Tuesday, May 31, 2011

XXX - 1.5/5

"Welcome to the Xander zone!"

Yeah, you and I both know that its not a good catchphrase, but the sheer absurdity of that line in "XXX" makes it one of its better bits of dialogue instead of the run of the mill spy jargon with an generation X spin that makes up the majority of this Bond knock off. I'll admit, there is a bit of that 'its so bad I was enjoying myself' to this obvious franchise kick off flick, but even so, my logic and keen sense for bullshit made "XXX" only what it was...James Bond for the half wit youth of America.

Xander (Diesel) also known as 'X' is always doing the most insane stunts. He has his own internet release for all of his stunts where he stupidly does 'X game' (oh my God, there's a trend running here) style stunts like parachuting out of a stolen car as it plummits off an insanely high bridge. His nose for analyzing situations through the adrenaline just so happens to make him a target for NSA to recruit to become a secret agent. After being forced to test for this position (by being left in the middle of a drug raid in a foreign country no less), he finds himself stuck in the middle of a conspiracy lead by the secretive Anarchy 99 society which just may...da da dum! END THE WORLD!

"XXX" tries so damn hard to be a James Bond film that by about a half hour in, it just wasn't even funny anymore. Of course, this film lacks a bit of the sophistication of Bond even at his worst and despite being entertaining with its high octane and illogical action sequences, the film is just tries so hard. It's like watching little kids play soccer where all they do is chase and kick the ball out of sheer excitement. No strategy. No plan of attack. Just a whole lot of little kids screaming and kicking a ball. That's what "XXX" is like. It tries so hard to be something that is far too big for what it is. All it does is run around screaming and blowing things up...to somewhat of an entertaining charm if not sad for the most part.

The plot's absurd. The dialogue is horrid and even Vin Diesel's strong screen presence can't necessarily save it from sinking lower and lower into unintentional hilarity. Rob Cohen seems to embrace the action portion of the film so fervently that he forgets to add substance to style for his directing. It's like the good idea of crafting a new franchise to be a young America's new spy hero is too much of a struggle for any one in this film to handle without going insane with the concept, but not being able to express it.

Thusly, "XXX" remains as a film with some oddly intriguing actions sequences of no logic (He decided to take out a communications tower by trying to out snowboard an avalanche that he makes? In what world is that even a fucking choice?), but little of anything past that. It has a few charms here and there as one pities it for trying so hard, but really its just a horrid Bond knock off in the end. Definitely looking forward to the second one....I guess.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

13 Assassins (2011) - 5/5

"Take Up Your Sword."

Takashi Miike is the chameleon of directors. The guy not only has a stunning output of films (in 2001/2002 he put out 15 separate projects, for example), but the range of these films is just as ridiculous. Everything from the dramatic horror of "Audition" to kid's films to "Sukiyaki Western Django". The man does it all, which is the reason that his remake of "13 Assassins" was so high on my list to see. He proved he can do samurai films previously, but could he craft the ultimate one?

Lord Naritsugu is a cruel politician in Feudal Japan. His lust for blood and women has created a rift between him and his half brother, the Shogun. Not looking to lose face in a nation that has been peaceful for some time now, the skills of Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho), a previously feared samurai who now spends most of his time fishing, is asked to assassinate the half brother. Shinzaemon builds a team of skilled samurai, ronin, and a tracker to set a trap for the politician before his connections become too powerful to touch him.

To be quite frank, I've never seen the original film this is based on. Judging from the sheer power and grace of "13 Assassins" though, the original has to be good, because "13 Assassins" is a slow burning character driven epic journey into the days of the samurai. The first two thirds of this film are spent giving us a sense of the burden that these honorable men hold on their shoulders even in a time of peace. Even though there is only a little time spent on each of our team members and the various 'villains' of the film, there is a distinct character to each that is achieved through a fantastic script and some of the best acting I've seen thus far this year. The plot treads along at a brisk pace (although it's simple, to give us all the information we need to actually cheer for their cause takes some time so it has to move quickly). This portion of the film seems talky and atmosphere driven, but it's well built and a stark difference to the last part of "13 Assassins".

The final third of the film is goddamn epic. The assassination of the politician is built on the idea of these 13 well skilled men going against an army of over 200 in a village built on traps, explosives, arrows, blood, mud, and so many shiny sharp swords that one has to let their jaw drop at the sheer magnitude of the sequence. Modern directors take note: with a solid set piece, great stunt work, acting, and a solid sense of pacing...you don't need CGI to make action pieces epic. The blood rains down in drenches as the body count soars and the awesomely staged choreographed fight sets and explosions destroy the atmosphere in the first two thirds with a bang. This final throw down (which has to clock in at 40 to 45 minutes, I swear) is simply awe inspiring.

Miike did it again. The man knows how a film works and he cooks "13 Assassins" to a perfect combination of history lesson, dramatic redemption, horror (it is a Miike film so expect some very disturbing moments), and the sword fighting epic. Although the film may throw off some of the newer audiences with its slow build, it's completely worth the watch as it effortlessly displays this riveting tale.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Monday, May 30, 2011

One Damned Day at Dawn... Django Meets Sartana - 1/5

Two of the most popular spaghetti western characters come head to head in one film! This is a euro film fanatics wet dream! This is the biggest cinematic crossover since "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man". Wait... are you telling me this is an unofficial sequel to both franchises? To top it off its directed by Demofilo Fidani, nicknamed the 'Ed Wood' of Spaghetti Westerns. Yea I'm afraid this is going to suck...

Well a stranger comes waltzing into a town without a sheriff, takes up the job and with the aid of another stranger decides to take on a local gang.

Director Demofilo Fidani (hiding under the pseudonym Miles Deem) was known for making spaghetti westerns faster and cheaper than anyone else. This process also ensured his products would also be far worse than his counterparts. I'm talking about non-existent production values, poor camera work (including constant shaking and awkward zooms), cookie cutter plot, blatant continuity errors, and obtrusive musical cues that abruptly cut out. All around just rotten filmmaking. There are a few atmospheric windy shootouts towards the end but that's about it.

The cast is good with genre heavy weights Fabio Testi and Hunt Powers cast in the our title leads. However thanks to Fidani's nonexistent direction and plot there are not given much to do. Come on Fidani! If you're going to go to the trouble of making of film cashing in the Django and Sartana names then give them something to do that's MEMORABLE! Fidani allows Power's Django character to dress and look like the famous character Franco Nero popularized in "Django" but other than that his character acts completely different. Don't even get me started on the Sartana character. Testi plays Sartana... but it's not even revealed to be that character until the very end. Up until the end one would never expect it as this character is as FAR from Sartana as one can get.

Even though this is an unofficial follow-up to both the Django and Sartana spaghetti western franchises, director Demofilo Fidani could have still had fun with the ridiculous cross-over by giving audiences something fun and memorable, even over-the-top but he fails miserably. Both characters are completely different if not near so to their previous film incarnations and are not given much to do in the lame, cookie cutter plot. It may not be Fidani's worst film I've seen but "Django Meets Sartana" gets the dubious honor of being one of the worst spaghetti westerns that I have witnessed that's for sure... which is a damn shame when looking at the promising title.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Bloodrayne - 1/5

Well. Let's see. Where do I start? Let's talk about "Bloodrayne". It's uh...well...ya see, this film...well...it's...just so incredibly fucking bad. Words cannot aptly describe the crap that emanates from your television screen when it's playing "Bloodrayne". There is just this...void where a film should be. With the cast in this film and the great story based on a killer video game as a leaping point, I mean, how could this film go so absolutely wrong?

Oh yeah. There I see it. It says it's directed by Uwe Boll on the credits. Yep. That's it.

Three vampire hunters (including Michael Madsen and Michelle Rodriguez) scour the country side during the Dark Ages to find if there is truth to a myth, that a cross bred vampire/human would help topple the very powerful vampire Kagan (Kingsley). They find their myth in the form of Rayne (Loken), a rather good hearted, but violent half breed being used as a freak in a traveling circus. When she slaughters half of her holders in a blood frenzy, she then takes to the road being chased by both the vampire hunters and the henchmen of Kagan.

Hold on, hold on, hold on. You mean you take the really awesome concept of the video game based in Nazi occupied World War II and you completely change it to a cheesy medieval setting? What?! Then you take the very cool character Rayne and dumb her down into a complete idiot? Double what?! Then you completely bastardize your own film? Triple fucking what?! This film is a just a mess from the get go with its awful plot, worse script, and horrid execution. It's a wonder that Boll was ever to get a cast like this.

My next point just happens to be about the cast too. All of this great cult actors are given horrible costumes, hilarious wigs/hairdos, and atrocious dialogue. Michael Madsen looks fucking ridiculous. Not to mention all of the half assed acting from everyone only makes the script look as horrible as it really is. No cover up here. Let's embrace this film for every awful piece of writing it has! Not to mention the fading in and out of the accents.

Uwe Boll is a genius though. Let that be know. This guy has the inane ability to take great video games with concepts and completely shits on them in film form. "Bloodrayne" is no exception. His awful directing is only made worse by the film's horrid editing and no matter how many fully nude prostitutes or random scenes of pointless gore once can put in it saves the film from being abysmal in any way.

I'm done with "Bloodrayne". This film is pretty much a disgrace to how the video game should have been put on the big screen. It's crap from its script, to the acting, to the directing, to the editing, and far beyond that. It's, honestly, one of the worst films I have ever had the displeasure of watching. That being said...let's move on the the sequel!

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Friday, May 27, 2011

Hobo With A Shotgun (2011)

Director: Jason Eisener
Notable Cast: Rutger Hauer, Molly Dunsworth, Brian Downey, Gregory Smith, Nick Bateman

"I used to be like you. A long time ago. All brand new and perfect. No mistakes, no regrets. People look at you and think of how wonderful your future will be. They want you to be something special, like a doctor, or a lawyer. I hate to tell you this, but if you grow up here, you're more likely to wind up selling your bodies on the streets, or shooting dope from dirty needles in a bus stop. And if you're successful, you'll make money selling junk to crackheads. And don't think twice about killing someone's wife, because you won't even know it's wrong in the first place. Maybe... you'll end up like me. A hobo with a shotgun." -- The Hobo

The fact that grindhouse films are finally coming back in all of their retro ultra exploitative charm certainly makes my day. With the likes of some famous cult directors touting the genre, films like "Machete" and "Hobo With A Shotgun" are seeing the light of day. Which is certainly to our benefit. "Hobo With A Shotgun" handedly captures that early 80s grindhouse vibe with its over the top gory action filled ways and the entire time I sat at the theatre, the smile never left my face. Is it a film that's going to change your outlook on life? Hell no, but like any self respecting grindhouse feature this day and age it certainly will entertain you to no end.

A hobo (Hauer) arrives in Hope Town (referred to as Scum Town and Fuck Town for most of the film) to start a new life. His dreams of starting his own lawn mowing business are throw to the gutter as he begins to spiral into the heinous crimes committed by the mob honcho The Drake (Downey) and his two screwy sons Slick (Smith) and Ivan (Bateman). When he earns enough money to buy his lawnmower, the hobo decides that a good yard keeper isn't what the city needs...so he buys a shotgun instead and starts to distribute justice one shell at a time.

Here's the beauty of "Hobo With A Shotgun": it's not beautiful at all. It distinctly embraces its dirty low budget look and style, focusing down on the sheer brilliance of its idea and more than impressive directorial style. Low budget can be the birthing place of creativity in film and "Hobo" certainly succeeds at this. The coloring is classic with its bright vibrant (emotional) colors and the camera work is clever as hell. Not to mention that the script fully enhances the oddly comical plot and details it with some of the greatest quotes and dialogue ever written. I could seriously quote this movie all day long and it never loses its vibe (one of my personal favorites "When life gives you razor blades... you make a baseball bat, covered in razor blades."). In all honesty, if you love that old 80s look and feel (they even use keyboards for the score!) then this film is a must see.

Is there anything really wrong with this movie? No, not really even though some scenes were disturbing enough even to make me cringe, the school bus scene is hilariously fucked and this film certainly knew what it wanted to be and grabbed it by the balls and drug it to its high point. This makes "Hobo With A Shotgun" one of my favorite films this year. A high recommendation from this reviewer.

"You and me are goin' on a car-ride to hell... and you're riding shotgun!" -- The Hobo

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Alien Resurrection - 3.5/5

Let me stand firmly in the middle here and say that "Alien Resurrection" is just a good film. It's fun, has some solid humor, and it's entirely easy to enjoy and appreciate for its quirkiness and action. That being said, it's also my least favorite of the "Alien" franchise (if you don't count the theatrical version of "Alien 3") and lacks some certain elements that made the series great to begin with. An entirely entertaining film that just lacks the artistic flair to make it all smoothly blend together.

Ripley (Weaver) awakes 200 years after her death as a clone. Hell of a way to open a synopsis. She is under the watchful eye of a large military who has taken liberties to rebuild her so they can pull the the baby Queen Alien from her that she carried in the last film. After separating her from the Alien, they begin to breed the monster in hopes of discovering many uses from this foreign creature. Bad idea. With the help of a pirate crew, Ripley has to survive another Alien outbreak and perhaps discover that she may not be as human as she once was.

If you thought that "Alien 3" was the end of the franchise, they did kill off the 'anchor' of the series, then you owe me $10. Nothing is ever "final" in Hollywood and "Alien Resurrection" is proof of this. How do we do it? Well its science fiction so lets just clone her! Does it make sense? Not really, but whatever. In fact, there is a lot about "Alien Resurrection" that doesn't make sense. That's part of the fun of it. This film definitely takes a lighter look at the series and established a dark humor tone to the film to balance out its action sequences and horror motifs. This lends to a film full of quirky characters (Ron Perlman and the villain from "The Crow"...score!) and rather flavorful sequences that may not be all that logical, but are fun to watch and entertain you. Wanna see what an Alien looks like underwater? Why the hell not. With the visual style of the director and its fun script (that is most obviously Joss Whedon with its quirk and quips), "Alien Resurrection" certainly has its charm to it.

Yet, there is something distinctly disappointing about this fourth entry. Let's break it down into three things. Firstly, Ripley is somewhat awkward here. I'm all for franchises, but I would have been perfectly happy for them to just move on without her. Don't get me wrong, I love the character, but having her be this odd combination of Alien/Ripley who loves to make awkward moments by sniffing people or making bad jokes. It's just not the Ripley from the first three I have come to know and love. Secondly, the tone of the film is completely different. Although "3" definitely went for the atmospheric horror vibe of the original, "Resurrection" went for the action aspect of "Aliens". The difference? This one lacks any kind of tension. It's fun and entertaining to watch things blow up and Ron Perlman spout off obscenities, but there is never that dire need to survive here. No epic dread that encapsulates the plot. It is what it is, take it or leave it. Lastly, the final act. Throughout the film they dabble with the DNA mix up on Ripley and we get to see some interesting aftermath concepts, but the end 'hybrid' Alien just is way too far out there. I'm not sure if its the design or how it seemingly comes from left field, but it didn't work for me. It gets a little out of hand and weird (with Brad Dourif doing his initial narration even more so) and it just seemed way too comic bookish.

Thusly, we are left with "Resurrection", an Alien film that is sure to entertain with its quirkiness and fun vibe, but doesn't compete on the same level as the rest of the franchise. I still enjoy the film for what it is, but comparing it to the rest leaves one feeling a bit unfulfilled. Upon further reflection, this film certainly feels like a transitional film for the series, looking to start it off in a new direction. Yet, it was the last one (thus far) of this franchise. A shame to end it on this note really. Not a bad film. Not a great film. Just a straight up old fashioned good one.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Gatling Gun (1968) - 4/5

I have been interested in seeing "Gatling Gun" (aka "Machine Gun Killers") for a number of years now as cult director Quintin Tarantino has stated on multiple occasions as it is one of his favorites of the genre. Finally, after all this time I finally got my hands on Dorado's wonderful DVD release and now I can honestly say it was well worth the wait.

During the height of the Civil War Mr. Gatling, inventor of the first machine gun, unveils his top secret weapon only to have it stolen and himself kidnapped. Now a wrongly accused Yankee is secretly set free from prison to solve the mystery before the south get their hands on the weapon which could change the course of the war and history along with it.

I found the espionage plot to be rather engaging as it involves spies, kidnappings, and war time politics all wonderfully wrapped up in a spaghetti western backdrop. It's an detective story that will appeal as much to fans of espionage thrillers as spaghetti westerns and for that alone this has qualities not present in many other euro westerns.

The acting overall is really good for a low budget Italian film despite the film not really having a major star of the genre in the leading role. The dubbing also doesn't hinder the performances too much. The direction by Paolo Bianchini is also sure handed as he keeps the tension rising until the final act when all the loose ends come tied nicely together. The only aspect that annoyed me about the plot was the score. That's not saying it's a poor score as it isn't it's just more suited for an Italian swinging sixties Giallo murder mystery as opposed to a gritty Spaghetti Western.

I put off buying the Dorado DVD of this film for a long time as I was annoyed by the companies previous releases I purchased. Their releases of the Agent 077 trilogy ("Mission Bloody Mary", "From the Orient with Fury" and "Special Mission Lady Chaplin") and "The Man From Oklahoma" had the picture ratios screwed up so everything was stretched vertically, like it was an 2:35.1 ratio stretched to 1:85.1. Thanks to a friend for getting this for my birthday I am happy to say the company has shaped up as the film is properly framed in beautiful anamorphic widescreen format. It's a wonderful DVD of a rather obscure Spaghetti Western that is a must-see for fans of the genre.

Note: The Dorado DVD release is also completely uncut containing footage not originally released in the United States. This few extra minutes of footage is presented in Italian with English subtitles. Thanks Dorado! My faith in your company has been restored!

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Monday, May 23, 2011

Tron - 3.5/5

Seems like I'm the only one out there that didn't grow up watching "Tron". The computer fantasy film was ages ahead of its time in 1982 and with the sequel edging its way into my viewing queue, it was time to finally watch the original. Although its obvious that its special effects were the focus of this film, the story, as simple as it is, is quite effective and enlightening even here almost 30 years down the road.

Flynn (Bridges) is out to get what is his. After being let go from a huge new computer company by a boss that stole his arcade game designs (Warner), he is out to retrieve his rightful property. With the help of an old girl friend and her new beau who happens to still work at the company they break in to get some evidence. Flynn comes up against a massive self aware computer program called Master Control Program who zaps Flynn into the circutry of the computer realm. There Flynn must compete against the evil MCP in a series of deadly games, align with a security program Tron, and find a way to get out before he's killed.

What makes "Tron" so interesting is how relevant it is now. The ideas of 'users' controlling programs (or computer versions of themselves) in a fantasy world where these programs live out their lives and struggle against an oppressing rulers is so far ahead of its time its stunning. With the creation of Facebook and "World Of Warcraft" that easily parallel the concepts from a film in 1982, its weird to think that this film is nearly three decades old. It's like prophecy or some shit.

As for the film itself, it's not entirely great. The concept is certainly greater than the product. The visuals were stunning in 1982 with its computer effects and painted in neon colored spandex outfits (that more than hurt the eyes with its black and white backgrounds), but the story does lack some pizzazz. Once Flynn gets zapped into the Grid and the fantasy elements begin to take fold as a modern fairy tale then the movie starts to really move at some good pacing and fun speeds. The real world material leaves a bit to be desired though with some charismatic performances but lackluster arcs and basic story lines with little to no motivation. Then again, its far more fun to watch light cycle battles for this reviewer to begin with.

"Tron" is a fun and inspiring film that shocks with its concepts and awesomely built fantasy elements. The character work and some rather weak dialogue certainly remind us that its a Disney film and the motivations that get us to the fantasy realm seem rushed and rather silly at times, but the film still sparks with a chemistry that makes it worth the watch. A definite surprise to this reviewer with its solidity.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sound of Thunder, A - 2/5

This would qualify as an "epic fail". It had everything going for it but it fails on every plane imaginable. First of all it's based on an iconic short story by celebrated science fiction author Ray Bradbury. Second it's directed by visionary director Peter Hyams, the man responsible for respectable science fiction films such as "Capricorn One", "2010" and "Outland". Third it has a strong cast lead by Edward Burns. Fourth it had a high budget with somewhere along the lines of $50-$80 million (depends on the source you look up). How the fuck did this fail so bad?

For those not familiar with the Ray Bradbary story, "A Sound of Thunder" is a science fiction plot that takes place in the not too distant future where time travel has been achieved and now is utilized as a vacation source for the rich and snobby. Edward Burns heads the scientific team that leads these people back into time in order to witness historic events and even kill dinosaurs. All this is achieved with the most delicate measures in order not to change something in the past and thus changing the future. All goes well until a equipment malfunction leads a vacationer to step on a butterfly which then of course changes the entire outcome of the future. Now Burns is in a race against time to fix the past in order to save the future.

Sounds like an intriguing plot doesn't it? It is and it's one of the most intelligent and important stories in the realm of science fiction. The film however is not...

The whole film feels rushed and unfinished. Our filmmakers take an intriguing plot and end up playing with like it's some B-science fiction drivel. We get lots of time paradoxes and monsters running around in the dark. Basically if you take Peter Hyman's films "Timecop" and "The Relic", stick them in a blender with a gallon of SyFy channel and "A Sound of Thunder" would be the result.

The acting itself seems underwhelming as our entire cast is going through the motions like they are really uninterested in the roles they are playing. Edward Burns seems bored and usually great actor Ben Kingsley, complete with sporting a awful futuristic wig, seems to treat the film like an easy paycheck.

The shit icing on the cake has to be the awful special effects. This came out in 2004, over a decade after Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park and the CGI computer effects are just embarrassing, almost as if they aren't fully completed. I'm serious when I say these special effects are no better than the typical crapfest shown on SyFy channel... I shit you not. I was embarrassed for the filmmakers by these deplorable effects.

Director Peter Hymans' trademark darkly lit style is evident but he seems to be an engineer in charge of a train careening out of control. I truly like him as a director but this is an embarrassment and a black mark on his filmography. One can't put all the blame on him though as the film was plagued with production problems ranging from their locations being flooded to the production company going bankrupt before the film was completed.

Production distress aside this is still a clumsy adaption of a science fiction classic and ends up being an insult to Ray Bradbary's written work. It just fails on every level imaginable and despite it's large scale budget the final result would only be suitable for SyFy channel material. Of course it was a box office dud only making a small fraction of its budget back and pretty much derailed director Peter Hyam's career for good which is a damn shame as he is a fine director whose name should be attached to far better films than this. Pherhapes if time travel because a reality as in the film our filmmakers can go back in time and right this wrong.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sartana in the Valley of Death - 3/5

No this isn't one of the enjoyable official sequels to the iconic spaghetti western "If You Meet Sartana... Pray for Your Death." This is actually one of the many knock-offs cashing in on the Sartana name... albeit not a bad knock-off which is saying a lot considering some of the unofficial sequels include such poorly made drivel as "One Damned Day at Dawn... Django Meets Sartana."

William Berger plays Sartana (or Lee Calloway, depends on which of the multiple versions available in the world you get your hands on), a well dressed, sly outlaw who gets a bright idea to break out some prisoners in order for them to take him to some hidden treasure. Surprise surprise they turn on their new host and now Sartana needs to use his noggin to out-wit the bastards and claim the treasure for himself.

William Berger's version of Sartana is extraordinarily different than Gianni Garko's and George Hilton's portrayal in the official series. Sure Berger's character dresses the same but this time around he's a slippery outlaw that uses others in order to benefit his own greediness... very unlike the Sartana we know. It's easy to see that this wasn't originally intended to be a Sartana film due to the character differences. In many versions, including the one I viewed, his character is named Lee Calloway with that name no doubt being the original for the character. The film was also released in some areas as "Ballad of Death Valley" further proving wasn't intended to be a Sartana film.

As for William Berger... I have to say I don't find him strong enough to carry a spaghetti western. He is a wonderful secondary character as he adds a lot of color and quirkiness next to other stronger leads like Lee Van Cleef (See "Sartana" for example). As a leading character... not so much. His character also has a tendency to grate my nerves a bit as he pulls some really dumbass moves. First of all he breaks three guys out of prison demanding 50% of the loot and then is surprised when the three turn on him and try to put his 6 feet under. Seriously... what the fuck?!

The plot flow is also slower compared to other westerns in this wonderful subgenre... but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. The methodical plot flow allows for many characters to be more fleshed out and thus more interesting. Many characters, such as the toy maker and his daughter, would have been just brushed by in other films but thanks to director Roberto Mauri taking his time we get to know these characters and thus care more what horrors occur to them.

One must ignore the "Sartana" in the title to truly enjoy this one. Sure our lead may dress similar but this guy is a far cry from that legendary spaghetti western antihero. If one can get past that and get absorbed into the slower plot flow then they will notice that this euro western has a few extra qualities than many of the other films the genre has to offer.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Mortal Kombat - 2/5

As a child, this film was a life for me. My friends and I reenacted the fight sequences. We rooted for the heroes, despised the villains, and generally breathed in the real life versions of our favorite characters (mainly Sub-Zero and Scorpion since, you know, they were ninjas of course). It's been many, many years since I've seen it as I've moved on to the foreign films it pulled its influences from and learned my distaste for director Paul W.S. Anderson. With the new "Mortal Kombat: Legacy" internet series renewing my faith in seeing my video game heroes again, I felt it was time to revisit my child hood friend in all of its cheesy glory.

Yikes.

Lui Kang (Shou) is coming back home to the Temple Of Light to avenge his brother,s death at the hands of black sorcerer Shang Tsung (Tagawa). He must team up with a egotistical actor Johnny Cage (Ashby) and a Special Forces agent Sonya Blade (Wilson) under the guidance of a mystical god Raiden (Lambert) to enter a generational tournament called Mortal Kombat to gain access to the sorcerer. There they find that not only do they each have personal vendettas to fulfill, but that winning the tournament is a must to prevent the world from coming under invasion from a mysterious force in a place called Outworld.

Childhood nostalgia could not save this film from my now fairly critical eye. There was a sense of wonderment as a child that has now changed to a sense of bewilderment as an adult. The script is an obvious knock off of the general style and plot of a mythical "Enter The Dragon" and lacks the wit to make its mythical side even seem real in that realm. The dialogue is great for 13 year-olds with its simple innuendos and childish humor and the characters are simplified to simple moral lessons without the complexities of seeming like 'real' people. Granted, the video game this film is based on (particularly the first one, although the film pulls some elements from the second too) is pretty basic in plot, but it would have been nice to flesh out these characters to fulfill the film's depth. Not to mention that despite some clever casting choices (although Wilson as Sonya is an obvious weak point), the film is just horribly acted. No script and a visual director that lacks charisma with actors killed this film in this aspect.

That being said, "Mortal Kombat" is a fun film. It had killer special effects (at the time), although I feel sometimes the film relied too heavily on them, and Anderson shows some of his patented visual flair to carry it through as a watchable film and not a complete loss of time. Watching it certainly has its charm, but its lacking script and force fed narrative hurts the film immensely. Not to mention there are moments where the film is underwhelming like most of it's sub-par martial arts sequences. This leaves us with a massively disappointed film version of one of the best fighting games ever made. It has its moments, fun and all, but never gets above being a youth friendly mythical fighting film.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Skyline - 2/5

Alien invasions seem to be coming back in full force lately. Including two theatrically released ones about invasions in Los Angeles. This review happens to be about "Skyline", the rather low budget invasion flick directed and produced by the brothers Strause (whom gave us the shit storm "Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem" mind you) and featuring the wonderful talents of a lot of B grade TV stars. Although the film has enough punch to get those special effects and action sequences off the ground, it fails to really do anything with them besides confuse and alienate (haha, that's a pun) the audience, grinding a film with potential into a rather glitzy B movie experience.

Jarrod (Balfour) and his girlfriend (Thompson) are off to Los Angeles to visit an old friend (Turk...err...Faison) to bask in the sunshine for a nice stint. Their little vacation is interrupted by a big fucking alien invasion. It always happens that way, right? So now a small group of people are trying to survive against these monster/machines as the city around them collapses.

Throughout the entire film I was debating if "Skyline" was simply homaging a ton of older films or just straight up knocking them off. The general confusion of the characters and their stranded situation with no knowledge of what is happening in the 'big' picture owes a lot to "Cloverfield". The general look and style of the aliens is ripped right from the pages of "Independence Day" and "The Matrix" (they run on human brains like batteries!) and the entire feel of the film seems to throw back to those campy 50s style alien invasion flicks. If one wants to assume this is an homage to all of that, then have fun with its "Transformers" inspired action sequences and low brow character development. "Skyline" is fun and entertaining to look at.

Too bad the film really seems to have no impact or underlying emotional connection to the audience. Do we care about the characters? Most of them don't live long enough to give them a full story arc (cough, Terry, cough) and the ones we do care about seem wishy washy in their establishment. Half the time I'm not sure if logic is ever thought about (or explained) for some of their choices - for example, why isn't Jarrod or any one else freaking out about his relapsing vein crap? I would be flipping out ready to kill his infected ass! - and by the time the final act comes about (which it comes about straight out of left field) logic is left in the dust. It's like the writers didn't know how to end it and just sort of did the 'that would be a cool open ending to make a sequel!' crap, rather than actually thinking about what would work for this film.

Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh on a film that was supposed to be a B movie anyway, but dammit, there was potential here! Where did it go? Pissed down the drain of poor writing, irrelevant logic, and a focus on making it 'look cool'. Guess I'll have to wait for "Battle: Los Angeles" to come out to see if the other alien invasion flick was any better. As is, "Skyline" is a great lazy Sunday watch, but not much else.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Friday, May 20, 2011

Prowl - 3/5

With the slew of vampire movies out there any more, finding anything original is a crap shoot. So instead of looking for anything that adds something new to the mythos, one must instead look for the heart and execution of the film. This is where "Prowl" is a crap shoot itself. Although the idea of the film isn't all that new (nor all that clever), it tries very hard to take a well executed shot at it. Making it a film that shouldn't be as good as it is, but not quite the refreshing film it could have been either. Somewhere right down the middle.

Amber (Hope) has never felt at home in the small town she has grown up in. She doesn't quite fit in with her close friends and working at a butcher shop has gotten...distasteful. So she is off to Chicago to find herself, but as her and her friends road trip up there, their van breaks down and they have to accept a hesitant ride from an odd trucker (Payne). Instead of a quick fix to Chicago, these young folk are going to find themselves on a trip to hell...courtesy of some very hungry vampires.

The plot is basic. Kids on a road trip break down and find themselves trapped in an abandoned slaughterhouse being hunted by vampires. Yep. Not that original. Yet, the writing and directing distinctly try to make this 'coming of age' tale as artistic as possible. The film spends a good portion of time really building up Amber and her issues with her life (throwing in some artistic and rather confusing jump edits to 'future events' that definitely pay off later) before letting the vampire horde upon her and her friends. This first act is actually fairly well crafted and intriguing with some solid acting from our leads (and Payne who takes a throw away role as the trucker and makes it memorable) and some artistic choices from the director. This part of the film definitely rose the bar on where it would go from there.

That's about the time the film gets a bit disappointing. Despite a rather interesting twist that makes many of the odd moments of the first act pay off, the film drowns in modern horror mistakes. The film has a great setting (an abandoned slaughterhouse/factory area), but they rarely use it to create tension or build that larger than life fear. In fact, there is very little good solid atmosphere at all here. With its quick edit, frantic in the moment style editing (which does save the film from having to pour out too much money into special effects) the film feels like a cluster where we don't quite know what's happening. Who died? Why? What's that? Am I supposed to be scared? It just becomes an ADD nightmare with some nice gory bits. It kills the mood and character build of the first part, which is sad because it was damn good.

"Prowl" might not be all that original, but its first half really built something well designed to carry a charm and artistic flair to a normally cliche vampire flick. It falls about in the last half with its lack of atmosphere and poor editing that quickly kill many of the great aspects of what the film could have become, stranding "Prowl" right in the middle of mediocre street with no car and no sign of perseverance.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I Saw The Devil - 4.5/5

My anticipation level for "I Saw The Devil" was pretty high. Kim Ji-woon has easily become one of the most interesting and rightly praised directors in the world of film and his movies like "A Tale Of Two Sisters" and "The Good, The Bad, The Weird" have earned him a place of prestige here at Blood Brothers. His latest blood wrought thriller, "I Saw The Devil", easily ranks up with the previous mentioned films in its expert execution in front of and behind the camera.

Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun) is a special forces trained officer who has just received some very devastating news. His fiance (pregnant with a child nonetheless) has just been found brutally slain by a serial killer (Choi Min-sik). With a vow of vengeance, determination unbound, and his training he begins to stalk and hunt the killer down relentlessly. As their tales begin to interweave spiraling them both into hellish circumstances, Soo-hyun begins to find himself becoming a monster as despicable as the one he is chasing.

As odd enough as it is, despite a script with obvious flaws that fails to be quite as impactful as one could hope (it still hits you once or twice in the guy emotionally), Kim Ji-woon's directing and the vary talented work of our two leads and their supporting casts, carries this film further than it probably should have gone. Without their charm as an ensemble, this film might have just been another cliche thriller landing in my queue. The story is good, but without the stellar cast and director, it would not have been near as good as it is.

This of course, leaves a rather basic thriller strictly in the hands of its makers. A special mention must be made to the two leads, who handedly carry this film and give it so much more meaning then it would have without their great on screen efforts. Lee Byung-hun from "The Good, The Bad, The Weird" gives a riveting performance as our hell-bound hero. Although sometimes it was a bit too subtle than one would hope for initially, his off as a character in the final moments make his journey one of incredible tragedy. Partnered with this is a bat shit and diabolically motivated performance from Choi Min-sik (of "Oldboy" fame) whose striking screen presence more than makes for a memorable and creepy villain.

Kim Ji-woon handles the script with perfect finesse as he balances out the dramatic tension to the surface of an otherwise brutally violent thriller. A stellar cast and more than able vision for a rather mundane script makes "I Saw The Devil" another amazing film out of South Korea. Right now, these guys just know great film making and this is another prime example of it. A must see.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Fast Five - 4.5/5

Hold on. It's hard to type with my foot planted firmly in my mouth. I must admit, until a few weeks ago when I started reviewing "The Fast And The Furious" franchise due to requests for this site, I was firmly opposed to this franchise. After seeing the rather impressive "Fast & Furious" and now the more than impressive "Fast Five", I'm okay with eating my disdain. Not all of the films are as bad as "2 Fast" as it turns out and in the case of "Fast Five", they are a kick ass combination of fun character chemistry and blow-your-ass-out-the-seat action. Ironically, making the fifth entry the best thus far.

Brian (Walker) and Mia (Brewster) are still on the run after busting family member and general badass Dom (Diesel) on delivery to prison. They find themselves in Rio broke and in the present of old friend Vince (Schulze). When a heist to earn some money goes wrong Dom, Brian, and Mia come at odds with both an expert DSS hunter ('The Rock' Johnson) and Rio's biggest drug baron. To get themselves out, they build a team of all of the best thieves and drivers from previous films to take down the drug baron and score themselves 100 million dollars.

"Fast Five" is gloriously over the top and it knows damn well what it wants to accomplish in its 130 minute run time. Bringing back Justin Lin to direct and really shifting the franchise from a racing series to full on action film was the perfect combination to make this film rock. From the initial Dom break out on a prison bus (that seriously defies physics to flip so many times I started to laugh out loud) to the final vault break car chase that seemingly never ends much to my chagrin, "Fast Five" is non stop very awesome action that will make your jaw drop with awesomeness. You get gun fights, espionage, car chases, car explosions, and a fist fight between Diesel and The Rock through an entire building which is worth the price of this film alone. If you are looking for top notch modern action, "Fast Five" is easily where it is at.

Of course, action is all good - I mean who doesn't want to see a giant truck get rammed through the side of a train? - but does the film itself work? Well, the story is just as over the top as the action in all honesty. The dialogue is a ton of one liners worked into some thin basic action film plot lines. The Rock does have some tear inducing humorous lines of the kick ass quality. If you can't take a story that pushes the lines of logic or dialogue that isn't taken all that serious, then know that "Fast Five" utilizes this to full effect.

It must also be noted that the chemistry of the cast on screen is so much fun that it makes all of the action and ridiculous plot points seem feasible. Lin, as a director, just captures the action and chemistry of the film perfectly and ably navigates the ensemble cast to almost perfection. Many times ensemble casts just crumble, but not with "Fast Five". It only adds to the whole ridiculousness of the film and makes it a blast to watch.

Thusly, after seeing this fifth entry, I have to admit that this series is turning out to be one hell of a great thing. It started off shaky, turned ugly for a while, but with Lin at the helm and a new focus on its foundations, it's becoming one of my favorites. There I said it. Foot in mouth. "Fast Five" rocked and rolled me. Consider this an apology for my doubt from film one.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Runaway Train (1985)

RUNAWAY TRAIN


After watching the typical Hollywood puke “Unstoppable” with my wife I decided to revisit one of my all time favorite films with a similar plot entitled “Runaway Train”. Unlike 'that other film', “Runaway Train” has artistic merit within its thinly disguised disaster plot. It’s cold, grim, depressing and superb… all ingredients for a film to be a critical success and at the same time a huge box office bomb.
“Runaway Train” at its heart is a peculiar amalgamation of talented filmmakers from all around the world. First we have award winning Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai) penning the script brought to life by Russian visionary director Andrey Konchalovskiy. All this is financed by Israeli B-movie moguls Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus under their Cannon films logo. How the hell did this multi-national triumvirate come together and not be a disaster? I’m not sure but did it ever turn out grand!
The plot at first glance looks simple… it’s about two prisoners that escape an Alaskan Maximum Security prison and hitch a ride on a train to freedom. The problem is the engineer has a heart attack leaving the train careening out of control.
Sounds like a typical disaster film doesn’t it? It's not. This is anything but a disaster film. This is a grand character study drama draped over by its disaster plot. Instead of focusing of the problem at hand, the film focuses on it’s extremely flawed characters who are cast perfectly.
Our two escaped prisoners are portrayed by Jon Voight and Eric Roberts…. Both superb. Manny (Voight) is a wild eyed, dark hearted soul that is deeply respected by his fellow inmates. I won’t lie as his character is unlikeable but Voight’s intense performance draws you into this deeply flawed character’s world. If his ramblings don’t get the viewer on the edge of their seat then the viewer doesn’t respect good acting. Voight’s unforgettable portrayal earned him a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination, an award he should have won.
Roberts is also fantastic as the dim-witted boxer that follows behind Voight like an annoying puppy dog. His performance here proves that he is one of the most underrated actors of all time… no I really mean it. He is absolutely fantastic and his performance also earned him a Golden Globe nomination. To top it off the supporting cast also really shines, headed by Rebecca De Mornay as a railroad worker trapped on the train with the inmates and John P. Ryan as the sadistic warden willing to do anything to capture his inmates. The train itself even takes on a character persona, even a face after it crashes into a caboose of another train. One can’t help but get goosebumps as it charges head-on, growling like a ferocious beast into boarded up train tunnels along an abandoned track for derailment.
Since the location of the film takes place up in the cold, grim Northern region, the producers must have asked themselves who would know cold and grim the best. The answer is of course a Russian hence Andrey Konchalovskiy was the picture perfect choice as he captures the cold and loneliness of the snow-covered wasteland wonderfully, really adding to the brooding atmosphere of the film. He also is able to marvelously intercut our two parallel plot lines of our victims on the train as well as the people at headquarters trying to help them by balancing out the drama, action and suspense to near perfection.
I don’t give very many films the honor of having 5 stars but “Runaway Train” deserves every damn one. There isn’t an aspect of this film I can rag on. The visionary directing, the moving performances, the atmospherically grim landscape, the deep underlying meanings on humanity, the emotional score and the picture perfect ending makes this a depressing albeit a rewarding film experience. Strip this film of all that praise and you’re left with “Unstoppable”. “Runaway Train” has always been and always will be one of my all time favorite films and it’s due time this criminally underrated gem deserves to be dug up and repolished.
Written By Eric Reifschneider

Don't Open Till Christmas - 1/5

1984 was a tremendous year for Christmas time slashers as we were graced with both "Silent Night, Deadly Night" and to a lesser extent "Don't Open Till Christmas." "Silent Night" shocked the nation with it's portrayal of killer dressed as Santa brutally butchering people. "Don't Open" didn't shock the nation as a killer is brutally butchering people that are dressed as Santa. What the hell? This is from the makers of "Pieces", perhaps the most brutal slasher of all time yet this yule tide slasher didn't even get noticed? Apparently a Santa killer is a NO NO but a killer killing Santas is acceptable. That's just as about two faced as Wal-Mart refusing to carry unedited versions of CDs yet carrying the 3 disc unrated version of "Caligula". In other words it makes no fucking sense!

Another reason that this British slasher didn't shake the foundations like it's brother in crime as it was released under the radar due to many, many production quandaries. The first major problem is that our director and main star Edmund Purdom left the film half way through due to disagreements with the producers. The rest of the film was finished by the editor and producer. That's three different directors! Due to Purdom being the main star the rest of the film had to be re-written to explain his absence. This of course makes the film an incomprehensible mess of bloody shit.

The plot is simple enough with a killer stalking people dressed as Santa but all the re-writes even makes this simple plot almost impossible to follow. Certain characters that are written in to be major contributors to the plot (like the photographer) just simply disappear with no explanation. Other characters disappear with lame explanations like our main detective (the director that walked off) just simply being suspended off screen no less. Many important scenes that should have been filmed are also left up to our secondary characters to tell the audience what the fuck is going on by boring dialogue.

Other than the mess of a plot, slasher fans that like their films sleazy will get a major Christmas present with this one. This is every bit as sleazy as "Silent Night, Deadly Night" perhaps even more so. Lots and lots of female flesh is present. All the Santa Clause characters are also sleazy drunks with most stumbling around and/or going to porno stores. Trust me all these slobs are human ashtrays and deserve to get offed. They are also incredibly fucking stupid because if there is a killer butchering people dressed as Santa wouldn't you think they would, I don't know, quit their job? FUCK!

The production troubles not only fucked up the plot but also makes the editing look like it was hacked by a psychotic Santa. All the extreme gore sequences look like they were added in as an afterthought in order to compete with other gory slashers at the time. The score also seems like it was recorded before the film was finished as it really doesn't' fit with certain sequences, like dialogue scenes with music more suited for a stalking sequence.

With schlock producer Dick Randall, the man responsible for the unapologetic and guiltily pleasure slasher "Pieces", this should have been just as much a guilty pleasure as its rival "Silent Night, Deadly Night" but thanks to all the production problems we get a pieced together film that has terrible plot flow. Saying this film is a mess is an understatement but it's worth a look for slasher fans that prefer to their films with sleaze and bloody violence.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

9 Deaths of the Ninja - 1.5/5

After making the highly enjoyable Ninja trilogy for Cannon films (which includes "Enter the Ninja", "Revenge of the Ninja" and "Ninja III: The Domination"), Cannon and star Sho Kosugi parted ways as apparently Cannon had enough exploiting the Ninja craze they helped create in the early 1980s (though they would later return with the "American Ninja" series). Kosugi, however, was not and went on his own to produce a number of Ninja films without the Cannon banner. Did they live up to the endless entertainment value of his previous Ninja trilogy? Well....

Kosugi plays.... what else... a ninja. He is one of three members of an inept rescue force that is sent down to the Philippines to rescue some hostages taken by a psychotic invalid Nazi and his army of lesbian women. No, I am not making this shit up.

Kosugi and director Emmett Alston actually play this film as a tongue-in-cheek spoof of the Ninja film genre and to be honest I didn't dig this approach. I preferred the unintentional hilarity of Kosugi's Ninja trilogy as they took themselves seriously. I found this tongue-in-cheek approach to be, well, rather doltish. Instead of making me laugh, like they tried to, it made me cringe with horror at the moronic antics the film displayed.

The filmmakers throw everything in but the kitchen sink to see what sticks. We get a lesbian army, a Neanderthal man who can stop bullets with his hand and a crazed Nazi invalid who looks like a cross between Dr. Strangelove and David Cross's character from "Scary Movie 2". Hell we even get ninja midgets thrown into the mix! I however did enjoy the immensely cheesy opening titles sequence obviously influenced by James Bond with Kosugi training with his sword around women dancing. It has to be seen to be believed!

Despite the films moronic approach and cheap production values there is no denying Kosugi's fantastic martial arts skills. Even with his massive amounts of eyeliner (that surprisingly doesn't get washed off when training under waterfalls) he still has a captivating screen presence which can make even his worst Ninja films at least watchable.

Instead of unintentional laughs I got a moronic spoof of the ninja film genre and it just ends up coming out puerile. The golden rule is as long as Ninja films play it straight, they're funny but when they try to play if for laughs, they're annoying and "9 Deaths of the Ninja" is annoying. I can't say I didn't' get some enjoyment out of it, just not near to the extent of Kosugi's much more gratifying Ninja trilogy. So in final words did "9 Deaths of the Ninja" prove that Kosugi on his own could make just as 'good' Ninja films he did under the Cannon banner? Well that's a big fat NO and I recommend viewers wanting to see what Sho Kosugi has to offer to start with his Cannon outings first.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Patriot, The (1986) - 1.5/5

Over a decade before Mel Gibson and Steven Segal portrayed a 'Patriot' in their separate and totally unrelated films there was Gregg Henry. Never heard of him? Well he is actually a really underrated actor that has appeared in dozens of great movies.... but sadly "The Patriot" isn't one of them. Hey, what can you expect from the director who gave us such unwatchable action junk like "Killpoint" and "Low Blow".

Well we get some jackasses steal a nuclear warhead and a salvage crew member notices that her boss is up to some sneaky shit after finding a nuclear radiation sticker. She approaches her old friend, our patriot, with her information and he takes it upon himself to do some investigating which in turn gets his friend killed. In comes the Navy who gives our 'patriot' an offer he can't refuse, a reinstatement into the military with his dishonorable discharge to honorable if he can catch the terrorists. The result is a few by-the-number action scenes that action fans have seen time and time before and better.

Compared to director Frank Harris's previous two films I've had the displeasure to witness, "The Patriot" comes about being a step better... but not by much. The production values are a hair better and his handling of the camera has improved a bit but overall the direction is still piss poor.

What also helps this film rise above Harris's previous films is the cast as we actually get good actors for a change. Sure there are a handful of the directors stock actors that reappear but casting Gregg Henry in the lead role helps tremendously. This guy is seriously underrated and it's great to finally see him get an actual main starring role but sadly it had to be such drivel like this. Hell we even get a short appearance by the late great Leslie Nielsen as an admiral.

The cast may be better but director Fank Harris proves yet again how inept his behind the camera. With an actual director with talent this could have been an action film worth hunting down but as is it's just another forgettable C-grade 80s action film. Underrated actors like Gregg Henry deserve so much better than rubbish like "The Patriot".

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Low Blow (1986) - 1/5

From the director and star of "Killpoint".... that statement proves I'm going to need alcohol going into this C-grade action suckfest. Either that or a loaded pistol and a roll of plastic covering our coach (the plastic is for my wife's sake.)

Leo Fong returns playing a private detective. When he's not being in the right places at the wrong time killing criminals, he's beating the streets of a rural farming community trying to find some rich bastard's daughter who has joined some bizarre cult that only seem to hoe corn fields all day to the might voice of Cameron Mitchell.

Well director Frank Harris actually did it, he made a shittier action film than "Killpoint". "Killpoint" at least had extreme violence throughout and a interesting urban setting unlike this pile of shit. The few action scenes are poorly staged and the overall look of the film looks even cheaper than "Killpoint". If you're looking for a visual stimulating film then you are about to be bored to death. The dialogue isn't any better and I can thank the poor sound production for the score thankfully drowns out the films dialogue.

Leo Fong is as wooden as usual, looking far too old and frail to be starring in such drivel that demands physicality. As for the rest of the cast get ready for some déjà vu as nearly the entire cast of "Killpoint" returns. Cameron Mitchell again makes the film somewhat stomachable with his ridiculous portrayal of the cult leader who spends most of the time lounging in cornfields.

Along with the boring plot there are far too many ridiculous elements to this film that just get my blood boiling. First of all Leo Fong kills tons of guys (even some robbers in a dinner in 'glorious' "Dirty Harry" fashion) yet he never gets questioned by the police. Also what the hell is up with this religious cult? All they do is spend all day hoeing corn fields... I'm not shitting you! The scene that takes the cake however is when Leo Fong crushes a guy's head and it literally crumbles like it's made of ceramic.

Well "Low Blow" lives up to its title as it gives the audience a low blow that are looking for an entertaining time. Sure there a very few scenes that get some unintentional laughs but they are too few and far between to make it worth sitting through this entire inept mess. Do yourself a favor and rent or buy an action film by the Cannon Films production company in order to fill your B-action cravings.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Friday, May 13, 2011

Blackjack - 1/5

For this John Woo fan, every day couldn't be greener grass and bigger bullets I suppose. That's how I felt when my brother let me watch his crappy DVD copy of the very forgetful film "Blackjack". Even when John Woo does bad movies (which he does a lot), his talent for charm and action usually make up for their gaping plot holes, horrid dialogue, and poor acting. Not here. Oh no. Not on "Blackjack". This is a mark on Woo's catalog as the film spirals into pools of poor scripting, odd ball moments, and low production values. As a Woo fan, I would have been alright skipping this one to save myself the disappointment.

Jack Devlin (Lundgren) is an ex-Marshall who now lends his talented hands out as a body guard, detective, and all around blow shit up kind of guy - sometimes all three! - and when his latest assignment, protecting an up and coming model from some psycho, seems to get out of hand he is the only guy for the job. With the help of his trusty one eyed butler (Oh yes, he wears a patch) and one of his good friends orphaned daughter who he is now guardian of (Oh yes, tummy aches are priorities now) he must figure out who this snarly baddie is and kill him before shit goes down. Did I mention he has a phobia of the color white?

In all reality, once one realizes that "Blackjack" was originally filmed as an elongated pilot to kick off Lundgren's TV career, things tend to come into focus. Things become clear enough to realize that this concept (which reeks of side characters and unfinished arcs for further episodes) just simply doesn't work as a two hour movie. His phobia of the color white, the weird butler with ties to the mob, the new kid in the house, the weird relationship with his shrink - all feel completely left as poorly developed sub plots. It's obvious that they wanted to flesh this out later on, which would never happen, and it leaves the film feeling like there is a ton of random side crap that just doesn't make sense or matter. Partner this with the extremely low production values (just look at those credits!) and it smells like made for TV shit.

Not to mention that it feels as though John Woo is battling so much of this that he never gets to fully utilize his style here. We occasionally get some of that great action he is known for with some fun camera work, but its rare and brief in its use (the ridiculous car bomb scene has potential but is just full of gaping plot holes to work). Not to mention some of his normally good traits are misused. The jazzy score feels completely out of place and the cool settings for the action sequences seem to pop out of nowhere. Really? A MILK FACILITY? Given more time, money, and maybe effort and I'm sure even Woo could have saved this picture to some degree. He did make Van Damme look like a mullet-ed bad ass.

As is, "Blackjack" pretty much sucks from beginning to end. The story is cliche and when it veers off of its standard ABC's of bad action film, its so random and obviously ripened for TV picking that it ceases to make sense. This is only for die hard Woo fans who want to have everything by the action director great. Otherwise skip it and go get yourself a carton of milk. Never know when you can use it to slip from the leathery grip of a henchmen.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Alien 3 (1992)

Director: David Fincher
Notable Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Brian Glover, Lance Henriksen

Although fan and critics seem to agree that "Alien 3" was a misstep, it's hard for this reviewer to necessarily write off the film so easily, especially after watching the 30 minute extended cut of the film. Compared to the likes of "Alien" and "Aliens" it's also hard to deny that this third entry is not a step down in quality. Fortunately, the film does have quite a bit going for it despite its structural flaws, making it a film that gets an 'A' for on screen effort, but a 'B' for its foundational work.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Green Hornet, The - 2/5

With the slew of superhero films hitting us recently (and more or less to some pretty high standards any more), it was only a matter of time before one hit us as a misstep. Granted, I was never a big Green Hornet fan to begin with so let that be known, but this comedic/action film just simply never makes the cut with its oddly placed and over the top ridiculousness and semi-childish humor. It's a fun film that makes light of itself more often than not and does contain some charming ideas, but it never knows where it stands or how to proceed and the film ends up just treading water, never going anywhere.

Britt (Rogen) has had a rather purposeless life thus far. His father is a media mongol who runs The Daily Sentinel and his life is filled with luxurious wasted time. When his father passes from an allergic reaction to a bee sting (I'm sure you can fill in the blanks already), Britt decides to finally take the reigns in life. Using his wealth and oddly heroic sense of kicking ass and taking names, he partners up with Kato (Chou) a well armed super intelligent mechanic and martial arts expert, to start taking down crime as The Green Hornet. Unbeknownst to him though, he stumbles on a larger conspiracy that may trace all the way back to his father.

Rumors of a "Green Hornet" film have been swirling back and forth for decades. So when they finally got the balls enough to make it, its hard not to be somewhat disappointed with some of their choices. I understand that the concept is kind of cheesy and that modernizing it would be tough, but playing it off as mostly a comedic film seemed to undermine the experience. Despite trying to add dramatic bits here in there to balance off the Rogen cliche humor bits, the film fails to really grasp onto some of the bigger things it needed to latch onto to work. The humor/drama ratio is off. Then throw in some very stylized action sequences (with a random 'thought-in-the-moment-highlight-for-the-audience-particular-items-like-guns-and-objects-to-look-for-in-the-fight-sequence' that never works) and the film bounces around genres like the ADD people that seemingly wrote the script. It has a good pacing and still rocks occasionally, but the film just crumbles under a more scrutinizing eye.

The film also, believe it or not, suffers from Seth Rogen as the lead. Don't get me wrong, Rogen can be VERY funny at times, but casting him as the Green Hornet is like casting Adam Sandler as The Flash. It's a combination that might seem funnier on paper (funny, considering Rogen co-wrote it), but comes off as awkward on film. Not to mention the script caters to his random quip banter style of humor, which can be funny at times, but seems irritatingly childish too. For a PG-13 film, he sure does say shit and crap a lot. And makes gay sex references haphazardly way too much. It's just awkward.

In all honesty, the one thing I really loved about the film was Jay Chou as Kato. Although my heart was set on the announced Stephen Chow (you know, the awesome comedic/kung fu actor from "Kung Fu Hustle" and "Shaolin Soccer"?), but when he left Chou was a great replacement. His fun little homages to Bruce Lee and ability to blend humor into his rather serious demenour made the film for me and was worth watching. Watching him do the ridiculous stunts and fighting was fun. It's a wonder this guy was a mega-pop artist before films.

"The Green Hornet" just comes off as a rather blustery superhero film that never makes the cut for any of the genres it tries to utilize in its overly long script. It has some great action sequences with some great car stunts, but its story is lack luster, cliche, and the Rogen can be down right irritating with his non stop quips. Luckily Chou makes up for some of the chemistry on screen and is the highlight of the film. "The Green Hornet" is worth the rental, but I'll be waiting to buy this one in the cheapy bin at Wal-Mart in about a year and a half.

BONUS RANT: Also, Christoph Waltz is seriously underused as the villain. The potential for this arrogantly humorous crime lord who changes his name to Bloodnofsky to be more super villain like is primed for the picking... and the film fails to do so...ever. A hero is only as good as it's villain and the underdeveloped and rather awkward misuse of Waltz is just partnered with the awkwardness of the Hornet. Sigh.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Killpoint (1984) - 1/5

In the 80s there was plenty of B-grade action films mostly courteous of my favorite production company Cannon films. Even with lower production values and heightened cheesiness these films had endless entertainment value. There were also plenty of C-grade action movies that infected video store shelves which gave us even lower production values, poorer filmmaking quality and overall nearly no entertainment value. "Killpoint" is one of these C-grade entries.

We open with a guy robbing a National Guard armory in the goal of selling the weapons to street gangs of Los Angeles. FBI Agent Bill Bryant (Richard Roundtree) and L.A. Cop Lt. James Long (Leo Fong) team up to take them down.

The production values are less than shoe-string and it shows with all around poor filmmaking. Director Frank Harris just plain and simple doesn't know how to direct a film. Even the martial arts sequences are beyond awful and poorly choreographed.

The cast however is delightful but let's be honest these guys are on the downward spiral of their career. First of all we get Richard "Shaft" Roundtree playing his stock suited cop character. Cameron Mitchell steals the show however as our eccentric gun dealer. I've always liked Mitchell all the way from his early Spaghetti Westerns all the way through his foray into exploitation and B-movies of the 70s and 80s. He is the ONLY thing that makes this film watchable as his quirkiness shines through. Scenes where he kills someone in cold blood followed by a scene where he's sitting in a hot tub with flowers in his hair got me to chuckle.

Our main star Leo Fong is the real humdinger. Apparently this actor did a few ninja films before teaming up with director Frank Harris to make a few nearly unwatchable action efforts but there really isn't anything remotely interesting about this guy. He's pushing sixty, his martial arts abilities are lacking and, not to sound necessarily mean, but he's incredibly hard to look at, especially the close-ups during his training montage.

The only thing that kept my attention during the entire running time is for the fact this is rather violent with plenty of pointless killing sprees as gangs gun down innocent people in various locations. The film tries to give motive behind the killings but I don't buy it, it's just pointless. The violence also seems heavily cut to garner it's R rating.

"Killpoint" is a dire C-grade action effort that's so repugnant in its filmmaking approach that it can be hard to watch at times. The only aspect to keep viewers interested is the eccentric performance of Cameron Mitchell and some violent action sequences but there are much, MUCH better cheesy action films lining your local video store shelves.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Blood at Sundown - 3.5/5

"Blood at Sundown" is popular with the Spaghetti Western crowd today as it was the film that gave birth to the name Sartana. Yes the name would be later reused in the popular Sartana pentology but this is so much more than only a film that gave us a popular name. It is an atmospheric, brooding western about brotherly rivalry that deserves to be seen by fans of the genre.

Anthony Steffen plays a brother recently released from a 10 year stint in prison, serving time for a murder he didn't commit. Upon being let out he finds that his brother Sartana (Gianni Garko) has taken his women and has become a high class criminal that rackets big bucks from local towns for protection. Steffen doesn't take kindly to this and with no support from his psychotic mother (who sides with Sartana), he takes the law into his own hands to wreak vengeance on the brother that has ruined his life.

The real draw to this western is the cast consisting of Anthony Steffen and Gianni Garko, two of the biggest heavy weights in the Spaghetti Western genre. Steffen is wonderful in his typical strong, silent antihero role and Garko plays against type here as an eccentric villain. I'm used to seeing Garko play heroes and wealthy businessmen so seeing him play a rugged, borderline psychotic was rather refreshing and proves his versatile as an actor.

Director Alberto Cardone wonderfully gives this Western a dirt blasted, atmospheric feel to go along with it's almost Shakespearian brotherly hatred plot. I loved the look that Cardone gave the film and it's a damn shame he didn't direct more films as his filmography is far too short. The score by Michele Lacerenza is also fantastic and it should be as he aided Ennio Morricone in his marvelous scores for "Fistful of Dollars" and "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly." Like the director it's a damn shame this guy didn't provide more wonderful scores for more films.

Typical with Spaghetti Westerns there are numerous flaws. We get some bad dubbing, some awkward dialogue translation and even some jumpy editing. Fans of the genre are used to these flaws so they don't hinder the film too much.

"Blood at Sundown" is so much more than the film that introduced us to the name "Sartana." It's a damn fine western in its own right and the greatest crime is that there isn't a proper DVD release of this film. It is packaged in a set called "Sartana: The Complete Saga" but the transfer is of a beat up VHS source. With its powerhouse cast, mesmerizing score and stylistic direction this film deserves to have a proper DVD treatment sometime in the future.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Scorpion (1986) - 1/5

I originally bought "Scorpion" used from a mom and pop video store when I was in high school but the tape was unwatchable due to being wore out and damaged. After all these years and finally being able to sit down and watch the entire film I find it hard to believe that it was actually rented enough to be wore out. Perhaps it was an unlucky renter who wanted to ruin the tape on purpose in order to save unlucky future viewers from witnessing this monstrosity.

Well we get a special agent code named "Scorpion" who drives around Mexico in a Porche beating up jackasses in local bars. Well he finally gets an assignment to enter an airplane that has been taken over by middle eastern terrorists (he enters the plane in Jockey shorts no less... barf). Now he gets assigned to protect a middle eastern terrorist with vital information but his best buddy bits the big one so he takes it on himself to solve the plot blinded by vengeance.

The title character is played by nobody Tonny Tulleners who was advertised on the original VHS box art as a kickboxer who originally fought Chuck Norris professionally. Speaking of Chuck Norris, Tulleners tries extremely hard to mimic his former foe to no avail. He grows a big, manly 80s 'stach to be even more Norris-like. Sadly he lacks the charm, wit, martial arts ability and overall likability of his rival. Hell Tullener's voice is even annoying!

The whole film is filmed unskillfully in the hands of director William Riead. This guy directed a shit ton of made for TV film making documentaries throughout the decade with "Scorpion" being his first 'professional' film. Guess what? He gives "Scorpion" and extremely dull, made for TV documentary look. He can't even film a good martial arts sequences properly.

The original poster artwork with our hero jumping through a pane of glass made this look like an entertaining piece of 80s action cheese but it's an all out lie. The film is boring and drab in the hands of a documentary film director and Tonny Tulleners is completely uninteresting as an action hero. "Scorpion" proved to be his one and only foray into the action film world and I guarantee no one will shed a tear over the matter. Do yourself a favor... rent any Chuck Norris action film instead of this boring drek.

Written By Eric Reifschneider

Friday, May 6, 2011

Warrior's Way, The - 2/5

Another cowboys and ninjas film? Oh hell, despite the idea running a bit thin lately, might as well catch a gander at this American version of the concept right? Unlike some of its peers though, "The Warrior's Way" is one of those films that loses itself in the swirling visual style and epic flare of its concept. I've used this phrase before (oh so many many times), but "The Warrior's Way" is all about style above substance. This is quite unsettling as the film held a lot of potential with its plot and characters, but most of it is forgotten in its Anime inspired romp through fairy tale land. Not quite what one expects with the high standards set by "Sukiyaki Western Django" and "The Good, The Bad, The Weird".

Yang (Dong-gun Jang) is the world's most badass assassin and swordsman. He moves with lightning speeds and cuts with the strength to decapitate a man in one fluid motion. In a weird twist of fate though, he fails to kill the baby girl of his rival clan and takes her into his care, betraying his own, and fleeing his land. He ends up in the wild west searching for an old friend and finds himself trying to start a new life in a town of circus folk. There he finds a young girl (Bosworth) who catches his eye and for a brief moment sees a future without death. Too bad both of them have pasts ready to kill them. These pasts are catching up. Now its up to Yang to decide who he really is and whether or not he can let the deeds done finally go.

I really, really, really want to love this movie. The plot has some much great potential. The character Yang might be a bit cliche (assassin with a heart tries to move on....how many times have we seen that one?), but Jang plays it subtly with tons of heart so it works to point. The plot combining the east and west motifs is an interesting one with two past riddled people who's worlds collide. This builds to a potentially great show down of bandits and ninjas at the end. This film could have had a lot going for it.

COULD HAVE.

It never gets there. It brushes through all the great moments at high speed turns, pushing through the character arcs and plot depth to get to the next cool sequence rather than letting it build and work the story and action together. In this sense, the action can be very cool. There are tons of fantastic shots here, although there is way too much CGI going on, with the sword play and stunning comic book settings and visuals. The film feels like a live action anime more often than not actually. The director loves to use slow motion a bit too much to add to the epic-ness of the fights (must have decided "300" was the be all end all of badass movies to be his inspiration), but it still creates some memorable looking concepts executed out. The final show down of ninjas and bandits does entertain I have to admit, but in the end "The Warrior's Way" comes out as a film so focused on this that it forgets it has a pretty good tale to tell. Thusly we are left nonchalant about our heroes and their plight as long as a lot of ass gets kicked. Which it does.

"The Warrior's Way" is disappointing in missing its mark. The potential for a great film is buried in the lavish CGI back drops and slow motion sword slashing. If only the focus would have been more refined for the actors, writing, and directing. This film could have not only kicked ass action wise, but had the depth to found its ridiculousness. As is, the film might find its cult audience with time, but fails to really impress at this time.

Written By Matt Reifschneider