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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?

Plot: novelist vows to end government and corporate corruption.

Staggeringly incompetent on just about every level, impenetrable for the uninitiated, jarringly disjointed for the bad cinema aficionado, and incomprehensible for everybody else Fateful Findings is Neil Breen’s undiluted masterpiece. Breen flabbergasted the world with Double Down (2005) and I Am Here…. Now (2009) – and probably not in the way he intended or imagined. Not since Black Magic Rites (1973) and Ogroff (1983) was something so divorced from reality, so fantastically misguided, so life-affirmingly riveting in its complete and utter direness. If Double Down (2005) offered a mere glimpse into the fractured psyche of a man with a tenuous grip on sanity; then Fateful Findings is where old Neil went gloriously off the deep end. In other words, this is anything and everything you’d want out of a Breen production. Christian fringe cinema has appointed its own Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: David A.R. White, Geovanni Molina, Kirk Cameron, and Neil Breen. Fateful Findings is a transcendental, transformative work loaded to the gill with just about every dell of insanity and one that Breen has had trouble living up to ever since.

His modest body of work might not seem very daunting but the sheer concentration of awful within such a small repertoire has led to a veritable cult worship of his work. Like all true gems enshrined in the pantheon of bad moviedom the power lies not so much in the number of productions that Neil Breen has amassed, but that each and every feature of his defies conventional criticism by their inherent weirdness. As such, Fateful Findings is the third of his religious-patriotic-jingoistic supernatural thrillers and his most ambitious (or unhinged) by a wide margin. Like I Am Here…. Now (2009) before it this one too is imbued with New Age mysticism which might, or might not, be Native American in nature. Like a modern day David L. Hewitt Las Vegas’ most famous former realtor and architect turned Christian geek green-Marxist is dangerously enthusiast and wholly unencumbered by his lack of talent in every department. Breen is a man with a plan, which should strike fear into the hearts of anyone. As always, nothing is ever that simple and as with everything there’s always more than meets the eye.

One day eight-year-olds Dylan (Jack Batoni) and Leah (Brianna Borden) discover a mushroom next to the base of a tree in an open field. The mushroom turns into a jewelry box containing a black token and a few beads. Dylan takes the token and Leah rearranges the beads into a bracelet. The box is buried and changes back into a mushroom. “It’s a magical day!”, they exclaim and as fate would have it the two are separated as Leah moves to another state. Several decades pass and Dylan (Neil Breen) is now an author in talks with his publisher about commencing preparations for his eagerly awaited second novel. He holds an MA in computer science and living with him is his painkiller addicted girlfriend Emily (Klara Landrat). Coming home Dylan is hit by an unmarked Rolls-Royce, and rushed to the hospital where he’s placed under the care of Dr. Rosen (David Scott). Both Emily and his friend Jim (David Silva) visit him in the hospital. Periodically he’s checked up upon by the svelte head of neurology. There Dylan, holding on to his black token, miraculously heals at a record pace. For no discernible reason he unplugs his IVs and waggles home against medical advice.

The situation in the household of his next-door neighbour Jim doesn’t seem much better. Things have been steadily getting worse with his girlfriend Amy (Victoria Viveiros, as Victoria Valene). She works an emotionally - and financially unrewarding job at the bank and they are amidst something of a dry spell. To take his mind off things Jim is seemingly permanently drunk whenever he’s not feverishly working on restoring his prized 1985 Ferrari Testarossa. Caught like a deer in the headlights in that maelstrom of chaos and turmoil is their underage stepdaughter Aly (Danielle Andrade). Meanwhile, Dylan develops supernatural powers such as telekinesis and teleportation at the cost of headaches, narcoleptic seizures, and haunting dreams of a mysterious book. Instead of working on a new novel he decides to dedicate his time to hacking into heavily-protected domestic and international government – and corporate databases to expose the corruption, greed, and fraud that has been allowed to run rampant. Because he’s so preoccupied with his exposé Emily suspects him of having an affair. To help Jim and Amy get out of their impasse Emily throws a dinner party house where nubile Aly decides to throw herself at Dylan near his pool and then again at the tub, but he wards off her advances. At the follow-up barbecue at his house Dylan discovers that his neurologist is none other than his childhood sweetheart Leah (Jennifer Autry). Instead of providing for him and his girlfriend Dylan indulges his hacking hobby and continues to see Leah on the side. This in turn pushes Emily, already struggling with a prescription drugs addiction and junkie lifestyle, further into depression.

To help him cope with the pressure of writing a new novel Dylan sees psychotherapist David S. Lee (John Henry Hoffman) who continues to prescribe him medication. He goes to see Dr. Andra (Gloria Hoffman) to get a second opinion and finds himself enthralled by her flowery, fortune-cookie spiritualist platitudes. Around this time Emily succumbs to her dependency and ODs whereas Amy, tired of their constant bickering and spurning of unwanted sexual advances, kills Jim in cold blood and stages it as a suicide. Aly is witness to the scene and, understandably, confides in Dylan. With Emily no longer a concern Dylan is free to romantically pursue Leah. As Dylan amasses evidence to make his case the powers-that-be facilitate the kidnapping of Leah by a shady figure (Mark Bettencort), but it’s nothing the near god-like Dylan can’t handle. In a televised Washington D.C. press conference Dylan bravely names the opposition and their numerous crimes against mankind’s best interests. During the press conference a last-minute, quickly thrown together assassination is attempted but it’s summarily thwarted by Dylan’s supernatural powers and senses. One by one politicians, Wall Street bankers, insurers, and judiciary confess to their assorted crimes and commit suicide in public. Happily reunited with the love of his life the two walk off hand in hand into the sunset. Corruption has been ended, the guilty have been punished, and Dylan has been reunited with his lost Lenore. Everything is right with the world again…

As expected all the Breen-isms are here: First, there’s the crude, non-specific socio-political commentary aimed squarely at rampant government corruption and greed in the corporate business world, none of which is ever meaningfully explored. There’s the obligatory second act melodramatic exclamation (“I can’t believe you committed suicide!” and “no more books!” here). All of that is neatly spiced up by a thick layer of vague conspiratorial nonsense, and a complete lack of action of any kind. Just like in Double Down (2005) there’s Breen playing an every-man (with a pronounced interest in computer science) turned into a superpowered messianic Christ-like savior by some undefined divine providence to fight the many evils in the world; as well as his penchant for casting well-endowed, permanently braless blonde - and brunette women half his age.

In Fateful Findings we have Klara Landrat, Jennifer Autry, Victoria Viveiros, and Danielle Andrade who all look like they should, or will be, in Rene Perez movies. Or at least in something from either The Asylum or TomCat Films. Old Neil likes busty blonde Valley girls as much as the late Russ Meyer, Andy Sidaris, Cirio H. Santiago, and Jim Wynorski. It wouldn’t be a Neil Breen spectacular if there wasn’t any commentary on a big relevant social issue. In Double Down (2005) Neil expressed his obvious concern over how American society views and treats the mentally ill and the way America handles the psychological well-being of its citizenry. I Am Here.… Now (2009) was about poverty, prostitution, and the mounting energy crisis. It pushed a commendable environmentalist agenda of sustainable, renewable energy. Fateful Findings abandons that thread and concerns itself with pharma culture, substance abuse/dependency, and suicide instead. As far as “controversial” subject matter and “thought-provoking” no-budget filmmaking goes, Breen is the absolute master.

Believe it or not, Fateful Findings is actually a marked improvement over his prior two outings and his opus magnum. John Mastrogiacomo was involved merely as a camera man yet without a director of photography Breen somehow managed to line up a few idyllic shots of the Las Vegas cityscape and the Nevada desert. Old Neil never hid his appreciation and love for the shapes and curves of the female form. A form he isn’t afraid of showing (Breen apparently has a kink for sideboob and bare feet), but he always does so in a perfectly audience-friendly PG-13 manner. He’s exploitative enough to have them braless, with their busts nearly spilling out of their blouses, and/or have liquid spilled on translucent fabric. Yet the money shot remains curiously absent. Instead when his women appear topless or nude they do so with their backs modestly to the camera. This would be understandable had any of these women been name-actresses, but that’s far from the case. To compensate for the apparent lack of bare breasts (Breen needs to take lessons from Jim Wynorski and Rene Perez) there are the obligatory auteur butt shots, but even they would eventually (and thankfully) dissipate. The special effects work is cruddy, the editing is shoddy, the audio wobbly - but the pacing has improved. As far as casting goes Breen never quite assembled an host of nobodies like this again.

Fateful Findings has enough intersecting storylines to fill three movies. We’d be interested in seeing the Closer (2004) inspired romantic drama with Klara Landrat and Victoria Viveiros and their respective significant others, or the proxy Swimming Pool (2003) with Danielle Andrade as the Ludivine Sagnier character and Breen standing in for Charlotte Rampling. Andrade is no Sagnier, and unlike her French counterpart in the François Ozon film, she won’t be flaunting her breasts either. Then there’s the espionage thriller with a novelist being hounded by government spooks after happening upon a worldwide political conspiracy of corruption and fraud. The latter of which is really what Breen likes to focus on. For the most part however Fateful Findings is content to follow the general contours of Jon Turteltaub’s Phenomenon (1996) (with John Travolta).

Compared to the sheer lunacy and opaque mysticism of Double Down (2005) and proselytizing of I Am Here…. Now (2009), Fateful Findings is relatively grounded in its surrealism. Which doesn’t mean it’s any less batshit insane. It doesn’t make a lick of sense at the best of times and will be nigh on inaccessible to anybody but the staunchest and most resilient of bad movie fans. As a director/writer and auteur Neil Breen remains truly unparallelled. He truly is appaled by political – and government malfeasance, fascinated with mysticism and the paranormal; whether they come in the form of enchanted rocks or top-heavy, clothing-averse women. Breen feverishly weaves action, drama, social commentary, and the paranormal like no other. He does so in such a disjointed fashion that hitherto hasn’t been seen before – or ever again. Neil truly is boldly going where no one has gone before, and seems to have lost both his marbles and his much of his composure along the way. That, or he’s having one hell of a midlife crisis. At this point it could be either…