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Puppet Master: Axis of Evil(2010)
During World War II, a disabled American teenager enlists the help of living puppets to defeat a joint German-Japanese plot to destroy an American bomb factory.
For more about Puppet Master: Axis of Evil and the Puppet Master: Axis of Evil Blu-ray release, see Puppet Master: Axis of Evil Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on August 10, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.0 out of 5.
Starring: Levi Fiehler, Jenna Gallaher, Taylor M. Graham, Tom Sandoval, Jerry Hoffman
Director: David DeCoteau
» See full cast & crew
Puppet Master: Axis of Evil Blu-ray Review
It's amateur hour on the set of the latest "Puppetmaster" film.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, August 10, 2010
A guy like you should be off fighting in the War, not playing with stupid puppets.
Killer puppets, Nazis, and Japanese Samurai go together like, well, um, actually, they don't go together, except in the fictional world of Charles Band's Puppetmaster series of films. Now the tenth (yes, tenth) film in the series, Puppet Master: Axis of Evil is finally here in all its direct-to-Blu-ray glory, and, drumroll, it's easily one of the worst films of the year. Did anyone really expect anything more from a cheap Horror series on its tenth try? Poor production values, bad continuity, historical inaccuracies, abysmal acting, a script in complete shambles, no suspense, little gore, and an awfully repetitive feel that sees the characters basically saying the same five or six things throughout the entire movie all converge to make Axis of Evil one of the longest 81-minute films in the history of the medium. Fortunately, however, the movie is one of those in the mold of Cyclops whereby it's just so godawful that it's almost fun to sit through and laugh at the misery playing out on-screen. That is, until, the hero whines about his bum leg keeping him out of the War for about the ten bazillionth time.
Teenager Danny Coogan (Levi Fiehler) works as a chair maker in the basement of the Bodega Bay Inn, circa 1939. When old man Toulon commits suicide before falling into Nazi hands, Danny takes it upon himself to retrieve the puppet master's stash of dolls and see if he can figure out what makes them tick. Danny's got plenty of other things on his mind, too; his brother is soon to be headed off to the War in Europe, but Danny is forced to remain stateside -- against his will -- thanks to a troublesome leg injury. When Danny visits with his girlfriend Beth (Jenna Gallaher) at the local bomb-making factory, he sees a face that the believes to belong to one of the two Nazis who were looking for Mr. Toulon. Danny tries to prove that he's not crazy, and indeed, he finds himself knee-deep in, and the only one capable of stopping, a German-Japanese co-plot to blow up the munitions factory. Danny can't save the day alone, so he recruits his new puppet friends -- Tunnler, Pinhead, Blade, Jester, Leech Woman, and others -- to put an end to this dastardly plot and do his part for Uncle Sam.
Where to start? Apparently set in 1939 -- the year the series began at the beginning of the original Puppetmaster film -- Axis of Evil somehow assumes that the United States is, at that time, already fully engaged in World War II. At best, Pearl Harbor was still two years away. If time was supposed to fast-forward several years before the primary story begins, Axis of Evil doesn't make it clear. Unfortunately, the movie is littered with little things like that, making it very hard to take it at all seriously. Who knew bomb factories left random bombs lying about outside the break room? Apparently set dressing was more important than common sense. Sure, a direct-to-video flick that features killer puppets tearing through a swastika on its cover isn't exactly the kind of movie one watches for rich characters and psychologically-challenging drama, but there's no excuse for these kinds of blatant missteps, shortcuts, falsehoods, and liberties taken with history -- and modern history at that -- even in a movie like this.
Unfortunately, the worst is yet to come. For fans of the series, "worst" will mean that the puppets have almost completely disappeared into the background in favor of whiny Danny's efforts to prove to the world that, yes, a fellow with a bum leg can make a difference in the War effort. He only needs to find some old puppets, inject them with green goo, uncover a joint Nazi-Japanese scheme to destroy an American bomb factory, convince his girlfriend that he's not crazy, and save the day. Whiny Danny and His Little Puppet Friends Save the Day might have been a more appropriate title. There's no doubt that Danny is the main character, and the puppet action is more or less reserved for the final showdown that, yes, ends in such a way so as to guarantee that Whiny Danny and his little puppet friends will be back for Puppet Master 11: Just Buy Me Because You Already Own All the Others and You Don't Want a Gaping Hole in Your Collection, Do You?
For those just looking for a movie that demands nothing more of its audience than to plop down on the couch with a bag of popcorn and a cold Coke, "worst" will mean the laughably -- wait, "laughably" isn't a strong enough adverb; how about "abysmally" -- bad acting. Whoever built these androids that are posing as human actors should just get in line for their Nobel Prize right now, because they're a marvel of modern technology. With just a bit of refinement, they could be well on their way to working in Starfleet -- well, OK, not as Lieutenant-Commanders on the Enterprise, but as after-hours janitors at the Federation daycare center. These are some of the absolute worst, most listless performances in memory; there's no life, no energy, no care in the world not only for how bad the actors' performances make the movie look, but for how bad they make themselves look. One would think any actor would at least take some amount of pride in their work, but maybe that's the problem: this cast is not comprised of actors. They're just regular people chosen at random to be in the film. Yes, that has to be it. Otherwise, they wouldn't be sounding like they're computers from 1996 running a text-to-speech program. "Why yes. I have managed to infiltrate the bomb factory. I've even made a few friends and learned about baseball. Balls. Strikes. Errors. This American sport is very strange." "Good. When. You. Return. To. Work. In. Two. Days. The. Factory. Will. Be. Destroyed." Cringe.
Honestly, Puppet Master: Axis of Evil is so terrible that it simply has to be seen to be believed, but through all that makes it an abysmal failure of a movie, there's actually one good thing to say about it. Series veteran Director David DeCoteau manages to capture some nice noir-type imagery, using several cockeyed angles, smoke, and shadows to fine effect in several scenes. He singlehandedly tries to salvage the movie with slick and steady direction, but, well, as the old saying goes, "you can point the camera any way you like at dung, but you're still filming dung." Indeed, nothing the camera sees is worth looking at, particularly because Puppet Master: Axis of Evil offers about 15 minutes worth of story stretched out to 81 minutes of agony. The picture opens with an extended flashback sequence to the original film, and while it's not anywhere close to Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 territory, it still drags on for far too long. Additionally, the story doesn't really get going until about 30 minutes in, and even once Whiny Danny's decided to play the hero with his puppet sidekicks, the movie still rehashes the same old plot points and dialogue over and over again.
Puppet Master: Axis of Evil Blu-ray, Video Quality
Puppet Master: Axis of Evil comes to Blu-ray with an infuriatingly inconsistent 1080p, 2.40:1-framed transfer. Oddly enough, the movie has been encoded with the old MPEG-2 codec. The film begins with some flashback footage from the first movie that's as inconsistently messy here as it is on that film's Blu-ray release. It's worth pointing out that Axis of Evil marks the third aspect ratio in which the original film has been presented. Originally unleashed on low-def home video in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, Puppet Master's Blu-ray release grants it a proper 16x9 presentation, but the clips seen in Axis of Evil squish it down to fit inside the 2.40:1 window. Poor Puppetmaster. Nevertheless, on to Axis of Evil. As the newest film in the series, Axis of Evil features a glossy, fresh appearance. Fine detail can be rather striking at times -- several close-ups border on the breathtaking -- and colors are usually stable. Unfortunately, the pleasantries end there. Axis of Evil is home to what is quite possibly the worst banding yet seen on a Blu-ray release; it's a constant visual distraction and, frankly, makes the entire transfer one of the ugliest on the marketplace. Additionally, blocking is visible in almost every background throughout the movie. Blacks appear washed out, but flesh tones never stray too far from a natural appearance. Axis of Evil has its moments, but behind a few really nicely-detailed images lie a plethora of issues that remain throughout the entire picture and drag it down several notches from where it should probably be.
Puppet Master: Axis of Evil Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Puppet Master: Axis of Evil inexplicably debuts on Blu-ray with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. A brand-new movie -- even a direct-to-video release -- can't at least offer the 5.1 mix advertised on the back of the packaging? Fortunately, Full Moon's 2.0 presentation fares far better than that found on Puppetmaster. It's infinitely more clean and clear, enjoying a much wider range and far greater clarity. It feels energetic at times and while it lacks far behind the best soundtracks, it never really struggles to accomplish anything that's asked of it. Sound effects are usually punchy, and dialogue is consistently strong, even if the actors sound like robots. Puppet Master: Axis of Evil could use a better sound presentation, but at least what's here isn't a total loss -- not by a longshot.
Puppet Master: Axis of Evil Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Puppet Master: Axis of Evil strings along a couple of extras, including one -- No Strings Attached: The Making of the Original 'Puppet Master' (480p, 7:19) -- that's also included on the original Puppetmaster's Blu-ray release. As to exclusive Axis of Evil content, there's not much. The highlight is a collection of 13 "Vidcasts" from China entitled The Making of Evil (1080p, 1:15:18). This is a strong collection of shorts that take viewers onto the set and behind-the-scenes for some raw footage that showcases all it takes to bring a Puppetmaster film to life. Also included are 480p/1080p trailers for nine of the Puppetmaster films.
Puppet Master: Axis of Evil Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Puppet Master: Axis of Evil is a terrible movie. There's really no way around, and other than a few decent enough shots courtesy of Director David DeCoteau, the film falls flat with every frame. It's a victim of a bloated runtime (even at an otherwise subcompact 81 minutes), a transparent plot, abysmal acting, little gore, inaccuracies galore, and a lack of puppets. The latter of that list is, maybe, the worst offender of them all, considering that the movie is called Puppet Master and all. Oh well, it's unreasonable to expect anything other than the worst from the tenth film in a dried-up Horror franchise that was never much to begin with anyway, but Axis of Evil is proof-positive that there's nowhere else for the series to go. So what if it ended with a cliffhanger? Just let the series fade quietly into the night. Full Moon's Blu-ray release features an infuriating transfer that looks very good in places but is plagued by an incredible amount of banding and other eyesores. The audio track is inexplicably a two-channel lossy presentation, leaving the extras as the highlight of the package. Die hard Puppetmaster fans should rent before buying, and for everyone else, the recommendation should be clear: skip it.
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