Saturday, December 31, 2011

I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998) - 1.5/5

Here at Blood Brothers we pride ourselves at being 'unapologetically cult' and keeping that in mind I'm going to say this to you, oh faithful readers..."I Still Know What You Did Last Summer" is more enjoyable than the first one. I know, crazy, right? The first one pretty obviously sucked as a watered down modern slasher with no kills and less thrills, but this sequel has three things going for it that make it more enjoyable (not better, but more enjoyable): its got a better setting, Jeffrey Combs, and an actual body count that's worthy of a slasher film. Generally speaking, "Still" lacks characters, acting, direction, logic, and an urgency to push the limits of creativity...but hey, its got a few things going for it.

Julie (Hewitt) and boyfriend Ray (Prinze Jr.) have been having a few relationship troubles lately. Julie keeps having dreams about the fisherman killer Ben Willis and a new friend Will (Watson) seems to want to be as close to her as possible. When her roommate and best friend Karla (Brandy) wins free tickets to the Bahamas for a brief vacation, Julie and company seem set on a killer weekend. With emphasis on killer. It seems like Ben Willis with hook in tow has shown up on the island and the wild storm that's bursting outside is going to keep them there...can Julie survive the ordeal again?

While the first "I Know What You Did Last Summer" film lacked in all areas as a slasher and horror film, "Still" does rack up a few points in knowing what it is and going with it. It's a slasher film folks, so give us some slashering! It does. The body count is way higher, the kills are far more brutal (although still tame enough to garner the larger mainstream audience it was gunning for), and the setting of an empty island hotel is solid enough to match the killer hook fisherman villain idea. For this, I enjoy "Still" much better than the original one.

Past that though, "Still" is about as generic as it gets. Our actresses and actors still wrack the nerves (a surprise heartwarming appearance by Jeffrey Combs is almost negated by an uncredited and awful performance by Jack Black), the characters are about as flat and unmotivated as ever, and the plot progression could have been mapped out by any self respecting horror fan in the first ten minutes. Lots of pseudo-scares plague the first act with silliness and by the time we get to the cool setting they have to kill off everyone at lightning speed (with some very unoriginal kills might I add) so the moments of terror are lost in the pacing. It barrels down into more watered down modern slasher drivel...making the better elements seem trivial in the end.

No "Still" doesn't warrant a better score than the original, but by being worse its almost better. At least I had a few good laughs at this one rather than scratching my head in disbelief at the original. It rarely makes sense, the acting does nothing to right the script flaws, and its by the numbers plot fails to ignite the slasher imagination. It does have Jeffrey Combs in it and a better body count. That stands for something in the slasher world, right?

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Mardi Gras Massacre (1978) - 1/5

I'm very forgiving towards ultra low budget drive-in type horror films of the 70s and 80s for the simple fact it was actually hard to make movies back in the day with limited funds and resources (unlike today where any talentless ass wipe can buy a cheap digital video camera, edit their own filth on their personal laptop and somehow convince Lionsgate to release it on DVD). However, even with a promising title like "Mardi Gras Massacre", this film comes off completely incompetent with no entrainment value what-so-ever, even on an unintentional level.

The simple plot has an rich, high class asshole who goes around flashing cash and asking bartenders and pimps where he can find the most "evil" women. He then proceeds to take these hookers to his secrete chamber where he brutally sacrifices them to his Aztec God while wearing a gold mask. He disposes their bodies on railroad tracks (why I don't know as this seems like a terrible place to "hide" a body) and two bumbling cops somehow can't crack the case despite oodles of evidence pointing them in the right direction.

Die-hard horror fanatics will notice the similarities between this and the plot to Herschell Gordon Lewis's splatter classic "Blood Feast" where a psychopath also sacrifices women to an ancient God. Unlike that film, "Mardi Gras Massacre" lacks any of the campy charm that made "Blood Feast" such a hoot.

Lewis also knew he didn't have enough plot to pad it to a full hour and a half and made it last comfortable hour. Not director Jack Weis as he loads up "Mardi Gras Massacre" with so much filler that I nearly fell asleep on numerous occasions. Each killing is shown in its entirety and by the third time it grows very weary and boring. We also get plenty of filler with him stocking up on footage of disco dancing and cops beating the streets asking pedestrians questions. Mix all that with a low speed chase with a station wagon, shoddy editing, non-acting and boring point-and-shoot directing and your guaranteed a film to cure your insomnia.

There's tons of female flesh present for people that judge a films quality on that aspect alone but "Mardi Gras Massacre" is just a BAD movie, and NOT so BAD it's GOOD. There isn't one aspect of this film that I can recommend, it just plain and simple sucks. I knew I was in trouble when the title card on the film literally had the title painted on a piece of plastic held up in front of the camera complete with shadows of people moving behind it. A sure sign of quality!

What kills me more is that Code Red DVD, one my favorite companies, put so much effort into releasing this hunk of crap. They did a tremendous job transferring the film from its last remaining 1" tape master source (all prints and negatives have been lost). Well I believe all films, including awful one's like "Mardi Gras Massacre", deserve to be preserved in the digital format even for historical context and for that I thank Code Red. I do appreciate them also including a beautiful horror host on the DVD release that bookends the movie which eases the pain of the film experience.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Amityville: Dollhouse (1996) - 1.5/5

Even as a kid seeing "Amityville: Dollhouse" on the rental shelves I knew it was a desperate attempt at continuing the overlong, dying haunted house franchise. I mean really, a fucking dollhouse? After all these years and finally seeing this eighth and final Amityville film into the original franchise run, my original inclination was correct... it sucks.

Like Amityville 4,6 and 7, the plot here is concerned with yet ANOTHER cursed item from the Amityville house. Seriously there are more entries in the series about cursed objects as there are plots that actually take place in the notorious haunted house itself! Like the original film, the story follows a blended family as they move into their newly built dream home. All goes well until they discover a dusty dollhouse in a dilapidated shed. The dollhouse is of course a scaled down model the world's most famous ghost house and it predictably it causes all sorts of ghostly shenanigans.

Out of all the Amityville films this is by far the most hokey and convoluted. Seriously there is so much shit going on here one will have trouble following what the hell is happening. Our father has clairvoyant bad dreams, our mother has sexual thoughts of her step son, our aunt and uncle are occultists who are desperately attempting to save the family and to top it off our youngest son is seeing images of his dead father as a corpse. Mix that with giant rats under the bed, dead wasps crawling into ears and fireplaces that are doorways to alternate dimensions with demons and you have diarrhea that is as explosive as "House II: The Second Story."

All of our actors are equivalent to Lifetime Movie of the week material and all of the characters are downright dislikeable. The father and mother are wishy-washy, the eldest son is the stereotypical asshole jock and the youngest son is the stereotypical brainy ass wipe. I seriously wouldn't have shed a tear if the dollhouse would have buried them all 6 feet deep.

The plot is also full of plot holes big enough to drive a moving truck through. How did the this cursed Amityville dollhouse end up in this shed? The film explains that the father built this new house on the old foundation of a house that burned down. Does this mean he built it on the ruins of the old Amityville house? This still makes no sense as the setting is obviously the southern California desert and NOT East Coast New York. Absolutely nothing is explained and no mention of the previous murders or haunting at Amityville are mentioned.

Director Steve White obviously had a hard-on for the cursed Amityville object plot device as he also served as producer on Amityville 4, 6 and 7. The result of "Amityville 8" proves he should stay out of the director's chair as he seems to have no handle on the bumbled plot and gives the film a forgettable, flat look about it.

"Amityville: Dollhouse" lives up to its ridiculous title as it is a silly, hokey and downright lame horror film and easily the worst of the franchise next to "The Amityville Curse". The directing is flat and the story has far too many subplots for its own good. The simple idea of a haunted dollhouse is laughable and proves the series had nowhere to go and rightfully marked the end of the original franchise run as the original "Amityville Horror" would be remade in 2005.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Maximum Risk (1996) - 2.5/5

Just the combination of Jean-Claude Van Damme, Natasha Henstridge, and director Ringo Lam should perk any self proclaimed action fan's ears. Throw on top of those elements a story about lost twins and the Russian mafia and this should be B-action movie heaven...too bad it takes itself far too seriously to be the cheesy riot it should have been. Of course it does have some redeeming moments in its play time, but overall it is a rather disappointing action films that sports a talented director playing it very safe.

Alain Moreau (Van Damme) is surprised to find a dead body in Nice, France that looks exactly like him. As it would turn out, its his long lost twin brother who seems to have some serious connections to the Russian mob in America. Determined to find out why his brother was killed and what he was doing in his town, Alain heads to the US only to find an upheaval in the mafia ranks that leave him and his brother's girlfriend (Henstridge) in immense danger...

The let down I felt with "Maximum Risk" is pretty immense. The talent of director Ringo Lam (he even made "Twin Dragons" an entertaining and silly flick despite its horrid script) is put on ice as he seemingly goes through the motions with the film - very much crafting a film for American mainstream audiences. This only adds to the rather mundane quality of how serious the film plays out its ridiculous plot. The bleak look of the film mixed with some rather hit or miss performances (when Van Damme gives one of the stronger performances for the flick you know you are not in good territory - at least not in 1996) doesn't lift the film from its mediocrity either.

Luckily, "Maximum Risk" doesn't lose all of its charm in the watered down style of the film. A reoccurring battle between Van Damme and a massive Russian blond villain is always a blast to watch (with a rather awkwardly awesome fight in a sauna with both only in towels about three-quarters into the film) and many of the action sequences are brutal enough to add to the lacking emotional relevance. How many hands and arms does Van Damme break? Who cares! It's awesome every time! The more the merrier!

In the end my expectations for "Maximum Risk" lead to some hefty disappointment. Ringo Lam seems on cruise control, Van Damme ably kicks some ass but plays it a bit too seriously in his subtlety, and the lacking embrace of the ridiculous plot twists only drag the film down (sans the very outrageous finale in France). Although it has its moments, this is far from being either Lam or Van Damme's best film.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Straw Dogs (2011) - 2.5/5

Here's the deal with "Straw Dogs". It's been decades since I've seen the original one, so I'm going to keep my detail comparisons short and let's be honest...my hopes were rather high up for this one. Unfortunately, the story just didn't translate to a modern setting as well and thusly lost some of the impact it had. Not unlike films like "Let Me In", this just happens to feel like a completely unnecessary remake - and one where the added elements (or lacking elements) didn't really give us the needed jolt to kick it. Leaving us a film that desperately tries to balance being a mainstream thriller and the gray area extremities that made the original one so memorable.

David (Marsden) and Amy (Bosworth) are heading back to her home country of Mississippi so that he can continue writing his newest screenplay. She isn't very happy about the idea considering her ex-boyfriend Charlie (Skarsgard) is going to be rebuilding the roof on the barn and it had taken her a very long time to get out. When tensions rise between the couple and the locals (along with one another) though, its David and Amy who might be the first to crack under the pressure from the local 'straw dogs'...with violent consequences.

The biggest flaw with this modernization of "Straw Dogs" is just how flat it can fall. Despite the blatant use of symbolism in the film (he's writing a screenplay about the siege of Stalingrad, the hunting exercise/rape sequence), some of it seemingly just falls under the spell of being...dare I say it...mundane. For a film that graphically displays the transformation of civilized people into bestial survival, its hard to say it went far enough. It felt like it was trying too hard not to offend people, when that's the extremes they should have gone to...its a modern day so you have to go pretty far to offend folk. So "Straw Dogs" simply doesn't make the cut at the biggest key element to sell the film.

As for execution beyond its plot progressions, I felt like "Straw Dogs" did its job well enough. The casting (which some critics panned it for) didn't really effect me all that much with Marsden earning the froofy man quality nicely and Skarsgard hulks his way across the film with subtle effectiveness. Even the hit or miss Bosworth earned some merit in a few scenes. My biggest issue is that director Lurie just doesn't push it far enough. Marsden doesn't give us the despicable anti-hero at the end we needed (in fact, we sort of root for the extreme violence instead of be shocked by it) and its attempts at being too artsy hindered some of the story telling aspects.

"Straw Dogs" is a fine film, but even as a thriller/home siege film it tends to try to play it too artsy. As for an art film that displays the transformation of man into a surviving mechanism...it plays it too safe. This remake just tries to ride the line too finely and it ends up making both of its sides mediocre. Mostly a film for the curious in the end.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Born To Fight (2004) - 1.5/5

After crafting some very cool stunts in the internationally successful "Ong Bak", stunt coordinator Panna Rittikrai helmed a couple of films in 2004 - one of them being "Born To Fight". Although the sheer amount of stunt work in the film will certainly impress action fans, its hard to say that quantity overcomes quality in this silly action film. Nothing else in the film seems to be well crafted and even the stunt work seems illogically set up for the sake of the stunt and it leaves "Born To Fight" registering nil in the intelligence area.

Deaw (Chupong) just lost his mentor and friend as the two undercover cops busted a massive drug and black market trafficking kingpin. To sooth his sorrows he joins his Tae Kwon Do champion sister on a trip to donate materials and gear to a local village. A local village that just so happens to be the target of a militant group who needs hostages to get their boss out of prison. Deaw and a hodge podge group of skilled athletes must now fight off their captors before they decide to nuke Bangkok (?).

Rittikrai must have a hard on for Cannon Films because "Born To Fight" feels like one of their sub-classic 80s action films. The logic for the plot is missing along with any sort of acting or good writing, but the action is essentially non-stop and high octane. Although most of the stunts are obviously staged and flow through these action sequences is choppy at best, the sheer amount of stunts (with more than enough people flying and bouncing off of vehicles/shacks) is rather impressive. Did I want to see a nonsensical martial arts fight with flaming logs? Not initially, but the idea is pretty legit!

Past the insane amount of writhing bodies and medical costs that this film racks up, "Born To Fight" is about as bad as you can get. Our lead hero is as flat as the boards he uses to beat down baddies with (and about as charming too) and the lacking character work really makes the forced emotional moments, like the crying child over her father's execution in the village, too awkward to work. Not only that, but the progression of the plot is as illogical as its ridiculous stunt work. Why does the nuclear missile miss Bangkok? Why do we have a one legged soccer player doing stunts with his crutch? "Born To Fight" leaves the audience scratching their head in confusion more often than not which only adds to the frustration of its poor storytelling.

Rittikrai shows some knack for cool sequences (even using a fairly cool and long uncut stunt-athon camera shot in the finale - a move he would perfect in choreography with "The Protector"), but the script and piss poor acting of the film undermines anything good that goes for it. The style is used sparingly and the substance is non existent. There are much better Thai action films out there to enjoy. Check out his slightly better work on "Ong Back 2" and "3" instead.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Unjust, The - 3.5/5

There are two reasons that "The Unjust" made my viewing queue. First reason: its a South Korean thriller and its a well known fact that South Korea has been putting out only the best in thrillers at this time. Second reason: its from the director of the stylish and brutal "The City Of Violence". Granted "The Unjust" is a solid thriller, but it is very slow paced one that focuses on subtlety of detail and the gray morality of its characters. One that more often than not succeeds in getting the point across, but can pull teeth in doing so.

Choi Cheol-gi (Jeong-min Hwang) is a police detective who has been desperately trying to work his way to a promotion, but finding his connections in the force hindered by politics. When the government comes down on the force for its lacking results concerning a child serial killer, he is given the chance to find the killer or it all comes down. Now Choi must head off with a well connected prosecutor Joo-yang (Seung-beom Ryu) about this case. And a few pieces of dirt in their past may come up in the process...

Perhaps its because I know very little about the Korean justice system or how it works (seems pretty similar to the US in all honesty), but it was hard for me to delve into "The Unjust". The story can be insanely complicated with a slew of secondary characters and enough plot twists to meld your mind into a knot. On top of that, it requires a very distinct memory for detail to watch how it all comes together. This detail orientation and "anti-hero" characters are enough to turn off much of the main going thriller audience.

That being said now, its also these elements that make "The Unjust" as powerful as it is. If you are willing to look past the blurry lines of good and evil and you are able to keep the details straight then the finale for the film is a one-two punch to the gut. It makes all the difference that you pay as close attention as possible for it to work and when it does - "The Unjust" can be a beast of a film with some very intriguing aspects to it.

"The Unjust" is not for everyone. It's very slow, very detailed, and very character driven. Although director Seung-wan Ryoo's style is still present with some clever shots and energetic moments, this film is very different from "The City Of Violence". The film is very impactful, but only for those willing to put the effort into its complex storytelling.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Incredible Hulk, The (2008)

Director: Louis Leterrier
Notable Cast: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt

Ironically, "The Incredible Hulk" is the weakest film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although still a rather fun romp of larger than life action set pieces and ridiculous visual effects, this reboot of the Hulk character to fit into the story leading up to 2012's "Avengers" feels unfinished more often than not and misses out on some of the needed flow to make it work.

Dr. Bruce Banner (Norton) had an accident when working some gamma radiation for a military contract. A super blast of gamma rays now turns him into an instinctual creature where anger makes physically changes his body into a green monster of super strength and speed. On the run and trying to figure out a cure for his "curse", Banner must confront the military chasing him and return to his lost love (Tyler) to find it.

There are a lot of elements to "The Incredible Hulk" that do work. The special effects are top notch, the casting is more than impressive with particular nods to Norton as our hero and Roth as Abomination - I can do without Liv Tyler in any movie, and Leterrier does some amiable things to keep the film visually arresting. The finale (with a massive Hulk vs. Abomination throw down in the streets and rooftops of New York) is particularly thrilling with its massive destruction and stylish camera play. In a sense, the action and effects of "Incredible Hulk" are easily the highlight of the film.

I also admire the attempts at really building a solid character back story and human experience for Banner and company. 'Attempts' is the key word of that last sentence. Despite some heart felt strategies of love, family, and anger management to give depth to our cast so much of their chemistry is forced and falls flat. Norton and Tyler are rather awkward together and Roth's limited screen time is rushed as it pushes his villainous ways into speedy hyper mode to get it done for the finale. Leterrier knows how to keep it visually stimulating and work style into the action, but seemingly seems inept at making the emotional relevance hit home.

Generally speaking, "The Incredible Hulk" puts so much stress on a rather weakly executed character development that the film just struggles to put its story to bed. It's blatantly obvious that it was meant to be the first of its own franchise (with suggestions that a sequel will unfold after "The Avengers" hits) and the film leaves far too many questions unanswered in the forefront. Of course the film does succeed at being fun and stylish, but its lacking heartstrings and "partial story" plot progression hurt it far more than action and big monsters fighting could heal.

On the plus side: it's plenty better than "Hulk", but that's not saying much.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mummy Returns, The (2001)

When a blockbuster action/adventure film on the scale of The Mummy succeeds, the eventual sequel needs to top it. In many ways, The Mummy Returns does this. The action is more epic. The plot is more epic. The characters more epic. Yet, the one element it doesn't top the original one with is the most important one. Quality. Although its a fun film, The Mummy Returns simply forces it all to work together and the chemistry that made the original one work so well is abruptly missing.

The O'Connell's Rick (Fraser) and Evey (Weisz) with new young son Alex (Boath) are on their latest adventure searching for the Bracelet Of Anubis that holds the key to discovering a lost oasis and a hidden myth of The Scorpion King (The Rock). Unknown to them, a group of villainous characters including a resurrected Anck-su-namun are bound to bring back Imhotep (Vosloo) to take the bracelet and kill The Scorpion King gaining control of the Army Of Anubis. Now its a race to a lost oasis to see who will take control of the army and save the world.

Call it epic, because that's what the plot to The Mummy Returns is. So epic in fact that director/writer Sommers and company decide to completely leave logic buried with its head in the sand. Why is Anck-su-namun reincarnated? Why is there suddenly all of this talk about past lives and Evey's now a ninja when it comes to fighting? Why is there a fucking blimp and a gold toothed lackey with no screen time? Half of the stuff just seems jammed into the film for the sake of making it look and feel epic. Rather haphazardly might I add.

Now to the film's benefit, it is a riot to watch. It's over the top and ridiculous to the point of insanity with some of its nonsensical plot turns, but fun nonetheless if you check your intelligence at the door. The movie plays up the special effects to its fullest throwing in a massive army of dog headed soldiers of the underworld, a double decker bus chase sequence with decaying mummies, a massive water way run for survival, and a finale where the Rock has his CGI face planted on a giant scorpion monster. Unfortunately, these special effects are give or take with some of them rocking (our bus chase highlights the film) and some of them sucking (The Rock Monster is atrocious) even if the action sequences are solid enough.

This is all scattered with forced chemistry from the cast. Fraser and Weisz have their moments, but damn this movie lacks the charm that made the first one work like it did. Our villain is rarely frightening (in the case of The Rock-trocity at the end - they are hilarious!) and the one horror aspect of the film is a silly killer mummy monkey slaughter. Yeah. Killer mummy monkey slaughter. With blow guns included. It's ridiculous. The heroes aren't as heroic and the villains not as evil. Not good for a movie about 'good vs evil'. It tends to detract from the B-movie fun instead of add to it.

The cast seems off, the humor is forced, and the epic story requires a bit of a lowered IQ to really enjoy. There is an enjoyment to its low brow adventure stereotypes, but its something where one has to turn off the thinking cap to really grab onto it. Kill me, but I enjoy The Mummy Returns just a smidge for its ridiculousness even if its nothing compared to the first entry.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings (2011) - 1/5

After a leap of ridiculousness (and awesomeness) that was "Wrong Turn 2", this franchise sank quickly. The third entry was pretty abysmal itself and the returning director for this fourth film (technically a prequel) certainly didn't have my hopes up. Turns out this franchise took a 'wrong turn' with this one leaving it stranded as the worst one yet with its cliche and uninspired story and low end execution.

A group of young college students in 2003 go to head to a cabin in the West Virginia woods for a winter break on their snow mobiles. When a massive storm derails their trip, they find themselves staying in an abandoned mental hospital that just so happens to be escape place of three inbred and very vicious cannibal men...

The snowy abandoned hospital setting is (pretty much) the only thing about "Wrong Turn 4" worth its weight in film. Yes, the idea is rather basic when boiled down to its bones - abandoned building with horny college students terrorized by sadistic killers - but I'll give "Wrong Turn 4" credit for using the snowy setting as we don't get to see that often enough.

Unfortunately, when snow is the most unique element of a film...it's looking as bleak as the winter weather. Beyond the setting, "Wrong Turn 4" lacks in every element. The characters are unmemorable, poorly acted, and cut-out thin, the directing is simply par and fails to utilize the potential of many elements, and the kills within the plot as by-the-numbers as possible. The plot simply is so basic that it invests no interest from the audience to the well being of characters.

Our now recognizable villains of the franchise are also poorly used. The distinct characteristics of each (which is so very stressed in the opening sequence where we see them as youth escaping from their imprisonment) are never revisited and their killing acts are borderline knee-slappingly funny in their oddity. Barb wire noose? I'll go with it I guess. Giant drill? Oh so much more could have been done with that. At this point, the franchise should be giving these inbred hillbillies more of a challenge with their prey and a bit more distinction to raise them to the level of classics like Freddy or Jason. "Wrong Turn 4" does not do that at all.

The point of "Wrong Turn 4" simply goes through the motions. Never deviates too far and never invests enough into the audience. It's a slasher by the numbers at its core and does nothing to give it anything memorable. Although I will continue to follow the franchise (...that's the franchise whore in me), its discouraging to see the dive-bomb in quality for this fourth entry. Oh well. Let bygones be inbred cannibals. Here's to a relapse of quality for "Wrong Turn 5"!

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, December 19, 2011

Dune (1984) - 2/5

"Epic Fail" is such an overused term today. Perhaps a more apt description of "Dune" is "epic catastrophe" as "Dune" is one of the most over-blown, unfocused adaptions of a celebrated novel of all times. Big budget, tremendous cast, talented director, epic story... how the hell did this go so terribly wrong? Let's just call it a conflict of interests on what the final outcome of the film should be.

The plot is tremendously complicated so here is a real quick, dumbed down synopsis. Basically everyone in a distant galaxy wants their hands on the planet "Dune" as a spice that's harvested below its desert terrain allows for space travel. So basically we have three feuding groups trying to control the planet and it's up to what I like to call "The One" to lead some rebels by riding giant sandworms to free the planet from its iron grip of dictators. Yea, it's complicated.

Visionary director David Lynch seemed like the perfect choice after getting numerous nominations for his emotional driving "Elephant Man" yet he seems helpless with adapting a book that he never read prior and that was labeled "unfilmable" by many. Due to the complex nature of the story, Lynch is powerless to give the film a cohesive flow with too many characters and side plots for a two hour and twenty minute film. As a result audience members were given a pamphlet when they entered the theatre defining terms and characters. That in itself is a dead giveaway that you failed on being able to tell a unyielding story.

Despite the convoluted plot, the special effects and production design and awe inspiring and makes me grow sad that the glory days of practical effects are gone for good. Seriously these giant sand worms are great! The set designs are complex and gorgeous, mixing old nautical with futuristic designs. These just make beautiful backdrops to the powerful rock score by award winning band Toto.

Sad to say amazing visuals don't make a workable film and "Dune" fails on the level of making a plot any fluidity (much of the dialogue is even rendered to characters talking in their minds which becomes insanely annoying). In the end we get everyone pissed off at each other. Lynch was mad at producers for forcing him to cram an epic novel into two hours and producers were pissed at Lynch whose original cut ran over three hours long. Fans of the novel were pissed at the at the truncated story and everyday audience members were pissed that they had to read a pamphlet to get what the hell was going on.

In the end it was a no win situation as there was no way in hell all four parties were going to be happy with any outcome of the film. Today "Dune" is more of a curiosity piece at how a celebrated novel can go array in the world of Hollywood. The film is visually stunning but at its core "Dune" is hallow with confusion and unintentional laughs winning out (seriously, who thought the scene with Sting in a small winged bikini was a good idea?). Fans of the novel are actually better off checking out extended TV version or the 2000 TV miniseries which has no time restraints on making the plot actually tangible.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Cyclone (1978) - 2.5/5

To be completely honest I solely bought this movie for the stunning DVD artwork alone. This amazing piece of art is by the talented Wes Benscotter (an artist known for Heavy Metal album covers) brought back good memories of VHS covers of the past and I couldn't pass it up. Though I wasn't expecting much from the movie itself as it is written and directed by Rene Cardona Jr., son of the exploitation director that gave us the synthetic survival flick "Survive!", it still managed to be marginally better then what I was expecting from a low budget Mexican disaster film.

A sudden hurricane, though it's called a cyclone, hit's the coast of Mexico downing a plane, sinking a fishing barge and blowing a tourist boat deep out into the ocean. The survivors of all three patently wait to be rescued and with water and food running out, they have to resort to killing dogs and eating the dead to survive.

As you can tell this is a carbon copy of "Survive!", a film also co-written by Rene Cardona Jr., only with the setting changed from the snow capped Andes to the ocean. Hell there is even a reference to the events of that film mentioned by one of the characters! Yet despite this film not having the luxury of being "based on a true story", I still came out liking it MUCH more perhaps for the fact it didn't have to linger between the lines of truth that fact based stories handcuff the filmmakers too.

The characters are all typical stereo types including the religious nut, the crotchety old bastard, the psychotic and even the pregnant woman. Seriously, we even had to throw in a pregnant woman about to give birth in to the plot, which is equivalent to the preverbal kitchen sink?! In the mix we get some great cult actors including Arthur Kennedy ("Rome Armed to the Teeth", "Let Sleeping Corpses Lie") and Olga Karlatos ("Zombie"). Oh yes we also get Hugo Stiglitz ("Nightmare City") too but I've made my opinion be known about this non-actor in other reviews.

Exploitation director René Cardona Jr. seems to actually have a handle on this film and is able to craft some interesting scenes of human conflict as well as atmosphere, especially during a shot of our sunken' airplane with the dead floating within it's cold, dark fuselage. His underwater photography is also impressive with great shots of swimming sharks. Typical with Cardona he has to inject plenty of exploitation elements to make it worthwhile, including the killing of a dog and rather graphic shark attacks.

The major problems with this film is the dire dialogue and long running time, which clocks in just shy of two hours. Since the film almost entirely takes place on a single boat, the two hour running time gets to feel like forever with this one setting. The despicable dialogue, some of which sounds like bland narration, can induce a few unintentional laughs also.

With better dialogue, a tighter pace with proper editing, "Cyclone" would have been a cult film fanatics dream. As is it's still worth a look for fans of 70's disaster films that don't mind a little gory exploitation to spice things up a bit. The film has been released in multiple versions and editions all over the world, under various lengths and titles (including "Terror Storm" among others), but by far the best edition is the Synapse release with the kick-ass cover artwork I talked about in the opening paragraph.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Friday, December 16, 2011

Detective Dee And The Mystery Of Phantom Flame (2011)

Director: Tsui Hark
Notable Cast: Andy Lau, Carina Lau, Li Bingbing, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Deng Chao

My expectations for "Detective Dee And The Mystery Of The Phantom Flame" were slightly, you know, sky high. Just look at the names attached to this martial arts detailed Chinese version of "Sherlock Holmes"! Directed by Tsui Hark. Starring Andy Lau. Choreographed by Sammo Hung. This film should easily be one of the best of the year. That is why it hurts me so to write this review. Let's just say that it's slightly disappointing. It's still quite a bit of fun and the potential for the character Dee and this franchise is very intriguing, yet the film comes off as too rushed and awkward for its own good.

With the upcoming coronation for the empress of China and the finishing touches of a 66 meter high stature of Buddha in the timeline, the sudden spontaneous combustion of a few officials as stirred a fright into everyone. A hidden assassins' plans and the decree of a spiritual guide prompts the Empress to release the very intense and well trained Detective Dee from prison to solve the case. Can Dee do the unthinkable and unweave the massive mystery to find out the assassin's intents before more people die in the phantom flame?

Andy Lau, perhaps China's best actor at this time?
The concept of "Mystery Of The Phantom Flame" is excellent. A martial arts laden version of a Sherlock Holmes tale? Fucking count me in! The martial arts stunts are well coordinated and exciting. The vision and spectacle is something to be admired too with its wicked fast pacing, larger than life plot of twisted betrayal, and the over the top characters. Detective Dee is the perfect protagonist to build a kick ass franchise around and even the side characters are great unique figures. With the charming and often quirky style of Tsui Hark at the helm, this is the best part of "Mystery Of The Phantom Flame".

Director Hark has always been a man of many visuals.
The big issue with this franchise kick off is just how quirky it gets. Yeah, the spectacle is larger than life with characters that are even bigger, but even then the movie loves to really throw in some loops and curve balls. Random puppet enemies, villains with magical abilities, acupuncture needles that can change the structure of your face, and to top it all off - magical fighting/talking deer. It's these fantastical elements (which arrive very often) bleed into all elements of the movie whether its the amount of arrows that flow from the sky, the leaping finale, or the magical weapon Dee wields that sort of hurt the true detective story in the film. It's as if Dee's logical use of brain power is secondary to the over the top antics and it just doesn't sit well.

Just because they look awkward doesn't mean they won't still kick your ass.
"Detective Dee" is still a fun film that really piles on the ridiculousness and in a way its still a great way to kick off this franchise. It's also too far out there for its own good half the time with much of Sammo Hung's choreography wasted on wires and Andy Lau's awesome character wasted in the latter half of the movie, but its fun. That counts for something right?

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Think this awesomely stylish version of Sherlock Holmes is right for you? Click the link below to purchase while contributing to Blood Brothers at the same time!!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Fright Night (2011) - 3.5/5

Although the original "Fright Night" is held in very high regard here at Blood Brothers (seriously, we grew up watching it hundreds of times I think), the remake seemed like it might not update so well. The blend of humor and horror was almost perfect and it fit in so well with the cult film style of the 80s. Yet here we are in 2011 with a review for the latest horror remake. Surprisingly, this film does the story justice in the modern setting and earns some merits with its vicious violence and solid atmosphere.

Charley (Telchin) is struggling to find his new groove as a popular kid in suburbia. He's got a pretty girlfriend (Poots) who he's dying to impress, his single mother is doing her best in real estate, and things are looking up. That is until an old friend Ed (Mintz-Plasse) disappears after confessing that he believes the new neighbor Jerry (Farrell) is a vampire. Charley must now face an evil next door with the help of a skeptical girlfriend and the drunken expertise of Peter Vincent (Tennant).

My fears for "Fright Night" is that it would end up being a film of ridiculous modern humor and lacking the charm of the 80s original. Both of these are apparent in this adaption, but not to near the extent that would undermine the entire experience. "Fright Night" is a simply enjoyable film. It benefits from its R rating with its vicious horror violence that does modernize it with the extensive gore moments and fast sequences and slabs on enough atmosphere with a bit of help from director Gillespie's knack for tension. In many ways, "Fright Night" works on its horror charm ridiculously well and its these extreme moments that sell the film.

Despite its well executed horror elements, its the comedic ones that tend to fall flat. There are a few smile moments, but not to the extent that the film was broadcast as. This is more or less due to the films focus on characters and plot progressions and not "comedic sequences". They occasionally pop up with some solid lines particularly from the very expertly modernized Vincent character and his brashness, but overall its the biggest letdown of the film.

As with any adaption (whether it be from game, comic book, TV show, or film) the casting is a big part of this film. Yelchin ably pulls off the awkward but charming lead, but its the supporting cast that earns this film my respect. Farrell simply OWNS as the vampire Jerry with his weird dialogue and quirky moments and Tennant gives the film its comedic weight as our vampire "expert" and alcoholic. Just these two characters could have carried the film with a weaker lead (poor Poots gets a rather lackluster love interest though). .

As a huge fan of the original "Fright Night", its a pleasure to see this modern telling actually even hold a candle to the original. It's horrifying and funny when it needs to be and its casting is solid if not more so than expected. It does lack a bit of charm at times and seems rushed to get all of the parts in at times, but its still a solid and fun time. A definite surprise for this reviewer.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, December 12, 2011

Survive! (1976) - 1.5/5

The media world was rocked in 1972 when the story leaked about the South American rugby team that crash-landed in the Andes and to resort to cannibalism of the dead in order to survive. The story inspired the film "Alive" 20 years later but few know today that a film version of their astonishing story was actually made 15 years before... by the Mexicans! What a minute... a Mexican film.... directed by an exploitation director ... starring Hugo Stiglitz... yea this is going to be real 'respectable' adaption.

The story is well known already with multiple books and a movie.. wait... two movie adaptions. A plane containing 45 passengers, mostly a rugby team and their families, crash-landed in the Andes on their way to a game in Chile. Due to various errors a rescue team was unable to find the crash site and the survivors were stuck in the mountains for 72 days resulting in them resorting to cannibalism to stay alive.

With disaster films ruling the cinemas in the 70s this tremendous chronicle of survival would be ripe picking for a film adaption... just who would of thunk the Mexicans would have beat the American's to the punch? Being familiar with a few works of cult director René Cardona I wasn't expecting much with this film adaption and surprise, I didn't like it!

A plot of this nature can't be made on the cheap and that is the main problem is that the production values are too damn low for the story potential. The effects of the plane crashing in the beginning is rather poor not to mention the mountains of fake snow.

The acting is as stiff and fake as the snow piled on the ground. Hugo Stiglitz, one of Mexico's most popular actors, is as unwatchable as ever. Seriously why the hell is this guy so popular down there? The American cut of the film even offers pain enduing dubbing that spouts off the plot elements like going down the list.

Director René Cardona is a popular exploitation director and it comes to no surprise that he focuses in on the cannibalism of the plot, exploiting the hell out of it. The cannibalism segments, though tame compared to films to come later in the decade, are graphic for the time but it just seems at odds with the rest of the plot which focuses on 'being based on a true story'.

"Survive!" is a cheap, shoddy adaption of a chilling real life disaster. If it were just a trashy bargain basement disaster film from South of the border then it would have been an exploitative good time but as is the exploitation elements clash with the filmmakers trying to tell a proper 'true story'. The film is slightly better in its uncut Mexican version which does away with the annoying narrator but beware, the uncut version on the VCI DVD release doesn't have English subtitles so unless you speak Spanish then you're shit out of luck.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Rush Hour 3 (2007) - 1.5/5

I was really torn about "Rush Hour 3". On one side, I love Jackie Chan. On the other side, I really hate Michael Bay Jr....err....Brett Ratner. As for Chris Tucker, meh. I'm on both sides. Thusly, I waited four years to finally watch the third entry into this overly long franchise to hopefully shake my doubts. It would turn out all of my doubts were legitimized. "Rush Hour 3" is the exact same formula as the first two with fewer laughs, forced chemistry, and generally lackluster action sequences. A real winner.

Detective Lee (Chan) has returned to Los Angeles to once again guard Ambassador Han as a summit concerning the world wide issue of the Triad leaders and their shifting membership. When an assassination attempt goes wrong, Lee must once again team up with Carter (Tucker) to track down the assailant all the way to France and stop a larger scheme of the Triads.

All right class. Today is a lesson on the formula of buddy cop movies and more specifically, the now completely worn out blueprint of the "Rush Hour" franchise. You start with two very different individuals who are thrust together by larger circumstances out of their control. In this case, once again, Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. For "Rush Hour 3" though, let's take out any chemistry between the two, write in dialog that seems forced and often far more racist than normal, and make the same jokes we've now seen twice before. Then you throw them into an action packed and often foreign setting for one or both of the main characters. In this case, they have to go to France where they can make all kinds of ridiculous jokes about stuffy characters and get to do some off the wall action/comedy sequences in odd places like French sewers, a card club, and as usual the Eiffel Tower. Just make sure its as by the numbers as possible so not to confuse the obviously silly audience.

As you can tell from the sarcasm - "Rush Hour 3" is needed as much as being shot in the leg. Yeah, its not going to kill you, but its going to hurt like hell going through it and you might not forget it very quickly. Everything that makes a great buddy cop movie is forced in this one with its silly script, poor character development, and lackluster chemistry. Even the action sequences seem to be very defined in their moment, rarely utilizing the amazing stunt work of Chan, the humor of Tucker, or sensibility to how they are placed. Very rarely did I laugh out loud or even smile as I struggled to comprehend just what Ratner or company were thinking when doing this film. Not good for an action comedy.

It has some moments here and there, but it never touches the fun or spark that even "Rush Hour 2" had. If I had to write this review with only two words it would be the following: forced awkwardness. Not what I want to see from the charming Chan or the somewhat digestible Tucker. Here's to hoping its the end of an era.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Mummy, The (1999) - 4/5

You know what's better than a B-grade action film? A B-grade action film with a huge fucking budget. Particularly when its a film that seemingly embraces all of its cheesiness into the fold and runs with it at 100 miles per hour. This is why Universal's "The Mummy" remake is all sorts of goody action fun. Not only is it a massively epic big budget action blockbuster, but it has the heart of one of those knock-on-the-jaw B-grade action films. This combination makes for a film that has a ton of genre nuances in a film that's obviously crafted for a mainstream audience.

When a young Egyptologist Evelyn (Weisz) comes across an ancient artifact via her brother (Hannah), she has to enlist the help of gun for hire O'Connell (Fraser) to lead her to a mythical city of ancient lore. As the trio of adventurers will soon discover though, this city is cursed with an ancient and very pissed off mummy Imhotep (Vosloo) who will stop at nothing to regain his strength and bring back his bride...even if he has to bring the world to an end.

It's easy to call "The Mummy" an "Indiana Jones" knock off because, quite frankly, it is. Losing many of the Gothic tendencies of the original Universal monster film from the 30s, this version updates the tale of ancient Egyptian evil with loads of one-liners, goofy characters, and extensive special effect riddled action sequences. It's a blast to watch. Stephen Sommers ably handles the mix giving his solid cast enough time (and timing) to sell its cheesy humor utilizing Fraser's abilities to be tough and funny at the same time. Fraser is also backed by a great supporting cast (including Sommer favorite O'Connor) that build on its rather humorous frame.

The film is also packed to the gills with action. You name it...its in there. You get massive gun fights, sword fights, fist fights, mobs, zombie mummies, running from man eating bugs, collapsing buildings, and a plane chase through a sand storm. Sommers (and a big bank roll) packs it in here and despite far too much CGI plaguing the multitude of plagues on screen, its a great rush of action to keep those who don't find the humor glued to the screen.

"The Mummy" is one of those films where the term 'good' needs to be used loosely. It's fairly formulaic with its character progressions and its ass-over-teapot cheesiness. Really though, its the B-grade action movie formula that makes this such a blast to watch. It's funny, exciting, and more often than not successful at blending the two. This makes it a remake worth watching.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Friday, December 9, 2011

TNT Jackson (1974) - 2/5

A Filipino made Blaxploition martial arts film that takes place in Hong Kong... how the hell did they pull off that weird amalgamation? Well "pull off" wouldn't be the the proper term but at least it's somewhat watchable... to an extent I guess.

TNT Jackson arrives in Hong Kong to find her missing brother only to get entangled in some heroin runners and undercover cops. Lots of fighting is the result.

Our title character is portrayed former Playboy playmate Jeannie Bell and it's obvious she has no martial arts background as her fighting is clumsy at best. She also lacks charisma and is a poor copycat and much more interesting characters portrayed by Pam Grier. What she lacks in on screen grace, filmmakers try to make up with in titillating nudity as we even get to see her fight four guys in a dark room topless only clad in panties (a scene that the director would later use in his film "Firecracker").

Filipino exploitation B-movie director Cirio H. Santiago has always been shoddy at best but TNT Jackson, an early film in his career, is far more thoroughly directed than his normal effort. Still his fighting sequences are all poorly staged, some even containing sound effects of hits that don't even connect. He also likes to use speed ups to make hits/kicks/throws look faster. Hell even utilizes the old Roger Corman trick of removing frames in order for the fights look faster and more brutal.

This shoddy effort fails as either a Blaxploitation or martial arts film thanks to poorly choreographed fights and a main star that lacks presence thanks to stiff acting. Still, for fans of trashy entertainment, it's worth a look for some unintentional laughs and nudity otherwise people are better off looking up Santiago's 1980 martial arts effort "Firecracker" which stars a women with some actual martial arts training.

The film was in public domain hell as many DVDs exist with poor VHS transfers. Shout Factory released a beautiful anamorphic widescreen transfer in triple feature alongside "Firecracker" and "Too Hot Too Handle", two other Roger Corman distributed exploitation 'classics.'

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wrecked (2011) - 3.5/5

In all honesty, the concept of "Wrecked" is what caught my attention. Although IFC Midnight has released some stellar films (and some less than stellar films too), it wasn't the fact that Academy Award winner Adrien Brody was in it that made me interested. It was the fact that he was basically the only one in it. Throw in a few words about bank robbery, amnesia, and mountain lions and I suppose the genre fan in me kind of had to see it. Of course the film maker in me respects this film in many ways, but if I was to be truthful to all ye readers in interwebz land I would also admit that "Wrecked" is straight up boring too.

A confused man (Brody) awakens to find himself trapped in a wrecked car that had careened off of a cliff. His leg is trapped and broken and he has no recollection of anything prior to the event...the events, who the dead body is in the back seat, not even who he is. As he tries to free himself from this awful situation he begins to discover some of the reasons he is down in the ravine... and the indications that he and some pals just robbed a bank might make him not want to remember at all.

The formula here is simple. It's a one man memory mystery that's done to the setting of a man vs nature survival flick. There is relatively no dialogue (sans some between himself, a dog, and a vision of a woman), the settings are minimal to the forested and rocky area, and film focuses on being very subtle with its plot progressions. As I mentioned, the intriguing aspects of this film are rooted in this. It's a fascinating idea with its low key use of score or the very limited dialogue for us to get to know our lead character. It allows Brody to really dig into the character and give us the moments (via some solid directing) where a person's humanity surfaces through extreme circumstance. His interactions with the dog and moments like eating the mint are reveled with the execution on screen.

That's only one side of the coin though and despite its ambitious ideas and solid execution..."Wrecked" comes off as a tedious film too. Sans a rather interesting antagonist (its a damn mountain lion!) and some clever story telling techniques - the film is boring. Not a whole lot happens. We spend the first act stuck in the passenger seat of a car and the rest of the film crawling around in moss, sitting in rain, and cursing. When it does amp up (having to cross the river for example) the film actually gets the thriller aspect across nicely. It's just not as often as one would hope.

Film makers should certainly take a look at the gutsy things that "Wrecked" does so well, but beyond that your average movie viewer is going to find this movie lackluster and boring. It's a duality that does rear its head at moments and is a concern for viewers, but if one is willing to step out and look at its detailing then there is plenty to love about "Wrecked".

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011) - 3/5

Well if it isn't our favorite fist and feet wielding Panda? Back for seconds, I see. Can a second portion of animated kung fu madness keep us full as the first portion did? Truthfully, the answer is no. There are a few reasons that "Kung Fu Panda 2" doesn't quite make the cut to match its predecessor, but that doesn't stop it from being a fun and vibrant watch. This inevitable sequel is brighter, faster, and more epic and it does play on a few great concepts.

Po (Black) and the Furious Five have been hard at work with their kung fu when word from across China comes to them that Lord Shen (Oldman) has killed Master Thundering Rhino and taken over Gongmen City with the use of a newly developed weapon...the cannon. Now Po and the Furious Five must travel to the massive city and restore justice, but Po might have to face some demons of his unknown past to do so.

As with the original "Kung Fu Panda", this sequel does work on the two levels. Just not quite as well. Yes, the visuals are once again stunning with the luxurious colors, high end animation, and Chinese style of the film that are utilized to their full advantage. The epic battle sequences are vivid with spectacle (including massive explosions, toppling buildings, and larger kung fu moments - even if the 'choreography' for the kung fu seems to be placed on hold for the sake of the visuals) and in these parts - "Kung Fu Panda 2" is an entertaining watch.

As for being another homage to kung fu films, the obvious pulled story lines of Po's almost revenge like quest in the latter half and the kung fu vs. guns portion that is taken from "Once Upon A Time In China" make for some great moments. Unfortunately, the flow of the film doesn't combine the two aspects as well. Some of Po's character growth seems rushed and forced and the humor is massively hit or miss. The film also fails to fully use some of its potential with its characters (most notably the lack of Master Croc and Master Storming Ox to give us some new kung fu combatants to use against our bladed villain) and it leaves it feeling a bit too epic for its own good to fit it all in.

Don't misunderstand this review though, "Kung Fu Panda 2" is still a blast to watch. The characters (that are used) are still a riot to follow and villain of the picture is just as strong as the villain in the first film. It's epic and has gloriously animated sequences. The sequel just doesn't contain the same flow of its epic story that made the first film just a surprisingly solid feature. Still a great film for the whole family and I, for one, will be anxiously awaiting the hinted at third entry.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, December 5, 2011

Blade II (2002) - 4/5

Now I know this might raise a few eyebrows from our dedicated readers at Blood Brothers, but here it goes: "Blade II" is more enjoyable and better than "Blade". Technically, I'm going to give it the same rating as I did the first film, but that's simply because this still isn't a perfect film. It still inches it out and works better than the first one. I know I already hear some blasphemous uproars from those reading this, but finish the review first and leave a comment below.

Blade (Snipes) has been desperately tracking down Whistler (Kristofferson) since his capture. He's had to take one a new tech man in his stead in the form of the rascally Scud (Reedus) and its been a quest. Although things look up when they finally retrieve their fallen friend from the vampire hands, but an odd request for a truce from the vampire king sets him on edge. As it would seem, a new breed of vampire has arisen and the strain stems from a monster named Nomok (Goss) and his intent is to eradicate both vampires and humans. Now Blade will have to team up with some of the vampires best hunters to find and end this apocalyptic new threat...

At its foundations, "Blade II" is a ambitious and violent fun action film. It blends a little more horror into the mix (with this split face monsters) and certainly jacks up the ridiculousness of the franchise to 11. This of course can be undercut by a rather hit or miss script from Goyer (who also wrote the first one) with how many random twists he forces into its plot progression and the lack of character development for many of the supporting cast, including an ill fated and awkward almost romantic subplot. In this sense, "Blade II" is a weaker entry despite its more comic book like tone.

This 'issue' for the film is ably brushed over though by a very strong cast and the stylish vision of director Guillermo Del Toro. Snipes once again snarls and cold heartedly wins over in the lead role, where the script and Del Toro finally utilize his fighting abilities on screen properly. This is only strengthened by a stellar supporting cast including Del Toro regulars Perlman and Luke Goss as villains in the film who own their roles with vigor. Del Toro's over the top style handles the ridiculous script with ease (and despite some odd CGI moments) really focuses down on making the action of the film - and all its glorious fist/sword fights - the real winner here. Partnered with a new sense of added atmosphere and horror, the directing of this film makes its awkward script a mere afterthought of flaws instead of the major plot holes it could have been.

Although its hard for me to give it more than a score of four due to its scripting and plot faults, the enjoyment I get from "Blade II" is a pure five out of five. It's a romp of a ride that hits all of the comic book overtones and action sequences with flair and high execution on screen. The strong cast (including a throw away role for action superstar Donnie Yen) gives life to some rather bland characters and Del Toro owns it with his style. It makes for a stupendous sequel that squeaks past the original.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Django Against Sartana (1971) - 2.5/5

Another year, another unofficial "Django" and "Sartana" cross-over film and to be honest after suffering through two horrid films by director Demofilo Fidani that featured both iconic characters ("One Damned Day at Dawn... Django Meets Sartana!" and "Django and Sartana are Coming... It's the End!"), I wasn't expecting a whole hell-of-a lot out of "Django Against Sartana". Well for one thing this one isn't directed by the contemptible Fidani so right there it's guaranteed to be better... and ta du... it is!

Well Django's brother gets hung after being accused of robbing a bank with Sartana. Django saddles up his horse for vengeance and after a bloody battle, Sartana and Django team up to find the real culprits.

Fidani's crapfests never lived up to the potential of having two of the genre's most iconic character in the same film but this one, surprisingly, does for the most part. First of all it contains both characters for the entire running time of the film! Not only are both in the entire film but they also share plenty of screen time together, including an epic fist fight (that starts with riding two horses at one another "Mission: Impossible II" style) and finally teaming up to work on solving a crime.

George Ardisson and Tony Kendall both play the respective roles well though not exactly like Franco Nero and Gianni Garko in their original portrayals but one shouldn't expect them to be as this is, of course, an unofficial sequel to both films. Kednall's character looks more like a cheap knock-off of Garko's Sartana and Django doesn't wear his trademark Yankee soldier uniform but then again... this is unofficial.

What hurts the trashy potential of this film is the very standard plot. Director Pasquale Squitieri would later grace us the mega-smart and stylistic period Poliziotteschi "I Am the Law" but here he's unable to craft an overly interesting plot to include both the Django and Sartana characters.

Out of all the three unofficial "Django" and "Sartana" cross-over films this is the ONLY one actually worth watching. The plot isn't much to cheer about but at least it delivers the goods by having both iconic characters beat the living shit out of each other as well as teaming up to shoot the shit out of some scum. I had fun with the cross-over concept and it should crack a smile on any Spaghetti Western fan's face.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Operation Condor 2: The Armour Of The Gods [The Armour Of God] (1986)

Director: Jackie Chan, Eric Tsang
Notable Cast: Jackie Chan, Alan Tam, Lola Forner, Rosamund Kwan

*Note: This is a review for the American cut of this film.

As if Miramax and American audiences didn't have enough of a hard time finding Jackie Chan films, this daftly titled "sequel" to "Operation Condor" is actually the first of the two films and features a younger and more ridiculous Chan. Once again the film sells itself with some of the most ambitious stunts and fight scenes in modern action films that highlight its often inept script. If not for these moments, this Indiana Jones knock off probably isn't worth much of its weight in film.

The Asian Hawk Jackie Chan (Chan...oh wait, you didn't get that with his name once again being his real name?) has recently recovered a piece of the fabled Armor Of God to auction off. This somewhat infuriates a Satanic cult who then kidnap his ex-girlfriend, from his days as a singer in a rock group, to bribe him to bring them the rest of the armor so that they can destroy it and gain immense power. Now Chan must team up with his old nemesis Alan (Tam) and current boyfriend to the ex-girlfriend to find the Satanic cult, save the damsel in distress, and somehow survive.

The plot for "Operation Condor 2" is utterly bat shit crazy. Satanic cult? Cheesy rock band drama history? The ugliest Mitsubishi car that has an escape scooter built in? If it wasn't for Chan's rather charismatic on screen presence and the (also bat shit crazy) action packed final act, this film might have passed for a Cannon feature. It's that over the top and silly. Our actors are predictably and often inept in their attempts to sell the characters as more than 2D representations of "real people" (with one of the worst accents known to dubbing for Alan), the humor is massively hit or miss, and the dramatic elements are forced and awkward. The film is insanely cheesy and rarely makes sense.

That's okay though, because "Operation Condor 2" also features one of Chan's best action finales. This makes up for a LOT of the asinine plot that we have to sit through. Does the ending really make sense? No, but its fucking awesome. We get leather-clad, high heeled assassin women, robed Satanic cult members who all seemingly know kung fu, and a dynamite vested Chan all doing battle in a cave like monastery (of really poorly built sets). The finale seemingly lasts forever and unlike the first three-quarters of the film, it keeps you glued to the TV with jaw nicely nestled on the floor with its stunt work. This film single handedly gets a couple of points just for this sequence.

In the end, its your basic Jackie Chan vehicle that benefits from his charm and stunts. The script and humor can be some of his worst that has reached the US yet, but fans of the Chan man are going to eat up some of its high flying sequences. Definitely not his best though.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Shanghai Joe [The Return of Shanghai Joe] (1975) - 1.5/5

"Shanghai Joe" is another attempt at a 'east meets west' scenario. Unlike better films such as "Blood Money" and "Red Sun", "Shanghai Joe" fails miserably by making a painfully unfunny cash-in on the comedy duo subgenre jump started by the "Trinity" films. To top it off the distributors here in America pulled an "Operation Condor" and released the sequel as the "first" film. Yes, despite the title, this is actually better known as "The Return of Shanghai Joe" in the rest of the world and is a follow-up to "The Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe". Unbeknownst to me I was actually watching a rather poor sequel without prior knowledge and having not watched "Fighting Fists" yet I cannot draw proper comparisons to the actual first film in the series.

What we have here is a small town under the tight grip of a corrupt and sadistic entrepreneur (played by Klaus Kinski) who buys land by any means necessary, especially if oil is present. In comes a big burly salesman who threatens his business so with the help of a traveling chinaman and a judge, the death grip of this psychotic businessman needs to be brought to an end.

Despite the title the film actually focuses on the burly salesman, a character most definitely inspired by the loveable brute Bud Spencer. Unlike Spencer, Bill Cannon has none of his charm. Shanghai Joe is even played by a different actor (Cheen Lie as opposed to Chen Lee) and he also lacks any charisma for a likeable martial arts lead and can't even fight that well to boot. Together they make an absolute forgettable and nauseating sidekick duo.

The film is saved by eccentric actor Klaus Kinski, whom played a different character in the first "Shanghai Joe" film. Here he actually has a lot of screen time and he chews up the scenery ever shot he's in. He even breaks the fourth wall at one point looking directly at the audience to mutter "the dead cannot bare witness". Oh yes... heads will roll.

Director Bitto Albertini is an unknown in the genre and rightfully so as he seems as inept at directing a western as a martial arts flick. Under his direction our duo seem lost without direction and he chooses to blare the laughable title song over any fight Joe gets into.

From what I've gathered the original "Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe" is a far better film (I do plan to review it soon). As is, this sequel is rather worthless and it fails on every level imaginable: a martial arts western as well as a sidekick picture. Only notable for an interesting performance by Klaus Kinski otherwise this is just s cheap piece of Spaghetti Western drivel with no flair or style.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Friday, December 2, 2011

Kung Fu Panda (2008) - 4/5

There is something magical when a film can exist at two different levels for different people. "Kung Fu Panda" does just that. It exists on the surface as a cartoon with goofy animals for characters that have to learn the moral lessons to defeat the foe and be heroes. This is fine and dandy, but the true treat in this film is that it also exists as an homage to classic martial arts (specifically kung fu) films that fans of the genre will catch. Thusly, as a fan of both, I was completely enamored with "Kung Fu Panda". Yeah, it can be cliche at times, but it works on these two levels with relative ease.

Po (Black) is the panda son of a simple noodle maker and despite ambitions of being a great kung fu master, his awkwardness and general clumsiness prevents him from being the hero he wants to be. That is until the evil Tai Lung (McShane) escapes his massive prison to come take the Dragon Scroll from his old teacher. Now Po must fulfill a prophecy to become the Dragon Warrior and defeat the evil kung fu master. Can he use the lessons of his master and the Furious Five to train in time or is the prophecy simply a fluke?

As an animated feature film, "Kung Fu Panda" succeeds. It's funny, the colors are vibrant and bright with excellent animation, and its script is meticulously crafted with finesse that allows kids to enjoy its basic "good vs evil" concept. Our lead Po is fun and Jack Black delivers the lines with relative ease (the guy is basically a cartoon character in real life) and its fun and streamlined characters are a blast to watch on screen.

That's not really why "Kung Fu Panda" is being reviewed here on Blood Brothers though. It's because of how well it homages classic kung fu movies. Combining elements of Kar Lau Leung's now distinct training motifs he used in his Shaw Brothers films and obvious influences within the animation style and its plot details (the animals are all styles of kung fu - tiger, snake, crane, etc) this film is a perfect homage. Director Stevenson obviously had all the right intentions when he decided to make it an homage instead of a spoof and it works brilliantly for an animated film. Even the action sequences are well "choreographed" martial arts fights that blend the epic settings and action with some great kung fu. The bridge battle highlights the film for sure.

"Kung Fu Panda" just works in some many of its elements so well. It's a beautiful film that pulls on animation styles from Chinese culture and its an insanely fun romp that boils down the martial arts film into its basics yet still retains the heart of why the genre is so influential. It's a duel blade sword that is sharp on both ends and is a must see for kung fu fanatics. A great way to introduce the whole family into the style.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) - 1.5/5

Although "Scream" was essentially a self-referencing knock off on slasher films, it did reignite the slasher genre in the late 90s. Whether you consider this a good thing or not depends on how much you like rehashed slashers, but films like "I Know What You Did Last Summer" do add enough fodder for the slaughter to keep B-horror film fans gobbling it it. Unfortunately, as with the slasher genre in the 80s, this is one of those films that never adds anything to the mix and doesn't even complete the slasher musts as it should have. It comes off as a watered down mainstream attempt at a slasher film, instead of a remotely decent rehash.

When four teens celebrating the Fourth of July together before they all head their seperate ways after high school accidentally hit a man on the side of the road they have to make a decision that will change their lives forever. Instead of taking responsibility for it, they dump the body in the water and move on with their lives. Now its a year later and our heroine (Hewitt) returns home to find some anonymous threats. It would seem these teens are being hunted down for what they did, but can they figure out who it is before they all find themselves in deep water?

Let's go down the slasher check list: teen/youthful heroes? Check. A masked killer with a unique kill style? Rain slicker and a fisherman's hook count. Check. Gratuitous nudity? Nope. This baddie is deflated for those dating teens - even the uncut version has nothing. Gratuitous gore? Nope. Again, we're shooting for mainstream here. Clever kills? Wrong! Nothing here that we haven't seen before...even with a hook.

What's the score? Two out of five. A measly two out of five. What is this? It isn't even close to the slashers I grew up with. In fact, Kevin Williamson (who also wrote "Scream") seems to be insistent that this film appeal to everyone. They dumb down the story enough that I probably could have written it in an hour as a joke and the dialogue is atrociously cheesy and immature. Not to mention our director Gillespie (who also gave us the 'classic' film "Joyride") is notoriously bad at building tension or giving us a style to the film. It's obvious that it was watered down for mass consumption and the movie significantly suffers from it.

I must also state that despite its very popular cast...errr...very popular for 1997 cast, it has some of the worst acting I've seen in a theatrically released horror film. Hewitt and Geller snore through this film relying on their tight shirts to keep our attentions, Freddie Prinze, Jr. is given nothing to work with as a character, and Ryan Phillipe (who turned out to be a decent actor) is hilariously bad as the jock with anger issues. The writing and directing that these poor guys have to deal with is...well, its fucking funny. I'm sorry but it is.

"I Know What You Did Last Summer" is a horrendous slasher. It's not interesting and it rarely delivers the goods that slashers are known for. The only thing that remotely deserves the point and a half is the killer concept and even that is never utilized to how cool it could have been. Even if you did enjoy "Scream", "Last Summer" fails to deliver on almost all aspects. *Cracks knuckles*...which means that part two is going to be a winner I'm sure.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Taken (2008) - 4.5/5

Revenge thrillers are a dime a dozen. I don't even want to go through this site to see how many revenge thrillers we have even reviewed let alone how many are yet to be reviewed. Some of them try to do unique things with their stories or characters, but it doesn't always work. That is what makes "Taken" such an effective film. It really doesn't do anything gimmicky with its story. It sticks to the basics, but it sells them so well with its execution I was gripped by the jugular throughout the entire thing. Now that is a good action/thriller.

Bryan Mills (Neeson) seems like your average father. He has left his job to be closer to his daughter (Grace) when his ex-wife (Janssen) moves to L.A. with her new man. He struggles with his money and does his best to be the father he wasn't before. When his daughter is kidnapped on a trip to Paris though, his previous job as a black ops "preventer" comes in handy as he tears through France to find his daughter.

Building on a script written by Blood Brothers favorite Luc Besson and partnering it with the direction of Pierre Morel (who had teamed up prior on the charismatic "District B13"), "Taken" brings two very talented French film artists with the charming and often intense performance of Liam Neeson. This combination positively proves lethal here. The wickedly fast pace of the film is matched with the intensity of Neeson's performance (who delivers some B-movie lines with some much vigor and ferocity that it works) and Morel brings out the best of its over the top moments so that the film weaves through its genre-esque moments and makes it seem like a legit thriller. Albanian women smugglers? French spies? Middle Eastern connections? This should come off as a cheap action film, but it rarely does. It's intense and effective instead.

"Taken" does suffer from its B-grade moments though. The ending is a bit tacked on, some of the supporting cast are ill developed, and one has to suspend some logic to get where the film wants you to go (like recognizing the man's voice from the phone call in person a couple days later). If you can leap over these minute flaws though, "Taken" will take you for a ride.

Fans of Besson or the up-and-coming Morel will find more than enough to love about "Taken". It has some amazingly awesome quotes (including one of the best monologues I've heard in a genre film in a long time), the action is solid as Neeson kicks ass, takes their name, and kicks their ass again, and the charm of the style and performances wins over the flaws. This is one of my favorite films of the last decade and one that modern thrillers will compete against.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Road to Fort Alamo, The (1964) - 2/5

When I order a Spaghetti Western, I expect a lip smacking pasta dripping with tomato sauce, covered in parmesan cheese accompanied by a buttery breadstick on the side. When all I get is a plate full of plain noodles I get a little distraught especially if the dish is cooked by a master chef such as Mario Bava. I seriously got excited to finally sit down and watch a Spaghetti Western that was directed by one of Italy's finest and after finishing the film it's easy to see why Bava is nicknamed the "master of the macabre" and not "master of the western."

We open with a lonely soul (Ken Clark) coming across a dead wagon train of Union soldiers with orders to pick up a load of cash for payroll. He teams up with an outlaw gang and attempts to get the money while wearing the dead soldiers' uniforms. All backfires when the gang turns against him and his buddy and they are left for dead only to be rescued by another Yankee wagon train heading through dangerous Ozark Indian territory. Torn if they should take the money and run, they predictably decide to stay and protect the women and children from the Native onslaught.

"The Road to Fort Alamo" was made right at the dawn of the Spaghetti Western cycle being released the same year as Sergio Leone's trend setting "Fistful of Dollars." Sadly Leone's trademark styles of the genre are mostly missing here and the film is far too similar to an American western for my taste in both plot, characters and approach. Even Mario Bava's eye-catching style is downplayed which is a damn shame considering what a keen eye for style the man has.

To top it off with its tame is the film is over-all made rather shoddy. The night backdrops look like sets complete with poorly painted backgrounds and the absolute most fake looking cactuses I have ever laid my eyes upon. The Indians are also a joke as they are all highly decorated with bright, and very plastic looking bird feathers.

Ken Clark (better known for playing Dick Malloy in Italy's James Bond knock-off "Agent 077" trilogy) plays the stoic hero well but he's far too much of a goody two-shoes for my taste in a Spaghetti Western. He's all about protecting the women and children John Wayne style and righting his wrong decisions. A little more rugged "Clint Eastwood" anti-hero approach to the character would have been much appreciated.

Though tame for the genre, it still has its moments of Spaghetti Western goodness as it does fair a little more in the violence area than American westerns, especially during the robbery scene when a gang member brutally shoots an elderly woman for screaming. Hardcore!

After finishing the film it's easy to see that Mario Bava's heart wasn't into the project as it's definitely just a 'director for hire' gig. No doubt he would have much preferred to be on the set making a moody horror picture or Giallo than just another "spaghetti western". Out of his entire filmography, "Road to Fort Alamo" is one of the more obscure films of his no doubt because it's not that good... not horrible but only worth hunting down for the most die-hard Bava fans. Wild East released the film on DVD in a double feature with the Spanish western "A Place Called Glory" for those interested in seeing the picture.

Written By Eric Reifschneider