo Johnson. Vint is also credited here with story and production, and the working title of the film was Jingo, so clearly this was Vint’s moment and he created a memorable, relatable hero. He’s not the sort of unkillable superman that appeared in movies later on, he’s just a down-home dude the audience warms to. Seymour Cassel is perfectly mellow and understated as his sidekick, and Salmi and Lyons as the baddies are the perfect 70’s small-town villains. The whole cast should be commended for a fine job all around.

Perhaps one of the most noteworthy and attractive things about Black Oak Conspiracy is the pure Americana on display. Local waitress Melba Barnes (Blythe) works at a small cafĂ© called the Midget Kitchen (which I don’t think is a restaurant name that would exist today) and is going out with lovable lunkhead Billie Bob (Foster). 

The whole town attends the dance at the community center, and it’s not just a country band that plays, but it’s more like a talent show. The movie takes the time to show some of the talent on display, including a group of girls in an all-kazoo band buzzing through patriotic songs and, of course, the showstopper: a full – and we mean full – rendition of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” by a lady who sucks in a bag of helium first. To see this nostalgic look at a time gone past not only sets BOC apart from its competitors, it also gives greater weight to some of the violence we see later on.

What’s needed in today’s times of overblown, trillion-dollar blockbusters are more unpretentious outings like this. Featuring some standout cinematography (especially during the climax in the mine pit), have a good ole time with Black Oak Conspiracy. You’ll be glad you did.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty