Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Goth (2008)

Although taking a trip into the psyche of two misunderstood Japanese youth was not quite what I expected from "Goth", the journey there on film was a well executed and often intriguing experience. Perhaps it wasn't the horrific serial killer thriller I was expecting, but the end result was an almost dream like spiral into the interactions and connections of two fascinating characters whose own lives feel unfulfilled. "Goth" is more like a dramatic character study set to the background of a serial killer investigation, rather than a true thriller. Thusly, don't get your expectations for one to only find something else.

Kamiyama (Kanata) and Morino (Rin) are two high school kids obsessed with death. When a serial killer comes to town leaving his young female victims with only one hand and sitting in public places, they instantly form a connection to each other as they try to follow the crimes. When Morino happens upon the killer's diary, they decide to try and get close to the killer...perhaps too close.

As I stated above, I certainly did not expect "Goth" to take the subtle character driven route to tell this story. That doesn't mean that director Takahashi doesn't execute it in a fantastic and deep manner. The two leads own the massively subtle script (which is based on a book/manga that's divided into short stories) and their often unapproachable characters with an artist's touch. The execution of this highly detail oriented tale and the strength of its leads definitely lifts the artistic balance of this film to a very high level. A level where my initial reactions to the film greatly differed from those after thinking about the film for a few hours and sitting on what I just witnessed.
Not exactly the Scooby Doo team I imagined...
This artistic flair is also forced to the forefront with the visual style of the film. "Goth" contains an almost dream like quality to how it goes about creating its shots and its color distortions. Although the dreary muted colors often became an annoyance of style, the way that it ignites the whites on screen (including Kamiyama's shirt which is, at times, like staring into the sun) gives the film a very unique look. Matched with the subtlety of its script and quietness of the characters, "Goth" is like watching someone else's disturbed dream at times.

The larger issue that is presented by this stylistic choice for the film is the fact that it rarely feels like the film is going to go anywhere. The premise of the serial killer cooks the film off to a start where it ceases to really move all that much (beyond character work) until Morino finds the diary. Even then it feels as though the true plot of the film seems to be secondary to our character study. This makes for a film of significant slow burn, one where I found myself craving it to kick it up a notch to really push the audience there...and the film never really does. Even when the two discover the killer's identity and make their presences known to him/her (no spoilers here!), there seems to be a lack of urgency in the film's pacing. A price that leaves its ending almost too lackluster for my tastes.

"Goth" was a surprising path for a serial killer thriller film to take. It's focus on the leads' relationship and their psychological growth makes for a wonderful and artistic drama that hones in on its visual flair and subtle moments. It also makes for a somewhat boring thriller that rarely gives us the punch we so desperately need by the end of the film. Mostly for fans of good solid artistic thrillers...which we are here at Blood Brothers.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Clint the Nevada's Loner (1967)


CLINT THE NEVADA'S LONER

AKA "Clint the Stranger"


The title is an obvious reference to Clint Eastwood's infamous character in the "Man with No Name" trilogy but oddly enough "Clint the Stranger" (also known by its more awkward alternate moniker "Clint the Nevada's Loner") is as about as far removed from the stylistic approach of the of the Leone films as a Spaghetti Western can get. It may not take place in the sun blasted Almería deserts or contain scraggly anti-heroes but that alone doesn't make it a bad entry into the genre. On the contrary, "Clint the Stranger" is rather good but is sadly overlooked due to its drastically different style.
Clint (George Martin) is a gunslinger wanting to regain the love of his wife and child. After tracking them down to a secluded ranch, his wife says she will take him back only if he gives up his guns and violent ways for good. The problem is a local cattle ranch is threatening the lives of the local sod-busters so Clint will soon have to renege on his promise in order to save his family and neighbors.
"Just because I'm not Clint Eastwood doesn't mean I'm not worthy!"
Unlike Leone's blue-print for the genre, "Clint the Stranger" takes place in a lush green valley making for a truly beautiful location that contrasts Leone's hot, deadly deserts. The plot is also far less violent, obviously influenced by "Shane" with George Martin's Clint character being the polar opposite of Eastwood's 'no name' character by being an all around nice guy that goes out of his way to help others, even gritting his teeth while being branded a 'coward' in order to regain the love of his family.
This Clint can defy gravity when leaping hell's fire
Don't let all that detour you as there is still plenty for Spaghetti Western aficionados to love here. There is a well staged bar fight as well as some tense shootouts with great stunts. The villains are also egregious and are completely despicable thanks to the script delving more into their characterizations. These guys are true douche bags!
... we're not in the Almería anymore
"Clint the Stranger" will not appeal to some Spaghetti Western fans due to its more traditional western approach and for the fact the plot is just an Italian version of "Shane". Hell I wasn't that big of a fan at first since it was so different than what I was used to from films in the genre. On second viewing it impressed me far more with its solid characters and acting as well as an immersing plot. I say give it a shot and the Wild East DVD is completely uncut for fans that are willing to try it. A sequel titled "The Return of Clint the Stranger" (confusingly titled "There's a Noose Waiting for You... Trinity" for American release) did follow a few years later with George Martin returning but it is essentially a remake and far less of a film.
 Written By Eric Reifschneider

Darkest Hour, The (2011)

Director: Chris Gorak
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby, Max Minghella, Rachael Taylor

Truly artistic films rise above their genres to become something more. More mainstream entertaining films will try to blend genres instead, mashing together various elements in a desperate attempt to get as many people into the seats as possible. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. "The Darkest Hour" doesn't work. I really really doesn't work. In another attempt to bring a science fiction film mainstream, this collaborated American/Russian film rarely embraces its very cool concept and instead tries to spread it across a few other genres like action, horror, post apocalyptic drama...damn, it tries to be most things except comedy (at which it does try but fails). It spreads itself too thin and comes off as a two dimensional film tacked together with a thin script and thinner characters.

When on a business trip to Moscow, two friends and co-workers (Hirsch and Minghella) find themselves at a loss after being screwed over on their internet idea. They end up at a bar with two other American girls (Thirlby and Taylor) trying to move on from their smashed dreams. Turns out that their dreams are not the only thing smashed when a massive alien invasion rains down onto the city. Barely escaping the initial attack from invisible and electronically based life-forms, they have to figure a way to get out of the city alive...or risk dying in hiding.

It's like the Northern Lights...but you know, crappier.
As if two young American males happening to find two young American girls randomly in Russia seems far fetched to get us our cliche four heroes for the film, then don't even bother with the rest. Even though the idea of invisible and electronic life forms bringing some chaos and destruction down on any cool setting like Moscow strikes a note with me, "The Darkest Hour" pretty much does nothing to make that concept truly worth the watch. Beyond that, this film is about as by the numbers and poorly written as possible. It over explains some of its elements (the aliens are digging for nickel and conductive metals? How did you jump to that fucking conclusion from giant laser lights of twirling matter?!) and at other times it seems to throw things into the mix just to seem smarter than it is. The entire bus sequence seems stupidly long and the idea of microwave guns as a weapon against their armor (?!?) is about has half baked as possible. It's irritating at how it over explains some things and makes you make massive assumptions on others.

It's like "Ghostbusters"...but you know, crappier.
Also our characters are basic formulas of your basic heroes. The two guys are smart kids that have to find their tough men mentalities to protect our helpless and often irrational female leads. The jackass friend is predictably a dick and stupid and even the military folk later on seem to be caricatures of what might pass for real people. Half the time I felt offended by how unrelatable the cast was and some of the odd choices they make seem rash and only dominated by plot progression. The poor actors seem desperately intent on making the script and characters work and they simply can't keep up with the dreadful writing. It's like people racing each other on treadmills to the other side of the room. No matter how hard you work, you're going no where.

The one thing this had going for it was it's special effects. Seeing people evaporate into ash was awesome (silly, but awesome), but by the end of the film the effects seemed to be overabundant for its budget. The exploding aliens and their "vision" shots are generally kind of shoddy considering how cool the effects were to begin with. For a film that really needs cool visuals, "The Darkest Hour" is a mixed bag that doesn't work.

It's kind of like "Predator"...but you know, crappier.
"The Darkest Hour" is far from being a truly atrocious film as it still has a fun concept and some of the special effects are pretty effective to begin with. Beyond that though, its a botched effort. Forced visual charisma can't save its abysmally written script and poor character handling. Even its attempts at blending action, drama, and science fiction feels completely fake. There are plenty of great movies that blend genres. It just so happens that "The Darkest Hour" is not one of them. In fact, I would easily compare it to "The Langoliers"...if not worse than that.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Brute and the Beast, The (1966)

THE BRUTE AND THE BEAST

AKA "Massacre Time"


How could a Spaghetti Western combining the keen eye of iconic cult film director Lucio Fulci and the star talents Franco Nero and George Hilton not be good? As I predicted this unbeatable trinity of cult icons is an Italian film fan's wet dream making "The Brute and the Beast" (aka "Massacre Time") one of the all time best Spaghetti Westerns a fan can get his hands on.
Nero plays a very Django-like character that arrives home to find that a land baron and his sadistic son are bullying their way into buying up all the land in the area. Nero, with the help of his alcoholic brother (George Hilton) are hell-bent on seeking revenge, but Nero discovers he has more ties to the land baron and his son then he ever thought possible.
This Lucio Fulci is a real slave driver
I have seen dozens of Fulci films with "The Brute and the Beast" being the oldest film I have yet to see in his lengthy filmography and even early in his career he had an amazing eye for gritty style and atmosphere. As a matter of fact it makes me almost sad to see how good he was back in the glory days as most his films in the latter half of his career are just down-right terrible. Hell his style here is on par with the Leone films to come prior with catchy camera angles and a plethora of violent action scenes. There's no gore to hint of his horror films to come but he still liked to shock audiences shown here with a graphic dog attack, a violent whipping and even the brutal murdering of a woman and child.
One of the many stylistic shots provided by Fulci
Franco Nero, hot off his debut in Sergio Corbucci's "Django", plays a similar stoic role. Compared to more lively roles he would play later, his character here is a little more stale but he still has plenty of screen presence. Nero is actually out shined by new-comer George Hilton who gives a tour-De-force performance as his alcoholic brother. Unlike Nero's stoic, emotionless character, Hitlon's has a cynical, almost goofy outlook on life and his stage play training shows through with his magnificent performance. Hilton was so good that he would rightly earn his own place in Spaghetti Western history matching Franco Nero's star power and thus became a star of uncountable Italian films in varying genres to come.
Nero and Hilton... two icons together on screen for the first and only time
"The Brute and the Beast" is well deserving of its reputation in the Spaghetti Western genre as it is not only one of the best films in Lucio Fulci's filmography, but one of the best Spaghetti Westerns in general with a violent, gritty tone and an unbeatable cast. The film was only previously released in muddy Full Frame VHS transfers until Wild East unleashed their beautiful anamorphic widescreen release with a copious amount of extras, including a rare audio interview with Lucio Fulci further proving what an utter jackass he was. He may have been an ass, but damn did he make some great cult movies with "The Brute and the Beast" being one of best.
 Written By Eric Reifschneider

Don't Turn the Other Cheek! (1971)


DON'T TURN THE OTHER CHEEK!

AKA "Long Live Your Death"


The politically charged and the comedy western are two of the most popular subgenres under the Spaghetti Western umbrella and one would think the two would mix like oil and water but on a few occasions they worked wonderfully mixed in the same film. Examples include Sergio Corbucci's "Companeros"  and of course Duccio Tessari's  "Don't Turn the Other Cheek!" (also known by it's much more serious European title "Long Live Your Death"). Tessari' s film may not mix the genres as well as Corbucci's "Companeros" but the equally strong powerhouse cast and solid directing still makes this a must see.
What we have here is three strangers, similar to the relationships in "The Good the Bad and the Ugly, coming together in order to find a cache of gold. One is a Russian prince (Franco Nero), the other a mexican Bandit (Eli Wallach) and the third is an Irish extreme Journalist (Lynn Redgrave, Nero's future sister-in-law). Can they avoid killing each other while escaping the noose and bullets to find the cache of gold and start a revolution in the process?
"I'm in the same room as Franco Nero and Eli Wallach! I think I'm having a heart attack!"
The main draw of this western is the cast with  Franco Nero and Elli Wallach having a wonderful chemestery that got me laughing hard on many occasions. Nero's Prince is similar to his character in "Companeros" and Wallach's bandit seems like a take-off of Tuco in "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" so if you enjoyed their performances in those two films then you are going to eat this up.  Redgrave gives ag ood performance but her character for the most part isn't given much to do and seems mostly thrown in to give the audience eye candy and a famine presence.

"There are two types of politically charged Spaghetti Westerns my friend, those with comedy overtones and those without."
Director Duccio Tessari is no stranger to the Spaghetti Western genre penning scripts for Leone's "Fistful of Dollars" as well as directing the popular "Ringo" duology with Guillano Gemma. By this time in his career he had a more light hearted approach to his films injecting plenty of comedy, such as the silly "Alive Preferably Dead" and the Bond spoof "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang". Even with his light touch some of the humor in "Don't Turn the Other Cheek" is forced, like it's saying "look at me, I'm funny". For the most part the humor does work well and is well balanced throughout the film.
The Good, the Bad... and the Hot?
"Don't Turn the Other Cheek!" may not work as well as Corbucci's more solid comedy politically charged "Companeros" or  Damiano Damiani's serious "A Bullet for the General" but was still a rollicking good time. The humor and the fantastic cast made "Don't Turn the Cheek" an entertaining watch and a must see for fans of the genre. The original American cut of the film butchered the final results by cutting out nearly 17 minutes of footage and creating plot holes big enough to drive a truck through.  Wild East Productions was gracious enough to release the film on DVD completely uncut with all the cut footage restored with English subtitles.
 Written By Eric Reifschneider

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Yoga (2009)

Director: Yoon Jae-yeon
Notable Cast: Eugene, Cha Soo-yeon
Also known as: "Yoga Hakwon", "Yoga School", "Yoga Academy", "Yoga Class", "Yoga Academy", and "Yoga: Mind, Body, And Tortured Souls".

Correct me if I'm wrong, but my expectations for a horror film about yoga were pretty low. The trendy and spiritual exercise didn't seem to have a strong case of "great horror film concept" from my knowledge and having a ghostly film about it seemed even less inspired. Guess I was corrected because as it would turn out, "Yoga" was actually a fairly well executed film. This film never feels all that unique (Asian ghost films have become something of their own genre at this point), but it's crafty visual prowess and strong atmosphere eventually won me over.

Hyo-jeung (Eugene) had her entire life dumped on in a matter of days. Her relationship with her film obsessed boyfriend is on the rocks, her friends are all garnering more success than her in life, and she just lost her TV hosting job to a more beautiful woman. Her self esteem is rock bottom, but an old friend lets her in on a little secret. There is a week long and very intense yoga class that only a few know about and she is the perfect candidate for it. She enrolls with a handful of other desperate women who all seem as torn as her. When the other classmates begin to disappear from breaking the "rules" of the school, its Hyo-jeung who has to face a more sinister plan behind the class...

There is something distinctly satisfying about finding that one awkward face for a person in a film to post a picture on.
What was so surprising about "Yoga" was how similar it came in comparison in themes and general approaches to the long time Italian classic "Suspiria". Group of young women gathered for an artistic body shaping class who eventually discover that its a cover for witchcraft? Well "Yoga" isn't necessarily 'witchcraft' by any means as it never uses that term, but the ghostly apparitions are created by 'supernatural' elements. Just the general plot seemingly follows the basic formula too.

"Yes, this is the PERFECT place to take a yoga class!"
The film also happens to be similar it how it goes about crafting the plot. Director Yoon Jae-yeon boils it down to give the film a very distinct aesthetic look and coats it all in some insanely thick atmosphere. Does a lot of the things that happen or details to create this atmosphere make sense? Hell no. Themes of snakes (including a very creepy hissing/slithery sound effect used repeatedly) and ghostly horror/death scenes rarely make sense in style or in how the movie progresses, but damn if they aren't great for the atmosphere! The setting, the actresses, the sound effects, and lighting all create a visual feast of horrific intent.

Yoga leads to levitation. Had I known this I would have done yoga.
The film does not make a lot of sense though. For those who actually cared to try and really piece together the puzzle of the yoga class and how the flashbacks to an old film set correlated, the film ended up being quite a jumbled narrative. The ending definitely left logic at the door with its "trick" ending and atmosphere coated final showdown between our heroin and the head yoga hauncho, but that's expected by the time we get there despite its well crafted characters in the first act. The lacking originality for the death sequences was a little odd coming off as a combination between "Ju-On" and "A Nightmare On Elm Street" with its dream like qualities. They were more run of the mill for what the film could offer even if the special effects were spectacular.

For a horror film about yoga, "Yoga" was definitely a pleasant surprise in quality. Not all that original with lacking sense and death sequences, the actual horror of the film is created by the vicious visual work and intense atmosphere that's slathered on in massive doses. Fans of the J-horror genre or the Asian Ghost film will certainly find plenty of great elements to latch into.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings (1994)


PUMPKINHEAD II: BLOOD WINGS


"Pumpkinhead" is one of the finest unsung horror films of the late 80s that I constantly find myself defending against people that judge it by solely by it's peculiar title. It was a tremendous horror concept that was ripe for a sequel but one didn't arrive right away. It took six fucking years for a sequel to emerge, direct-to-video no less, and the final results show that all involved weren't particularly interested in making a worthy sequel, only riding the coattails of an established horror title to line their pockets.
The plot totally disregards the first film and basically rehashes it by loosely remaking the story. The film begins in 1958, shot in classy black and white, where a group of young studs kill a backwoods deformed boy. Flash forward and a new sheriff arrives in a small southern town (which is again obviously southern California) only to have his work become a living hell as grisly murders start springing up all over the area. It seems the local legend of a vengeful demon nicknamed Pumpkinhead are true and it has risen to take revenge and somehow he sheriff's daughter is involved in the bloodshed.
Pumpkinhead makes a house call
The producers had no intention of making anything more than a run of the mill direct-to-video sequel and who better to direct a lackluster sequel than Jeff Burr, the man who give us such mundane sequels as "Stepfather 2: Make Room for Daddy" and "Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III". His direction is on complete autopilot and the dark atmosphere and tone that  Stan Winston so brilliantly displayed in the original is absent. In its place is lazy cheapness with an emphasis on fucking strobe lights to add to so-called "terror".
Lower budget shows in the shoddy make-up effects
The production values also leave a lot to be desired, such as the make-up on the old hag that has the ability to summon Pumpkinhead. The graveyard that is Pumpkinhead's resting place is also hastily put together and pales in comparison to the grim  pumpkin patch of the original. The Pumpkinhead design, though good from reputable company KNB effects, also isn't near as impressive as Stan Winston's grand original design but it's not helped by poor lighting making the beast look more fake.
Heads are gonna roll...
The cast is made up of some respectable members but the real humdinger is Andrew Robinson, best known for playing the Zodiac killer in the original "Dirty Harry" and the father in Clive Barker's "Hellraiser", helps make this weary sequel better than it really is. However it is embarrassing to see him in such tripe as he is far too good of an actor to appear in direct-to-video drivel as this. It still makes me wonder why he would turn down a respectable sequel like "Hellbound: Hellraiser II" only later to appear in a film like "Pumpkinhead II".
"Tell me again why I turned down 'Hellraiser II' ?"
I have come to the conclusion that producers with money to burn wanted to make a sequel to a popular horror film to guarantee a good profit and thus the original "Pumpkinhead"  became their target. Not only does this passable sequel disregard all the events of the first film, it also waters down all the admirable aspects like the score, the dark tone and even the make-up effects. Skippable and only for the most die hard, and forgiving, horror fan.
Written By Eric Reifschneider

London Boulevard (2010)

Director: William Monahan
Notable Cast: Colin Ferrell, Keria Knightley, Ray Winstone

It's odd because if you asked me my opinion about Colin Ferrell even five years ago I would have mumbled something about a no talent hack who sucks in "Daredevil". If you ask me about Colin Ferrell today - I love the guy. Quirky, does random movies, and generally loves to be in genre flicks. "In Bruges" is one of my favorite comedies of all time and his penchant for genres I love makes him a regular in my movie watching queue. "London Boulevard" looked to only add to the reputation for the actor. Looked, mind you. Turns out that Monahan's directorial debut is something of a confused picture. It delivers intriguing characters that fail to intrigue and a plot whose leaping structure flows horribly. Definitely not the kind of film one would hope for from the talent involved.

Mitchell (Ferrell) is free from prison. After doing a three year stint for some questionabe activity as a criminal, he is out and looking to right himself in life. Of course the usual suspects show up trying to get him back into the game, but he's determined to make it as an addition to regular society. This is why he takes up a position as handyman/body guard for a recluse actress (Knightley). It doesn't take long for the mob he used to work for to make their way back into his life and push him to new levels. Now Mitchell has to make a decision to end all of the pressure for good, but will it compromise his new life?

The romantic plot is momentarily derailed by the use of a sweat suit.
For those not familiar with Monahan, he's mostly a screen writer having written the screenplays for "The Departed", "Edge Of Darkness", and "Kingdom Of Heaven". That's a hell of a resume. This partnered with the quirkiness of Ferrell and Knightley made for a very tempting film in the form of "London Boulevard". Yet despite all of the talent mentioned above, the film fails to connect with its audience at any level. Both of our leads - and a stunningly well cast secondary - own their respective roles with subtle acuteness to detail and plenty of silent moments for them to strut their stuff. Even Monahan does an admirable job giving us some very artistic moments in the script and in his directing to add some nice depth to a rather basic plot. This film if filled to the brim with great elements.

No guns about it, Colin Ferrell can be pretty badass in film.
The reason why "London Boulevard" was such a massive disappointment breaks down to its inability to navigate these great elements. It never comes together. It's like having a million dollar vase that's broken beyond repair. Yeah, when put together it would be fucking awesome. It's just broken and doesn't fit together. The film is choppy as hell as it seemingly throws together random scenes to try to form a narrative and half the time I felt as though I was missing quite a bit of information to truly connect with Mitchell and his plight. His crime story leaves me apathetic. The romantic subplot leaves me apathetic. It doesn't flow and it loves to meander through moments that seem useless in the overall spectrum of the story.

Bless their heart for giving this film their all, but Monahan wrote a miss when he adapted this story to film. Each element, on it's own, is relatively impressive - but when I sat down to write this review and thinking back on "London Boulevard", it left me with no overall emotions good or bad. It was a 'meh' film experience and with the talent involved in this film, it's a massive disappointment.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Triple Tap (2010)

Cop dramas can be a rather boring genre. They're a dime a dozen in the industry and television has practically destroyed them from being original in most ways. Luckily, Blood Brothers has a distinct distaste for TV with their convoluted programing and thusly films like "Triple Tap" still work. Hardly a film to redefine the police centered action/drama, the stylistic and engaging "Triple Tap" is a nerve wrecking film. Don't be deceived by its almost John Woo inspired synopsis below though, its more detective drama than action.

After a grueling duel at the gun range to take the top spot as best sharp shooter, Officer Jerry Chong (Wu) and investor Ken Kwan (Koo) become quick competitors. Their respect for each other's skills though creates a competitive friendship. This makes it tough when Ken stumbles across an armored car robbery in progress and takes matters into his own hands by gunning down the murdering thieves. Now Jerry's instinct tells him there is far more to Ken and this situation then what's on display...but will their history interfere with the spectacular game of cat and mouse that will ensue?

Intensity. The final ingredient to any self respecting gun slinger.
My expectations for "Triple Tap" were shattered both in good and bad ways by the time the credits rolled. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph this film very much looks and was promoted as an action film, but really is not. Although it kicks off with an intense gun competition and a shoot out on a freeway, beyond that it focuses more on the detective work and the characters only teasing us with some more intense moments later on. Initially, the film very much takes on a gun-fu John Woo feeling for its first act - punctuating itself with stylistic gun play and artistic visuals courtesy of director Derek Yee (you know that guy that gave us the awesome "Shinjuku Incident"?). After that though, its all dialogue and drama, so don't go into it expecting more gun-fu.

"Holy crap! That gun is a light saber!"
Although the lacking action set pieces might underwhelm beyond its first act (even the finale is all about tension and suspense rather than bullets), the film does succeed up and above on its character development and execution for its detective portion. Both Koo and Wu give stellar performances in the film - they worked together on "Protege" too - that warrant the time they eat up on screen with vigor. The twist is not as hidden as one would think despite some valiant efforts to keep one guessing, but the fact that both of our leads make us care about their situations elevates it above this flaw. It ends on a rather odd note though negating some of the realism that was balanced earlier, but "Triple Tap" certainly accomplishes it's goals.

Koo threatened us that we had to post his picture since we posted Wu's. We take him seriously here.
"Triple Tap" might not be the most original film about police and crime dramas, but the film takes some chancy maneuvers with its focuses and delivers impactful results destined to make this a sleeper critical success. It has a stunning cast and a truly inspired director and these things allow the film to leap its faulty script in many instances. Not quite what I expected from this highly toted film, but "Triple Tap" is surprisingly effective in how it goes about itself.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Duel Of The Century, The (1981)

My preferences within the Shaw Brothers domain had always settled on great kung fu hand to hand combat with lots of ridiculous characters and set ups (i.e. Chang Cheh and Kar Lau Leung). The truth of the matter remains that most of the best Shaw Brothers martial arts films rest in the sword epics. Thusly when the opportunity came to review the highly toted "The Duel Of The Century", you're damn right Blood Brothers was there to take it. Although the film can be a mixed bag of elements and execution, it remains a charming and thoughtful film that grabs its viewer.

When a duel between two of the greatest swordsmen in the land is announced, Lu Xiaofeng (Tony Liu) finds the whole thing odd and out of character for the two great celebrities. His friendship with both leads him to delve into why the duel was called to begin with and the purposes of such a public fiasco. His detective work uncovers a larger conspiracy within that may topple the entire country and only he can stop it before it's too late.

"Miss, I think you tightened my pony tail too much."
For the first half hour of "The Duel Of The Century" I was completely clueless. It slams you with a slew of characters and events in rapid succession and constantly I felt as if I was missing something very important. Turns out this film is actually a sequel to "Clan Of Amazons" where I assume they give more explanation to characters involved in this film. "Clan Of Amazons" is not available in the US so don't bother. Just take the brushed over characters with some salt and do like we did, move on and go for the throat of the plot.

 I wonder how many times they had to relight these candles while filming the fight sequence...
The plot is where "Duel" really picks up. The characters are often cheesy, over painted with vague details (even our hero doesn't have a real motive to dig into why the duel is happening at first...perhaps he's bored?), and fantastical in certain ways like our hero has the ability to grab the sharpest blade with his bare hand for example. Thusly, the film has to win us over with its plot, which it does quite ably. The detective elements almost give the film a Sherlock Holmes like style where he travels from person to person asking questions (often getting into ridiculous amounts of assassination attempts and fights) and the viewer has to put together all the pieces of the puzzle with him. This makes the film very intriguing as we begin to watch it all unfold in front of us. The plot and how it all works is definitely the highlight of the film.

Beyond its clever onion-like peeling of clues, the film also works its charm. Like many Shaw films from the 80s it likes to blend genres a bit too much thrusting vibrant colors and odd settings at the viewer to give it a more epic feel. The action is often quite over the top (fire breathing attackers with candles?) and it loves to do some strange artistic and fantasy inspired things with it. Our final duel does some odd visual things to give it an epic feel as our swordsman literally defy gravity and logic with their abilities and the film utilizes these elements through and through. Director Chor Yuen loves to toy with angels and visual flair and it helps keep the film going despite some of its dialog heavy moments. This upped pacing and relentless assassination attempts keep the movement brisk and adds to the charisma of its 80s visuals.

Big paper circle. The ultimate obstacle for sword fighters.
"The Duel Of The Century" is cheesy and lacks some of the darker elements that make these sword fighting epics so good. While our lead character is fun, he lacks his own character arc to really kick it to the next level too. The visuals of the film are fantastically fun and the plot is cleverly paced and developed...and that's what makes this film as good as it is despite the above mentioned flaws. It's not one of the best, but its a great addition to any Shaw Brothers/martial arts fan's collection. Blood Brother approved!

Written By Matt Reifschneider