The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bulletface (2010)

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This came packaged with the Director's Cut of Cyborg, an Albert Pyun double feature, so to speak; and it was one I've been wanting to review for a long time, so I was excited to finally get the opportunity. I put the date as 2010, though the film lists it in the end credits as 2007. I actually couldn't remember exactly when it was released, but when I'm in doubt, I usually go with the imdb number, which is what we have here. I'm not sure that it matters too much, but figured I'd throw that out there (and I wanted to fill out this first paragraph).

Bulletface follows Dara, a young, crooked DEA agent who is sent to a brutal Mexican prison after she protects her small-time hood younger brother from the same fate. A couple years later Steven Bauer gets her sprung for 60 hours, just long enough for her to use her SoCal underworld connections to tell him what kind of big drug deal is going down between two thought to be rival gangs. She has a secondary motive though, because her brother was murdered, so while she's working for Bauer, she's working for herself too, and with the clock ticking, she doesn't have much time for either.

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After the first thirty minutes or so, when this film hits its stride, I really liked it. I'd heard a lot going in about horror and Noir-ish themes, and I saw those, but for me, it was really more a modern version of the 60s/70s exploitation film. A gritty, intense flick filled with flesh, blood, and bullets; lesbianism, mysticism, and eroticism, but in a better 2000s package. I could almost see Scott Paulin's character as Jack Palence, wearing a robe and sitting in a dining room with a shag carpet. The problem for me, though, was in that first 30 minutes, there was too much stopping and starting, between the opening credits that were spread out over 11 minutes, and more importantly, with the way the film was paused every time a new character appeared on screen so he or she could be artificially introduced by a white title on a black background that would slide onto the screen. It really hindered the flow of the film, and for me, a lot of what made Bulletface great was it's build up of momentum scene after scene, making its intensity palpable; and to kill that momentum and force us to start again-- multiple times--, meant that early on the essence of the film was lost for me. By the thirty minute mark, everyone who needed to be introduced was, so the interruptions were done with, and from there I could really get into it.

I normally call a film maker to task for artificially introducing characters, calling it lazy storytelling, but I don't think that's what Pyun was doing here. I think he was going for a pulp feel, something to layer over the exploitation theme, and in that sense it sounds like a great idea, it just might have been a case of too much, or the law of diminishing returns. Of course, this is me here, a less is more kind of guy, but I just felt, looking at the last 50-60 minutes, the whole thing moved so well and so organically, that I wish I had had that throughout. This wasn't like Machete, which was a great homage to the grindhouse flick, or Bitch Slap, which was a poor send up of 60s/70s exploitation; this was more like that exploitation style, pushed into the present, and done at a higher quality-- I just wasn't allowed to see that early on with everything else.

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Bulletface continued Pyun's tradition of strong female protagonists, working again with Victoria Maurette, who was also in Left for Dead (one I haven't seen yet). She definitely had the kickass exploitation chick down, swigging JD from the bottle, and popping off lines like "I am their karma" when told she should walk away and let karma take care of the people who wronged her. The person giving her that advice was played by Francia Raisa, who, for me, had the stand out performance in the film. Her imdb bio reads like a who's-who of ABC Family Channel mainstay properties, so for her to come in and play a prostitute, and mix the tough exterior with the vulnerable interior, was really cool. I loved the chemistry she had with Maurette as well.

The most controversial aspect of the film was the prison rape scene. I thought it was necessary though, and feel that Pyun handled it in a way that wasn't gratuitous or just get to get some hot chicks naked on-screen. (I know what you're thinking: "dude, you're good with the prison rape scene, but artificially introducing characters is where you draw the line?") It wasn't one scene, it was more a series of disjointed shots, mixed and layered together, which cut any gratuitous aspect, yet kept the important part: the intensity and grittiness. Usually, here at the DTVC, the films we review use any love scene as a way to get some nude women on the screen, then the film makers turn around and try to sell us on the fact that it was "necessary for character development". Finally, after almost four years, we've found a film where it's true, because I don't think Maurette's Dara character would've had the same impact without it. (A quick note, Maurette is not nude, they use a body double.)

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I wanted to finish with a couple quick comments on some of the film techniques. This shot of Steve Bauer here is my favorite kind, framed by various elements, almost giving a split screen effect. What's interesting is how Pyun uses the actual split screen, and again I think he's going for that pulp feel, but then will switch back to something like this or a more traditional Film Noir-ish wide shot, often in the same scenes. It's a great juxtaposition. The other thing we had was the split-second freeze frame. That had me wondering if maybe that doesn't work in the age of streaming video, because as an effect, it felt more like a slow Internet connection-- you know that frustration that comes from buffering. Maybe it's just me, but I figured I'd throw it out there.

As of right now, this is either available as the bare bones film packaged with the Cyborg DC, or you can get it as it's own package with the commentary and a copy of Left for Dead. Both can only be purchased through Albert Pyun Movies and Curnan Pictures, and you can contact them at curnanpictures@gmail.com. It would be cool if these new films from Pyun could end up on Netflix Watch Instantly, because I've seen some films from other low budget companies and distributors on there, and I think it would get them more exposure. Just a thought. Final verdict: I really liked it, and I'll be honest, in that first thirty minutes or so, I didn't see that happening, and was wondering what this review was going to look like; but then it more than redeemed itself, and gave me something that I really enjoyed.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0878654/

4 comments:

  1. Cool review, Matt. Thanks for taking the time. We don't allow Netflix access mainly due to the terms of their deals. Its really a bad one and really a place of last resort for an Indy filmmaker.

    And yeah, I was trying or the pure exploitation programmers that were in abundance in my childhood, closer to the B movies from poverty row in the 50's. You mention a few things that has me thinking about a few of my stylistic choices (those first 30 minutes) that I need to rein in a bit in the future.

    Will try to get Let for Dead - one of my all time favorites - and Tales of an Ancient empire to you in the next few weeks. Tales is my all time favorite! Think I did my best work there and all my DTV zaniness really comes together (I hope!).

    Thanks, again,
    Albert Pyun

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  2. Thank you, and that's good to know about Netflix, because I see a lot of indy flicks on there, and it just seemed like a prefect fit, but I figured there was a reason why you weren't doing it.

    I actually see 50s exploitation more now that you mentioned it, but I don't have as much experience with those films as I do the ones of the 60s and 70s, which is probably why I didn't make the connection. Either way, it definitely worked in the modern setting you put it in.

    And I appreciate you sending Left for Dead and Tales, and I can't wait to see both-- Tales for obvious reasons, and Left for Dead especially to see Victoria Maurette after her work here in Bulletface.

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  3. Need to see this- Victoria Maurette was fantastic in Left for Dead (despite me not really being into the movie itself). And you got the Cyborg DC? I'm so jell-o!

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  4. I think you'll enjoy it overall, and it comes packaged in the Cyborg DC pack, so that's a good way to check it out.

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