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Plot: alien lifeform rids the Earth of politicians, lawyers, lobbyists, and corporatists.

Everybody’s favorite delusional Las Vegas Christian geek green-Marxist is back, and he’s now more unhinged and volatile than ever! Neil’s done playing nice. No more warnings, no more second chances. Our favorite “visionary” filmmaker of “controversial” and “thought-provoking” cinema refuses to compromise, to negotiate, to mediate. Breen gave humanity a fair and final warning in Double Down (2005), and a last second chance in I Am Here…. Now (2009). Neil’s a man of action and a proponent of denim. In Pass Thru he steps up his game by dressing exclusively in denim and advocating for the extermination of 300 million people, no less! This time around Neil has no time for the womanfolk, and Breen’s love interest is a complete nonentity. Pass Thru is fringe cinema at the utmost extreme. A barely coherent screed from a director who has clearly lost all touch with reality and probably most of his marbles…

Pass Thru is not your average Neil Breen film. No. It’s a greatest hits of sorts and a partial remake of both Double Down (2005) and I Am Here…. Now (2009). It kinda-sorta-but-not-really is a Breen take on the Robert Wise science-fiction classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Like Breen’s 2009 feature Pass Thru is drenched in intentionally opaque Native American and New Age mysticism. Of course it’s full of Neil’s patented blunt force symbolism, and it’s historic for being the first of two Breen features produced during the Trump presidency the second being Twisted Pair (2018). Times, presidents, and political climates may change – but that doesn’t mean that old Neil does. The surge in anti-intellectualism, fundamentalist religious fervor and - persecution, as well as the untethered bigotry and corruption that has pervaded every branch of government was unprecedented at this point in recent history. Never has Breen’s message sounded more socially relevant than it did here. If there’s ever a frightening prospect, it’s Breen resonating with the times….

In the Nevada desert somewhere near the Mexican border callous human traffickers have established a make-shift commune where they hide their captives. One day a heroin-addict (Neil Breen) shoots up and passes out. Around the same time Amanda (Kathy Corpus) and her niece Kim (Chaize Macklin) manage to break out of captivity and come across the addict and his rundown, garbage-infested trailer. He offers the girls shelter for as long as they need. He calls himself Thgil (“light” spelled backwards, because Breen's messiah complex and celestial pretensions haven't lessened in the slightest) and claims to be an A.I. of superior intellect from the far future. Amanda initially puts no stock in what he says, but he shows telekinesis to substantiate his claims. Thgil can bend space, time, and matter to his will – and he has returned to this primitive earth to eliminate 300 million “bad” people. “The Cleanse,” he says, “has begun!” Thgil will first whet his genocidal appetites with the human traffickers and liberate the immigrant commune from bondage. From there he will move on to the actual scum and villainy that are corrupt politicians, lawyers, Wall Street brokers, CEOs, and press officials.

Meanwhile, a boy (Abraham Rodriguez) and a girl (Taylor Johnson) who share the common interest of music and astronomy have discovered alien activity. They have alerted their aging and ailing professor (James D. Smith) to their plans to travel deep into the Nevada desert to pinpoint the location. While that is happening Thgil uses his vast intellect to insinuate himself into high society cocktail parties where he erases presidents of banks (Adriane McLean), insurance (Brad Thomte), and media (Judy Thomas) out of existence. He then moves on to senators (Charles Updergrove) and corporate execs (Phil Graviet, and John Marchitti). He then overtakes an international press center by disintegrating its news anchors (Nicole Spitale, Steve Brito, and Audra Wilson) and delivers a condemning speech to the remaining survivors on Earth. Kim has gone missing leaving Amanda a quivering husk. Thgil finds Kim in a cave where she’s being threatened at gunpoint by a deranged veteran (Jason James). Thgil cures the veteran by simply saying, “You are now free… of PTSD.” As Thgil prepares to depart for his homeworld Amanda and Kim are shot by Amanda’s abusive ex-husband (Mike Kelly). He resurrects both and erases the perpetrator out of existence. Corruption has been ended, the guilty have been punished, and all is right with the world again…

Pass Thru comes a decade-plus after Double Down (2005) and old Neil has actually managed to get worse. Breen has always worked with a skeleton crew but this rings especially true for Pass Thru where he mans every position himself. To the surprise of absolutely nobody it looks terrible in every department. A few aerial drone shots notwithstanding Pass Thru looks worse than the short features that Alex Chandon shot on home-video some two decades earlier. Everything that doesn’t feature Breen flying solo feels underrehearsed, hastily staged, and come across as needlessly messy. A lot feels and looks as if it was improvised on the fly. The camera work is shaky and uneven, and there isn’t a single good looking shot to be found anywhere. The editing, by Breen and John Mastrogiacomo, is probably some of the worst, even by his own very forgiving standards. Not every penny was on the screen, obviously. Oh, no. If there’s anything Neil’s known for it’s for elevating corner-cutting to an artform. There are discharged firearms, and explosions – but who needs pyrotechnics and weapon experts when you can superimpose cheap looking muzzle flashes and Windows 95 sprites? Why scout for locations that heighten the production value when you can just green-screen them? Why location scout at all? Just go into the Nevada desert and shoot to your heart’s content.

A Breen movie wouldn’t be complete without socio-political commentary, and Pass Thru primarily seems to be about immigration and the treatment of refugees. As with his other movies Neil’s an environmentalist and here he also pushes his agenda of sustainable, renewable energy and putting a stop to depleting Earth’s resources and destroying nature and biodioversity for shortsighted greed. Also worth noting is that Pass Thru marks the first time Neil choses for an ethnic minority love interest with Kathy Corpus. Not that she’s his typical lost Lenore, or that her romantic subplot is in any way developed or explored beyond its very, very basic contours. Even Breen’s romance with Joy Senn in I Am Here…. Now (2009) was written better. Apparently the romance with Jennifer Autry in Fateful Findings (2013) was a one-time thing. Amanda gets exactly one line (“We have to keep running! Your mother’s my sister. She was murdered. I swore to God I’d take care of you. You’re my niece. We have to keep running!”) that is supposed to pass for character development, and that’s it. Oh yeah, and then there’s that scene where Kathy throws a rock at Neil’s face. Priceless.

Speaking of Lohan School of Shaolin alumnus Kathy Corpus, a black belt in kung fu and tai chi. Kathy has a corpus to die for, and that corpus is a finely-toned weapon. Kathy’s an accomplished Las Vegas martial artist and stunt performer, and like Tara Macken she’s the kind of talent America has far too few of. Rene Perez would know what to do with her. Arrowstorm Entertainment would die to have someone like her. Hell, even Neil Johnson would put her to better use. Not Breen, though. No. All the master of traumatic arts allows poor Kathy to do is walk around aimlessly and shout her lines aggressively. The great majority of characters will never even be named – and none of them (not even the leads) will be given an arch. The B-plot features three kids, but only two of them are identified as “astronomers” in the credits with the third curiously missing. If the professor’s hospital room looks familiar that’s because it’s the same as in Fateful Findings (2013), the interiors for the other kids were probably the same house too. The medal-studded blue denim jacket from Double Down (2005) also makes an appearance. It’s entirely possible that the deranged war veteran is supposed to be a nod towards Aaron Brandt from Breen’s debut. Who knows? Surely a new cinematic low point has been reached when I Am Here…. Now (2009) and Fateful Findings (2013) can retroactively be considered the gold standard in all things Breen.

Suffice to say Pass Thru is stunningly bad. Not only from a technical standpoint, the writing is probably the most skeletal and thin it has ever been. You’d imagine that after ten years in the trenches Neil would pick up a book to better his craft, but no such thing seems to be the case. In 30 years Alex Chandon made a handful of shorts, and three full length features. Neil has made 5 movies in 10 years, and shows no apparent sign of improving on any front. Pass Thru actually manages to look worse than Alex Chandon’s rough-and-ready Chainsaw Scumfuck (1988). Why is Neil still filming on home video? Aren’t High-Definition and Red One (4k) cameras the de facto industry standard now? Neil has always been an auteur but Pass Thru is probably the most egregiously written of the bunch. The feeble and slim chance of Breen actually becoming better with time has been clearly refuted by this point. To see the comedy of errors known as Double Down (2005) was fun at first, but to see no progress over ten years later is something else. It makes you feel sorry for old Neil. Maybe he did lose his marbles making these no-budget paranormal epics in the blazing Nevada sun. Any way you slice it, Pass Thru is a cry for help. A mental health professional should review old Breen’s case. Right now.

Plot: troubled Vietnam vet turns vigilante to restore order in his city.

Just two years ago French indie filmmaker Benjamin Combes made the coolest retro 80s action movie. That was Commando Ninja (2018) and it was lensed over a two-year period on a modest €35,000 budget. A 70-minute love note to just about every classic Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Jean-Claude Van Damme movie under the sun. Hopkins does for the vigilante what Perfect-Lover.com (程序戀人) (2018) did for the robot girlfriend subgenre: enliven it by modernizing its worn-out conventions and tropes. Always wanted to know more about what events shaped corporal Leeroy Hopkins? Ask and you shall receive. Just like The Last Human in the Milky Way (2015) before it Hopkins packs a lot of punch in a short 18 minutes. Not only is Hopkins a thematical precursor to its more popular cousin but it also serves to whet appetites for and drum up interest in the currently in pre-production and being crowdfunded Commando Ninja II: Invasion America. Before John Hunter there was Hopkins.

Naturally a project like Hopkins requires a different aesthetic and stylistic approach. Instead of the over-the-top action of Commando Ninja (2018) this time around Combes explores the urban vigilante subgenre that was popular from the mid-to-late seventies. As such Hopkins takes more of a psychological direction and is much more of a slowburn instead of a wall-to-wall action romp. It’s more Taxi Driver (1976) than The Driller Killer (1979) and more Death Wish (1974) than First Blood (1982) – which doesn’t stop it from climaxing with an obvious homage to The Exterminator (1980). As much as the The Exterminator (1980) segment is the centerpiece Hopkins at all times remains a very character-driven piece. As much as Combes loves all those no-holds-barred action movies that Cirio H. Santiago seemed to specialize in whenever he wasn’t ripping off Mad Max (1979) or making topless kickboxing movies - Hopkins is not that. No, Hopkins is a very quiet, brooding, and at times introspective piece of cinema.

New York City, 1978. Five years after they put a rifle in his hand, sent him off to a foreign land to go and kill the yellow man corporal Leeroy Hopkins (Philippe Allier) is a PTSD-afflicted pariah and vagrant. In lieu of treatment he numbs his pain with alcohol and narcotics. In his waking hours he’s haunted by visions of Vietcong (Leo Guyard and Joey Rudolf) he encountered in the jungle and the nights are even worse. The country and city he loves and spilled blood for is morally bankrupt and ripe with decay. Pimps (Ludwig Oblin), prostitutes, and crackheads litter the streets. The very peope he fought now are food vendors and run restaurants all across the Big Apple. His commanding officer Colonel Magnum (Steve Rappard) and the military brass seem in no hurry to offer any help. The more destitute and desperate Hopkins grows the further he slips into insanity. When his former Vietnam buddies start dying under mysterious circumstances Hopkins’ condition only worsens. The further his sanity erodes the stronger and livelier his visions become. One night he encounters an AK-47 wielding Vietcong woman Lan (Floriane Fizaine) emerging from the sewers, but shrugs it off as a hallucination. Except that it isn’t. Armed with a flamethrower Hopkins engages his (real or imagined) enemy – until the Army find him passed out in the street, boozed and drugged out of his mind. 1 January, 1979 - Magnum recruits a sobered up Hopkins into the Army reuniting him in California with his Green Beret buddies from the old Lizard Smokers platoon. Not only did he get a fancy-looking suit and plum desk job with the US Air Force – the military installed him with a rather nifty Powerglove too.

And let it be known: Benjamin knows exactly which buttons to push and which genre sensibilities to cater to. His heroes are very much modeled upon Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Van Damme’s most enduring characters – yet besides all that rugged, roided up masculinity he, very much in Hong Kong tradition, consistently casts strong and beautiful women, Caucasian and otherwise, in key roles and parts of narrative importance. In Commando Ninja (2018) we had Cécile Fargues, Charlotte Poncin, and young Anaëlle Rincent. Hopkins has Floriane Fizaine. True to form Hopkins is not Fizaine’s story and Philippe Allier very much owns the character he so brilliantly portrayed two years before. Helped in no small part by the fact that Allier looks like a young Michael Biehn he’s Chuck Norris and Jean-Paul Belmondo rolled into one. His Hopkins is smug, casually racist, but that macho bravado belies a deep insecurity and hurt. It makes you wish people like Jean-Pierre Marielle, Serge Sauvion, and/or Howard Vernon were still around to play the elder patriarch of some crime dynasty. Hopkins’ aim is not big explosions, witty quips, and/or funny one-liners. Combes exhibits his versatility by showing that a character study comes just as natural to him as an action flick. In a just world Hopkins would be expanded into a 90-minute feature.

Who wouldn’t want to see Combes do a Naked Vengeance (1985) or Silk (1986) derivate – or better yet, a good-natured Andy Sidaris styled spy-action romp like Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987) or Picasso Trigger (1988) with Charlotte Poncin, and Cécile Fargues in candy-colored bikinis fighting Floriane Fizaine with oversized guns in some sunny tropical locale? Bring back the aerobic and new wave. Stock up on spandex and lycra, neon-colored leggings, stirrup-pants, pastel-colored leotards and bodysuits, legwarmers and headbands. Have the assembled bronzed, oiled (and preferably exposed) hardbodies of Emilie Bedart, Océane Husson, and Stella Reig at the ready. Hell, hire GreenCatFromHell and Céline Ebeyne while you’re at it. Let Anthony Centurini and pint-sized powerhouse Cecily Faye do the choreography. Crank up that electric guitar. Fire up the sax. The world needs a hero. Ideally in the shape of a woman. Things are goddamn grim. Keep the blood flowing, the bullets flying, and the boobs bouncing. Enough with the commandos. We need more estrogen. Call in the LETHAL Ladies.

If Mainland China can churn out a multi-episode parallel all-girl franchise to Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables franchise on a fraction of the budget, so can you. Kinda like Mercenaries (2014) reimagined with an 80s sensibility. Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman (2012) (with Fernanda Urrejola) sort of got it. Get the old band back together and lens that StarCrash (1978) or Galaxina (1980) space romp that The Last Human in the Milky Way (2015) only hinted at. Better still, how about an epic adventure in the Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Barbarian Queen (1985) tradition? If Arrowstorm Entertainment can produce the Mythica (2014-2016) pentalogy there’s obviously a market and audience for that sort of thing. Certainly Nicola Posener, Melanie Stone and/or Danielle C. Ryan wouldn’t mind a holiday dans la belle France.

In short, there’s plenty of creative avenues to go from here and a multitude of projects to conceptualize and explore. If this is going to be Benjamin Combes’ modus operandi to follow up each full length feature with a short movie the future is looking bright and, no doubt, lit in eye-searing neon. We haven’t seen the last of monsieur Combes yet. Judging by his social media profiles the vaults of his boundless imagination are bursting at the seams just like his women are always on the verge of busting out. If you couldn’t get enough from Commando Ninja (2018) and are hungering for more, Hopkins is your ticket. It might be tonally different but is otherwise largely the same. Floriane Fizaine is a breath of fresh air and hopefully we’ll see more of her in the future. Imagine if Combes unleashes her as an enemy on John Hunter much in the same way as Veronica Ngo in Furie (2019). As a matter of fact we wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if Hopkins ends up partially (or entirely) reconstituted as a character – and worldbuilding flashback in Commando Ninja II: Invasion America. As Sensei Yinn proclaimed, “there can be only one… Commando Ninja!” hopefully this is only the beginning of a very prosperous and enduring indie franchise. If that doesn’t catapult Benjamin Combes into a Hollywood or Hong Kong career, then what will?